Eat This For Healthy Summer Skin

Warmer weather is finally upon us, and with that, it seems everyone is trying to look and feel their best while taking advantage of the outdoors. Weight management is certainly a huge part of that, with everyone trying to increase their exercise and improve their diet, but surprisingly skincare is another topic I hear come up all the time. We not only want to strut in those cute summer jeans but we also want our skin to glow while we’re doing it. Am I right?

Given all the creams and topical potions that abound to keep your skin at its best, many often overlook the power of nutrition in giving your skin true, lasting vitality. Nourishing our skin from the inside is just as important as protecting it on the outside.

Maybe it’s time to rethink that skin care routine and focus on food, not formulas. What you eat every day can make a big impact on how both you and your skin function.

What foods are best for that? Have a read through for some easy summer diet do’s and don’ts to keep you glowing all year long.

10 Foods for Youthful Skin

1. Berries

Berries are chocked full of antioxidant compounds. Antioxidants help us fight off free radical damage which is, unfortunately, an unavoidable consequence of the world we live in. Our food, our household products, other environmental chemicals and even stress can create free radicals which damage our cells. Antioxidants help knock these out and restore proper balance and function.

2. Cruciferous veggies

Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, bok choy….they are all fantastic when it comes to your skin. They are high in vitamins A and C, which are important for our skin, and the phytochemicals in cruciferous can help reduce inflammation and promote estrogen balance, both which can be a huge boost to your epidermis.

3. Wild Salmon (and other Omega 3 fatty acids)

Healthy fats are key to healthy cells, and healthy cells equal healthy skin. Wild salmon is a great source of Omega 3 fatty acids, known for their powerful role in reducing inflammation. There are more Omega 3 sources besides salmon, however. Other animal sources include mackerel, sardines, tuna, and anchovies. Plant-based sources include chia seeds, hemp hearts, flax seed, and walnuts.

4. Avocado

This tasty fruit is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants which helps keep skin supple and ward off the effects of aging. More reason for some guacamole when the weather heats up!

5. Nuts

Yet another fantastic fat source that is helpful for our cells and also contains a host of skin-protecting antioxidants. Additionally, they are high in fiber, which may not seem directly related to your skin, but anything that supports digestion and promotes regular elimination will help detox your skin and body as well.

6. Coconut oil

We are still on a fat kick here. As you can tell, getting good sources of healthy fats in your diet is key. A fat-free diet is not the way to healthy skin. Coconut oil is another of those powerhouse fats. It has potent anti-microbial properties to ward off bacteria throughout our body and can support our immune system. All of this, in turn, promotes healthier skin. Easy ways to use coconut oil would be with sautéing, using as a fat in baking, or mixed into smoothies. Personally, I like to use full-fat coconut milk in making chia seed pudding to get in a healthy dose.

7. Bone broth

Fluids are super important for keeping out cells well hydrated, so bone broth can certainly help with that, but it’s also a major source of collagen. Collagen, which tends to decrease with age, is what keeps our skin firm and elastic. A little bone broth can go a long way in increasing hydration and giving our skin the building blocks to repair and restore the collagen in our skin. Use as a warm evening beverage or mix into soups or other dishes that call for broth.

8. Fermented foods

We know that fermented foods, or foods rich in natural probiotics, are good for our gut. A healthy intestinal tract equals good digestion and good digestion shows on our skin. When we are absorbing our nutrients properly and eliminating toxins on a regular basis, it will produce noticeable results on the outside as well as the inside. Eat fermented foods daily to balance your gut bacteria and keep that digestive process running smoothly. Examples of fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, beet kvass, water kefir, kombucha, tempeh, pickled veggies, and miso.

While some dairy products are fermented as well, best to keep those to a minimum as dairy is often implicated in inflammation and skin issues.

9. Cilantro

I know many have a love/hate relationship with this herb, but if you are a cilantro lover out there, more reason to use it early and often! Cilantro contains chlorophyll, which has powerful detoxifying properties in the body. Cilantro also supports liver detoxification, which may help reduce or prevent acne by helping rid your liver of toxins more quickly and efficiently. Sprinkle cilantro on anything and everything. Even add to smoothies or pressed homemade juices.

10. Leafy greens

I can’t say enough good things about leafy green vegetables. Kale, spinach, chard, romaine….they are all great sources of iron, calcium, B vitamins and fiber. More importantly for your skin, they are a good boost to your liver for detoxifying the body. As we’ve said before, detoxing from the inside will show outside in your skin, so eat up a variety of greens daily to get that summer glow.

Easing Menopause with Diet

Oh menopause. The “change,” as they say. This season of life is so often regarded as a very challenging time for women, one filled with hormonal upheaval, mood changes, temperature dysregulation, and undesired fluctuations in weight. Basically, it sucks. But does it have to?

