L is for Leafy Greens

leafy greens - vegetables“Eat more leafy greens!” Do you hear that all the time? Or is it just me? Seems like a saying that just won’t go away. I know we are always commanded by health gurus to eat this or eat that, but with leafy greens, I think there is a reason this mandate has stuck around.

What are leafy greens anyways? Sounds like a nice word for something clearly leafy and healthy, but are we talking about exactly? Many think spinach, some think lettuce. Both are correct, but it’s more than that. Leafy greens typically entail those greens that are dark green (iceberg you’re out, sorry), and leafy (obviously), which does include spinach and lettuce but also kale, chard, and collard greens.

One question I often get is, “Are they really all that healthy?” It does seem that such a small, flat arrangement of cellulose could not possibly hold much in the way of nutrition, but strangely they pack a hefty nutrient punch.

First of all they are great sources of folate. This is great for women of reproductive age but helpful for all of us in forming red and white blood cells as well as producing DNA and RNA. Folate also helps us utilize carbohydrates as energy (and don’t we all need more energy?). Additionally, for those who have a deficiency in an enzyme called Methylenetetrahydrofolate Reductase (MTHFR for short), dietary folate sources are very important. A good handful of leafy greens every day is a great idea for everyone.

Greens also have vitamin C, believe it or not. I know normally we think citrus, but those dark leaves have an appreciable amount as well. Our bodies use Vitamin C to make collagen, support brain health, and as a potent antioxidant. They also have a good dose of Vitamin which is super important for blood clotting. Vitamin K also works with Calcium, Vitamin D and Magnesium in supporting healthy bones.

Besides vitamins, leafy greens also have important minerals that we need for health. They have some calcium (more good news for bones!) and bit of iron. Since Vitamin C helps plant-based iron sources get absorbed more readily, leafy greens come packed ready for maximum absorption.

All those nutrients packed into an inconspicuous green, fibrous plant… who would have thought? But there is knowing about these facts and then choosing to consume. Basically, do they actually taste any good?

Those same people crying “eat more leafy greens” are also the same ones who typically say leafy greens are delicious. Have you tasted one of those leaves? I think you can safely call it bleh. The key is you have to prepare them. Or douse them in dressing. It’s easy to make them palatable, so don’t dismiss them until you’ve tried a number of variations.

I’m a big fan of keeping them raw as much as possible. Why? Because cooking starts to degrade the vitamins. You won’t get nearly as much folate or Vitamin C if you cook them, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. I do cook them sometimes, such as a nice sauté of greens with garlic and oil, however I also like to keep them fresh, flavored instead with dressings or mixed into flavorful grain or salad dishes. In fact, massaged kale salad is one of my absolute favorites. See the recipe below. It might change your life.

The last wonderful thing about leafy greens? They are low in calories! Everyone wants low calorie, am I right? One cup of spinach has 7 calories. You can’t beat that. Greens for the win.

So go ahead and follow orders the next time you are instructed to “eat more leafy greens.” It’s a command you can trust.

Massaged Kale Salad:

-1 bunch of kale, leaves stripped from the stems and torn into small pieces and put into a large bowl
-Sprinkle 2-3 tsp of olive oil and 1/4- 1/2 tsp of salt
-“Massage” the kale with your hands, squeezing and mixing the kale leaves until they soften, break down, and turn a slightly darker green.

There you have it, massaged kale! Now you can add any tasty additions that you would like. I love to add toasted pecans, dried cranberries, and hemp hearts along with a light dressing. Another great combination is adding some lemon juice with parmesan cheese and minced garlic cloves. Experiment and enjoy!

10 Super Foods to Eat this Spring

healthy spring eatingWarmer weather is gradually arriving (at least to us in Seattle!) and many of you, like myself, are likely starting to shift your eating. Heavy stews and fortifying soups are on their way out in place of lighter fare with seasonal produce. Personally, I always find this time of year that I’ve forgotten many of my favorite Spring and Summer foods as this transition happens, and I get into a food rut, rotating through many of the same meals until something reminds me of the variety at my fingertips (ie the store or farmers market). For that reason I created a list of the some fabulous “super foods” to start incorporating this Spring.

First off I will say I don’t really like the term “super food.” By super food we really just mean, “a healthy whole food that provides a combination of vitamins, minerals, and health protective compounds.” MANY foods fit this criteria. Below are just a few of the many options you may have neglected over the winter. Pick one or two this week to add in as a snack or as part of a meal. No time to start changing things up like the present!

1. Strawberries
Maybe you noticed, but strawberries were listed as #1 on “dirty dozen” list this year, meaning they are the number one pesticide-contaminated produce item. Unfortunate to say the least, but don’t forget you can choose organic to get the wonderful and delicious health benefits of this tasty fruit. Also, you can often find frozen organic strawberries in most stores at a much more affordable price, so be creative! Strawberries pack of a hefty dose of vitamin C, a few trace minerals and a host of antioxidants, making it a great choice for the warmer months.

2. Leeks
These green, onion-like veggies are often overlooked, but don’t! They are a nutritional powerhouse of Vit K, manganese, iron, Vitamin C and B vitamins. In fact, they can be a great replacement in any dish that calls for onions. I’ve done this loads of times myself. Just cut off the tough stalk and chop up the tender white portion to use in your next dish. Alternatively they work great as a soup or baked into a quiche!

3. Salmon
You may have ignored salmon over the winter, so start including more of this super food as the weather warms. Salmon is great not only because is it a good protein source, but also because it’s loaded with Omega 3 fats and provides a good amount of Calcium, Vitamin D, Selenium and B12. Pair it with a simple salmon for a light Spring dinner. Just make sure to always buy wild caught over farm raised to avoid potential toxins and genetically modified organisms .

4. Olives
There are so many different types of olives to choose from! Hit up the olive bar at your favorite grocer sometime and try some new varieties. All of them are high in monounsaturated fatty acids and contain important nutrients such as copper, iron, fiber and Vitamin E. They are also a wealth of unique antioxidants giving them heart-protective properties.

5. Pumpkin Seeds
Hiking season is coming up on us fast, so don’t forget to pack some pumpkin seeds for the trail. In fact, pack them everywhere for an easy snack. Pumpkin seeds provide an appreciable amount of zinc (great for your immune system!) and other minerals such as phosphorous, manganese, and copper.

