Monday, December 21, 2009

The Winter Solstice

I get excited for the Winter Solstice; I look forward to noticing the one minute lengthening of days just like I watch for the onset of Autumn’s color changes! The little bright spots sustain me, what can I say.

The remedy in ancient days for this time of less sun, more cold was community, food, and activity. And what do we modern, evolved people do? We do the same - gather with co-workers for co-mingling, with family for celebrations, with friends for parties.

This is a time for us to connect with resources and people, rekindle the wonder and magic of this time of year. It is a time that brings forth the energy of sharing, not the commercial gift giving, but true sharing and connection.

Way back when, winter was the starvation season. To avoid this, cattle were slaughtered due to lack of feed thereby providing warming, sustaining food for people during the winter months. Grains and grapes from summer and fall harvests fermented and were ready for consumption. And the people gathered together toasting and eating around the fire that also extended their exposure to light. This was all that was needed, plus a little dancing and sparring, to get through until March or April.

Insufficient sunlight increases circulating melatonin in the body which throws off circadian rhythm with longer sleep cycles. Many patients mention seasonal affective disorder - the combination of cold, lack of sun, tiredness, malaise, decreased activity and therefore increased melatonin, decreased serotonin and depressive symptoms. What is the remedy for this?

  • Exercise. Most people start up a winter regime in the New Year. It does help. Even 30 minutes of vigorous activity 3 times a week. If you don’t want to join a gym, take advantage of the community donation yoga classes (usually on Sundays) or take a dance class.
  • Negative Ions. A room full of green plants will improve your wellbeing. The visual bursts of green will improve your mood, and the negative ions they produce will physically/chemically improve your symptoms.
  • Light therapy. Devices abound for increasing light exposure – tables, desk top models or just full spectrum bulbs. Get outside midday just to get a little sun despite the cold temperatures.

These will reinvigorate the body from the seasonal lull, decrease melatonin production and increase serotonin production.

But what I really want you to find is the inner light. Winter is the time to restore, go inward, the time for ultimate potential. The germination of a new life cycle starts with a spark, the inner light. When the external light is limited, find your inner light that which excites you, the creative potential that arises from delight, joy, wonder, magic and miracles.

My holiday mailing to patients contained a quote from Les Miserable

“Children instantly and familiarly accept rejoicing and happiness because that is their natural element”.

If you cannot feel the wonder and joy in your current moment, reference a childhood memory. Wonder, magic and joy are there. I remember the wide-eyed kid rushing on December 7 to see what St. Nick magically left in her tube sock stocking! I was delighted by coloring books, fruit and chocolate. Two magical days just weeks apart, St. Nick leaving surprise gifts then Santa leaving (a portion) of the exact gifts written in the letter I sent him. I remember with fondness how my father encouraged the belief by leaving cookie crumbs, ho-ho-ho-ing and jingling bells late on Christmas Eve. Wonder and joy were and remain our natural element deep inside the heart and being. This inner light is sparked by wonder and joy deep within our core; it shines through warming, fueling, lighting the way through the dark months, the dead of winter.

Wishing you months of basking in the glow of your inner brightness this Winter Solstice!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Nutty, Seedy Superfoods

Hemp Hemp is big right now. It is more alkaline than most proteins, and more easily digestible. Our bodies need to be more alkaline, and it also needs protein. Hemp is a complete protein containing all 10 essential amino acids our bodies don’t produce. When muscle repair and reduction of inflammation is paramount, hemp would be the protein of choice as it contains anti-inflammatory properties for speeding soft-tissue repair.

The athletic community will swear by animal protein stating treat like with like -eat muscle to treat muscle. I have swallowed my tongue a few times because I just can’t expend too much energy on brainwashed, sore-muscled athletes! My gym experience speaks for itself. I have experienced little to no muscle soreness, and quicker recovery than my meat-eating workout partner (She’s great but a staunch believer in treat like with like).

I believe in eating an array of foods, and our bodies like diversity, so you don’t need to make hemp your only protein! There are plenty of nuts, grains, oils that are equally beneficial in combination. Hemp is very easy to add to a smoothie for protein, more easily digested as a powder than possibly adding ground seeds to a smoothie. Whichever form you choose Thrive states to “look for a deep green color, pleasant smell and sweet, nutty taste” free of pesticides and herbicides.