Numerous books and websites have sought to offer solutions to the maladies of menopause, including ideas such as herbal treatments, essentials oils, stress reduction techniques, exercise plans, and of course hormone therapies. All of these can offer help in various ways and certainly ease the symptoms. The one area that can have the biggest impact, particularly in not only easing symptoms but also in delaying menopause, is diet. What you put in your mouth every single day really matters, and it matters not only during menopause but years before you even go through the “change.”

So which foods are best? The advice is to eat a well-rounded diet, one that is chocked full of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. This will ensure you are getting adequate amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin E, B Vitamins, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, Magnesium, Calcium and trace minerals, all of which can ease menopausal discomfort and keep your bones healthy. Omega 3 fatty acids can be another beneficial addition.

Here is a quick “eat this, not that” guide to get you going on a hormone-healthy diet plan!

EAT THIS

Vitamin A:
Carrots, red peppers, kale, winter squash, sweet potato (these tubers have estrogen-like effects when eaten), watermelon

B Vitamins:
Fruits, veggies, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy

Calcium:
Dairy products, plant milks, leafy greens, beans, nuts, tofu, broccoli

*Calcium absorption tends to decrease as we age. Be sure to get a wide range of calcium-containing foods in your diet. Don’t forget that in order to get calcium where you want it (in your bones!) it needs its cofactors friends for optimal usage. These nutrient buddies include Magnesium, Vitamin D, Boron, and Vitamin K.

Vitamin E:
Nuts & seeds (almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, sunflower seeds), spinach, avocado, butternut squash, mango, sweet potato, tomato

*This vitamin is critical as it stimulates the production of estrogen.

Vitamin C:
Oranges, strawberries, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, pineapple, parsley, grapefruit, mango

Vitamin D:
Sunlight, fortified foods, sardines, salmon

*It is notoriously hard to get adequate amounts of this nutrient from food and sunlight, especially here in the northwest. In this rare case, a supplement is highly recommended.

Magnesium:
Nuts, whole grains, spinach, pumpkin seeds, figs, avocado, banana, chocolate

Vitamin K:
Dark leafy greens, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, prunes, cucumbers, spring onions

Boron:
Beans, berries, sweet potatoes, figs, prunes, plums, avocado, apples, pears, peaches, grapes, nuts

*This trace mineral not only helps calcium get into the bones, but research has also shown it can help balance hormone levels and ease menopausal symptoms.

Manganese:
Whole grains, beans, hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, oats

Omega 3 fatty acids:
Salmon, mackerel, sardines, mussels, flax seed, chia seeds, hemp hearts, walnuts

NOT THAT

Here are some specific things to avoid for optimal hormonal support. I’m sure these will come as no surprise!

  • Sugar and other refined carbohydrates
  • Fast Food
  • Factory farmed animal meats
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol

Hopefully you have identified some foods you can start including regularly in your diet that you may not already be eating. On the flip side I think we all can all identify foods we should remove from our normal routine! Also, do note that many of the healthy foods are cross-listed, meaning that they have a host of important nutrients in them. Non-processed foods are a powerhouse of nutrition and may just be the extra boost you need to delay or alleviate those pesky hormone-related symptoms.

Zero Calorie Sweeteners: No Bueno Say the Experts

Once again non-nutritive or “artificial” sweeteners are making the news. New evidence shows that there are negative biochemical changes in the body in response to these low-cal sugar replacers.1

We already know that sugar has detrimental effects on our blood sugar, insulin, and waistline. It is common knowledge nowadays that sweets consumption should be lowered and kept to a minimum. In came, subsequently, those nifty no-calorie sweeteners that promised a similar flavor without all the unhealthy side effects. While initially regarded as safe and approved by the FDA, for some time now research has hinted they are not as benign as touted Now we have even more evidence that they are doing more harm than good.

In this new study, researchers took several groups of rats and either fed them diets high in glucose, fructose, or artificial sweeteners (aspartame or acesulfame potassium). Acesulfame is sold in stores at Sunnett or Sweet One, and aspartame is sold as Equal or NutraSweet. Both are currently approved artificial sweeteners by the FDA.

Within three weeks the researchers found discernable differences between the groups per blood samples collected. They noted that the artificial sweeteners appeared to change the way their bodies processed fat and energy overall. They also noticed that the acesulfame potassium accumulated in the blood and had a negative impact on the cells lining the blood vessels.

Bottom line? Don’t think that switching to artificial sweeteners is the answer. For one, how many thin people do you see walking around drinking diet sodas all day? They don’t seem to work. This study helps us understand why. Also, continuing to drink sweet beverages hinders one’s ability to acclimate to lesser sweetened beverages and foods. It keeps the sweet desire active, per say, and doesn’t solve the problem of cravings. In fact, it can make things worse by initiating an insulin response but, with no actual sugar entering the body, you end up with lower blood sugar and a “crash,” so to speak. The craving cycle continues.

