Wellness

Gut Health 101 + Homemade Vanilla Cashew Yogurt

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This post was written in partnership with GoLive. All opinions are my own.

Gut health is a hot and trendy topic right now. With new research constantly evolving and trendy food products + supplements on the market targeting gut health, it can feel a little bit overwhelming. Let’s break down the basics.

Gut Health 101:

The term “gut” refers to the gastrointestinal tract which consists of a long tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the anus including the esophagus, stomach, small intestine and large intestine. The gut microbiome refers to the community of microorganisms living in the gastrointestinal tract including bacteria, fungi and viruses. The human gut microbiome primarily consists of bacteria that reside in the large intestine.

Research on the gut microbiome and it’s role in health and disease is booming as researchers have discovered that the bacteria in the gut play a major role in the digestion and absorption of food, immune function, the regulation of inflammation, the production of important vitamins, hormonal balance, insulin sensitivity and mental health (1,2).

There is a lot that that we still do not understand about the gut microbiome, but research has shown that imbalances in gut bacteria (particularly low bacterial diversity) is associated with conditions such as irritable bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune disease, obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, inflammatory skin conditions and more (1). This tells us that a species-rich gut microbe community is beneficial.

Probiotics are defined as “live micro-organisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host” as defined by the World Health Organization. Probiotic organisms are super important for maintaining the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut (3). Probiotics can be found in certain foods and supplements — more on this in a minute!

Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for the beneficial bacteria living in the gut and promote healthy microbe growth (1,4). Prebiotics can be found naturally in many foods.

Diet & lifestyle factors that may negatively impact gut microbial diversity include inadequate fiber intake, restrictive diets, high consumption of processed foods and simple sugars, stress, inadequate exercise, overuse of antibiotics, poor sleep, alcohol and smoking (1,5).

The bottom line is that the bacteria in the intestine play a major role in health & disease, and there are some key ways that we can support gut health and microbial diversity on a daily basis to promote overall health.

What can you do to support gut health and microbial diversity?

Eat more whole foods

The standard American diet -- high in refined carbohydrates, food additives, and saturated fat and low in fiber is associated with low levels of good bacteria in the gut and has been linked to an increased risk for developing functional digestive disorders. Research has shown that limiting processed foods and eating a diet based on whole foods can actually be protective against digestive issues and promote microbial diversity (6). Aim to include more vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean protein and whole grains.

Incorporate stress management practices daily

Stress can exacerbate digestive issues and has been associated with diarrhea, constipation and IBS. Chronic stress can cause changes in your gut microbiome, cause the gut to become more permeable, and impact gut sensitivity and motility (7). Find ways to incorporate stress reduction activities into your daily life whether it be walking your dog, meditating, journaling, or reading – do what works for you and make it a daily ritual! Yoga, cognitive behavioral therapy and acupuncture have also been shown to help.

Include more prebiotic rich foods

Prebiotics are resistant to digestive enzymes and are not absorbed in the small intestine. They are able to make their way to the colon where they stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial gut bacteria (4). Foods rich in prebiotics include garlic, onion, artichoke, under-ripe bananas and whole grains (oats, barley, rye, etc).

Include more probiotic rich fermented foods

Fermented foods add live cultures to the digestive tract which support the function of good bacteria in the gut, improve the digestibility of foods, and activate/support antioxidant pathways (8). Fermented foods include traditional whole milk yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and tempeh.

Incorporate a good quality probiotic supplement

The environment that we live in and the modernization of our food supply has negatively impacted our consumption of beneficial bacteria. A probiotic supplement is an important way that you can introduce new beneficial bacteria into the gut. It’s important to note that not all probiotic products are created equal. Many common probiotic supplements do not ensure survivability of the strains. In order to be effective, the bacteria needs to remain alive as it makes it’s way to the intestine. It is also important to make sure that you are choosing well-researched strains that support human health.

I’m a huge fan of GoLive probiotic products, particularly their unflavored probiotic packets that I can mix in with anything (they also make amazing flavored ones for on-the-go). Their probiotic packets all contain 15 clinically tested, human commensurate probiotic strains. GoLive is unique because their products also include 3 different prebiotic fibers to help the microorganisms grow and colonize more effectively, and L-glutamine which has been shown to help repair and maintain gut barrier function. The probiotics are freeze dried and sealed in foil lined packaging which puts them in a dormant state until you a ready to use them. This ensures that when you open the packet, you are truly getting “live” cultures. I love mixing the powder into smoothies, chia pudding and even in water!

