Is Your Sunscreen Killing Coral Reefs?

woman in bikini applying sun block cream on bodyOn a recent escape from New York City’s wintry mix, I found myself struggling to find a sunscreen that I could feel good about. I try very hard not to use products with chemicals, especially in large quantities, but I am fair-skinned with a family history of skin cancer so SPF 45+ is a health must. When in the sun, I apply it liberally and frequently. I am normally very anti-checked luggage on flights but on this recent trip to Jamaica I went so far as to check my bag just so I could bring natural sunscreen that I thought I would not be able to find on the island.

At some point on the trip, friends and I were chatting with a guide from the area and one friend inquired about snorkeling. We learned that, while Jamaica once had corral teeming with wild life, the coral was now virtually extinct. Our guide informed us that part of the reason the coral may have been destroyed was because of the sunscreen that tourists wear. [1]

Cue the guilt. I had tried desperately to find sunscreen that was ‘natural’ and according to the label on the Nature’s Gate sunscreen I ultimately purchased, it was, “Free of Oxybenzone, Parabens, Phthalates, Fragrance, Animal Derived Ingredients and never tested on animals.” I just assumed that this meant that it was safe for the environment. My friends, I was wrong. The main culprits that can contribute to reef erosion, according to the 2008 Danovaro study, are Oxybenzone (benzophenone-3), Butylparaben, Octinoxate, and 4-methylbenzylidene camphor. The first ingredient in my ‘healthy’ sunscreen was Octinoxate.

It seems that in order to live our values and follow through on a commitment to protect our bodies and the environment from harmful chemicals, we must do our own research. When it comes to sunscreen, the keywords to look for are “Reef safe”. It’s also important to consider other chemicals we might carry into the water that may be harmful to reef or other marine wildlife, such as substances found in hair care products, face cream, or makeup. In these cases, it is unclear to me if a simple soapy shower prior to swimming will do the trick. Luckily there is a one-stop shop for MANY beauty products on the market. The Environmental Working Group’s database rates sunscreens, beauty products, perfumes, as well as makeup. They also have an app for those on-the-go decisions. All we can do is try…

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[1] This is supported by a 2008 study conducted by Roberto Danovaro, et al. on the effects of certain sunscreen chemicals on coral reefs in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Red Sea. See the study referenced in Ker Than, “Swimmers’ Sunscreen Killing Off Coral.” National Geographic News. January 29, 2008.

Introducing the Natural Healthcare 101 Blog Series!

© viperagp - Fotolia.com

© viperagp – Fotolia.com

Wooden Spoon Wellness is very excited to launch its Natural Healthcare 101 blog series. These days many alternative therapies exist and it can be difficult to know the range of options available yet alone where to start. Thus, each blog provides you with information to inform your choices and will answer a variety of questions: What are some of the common natural therapies out there? How do they relate to Western medicine and to one another? What is included in a typical session? What questions might I consider before choosing a practitioner? What does the service typically cost?

The current lineup for the series includes:

Movement Therapies*: healing your bones, muscles and ligaments after injury, i.e. through physical therapy vs. Alexander Technique vs. Feldenkrais

Preventative Movement: strengthening your bones, muscles, and ligaments, i.e. through yoga vs. qigong vs. Tai Chi vs. Pilates

Preventative and Medicinal Therapies: healing your organs and systems such as your immune system and hormones, i.e. through Western medicine vs. Functional/Integrative medicine vs. Traditional Chinese Medicine vs. Ayurveda vs. Homeopathy

Where does Holistic Health & Nutrition Coaching fit into healthcare?

I’ve culled this list from common questions I receive but it is certainly not exhaustive and there are innumerable options I could include. If you are curious about an alternative therapy not mentioned above, please be in touch!

*Please note that the category names are not precise. For example, Traditional Chinese Movement can help reduce inflamed ligaments and could also be included in Movement Therapies. Additionally Alexander Technique may be seen as both a healing form of movement as well as preventative.

Three (Undercover) Broth Substitutes

© bst2012 - Fotolia.com

You are craving something warm and comforting but you’ve used up your last box of broth or have no defrosted, homemade stock supply. The idea of going outside into the cold makes you very, very sad so what do you do?