The article ends by trying to answer the question, which is better? Sugar or artificial sweeteners? How about neither? My advice is to ditch sweet-tasting beverages altogether and switch to good ol’ water, the way nature intended.

But you hate water you say? If that’s you, think about some simple flavorings such as lemon, lime or other fruits soaked in your H20. Maybe dilute a favorite beverage half and half and keep increasing the water until you desire the sweet taste less and less. Drink club soda and lime if fizzy is your thing. There are ways to make better choices to keep these harmful chemicals out of your bodies for good.

In the end, if weight loss, blood sugar control, and heart health are your goals, artificial sweeteners have to go. Period.

If this seems unthinkable to you (and I realize for many it is!) come talk to me! I know we can develop a plan to get you enjoying less sugar and more healthy foods and fluids. And, summer being right around the corner, NOW is the time to do it!

1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180423085440.htm

Exercise: Is it really less important than diet for weight loss?

exercise, diet, and weight lossI have been hearing for some time now that when it comes to weight loss, exercise is not king. Diet is paramount. I mean, the NY Times said it, so it must be true.1 To be fair, they cited many reputable studies in their report that seem to indicate exercise only goes so far in weight management. The amount you can burn in a single exercise session is easily erased by something as innocent as a second helping of dinner or a favorite sweet treat. Also for many, hunger increases after exercise and leads to overconsumption, thereby erasing or even worsening the calorie deficit they were striving for. I get it. I can see how exercise may not be the key piece in the giant puzzle of weight loss.

That being said, I have always had a nagging suspicion that exercise is more important than we think. We already know it helps for a host of issues other than weight loss, including mood/depression, cardiovascular health/blood pressure, blood glucose regulation, hormone balance, improved immune function, etc. People who exercise, on the whole, are healthier. Period. But I still had this feeling that given the right duration and intensity level, exercise has a key role in weight management.

Then this study popped up online2, giving us new insight into what might be going on with our metabolism when we exercise.

Researchers from Karolinska Institute in Sweden found mechanisms in mice by which exercise counteracted fat storage and decreased inflammation. A compound called kynurenic acid, induced via exercise, was the key.

To understand the big picture, backtrack with me real quick. Preceding this study, in 2014, this same group originally published that kynurenic acid in the brain, produced via exercise, supported improved brain function. Exercise produces a sound mind, they declared.

Building on that, they conducted this recent study where they introduced kynurenic acid orally in mice with the goal to reach all the tissues, not just the brain. These mice, while eating a high-fat diet that promoted obesity and elevated blood glucose, stopped gaining weight and in turn converted more of their white fat to brown fat, which is the type that is more metabolically active. They also had improved blood glucose control despite no change in diet.

The theory is that the kynurenic acid in the fat cells promoted this conversion from white to brown fat, while kynurenic acid in the immune cells enhanced anti-inflammatory properties.

These two factors, the increase in metabolically active fat and decreased inflammation, both assist the body’s ability to burn fat as energy and prevent excessive fat storage.

Sounds promising! Lace up those shoes! But then this begs the question, what type of exercise should we be doing to get this benefit?!? What is the magic formula? Running? Light walking? Pilates? HIIT cardio? Cross Fit? Yoga?

Unfortunately, this study does not lay that out as the kynurenic acid was administered orally rather than induced directly via exercise. A little digging, however, and another paper provided exactly that information: endurance exercise.3

Ah, I knew it! I had a suspicion that the time and intensity of exercise mattered. Quick and dirty workouts have their place, but nothing takes the place of a good ol’ get-your-heart-rate-up-for-a sustained-period-of-time-type workout.

What this study showed was that subjects undergoing sustained cardio, in these cases an hour or longer, produced high levels of kynurenic acid in their muscle tissue within an hour after exercise. Subjects doing exercise that involved shorter bursts of intense energy did not see these benefits.

So there you go. Cardio for the win, right? Well yes, mostly I suppose. I think the key takeaway is to remember cardio is important and has an important role in weight management, but don’t let that cause you to overlook the roles of muscle conditioning, toning and even plyometric-type activities to overall strength and health. Varying up your routine to prevent injury and strengthen your body overall is so important as well!

If you are now thinking about what kind of exercise is safe for you, let me put out a quick disclaimer here. I am no exercise physiologist. I work with food to help people lose weight, however, exercise is such a key piece of that puzzle. Also, I have been an avid exerciser since my early 20’s so I tend to talk about it frequently with my clients. That being said, if you need specific advice as to what is safe and appropriate for you to be doing, please consult with your doctor, a physical therapist, or even a certified trainer to develop a plan. My role is to educate that exercise is important. For tailored guidance, particularly if you have injuries or other limitation, see a professional!*

If you feel ok starting up something on your own, let me put out a quick plug for one of my favorite online workout websites, Fitness Blender.com. For approachable, achievable and FUN workouts, this site is the best. Run by a local Seattle couple, they have FREE online workouts for any fitness level and any length of time you happen to have available. I’ll be honest. We don’t always have time for sustained cardio, do we? These workouts can easily fit in your day, whether you have 15 minutes to spare or an hour.

