Understanding Heart Health - Part 2: Common Risk Factors

Last week we looked at atherosclerosis (plaque buildup) in the arteries. It appears that at the root of this process is damage or stress to the arterial lining (also known as endothelial dysfunction) from a variety of factors, which then sets off a series of events due to an overactive inflammatory response. With prevention as our first priority, here is a brief look at 8 common risk factors that may cause this initial dysfunction and set off this detrimental process.

 

Oxidative Stress -> This is a fancy way of saying that there are not enough antioxidants available to neutralize harmful oxidants (free radicals) in the body. Oxidative stress is one of the main drivers of inflammation and destruction of arterial lining. As mentioned last week in Part 1, oxidation occurs due to highly unstable molecules, known as “free radicals” which damage cells. Oxidative stress can be the result of regular biological processes, smoking, alcohol, emotional stress and lack of sleep, pollutants, chronic infections, poor nutrition or high blood sugar. Note that excess homocysteine also promotes oxidative stress. This amino acid is normally found in the bloodstream but is dangerous when elevated.

Poor Diet -> The following dietary factors contribute to “endothelial dysfunction” and excess inflammation in the body: alcohol, regular intake of processed/refined foods and trans fats, high sugar or low-fiber diet, chemicals, additives, and imbalanced consumption of omega 6 in relation to omega 3. Note that both omegas are necessary from the diet, however excess omega 6 can be harmful.

Unhealthy Weight-> Accumulated belly fat contributes to chronic inflammation and may initiate atherosclerosis. Even people who are overweight, but not obese are at increased risk of heart disease. Physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyle are major risk factors for heart disease. Regular exercise protects against the development of cardiovascular disease and can help improve other risk factors such as insulin resistance and obesity. Dr. Michael Murray, ND, states that “obesity is the major dietary cause of high blood pressure”.

High Blood Sugar -> Increased blood sugar and insulin resistance both trigger inflammation and are associated with increased oxidative stress. High blood sugar also contributes to the production of molecules called AGEs, which are able to modify LDL cholesterol particles so that they can be more easily oxidized. This we know, from Part 1, is a common underlying trigger for atherosclerosis. Insulin resistance also causes retention of sodium and water from the kidneys, leading to high blood pressure as well as greatly increases the risk for clot formation.

Environmental Toxins -> These may come in the form of cigarette smoke, air pollution, pesticides, herbicides, chemical additives, heavy metals or hormone disruptors (i.e. in plastics). Toxic exposure contributes to oxidative stress, causing damage to the endothelial lining and triggering silent inflammation in the body. When the body is overburdened with toxins, antioxidants are depleted.

Poor Gut Health -> We have seen that inflammation plays a role in all stages of atherosclerosis, as it is an inflammatory disease. What is important to note is that the gut is the major source of chronic, low-grade inflammation. This generally occurs in response to changes in gut bacterial balance or activity, food sensitivities, emotional stress, inadequate enzymes or stomach acid or intestinal permeability (i.e. leaky gut), which allows bacteria and undigested food to enter circulation. Therefore, there is a direct connection between the gut and the heart. The gut also plays a major role in cholesterol metabolism. Brenda Watson, CNC, states that a study has shown that the composition of gut bacteria may even affect whether statins work effectively or not!

Emotional Stress -> Stress increases inflammation in the body. This can lead to an increase in abdominal fat, high blood lipid levels, poor digestion and insulin resistance, which are other triggers for heart disease. Brenda Watson explains that the physiological response to stress increases blood pressure and heart rate, which puts pressure on arterial walls, thus damaging the lining. As we have seen, this damage can trigger an inflammatory response that sets off plaque accumulation. She also states that elevated levels of cortisol are found in people with both acute and chronic stress and that even mild “normal” stress can negatively affect the heart. Did you know that depression and anger are also related to heart disease? According to a study shared by Dr. Michael Murray, ND, greater anger and severity of depressive symptoms were significantly associated with increased inflammatory markers as well as increased cortisol, endothelial dysfunction, high blood pressure and increased platelet aggregation.

Inflammation -> Inflammation plays a role at every stage of the plaque buildup process and is considered a risk factor as it can initiate artery damage. Inflammation is necessary in the body and serves as the response to injury or infection. It can occur due to a foreign invader, malfunction or damage. It serves an important purpose and is meant to stop once the trigger is taken care of. However, when the irritation is constant, the result is chronic, low-grade inflammation. Factors that promote this “silent” inflammation include poor diet, high blood sugar and insulin resistance, obesity, environmental toxins, emotional stress, chronic infections (even gum disease), increased exposure to free radicals, poor digestion and food sensitivities, etc. Remember that the gut is an important source of inflammation.

 

Bonus Tip: healthy estrogen levels can play a protective role against heart disease. These levels are known to decrease after menopause. Balance is an important key to heart health!

 

Now that we understand that heart disease stems from a combination of risk factors, we see how important it is to target various aspects of health in our efforts to prevent heart disease. In addition to taking lifestyle measures to control these triggers (such as balancing blood sugar, eating well, managing stress, digesting properly, controlling weight, avoiding toxin exposure), tune into Part 3 next week for natural ingredient suggestions to help increase your chances of a healthy and happy heart!

 

-This article is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach –

 

Understanding Heart Health - Part 1: What Causes Plaque Build-Up?

In order to fully understand how to protect the cardiovascular system from disease, we should first be aware of what can go wrong and the common risk factors associated with major concerns, such as atherosclerosis (plaque buildup). The following is intended to provide a more accurate picture of the hidden process responsible for making heart disease the “silent killer”. After all, did you know that your blood flow can be reduced by up to 90% before you feel any symptoms?

The build-up of plaque and narrowing of the arteries is known as atherosclerosis. According to Brenda Watson, CNC, atherosclerosis is not only preventable but reversible! She explains that it was once thought that plaque buildup associated with narrowed arteries was caused by the accumulation of cholesterol in the arteries. While it is true that cholesterol is a component of plaque and plays a role in the process, it is not necessarily the main trigger.