6. Artichokes
These fleshy little friends are often overlooked as well, especially since getting to the actual edible portion of this rather large vegetable can be challenging for some. Never fear, you can always find them jarred or canned to save you the time and hassle. That being said, check the link below to expand your skills and become an artichoke-opening champ. Like other foods on this list, here we have another one loaded with antioxidants and high in fiber. Studies have shown artichokes to also be helpful in liver health, preventing cancer, and reducing cholesterol. For pregnant women, artichokes are a great source of folate.
http://www.oceanmist.com/artichokes/prepare-artichoke/

7. Chocolate
It seems the health benefits of chocolate continue to be debated (much like coffee!) but I believe the overwhelming consensus is that chocolate is super for your health. Do watch the sugar and choose the highest cacoa content that you can, but otherwise enjoy the benefits of all those antioxidants, healthy fats, and fiber with every bite. A small square per day makes a great snack.

8. Hemp seed
You may have yet to hear of these, but hemp seeds are gaining in popularity. Yes, if you were wondering, they are from the same plant as cannabis, however the seeds contain trace if any of the mind-altering compounds found in the leaves of the plant. The wonderful thing about these delicate little seeds is that they are high in protein and rich in essential fatty acids. They also contain a variety of minerals and antioxidants. Try adding a tablespoon to your morning yogurt, oatmeal or smoothie.

9. Beets
I associate beets with Spring salads, adding richness in color and flavor to any leafy arrangement. Besides appearance and flavor, they contain unique phytonutrients that support our bodies in detoxification, cancer prevention, and heart health. Unfortunately these phytochemicals can degrade with prolonged cooking, so prepare them as efficiently as possible. Check out this link for an ideal way to cook your beets for maximum retention of nutrients.
http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=recipe&dbid=98

10. Leafy greens
Speaking of salads, leafy greens are the ultimate Spring food, chocked full of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. Like other foods on this list, they protect the heart, help the body prevent cancer, and supply a great source of vitamins and minerals, particularly folate, potassium, Calcium and Vitamins A, C, and K. Plus, there are so many options to choose from! Spinach, kale, chard, dandelion greens, mustard greens….. pick your favorites and enjoy in a salad, smoothie, stir-fry, or anywhere!

Why is behavior change towards healthy diet and lifestyle so hard?

Behavior change healthI’ve been pondering this question ever since reading an article that public health officials in the UK want to start labeling foods with “activity equivalents.”1 While only a proposal at this stage, these depictions would let consumers know approximately the time and types of activity required to burn off the calories in the product being purchased. A box of biscuits might, for example, have a picture of a person walking for 60 minutes or swimming for 30 minutes to demonstrate the type of activity and length of time it would take to burn off the calories in one serving.  With more than 2/3 of the population in the UK falling into the overweight or obese category, this might be a good step forward.

But it is? While at first glance this seems like another positive step in the labeling of our foods, stop and think for a minute why this proposal is arising in the first place. Despite the myriad of rules we have around labeling and manufacturing of foods, the public health campaigns on TV and in magazines, the education we get in our doctors’ offices and in schools – we are not effectively combating the obesity epidemic. The article even states currently there is little evidence that the information provided on food products has had any significant impact on changing health behavior. Why is that?

I think on a gut level you know why that is. Marketing. The addictive qualities of salt, sugar and fat (Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss is a good read, by the way). Lack of time to prepare meals and incorporate exercise. Simple lack of health education, especially at an early age. The reasons are endless, and they vary for each person. The deck is stacked against us when it comes to healthy diet and lifestyle choices. While food labeling is helpful, it is not creating the impact that was hoped for.

Unfortunately I do not have any easy solutions to offer. Like anything, it takes hard work. In my case, I think about food and exercise every single day. And it’s not just because I’m a Dietitian, although it does mean I’m reminded daily on the health risks related to poor diet and inactivity. In order to stay on top of what I eat and getting in daily movement, I have to plan it out. Yep, every single day I’m mentally recording what I plan to eat, where and when I’m going to exercise, and on top of that doing the same for my kids. It is a mindset that you prioritize, and I just don’t think a few pictures depicting walkers and joggers on the side of a food label will catalyze that change, especially when the foods I and other health practitioners recommend generally aren’t the ones with the crazy busy food labels!

While normally I am all for increased awareness and openness when it comes to labeling, I think this one might be an unnecessary burden on business, may actually increase confusion when it comes to reading the label (how much info can they fit on there anyway???), and generally be a giant waste of time. We need to get to real nuts and bolts of what creates behavior change, and as I said before, that is not a one-size-fits all approach.

So don’t feel discouraged if you are one of the people struggling with long-term change. You are definitely not alone, and likely you just haven’t hit the right messages and planning tools to kickstart that change for good. My recommendation? See a Registered Dietitian of course! Or if not an RD, at least someone with health expertise to help guide you on an individual level. While these mass campaigns to encourage health are helpful to some degree, most of us need more specific and tailored advice, especially when it comes to behavior changes that lasts. Make the time to meet with someone. Your health is worth it.

  1. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160406202430.htm

Lastly, I am curious to know, what do you think about new labeling suggestions? What, if anything, would be helpful for you to see on a label that is not already there? What do you find helpful in planning your day or reminding you to engage in healthy activities? What are the major barriers you have to implementing a consistent plan? These are the questions each of us need to deal with on an individual level to come up with the solution that will work. If that seems overwhelming, then let’s talk! I would love to help you get started sorting through those issues and come up with ideas to create permanent change.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Three Messages for National Nutrition Month

healthy dietHappy National Nutrition Month! Yes, that time of the year is here again. Naturally it seems appropriate to write on the topic, so earlier this week I sat down and thought about what “National Nutrition Month” means to me.

There are many nutrition themes that will be discussed this month, but I narrowed it down to three main messages that I think are important and worth re-educating yourself on. These might seem common sense, but they are lessons that most of us so often forget with the constant feed of “new” nutrition information bombarding us every time we get on the web or open a magazine. Clean all that junk out of your mind, have a read through, and reset your mind on basic nutrition. I believe that is the spirit of National Nutrition Month.