Here is your cheat sheet of broth substitutes that can stay in the pantry or refrigerator for up to a year, are 100% natural, and are even nutritious:

  1. Pickle juice: Do not throw away the remains of your pickle jar once you’ve finished your fermented vegetables! This rich liquid typically contains spices, salt, and luscious juices from the vegetables, i.e. things that you would find in a vegetable broth! The differences of course are that it also contains a lot of acid that is either produced from the natural fermentation process or added in the form of vinegar. (For what it’s worth, my favorite to use is kimchi, or, spicy Korean fermented vegetables.) Pickle juice tends to be quite salty so for every cup of broth that you would typically use, use 1/3 to ½ cup of pickle juice and fill the rest with water. The amount you use depends on how potent the pickle juice is so try a taste first to see how potent the flavors, acids, and salt are. If you pucker your lips or feel the need to exclaim, “Whoa!” use less. You can always add more. If you decide to add more juice later in the cooking process, make sure to bring the soup to a boil and let it roll for a few minutes before serving. This will mellow out the strong acidic taste. Note as well that vinegar and other very strong acids can toughen some ingredients such as beans or meat unless they are cooked together for a very long time. Best use: soups with vegetable, noodles or grains.
  2. Miso: Miso is a fermented paste used in various Asian cuisines. In the US, miso can be found in refrigerated jars or in powder form. Miso is most often made from soybeans but some are made with chickpeas, barley and/or brown rice, among other things. Miso that has been fermented for at least 6 months can be rich in antioxidants and as a fermented product it contains good bacteria as well as a form of Vitamin K that has been shown to strengthen bones. I highly recommend using the refrigerated kind over the powder if you want to benefit from its nutrients. Although not a hard and fast rule, generally the darker the miso, the longer it has been fermented and the more nutrients it contains. The lighter the miso, the sweeter it tends to be. Miso is naturally salty so you can reduce or omit altogether additional salt. Miso can last in the refrigerator for up to one year without issue but be sure to check the sell-by date. [1] Note that it maintains its nutrients only if it is not heated so if this is important to you, remove from the heat and stir in a tablespoon of miso for every cup of water. [2] Best use: soups with beans, tofu, meat, fish, chicken, pork, vegetables, noodles or grains
  3. Dashi: Dashi is a Japanese product made from dehydrated seaweed (kombu) and dehydrated fish flakes (bonito). Dashi may sound more like fish food than human food but this product is the cornerstone of a lot of Asian cooking, such as most Japanese soups, sauces and Vietnamese pho. The flavor is complex but light and smoky while also ocean-y without being fishy (if you make it correctly). Dashi makes an amazing base for your favorite noodle or vegetable soup. It requires a few more steps than the other options in this list but the ingredients can keep in a dry pantry or refrigerator in tightly sealed containers for up to a year. Here is a pretty decent overview and recipe. [3] Best use: soups with tofu, fish, meat, vegetables, noodles or grains

Disclaimer: The photo above meant to be humorous and is not intended to role model or advocate that you put a bowl on anyone’s head, especially a bowl containing hot soup. That can be dangerous.

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[1]  http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=114

[2]  http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/RCP00228/Miso-Soup.html

[3]  http://www.cooktellsastory.com/apps/blog/show/1334738-dashi-basic-stock-

 

Bone Broth for Building Energy and More

Bouillon, broth, clear soup

One of the latest nutrition trends hitting American cities and diets is bone broth. The New York Times recently published an article about it and New Yorkers can now snag a shot of mineral-rich goodness on their way out for the night. [1] While bone broth may be a recent discovery for hip restaurateurs and 21st century popular diet-makers, bone broth has long been used in various cultures around the world as a staple health elixir, particularly to support women’s health.

So what it is? Bone broth is made from animal bones boiled in water on their own or with select vegetables or herbs. Vinegar and salt are often added to help break down the bones and heat is applied for long periods of time, generally 6-48 hours, so the nutrients can leech into the liquid. Unlike a boxed or canned stock that you might find in a grocery store, bone broth is generally made with more bones than vegetables or meat. [2]

In some parts of China bone broth is called “longevity soup” and is taken for ailments of the digestive tract, to address weakness, and to reduce joint inflammation. Bone broth is part of postpartum recovery regimens in Hong Kong and “Good broth will resurrect the dead,” is a South American proverb according to Dr. Joseph Mercola. [3]

The widespread use of bone broth speaks to its many healing properties. Rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, B vitamins, and many other trace minerals, bone broth nourishes the blood and is ideal for building energy and vitality in people who have just had surgery, are menstruating or about to menstruate, or who have just had a baby. Many natural and holistic healers also use bone broth to help boost fertility. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine for example, the marrow from the bones is said to build the kidney energy which must be strong if conception is to take place. [4]

The luscious gelatin that the bone broth contains has also been shown to help re/build joints and sooth connective tissues, including the lining of the stomach and intestines so whether you have a torn ligament or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, bone broth may just help. How does it work? The jiggly gelatin that bone broth becomes when it cools essentially is made of all of the proteins, collagen, and goodness contained within the animals’ marrow and ligaments so the animals’ parts are essentially helping to rebuild your similar parts. Many people turn to supplements for these nutrients but bone broth provides a more bioavailable and digestable form. [5]