 

Defending Cholesterol

Brenda elaborates that cholesterol is not all bad and that we need it to build cell membranes, produce hormones and convert Vitamin D in the body. Did you know that blood cholesterol levels have little to do with dietary intake? She explains that cholesterol is recycled and reabsorbed from the small intestines in the body. When we take in more cholesterol from foods, a healthy liver responds by producing less to maintain the balance. On the other hand, when we do not eat enough of it, the liver will produce more to compensate. Having said that, we should still exercise the principle of moderation in our diet and choose healthy foods in proper portions to ensure optimal health.

Therefore, Brenda cautions that we shouldn’t worry as much about cholesterol in itself, but rather the state it is in. Let me explain. Cholesterol needs a carrier to travel through the bloodstream and gets around in the body with “lipoproteins” (LDL or HDL). Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol itself is not “good” or “bad”, it is the lipoprotein carrier and its condition that makes the difference. LDL for example, carries cholesterol from the liver to different areas of the body, such as the arteries (making it “bad”). HDL on the other hand, picks up cholesterol from different areas of the body and brings it back to the liver for removal (making it “good”). Dr. Michael Murray, ND, explains that “the ratios of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol and LDL to HDL are referred to as cardiac risk factor ratios because they reflect whether cholesterol is being deposited into tissues or broken down and excreted”. However, Brenda Watson also notes that it is important to consider the state in which LDL is found. For instance, the size of the LDL particles matter as the smaller and denser particles are more destructive. In addition, oxidation of LDL cholesterol particles makes them more harmful. Oxidation occurs due to free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules. Now hold that thought for now…more on this topic in Part 2 next week!

 

So What Causes Plaque Accumulation? 

So if cholesterol isn’t necessarily the biggest problem, what is?  According to Brenda, atherosclerosis is a gradual series of events that is triggered by dysfunction (damage or stress) to the inner arterial lining (endothelium). Endothelial dysfunction can be due to a range of factors including: poor diet, aging, alcohol, obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, free radical exposure, environmental toxins, inactivity, poor gut health, chronic inflammation, emotional stress, infection, etc. This “dysfunction” then triggers an overactive inflammatory process which attracts immune cells and oxidized LDL into the artery wall in an effort to repair the damage. This then further triggers the inflammatory response, leading to the buildup of fatty material, more cholesterol, immune cells, fibrin (blood clotting material), minerals (i.e. calcium) and free radicals, thus making up “plaque” found inside the artery. Inflammation plays a role at each stage of this process. Therefore, the key triggers to atherosclerosis are deterioration of the endolethial lining from a variety of risk factors and the resulting inflammatory reaction. 

 

The Vicious Cycle

As plaque builds up over time, the artery thickens and loses flexibility, narrowing the opening. This stiffness or hardening of artery walls creates arterial resistance, which is a potential cause of hypertension (high blood pressure). In fact, Dr. Michael Murray, ND, states that “high blood pressure is most often due to atherosclerosis”. In turn, this increased pressure can then lead to more damage on lining, further triggering and worsening the process of atherosclerosis.

Note that other factors that can lead to elevated blood pressure include: arterial stiffness as a result of aging or reduced production of nitric oxide, increased blood flow from exercise or chronic stress and fluid retention or increased blood volume from high sodium/low potassium or potential kidney problems.

After breaking down the complex process of atherosclerosis and its main trigger, we can understand the importance of preventing deterioration in the arteries. In order to do this, we need to target the potential triggers or common risk factors. More on this in Part 2 next week!

 

-This article is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach –

Build a Better Breakfast!

You may know by now that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. But why? Breakfast literally breaks your fast from the night before. Our bodies need nutrition first thing in the morning, ideally within one hour of rising.  This meal is critical as it helps fuel the brain and muscles to perform all of our daily functions!

 

However, the many negative consequences associated with skipping breakfast can also be the result of poor breakfast choices. These include low energy, irritability, weight gain, brain fog and sugar cravings to name a few. So reaching for a box of sugar cereal, white bread or pre-packaged toaster waffles may be just as bad as, or arguably worse, than not eating breakfast at all! These ingredients can be packed with trans fats, GMO ingredients, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives and artificial dyes and flavors. As a rule, whenever purchasing anything that contains more than its original ingredient, be sure to read the label, regardless of the marketing claims on the box. The quality of your breakfast is just as important as the habit of eating it!

 

6 Reasons to Consume a Balanced Breakfast

 

  1. Set The Tone For the Day: This will increase the chances that you will eat well and make wise nutritious choices for the remainder of the day.
  2. Kick Start Metabolism: Regularly consuming a nutritious breakfast is associated with maintaining a healthy body weight and efficiently burning more calories all day long.
  3. Stabilize Blood Sugar: A well-balanced breakfast leads to sustained energy and satiety. It helps to reduce appetite and prevent crashes, mood swings and cravings. 
  4. Prevent Overeating: Those who eat breakfast regularly generally consume fewer calories and avoid falling into negative patterns of mindless snacking and “junk” food binges later on.
  5. Boost Brain Power: Both adults and students who consume proper breakfast are shown to have enhanced concentration, memory, cognitive performance and productivity throughout the day.
  6. Heart Health: Skipping breakfast increases the risk of heart attack and coronary disease as well as obesity, high blood pressure, and cholesterol.

 

How to Build a Better Breakfast!

 

As mentioned before, in addition to actually eating breakfast it is important to choose wholesome ingredients that contain key nutrients such as high-fiber complex carbohydrates, quality proteins and healthy fats. Remember, variety is key to attain adequate nutrition!

 

Tip 1: Choose High-Fiber Ingredients

Whole grains (and pseudo grains) are complex carbohydrates and packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals. They help provide sustained physical and mental energy for the next few hours.  Excellent breakfast choices include millet, quinoa, amaranth, oats, barley, kamut, spelt, buckwheat, etc. Note that soaking and sprouting grains starts their natural growing processes, releasing more available nutrients and increasing their digestibility!

