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Month: November 2016

Reducing Inflammation: Diet

Reducing Inflammation: Diet

In the previous post I discussed the damage inflammation can do to our bodies.  So the solution is obvious- we need to reduce the inflammation!  Thankfully, there are several ways we can do this.  Knowing where our inflammation stems from gives us a great head start, but even if we don’t know, we can still support our bodies by making a few simple changes.  In this post, I want to talk about ways our diet contributes to our health and inflammation levels.

These days our food is far removed from what our ancestors ate.  They look, feel, smell, and taste the same. But they are not the same.  In attempts to improve food on both global and local levels, technology has had some unfortunate effects on our meals.  Many foods have been grown with the influence of chemicals, hormones, or pesticides.  In an effort to produce prettier, bigger, tastier foods we have sacrificed quality.  It’s obvious that these synthetic agents are harmful in and of themselves.  But the story is bigger than just that.  When food is treated to grow faster, it loses its natural growing time that allows it to absorb as many minerals from the soil as possible.  So the faster we grow and harvest it, the less nutrition it likely has.  Add to that fact that  proper soil treatment methods and crop rotation are less commonly employed and we also experience depleted soil.  This means there are fewer nutrients in the soil to begin with.  Now consider that we have learned to grow these seasonal foods year-round.  Growing seasons contribute to nutrient levels, too.  So winter growth of a summer vegetable yields produce with different nutrition, since much of the growth factors will have been simulated.  And finally, remember that year round access to otherwise seasonal foods usually means long travel times and harvesting before the food is truly ready.  We may have food that is available faster, and more often throughout the year, but we suffer greatly in nutrition content.  And we are likely to be consuming a fair amount of chemicals, waxes, and pesticides  with each serving of food.

This manipulation of our food looks great on a surface level, and we are able to feed more mouths as a result.  But over time the negative effects accumulate and the toxins add up.  Our bodies are designed to remove toxins, so we should not expect or aim to live a completely toxin free life.  But at this point, we are inundated with these harmful substances and our bodies are overwhelmed.  All of our detoxifying organs are overworked and not functioning as optimally as they should in this day and age.

Thankfully, we can restore some of our body’s natural defense mechanisms by simple shifts in our diets.

  • A great first step is to think about eating organics.  Focusing on foods that have not been treated with chemicals and pesticides goes a long way to reducing the toxin load in our system.  If expense is a concern for you, I highly recommend making small steps to start.  You are likely familiar with the dirty dozen list by now, but in case you are not, check it out here:  https://www.ewg.org/foodnews/index.php.  You will see there is also a clean fifteen list to help you find which foods are best to focus on for organics.
  • If you are already a believer in eating organics, you can start thinking about eating locally. This ensures that you are eating foods that are in season, therefore higher in nutrition; plus properly grown, plus you are supporting local area farmers!  It’s a win-win.  If you are not sure where to find your local resources, I suggest here:  http://www.eatwild.com/ .  With that list you will find local farms organized by state.  It’s a fantastic place to get in touch with your farmers, and you can locate sources for produce, meat, and dairy.
  • Now that we have that covered, let’s move on to specific foods to consider eliminating from your diet.  High on the inflammation list is gluten, wheat, soy, sugar, dairy, and nuts.  These items are often contaminated with GMO’s, pesticides, and hormones.  In addition to this, they are generally highly refined by the time they reach our plates.  Each individual will react differently to foods, so there may be others that are also inflammatory for you.  Likewise, some of these may be fine for you.  The best thing to do is consider a two to three week elimination of all of these items.  After this time period, you can add one item in every three to five days.  Only one thing should be reintroduced at a time so that you can watch for any symptoms of intolerance.  If you are overwhelmed by the thought of eliminating all of these things at once, I recommend you eliminate one thing at a time for two to three weeks, gradually removing one more thing until you have accomplished this list.  Chances are that as you remove them, you will feel increasingly better and each consecutive item to remove becomes easier and easier.
  • So it’s not all about elimination.  Here, we get to think about what things are important to add!  So many foods have great health boosting effects that we rarely consider.  Nature has provided us with much of what we need to maintain optimal health.  We just need to figure out ways to get more of these foods into our diets!  So, without further ado, here is my list of anti-inflammatory foods to put in your regular routine:
    • ginger
    • garlic
    • fish, preferably sustainable, wild caught (salmon, sardines, anchovies, white fish,  etc.)
    • green tea
    • herbal teas
    • turmeric
    • healthy fats (olive oil, ghee, coconut oil, avocado oil, avocados, etc.)
    • organic produce
    • leafy greens
    • local, seasonal fruits (citrus, berries, apples, etc.)
    • grass-fed meats
    • properly pastured eggs
    • bone broth (preferably from grass-fed, pastured animals