The truth is, though, if you are really serious about shedding that weight for good, regular exercise needs to be a part of your routine.
So yes, do lace up those shoes and get moving because the evidence is clear: exercise, and specifically cardio, supports fat reduction. Of course, you have to watch your diet, too. =)

1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/02/180206140630.htm
2. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/16/upshot/to-lose-weight-eating-less-is-far-more-important-than-exercising-more.html
3. https://www.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/ajpcell.00053.2016

*Always check with your doctor before starting any new type of exercise program. Should you choose to try something new, always start slow and always be aware of proper form. If in doubt, consult a trainer or teacher to master the fundamentals before increasing intensity. Basically, start low and slow to avoid injury!

Keeping those New Year’s Resolutions Going from January and Beyond…

Ok friends, it’s done and gone! If you were on a “diet” or had other resolutions you were working on in January…..you made it! The first month of 2018 is over. How did you do?

Maybe you have already achieved your stated goal (no alcohol for a month, for example) or maybe you are still working on it (such as weight loss), but either way, the long-term goal is to continue these new healthy habits in some form and sustain that progress through the year.

I know many don’t however. You know how I know? The parking lot at the gym grows suspiciously sparse all throughout February as people slowly lose motivation. Thanks for the parking spot though! And my calendar starts to book up in March, April, and May when well-intentioned resolutions don’t work out and people realize the summer months are closing in.

Don’t waste all that progress you made in January! Lifestyle change that produces lifelong benefits doesn’t just happen in a month. Sure, it helps reset your mind frame and sets new patterns in motion, but the work has to continue over the next months and even years. Here are a few tips to renew that motivation and hopefully help you avoid starting all over from square one again next January.

1. Asses and learn
Assess what you learned over the last month, and jot down what you learned from it. Likely you found out something about yourself that may be useful in planning for the following months. Maybe it was taking on too many changes at once. Maybe it was learning how to process new and unexpected emotions that resulted from changes in diet, exercising or thinking. Or maybe you saw that your lab markers really do respond favorably from healthier habits. Whatever it is, jot it down so that you remember this going into the next month.

2. Never beat yourself up
Do not let perceived failure derail your efforts. So many people let a day or two of backsliding take their entire set of goals off course. The ol’ mantra is “well, I already screwed up, so I might as well go all out.” Avoid this thinking! We all mess up, and that is unavoidable. Learning how to deal with perceived failure and pick yourself back up again is an incredible skill. It’s not easy, but refocus yourself and get right back up. Every day is a new day, thankfully, and a new chance to start over. Every time you do so, you are that much closer to where you want your mind, body and health to be.

3. Visualize
Every once in awhile, take some time to visualize what you see yourself doing, eating or being in January of next year. That time will come quicker than you think, and obviously you don’t want to end up in the same place repeating the same goals once again. Put a motivating picture up if that helps. Have a reminder set on your phone with encouraging words. Remind yourself in regular intervals of where you intend to be which should greatly increase your motivation to up in the daily work to get there.

4. Exercise
This may already be part of your goals, or lifestyle, so if it is, go ahead and ignore! But if not, I include this here because moving your body incredibly supports our mind. If our mind is functioning better, we are in the best state to do what is right for your health. Over and over studies show that exercise improves mood through the release of endorphins, reduces feelings of anxiety and depression and increases energy. These are all things we need to stay on track with new health goals. If our mind is in the wrong place, we face an uphill battle. Now I realize incorporating exercise can be a whole thing in an of itself, but think of it as a mind activity instead and make it something enjoyable. It could be a brisk walk, a Zumba class, or dancing in the living room with your kids. The goal is just to move. Daily.

5. Journal
Writing about your progress weekly can be incredibly helpful as you move towards a new way of living. My most successful clients are typically those that keep a running log of how they are doing week to week so they can not only track progress but pinpoint areas that need some fine-tuning. Often it’s only when we see our week in writing that we can objectively evaluate and make helpful changes that get us closer to our goals. You don’t need to write every day, but at least weekly is useful. You might want to track things like daily food and beverage choices, exercise, feelings/mood, digestive symptoms, etc. Whatever you are trying to change, start tracking it so you can visibly see that progress over time. It can be extremely motivating to keep the momentum going, or it can provide a checkpoint to make changes if things just aren’t progressing as anticipated.

Hopefully, these quick tips give you a few ideas to continue your New Year’s resolutions into February and far beyond. You have already put in a good 30 days of work…..don’t stop now!