Produce items are also full of vitamins, minerals, fibre, and protective antioxidants. For fruit, try adding fresh berries to yogurt, dried cranberries in homemade granola or pineapple chunks into a smoothie. Choose fruit in moderation and consume them in their whole form in order to retain beneficial fiber. If blood sugar levels are of concern, select low glycemic ingredients or focus more on vegetable intake. For example, you can incorporate shredded carrots to oats, leafy greens into smoothies or peppers, tomatoes, sweet potato, zucchini to various egg-dishes.

BONUS: Flax and chia seeds are both great sources of fiber and make great breakfast additions!

 

Tip 2: Get Enough Protein & Fats

Adding protein and fats to meals helps to increase satiation, balance blood sugar and boost metabolism. They have an important role in keeping you full longer and preventing cravings. Individual protein needs vary, but certain experts suggest aiming to consume up to 25g of protein at breakfast. While whole grains provide some protein, other great choices include organic, grass-fed dairy products (i.e. greek yogurt or cottage cheese), lean meats or seafood (i.e. smoked salmon) or organic/free-run eggs. Note that nuts and seeds (and their spreads) provide both fat and protein (i.e. hemp, pumpkin seeds, and almonds). Other healthy fat sources include olive oil, avocado, aged raw milk cheeses, grass-fed butter/ghee, or coconut ingredients such as cream, flakes, oil.  

BONUS: Consider incorporating a quality protein powder from either whey or plant sources to your breakfast to meet protein requirements with fewer calories. These can easily be added into most recipes such as smoothies, oats or even pancakes!

 

Tip 3: Boost It With Superfoods!

Increase your breakfast’s nutritional content by adding a scoop of matcha green tea, maca, fermented turmeric, nutritional yeast, cacao powder, cinnamon, berry fruit blends or green food powders (prairie grasses, sea vegetables, leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables). If needing to add some sweetness to your dish, choose raw honey or pure maple syrup in moderation.

BONUS: Don’t forget to take your daily essentials: multivitamin + D3, fish oils and probiotics!

 

Time Crunch Tips

Prepare smoothie ingredients ahead of time. Pre-cook and freeze homemade whole grain pancakes, waffles, bars or mini egg quiches and breakfast sandwiches/wraps. Make whole grains overnight in a crock-pot for a hot breakfast. Combine rolled oats or chia seeds with milk of choice and desired “extras” in a mason jar overnight for a quick, “grab and go” option.

 

Examples: Try avocado and tomato slices with boiled eggs on whole grain toast. Blend together banana, chocolate protein, flax and almond butter into a smoothie. Make your own healthy oat/fruit/nut granola or muesli and serve over yogurt. Make cottage cheese pancakes with eggs, oats and cinnamon! Combine sprouted buckwheat with berries, seeds and coconut flakes. 

 

This column is sponsored by Good 'n' Natural in Steinbach.

Grass isn’t just for cows!

When people talk about “green foods”, most people automatically think of spinach or kale. Others might lean more towards the idea of sea vegetables, such as spirulina or chlorella. However, did you know that prairie grasses fall into this superfood category as well? They have a nutrient profile similar to dark leafy vegetables and are also considered alkalizing, nutrient-rich, complete whole foods!

So what is a prairie grass exactly? Holistic pharmacist, Rosemarie Pierce explains that they are the young green plant stages of cereal grasses. Therefore, they are not a grain as the plant has not yet matured. Examples include barley grass, wheat grass, alfalfa and oat grass.

Rosemarie adds that prairie grasses contain important nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, amino acids, certain enzymes, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fibre! These ingredients help to protect cells from free radical damage, neutralize toxins, deodorize bad breathe and gas, correct nutritional deficiencies, support immunity, help repair the digestive tract and provide sustained energy while mineralizing and alkalizing the body.

Therefore, prairie grasses are ideal for anyone with respiratory conditions, cold and flus, anemia, skin disorders, digestive issues or just looking to improve overall health. They work to detoxify, support immunity, improve digestion, alkalize and boost energy and stamina!

Let’s look at some of these ingredients in detail:

 

ENERGIZING: Wheat Grass

This is an exceptional, alkalizing super food that can be used daily to provide key nutrients. Wheat grass contains antioxidants (such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin), fibre, Vitamins C, K, A, E and B vitamins (including folic acid and biotin), as well as minerals like calcium, iron, selenium, manganese, potassium and zinc. It contains 20 amino acids and has roughly 30% protein and 30% fibre. Wheat grass has been said to support bowel health and may help to reduce colitis. Due to its high levels of chlorophyll (green pigment), it is known as a potent detoxifier and powerful energizer. It gently cleanses the liver and blood while supporting metabolism and thyroid function. Wheat grass provides easy nutrition that can be used as an energy boosting substitute for stimulants like coffee.

 

ANTI-AGING: Barley Grass

This is the young, green version of the barley grain. Containing even more nutrients than wheatgrass, it is loaded with 20 amino acids and phytonutrients such as beta-carotene and chlorophyll. Barley grass has antioxidant, anti-aging, energizing, mineralizing, cleansing and anti-cholesterol properties. Since barley grass is associated with an alkaline effect on the body, it can help counter acidic foods and optimize pH balance. It has also been used to reduce pain and inflammation. It is high in vitamins A, C, K, and B-vitamins in addition to zinc, potassium, manganese, calcium and iron. Barley grass has approximately 30% protein and 40% fibre. It also contains the SOD (superoxide dismutase) enzyme, which converts hydrogen peroxide into oxygen, helping to reduce inflammation and prevent the physical signs of aging.

 

BRAIN HEALTH: Oat Grass

Oat grass is used to help cleanse major organs and has up to 30% protein as amino acids. It is rich in chlorophyll and loaded with iron, calcium, magnesium, Vitamin B5 and potassium. It also provides fibre, the SOD enzyme and lecithin. Lecithin is an essential fat and good source of choline, which supports the brain, nerve function and liver health. It is a building block of brain cell membranes and a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a brain chemical involved in both memory and cognitive function. Oat grass is said to help nourish and strengthen the nervous system.