Before I share a recipe to make your own bone broth, I need to underscore how incredibly easy it is to make this. I demonstrate how to make bone broth in some of my cooking class workshops and people are overwhelmingly surprised at how simple this is and how little time it takes to make. In addition, it freezes well and is delicious on its own, as a warming drink on its own, or as the basis for soups or stews. Bone broth and stock can generally be used in recipes interchangeably but the amount of bone broth you use depends on how concentrated it is. If you’ve made a particularly rich and gelatinous broth, use a smaller amount, approximately 3/4 to 7/8’s the amount of liquid called for in the recipe, and dilute it with water.

Bone Broth Recipe

I actually base my chicken bone broth recipe on Weston A. Price Foundation’s recipe. I make a few tweaks but to learn those, you will need to attend one of my workshops. 🙂

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[1]Julia Moskin. “Bones, Broth, Bliss: Bone Broth Evolves from Prehistoric Food to Paleo Drink.” The New York Times, January 6, 2015.

[2]  Sally Fallon Morell. “Broth is Beautiful.” January 1, 2000.

[3]  Paul Pitchford. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, 3rd edition. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2002, p. 296; Aviva Jill Romm. Natural Health after Birth: The Complete Guide to Postpartum Wellness. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 2002, p. 179; Dr. Joseph Mercola. “Bone Broth—One of Your Most Healing Diet Staples.” December 16, 2013.

[4]  See for example: Aimee Raupp, “Using Homemade Bone Broth for the Treatment of Infertility.” Acupuncture Today. October, 2012, Vol. 13, Issue 10; Margarita Alcantara, “Traditional Chicken Bone Broth: A Recipe to Build Qi and Blood for Immune Building, Fertility, and Postpartum.” May 6, 2013.

[5]  RW Moskowitz. “Role of collagen hydrolysate in bone and joint disease.” Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism. October 30, 2000(2): 87-99; Mercola “Bone Broth.“; Dr. Josh Axe. “Bone Broth Benefits for Digestion, Arthritis, and Cellulite.”

Apple Cider Vinegar for Colds, Acid Reflux, Diabetes, and More

Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is to me an under-appreciated wellness-booster in American households. Studies have yet to be conducted to prove ACV’s effectiveness however many people for hundreds, if not thousands of years, have found numerous benefits from internal consumption of apple cider vinegar.* In addition, good quality ACV is easy to find and relatively inexpensive. [1]

apples, vinegar

Apple cider vinegar is made from apples that are crushed and allowed to ferment. The best kind to use in the remedies outlined herein is organic unfiltered, unpasteurized ACV such as Bragg brand.* This type of ACV is a bit cloudy and may have some things floating in it. These are good bacteria and safe to consume, not unlike the particles you will find in kombucha, a fermented tea beverage now widely available in stores throughout the country.

Here are 3 ways a shot or two of apple cider vinegar a day can benefit your health:

1. AVC can help dry internal damp conditions: excess mucous, Candida, fungus, some fibroids or tumors. These ailments fall within the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) category of damp presentations. The theory is that an excess of fluids are not properly being released or cleared from your body leaving your body vulnerable to viral, bacterial, or fungal overgrowths as well as masses that are fueled by fluids. ACV’s bitterness is drying and the good bacteria that grow as a result of its fermentation process can help fight off the bad guys. [2]

2. AVC acts as an antacid for mild acid reflux. This may sound counterintuitive because apple cider vinegar is so acidic but some believe it to have alkalizing (meaning antacid) effects on the body and it can help as part of a larger regimen for addressing occasional, mild cases of acid reflux as well as some cases of chronix reflux, or GERD. The reason for this has not been proven but I can say from firsthand experience that I was able to kick my antacids to the curb as a result of my daily ACV shot. (Check out RefluxMD for their theories.) [3] This is particularly noteworthy for women because chemically produced antacids, while often helpful and sometimes irreplaceable can have long-term side effects including our ability to absorb important nutrients and they can lead to more serious conditions such as kidney stones. [4]

3. ACV regulates blood sugar and supports some diabetes treatments. This is an application for ACV that has been scientifically studied and proved that ACV effectively prevents some starches from entering the bloodstream thus regulating blood sugar. A secondary outcome of these studies shows the ways that ACV consumed prior to meals leads to weight loss. [5]

The dosage and recipe for each of the ailments is essentially the same: 1 tsp. to 1 tablespoon of ACV in 6 to 10oz of room temperature water, before each meal, 1 to 2 times/day. If you are wary of the sour taste, I strongly recommend you start with one teaspoon in 10 oz of water and see how your body reacts. Immediately chasing it with half a teaspoon of raw honey can help or you can stir the honey into your drink. If you’re not into the shot, try using ACV in a salad dressing or within another raw recipe that contains several ingredients. As always, feel free to be in touch with questions or comments or to share your favorite ACV recipe. Good luck!