Can Diet Calm an Anxious Mind?

foods to calm your nervesAnxiety. It’s a common ailment. When my clients list their medical history, anxiety is often on the list. It seems to be more prevalent than ever. Maybe we are now recognizing and diagnosing it more often, but it is not uncommon for a person of any age, even children, to report various levels of anxiety.

What is anxiety? Many confuse it with stress, but it’s actually more than that. Whereas stress is the body’s physical response in the moment to a situation, anxiety differs in that the physical response continues far after the situation is over. It is almost as if there is no switch to turn “off.” These physical responses can include increased blood pressure, excessive trembling or sweating, chest pains, insomnia, headaches, nausea, dizziness, muscle tension, constipation and/or diarrhea, indigestion, and even rashes or what feels like allergic reactions. The physical manifestations clearly can be many and may cause harm to one’s body over the long term.

The levels of anxiety can be varied as well. I am not a psychiatrist so I won’t get too far into this, but it can range from general anxiety all the way to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD).

The first step to take if you feel you have anxiety is to talk with a mental health professional. That way you can find out where you are on the spectrum and hopefully even find out where the anxiety is stemming from.

Second, which is where I come in, is supporting your body through this process with proper diet. Studies have shown that specific foods can play a huge part in reducing overall anxiety and improving the body’s ability to cope and recover.

While a healthy, balanced diet is what we typically recommend, let’s break it down into specific foods you can choose to support your brain and mental health.

Foods to Calm Your Nerves

1. Foods high in B Vitamins: Many of the B vitamins are known to help with anxiety and mood. Some great choices include:

  • Green leafy vegetables (at least one large handful of raw greens daily is ideal!) Spinach, kale, chard, collard greens
  • Avocado
  • Citrus fruits
  • Beans, peas, lentils
  • Cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts
  • Beets
  • Bananas

2. Foods high in Omega 3 fatty acids: The Omega 3’s (DHA and EPA) we know are very beneficial for the brain and may do wonders for your mood. These are foods such as….

  • Seafood including wild caught salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring and anchovies
  • Plant sources with pre-cursors to DHA and EPA include flax seed, hemp hearts, chia seeds, walnuts
  • High-quality fish oil supplement

3. Fermented foods: Numerous studies have shown that our gut microbes talk to our brain. Crazy, isn’t it? Supporting a healthy gut environment, therefore, is an important consideration for our mental health. Fermented foods include:

  • Cultured dairy products, such as high-quality yogurt (few ingredients, low sugar), kefir, buttermilk, cultured butter
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Pickles and other pickled veggies
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Natto

4. Foods high in antioxidants: Inflammation can definitely put stress on our brains. Fight inflammation with antioxidants and other anti-inflammatory foods. Antioxidants, particularly anthocyanins, can also help increase the body’s production of dopamine.

  • Anthocyanins: blueberries, cherries, grapes, blackberries, pomegranates, red cabbage, purple asparagus
  • Vitamin C foods: Oranges, kiwis, strawberries, pineapple, mango
  • Others: goji berries, dark chocolate, herbs and spices (especially turmeric)!

5. Hydrate!: While not a food, keeping up good fluid intake is so important! Dehydration increases stress on the body which can only exacerbate anxiety. While straight up water is a great choice, teas can also have a very calming effect on the body. Aim for 8 cups per day and even more if sweating excessively.

Foods That May Stress an Already Anxious Mind

While eating more of certain foods can be helpful, we also need to cut out those foods that are increasing stress on your body. These are likely nothing new to you, but they are good reminders!

1. Caffeine

Not everyone reacts adversely to caffeine, but if you are one of those who do, caffeine can definitely raise your anxiety level. Try cutting it out for awhile to see how you respond. On a personal note, someone in my own family did this recently and it did wonders for their mood and overall stress level!

2. Sugar

No surprise here, but sugar increases inflammation, raises blood sugar, and overall is harmful for your brain. Dial it back and choose naturally sweetened foods like fruit instead.

3. Gluten

For some, gluten can be very inflammatory and therefore impact your mood and well-being. Try taking a gluten vacation for a couple of weeks and see how you feel.

4. Processed foods, especially fast food

Another no-brainer, but fast food and other highly processed foods are very low in actual nutrition and high in refined carbs, sugars and additives. Ditch the drive-through and seek out healthier alternatives.

5. Artificial sweeteners

A component of many processed foods, I single these out because they may be harmful to our guts and therefore impact brain health. Some of my clients have even reported headaches and other reactions from these sweet additives. Go for the natural sugar if forced to choose but in very small amounts.

6. Avoid any foods you are allergic or sensitive to

Some of you, knowingly or unknowingly, may be suffering from food sensitivity reactions. These reactions cause inflammation which can exacerbate stress and anxiety. If you aren’t sure which foods are causing you problems, an elimination diet can be a good first step. Seek guidance from an RD like myself to help tailor such a plan or dig deeper if the offending foods are elusive. For difficult cases, I like using MRT food sensitivity by Oxford Biomedical for decisive answers (www.nowleap.com).