 

LIVER SUPPORT: Alfalfa

Alfalfa is high in various antioxidants, protein, as well as exceptionally rich in chlorophyll. It is a source of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron, silicon, and other trace minerals as well as a broad range of vitamins. It has deep roots that can extract nutrients from the soil. In fact, all parts of this plant can be used for their health benefits. Alfalfa contains 8 essential amino acids. It is known to be a nutritive tonic due to its rich nutrient content and has been used in cases of malnutrition, stomach problems (i.e. indigestion), constipation and prolonged illness. Alfalfa also contains specific phytonutrients that may support hormone-balancing and has been used by women to reduce menopausal symptoms. Some sources also suggest it may help reduce cholesterol levels. A potent ingredient for liver support, it alkalizes and detoxifies the body in addition to protecting cells with its antioxidant capabilities. Alfalfa also acts as a diuretic, anti-inflammatory, and antifungal.

 

Look for organic, fermented ingredients for enhanced bioavailability. The fermentation process unlocks nutrients held inside plant fibre walls and promotes the production of friendly gut microbes.  Prairie grasses in the form of an instant, ready-to-use powder makes for an easy addition to smoothies, dressings, sauces and home-made snack bars!

 

-This column is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach –

The Power of Plants

In his book, “Healthy at 100”, John Robbins explores the scientifically proven secrets of the world’s healthiest and long-lived populations. He describes the characteristics of various indigenous peoples who are famous for their longevity and health.

These societies contain the world’s healthiest documented elders, longest recorded life expectancies and highest concentrations of centenarians (people above the age of 100). The majority are physically fit, mentally healthy and outgoing. Within these populations rates of heart problems, diabetes, dementia or cancer are extremely low or non-existent. In addition, most have their own teeth and reports of fractures, poor hearing and bad eyesight are rare.

What makes these cultures so different? Robbins points out a few common lifestyle factors:

 

  • Large Amounts of Physical Activity. Exercise is built into everyday life routines. This includes mostly walking through rugged terrain and working hard at daily work.
  • Lack of Emotional Stress. These people live at a relaxed, simple pace that aligns with the rhythms of nature. They also enjoy peaceful quality sleep.
  • Respect for the Aged. People’s status increases with age and they receive more privileges as years pass. Wisdom is admired and the process of aging is cherished.
  • Celebration is Part of Life. Music, singing, laughter and dancing are common. They maintain a positive attitude, sense of humour and gratitude with only few possessions.
  • Community-Minded. These cultures are highly relational and have a strong sense of interdependence. They find joy and purpose in being together and loving each other.
  • Plant-Based Diet. Their focus is primarily on plant-based, natural, whole foods.

 

As each group has developed unique dietary patterns based on their surroundings and what they have to work with, there are some overall common themes that have been discovered.

  • They generally have a very high vegetable intake, usually eaten raw or lightly steamed. These include both leafy greens and root vegetables. They also cultivate herbs.
  • Fruit is enjoyed either fresh or dried and in moderation, as a snack or dessert.
  • They get the majority of their protein intake from unrefined complex carbohydrates such as whole grains (i.e. wheat, millet, buckwheat, barley, quinoa), nuts and seeds, and legumes (beans, lentils and peas), which may be soaked and allowed to sprout.
  • Nuts, avocadoes, coconut, seeds and fish are the primary sources of fat intake, depending on the culture and what is available to them.
  • The emphasis is on foods that are grown locally and consumed in season as much as possible, for peak nutritional value and freshness.
  • These diets contain no refined, processed or artificial ingredients. Ingredients are generally consumed in their original form without modification, additives (i.e. sugar or salt) or substitutions. Their focus is on food from the earth and not boxes or cans.
  • These people generally eat very little (less than 2000 calories per day). They are able to get their daily requirements from less food, as they choose nutrient-dense ingredients. They don’t count calories, but instead make every calorie count! They are also careful not to overeat and generally stop when they are 80% full.
  • Meals are often enjoyed together as a social event, eaten slowly and chewed well.
  • Every diet contains at least some measure of animal food, usually enjoyed occasionally and always coming from healthy animals. Depending on the group observed, this could include wild game, eggs or fish. Others with farmland may consume meat or raw, fermented dairy from pastured cows, goats or sheep.
  • Organic farming is practiced, as no chemicals or synthetic ingredients are used on their land. A great deal of effort and thought is put into its preservation and enhancement. There is an emphasis on resourcefulness and sustainability. Soil health is incredibly important and is therefore highly mineralized.

 

Due to the fact that our lifestyles and circumstances here in North America may not necessarily resemble those of these cultures, it is difficult to directly compare ourselves and ways of life. However, it is interesting to note the prevalence of plant-based foods in these diets as well as the overwhelming reports of good health and longevity. Regardless of dietary style, many agree that increasing the amount of plant based foods in the diet can lead to positive health benefits as these ingredients are rich in minerals, phytonutrients and fiber, among others. Various professionals who advocate plant-based diets will aim for different ratios of plant to animal-based food. In the end, each person needs to find what works best for them and fits their unique needs. However, if increasing the amount of plant-based foods in your diet is of interest, here are a few tips and precautions.

It is of utmost importance to consume high quality sources in order to attain proper nutrition for each calorie. When choosing ingredients, look for organic, whole foods grown in good soil. Also, aim to sprout, soak and ferment plant foods as much as possible in order to increase nutritional status and reduce “anti-nutrients” that may hinder digestion. When consuming animal products, look for free-range, wild, grass-fed and pasture-raised sources.

Ensure that you are receiving adequate protein and amino acids from your food intake. Do this by combining and rotating a variety of whole grains, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, sea vegetables, beans and legumes in adequate portions throughout the day. Depending on the amount of animal products consumed and other digestive factors, potential deficiencies include Vitamin B12, Omega-3, iron, zinc and calcium, as these may be predominantly found in large amounts from animal foods. Regardless of dietary style, consider natural supplementation if you are not getting adequate amounts from food or due to malabsorption.

Some of the best plant ingredients include spirulina, quinoa, black beans, hemp seeds, almonds, buckwheat, pumpkin seeds and avocado. If you are unsure where to start smoothies, salads, soups and powerbowl recipes are easy, versatile and tasty options! For quick and nutrient-packed options, consider grab-and-go plant-based protein powders and bars.