1. Beware of Nutrition Claims
I have to start here because, if my subset of clients are any indication of the population as a whole, many of you are confused about what healthy even means anymore. Much of this is due to infomercials, fad diet books, and a glut of cheap supplements being promoted by popular “experts”. This drives me crazy to NO end. No, not crazy, angry. Furious in fact. Deep breaths, Danielle. I get so upset when these so-called experts sell products and promote diets to the general public to capture those who are desperate for a fix to their problems. It’s dishonest and it’s downright harmful. People end up more confused and frustrated than before. Let me break it down for you real quick. Fad diets don’t work. Do not buy that latest book. Your $20 will be gone and the book will be on its way to the Goodwill before you know it. Also, DO NOT buy the supplements that Dr. Oz and others report on, especially for weight loss. The research is usually limited at best, and I have never, ever, ever had a client report to me that a weight loss pill worked. They never work. And you know what? If they did work, it would be all over the news, the chat rooms, Facebook, you name it. If something actually works, you will know. The price will skyrocket at the same time. And infomercials? I think you already get the point. See previous points.

2. Eat Whole Foods
I know, I know. I say this all the time. Yawn, you say. But the fact is, people aren’t doing this. All of us are resorting to processed, packaged, or fast foods, and it’s not healthy. I firmly believe we need to get back to old fashioned (sad that the word old fashioned seems appropriate here), whole foods as they are found in nature, or the occasional ready-made food that is prepared from whole foods. Does this way of eating take time? YES! I have so many clients tell me, after embarking on such a plan, that they are sick of being in the kitchen. You know what, me too! That’s life folks. I also don’t like doing laundry and I don’t like cleaning my house. Apart from outsourcing these tasks, you have to do them. Grocery shopping, food prep, and cooking is part of that too. There is no getting around it without sacrificing your health, just as if you don’t do your laundry you stink. Yes we make compromises from time to time, but you will still be in the kitchen way more than you want to. It’s just life. Get used to it.

3. Eat From the “Rainbow”
Along with eating whole foods, a bit of color in our diet is an important thing as well. It’s easy to let our diet get a little bland. The more color on your plate, the more antioxidants and phytochemicals you are consuming. These are important for warding off disease, especially heart disease. Examples? Colorful fruits like berries, pomegranates, red grapes, or bright red apples. Vibrant veggies like tomatoes, dark leafy greens, eggplants, crispy orange carrots, and purple cabbage. Don’t forget our legume friends with their colorful pigments, including red kidney beans, brown pinto beans, and lentils of various varieties. Whole grains also have a variety of antioxidants packed in. These are just a few of the many examples of where we get these bright and colorful foods. If you see a variety of pigments on your plate (that aren’t from food dyes!), you know you are on the right track.

So look at that, three easy messages that sum up basic nutrition. Yay for National Nutrition Month!

But then the question is, how do you implement this practically? We live in a fast paced world where nowadays two people in the household work. The days of the housewife at home taking care of these tasks are gone. I get it. All this is way easier said than done, says the woman hauling multiple packages of frozen foods out of Costco today. Yeah, that was me. Hypocrite, I know. It was mostly organic I swear, but I digress.

The first step? Learn to Cook. Sounds easy, and mostly it is, but it just takes a little time. Many of us are lacking some basic kitchen skills and utensils. Do you have a sharp knife? Do you know how to cut an onion or a red pepper without massacring it? The wonders of YouTube can teach you in five minutes or less. Alternatively there are often classes at local organic grocers, such as PCC or Whole Foods here in Seattle, or even more proper classes at local culinary schools. Better yet? Ask a friend! However you do it, learn a few skills to make the tedious task of cooking easier and maybe even fun.

After you do learn to cook, you will notice you are spending more money on food. Recipes with multiple healthy ingredients require a few more purchases. This leads us to the next important point. You have to Spend more money on food. Don’t whine and moan about this. I’ve heard it all before. I know you “can’t afford it,” but the truth is you can. If you have a monthly cable bill, a monthly cell phone bill, a full time job, and the leisure time to be reading this article right now, you can.

According to statistics, American households in 2013 spent 5.6 percent of their disposable income on food. Does that seem like a lot? No, it doesn’t, does it. For comparison, the average American household back in 1960 spent roughly 17% of their disposable income on food. In 2007 that figure was 9.6.% (1). The numbers continue to decline as we find ways to make cheaper and arguably less healthy food. Or may be I should say, the numbers continue to decline as we place less and less value on food. When you look at other parts of the world, the numbers change very quickly. In some low-income countries they spend close to 50% of their disposable income on food. Kenya, Nigeria, and Indonesia all fall in that category. Think of that, nearly 50%. Can you imagine? Others may not spend quite that much but still spend significantly more than we do. In 2008 Mexicans spent 24% of their income on food, and South Africans spent 20%. The Chinese spent 33% while Indians spend 35% (2). I find this fascinating. There is an understanding in those countries that food is an expensive part of existence. Food is life, and they spend time and thought on it accordingly.

Unfortunately nowadays in our country food is not given such priority. It should be cheap, quick, and require as little inconvenience as possible. This has led us to cheap commodities, processed foods, fast food, and a host of other ways to make food inexpensive and at the same time convenient. Sadly the true cost of decent food now seems high by comparison which makes those watching their budgets (which is all of us, really) think organic and other quality food is “too expensive.” Rubbish I say. The worst part? If we don’t pay for food with our dollar, then we pay for it with our health.

On the subject of paying, where we spend our money is also important. I’m sure you have heard it before, but voting with your dollar makes a difference in the economy. If you don’t agree with the way Walmart, for example, treats their employees and the type of products they sell, then don’t spend your money there, not a single penny. Spend your hard earned money with vendors who do the right thing by supporting health and supporting our environment. The percentage of money you do spend on food, spend it wisely.

All this rambling has been just to make a few key points. To recap: Don’t listen to bogus nutrition claims. Eat real food. Eat a variety of colorful real foods. Learn to cook so you can prepare healthy and nutritious foods at home. Be willing to pay a few more percentage points of your income on wholesome ingredients to fuel your body and ward off disease. Spend your food dollars on places where you support their values and the way they conduct business.

That’s it. Happy National Nutrition Month! Be sure to spread the love about healthy food and healthy lifestyles. ‘Tis the month!

References:

  1. http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/ag-and-food-statistics-charting-the-essentials/food-prices-and-spending.aspx
  2. http://wsm.wsu.edu/researcher/wsmaug11_billions.pdf

Healthy Breakfast Ideas for Your School Age Child

school breakfast weekIt caught my eye that this week is National School Breakfast Week. Sadly my first thought was, “Really? Yuck.” Maybe that was yours just now too. We all remember school lunch from back in the day. Mine was soggy pizza and limp fries, or maybe an iceberg salad with ranch and a few mystery meat nuggets. I’m not joking. This is exactly what I ate. I typically chose a carton of lowfat milk as my beverage, but others choices were juice boxes or chocolate milk.