Quinoa Here’s one of those protein alternative to hemp. Is it a grain? is it a seed? No matter, it is cooked like a grain, pulverized into a gluten-free flour, sprouted in the raw tradition. I’ve been eating quinoa since the mid-90’s. I didn’t like it initially since I was used to rice and pasta, but soon it became a staple. I started eating it as a cooked grain, then as flour in my gluten-free creations, and most recently as a sprouted raw ingredient. The profile of quinoa? It contains twenty percent protein, is packed with lysine, iron and potassium and B vitamins. It does contain a high fat profile but its good fat.

Amaranth is another high protein (17%) grain/seed but lower in fat (8% in the form of Vitamin E) than quinoa. It is not as readily available in grocery stores, but easily found online. I started using this as a gluten-free grain in the beginning of 2002 as the easily digestible protein in my Power Puff muffins for my triathlete friends. It has a 90 percent digestion rate so it is easy on the digestive system and a high net food meaning you get lots of nutrition in this one seed! It is high in calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, and vitamins A and C. Amaranth contains THREE times the fiber of wheat and FOUR times the iron.

Twister Powder Superfood Blend contains Hemp, Cacao, and Maca providing antioxidants, omega fatty acids, and protein. Mix your hemp that is high in protein and omega 3 oils; your antioxidant rich cacao and maca for the endocrine system creates an energizing nourishing easy blend that is also easily digested and absorbed. (see previous post for info on Cacao and Maca)

Navitas Naturals, the maker of Twister Powder provides organic power foods that increase energy and enhance health. You can easily add this to cereals - I like it with oatmeal, or use in smoothies, or as a flour substitute.

Coconut Tried coconut water? The water of the young Thai white coconut is sweet, cooling, refreshing and chock full of potassium, magnesium and calcium. The potassium makes it a great supplement for some forms of hypertension. Magnesium is beneficial for stress reduction and easing muscle tension. Coconut contains lauric acid which can ease digestive issues during pregnancy. It contains antiviral properties and is said to improve the immune system.The electrolyte content makes it perfect for replenishing and rehydrating the body after a workout or a day in the heat. If you need serious replenishing after a workout, you may need to add a little sodium to your post workout intake since coconut water doesn’t have as much as commercial sports drinks. Coconut water is available commercially, but I prefer to purchase cases of coconut at Asian markets to avoid any processing.

You can also use the water to make coconut kefir. Kefir consists of healthy bacterial strains like yogurt but at higher concentrations. Adding kefir starter to the naturally sweet coconut water creates a fizzy, sour, champagne-like drink, like a spritzer. The bacteria feeds on the natural sugar and your body won’t suffer from the long term effects of consuming too much sugar. Those unwanted effects are any conditions resulting from a too acidic environment: joint pains to skin and intestinal issues to cancers.

How about coconut meat? If you mix the meat with the water, you have the creamy coconut base for Thai curry. Coconut oil and therefore the meat are a saturated fat. Use of saturated fats in moderation is beneficial; coconut oil specifically can aid is weight loss as it boosts the metabolism. Of course it is most beneficial used in conjunction with a whole plant-based diet. I personally still promote the primary consumption of olive oil, flax and hemp oils.

Next, By Land or By Sea, we will find the Green Superfoods.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

SuperBerries SuperRoot SuperBean

A warning to superfood-lovers, my profiles on superfoods may seem a little sobering. I am providing the beneficial and the cautionary. Some are non-indigenous items and therefore maybe not eco-conscious or green or maintain their superfood profile once they get to our kitchens, while others are medicinal according to Chinese medicine. The medicinal aspect is why different ways of eating work for different people. Goji berries may create some intestinal issues for one person, but create noticeable improvement in energy for others.

Acai, a berry like others, is packed with antioxidants, but unlike North American berries is high in essential fatty acids and fiber, higher than your average berry in trace minerals and phytonutrients. On the flip side, this berry is indigenous to the Amazon so there is processing and packaging involved and sometimes considerable sugar. With any produce, my feeling is one should consume it as close to its natural state, not processed and sugared. I would rather eat a local berry chock full of its goodness and add other ingredients high in essential fatty acids, fiber and minerals. If local berries are out of season, the powdered or liquid form of acai is the perfect choice to add to smoothies or other treats.

