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Eating grain free: is it really good for you and how do you do it?

Eating grain free takes eating gluten free to another level. You might want to eat grain free if you need to heal inflammation in your guts or other parts of your body. You might need to do it if you have thyroid or autoimmune issues. Or you may want to do it short term as a cleanse.

Good news. It’s not as hard as it may sound! The key is to change your mindset and to do a little prep work.

eating grain freeFor you carb fiends, changing your mindset is crucial. Admit, you may miss the grains at first – otherwise you’re not much of a fiend. It may take a few months are even longer, but you may grow to not even like them so much (yes, it’s often the case!). And you will need to add other healthy whole foods to fill the void, at least until your stomach adjusts to feeling less full or bloated. Amen to that.

And if you’re trying to lose weight, this is bound, although not guaranteed, to help.

Eating grain free vs gluten free

First of all, become friends with the term “paleo”. “Paleo” refers to a caveman style of eating, or eating the foods that naturally exist on our planet rather than those that are made or processed using chemicals or synthetic ingredients.

More specifically, the paleo diet excludes grains, dairy and alcohol. Hold tight. Don’t panic. Read on.

If there is anything you truly miss when eating grain free, just Google “paleo xyz” and you will find a recipe for it. Paleo pizza, spaghetti, cheesecake, you name it.

And say you want to still eat dairy? Just modify the paleo recipes to include your dairy ingredients.

Dabbling with paleo recipes will expose you to lots of new ways to make old favorites.

Second, plan out some meals. (Sigh, I know. But planning prevents stress and choosing whatever’s convenient ,which is usually not so good for you.) Sometimes even on the typical American diet, it’s hard to figure out what’s for dinner every night. Planning and cooking ahead can take lots of stress out of your unpredictable nights.

Planning doesn’t have to be too time-consuming. Cheat off of a paleo meal plan, like this one from my book, Digested – eating healthier made easier 3 ways, to spare yourself some of the mental work.

Lastly, identify the grains you rely on most and how you intend to replace those. That way, when you’re in a crunch, about to reach for your ol’ grainy friend, you can stop and reach for your replacement before you die of hunger!

Your new grain-free go-tos

Here are some common grains and suggested new go-tos while you’re eating grain free.

  • crackers, chips, bars                > raw veggies (oh so many to choose from!),                                                          kale or root veggie chips
  • bread                                          > lettuce leaves, put it in a bowl or make your                                                         own grain-free bread or paleo tortillas
  • buns                                            > slices of zucchini or sweet potato
  • cereal                                          > make your own grain-free cereal
  • pancakes                                    > paleo pumpkin pancakes (love these!)

You’ll get more results from eating grain free if you add in healthy foods, especially those high in fiber. You still need fiber, just not via the grains. Your best option? Learn to love the leafy greens! You’ll find many of them, and many ways to prepare them. And they offer loads of minerals and nutrients you may not have been getting before. Here are just a few:

  • kale (raw in salad or smoothie, sautéed, chips)
  • Swiss chard (raw, sautéed, roasted)
  • romaine lettuce (raw in salad or as a wrap, in smoothie)
  • collard greens (sautéed, blanched, roasted)

Also get fiber from these foods:

  • nuts and seeds
  • quinoa (a seed, but not deemed paleo because of it’s potential harm to your guts)
  • figs
  • berries
  • avocados
  • coconut (FYI – a fruit and not a tree nut)
  • beans and peas (legumes are not technically paleo)

Note that white potatoes are not a grain, but they have similar qualities and effects as grains (see the link above about quinoa). So if you’re eating grain free to heal your guts, you should also avoid using potatoes as a substitute.

Curious about going totally paleo? Read “Eating healthier: Is paleo the way to go?”.

In the meantime, if you’re eating grain free, just do a little prep work first. It will make your mission more relaxing and fun. It may be an eye-opening, gut-healing and life-changing experience!

 

*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice.

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Reap the health benefits of pumpkin year-round

benefits of pumpkinLong live the deliciousness and health benefits of pumpkin. Just because we’ve already sailed through Halloween and Thanksgiving, it’s not time to put the pumpkin craze to rest. From jack-o-lanterns to pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread and pumpkin latte and…this hearty, fruit-producing vegetable adds color and spice to the holidays. But read on to learn the wonders it can do year-round.

Health benefits of pumpkin

Maybe you’ve roasted your pumpkin seeds before. Or maybe you haven’t—they are a little intimidating, all tangled up in the stringy insides of something that appears to be so darling on the outside. But don’t let looks scare you. Use those precious seeds as medicine. Pumpkin seeds provide:

  • phytoestrogens, which help prevent high blood pressure.
  • tryptophan, which supports production of serotonin and improves your mood and quality of sleep.
  • beta-carotene which helps prevent cancer.
  • phytosterols, which reduce our bad (LDL) cholesterol.