I was thinking, hoping, that possibly school lunches had changed since my time in the elementary cafeteria. While there is movement towards healthier choices, unfortunately many things remain the same. Pizza? Check. Corndogs? Check. Chicken nuggets? Check. Apparently the ingredients have improved, as per the Seattle Public School’s menu the corndogs are now chicken and the pizza uses chicken pepperoni, however the blandness and overall feeling of processed food remains. A friend recently sent me a picture of a child’s lunch choice and it was appalling. Corndog, fries, and chocolate milk. That makes me sad.

The commonality in these less-than-idea meals is the basic lack of color and variety. When you think of a school lunch, what color pops into mind? Brown, right? Where do our antioxidants and phytochemicals come from? Colorful foods, of course. That is one important area where school lunch is falling short.

But that is where they honestly have been trying, as well. There are now salad bars in most schools offering a wide variety of fruits and veggies. Some schools (including my son’s), are kicking out the flavored milks. Sounds encouraging.

The problem is that kids are not consistently choosing these healthier options. If you give an 8 year old a choice between pizza or salad and fruit, coupled with less than 15 minutes to eat, what do you think they will choose? Shoot, it would definitely take me at least 15 minutes to eat a salad and an apple, and likely even longer if that salad tasted like it came out of a box. Sounds like pizza for the win.

While schools definitely need to up their game, it’s really up to us parents to do the right thing by our kids. The best option? Send your kids to school with a healthy lunch every day. Unfortunately I know this not going to happen for many low income kids who rely on school lunches in order to eat every day. I am extremely grateful and thankful that we have a school lunch program in the first place to support those kids, and it is for them that we need to keep fighting to get rid of the unhealthful choices in our schools. But for those of us not on the free lunch program, the best and most economical option is to pack your kiddo a lunch each and every day.

What to pack? I’m glad you asked. There are a lot of great options to keep your busy child going strong throughout the school day. As you read through these, envision the vibrant colors that would be packed into that little lunch box. Brown and bland, your days are numbered.

Nut Butter and Jelly on Whole wheat bread
I know it sounds boring, but you can’t go wrong with nut butter and a little jelly on whole grain bread. Throw in some apple slices and maybe a cheese stick and you have a nice box of things for your child to choose from. While peanut butter is the most popular choice, consider other options like almond butter or cashew butter. Better yet, try sunflower seed butter, especially if there are nut-allergic children at school.

Random Mix: Cheese, Fruit, Nuts, Crackers, Hard Boiled Egg
Choose a few of the above and pack into little containers. I like that my son can pick and choose from these options and get a wider variety of nutrients. Normally he can finish just about everything but what he doesn’t he saves for after school snack. A win-win. Also a great way to save the day when you run out of bread and lack any sort of leftovers on a Monday morning. Just saying.

Small Whole Wheat Bagel w/ Cream Cheese and Carrot Sticks
You might be thinking bagels are unhealthy, and often they are, but smaller size, whole wheat ones are a great choice for a growing kiddo along with a nice thick layer of cream cheese. Couple that with some veggies and you can’t go wrong.

Chips, Dip and Avocado
This is an idea I have seen from other parents. Pack a baggy with tortilla chips or crackers of your choice. Include a Tupperware with salsa, avocado slices, and sour cream or greek yogurt. Maybe even add some shredded cheese. Your child can dip or load up the chips as they desire.

Meat (meatballs, sausage, etc)
Not everything needs to include bread. As long as your child is going to eat within a few hours of arriving at school, packing some meat in a thermos is a great idea. I often make a batch of homemade chicken meatballs which are quick and easy to consume. Alternatively I have also packed leftover chicken or turkey sausages along with fruit and veggies.

Tortilla or Deli Meat Roll Ups
These are great. Take a whole wheat tortilla, spread something on the inside like a dip, nut butter, etc, and then layer on a few slices of deli meat before rolling it all up. Kids love it. Easy to eat and tasty. If you are trying to ditch the bread, use the meat itself as the roll and, after filling it up and rolling, cut into cute, little, bit-sized rounds.

Quesadillas
Another hit with my boy. I take whole wheat tortillas (I’ve used gluten free ones as well), layer the inside with cheese, shredded chicken, and black beans, and bake them up into creamy, cheesy triangles of goodness. Include a few apple slices on the side and you are set.

Leftover Fried rice
Leftovers are always great for lunch the next day, but rice dishes are especially easy and portable. This is also a convenient way to get some veggies in at lunch if they aren’t the best at eating them on the side. Just don’t forget to include a fork lest you receive a scolding from your angry, forkless child. Hell hath no fury like a first grader sans fork (who I told could have found a plastic fork in the cafeteria, for future reference).

“Healthy” Muffins
Sometimes in the evenings I whip up a batch of low-sugar muffins that pack in healthy ingredients like flax, hemp seed, greek yogurt, squash or some other interesting addition that adds flavor without heaping in the sugar. Then I send my boy off with one or two in his lunch along with fruit and some protein like nuts, string cheese, or a hard boiled egg.

Homemade Pizza
I know I said school pizza was yuck, but homemade pizza is yum! I usually get a pre-made, whole grain crust of some sort and then load on healthy ingredients like mushrooms, peppers, broccoli and pepperoni.

Quiche
Do you ever make quiche at home for a meal? If so, send your little one off to school with the leftovers! Not only does it taste great cold, but it’s packed with protein and fat to keep them going the rest of the day. Make sure to include some veggies either in the quiche itself or on the side.

Pita Sandwich
Take a whole wheat pita, fill with a spread like hummus, and then add some shredded cheese and shredded carrots. Add some grapes and cucumber slices on the side.

Annie’s Whole Wheat Mac n’ Cheese with Peas
Often on the weekends we make up a box of Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese shells. My boys love adding peas which seem to snuggle themselves nicely into the cooked shells. Naturally I make extra so it can transport to school as an easy lunch.

Hopefully at least of few of these ideas sounded appealing. Give them a try and see how they go over. Just remember that at the end of the day you are in control of what your kiddos eat. While transition can take time, take comfort in the fact that you are doing the right thing for your kids. We certainly need to keep fighting for healthy school lunches, but take your child’s diet into your own hands and raise eaters with a palate for color and variety. I promise they will thank you for it.

FDA To Start Testing for Glyphosate in Food Products

GlyphosateThis week the FDA announced it will start testing certain foods for residues of the world’s most widely used weed killer, glyphosate.1 It appears the FDA is finally bowing to pressure from the public regarding safety concerns.  Private groups, citing suspected risks to human health, have gone ahead and done their own testing in recent years and claim they have found glyphosate residues in breast milk, honey, infant formula, wheat flour, soy sauce, and a host of other foods.