 

-This column is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach -

Making Sense of “Healthy Living”

In this day and age, we are presented with an overwhelming amount of conflicting evidence regarding what types of & how much when it comes to matters of “healthy living”. I don’t know about you, but it has most definitely caused me stress in trying to figure it all out. For example, various medical experts, professionals and athletes have voiced their opinions on optimal dietary patterns, fitness regimes and healthy living tips. Unfortunately, sometimes these opinions conflict in some way, shape or form. So how do we know what is the “right” answer?

In my opinion, there is no “standard” equation or “one size fits all” solution for everyone, and after a long personal journey of extreme ups and downs, I have learned that’s ok! We are all so unique and research is constantly changing and evolving, so all we can do is use our common sense and do the best we can, wherever we are, with whatever resources we have…then let it go. A wise mentor once told me that the stress of trying to figure it all out and be perfect will kill me before making a “less than ideal” healthy living choice every so often will. This has helped me achieve proper perspective.  

Instead of focusing on rigid numbers, rules and targets, I personally try to apply key common sense principles when structuring my own “healthy habits” in order to make them a permanent lifestyle. These can apply to all areas of healthy living (i.e. nutrition, fitness, mental health).

 

  1. BALANCE & ADAPTABILITY (Stay in control while allowing for exceptions)

Balance – Be realistic by avoiding extreme behaviors. Try to use the old “80/20” rule and make optimal choices 80% of the time while learning to relax and enjoy the 20% when you don’t!

Adaptability – Aim to make the best choices possible in special circumstances that require you to exceed your regular range of healthy balance (i.e. vacations).

Nutrition Tip: I know and believe that organic, whole, natural foods are best for me. Therefore, I choose to prioritize these ingredients and invest in my health. However, I still purchase and consume “less healthy” items once in a while for certain events and occasions.

 

  1. VARIETY & ENJOYMENT (Change it up & making it fun)

Variety – Use rotation to ensure you meet all of your needs from a diverse range of sources.

Enjoyment – Find what works for you to increase the chances that behaviors stick long term.  

Nutrition Tip: Get creative and make different varieties of smoothies, salads, soups, stir-fries or power bowls with a range of ingredients in balanced combinations!

 

  1. MODERATION & ADEQUACY (Find a healthy minimum to maximum range)

Moderation – Ensure that you don’t get too much of anything in order to leave room for others.

Adequacy – Guarantee that you get enough of the essentials your body needs to thrive.

Nutrition Tip: Aim for adequate amounts of the essentials and moderate amounts of the extras! However, while moderation is an obvious concept when it comes to less nutritious foods, too much of a good thing can be a problem too!     

 

  1. MINDFULNESS & INDIVIDUALITY (Tune into your body and accept yourself)

Mindfulness – Stop and listen to your body. Be aware of what it is saying, and trust it to guide you! Pay attention to your mood, energy, cognitive ability, discomfort, satiety and cravings, etc.

Individuality –No two people are the same. Accept and embrace your unique needs.

Nutrition Tip: I believe we all operate best on personalized diets and that we may each thrive on various amounts of certain nutrients, meal timing and combinations based on individual factors.

 

  1. QUALITY & SIMPLICITY (Don’t make it complicated! Less is more when you do it right)

Quality –When you choose quality, quantity naturally falls into place.

Simplicity - Keep things simple and learn to be efficient with fewer things.

Nutrition Tip: When in doubt, choose ingredients as close to their original, natural, whole form as possible without additions, subtractions or modifications and prepare them using traditional methods to optimize nutrition and digestibility. It is very possible to make a delicious, easy and nutritious meal out of a few simple, high quality ingredients.

 

  1. CONSISTENCY & PERSISTENCE (Fake it until you make it and never look back)

Consistency – Intentionally repeat behaviours the majority of the time until you have created actual habits that become permanent and natural.

Persistence – Focus on the future with optimism and motivation, not dwelling on the past.

Nutrition Tip: Having a complete, balanced breakfast supports energy levels, mental focus, mood control and weight management. If you tend to skip this meal, start slowly by committing to something light every morning (i.e. protein smoothie) until breakfast becomes a habit.

 

  1. PLANNING & MODIFICATION (Set yourself up for success & adjust as needed)

Planning –Avoid failure and preventing relapse by pre-establishing loose guidelines and schedules.  Be pro-active and prepared in areas of weakness!

Modification –Acknowledge that we all go through seasons and no plan or pattern is set in stone. We must consistently re-evaluate and change our patterns accordingly.

Nutrition Tip: Note that temporary exceptions are sometimes made for those in need of strategies for specific therapeutic purposes or life stages.  For example, those on elimination, Candida or ketogenic protocols may need to cut out certain ingredients that are otherwise healthy for a short while as part of treatment before slowly re-incorporating them into the diet.  

 

  1. PERSPECTIVE, PERSPECTIVE, PERSPECTIVE! (It’s all in how you see it)

Perspective –Emphasize what you are adding to your life instead of what you are cutting out!

Studying in the field of holistic nutrition is highly rewarding as it allows one to look at each person’s unique biology, history and lifestyle in deciding which diet and lifestyle patterns work best for them.  If we look at the big picture, what really matters is that there is an overall shift towards a higher quality of life and becoming the best possible version of ourselves.  

 

-This article is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach-

Got the Faspa Farts?

To put it as maturely as possible, gas is what happens when air is released from either the mouth or rectum. This can be uncomfortable and embarrassing when it is excessive or smelly. Bloating occurs when gas fills the abdomen and this area appears distended (a.k.a “a food baby”).


Gas can be made up of different elements and may be produced in different ways. Often it is from people swallowing an excessive amount of air (whether from talking too much while eating, eating too quickly, or drinking carbonated beverages) which can create an odourless rectal gas or gas in the upper stomach which causes belching. Gas can also be caused by poor digestion, which leads to bacterial fermentation. This gas gives off a foul odour, similar to that of rotten eggs.