Below is my new favorite recipe for a simple homemade probiotic vanilla cashew yogurt featuring GoLive’s unflavored probiotic supplement. This is a super fun and nutritious way to introduce more LIVE cultures into your diet.

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Vanilla Cashew Yogurt


Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Soak cashews in a small bowl with just enough water to cover them for 2 hours. This is not required, but it makes for a smoother consistency and I highly recommend!

  2. Drain the cashews and place them into a blender with 1 cup filtered water and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract. Blend on high until consistency is smooth and creamy.

  3. Add probiotics and blend again for another few second or stir in by hand until they dissolve. Top with your favorite toppings and enjoy!

* Because this yogurt is made from cashews, it is higher in fat and likely more filling than your typical plant based yogurt. I recommend using about 1/4 cup as a serving.


This is a reminder that the tips above are general, and are not substitute for personalized nutrition and health advice. If you’re interested in learning more or setting up an appointment for 1:1 nutrition counseling and personalized support, you can set up a free introductory call here.


references

  1. Valdes Ana M, Walter Jens, Segal Eran, Spector Tim D. (2018). Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health

  2. Bull MJ, Plummer NT. (2014). Part 1: The Human Gut Microbiome in Health and Disease. 

  3. Markowiak P, Śliżewska K. (2017). Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. 

  4. Slavin J. (2013). Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits. 

  5. Conlon MA, Bird AR. (2014). The impact of diet and lifestyle on gut microbiota and human health. 

  6. Viladomiu, M., Hontecillas, R., Yuan, L., Lu, P., & Bassaganya-Riera, J. (2013). Nutritional protective mechanisms against gut inflammation. 

  7. Qin, H.-Y., Cheng, C.-W., Tang, X.-D., & Bian, Z.-X. (2014). Impact of psychological stress on irritable bowel syndrome. 

  8. Rezac S, Kok CR, Heermann M, Hutkins R. (2018). Fermented Foods as a Dietary Source of Live Organisms. 



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What Your Sugar Cravings are Trying to Tell You

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One of the most common complaints I get from clients is “I crave sugar all the time”. I’m super excited to (finally) address the topic of sugar and sugar cravings with you all.

I want to pre-face this post by saying that there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with enjoying sweets. Nothing. I strongly believe that enjoying sweets without guilt or restriction is part of a healthy dietary pattern. For some people this might be here and there, and for other people it might be everyday. Neither are wrong! We are all different. Sugar is not the devil that the media makes it out to be and I think that it’s important to make sure we are looking at the overall dietary pattern, and not zooming in on one day, one holiday, or one vacation.

We do know that consuming excessive amounts of refined sugars along with other dietary and lifestyle factors can have a negative impact on our health. Too much sugar in someone’s diet may contribute to an increased risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, heart disease, decreased insulin sensitivity and blood sugar abnormalities, and weight gain from excess caloric intake (particularly sugar sweetened beverages). We also know that big spikes and dips in blood sugar from excess refined sugar consumption can negatively impact mood, cognition and energy levels. Research has also shown that eating foods high in sugar can decrease blood levels of antioxidants.

Below are some of the primary reasons that I see people craving sugar or eating sugar in excess:

Overly restricting or avoiding sugar

Yup. This is one of the number one reasons I see people overeating sweets! When we tell ourselves that we can’t or shouldn’t have something, we tend to want it even more. When we finally let ourselves have whatever that food is, we usually overeat it. What’s the best way to break this cycle might you ask? Allow yourself to eat and enjoy sweets mindfully! Incorporate them into your weekly meal planning and enjoy them amongst a variety of other foods.

Undereating carbohydrates

We live in a very carb-phobic society. The reality is that your body needs carbohydrates for energy. If you are overly restricting carbohydrates at meals and snacks, sugar cravings are your body’s way of saying that it is being under-fueled (it sees sugar as a quick source of energy). Instead of avoiding carbs and then overcompensating with excessive refined sugar intake, try including nutrient rich carbohydrates at meals amongst protein, fats and lots of veggies. Some of my favorites are potatoes, sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice & oats.

Inadequate fat intake

Fats are your friend! Fats including avocado, nuts, nut butter, seeds and olive take longer for your body to digest. Including fat at meals and snacks helps to stable blood sugar, promote satiety and slow down the digestion and absorption of sugars. I recommend 1-2 servings of fat at meals and snacks for most people.