Diet is key to our health.  The old adage “You are what you eat” definitely holds true, and if you have made the above switches to your own diet you know how true this is.  When we eat poorly, we feel poorly.  But, the reverse is also true- when we eat well, we feel well.  Many people notice reduction of their inflammation symptoms quite soon after they adjust their diet.  And while it’s easy to become disheartened thinking you are restricting yourself from something, it is just a matter of flipping to the other side of that coin- think of all the things you will feel more able to do, or how much better you will feel, by including some of these above mentioned measures to your life!  See?  That’s not restriction at all!

So sit down and think about the times when you feel tired, achy, down, or just not motivated to do things.  Think about the times when you hurt, can’t think clearly, or suffer from bad moods.  These are clear signs of inflammation.  Now, for each one of those reasons you listed, look to these options to help you cross them off of your list.  Why not give it a shot and see how diet can effect you?  Diet always contributes to your health, one way or another.  Why not let it help you this time?  Why not let diet be your friend and not your foe? Food is medicine, should we choose to use it this way.  And when we think about it, it’s probably one of the most cost effective, efficient, and successful ways to help ourselves feel great each day.

 

 

Inflammation and our Health

Inflammation and our Health

Many researchers have given thought to the idea that inflammation leads to degenerative diseases.  Inflammation within the body wreaks havoc, whether acute or chronic.  It’s a matter of it being detected and managed or reversed as to whether or not we suffer long term effects.  Inflammation can surface in a variety of ways: redness, swelling, pain, heat, and reduced mobility.  Some people experience digestive woes, others joint pain, or mental sluggishness.  And of course, there are many more ways inflammation can be expressed in the body.  Sound familiar?  Right!  All of us can relate in some way at some point in our lives.  Sometimes this inflammation is fleeting, and once the problem is healed we return to normal.  But sometimes, the symptoms become so continuous that we adjust our view of our own wellbeing to accept this as normal.

What is the point of inflammation?  Well, it’s a healing resource in our system.  When the body sustains an injury, it sets to work on repairing it immediately.  In most cases, it sends the necessary blood cells to the site of the injury.  White blood cells are our body’s immune system warriors.  Basically they perform a variety of tasks, but mainly they can eradicate or neutralize the cause of injury, stop the spread of injury to surrounding tissues, and set to work on the actual repair process.

What causes inflammation?  Think stress.  Not just mental or emotional stress, though those are certainly contributors.  Bacteria, viruses, fungus and other unwanted microorganisms in the body are another kind of stress.  Physical injury is a more obvious form of stress that induces inflammation.  Environmental toxins and chemical exposure are risk factors, too.  As mentioned previously, mental and emotional stress definitely play a role.  For all of these risk factors, it is important to consider the length of exposure.  Infections and physical injury, generally considered acute stressors, are usually intense but short lived.  The body can often recover and return to homeostasis, a healthy balance of the internal systems.  But when the stressors persist and become chronic conditions, the body loses it’s ability to return to homeostasis.  All of these stressors translate to injury in the body.

It may help to think of it as this:  the body is very efficient and hard working.  When it becomes aware of an injury, it sets out full speed and strength to get the job done.  Under proper working conditions, this is usually achievable.  But we are rarely operating under proper conditions these days.  Our exposure to stress of all types is at an all time high.  Our mental and emotional wellbeing is continually strained by long working days, ever increasing work and personal demands, and increased societal pressures and worries.  Add to that our living environments have become inundated with chemicals and toxins, increased air pollution, even noise pollution.  Now finally consider that our food sources are so far below the level of quality they should be.  We are under constant external stress, so that when our body comes in contact with internal stress, it has a much bigger battle to fight.  You see, it has to do all of the things it has always had to do, only now it needs to do it with less than optimal functioning capacity.  Try winning a fight with your hands tied behind your back and you will understand what your body is facing.