Suggestions


It is important to chew food well while eating slowly and in a relaxed state. It is also advised to avoid drinking with meals and eliminate carbonated beverages. In addition, consider natural supplementation this holiday season to help relieve the discomfort of gas and bloating after consuming a large meal or certain foods that are harder to digest.


The Essentials
Digestive enzymes help break down foods into substances we can absorb. Consult a natural product advisor to determine which enzyme formula is best suited for you in order to support proper digestion. In addition, probiotics are highly recommend as they play a role in the digestion and absorption of nutrients. They are used to balance out the “bad bacteria” that are the culprits behind the fermentation of undigested food and also help produce enzymes.


Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal has been used for general detoxification and intestinal disorders. As a digestive aid, it can bind many unwanted substances in the gastro-intestinal tract such as toxins and gases. Therefore, it can be used for internal problems such as diarrhea, unpleasant smelling and excessive flatulence, waste and toxin removal from the gut, food poisoning management, intestinal infection reduction, yeast die-off symptom relief and neutralizing excess stomach acid for ulcer and reflux problems!

Therefore, those looking for general digestive cleansing and intestinal support, eating out or presented with questionable food, struggling with gas with bloating and cramps, exposed to moldy food or experiencing food/alcohol poisoning, suffering from bad breath or occasional acid reflux can benefit from internal activated charcoal supplementation.

Activated charcoal is most effective when it comes from a high quality source. When derived from pure coconut shells it has superior power. Look for a product that has been manufactured for ultra-purity and excellent pore volume.

 

Carminative Herbs

Carminative herbs have antispasmodic activity that are used to alleviate cramps in the digestive tract and ease flatulence. These are good at soothing the stomach and fighting inflammation, reducing excess gas and bloating, stimulating peristalsis of the digestive tract and fighting yeast and bacteria such as H. Pylori. A few examples include fennel, anise and caraway seed. These aromatic herbs are well known spices that have been used to help with conditions such as gastritis, ulcers, indigestion, heartburn, in addition to helping dissolve mucous in the upper respiratory tract.

Ginger acts as a both a bitter and carminative herb meaning it helps to both stimulate digestion and relieve flatulence. It helps relieve digestive upset including lack of appetite, digestive spasms, indigestion, dyspepsia and gas or flatulent colic. Ginger is also a mild anti-inflammatory, improves the tone of intestinal muscles and may protect the stomach from the damaging effect of alcohol and certain drugs. Ginger is an effective treatment for those struggling with nausea, dizziness and vomiting whether it be from motion sickness or seasickness, throughout pregnancy or following surgery.

 

-This article is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach -

Gift Ideas For The Health Enthusiast

Running out of ideas this holiday season? Try a “themed” gift to fit the personality of the loved one on your list!

 

THE AROMATHERAPY ADDICT -> Create a stunning package with a variety of essential and carrier oils, a diffuser and aromatherapy jewellery. Bonus: If they are creative, you could also include extra ingredients such as citric acid, shea or cocoa butter, bentonite clay, activated charcoal or Epsom salt along with mixing bottles to make their own lotion bars, bath bombs, body scrub or butter, face masks, vapor disks, etc.

 

THE DETERMINED “D.I.Y-ER” -> Prepare dry recipe mixes (i.e. soups, cookies, hot drink mix, granola) in mason jars with recipe containing wet ingredient guidelines and preparation instructions (if you want to be extra generous, you can include jars of the wet ingredients too!) Also, for those who love to make things from scratch, consider starter kits for an indoor herb garden, sprouting, yogurt, kefir, sourdough, kombucha, cheese and cultured vegetables. BONUS: For a bigger gift, consider D.I.Y items such as a bread or yogurt maker, nut milk making machine or grain mill.

 

THE SENSATIONAL SNACKER -> Put together a basket of unique healthy ingredients like roasted chickpeas, kale chips, baobab fruit bites, toasted coconut chips, hemp bites, extra dark chocolate, xylitol-based mints and gum, fruit or nut trays, clean energy bars, organic mandarins, healthy trail mix or granola. BONUS: Go even further and make it a flavor theme such as sweet and salty, coconut crazy, or of course, “chocoholic”!

 

THE STRESSED OUT SALLY -> Include a variety of calming, organic herbal teas (try chamomile) with a nice mug, tea infuser and either some cane sugar or local raw honey as a sweetener. Add in some natural bath salts, heat bag, a Himalayan salt lamp, natural massage oils and/or candles. BONUS: Throw in something warm like a cozy blanket, socks or slippers along with an adult coloring book or Sudoku and crossword puzzles. Better yet, top it off with a gift certificate to a high-end spa for some pampering.

 

THE FOODIE FRIEND -> This person might love a healthy cookbook, apron or gift certificate for a cooking class. Add in some kitchen essentials like a blender, popcorn maker, slow cooker, low-oil fryer, steamer, dehydrator, processor, juicer, fondue set, frozen yogurt maker, rice cooker, spice rack & non-irradiated spices or smaller items such as miniature graters, garlic press, avocado saver, pizza stone, rolling pin, cutting boards, high quality knife, food scale, kitchen scissors, food thermometer, peelers, extra virgin olive oil and vinegar set, etc. Bonus: If they enjoy eating out, try a gift certificate to a healthy local restaurant.

 

THE FITNESS FAN -> Combine workout clothing (socks, pants, sweater, toque, hat, running shoes or special circulation clothing) and/or gear (gym bag, yoga mat, fitness monitor, foam roller, headphones, towel) and/or equipment (boxing gloves, hula hoop, resistance bands, medicine balls, hand weights, jump rope) with a gym membership, exercise videos/games or personal training/fitness class sessions. For the outdoor lover, try rollerblades, a bicycle, or hiking gear. Bonus: If you have a larger price tag to fill, consider a body composition analysis scale or investing in various exercise machines.

 

THE BUSY BODY -> For the person who runs all day long, combine organic fair-trade coffee beans, green (matcha) or black teas with a good quality to-go mug. Add in a bit of dark chocolate to make it sweet or MCT oil for the “bulletproof coffee” fan. For the breakfast skipper, incorporate some protein powder or bars with to-go blender or shaker cup. Bonus: Make their life easier by throwing in an organization journal (calendar, agenda, to-do/to-buy lists, meal planning guide), glass fruit-infuser water bottle, travel bag or stainless steel containers, water bottle, drinking straw, etc.