*A few disclaimers:

  • Always check with your doctor before beginning treatment or remedies especially if you have chronic or acute issues and receive a diagnosis.
  • Do not take ACV straight as it can damage the esophagus. Always dilute in another non-acidic liquid such as water.
  • AVC is not advised for people who are generally frail or weak as it has a detoxing effect.
  • Some health practitioners believe pregnant women should only consume pasteurized apple cider vinegar.
  • ACV is not meant for daily consumption for lengthy periods of time as it is quite powerful and can lead to dependency. Symptoms may return when you stop regularly consuming ACV. Paul Pitchford, a nutrition expert and TCM practitioner, rather suggests dietary changes as a more moderate and sustainable method for maintaining long-term health. [6]

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[1]  At time of publication in January 2015, a 32 oz bottle that can last for several months is available online for $4.69.

[2]  Paul Pitchford. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, 3rd edition. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2002, p. 205.; “Apple Cider Vinegar Cure?” on Candida-Cure-Recipes.com.

[3]  “Apple Cider Vinegar for Acid Reflux” on RefluxMD.com.

[4]  “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease In-depth Report.” on TheNewYorkTimes.com.

[5] Carol S. Johnston, PHD, Cindy M. Kim, MS and Amanda J. Buller, MS. “Vinegar Improves Insulin Sensitivity to a High-Carbohydrate Meal in Subjects With Insulin Resistance or Type 2 Diabetes.” Diabetes Care. January 2004, vol. 27 no. 1, pp. 281-282; Andrea M. White, PHD and Carol S. Johnston, PHD. “Vinegar Ingestion at Bedtime Moderates Waking Glucose Concentrations in Adults With Well-Controlled Type 2 Diabetes.” Diabetes Care. November 2007, vol. 30, no. 11, pp. 2814-2815.

[6] Pitchford pp. 108, 205, 314.

A Luscious Pre- or Post-Workout Smoothie to Build Muscle

SmoothieAccording to many professional trainers and sports doctors, working out may not be enough to build muscle. When we eat and what we eat pre- and post-workout can impact how much muscle we build or don’t build. Some of the things recommended for exercise lasting 45-minutes or more are:

— Eat within one hour of exercising, both pre- and post-workout

— Eat proteins and some carbohydrates that digest quickly in order for the muscle-building nutrients to reach your muscles quickly. Muscles are made of proteins and amino acids which start to break down during intensive workouts so if you do not do this, your body may draw on existing muscle to replenish itself after exercise. [1]

The smoothie recipe below includes whole foods that can help build muscle. Just throw everything into a blender and blend on high speed for 30 seconds.

  1. Quickly absorbed proteins: Yogurt and Milk (1½ cups total combined) Not only does this contain the essential proteins touted by all as essential muscle-builders, but the good bacteria in the yogurt will help quickly breakdown all of the goodness in your smoothie. The yogurt to milk ratio depends on how thick the yogurt is because if the yogurt is very thick, the smoothie can start to taste like banana bread batter. If your yogurt does not contain pectin, use 1 cup cow yogurt and ½ c. cow milk. Cow milk contains the most amount of protein of the milk options. In addition, I could not find non-dairy cultured products that contain sufficient protein except for cultured soy but I cannot in good conscious recommend these soy products because of their effect on hormones. (Stay tuned for that blog…) If you are lactose-sensitive and/or trying to reduce your carbon-footprint, you might try cultured goat milk with almond milk. There is one in the New York City-area from Coach Farm that is delicious in this smoothie when combined with Pacific Food’s Organic Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Milk. The cultured goat milk is thin though so add an extra ½ banana if you go that route.
  2. Quickly absorbed carbohydrate: Banana (2 medium-sized bananas) Glycogen is derived from glucose, a sugar molecule, and it is the primary fuel for exercise. It depletes as you work out and is one of the primary things you want to consume in order to restore your energy. Bananas are an excellent source of easily accessed glycogen for your body according to personal trainer and exercise writer, Mike Samuels. [2] While loaded with nutrients, the fiber in whole grains can take a while to breakdown and can slow down the breakdown of proteins. Bananas however are a good source of carbohydrate post-workout because they provide the needed sugars of a carbohydrate without a lot of complex fibers. Bananas are also an optimal carb because they contain potassium which is said to support heart health. Some believe bananas prevent muscle cramping as well. [3]
  3. Vitamin B6: Pistachios (1 tablespoon) Vitamin B6 helps break down proteins and carbohydrates and help get these things to your muscles quickly. It is also said to reduce inflammation in addition to supporting the nervous system which is activated during workouts. [4]
  4. Anti-inflammatory: Turmeric powder (1 tsp.) This powerful powder typically used in curry blends is derived from a root similar to ginger. It has long been used for its inflammatory properties and a 2009 study showed that turmeric’s pain-relieving effects comparable to ibuprofen. [5] Part of what enables turmeric to work its magic is that it thins the blood. This may be of concern for some people who have blood-clotting issues or who have recently had surgery or will have surgery. Turmeric is also contra-indicated for gallstones. If this is you, check with your doctor about regular turmeric consumption.
  5. Electrolytes: Salt (a small pinch) As is commonly known, you lose essential salts through your sweat so adding a pinch of salt will not only replenish your eletrolytes but it will also make you subtly thirsty for more fluids. [6]