Goji berries have been talked about the last few years; it is second after cacao and cocoa in antioxidant levels. This tiny pinkish red dried berry is a mild tonic herb in Chinese medicine. Specifically we say it “builds blood”. Goji to some, fructus lycii or wolfberry to others, and gou qi zi to the Chinese herbalist, it is sweet in taste and neutral in temperature; energetically influences the Liver, Lung, Kidney acupuncture meridians; moistens the fluids or yin aspect of the body. Examples of what this berry can treat are sore back and legs, low grade abdominal pain, impotence, diabetes, consumption (when caused by a weakened state of the liver and kidney meridians or lack of yin fluids). It benefits essence and brighten eyes, aids dizziness, blurred or diminished visual acuity, enrich fluids/yin and moisten lung for consumptive cough. Not used for externally contracted excess heat patterns (infections) and cases of weak digestion with damp and loose stool.

In research this berry shows to reduce damage to hepatic cells in mice long term, ingestion in rats resulted in increase in serum and liver phospholipids; reduced blood pressure and labored breathing in rabbits when administered intravenously. A few things it contains: betaine, carotene, physalien, thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin C, beta sitosterol, and linoleic acid.

In the raw community goji is touted as this amazing energy source. In my opinion and experience as a Chinese herbalist if someone experiences a great energy surge ingesting gojis then some serious energy or blood or fluids need regeneration in that person. Yes, goji is beneficial, it is a lovely medicinal, and being mild it is beneficial for most everyone. I often receive samples of medicinal from herbal companies. A few years back, bringing my mail upstairs, my salivary glands were a little extra active. Odd, yes? I opened the package to find a sample of gou qi zi. Obviously I needed a little gou qi zi in my life. That walk up the stairs was a blind kinesiology experiment! In Chinese herbology we don’t even eat the berry, we decoct it in a herbal tea with other roots, rhizomes and leaves! It is used in Chinese cooking – I’ve had trout with goji and other green herbs and I now make energy bars (and smoothies) with gojis.

Maca is a starchy root vegetable from Latin America – Peruvian Ginseng. You might know ginseng as the sexual tonic you can pick up behind the counter of some gas stations! Most if not all varieties of ginseng (Siberian, Chinese, Peruvian) are adaptogens and increase qi or energy. Maca, a medicinal, is a general endocrine tonic and used in my clinic to treat reproductive, fertility, and adrenal imbalances.

Maca contains the precursors for serotonin. If you suffer from sugar cravings this might be for you. The brain trying to calm your stressed body knows it needs to increase serotonin levels; sugar is the brain’s attempt to do that. Maca contains the precursors so the body can process the maca into serotonin and truly aid in adapting to stress. It is also rich in sterols for quick muscle regeneration. It repairs damage on the adrenal glands: damage from nutritional stress (caffeine), environmental stress (pollution), emotional stress, and life stress. Americans adrenals are tapped out from a lifestyle of performing at a high level for long periods therefore self-medicating to rev up and come down. When the adrenals are not performing, hormones decline causing signs of premature aging, excess body fat and impaired ability to build muscle and recover from stress, among other ailments.

Coconuts. (though it is a fruit will be discussed in the next post on nuts and seeds)

Cacao. The bean of the cacao fruit/pod, the food of the gods, contains the highest concentration of magnesium and
antioxidants of any source – more than red wine, green tea, goji berries, or green vegetables. It is a good source of other trace minerals the majority of Americans are lacking like chromium.

Magnesium, the most powerful stress relieving mineral, relaxes muscles and builds strong bones and teeth. I usually recommend a magnesium supplement for clients who have sleep issues, palpitations from anxiety, and muscle soreness especially at night.

Antioxidants, anti-aging chemicals in whole plant foods, add a layer of protection to cells and fight free radical damage (cause of disease). Cacao is an excellent source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid converted to serotonin, think stress relief and mood elevation. It contains 1/20th of coffee’s caffeine and, unlike caffeine, does not spike blood sugar and contains no sugar. It is touted as a weight loss food and I would say because it is a high net food – adding many essentials a body needs so your body needs to take in less quantity of food.