Moving on to the meat of its benefits, pumpkin also:

  • provides fiber, which helps keep your digestive system moving the toxins out. That fiber helps you feel more full and satisfied, which is a bonus for us grain-free folks.
  • replenishes your potassium after a workout (it may even muscle that banana out of first position).
  • supports healthier vision, skin and bones due to the vitamin A content. According to this Huffington Post article, 1 cup of pumpkin provides more than 200% of the daily vitamin A recommendation.
  • supplements your zinc intake. For men, this helps maintain testosterone levels and male sexual health. Wait—come back and stay with me for a few more minutes!

How to prepare pumpkin

So how do you prepare these power gourds of nutrients?

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cut your pumpkin (not your carved one!) across the top to cut off the stem. Then cut it lengthwise in half.
  3. Scrape out the seeds and stringy pulp and set them aside.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and put each half of the pumpkin face down.
  5. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 1-2 hours.
  6. Scrape the meat of the pumpkin out of the rind, which can be thrown out or composted. Then cut the meat into small pieces and puree it in your food processor.

Try this recipe from takepart.com, for roasting the seeds without the wrestling match.

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 300 degrees.
  2. For every 2 cups of seeds and pulp, add 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil (and light salt or other spices as desired) and toss.
  3. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the seasoned seeds and pulp in a single layer on the baking sheet.
  4. Stir every 15 minutes, baking for about 50 minutes or until the seeds are crisp and the pulp is caramelized.
  5. Let cool and enjoy.

New ways to eat pumpkin

Now that you realize how easy it is to reap the benefits of pumpkins, what exactly can you do with it?

Of course, pumpkin makes many desserts divine. But this is a blog about healthier eating.

Consider packing the seeds as a snack or sprinkling them on a salad or vegetable medley for extra crunch.

And you can perform magic with the puree. Here are my favorite 5 uses:

  1. Whip up some paleo pumpkin pancakes. Delicious. Easy to make. Super to freeze for future breakfasts on the fly. They also double as sandwich bread in a pinch.
  2. Use pumpkin instead of, or in combination with, nut butters in healthy baking – bread, cookies, etc. You don’t have to completely abandon the treats!
  3. Bake paleo pumpkin bars. See notes above about potassium and mood. Eat and energize any time of day, even on the go.
  4. Create a hearty paleo chili without tomatoes. This is a gem for me, since tomatoes don’t love me and I miss them dearly.
  5. Add pumpkin to your smoothie (#5 on my list because as much as I want to love smoothies, they just aren’t as satisfying as chewing food).

For even more information about the health benefits of pumpkin, as well as additional recipes, check out this article on jenreviews.com! Mmmm, pumpkin hummus!

Take advantage of the plentiful health benefits of pumpkin by incorporating it into your everyday diet, instead of just making it part of your October and November binges and décor!

 

*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. 

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Make healthy school lunches part of your back-to-school plan

Making healthy school lunches can help get and keep your kids on track to healthier living and learning.

As back to school time approaches, anticipation of that first bell ringing compares to the ball dropping on New Year’s Eve. It represents a time to reevaluate routines and reorganize schedules. Plus, it’s time to restock – school supplies, clothing and fridges.

Why is packing healthy school lunches so important?

deli rolls school lunchEspecially for families with two working parents, why is packing healthy school lunches so important? After all, schools offer a lunch program. And that makes one less task on the to-do list.

Packing healthy school lunches:

  1. can and should be better for your kids’ health and immune systems.
  2. gives you a truer picture of and peace of mind about what they actually ate (versus what they took or what they were served).
  3. helps support healthier energy and attention levels so your kids can learn and store information more naturally. Less healthy lunches or snacks contain lots of carbs, gluten, corn syrup, additives, food dyes (yellow 5, blue 1, red 1, etc.) or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Many of these ingredients have been linked to issues such as difficulty concentrating, aggressive or hyper behavior and even chronic sinus problems. Read my blog, “Are food allergies and behaviors linked?” or my book for lots more information about this.
  4. allows a more diverse menu, with input from your kids.
  5. may inspire you to do the same for yourself.

I dream of eventually writing about all the goodness of school-provided lunches. And some schools and food service providers have taken decent strides. But they still generally load our kids full of carbs, dyes and GMOs. So for now, I’d rather take on the task of packing lunches for my kiddos, even when the school-provided lunches are free.

What are some new and easy ideas for healthy school lunches?

First, let go of any preconceived notions! Healthy school lunches:

  • do not have to be the ideal temperature.
  • do not have to be standard lunch fare.
  • should not include a treat. Save that for dinner, if at all, when he or she is not going to be confined to a classroom setting and expected to learn!
  • only contain “weird” food if you act like they do (imagine any exchange of words or facial expressions here if packing lima beans or soup that’s not warmed, as an example).