 

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[1] There seem to be much debate about the precise window within which one should eat as well as the precise ratio of proteins to carbs but it seems clear that eating within one hour cannot hurt and waiting may hurt. Will Brink, “The Latest on Pre-Post Workout Nutrition” (2003); Alan Albert Aragon and Brad Jon Schoenfeld. “Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2013, 10:5.

[2] Mike Samuels, “Should I Eat Bananas if I Want to Build Muscle?Livestrong.com, June 18, 2014.

[3]Bananas.” The World’s Healthiest Food.

[4]How to Help Your Body Absorb Protein.” Golden Gate Obstetrics and Gynecology blog. September 25, 2013; “Pistachios.” The World’s Healthiest Food.

[5] Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine August 2009;15(8):891-7; Anahad O’Connor, “The Doctor’s Remedy: Turmeric for Joint Pain.” New York Times, Oct 19, 2011.

[6] Marie Spano. “Postexercise Recovery—Proper Nutrition is Key to Refuel, Rehydrate, and Rebuild after Strenuous Workouts.” Today’s Dietitian. Vol 15 No 11, p. 18.

 

 

 

How to Pleasurably Cut Back on Holiday Sweets

Escape. Running woman refuses to eating tasty cakes. DietingSweets seem to be just about everywhere during the holiday season– between the holiday parties, the family gatherings, the strategically placed treats at the supermarket, and the vacations– the variety and bounty of sugar can be difficult to resist. How many of us end up eating foods around the holidays that we actually don’t want to eat simply because they are in front of us? We see it, eat it, and have a physical reaction—we just don’t feel good—but this can also be psychological– we feel bad/guilty/gross/oh my! In part we feel this way because we did not act according to what is important to us. Cutting ourselves off completely from sweets can feel un-festive and bad as well though. In addition, it may not be a realistic goal for many who have never successfully done that before. This blog therefore contains an eating strategy for those of us who are either not ready or don’t want to go cold turkey but are committed to being more intentional and disciplined in our holiday eating.

Many of us have one holiday treat that we really lust after. Mine is pumpkin pie— a fluffy, custardy pumpkin pie whose filling is so silky I could put it on like lingerie. Perhaps your treat involves chocolate or festively decorated gingerbread or candy canes or rich egg nog… In any case, how many of us end up eating all of it? At the office holiday party, we load our plates with whatever draws us in in that moment. For example, how many of us have eaten those powdery Italian wedding cookies that make an appearance this time of year even though we know they’re usually not that good.

This holiday season be choosy. Invest only in the thing you love and get monogamous with your favorite sweet. Let it be your primary source of sweet pleasure. Select one thing— chocolate Bon Bons, gingerbread, even that Italian wedding cookie—and refuse all other temptation. This increases the likelihood that you will ultimately consume less. In addition, your body has to work harder when you eat a lot of different kinds of foods and it becomes harder to realize when you are satisfied and when to stop eating.

In addition, each rendezvous between your favorite sweet and your tastebuds will be much sweeter. This is not to say that you should eat every last bite of your chosen treat available on the table or even as much as your heart desires in that moment. To the contrary! Start with a small amount. Eat slowly—make it a marathon and not a sprint. Relish in it. Savor. Every. Bite. Notice how the quality of this one compares to others you’ve had. What do you appreciate about this one, this moment?