Cocoa is the processed cacao meaning takes most of good stuff out except the flavor. Liken cocoa to white bread, devoid of all the nutrients of the wheat kernel, cacao bean. Adding dairy to cacao or cocoa cancels out the antioxidant effects, sorry!

Raw cacao is quite expensive when compared to your tin of Hershey’s cocoa powder. A little goes a long way and you can always use half cacao and half cocoa in recipes!

Next, the nuts and seeds of superfoods.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Superheroes of Food

They” call them superfoods or next level foods, I call them seeds and berries and algae. I do add to my smoothies seaweeds and other superfoods. Items within this category of power-packed foods vary depending who is making the list!

Gillian McKeith, controversial nutritionist, divides superfoods into 5 categories: Green, Bee, Herb, Sea, and Leafy. But she doesn’t include Brendan Brazier’s or living foods/whole plant food enthusiasts or most of the raw foods community favorites on her list: cacao, acai, goji berries, quinoa, hemp, maca, among others.

Essential qualities in my opinion for a living thing to be deemed superfood be it from a bee, the sea, a tree, or a leaf are:
  • Contains a higher concentration of vitamins, minerals or trace minerals than others in its grouping of food coupled with either essential fatty acids, protein, fiber, a more alkaline profile, and possibly some sort of “anti-“ properties anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-aging…
The idea is consume high-net gain foods – nutrient dense foods - therefore less food. Get more nutrient bang for your buck and effort! We don’t need all the food that we eat, our bodies need a certain daily allowance of building blocks to maintain homeostasis. If the body doesn’t meet that allowance, the specific cravings (I need cheese or chocolate) or vague cravings (I want something I just don’t know what) start.

So if I am making a green smoothie today containing 3 veggies, 1 fruit, and 2 superfoods that contain these high concentrations of good stuff, I am giving my body premium fuel and all it needs to run optimally. I obviously eat other meals throughout the day, but I am satiated longer, eat smaller quantities, and have no cravings.

The body will use less effort compensating for a lack of essential amino acids and lack of electrolytes and other good stuff for all the muscles (heart and brain and other organs included!) creating more energy available to get through your day. Believe me, I tested it. Months of green smoothies, green smoothies with superfoods, a few days of no green smoothies, days with more fruit based smoothies, and back to green smoothies. Once you are accustomed to a certain energy level and multi-tasking ability, when it wanes you notice.

Yes, I used superfoods in meals that did not require a straw. Sprouted quinoa is a favorite in combination with veggies and legumes. Hemp seeds or powder satiated hunger for hours! Seaweed salad and nori-wrapped creations are right up there too. I suggest slowly introducing foods and those that seem more palatable. If you haven’t soaked seaweeds and combined them with other ingredients, ask someone or get a recipe or check out pre-made salads at your natural grocer. You don’t want to thwart your progress before you begin!

Next up profiling berries, seeds and algae!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Thrive On

Continuing on my Thrive in 30 Journey, I looked at the biker on the cover (Brendan Brazier of course) and I realized I needed to address another component - Exercise.

I bike. I bike only during a short season in Chicago, maybe 7-ish months. The weather the first half of the Thrive in 30 Challenge was not biking weather for me, so I needed to look at alternatives. My calorie consumption remains the same year-round but my activity level does not. This poses a problem for my mood and my comfort in my wardrobe!

I could definitely benefit from more consistent and varied physical activity. I wasn’t going to get to a group class unless it was at 5:30 am or at 9:00 pm. So my only options were working out at home or a gym. I know myself well enough it will not happen at home. And, committing to a gym was spotty concept as well. Thanks to a one week free deal I attended a gym daily, and joined that gym at the end of the two week mark of my Thrive Journey. I am there 4 or 5 early morning a week thanks to a workout partner. I wouldn’t be there quite as often without her.

Another muscle that needed exercising was my brain. Brendan states it in Thrive (and I say it to my clients), it only takes a few more minutes out of your day. Joke’s on me! A new activity or new food or concept being asked of a client could be completely foreign or maybe something familiar but not part of a routine, it is going to take more than a few minute a day to implement and time for new neural pathways to develop or a re-wiring of the old.