 

THE GLAMOROUS GAL -> Choose natural cosmetics and beauty products such as masks, lotions, nail polish, perfume, body wash and soaps along with various extras like konjac sponges, eco-friendly beauty tools and makeup bags. Bonus: For the fashionista, add some unique pieces of jewellery or comfortable bamboo clothing.

 

THE TRAVELLING TOURIST -> Create a healthy travel kit for the vacationer in your life with biodegradable sunscreen, water purifying ingredients, all-purpose skin gel, lip balm, antimicrobial throat spray, melatonin and digestive enzymes. Bonus: Complete with larger items such as a travel journal and map, sunglasses, beach towel or camera!

 

When all else fails, any health enthusiast would appreciate a gift certificate to their favorite health food store so they can ask some questions, gather information and choose whatever they would like best!

 

-This article is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach -

Keep Calm and Carry On

Easier said than done, right? Medically defined, anxiety is “an unpleasant emotional state ranging from mild unease to intense fear.”  This fear does not always stem from a clear or realistic cause. Anxiety can be chronic or acute in the form of panic attacks. Anxiety comes in a variety of types and is classified based on symptoms. These include:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder. Characterized by chronic anxiety, excessive worry, overwhelm, inability to relax and tension without emotional or social cause.
  • Obsessive compulsive disorder. Constant recurring, unwanted thoughts and/or behaviors.
  • Panic Disorder. Characterized by feelings of terror/panic that can occur unexpectedly and are accompanied by physical symptoms such as nausea, sweating and racing heart.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Develops after a negative event or chronic negative scenarios. Patients are in a continuous state of “fight or flight”, making them “jumpy”.
  • Social Anxiety. Characterized by excessive fear, heightened anxiety and self-consciousness in social situations. Patients have a phobia of being watched and judged by others.

Potential Causes:

  • GABA Deficiency -> The amino acid glutamine is converted into glutamate (a stimulating chemical), which is then converted into GABA (a relaxing chemical). GABA and glutamate have a complex relationship and are both important in the right amounts, therefore the goal is to achieve a balance between the two. GABA inhibits excitatory impulses in the brain and low levels have been associated with restlessness, anxiety, insomnia and poor mood. Excess glutamate levels are excitatory and can cause intense anxiety. High levels of glutamate are associated with accumulation of fatty toxins in the brain. In addition, glutamate receptors can pull in other excitatory substances such as aspartame or MSG which also result in excess stimulation. Too much calcium in the body can also contribute to imbalances. Magnesium competes with calcium and helps to reduce electrical activity in the brain.
  • Serotonin Deficiency -> The amino acid tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP in the small intestine, which is then converted to serotonin in the brain. This brain chemical is often referred to as our “happy hormone” which influences our emotional state, appetite and cravings, sleep habits and even our pain tolerance. Serotonin enhances GABA’s ability to activate brain receptors and is needed in order for GABA to work properly.
  • Lactic Acid Excess -> When the body lacks oxygen, lactate is the final product in the breakdown of blood sugar. Elevated levels of lactic acid in the blood are also a factor in anxiety.

Common underlying behaviors and factors that can disrupt function, impair conversion or negatively affect production of brain chemicals include:

  • Excessive caffeine and/or alcohol intake. Diet high in refined/processed foods, trans fats, sugars, artificial sweeteners/flavoring/colorings. Food sensitivities (be especially aware of gluten and casein). Nutrient deficiencies (esp. B-vitamins and magnesium).
  • Chronic stress, multitasking or inadequate sleep.
  • Imbalanced blood sugar levels and hormone irregularities (i.e. thyroid or sex hormones).
  • Toxin accumulation (pesticides, herbicides, pollution, heavy metals, chemicals) in food, environment, common cleaning or personal care products. Plus, electromagnetic frequencies from computers, cell phones, microwaves, televisions, Wi-Fi, etc.
  • Candida overgrowth, imbalanced gut bacteria, leaky gut and chronic inflammation.

Supplement Suggestions:

  • Multivitamin-> Consistently taking a high-quality multivitamin/mineral + D3 is essential.
  • B-Complex -> Vital for the synthesis of brain chemicals to support mood, nerves, sleep.
  • Magnesium -> Deficiency has been associated with symptoms of anxiety, depression, irritability, fear, insomnia, confusion, and memory loss. Use a bisglycinate form!
  • Adaptogens -> Increase resistance to physical or biological stressors, improve mental and physical performance as well as prevent the negative effects of while enhancing the body’s response to stress. Ashwaghanda, Ginseng, Holy Basil help in reducing anxiety.
  • Probiotics -> Our brains and digestive system communicate! Probiotics secrete neurotransmitters that are absorbed into the bloodstream and can influence our central nervous system. Lactobacillus helveticus, rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium longum have shown anxiety-lowering and mood modulating effects.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids (High EPA) -> Researchers have linked low levels to depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder, and other psychological disorders.
  • Calming Herbs -> Passionflower, Valerian, Chamomile and Kava may help relieve anxiety, nervousness and tension.
  • 5-HTP -> A precursor to serotonin. Serotonin deficiency contributes to weight gain, anxiety, depression, sleeplessness and panic attacks as well as cravings and overeating.
  • GABA -> Promotes a shift in brain wave patterns that promote a relaxed, yet alert state while decreasing nervousness, scattered thoughts and hyperactivity. GABA works in a similar, but more powerful way when compared to L-Theanine (about 2.5x stronger).

Other Suggestions:

  • Avoid known triggers. Test and seek to balance hormones if necessary.
  • Manage stress and sleep with lifestyle changes and natural supplementation. Try meditation, deep breathing, massage, or journaling. Seek positive social support.
  • Regular, moderate physical exercise has been known to reduce anxiety.
  • Try aromatherapy blends with Lavender, Ylang Ylang, Frankincense, Geranium and Lime.
  • Choose whole, natural, organic foods and eat consistent, balanced meals with adequate fibre, protein and healthy fats.
  • Chew well and eat in a relaxed state. Consider digestive enzymes (& HCl) if necessary!