Bringing more consciousness to your eating and cutting back on the things that do not serve you will not only help you to navigate the holidays with ease and enjoyment, but it also starts you off on a less guilty, more pleasurable New Year. Here’s to a happy and healthy 2015!

Maintaining Energy When You Just Want to Hibernate

Happy and Fun African WomanIt is official. What I call ‘hibernation syndrome’ has officially set in. This is what I call the phenomenon that develops each time the cool winter air blows into town and all many of us wants to do is to curl up in (or with) something (or someone) cozy. Plans start to be cancelled more frequently, errands are postponed, movement becomes limited and exercise time is traded for couch time.

Like other mammals, humans’ bodies change during the cold weather months and our lifestyle and body’s needs change. It is important to listen to your body but it can be easy to slip into unhealthy patterns. Here are a few tips to maintain energy and a healthy lifestyle if hibernation syndrome strikes you:

  1. Move your bowels regularly. I know, not the sexiest of topics but a sedentary lifestyle may not make you feel sexy either… Moving around less, especially if you’re eating rich holiday foods or warming but heavy stews, can lead to a slower metabolism. Because your body is processing food more slowly, constipation can easily happen. Here are some ways to prevent this from happening or address it when it does occur:
    1. Integrate fiber-rich foods each day. Cooked, dark, leafy greens are great, flaxseeds that you grind yourself (a small coffee grinder does the job well) sprinkled on plain yogurt. Almond milk with chia, flax and pumpkin seeds can help clear things out as well.
    2. Keep your inner flora lively. Even if you are tired, your body needs good bacteria to work for you to digest your food. Good bacteria can be introduced through fermented foods such as sauerkraut or other raw, pickled vegetables. You can find them at the store but be sure to buy ones that do NOT contain vinegar, citric acid or sugar. Fermented foods are actually really easy to make yourself and a great way to preserve some of the autumn produce through the winter months. Sandor Katz has some great recipes on his blog and in his book, Wild Fermentation.
  1. Move your hips regularly. Just because you are not at the gym or bopping around outside, doesn’t mean that you can’t remain active.
    1. Buy or stream low-cost or free dance and exercise classes, like Gaiam’s Wake Up Workout, or Crunch gyms’ Crunch Live. Wii has fun dance and workout games as well.
    2. Stream gentle movement classes. If you’re feeling lower energy and you want to support your alignment, you might try Katy Bowman’s low-cost movement classes.
    3. At the very least, get out of your seat every 15 minutes. Stand up, roll your hips and neck around, change positions when you return to where you sit, or change where you sit. Move to the floor, a balance ball, a chair instead of the couch. A good way to ensure that you move frequently is to drink a lot of water or herbal tea.
  1. Reduce the quantity of food you eat (unless you are pregnant or breastfeeding, have an eating disorder, or already eat small amounts of foods in which case, skip this one.) The average American tends to eat more during the winter months according to Dr. Rallie McAllister but there are many reasons why we may not need to eat as much in the winter months.[1] As mentioned above, you may move less so you do not need as many calories.[2] In addition, the food you are eating is likely to be denser and heavier: a bowl full of lentil soup for example can be more than double the calories of a bowl of gazpacho.[3] Here are a few ways to adjust your eating according to the new season:
    1. Experiment with eating smaller portions. If you eat heavier, denser foods in the winter, such as stews, potato and root vegetables, eat smaller portions than you would in the warmer months. Take what you might normally take and then put a quarter of it back. After you’ve eaten this portion, wait 10 minutes and see if you are still hungry. If so, take a small amount more, i.e. a couple of tablespoons of the squash puree, half a potato, etc.
    2. Stay warm. Sometimes we might feel an unconscious instinct to eat a lot because it is a way to put on weight and keep our bodies insulated from the cold. There are other ways to stay insulated without gaining weight. This can be accomplished by eating cooked, warming foods and not cooling, raw foods, drinking hot beverages, maintaining good blood circulation by regularly moving your body, and having the right clothing.
  1. Have on-hand warm winter clothes that you are excited to wear. In addition to potentially helping to curb over-eating, good winter gear may just give you more incentive to go out, even when Jack Frost is nipping at your toes.
    1. Clothes that keep you warm: for this, we turn to the animals who are able to stay outside without needing a coat. My favorites are tightly woven wool and silk. These materials when kept close to our skin are amazing insulators. There are a variety of price points for winter gear and the warmest of the warm can get expensive quickly. Online stores often have deals, like Amazon for silk long underwear or eBay for brands like Ibex, which makes lightweight but SUPER warm wool clothes. This type of clothing is an investment but one that can save you money on having to buy multiple layers.
    2. Clothes that you make you feel HOT or fun. Find yourself a sexy sweater, maybe there’s a furry color involved, or a fun-colored hat or pair of gloves (Freezy Freaky anyone????) Having clothes you want to wear can make the difference between a night sitting on the couch with a large bowl of popcorn and a night accomplishing all of your errands or bopping around with friends.