But what is glyphosate exactly? According the National Pesticide Information Center, Glyphosate (also called Round-Up) is an herbicide that kills most plants by preventing specific enzyme pathways that are necessary for growth.2 Monsanto, who owns glyphosate, has also made genetically modified plants (coined “Round-Up Ready) that are resistant to the herbicide, thereby allowing the crops to grow while the weeds and pests die.

While this seems like a miracle formulation, the concern is on the safety of using this product on plants that are meant for human consumption.  Countries around the world have been asking this questions while our own government seems to have been rather silent on the issue.

In fact, many countries have already banned glyphosate use or are in the process of evaluating the evidence in consideration of doing so. Some of these countries include Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Norway, The Netherlands, Sri Lanka, Bermuda and Russia. They cite evidence linking glyphosate use to various detrimental health effects.3 In 2015 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic in humans” based on a review of the research.4

Given the worldwide concerns, it is interesting that the FDA has not tested for glyphosate before. They routinely test foods for a vast array of pesticides to carefully monitor the safety of our food supply. Glyphosate testing has always been skipped, claiming it is “too expensive and not needed to protect public health.”5 It is unclear how they came to that conclusion concerning our collective health, but it seems they are finally changing their tune.

The concern, however, is whether the FDA will do a fair and thorough job of testing these foods. Given its reluctance to test glyphosate in the first place coupled with probable heavy pressure from Monsanto lobbyists, one naturally wonders whether the findings will show anything of concern. It seems for now all we can do is wait and see.

In the meantime, while we wait for more solid science on the subject, you can take steps to limit glyphosate exposure in your diet.  The most contaminated foods are wheat, soy, corn, and beets.  Groups have claimed that residues can also be found in conventionally grown crops such as lettuce, carrots, whole grains and even honey whose soils have been sprayed with glyphosate, even a year or more after the original application. Therefore it would be ideal to buy all of your produce organic, especially of those foods mentioned, whenever possible. Keep in mind that many other conventional (non-organic) foods are unintentionally contaminated as well. There is no easy way, it seems, to avoid glyphosate 100%, but with knowledge and saavy shopping you can do your best to protect your health.

  1. http://civileats.com/2016/02/17/fda-to-start-testing-for-glyphosate-in-food/
  2. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/glyphogen.html
  3. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-food-agriculture-glyphosate-idUSKBN0N029H20150410
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyphosate
  5. http://civileats.com/2016/02/17/fda-to-start-testing-for-glyphosate-in-food/

Eat Your Way to Heart Health

heart-healthIt’s February, and that means it’s American Heart month! Despite all the talk about heart health, I think we honestly forget what a big deal Heart Disease is in this country. It is the number one cause of death in the United States. Numero Uno. That is not something to take lightly. Certainly we’ve taken steps to try and combat this epidemic, but yet heart disease remains the most likely cause of death of an individual in this country. According to the Heart Foundation, a person suffers a heart attack every 34 seconds. The heart-healthy message isn’t getting across.

The frustrating thing is, heart disease is entirely preventable, yet I have met countless people who seem to think it is just something you “get.” Although most will admit they could have eaten healthier or exercised a tad bit more, they perceive it to be mostly out of their control. This perception is not entirely their fault, however. Some doctors barely even mention diet or exercise (although some do, or refer to RDs, and kudos to them). In most cases, meds are dispensed and symptoms are monitored.

But that’s why I’m here. I’m here to tell you that number one, heart disease is preventable and reversible. Number two, there are a plethora of healthy foods you can eat to “treat” yourself to better health. Let’s visit a few categories.

Omega 3’s
Omega 3 fatty acids are heart healthy fats. They help lower LDL cholesterol and reduce overall inflammation in the body. Whenever there is inflammation there is a higher likelihood of oxidized LDL being deposited in the arteries. We need to keep LDL at healthy levels and decrease inflammation in the body. Omega 3 fats can help us do that. Where do we find them? Unfortunately Omega 3’s are not prolific in the food supply, but there are some great foods rich in Omega 3s that you can start incorporating in your diet. Examples include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines, grass fed beef, and plant based foods such as walnuts, flaxseed, and soy.

Other Healthy Fats
Besides Omega 3s, there are other healthy fats that make up a heart healthy diet. Unsaturated fats, such as those from olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocados are great for the heart. Contrary to popular belief, saturated fats aren’t all that bad either. In fact, coconut oil, butter and eggs can be heart healthy choices as well, provided they are in moderation and part of a diet that avoids or limits refined carbohydrates. While in research we have seen saturated fats cause increases in LDL cholesterol, it’s actually diets high in refined carbohydrates (sweets, bread, pasta, etc) that lead to the dangerous, atherogenic type of LDL cholesterol that leads to heart disease. I’d prefer you give up the pastries before you give up the butter.

Fiber
We all know fiber is healthy, but it is especially helpful for heart disease, especially when it replaces refined carbohydrates in the diet. One particular fiber, soluble fiber, is known for its ability to lower LDL cholesterol, but all fiber is helpful. High fiber foods are all of the whole grains and plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. Foods that are specifically high in soluble fiber include nuts/seeds, oats, buckwheat, apples, pears, soy and legumes. Eat more of these foods. Eat less refined carbohydrates, especially those high in sugar.

Antioxidants
Antioxidant rich foods are wonderful! Think of those plant based foods that are vibrant in color and full of flavor. That color and distinct taste are often a result of the phytochemicals, aka antioxidants. What do these antioxidants do for you? They help scavange free radicals so they aren’t left to do damage to your arteries or other organs. They essentially neutralize them. Since inflammation in the body tends to increase free radicals, antixodants are very important for heart disease. Good food choices? Colorful berries (think blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, etc), grapes, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, all types of vegetables, green tea, and even coffee. But this list is certainly not exhaustive. All plant foods have some sort of antioxidant component (and many of them work synergistically together), so eat a wide variety of plant based foods and you can’t go wrong.

Lean Protein
Protein is obviously an essential part of our diet. While higher fat meats aren’t necessarily unhealthy if part of a balanced diet, they can lead to weight gain which is not what you want if at risk for heart disease. Lean protein therefore is ideal because it’s not typically excessive in calories and helps keep your blood glucose stable, thereby helping you maintain a healthy weight. Make sure to have some sort of protein source with each meal. Healthy options include lean chicken, pork, grass fed beef, seafood, organic soy/tofu, low sugar dairy products and nuts/seeds.