Second, work with your kids to make a menu or list of options so they have vested interest. Try new recipes together and have fun with it.

And of course, organic is best, especially when serving any of the Big Four GMO crops (corn, soy, canola oil and cottonseed oil).

Here are some ideas to help get you started.

Main entrée
• organic deli meat roll-ups
• organic deli meat wrapped in lettuce (add your fave sandwich toppings)
• paleo chicken salad (just Google for many recipes) in lettuce wrap or bowl
• leftover dinner in a wrap (or unwrapped and yes, even cold)
• meals in a muffin
• eggs (hard-boiled, deviled paleo style or as muffins)
• fish cakes or crab cakes
• organic nitrate-free sausage or bacon with paleo pancakes

Sides
(Always include at least 1 veggie and aim to make 50% of his/her food veggies.)
• raw veggies – carrots, peppers, sprouts, radishes, sweet potatoes, celery, snap peas, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini or
cucumber slices topped with your favorite meat, cheese, dip, raisins, etc.
• dips – cauliflower hummus, guacamole, hummus, nut butter (almond, cashew, sunflower if tree nuts are OK at school)
• yogurt – coconut milk yogurt if avoiding dairy; no added sugar, sugar substitutes or aspartame
• nuts or seeds, paleo snack bites or bars
• chips – kale, sweet potato, root vegetable, apple
• fruits – applesauce, tomatoes, bananas, grapes, pineapple, oranges, etc. (as a side or snack but remember that fruits
are best digested solo – or with about 15 minutes of separation from other foods)

If you want to go for extra credit in healthier living, pack your lunches-to-go and water in stainless steel containers from LunchBots, PlanetBox or other brands. They cost more but last longer than plastic. They don’t leach chemicals into food and they don’t create more waste. The kids think they’re pretty fun, too!

So make it a priority today to eat better because ultimately it can help you learn better, sleep better and live happier. And the more urgent you make it, the stronger the example you’re setting to help keep your kids on a healthy track longer. Take some time. And have some fun planning healthy school lunches or lunches for work as your family heads back to school!

 

*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. 

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Dealing with leaky gut syndrome

Is leaky gut syndrome a real thing or just a catch phrase for all those intestinal issues doctors can’t seem to explain?

leaky gut syndromeAccording to the book Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? by Dr. Datis Kharrazian, gastrointestinal dysfunctions are the most overlooked and common disorders today, affecting about 70 million Americans and accounting for billions of dollars in annual sales of over-the-counter digestive aids. That total doesn’t even include prescription medicines.

That’s a lot of people with GI problems and it’s hard to say how many antacids and prescription meds – enough to fill a large lake or five? That’s just digestive aids, never mind the ibuprofen and other drugs we take to alleviate the ambiguous symptoms that could be related to leaky gut syndrome. And all these drugs may be contributing to the problem!

What is leaky gut syndrome?

Leaky gut syndrome has been accepted as a real condition, but is still a mystery to healthcare professionals. Put in simple terms, leaky gut syndrome is when your intestines develop tiny holes in them.

The holes allow food particles to enter your blood stream, which is no place for food to be! Your body sees the food particles in your blood stream as “enemies”, putting your immune system into constant overdrive and possibly wearing your body down.

Symptoms may include gas, bloating, cramps, food sensitivities and others that can be mistaken for other conditions. Irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid issues, autoimmune disorders, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and even autism could be symptomatic of a leaky gut.

Traditional medical tests often fail to reveal a definite cause of these symptoms, which can leave people without a diagnosis and, therefore, untreated, according to this webMD.com article.

However, Dr. Axe presents a more sophisticated explanation of leaky gut, as well as alternative tests for it in this article.

Though traditional and holistic doctors may not all agree yet, we can heed these factors thought to contribute to leaky gut and make lifestyle changes accordingly.

  • eating poorly
  • taking medications (especially antibiotics) that can cause an imbalance in your digestive flora
  • stress

Note that when doctors used to blame my allergies and chronic sinus issues on “stress”, I thought it was a cop-out and got angry. But now it makes more sense knowing that in traditional Chinese medicine, worry and anxiety (and overanalyzing) are emotions connected to your stomach and spleen. So yes, we all experience stress, but we don’t all handle it the same.

How can you help leaky gut syndrome?

Though it’s not well researched and documented throughout the medical industry as a whole just yet, many naturopaths have successfully treated enough patients with leaky gut syndrome that they have adopted programs for diagnosing and treating it.