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[1] Colette Bouchez. “Control Your Winter Appetite.” WebMD.

[2] See the USDA’s guidelines for estimated calories needed for a sedentary lifestyle as compared to an active lifestyle.

[3] One cup of lentil soup is approximately 136 calories according to CalorieCount. Two cups of gazpacho is approximately 59 calories according to the same source. Please note that I cite this calorie comparison only as a means of displaying the density of the foods we tend to eat during the cold months as compared to the warm months. I do not incorporate calorie counting into my health coaching philosophy.

“Violet! You’re turning violet!” or, How I Turned Orange from Eating Too Many Orange Vegetables

Concerned young woman looking in mirror

As it turns out, Roald Dahl’s violet-colored plot twist in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was not pulled from thin air. People can actually turn a different color from eating certain foods, especially this time of year when colorful vegetables abound. I know some people enjoy their pumpkins and fall produce like it’s nobody’s business (you know who you are!) so I thought I’d share a bit more about this largely harmless condition.

When I was in my early twenties, I worked for a museum and, as happens with all jobs, I went through a very busy time at work. I was at the office for 10-12 hour stretches and felt like I couldn’t break for lunch so my response was to nosh on a bag of baby carrots dipped in Hampton Chutney Co’s cilantro chutney. (It is made with coconut and chiles and dates among other things and it is highly addictive.) It was delicious and easy and filled me for the day.[1] When I wasn’t working, I would nest at home and eat copious amounts of a kabocha squash, a Japanese winter vegetable I’d just learned about. It was hearty and sweet, as if a potato and a butternut squash had a baby, and I could not get enough.

One day at work I went to give one of my co-workers something from the archive and as I handed it to him he asked what happened to my hands. “What are you talking about? Nothing.” “You’re orange,” he said. I looked more closely and realized that he was right. I immediately called my mom, who is a nurse, and she told me to check the bottom of my feet as well. Sure enough, they glowed like the setting sun. She asked if I’d been eating a lot of orange vegetables and, after telling her about my carrot and squash obsessions, she told me that there was a good chance my skin was taking on the color of the vegetables as a result of carotenosis, a condition caused by the consumption of copious amounts of beta carotene. In light-complexioned folks, carotenoids cause skin to turn a yellowish-orange color, not unlike a light spray tan. In darker-complexioned people, the skin turns a yellowish-brown. Luckily, my new chameleon qualities were the only side effect I experienced but I was definitely curious to learn more.

Beta carotene is found in orange-yellow vegetables (e.g. pumpkins, carrots, and winter squashes such as butternut, acorn, spaghetti and honeynut), as well as tomatoes and dark, leafy greens. It converts to Vitamin A in the body and can be helpful to the skin, tissues, lungs, mucous membranes, as well as vision.[2] Beta carotene is also an antioxidant of the carotenoid variety which means that it supports the immune system. In addition, regular consumption can help prevent some kinds of cancers[3] and regulate blood sugar. Some scientists and nutritionists believe that you can gain these benefits from eating at least 5 servings of beta carotene-filled fruits and vegetables per day but this is not conclusive and the FDA has not issued a recommended daily allowance.[4]

Various medical studies show that carotenosis is not harmful when it develops from eating a lot of beta carotene-rich vegetables and fruits.[5] Carotenosis from beta carotene supplements however can lead to more serious issues such as hypervitaminosis A, or having too much Vitamin A in your system. This can be particularly dangerous during pregnancy and has been shown to lead to birth defects in some women.[6] Pregnant women are thus advised to source their beta carotene from fruit and vegetable if possible. If you must take supplements, including a multivitamin, talk with your doctor about safe dosages.[7]

Because my carotenosis occurred from natural sources, I was fine. I cleared the condition and my skin returned to normal by avoiding beta carotene rich foods for a few weeks and by diversifying my diet. I integrated brown and white vegetables such as potatoes, pears, daikon or white radishes, turnips and parsnips, as well as proteins of all forms and whole grains. Just because my health was not affected by carotenosis however, it is still not a good idea to eat pumpkins at every meal. Most nutrition experts recommend a varied diet with an array of colors and types of foods. However, if you’ve recently been indulging in a colorful-vegetable kick and you’ve noticed a soft glow that you have not seen before, try changing your diet before the oompa loompas come for you.