Since homeostasis is what our body wants, and seeing how we are decreasing the odds of our body returning there post injury, we are tolerating a situation where our body’s can only operate at partial capacity.  This in turn wears our body down, lowering the effectiveness of not only the injured system or site, but the entire network of systems within the body.  Why?  Because the body is a whole entity.  It is not one body made of individual systems working independently.  It is one system composed of intricate cogs and gears that only work when working together.  It is synergistic, whole, complete.   You cannot take it apart and expect each system to act on it’s own.  No, it works because it is beautifully orchestrated to work in harmony.  Remove one component, or even just reduce it’s ability to function, and you will effectively cause the rest of the body to respond in discord.  It may take time to see or feel the discord, but I guarantee you it exists all the same.

Over time, the body suffering from reduced functioning becomes tired.  You may or may not feel the effects, but the tiredness can be reflected within.  It just can’t fight all of it’s battles, which leaves the body’s organs open to further invasion from harmful agents.  Enter degenerative diseases, autoimmune diseases, cancer, dementia, metabolic disease… and on and on and on.  So, by now you can see that inflammation is a real problem in our lives.  And the answer is obvious, isn’t it?  We need to reduce and eliminate the inflammation where ever we can.

In the next few posts, I will cover ways to reduce this inflammation and attain recovery.  For now, it is important to consider how you experience inflammation in your life.  Identifying your symptoms will be important in what approaches may be helpful for you to reduce the inflammation.  And more than anything, just know that we always have a say in our lives about the state of our health.  We just need to have some ideas about where to start!

A tale of two squashes

A tale of two squashes

With fall in full swing, I am knee deep in squash!  No, really.  I have a counter full.  Every time I buy groceries I pick up more.  They will keep for a very long time if stored properly and they are seriously delicious!  It’s honestly one of the things I love most about fall.  Good quality sources of starch and carbohydrates are quite important in our daily diets and these guys are powerhouses.  There are so many varieties out there that it can be overwhelming, but once you get to know them a little better you will quickly find your favorites.

I thought I would help out a little and do a little comparison between the acorn squash and the carnival squash.  They are quite similar in appearance, with the obvious difference being the striations on the outside of the carnival squash. The carnival squash is actually a derivative of the acorn and the sweet dumpling squash.  The color variation in the carnival squash corresponds to the growing conditions.  The warmer the season, the more green in the peel.  Once cut you really can’t tell the difference, though the carnival squash did have a little deeper color than the acorn.

img_6049
carnival squash

 

acorn squash
acorn squash

 

Traditionally, we always served these roasted with melted butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon in the center and enjoyed as is.  If you look around online or in cookbooks there are also many stuffed squash recipes.  For me, they look good but are rarely compelling to try.  img_6052I love my squash, and I love it best in it’s simplest form.  I slice it in wedges, dress it with avocado oil or coconut oil, salt and pepper, and roast it in the oven.  When it’s cut down like I did, it does not take long.  I roasted it for about 20 minutes at 400-425.  The roasting breaks down the starches and brings out the natural sugars of the squash, providing a lightly sweet flavor and soft texture.  The high heat helps to brown and caramelize the outside as well, yet the center stays just right.

So how do these compare in terms of taste?  Well, acorn squash is actually one of my least favorite squashes!  Once I tried other varieties I found the acorn squash lacking any real flavor and depth, plus the texture is pretty dry and unimpressive.  I don’t make a habit of buying them when there are so many other wonderful, more flavorful choices out there.  But in trying the carnival squash for the first time, I wanted to have a fresh view of the acorn.  My results for the acorn squash held true to my past experiences.  It won’t be a squash I choose often.  But the carnival squash surprised me!  Not only was it sweeter, but it had a softer texture than the acorn.  The carnival squash was more moist and satisfyingly tender.  I will definitely use the carnival squash again in the future.

Now that we have a taste differentiation of the two, time for some recipe ideas to experiment with!

http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-stuffed-roasted-squash-cooking-lessons-from-the-kitchn-101662

http://www.seasonsandsuppers.ca/roasted-squash-thai-curry-filling/

http://themuffinmyth.com/2012/12/21/roasted-carnival-squash-salad/

http://www.fitmittenkitchen.com/sweet-spicy-roasted-squash/

http://barerootgirl.com/nourish/2016/02/04/stuffed-squash-with-kale-pear-pomegranate/