 

Anxiety can be caused by both physical and psychological factors. Therefore, a variety of compatible treatment options and professional health services should be considered.

 

-This article is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach –

Pesky Parasites

What are They?

A parasite is essentially an organism that lives off another organism.  Those that live in the human body feed off of cells, digested food, and supplements.

They steal our nutrients to grow and leave wastes in our body.  These toxic wastes then poison the body and force the organs of elimination to work overtime, stressing the liver, slowing detoxification and weakening immunity. Infected individuals are capable of infecting others, even if symptoms are not present. Pregnant mothers can also pass on parasites to their children in utero. Note that you are not only at risk of being infected with parasites if you travel to tropical climates. Certain parasites can and do occur in Canada.

There are more than 3000 various types of parasites. Common categories include Cestodes (i.e. tapeworms), Nematodes (i.e. roundworms), Protozoa or Trematodes (i.e. flukes). Each differing in size and where they reside in the body.

 

Risk Factors

Parasites are everywhere and come in all shapes and sizes.  No one is immune to infestation. Everyone is exposed to some degree, though not everyone will suffer equally.  However, certain factors increase the risk that parasites will stay in the body and wreak havoc rather than passing through harmlessly. These include weak immune system, poor diet and digestion, nutrient deficiencies, constipation, toxicity and travel habits.  Parasites can enter the body through the mouth, nose and skin. Common sources include:

  • Contaminated produce
  • Barefoot contact with sand or soil
  • Raw or rare meat
  • Pets or Mosquitos
  • Contact with Feces (i.e. diaper changes, animal excrement)
  • Contact with Infected Person
  • Polluted Water (drinking or in swimming water)

 

Symptoms?

It is estimated that 8/10 people have parasites, even though not all may experience symptoms.  Parasites can mimic other disorders and/or produce no noticeable symptoms.  Certain indicators are:

Diarrhea or constipation, IBS, gas/bloating/cramping, fatigue, joint pain, teeth grinding, rectal itching, changes in appetite, skin problems, irritability and nervousness.

Parasites can affect tissue anywhere in the body.  As they can get into the blood and travel to any organ, parasites can cause problems that are not always obviously related to their presence.  Over time, an infection can cause leaky gut associated with malabsorption (especially B12), inflammation, and allergies as well as suppressed immune system.

Remember parasites thrive on diets high in sugar, refined/processed foods and constipation. They feed off of waste that has putrefied in the intestines. Healthy immune and digestive systems can neutralize and eliminate parasites introduced into the body, however, if these are weak, they can flourish.

 

Suggestions?

 

  • Do a Parasite Cleanse

Certain anti-parasitic herbs work by paralyzing the organism directly, allowing the body to remove it through elimination while others work by directly destroying the organism. Look for a formula that contains a blend of anti-parastic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial herbs, as it is likely those who suffer from parasites also have candida/yeast overgrowth and bad bacteria in the gut.

Powerful ingredients to consider are garlic bulb, black walnut, oregano, quassia wood, elecampane, sweet annie, clove bud, goldenseal/berberine and citrus extracts (i.e. grapefruit, lemon, lime, tangerine). Thyme is also effective, as well as wormwood and caprylic acid.

Note that parasite cleanses should be taken for 15 days on, 5 days off, then another 15 days in order to kill the parasites in all stages of development. It may be necessary to treat all household members as infestations can be persistent and stubborn. Also, parasite cleansing can be done more than once per year if necessary. Lastly, note that it is normal to experience “die-off” symptom reactions as toxins begin to leave the system during a cleanse. If these reactions are severe or persistent, cut back to half the suggested dosage.

 

  • Support Digestive Tract

Drink plenty of water and consider a daily fibre supplement to remove dead parasitic material from the intestines and into the colon for elimination. Note that additional ingredients such as activated charcoal or bentonite clay can help bind toxins from cleansing die-off reactions. Also, a strong probiotic (at least 50 billion active cultures) is critical in order to restore the body’s good bacteria that was destroyed by parasites. A digestive enzyme supplement with HCl ensures proper stomach acidity and optimal digestion in order to create a more sterile environment where parasites cannot thrive. After a parasite program, ingredients such as L-glutamine and N-acetyl glucosamine are beneficial as they help repair the damage caused by parasites in the intestinal tract. In addition, herbs such as marshmallow root help to soothe irritation in the gut.

 

  • Other Tips:
    1. Consider a high quality multivitamin/mineral to help counteract nutrient deficiencies.
    2. Do not drink untreated water/ice.
    3. Avoid consuming raw meats or fish. Use separate cutting boards for produce.
    4. Wash hands often (after handling meat, using the washroom, changing a diaper, gardening or handling animal feces).
    5. Test pets for parasites.
    6. Wash produce before consuming.
    7. Freeze fish, beef and pork for 48 hours before consuming and thoroughly cook.
    8. Wear proper footwear and gloves.
    9. Support immunity by reducing toxic exposure, managing stress, eating well and limited sugars, yeast and caffeine.
    10. Consider a Saccharomyces Boulardii supplement to protect against travelers diarrhea induced by parasites.

     

-This article is sponsored by Good N Natural in Steinbach-


The views expressed in Community Blogs are those of the author, and are not necessarily shared by SteinbachOnline.com

Blog Coordinator

Pamela Thiessen completed an Advanced Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Manitoba before she discovered the power of nutrition and natural health. This new found passion led her to seek employment at Good N Natural. Fascinated by the incredible benefits of healthy eating, she was inspired to enroll into the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition Program, where she attained a diploma in holistic nutrition. She also holds her Canadian Natural Product Advisor certification. This accumulation of knowledge and her desire to promote health and educate individuals has led her into the marketing and consumer education role at the store. Her goal is to help others improve their quality of life and experience the joy that comes along with healthy living, in hopes of improving the community as a whole.

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