 
Hopefully, this gives you a few specific food ideas to get started! Again I will reiterate that if you are struggling with anxiety, seek professional help. Don’t do this on your own. Along with expert advice, change up your diet to give your brain the support it needs!

 

Are diets one size fits all? Research suggests not all diets are created equal when it comes to your genes.

weight lossOnce again I’m pondering the research around “diets.” First of all, I hate the word diet. It implies some sort of rigorous eating plan that once completed, will solve all your health problems and somehow miraculously allow you to resume former habits. Or, it alludes to something you hop on/off a couple times per year in hopes of staving off weight gain.

Diet is actually defined as the foods a person or animal habitually eats. In that sense, the way we use diet is all wrong. For most, “diets” have a foreseeable end, whereas a diet in actuality is the way you eat most of the time.

There are numerous “diets” or ways of eating that are being publicized. Who hasn’t heard of the ketogenic diet by now? There is also paleo, Mediterranean, low carb, macrobiotic, vegetarian, vegan, etc.  All of these tout that their plan is the “way” everyone should eat. It can be extremely confusing. It’s like a pick your own adventure of diets.

Naturally, as a dietitian, everyone wants to know what I deem to be the BEST diet. Some are disappointed when I don’t provide a clear and firm response on the matter. You see, the reason I keep pondering various these diets is because I’ve seen through countless client encounters that many diets, as healthy as they might seem, just plain do not work for some people. I have had people come in, desperate for help, because the “healthy” diet they have followed to the “t” is producing no weight loss results, or even worse, causing increased lipid levels and reduced energy. What gives?

Recent research out of Texas A&M may provide some helpful results.1 They showed that that in mice fed various popular diets (Standard American, Ketogenic, Japanese, Atkins, etc ), they all responded differently, some positive and some negative. In other words, some mice showed positive improvements on particular plans while others actually got worse on the very same diet.

The key is genetics. The researchers in this study suspect that genetic variations cause our bodies to respond better or worse to various foods and styles of eating. For example, one mouse in particular did very poorly on the Japanese diet, surprisingly, while the rest stayed in good health. Also, most did poorly on the standard American diet (as expected) but some fared less poorly than others.

The take home message is that clearly, one diet does not fit all. A diet that improves the health of one person might worsen the health of another. So many out there want to promote and sell you the universal “ideal” diet, and yet it is becoming more clear that it does not exist. The role of genetics is only going to continue to become more prominent as we search for answers in the obesity epidemic and for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and hypertension.

Is your current diet not providing the results you had hoped? The good news is that there is a “right” diet out there for you. Maybe you need to stay more consistent with the one you are on, or maybe you need to change gears entirely. If you are unsure which way to go, consult a professional like myself to provide some guidance on steps forward. While we can’t know for sure which diet will be the golden ticket, we certainly can provide some objective advice to point you (hopefully!) in the right direction.

Last point. If you have failed at weight loss in the past despite carefully following popular diet plans that show amazing results for others, don’t count yourself a failure. Look at this research as hope. It validates that it may not be your efforts that have failed but that type of diet doesn’t work with your genetics. Keep exploring and keep trying!

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/11/171130170236.htm

‘Tis the Time for Mindful Eating: Danielle’s 5 Key Tips to Surviving the Holiday Food Deluge

Oh yeah, here they come again, the holidays! It’s funny because it is a time we all look forward to and yet there is still this dread …. the dread of weeks of overeating and the unavoidable weight gain. For many it’s quite predictable. In fact, the average American gains 7-10 pounds during the months of November and December. But really, who can resist all those delectable holiday treats?

Many, on the other hand, never gain an extra pound over the holidays. I am usually one of those. “That’s because you are a dietitian and never enjoy food anyways” you say. “No way!” is what I say. I enjoy lots of foods. Lots of foods in moderation. “Ugh, the moderation word. So overused.” Yeah, I agree. But to a large extend it’s true. You can enjoy a wide variety of foods if you keep it in moderation. Over-indulge? No. Indulge a little? Yes.

Now, you might be already thinking, well that’s no fun. What’s the holidays if you can’t eat until your stomach is about to rip in two and you need to take an extended siesta on your grandfather’s lazy boy? I hear you. We all have traditions that we come to expect and almost crave during this time of year. For so many, over eating is one of them. As mentioned, we dread this season of overeating, but we also expect it and do it anyways. It’s like an unbreakable vicious cycle. How do we get out of candy land hell!

One of the first steps is to recognize the problem! The problem is that when we overeat, we constantly over-ride our natural hunger/fullness cues which eventually leads to dysfunction, to the point we can’t even tell when we are hungry and full anymore. We start to eat for pleasure or pain instead of physical need. This causes us to eat frequently and in portions much larger than we need.