Stress

If you are someone that turns to sweets when you’re stressed, you’re not alone! I like to call this “reactive eating”. Reactive eating is impulsive. This generally happens when we are looking for a distraction from something we might be feeling like stress. This is very different than grabbing a cookie that someone brought into work because it looks great and will provide you with a lot of joy. If you find yourself continually turning to sweets in reaction to stress or other emotions, it might be time to pause and explore other coping mechanisms. Some of my favorite ways to manage stress include guided mediation, pleasure reading, spending time with my boyfriend and pup, walking to a podcast and deep breathing.

High consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners

Non-nutritive sweeteners are found in things like Splenda, sweetnlow, equal, diet beverages, and sugar-free desserts. Non-nutritive sweeteners can be up to 700 times sweeter than regular table sugar. The intensity of sweetness in these products can distort your natural sense of taste, making it difficult to appreciate and detect the natural sweetness of other foods like fruit. New research is also finding that non-nutritive sweeteners may have a negative impact on gut microbial activity. I recommend mindfully including real sweeteners including honey, maple syrup, and brown sugar.

Inadequate sleep

A lack of sleep impacts the expression of our body’s hunger and satiety hormones, resulting in increased hunger. Remember – your body sees sugar as a source of quick energy which is why you may also gravitate towards these foods when your body feels like it needs a boost of energy. Inadequate sleep can also result in elevated levels of cortisol (your body’s stress hormone), which can disturb blood sugar resulting in sugar cravings. Sleep is the cornerstone of good health. I recommended aiming for 7-9 hours per night.

I want to reiterate again that sugar alone is not the devil and there are so many diet and lifestyle factors that play a role in health and disease. However, sugar in the amount that Americans are generally consuming it can have a negative impact on health. Sugar is in our yogurt, nut milks, granola bars, pasta sauce, peanut butter, salad dressing (you get the picture). When it comes to sugar, my biggest thought is that you don’t want to be getting sugar in your diet without even knowing. You want to eat and enjoy it mindfully as part of an overall healthy dietary pattern. It’s all about awareness.

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The Biggest Mistake I See People Make When it Comes to Food and Nutrition

I work one-on-one with clients for a variety of reasons. Some of my work involves therapeutic dietary interventions to manage PCOS or GI disorders, while other aspects involve more behavioral elements for establishing long-term healthy habits in a busy life. Regardless of what a client is coming to see me for, I always talk about the satisfaction factor. What is the satisfaction factor you might ask? Let me explain:

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We eat for countless reasons. We eat to nourish our bodies & to have energy, but we also eat because food is fun, social & enjoyable. If you continually leave meals and snacks feeling unsatisfied when trying to “eat healthy”, the way you are eating is likely not sustainable (aka - this is just another diet).

Considering the satisfaction factor with food is something that everyone should be doing on a daily basis, regardless of what your health and wellness goals are. This means asking yourself: What do I feel like eating? What will be truly satisfying in this moment? This involves drawing on your “inner wisdom”. Then ask yourself: How can I make this a more well-rounded meal that will also nourish my body and make me feel good? This is involves drawing on your “outer wisdom” or nutrition knowledge.

The satisfaction factor is one of the KEY things that I see people neglecting when dietary behaviors are not sustainable. A lack of satisfaction often leads to overeating past fullness and grazing as your body searches for satisfaction in something. Making positive dietary changes for your health or managing a health condition through food should never mean that you are eating food that is not enjoyable.

So – the next time you’re planning a meal or selecting something on a menu, I encourage you to first think about what truly sounds good (hot? cold? crunchy? sweet? savory?), and THEN think about how you can make that a more well-rounded & nourishing meal for your body.

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Do you consider the satisfaction factor when you’re planning meals and snacks? I want to hear from you!

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The Best Foods & Nutrients to boost your immune system this Winter

The Best Foods & Nutrients to boost your immune system this Winter

What can I do to support my immune system? I get asked this question constantly during the winter months! First of all, the immune system is very complex and there are so many factors involved in maintaining a balanced immune system— sleep, stress, environmental toxins, age, food, etc. There is no one food or nutrient that will dictate how your immune system is functioning or responding by itself. However, there are a variety of important nutrients that we know the immune system requires to function optimally and it can be beneficial to make sure you are getting enough of these on a daily basis!

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What you should really be focusing on when it comes to food and nutrition in 2019

Around the Holidays and with the start of the New Year, we are totally inundated with messages on social media and tv promoting all sorts of diet plans and detoxes. I get it - Holiday eating is often far from normal and can leave us feeling a little run down. After what feels like 2 weeks of non-stop celebrating with family and friends, I definitely notice a difference in how I feel. Layer on a lack of sleep + little movement and here I am feeling a little bit sluggish, and I'd be lying if I didn't say my digestion has been far from normal (TMI?).