There we go. Those are the key components of a heart healthy diet. If you focus on the foods in these groups while simultaneously cutting out the refined carbohydrates (namely sugar), you will be on a good path towards better health. Seems easy enough, right?

But what if it’s not? As with most things on the internet, including this article, words on paper don’t exactly translate to actions at home. I totally get it. I can read all day about accounting on the internet but I’m not one who gets those concepts on my own. I need help, hence I have a book keeper! The same goes for diet. Don’t be ashamed if you have more questions. That’s why us Registered Dietitians are here.

The beauty of a visit with an RD is that we get to sit down with you for an hour (and sometimes even longer) to discuss and create the best diet for YOU. Unlike in a doctor’s office, you have time to ask all your questions and receive lengthy feedback. Often people are confused as to where to start, what are appropriate portion sizes, what are some good meal ideas, etc. We can walk through this with you and create a plan that will work for you and your lifestyle. While some are afraid, thinking of us as the “food police,” we should be though of instead as the “food guidance counselor.” We are not here to judge, just to guide. We might suggest new diet options and new lifestyle goals, but always alongside you and with your complete agreement.

Please, if you have or are at risk for heart disease, incorporate these foods mentioned above. If you have never seen an RD before, I highly recommend finding one in your area. Maybe it’s just a one time visit, but at least you will get tailored advice and guidance to ensure you are doing things the right way. Eating shouldn’t be rocket science, but in our day and time it’s starting to become that way. Take charge of your health and let’s together reduce the incidence of heart disease in this country.

Personalized Nutrition: There is No One “Right” Diet for Everyone

personalized nutritionIt seems everyone has an opinion on nutrition these days. It’s not even so much of an opinion anymore but a sort of dogma. “Thou shalt eat this way or risk ones health irreparably.” You read it all over the internet and magazines every day. There is always someone spouting the “real” healthy diet we should all be eating. For the average person, these diet wars are frustrating and confusing. To make matters worse, some of these seemingly healthy diets can be downright harmful, especially if someone is already at high risk for chronic disease.

The truth is, we are learning more and more about biochemistry every day, and what we are finding is that everyone’s body responds differently to different foods.  Part of this is genetics, part of it is diet, and part of it is a host of other factors such as lifestyle, environment, and even a person’s particular microbiome.

A recent study published in Cell Magazine provided great insight into this.1 Entitled “Personalized Nutrition by Prediction of Glycemic Response,” it looked at the glycemic response among subjects eating similar food items. They had 800 non-diabetic participants who agreed to eat a particular breakfast containing 50g of carbohydrate every morning for a week while having their blood glucose continuously monitored. The researchers look at post-prandial (post meal) glucose in the morning but also evaluated their blood glucose levels the rest of the day while eating their normal diets.

Surprisingly, many subjects responded very differently to the exact same breakfasts. When it came to other foods later in the day, there were stark differences as well. Some saw huge spikes in glucose after high carb foods such as ice cream or bread, while others showed only a modest increase.

While it was interesting that so many differences could be seen between the participants with the very same foods, it was also interesting to note that the glucose response within a particular individual remained constant, ie if they ate the same meal the next day, their blood glucose response would be roughly the same. The researchers could even start to predict what their post-prandial blood glucose would be based on the choices they made.

This really got me to thinking. For years we’ve been told by the American Diabetes Association how to educate Diabetics on their diet. If you’ve ever been in my office you may have heard me talk about carb counting, glycemic index, and balanced meals. It is a one-size-fits-all approach. Diabetics can have 45-60 grams of carb per meal, for example, and we usually talk about healthy ways to stay within those guidelines. While these still have their place, it’s clear the particular foods one chooses to meet those guidelines, and in fact even the guidelines themselves, are not set in stone.

That point has been made to me many times sitting in my office, listening to clients tell me how one bite of rice sends their glucose levels through the roof. Then another client tells me rice is fine, but heaven forbid if they have even a smidge of potatoes. First off, despite what my training told me, I believed them. I believed that for one of my clients rice was a huge no-no while for others it was not. While the standard ADA guidelines were no doubt helpful, I started to realize my approach had to change. I needed to understand my clients better to know how to direct them. I also needed them to understand their bodies so they could tell me what foods worked for them and what foods weren’t right, despite what the “rules” said.

I’m glad I believe this before there was solid scientific proof to make the case, as going by intuition has helped me help my clients make better choices. Now thankfully we are starting to see the science bear this out, explaining why one person reacts a certain way to particular foods or nutrients while another reacts the exact opposite. While much of this is genetic, we are also seeing that a person’s unique microbiome plays a huge role in how nutrients are utilized, even to the point of affecting body weight. Then of course there is stress, environment, exercise, and other lifestyle factors that play a role. It is so complex, and we have just scratched the surface.

Apart from Diabetes, there are also other conditions affected in varying ways by diet and lifestyle. Cardiovascular Disease is one such example. One particular way of eating may raise unhealthy cholesterol in one individual but have no negative effect in another.  Exercise might improve lipid profiles in one person but do nothing for another. Again, the one-size-fits-all diet approach has to be re-thought.

Admittedly I am still learning a lot about this as well, especially in regards to testing and corresponding diet recommendations. There are more and more tests coming on the market claiming to decipher your genetics and make diet-based recommendations for you. The challenge lies in understanding which tests are of value and worth the hefty price tag that often come with them.

For now, if you feel a particular diet is not for you, listen to your body. What your neighbor or coworker or family member eats may not be the best plan for you. Tell those Paleo fanatics to pipe down. Continue to keep tabs on your health (regular check ups, routine exams, etc) and if anything negative turns up, pay careful attention to your diet as a first step. You may want to consider additional testing as well to help guide that diet. A Functional Dietitian, such as myself, can be a great help in that area.

Clearly personalized nutrition is here. The idea of diets that work for everyone is on its way out. Healthy diet is still key, but how that looks may vary. Make the best educated choice for yourself and tune out the rest.

1. http://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(15)01481-6

Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why is Dairy Inflammatory?

DairyIf you’ve read about dairy at all on the internet, no doubt you will read in countless blogs and articles about how dairy is one of the top 10 inflammatory foods. It’s ALWAYS on the list. But why is that? What is it inherently about dairy that makes it so inflammatory. The particular proteins? The processing? The cows themselves? I would imagine many of you have no definitive answer, and yet we believe the inflammatory food lists without even thinking. If you are curious, let’s investigate.