What to do? This is where some basic mindful eating tips can come in super helpful. It may not change your life immediately, but trust me, over weeks and months you will slowly be more in tune with yourself and better able to nourish your body with what it needs, not with what your cravings tell you it wants.

Danielle’s 5 tips for surviving the holiday food deluge:

1. Recognize your weakness areas and where they are encountered.

Recognition is always the first step, isn’t it? You have to assess where your problem areas lie.  Is it sugar? All carbs? Salt? Large portions in general?  All of the above? Does the problem occur in the workplace? At home? At family gatherings? Late at night alone? All of the above. Think through the foods you just can’t stop eating and where you find them throughout the day. Write it down.

2. Make a daily and weekly plan.

Remember, most of the gradual weight gain comes from slight but cumulative overeating all through the holidays, not just on Thanksgiving and Christmas day. Make a plan for yourself so you have a rough idea of what you want to eat from day to day and stick to it. Having a plan liberates the mind to think about other more important things and even frees it from considering cravings, especially when you know, according to your “plan,” that they are not an option.

*If you need help making a plan for the holidays, come see me for ideas!

Going along with that, keep a diet journal as you go. Writing down what you eat, at least for a short period of time, increases your mindfulness around what you are eating and helps avoid random snacking. When you are forced to think more about what you eat, you tend to make better choices. So put pen to paper (or finger to phone) and keep track for a couple of weeks during the holidays.

3. DO NOT avoid all your favorite foods. That is probably the worst thing you can do, especially as you start something new. In my experience the more forbidden a food is, the more you want it. What I say is that all foods are allowed, but portions are controlled. That is the key. Make sure you enter it into the plan and stick to a defined portion. *Don’t forget, usually the first 1-3 bites of any food are the most satisfying. The word is enjoy, enjoy, enjoy. Enjoy the hell out of each bite. When that uber enjoyment ends, put down the fork. Save the rest for another day. I know it’s hard, but try it!

4. Keep up your physical activity! I can’t even tell you how many people let go of their exercise routines during this time because they are “too busy.” Oh no. That is not acceptable. We all have extra things we add to our daily itineraries because of holiday stuff, but slacking off on exercise is not one we can cut. Decreasing exercise can increase your risk for depression (especially if you are prone to it), decrease your willpower around food portions, and of course only add extra calories to your day because your aren’t burning those bad boys off. In fact, my advice is to INCREASE your exercise during the holidays! Make November and December your fittest months. You will not be regretting that come January when everyone else is hauling their sorry arse back to the gym!

5. Always load up on fruits and veggies.

Basically when in doubt, choose fruit and veg. These beauties are chocked full of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants ….all the things you need to counter act any unhealthy choices encountered over the holiday months. You are going to feel a lot better, and gain less weight, if you fill your plate with produce at each and every meal.

Bonus tip: Relieve stress however you can! Stress always makes eating worse (not to mention ruins our holiday spirit). Before the holidays hit, think thru right now what helps you melt away stress and make a plan to DO those things regularly. Read a book? Get together with a friend? Meditate or deep breathing? Yoga? A quick getaway? If the holidays stress you out, counteract it this year and get stress-relieving activities on the schedule!

Remember these tips as you move through these next weeks and months, and best of luck as you navigate another wonderful holiday season!

As always, if you need help with any of the above, please come talk to me! I’d love to help you make a holiday plan to make this time your healthiest yet!

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Skipping breakfast hardens your arteries? More reasons to charge up in the morning with a healthy (and preferably potassium-rich) meal!

According to a recent study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, those who skip breakfast are more likely to experience atherosclerosis, aka hardening of the arteries, than those who ate a daily, healthy meal in the morning. 1

The connection, it appears, is that those who are breakfast skippers tend to have more unhealthy diets and lifestyles than those who don’t. They found in the study that overall, those who opt to skip breakfast had poorer diets, were more likely to have high blood pressure or be overweight, and were more likely to smoke or consume alcohol in excess. All of these factors lead to an increased risk for atherosclerosis. Lack of breakfast is not the cause, per se, but an indicator of other health habits.

Now, when I read the study synopsis I was suddenly reminded of another study I recently perused. It linked low potassium intake with hardening of the arteries.2 I got to thinking. Does lack of a morning meal also mean less nutrient intake overall, and therefore decreased intake of critical nutrients for heart health?

Think about it. If you are skipping an entire meal, one that for most provides roughly one quarter to one third of a person’s daily calories and nutrients, wouldn’t this eventually have an impact on nutrient status (particularly potassium) and therefore one’s heart?