This to me is a sign that I should focus on incorporating more of the foods and behaviors back into my life that make me feel my best - energized, clear headed and well rested. Not a crazy cleanse or quick fix diet. Not because of the number on a scale. Not because I want to make up for the food I ate last month (because I will continue to drink wine and eat cheese this month and every month of 2019).

I understand the appeal that diets and cleanses may have on the surface, but you are doing yourself a disservice by engaging in behaviors that deprive your body of essential energy and nutrients. Buzzwords like cleanse and detox are thrown around irresponsibly (especially this time of year!), making it seem as though we need to follow a radical diet to improve our health. Let's talk about the truth when it comes to detoxes.

Our bodies have built in detoxification systems including kidneys, lungs, a liver, the colon and the lymphatic system (just to name a few) to remove unwanted substances from our bodies and to regulate bodily processes for optimal health. Our bodies are pretty dang good at what they do, but they cannot do their best work under conditions of deprivation and stress (aka cleanses and restrictive diets).

In order for the body’s detoxification systems to work optimally, a variety of nutrients are required to make this happen. For example: your liver needs adequate amino acids, B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and selenium to function. Juice cleanses and other restrictive diets actually deprive your body of many of these essential nutrients.

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I am all for starting the New Year with a fresh set of goals and intentions, but I truly loathe the messages that make us feel as though we need change our bodies, starve ourselves, or go to extreme measures to make up for the "bad" foods eaten during the Holidays. Research shows that 95% of diets do not work in the long-term. And ironically, chronic dieting is one of the biggest predicators of weight gain. Overindulging from time to time is part of an overall healthy diet. We all do it. No one is perfect. Bottom line: there is never a time in life no matter what you have eaten or drank that your body does not need adequate fuel.

With the start of 2019, I encourage you to stop thinking about your diet as a rigid plan, and to focus less on which foods you are going to restrict or avoid in the new year. I challenge you to think about how foods and behaviors make you feel both physically and mentally (digestion, mood, energy, etc.) and to focus on incorporating more of what makes you feel your best. Below are some ideas for ways to reset without falling into the dieting/detox trap, which can ultimately lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and poor health outcomes.

  1. Meal planning/prepping. If you feel a little out of sorts from traveling, Holiday parties, etc, focus on returning to your usual eating habits. For me, this means planning a couple meals/snacks at the beginning of the week and having homemade food on hand to eat throughout the week. Focus on eating a variety of nutrient dense, whole foods.

  2. Increase fiber intake! Include more fiber rich vegetables and fruit at meals - this could be as simple a handful of spinach in smoothies or some peppers and onion in an egg scramble.

  3. Up your hydration game. Dehydration can contribute to low energy levels, brain fog, headaches and GI disturbances. Pick up a new water bottle and carry it around with you to promote adequate hydration.

  4. Get moving. You don't have to do an hour long spin class to reap the benefits of exercise. Get out for a walk with a friend or zone out to music while you do some cleaning to get those endorphins pumping.

  5. Focus on Satisfaction. If you're craving fresh crunchy veggies in a big salad, awesome! If you're not in the mood to eat a salad, that's cool too! Don't force yourself to eat something because you think it's what you "should" be eating. Choose foods that sound good and that also nourish your body.

**These are very broad and basic tips for a gentle reset. There is no one sized fits all plan and I wholeheartedly believe in an individualized approach to nutrition. Reach out below to learn more about my one-on-one nutrition counseling services.

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Tips for Navigating a Healthy and Happy Holiday Season

Tips for Navigating a Healthy and Happy Holiday Season

If you’re feeling a little overwhelmed this Holiday season when it comes to health and wellness, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It IS possible to strike a balance between feeling good, maintaining health promoting behaviors, and fully enjoying this time of year. Check out my top tips for navigating a healthy and happy Holiday season!

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Chronic Inflammation: Ten Tips for Reducing Chronic Inflammation

Chronic Inflammation: Ten Tips for Reducing Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation is one of those buzzwords that gets thrown around left and right - but what does it actually mean? Why should you care? Let’s break it down!

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My thoughts on New Year's resolutions, diets and detoxes + tips for a gentle reset

My thoughts on New Year's resolutions, diets and detoxes + tips for a gentle reset

   

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