Civilizations began drinking the milk of animals between 9000 and 3000 BC, once they were less nomadic and began to farm and raise animals in one location. Mainly it was given to children because, interestingly enough, during those times most adults lacked the enzyme, lactase, to break down milk lactose. Eventually people started making cheeses and curds which reduced the lactose sufficiently for adults to consume. In more recent times a mutation occurred which allows lactase production into adulthood, allowing many adults to consume milk on a regular basis.

Milk production and consumption was quite fortunate, actually, as for many civilizations milk (and fermented beverages like wine) was safer than the questionable water sources. At least this source was non-alcoholic! It also provided a ready source of calories if for any reason food should become scarce.

This milk was, of course, raw and fresh. I am sure there were occasionally issues with hygiene and foodborne illness as there is with any fresh animal product but for the most part, as mentioned previously, it was considered safer than the drinking water. Apart from the occasional illness, however, there does not seem to be the same links between dairy and inflammation that we see today. What changed?

Processing: Pasteurization and Homogenization

One of the first ways we treated milk in modern times for safety reasons was with pasteurization. This was meant as a way to prevent illness and death given the often unsanitary methods of collection, storage and distribution that started to occur in modern times. It wasn’t until 1860’s that pasteurization was first utilized and it became standard practice in the 1890’s.

There are currently several approved methods of pasteurization. The original method was to heat milk to 145 degrees F for 30 minutes. Newer methods use much higher heats for a shorter duration of time. The high-temp, short time method (HTST) sees the milk heated to 161 F for 15 seconds, and the ultra high heat method gets the milk up to 280 F for just a couple of seconds. There are other variations of heat and time as well, but the main point is that the milk is heat treated to kill pathogens. Presumably this is a good thing as no doubt it has prevented deaths from contaminated milk, but we will see that this has some unfortunate consequences as well.

Just like breast milk from humans, the milk from animals is “alive.” What do I mean by that? There are delicate proteins, enzymes, immunoglobulins, vitamins and minerals all present in fresh, raw milk. Heat can damage or denature these elements, rendering them inactive or potentially harmful. Every parent knows you cannot heat breast milk or you take away its nourishing properties. When we do this to animal milk, we dramatically reduce its ability to work with our body. It is not the intact fluid it once was. While it still can provide helpful nutrients and protein, it may also be harming our body at the same time.

In an article Dr. Mercola wrote on the very same topic, he noted that first of all heat kills the Vitamin C naturally present in raw milk. It also converts the lactose into another form, called beta lactose, which is more rapidly absorbed and may adversely raise blood glucose levels. Pasteurization also destroys some of the naturally occurring iodine as well as alters the Calcium (the very thing we typically drink it for) into a form that is hard to absorb. Many of the natural enzymes are denatured as well, potentially making it harder to digest. While pasteurization may help keep us from falling ill, it seems to produce a product that is nutritionally inferior. Pros and cons, I guess.

The next way we treat milk is with homogenization. This is not for safety concerns but merely for desired consistency. In its natural state, milk is composed of fat and water. When left to sit, this fat will rise to the top. Once milk became commercialized, this was undesirable, and so manufacturers sought a way to prevent this from occurring. Homogenization was born. There are various mechanical methods to do this, but the end goal is to break up the fat globules and prevent them from clumping together. This practice appears to be harmless, however some have noted that during this process some of the proteins (whey and casein) become reassembled with the fats. It believed that these now protein-heavy fat globules may decrease absorption and increase risk for allergies, however there are few studies to back this up. For now it seems homogenization may be the least of your worries when it comes to milk consumption.

Nutrient Profile

The nutrient profile of milk has also changed over the years. Obviously when humans first began consuming milk, all of the cows were grass fed and raised on open pastures. Nowadays, as we all know, most cows are kept in close confines and fed a varied diet, usually consisting of a mixture of grains, dried grass, and random leftovers such as canola meal, almond husks and citrus pulp. This has an effect on the fats, vitamins and minerals that can be found in the milk we end up consuming.

Grass-fed cows, for example, produce milk that is higher in anti-inflammatory Omega 3’s, Vitamin E, beta carotene, phytochemicals/antioxidants and conjugated linoleic acid. Cows that are fed more varied diets produce milk with higher levels of inflammatory fats and lower levels of vitamins and antioxidants. Remember, we are what we eat, and this same saying applies to the cow as well. Now, while grass-fed milk might seem more healthy after saying all of that, remember if its pasteurized, many of these beneficial properties may be neutralized as we discussed previously. Just something to ponder given the plethora of organic and grass-fed milks on the store shelves these days.

Apart from diet, the type of cow can also have a significant impact on the nutrients in the milk. Most dairy cows in the US are of the Holstein variety. This variety in particular tends to produce larger amounts of milk than their cousins and hence has been the cow of choice. However, this brings up the A1 vs A2 debate. The A-what? Apparently all cows originally produced A2 protein in their milk, a type of beta-casein that makes up about 30% of the protein in milk. Several thousand years ago a mutation occurred that changed the beta-casein slightly, which we then dubbed A1. Most of the European dairy cows, including Holstein, predominantly produce A1 proteins. It has been purported by several researchers that A1 milk is harder to digest and has been linked to increases in heart disease, Type 1 Diabetes, and leaky gut syndrome. Whether this is indeed true or not is yet to be proved, but it may be another reason why some people have a harder time with milk products than others.

If you want to look for A2 milk, you are in luck. The Jersey, Guernsey and Normande cows produce mostly A2 milk. Some stores carry these varieties and some milks in other countries are even starting to be labeled as “A2.” Personally I have Guernsey cow milk and yogurt in my fridge right now. For someone such as myself with a history of dairy issues, it seems to be, at least for now, more digestible.

Hormones

We likely have all heard about the issues with hormones in cow’s milk. But where are those hormones coming from? First, there are natural hormones that pass into the milk from pregnant cows. The later in pregnancy the cow is, the more hormones she passes. One researcher noted that 60-80% of the natural estrogens we consume are from dairy. This can have implications when it comes to cancer. Also, the higher the fat content of the diary product, the higher the amount of estrogens.