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[1] Health coach’s disclaimer: While eating a simple diet during stressful times can be helpful for maintaining energy levels, I do not recommend replacing meals with baby carrots and chutney. Baby carrots are processed foods and thus do not contain as many nutrients as fresh carrots. In addition, the dates in the chutney combined with the sweet carrots contain a high amount of sugar. I also advise eating a diet rich in a variety of types of foods (i.e. a mix of proteins, vegetables, and whole grains.)

[2] http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002400.htm

[3] http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=63; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/999.html

[4] http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/betacarotene

[5] http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/can-much-betacarotene-cause-yellow-skin-2041.html; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8449701; http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-4362.2003.01657.x/abstract;jsessionid=504472D38568D43F3B1A2CB671A08516.f03t03

[6] http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA400486/Eating-Too-Many-Carrots.html; Dr. Holly Roberts. Your Vegetarian Pregnancy: A Month-by-Month Guide to Health and Nutrition. New York: Fireside, 2003. p. 52

[7] See http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/betacarotene

Game of Tongues: How to Develop Your Palate (& Have Fun)

Closeup of lips with red lipstick holding pepperminThe tongue is perhaps one of the more complicated parts of the human body and innumerable blog posts could be written about this magical muscle. This particular post will focus on the particular experience we have when tongues touch food as well as ways to expand this experience (or just have fun).

The process of tasting occurs when something (i.e. food) stimulates receptors on the tongue (taste buds) that then send a message to the brain. The brain interprets the transmission as “Taste!” and associates it with a specific kind or kinds of taste: sweet, salty, bitter, sour. [1]

The tongue learns many other things when it touches something: it learns the temperature and texture of the substance, it evaluates the substance according to our likes and dislikes, and sometimes it can detect whether or not a food is harmful to us. This complex muscle has plenty of time to evolve because taste is one of the first senses to develop in humans. Many believe that babies put just about everything in their mouths in order to understand the world around them. As Robin Goldstein, Ph.D. says, “Babies don’t just put things in their mouths for pleasure or comfort; they also use their mouths for exploration. They learn about objects by tasting them, feeling their texture and experimenting with them.” [2]

Certainly, not every toy needs to be tasted or opening licked. (See for example, this hysterically awesome Discovery article, “Things You Shouldn’t Lick,” which was written in response to eye-licking trends in Japan.)  But when was the last time you used your tongue to explore and learn more about the world and the food in it?

Especially as the weather starts to grow colder, here’s a fun game to play while you’re bundled inside. This can be totally G-rated and played with a friend or you can modify it and turn it into a sensual game. To add some extra spice to the game, if your partner agrees, throw a blindfold into the mix. It can also be fun to play on your own. Ask a friend to identify some foods you’ve never tried before or just create a shopping list yourself, and rock out on a solo expedition!

Game of Tongues

  1. Choosing the foods: Create a list of foods and beverages that have different textures and temperatures and hit different notes on the palate (sweet, salty, sour, bitter). Be sure to choose foods that you know your partner is not allergic to and that will not burn their tongue or crack their teeth. Have your partner do the same, creating a list for you. Here are a few ideas: sweet/smooth- peach nectar; sweet/salty/crunchy- good quality chocolate bar with fun things inside like brown butter or sea salt and almonds; sour/sweet- mangoes w/chili and lime, kumquat; sour/salty/crunchy- pickled green beans, kimchi; sweet/bitter/smooth- Aperol (an alcoholic beverage), grapefruit with all of the white pith removed—just the pods of juiciness; bitter- arugula, mustard greens, cocoa nibs; cold/smooth- frozen cherries; warm/chunky- baked mashed yams.
  1. Preparing the food: Remove foods from any packaging and put in glasses or bowls so they are not easily recognizable.
  2. Blindfold your partner if they’ve agreed to it in advance.
  3. Ask your partner to lick the item and describe it. Here are some prompting questions if they need help: What did you notice about the texture? Tell me about the temperature. Does it remind you of anything you’ve tasted or smelled before?
  4. Have your partner take a small bite or sip and roll it on your tongue: What new do you learn? Describe it. Can you guess what this is?
  5. In between the foods, have your partner suck on a lemon wedge and drink a few sips of water in order to clear their palate.
  6. When you’ve gone through everything, identify for your partner the foods they ate and debrief: What did they want more of? What would they eat again? What about the taste/texture/temperature did they enjoy?
  7. Switch! Now it’s your turn.

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[1] HowStuffWorks.com; University of Texas Health Science Center; Stanford University Psychology Department.

[2] Robin Goldstein, Ph.D. “Into the Mouths of Babies,” Washington Parent. September 2010.