Many of the treatment programs include:

  1. Adjusting your diet (for several months or longer). Avoid foods such as dairy, gluten and nightshades, known to commonly cause inflammation. Consider the GAPs diet, a paleo diet or another diet designed to reduce inflammation.
  2. Taking natural supplements to help heal your digestive system while avoiding the foods that irritate it. This could involve products with L-glutamine, probiotics or other natural products.
  3. Doing both with advice from your doctor. If your doctor is unfamiliar with leaky gut, visit one who is.

Everything starts in your intestines. If they are irritated and inflamed, you are likely to experience inflammation elsewhere in your body (sinuses for me). That’s why digestive health is so important. And that’s why you should have a healthcare professional help you troubleshoot rather than do it alone.

For more information on the subtle symptoms foods can cause, other foods that can cause inflammation and how to eat healthier, read Digested – eating healthier made easier 3 ways.

 

*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice. 

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Eating healthier: Is paleo the way to go?

Paleo power has activated. Many people are eating paleo diets these days. In fact, you can find people who earn a living by cooking and delivering paleo meals to your home. And though it’s about going back to caveman-like simplicity, eating paleo is no walk in the park. So is eating paleo really the way to go?

What does eating paleo mean?

Eating paleo is more than a diet. It’s a lifestyle change. You need to avoid many packaged goods, find new ways to eat on the go and spend more time shopping and cooking. You will inevitably have to give up some of your ol’ favorites. No more potato chips with cottage cheese or pizza as we once knew them.

When eating paleo, you need to avoid:

  • all grains, especially wheat and gluten but also rice and corn.
  • dairy.
  • legumes and starchy vegetables, including alfalfa, beans, carob, chickpeas, lentils, peanuts, peas, potatoes and soybeans.
  • refined sugars.
  • processed foods.
  • additives and chemicals — if a food contains an ingredient you can’t pronounce, don’t buy it.
  • alcohol.

Shew. So what can you eat?

paleo fish with saladWhen going paleo, you may eat:

  • fresh caught wild fish, lean and clean organic meats and eggs, all in moderation.
  • organic vegetables.
  • organic fruits.
  • organic, raw nuts, nut butters and seeds.
  • certain oils, only at recommended temperatures to avoid making them rancid.
  • spices without additives, gluten or anything else non-paleo.

When is eating paleo right for you?

If you don’t digest lean meats easily, paleo is probably not for you! If you’re not willing to spend extra time looking at labels, grocery shopping and preparing foods, it may not be the right time for you to adopt a paleo eating style.

However, eating paleo makes sense in several instances:

  • You have lots of sensitivities to foods and need to find substitutes. I’ve been eating paleo-like (sans nuts) during my version of an elimination diet the past couple of months and it’s helped me find alternative recipes for many things I thought I had to totally give up, such as tortilla shells, tortilla chips, cookies and even a carrot cake. Hello tapioca, coconut and many other flours I never knew! What a great way to get more foods into my rotation, so I’m truly able to eat all things in moderation. Follow this adventure on Facebook — even join me with your own eating healthier challenge!
  • You want to lose weight. Duh. Look at all the foods and carbs you give up when eating paleo! When you want to lose weight, improving your lifestyle is always better than dieting, because results from diets are so temporary. Maybe you would find it easier to delve in full-blown paleo first and then add some foods back as you determine which ones really help you feel good?
  • You have chronic inflammation. This could include allergies or arthritis to heart disease, because many health issues begin with inflammation.

If you decide that eating paleo is for you, remember a few key notes.

  1. If you suffer from chronic inflammation, you may want to avoid the nuts, too, because they can cause inflammation for many. Peanuts are technically a legume, are not paleo and may be the least healthy of the nuts. If you eat them, choose organic. Coconut is a fruit, so that is an option if your body tolerates it and you like it. You may still tolerate seeds from sunflower, pumpkin or sesame — think as flour or as spreadables — not just by the handful.
  2. Make sure you are getting enough calories and nutrients, especially vitamin D, calcium and healthy fats.
  3. Eat lean meats and fish in moderation. When I did this diet before as a 3-week cleanse, I was eating hamburgers for a snack. NOT ideal! But this time, my appetite has leveled out so I don’t need as much protein to feel full or satisfied.
  4. Every body is different and our bodies change with age (I am blaming my surge of food sensitivities on hormones in the 40s!). If you eat paleo and feel great, it may be your ideal lifestyle — for now. Listen to your body and review your blood work, especially as it relates to your vitamin D. You can always add foods back as you learn what works for you.

We definitely have a place for paleo in this world. Paleo or not, we all should avoid packaged foods with additives, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and refined sugars. Most of us could eat more vegetables and more organic foods.

Even if paleo is not perfect for you, try embracing some paleo beliefs!

For more ideas about eating paleo-like, including a shopping list and meal plan, read Digested – eating healthier made easy 3 ways.

 

*This blog is intended for use as a source of information and should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care or advice.