In 1993, the FDA approved the use of genetically engineered recombinant growth hormone (rBST) to increase milk yield. Many studies and reviews have shown rBST to be safe, mainly in that it cannot be absorbed by humans via milk consumption. Despite those studies many countries, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand and all of the EU have banned it. The main reasons for this involve animal welfare, namely referring to increased illness and infections amongst animals injected with rBST. More antibiotics are then needed, increasing the risk for antibiotic resistance, and these antibiotics may pass into the milk as well. Yet one more thing to consider.

Conclusions? Maybe you, like me, are just as confused as before. The government tells me milk is healthy and beneficial, but health websites are telling me that milk is inflammatory and best avoided …. What is one to do?

First, I think it’s safe to say that raw milk from grass-fed Guernsey or Jersey cows would be the ideal choice. Of course, there are risks to unpasteurized milk that need to be taken into account. Also there is the problem of finding those types of milk on a regular basis, not to mention the cost. The presence of hormones would also still be a concern. Additionally, even if you find the most perfect milk on the planet, the proteins may still set off your immune system and cause inflammation. Any food can be inflammatory if your immune system chooses to react against it.

The next best choice would be pasteurized milk from organic, grass-fed cows, however again there is potentially an availability issue for some and also cost concerns. Also the allergy issue remains and may even be more of a problem as the milk has lost some of the elements that improves and supports digestion.

The least favored choice would be non-organic, ultra high heat pasteurized milk that is treated with rBST from very pregnant cows (but how would you know this!). Unfortunately this is the most common milk on the shelf and therefore what most Americans are consuming. This IS inflammatory for all of the reasons described and I would highly recommend to avoid. If this is your calcium source, there are far better ways to get this mineral than milk. Do a quick google search and you can easily find great lists of non-dairy foods rich in calcium. If you drink milk simply because you like it, try one of the better options discussed above. You may want to drink less of it due to cost, but at least you will be consuming a healthier beverage.

We all have been taught that milk does a body good, but now we know this might not be the case. Do what is right for YOUR body and make your choices regarding dairy accordingly.

For Further Reading:

A1 vs A2 milk

Hormones in Milk Can Be Dangerous

Grass Fed Milk

Dr. Mercola on Milk

 

Research Support For Coconut Oil to Treat and Prevent Candida Albicans

coconut oilYou have probably heard the word Candida before. It’s a term thrown around casually at times in reference to those with suspected tummy troubles or general malaise, especially when diet choices seem to exacerbate the condition. I’ve even heard people ask if Candida is even a real thing. Whatever your opinions are on the topic, it is well documented that Candida overgrowth is a real affliction. While a variable amount of Candida resides in our GI tracts normally, it is an overgrowth that, if left unchecked, can wreak havoc on the entire body, even to the point of death. If the infection does become systemic, the mortality rate hovers around 40%. Not something you want to mess with. While Candida Albicans is the most common type, the CDC notes there are over 20 types of Candida that can cause illness in humans.

Unfortunately, the symptoms of Candida are often vague. Doctors might not initially suspect it and many suffer for months if not years before a proper diagnosis is made. Once a diagnosis is made, the standard medical treatment typically involves pharmaceutical antifungals and vague dietary protocols such as “don’t eat sugar.” The downside of the pharmaceutical approach is that we are now encountering anti-fungal resistant strains. With diet, while changes are helpful, fungi have proven quite resilient in finding alternate sources of energy, including long chain lipids. If all fuel sources are sufficiently deprived, the Candida can form what is called “biofilms” to hide and hibernate until conditions become more favorable. These are hard critters to fight.

Recently a research article came out postulating that coconut oil might be a natural anti-fungal treatment against Candida (1). We have seen in vitro that coconut oil acts as an anti-microbial agent, so the researchers wanted to know if any appreciable effect could be seen in vivo, specifically in the gut, as well.

What they did was take rats which they colonized with Candida Albicans. These rats were then fed a high fat diet containing either beef tallow, soy oil, coconut oil, or just a regular diet. After 21 days on their respective diets their GI systems were evaluated. Their findings were that the diet high in coconut oil was the only diet to show significant reduction in Candida colonization. The rest exhibited high levels of colonization.

After this finding they decided to go a step further to see if coconut oil not only prevented colonization but could also reduce a pre-existing colonization. They took rats with a thriving colony of Candida in their GI tracts (by keeping them on the beef tallow diet, funny enough) and put them on a diet rich in coconut oil for seven days. Quite surprisingly, after seven days the mice with the pre-existing colonization now had levels as low as the mice that had been on the coconut oil diet the whole time. Basically, the coconut oil worked. Candida colonization was significantly reduced.

So we have proof in mice. What about humans? Clearly the next step is to see if such an effect can be replicated in humans. This would not only help us determine if such a treatment would be useful but also help determine dosage, length of treatment, etc. As of now we have many alternative health practitioners that use coconut oil as part of their Candida treatments, in addition to other herbal and food-based anti-microbials, but further studies might show that coconut oil should be given a more prominent role. And in terms of dosage, the authors postulated that about 3.5 tbsp in a 2,000 kcal diet might be sufficient based on the ratios that worked in their mice, but of course further research is needed.

Some of you might ask, what about adverse health effects from coconut oil? Isn’t it a saturated fat? Indeed it is. The difference between coconut oil and other saturated fats is that it is primarily composed of short chain fatty acids (SFCA). SFCA’s are not metabolized the same way as their longer chain friends. In fact, SFCAs go straight to the liver for processing. They do not require pancreatic enzymes or bile salts for absorption. Once in the liver they are more likely to be burned as energy or turned into ketones. They are not as easily released into the blood stream like other saturated fats, decreasing the likelihood that they will contribute to cardiovascular issues. Obviously this area begs for more research, but for now at least short term treatment with coconut oil seems safe and may at some point be a preferred treatment over standard antifungals, particularly in cases of resistant strains.

1. http://msphere.asm.org/documents/mSphere.00020-15.pdf

Based on these findings, some of you may already be interested in including more coconut oil in your diet. I will briefly share a few of the simple ways I use it:

-Sauteing (great for cooking as it does not oxidize (go rancid) like unsaturated oils
when heated
-As a replacement for melted butter in baked goods. I do this ALL the time and it works out great, even in my pancakes and waffles.
-As a spread for toast
-As hand lotion mixed with a few drops of essential oils
-In natural deodorant (works great!)
-Stirred into oatmeal or my smoothies
-For popping popcorn
-In homemade granola

A quick search online will reveal dozens more ways to use it, from homemade cleaning products to delicious edible treats. If you have a favorite way to incorporate coconut oil, please share!

And… if you suspect you might have Candida, please drop me a line so we can discuss.