The daily recommended intake for potassium is 4,700 mg per day. This is easily achieved if the diet is full of fruits, vegetables, legumes, and dairy. This is hard to achieve if one lives on processed foods and is skipping meals. It seems, therefore, that skipping an important meal, one that has the potential to provide a good dose of nutrition, could be a serious problem. Now, if a person is very diligent with their diet the rest of the day and makes up those nutrients elsewhere, clearly this is less likely to be a problem. But let’s be honest: that is not most of us.

So while we thought the great breakfast debate had died down, evidently it has not. Here we have yet another reason to start your day off right. Eat your breakfast, and make sure it is healthy….for your heart’s sake.

Now that begs the question: what constitutes a healthy breakfast? Let’s dive into some potassium rich breakfast ideas to get you going in the morning:

  • Sweet potato hash and eggs
  • Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts
  • Protein shakes:
    • Add banana and/or berries
    • Add avocado
    • Mix with coconut water for a super potassium boost
  • Egg scramble with spinach, broccoli and onions
  • Avocado toast
  • Smoked salmon or lox on toast w/ fruit on the side (cantaloupe is a great choice!)

Hope those ideas get you started! Just remember, starting your morning with healthy foods straight away sets you up for a day of healthy eating. So eat something, even it is small, and get your day off to a good start. Your heart will thank you.

  1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171002145635.htm
  2. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171005102712.htm

 

Image courtesy of KEKO64 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Can you fight your genes? The importance of healthy lifestyle factors in gene expression.

Genetics. It is a hot topic right now. Well, it has been a hot topic for quite some time, ever since the human gemone project was completed in 2003. We now have the ability to look at someone’s unique DNA and assess risk for a host of health conditions. In many cases, we do not even fully understand the impact of DNA aberrations as many abnormalities have not yet been well studied.

Genetics is also very hot in the nutrition world right now. Why? Because we now have advanced testing that can give us specific information related to how a person’s body responds to various inputs: diet, stress and the environment. We are also uncovering specific genes related to body weight, blood sugar control, brain health, autoimmune conditions, etc. 23andme.com, which you have likely heard of, is one of the leading companies in this arena right now providing raw genetic data to clients across the country.

While this information is useful (and believe me, it can be really, really useful), there is also the danger of believing our genes determine our destiny. It is a common belief that if you have genes for obesity, for example, that at some point you will become obese. That same can be said for alzheimers disease or celiac disease. The thinking is that if your genes point you in any one of these directions, there is nothing you can do to avoid the progression. Might as well eat that doughnut and sit on the couch a little longer because at the end of the day, what can you do to stop it?

Thankfully, that is not true! Lifestyle choices DO matter, and they matter critically when it comes to gene expression. The key point is this: just because you have “bad” genes does not mean that they will express. Take the person with genes for celiac disease. There are actually many people who have those genes and yet never get the disease. How can that be?

Well, in celiac disease, according to Dr. Alessio Fasano, you need three things for the celiac gene to turn “on.” You need to have the gene, obviously. You need to have gluten in the diet. And you need to have an environmental trigger. Ah, an outside trigger! That is one of the key ways genes express. Take a moment and think about what an outside or environmental trigger might be……..

Yep, likely you named a few. How about emotional stress? Physical stress (extremely hard labor, over-exercising)? Poor diet? Substance abuse? Illness? Fatigue/lack of sleep? Toxins?

That brings me to the latest study I read that hit home on this very fact. Lifestyle influences genes. Your genes do not determine your destiny….. necessarily.

The study, conducted in the UK, looked at genetic data and self-reported lifestyle choices from over 360,000 middle-aged subjects. Their primary interest was to see how various lifestyle factors affected the risk for obesity in people with genetic markers predisposing them to excess weight.1

When they analyzed their data, three points stood out. Those with a lower socioeconomic status showed an increased risk for obesity. Presumably this is due to poorer diet choices, increased stress, and other factors related to being low-income. Those with regular exercise showed a significant decrease in their risk for obesity, as well as those subjects with regular alcohol consumption. While clearly more studies need to be done, we can definitely start to see that certain lifestyle choices play a role in how genes express.

What is the take home message then? Drink more alcohol? No, sorry, this is not an article sponsored by Smirnoff. The main message is this: consider your lifestyle choices more than your genes.

Think of it like this, as I learned in a recent webinar by Dr. Ben Lynch. “Bad” genes suggest susceptibility, not cause. Knowing your genes allows you to understand where you are susceptible, but it does necessarily determine your fate. So, as much as you can, take your health into your own hands.

Don’t let anyone tell you diet doesn’t matter. Don’t let anyone tell you exercise doesn’t matter. Don’t let anyone tell you stress doesn’t matter. It all matters. Obviously no one can achieve perfection in any of these areas, but do what you can. It not only makes you feel better, but your genes feel better too!

If your lifestyle just isn’t up to par and you feel lost, please reach out! That is what dietitians are for! The focus of my job is food and healthy lifestyle and I have LOTS of pertinent information to share. Drop me a line!

1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170906103749.htm