I think nothing of whipping up a complete vegan 5 course meal, but to tell the average Midwestern meat-and-potatoes family to just add green veggies or some flaxmeal or omega 3s to their day falls a little short.

I know what sprouting is. I haven’t done it but once as an experiment. I’ve soaked beans overnight, only to cook them thoroughly the next day. Despite the easy steps involved in sprouting or soaking, these were all new steps and I needed to do my own research, needed a little longer to add it to a routine or think ahead on how much I needed to sprout for the week. I admit for the future will I sprout only to the germination point to release the enzymes; I don’t grow mason jars of sprouts in my fridge. Between the coconuts kefiring, the beets fermenting, and the seaweeds, gojis and dates soaking there’s enough activity in that box!

So if you see a woman loaded down with 3 or 4 bags at 5:30 am, it is probably me heading to the gym with 1. A bag of Thrive food and sprouts for the day, 2. A bag of gym gear, 3. My laptop and/or other equipment, and 4. Just my bag.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Thrive Journey

By the time I post, I will be well into my Thrive Journey. I was asked by Maya Henderson to join her and a few others on the Thrive in 30 challenge. Can you eat raw for 30 days the way Brendan Brazier eats raw? Are you ready to experience more energy? Are you ready to be free of cravings? Are you ready to get all your nutritional needs met? Even the nutritional needs of a triathlete? Are you ready to handle stress more easily? Are you ready to sleep great?

I picked up the book, Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life ,and read it one Friday night. I felt like I was hearing my own words on many of the pages. Brendan Brazier is a professional Ironman triathlete. He is a vegan. He tried lots of ways of eating. He developed this way of eating and developed the Vega product line. I do use and love to use the Vega EFA oil blend. If his energy bars didn’t contain wheatgrass, I’d love those too. I am allergic to the stuff, really allergic like go to hospital throat closing up allergic. If I had zero time in my life, I would also use his smoothie powder, but I have enough time to toss in my own ingredients. I also had enough time to try some of his raw recipes: energy bars, nut and seaweed pates, crackers, and my favorite kale wrap.

As some of you know I’ve been drinking a quart of smoothied green veggies and a little fruit every day the last five months. You may have seen a facebook status or a twitter post stating my smoothie ingredients of the day. Some weren’t so palatable, but most were awesome. The program I followed from the summer forward, of which the smoothies was only a portion, increased my energy, eliminated cravings, deepened my sleep and began the physical and emotional cleansing I needed.

So I can say Thrive maintained those achievements, educated me on some foods, and posed some time management challenges. Had I not gotten my feet wet with the summer smoothie adventure into raw food, I don’t know that I would have stayed with the Thrive Challenge. Life has been chaotic and the Thrive food prep took a mind shift, a little forethought, and an extra bag to carry every day! Unfortunately many of the ingredients since they are raw or a bit obscure must be purchased at a natural grocer. You aren’t going to find hemp seeds, maca, raw cacao, or raw goji berries, nuts or seeds just anywhere. Sometimes the Raw and Macrobiotic bars at the local natural grocer were lunch, snack and dinner for me. Not cost effective but exactly what I needed.

Did I have days that were not entirely raw? Heck yes. Two consecutive days - PMS days, mild irritation amplified to high stress and I ate bread. Good bread. Local bakery bread. And a not so good 10-pieces of bite size Halloween chocolate binge. My body rebelled with a flare of mouth sores. Nice. I ate a few eggs. I went out for Indian another night. I had a couple glasses of wine and a bloody mary. I wasn’t craving a drink, I wasn’t stressed, I was just out and enjoying life. So 2 of the last 30 days were stressful, while 5 of the last 30 days were off the Thrive wagon. Those aren’t terrible statistics.

Post script: in the three weeks since the end of the Thrive in 30 challenge, I ate a cooked Thanksgiving dinner complete with turkey and lots of vegetables; I ate real pizza; I ate ice cream. I was low spirited and low energy and a little reactive. This isn’t how I want to feel or present, so I do my best every day. I drink my quart of veggie smoothies; I grab nuts and fruit if I didn’t prepare meals for the day; and reserve the deviations from a raw vegan lifestyle when with friends and family.

More to come on my Thrive experience!