Migraines can be a debilitating health problem, triggered by a variety of factors from sleep habits, to diet, to the weather. Many sufferers claim they seem to become more prone to migraines at certain times of year –during the changing seasons, or in the spring and summer when they may also be plagued with seasonal allergies.
The frustrating thing about migraine sufferers is that many don’t take the time to seriously consider all of their options for prevention and symptom relief. It’s definitely worthwhile to explore natural therapies as a means of better understanding, minimizing, and preventing your migraines, not to mention nixing the dependency on potentially harmful medications often used to manage symptoms. Here are just some of the therapies that migraine sufferers frequently respond to.
Many headaches and migraines start in your spine. When your body is misaligned your nerves get very irritated, and communicate quickly with your brain. For some clients, spinal adjustments are an effective way to reduce the pressure on those unhappy nerves. Chiropractic care also helps restore mobility to patients who experience consistent and debilitating muscle tension. Blood flow to and from the brain may also be restricted when muscles are tight in the base of the skull, which can contribute to headache and migraine symptoms. The cumulative effects of rigidity and restriction can lead to severe headaches – so it’s important to target the problem at its source, rather than just treating the resulting migraine. Consider your posture, alignment, and date of your last adjustment. Could a poorly aligned spine, stressed nerves or strained muscles be an underlying cause of your migraine? A chiropractic consultation can help you find out!
Seeing a massage therapist isn’t a luxury- for many it’s a highly effective treatment option. Headaches frequently result from tension and stress, which are manually targeted during a massage session. Your therapist will also help to improve circulation throughout your body, which can draw blood away from the head, reducing pressure that contributes to headache. It’s also incredible to see the effects of loosening and treating muscle tissue. If you have a muscle injury, chances are you’ve been carrying yourself differently. An adjusted or irregular posture of any kind can cause soreness, stiffness, dizziness and headaches. So give massage therapy a try –the combination of targeted manual therapy and the valuable opportunity to reduce stress might be just what you need to manage or minimize migraines.
Naturopathic and Nutritional Counselling
Food sensitivity and allergies might also be causing your migraines. A holistic health practitioner can help you begin an elimination diet or food diary to uncover patterns in your eating that might cause headaches. Many sufferers of migraines know which foods they need to avoid in order to help prevent a killer headache. Don’t worry- this isn’t arbitrary. A nutritionist or ND can help you identify which ingredients are giving you grief- whether it’s a popular additive like MSG, or a less widely identified substance like tyramine. Tyramine, which is found in aged cheese, processed meat, canned soups and several other foods, has been known to trigger migraines in certain individuals. Without some health counselling however, you might never identify something like this as a potential source of your suffering. It’s worth looking into- The sooner you know your problem foods, the sooner you can begin adjusting your diet and lifestyle so you can enjoy more long-term management of your migraines.
Last week Naturally Savvy hosted a fantastic Twitter Party to teach strategies for reading food labels and ingredient lists! We had the pleasure of gate-crashing and offering our two cents to this incredibly informed and well-run chat. We came away inspired to promote label literacy here on the Thrive Health blog.
While there were plenty of label-savvy participants at the party (and some very qualified, awesome hosts and sponsors!) some of the parents present admitted that they don’t really know what to look for when reading food labels, or often neglect to read labels at all. This is very normal. Firstly, we’re all incredibly busy, and nobody wants to double their grocery store time by reading the finely printed ingredient lists on everything they pick up. Secondly, many parents don’t skip the ingredient list out of a willful negligence of nutrition- they are led to trust a product by many other factors that make an impression on shoppers long before the label. Food packaging can trick us into thinking we’re making an informed, “good” choice.
Here are some of the packaging ploys that lead us to believe something is healthy without reading its ingredient list.
Just because a product is fat-free or sugar-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. At all. In fact many products that have been chemically engineered to be free of fats and sugar have other unhealthy modifications. These products may still contain synthetic flavours, artificial colours, artificial sweeteners, thickeners and more. Additionally, foods that boast a “fat free” claim uphold a societal misconception about fats- that they are all dangerous, unhealthy, or contribute to being overweight. In reality, healthy fats are vital to a balanced diet, and for maintaining a healthy weight.
Made with real…
If a food product is bragging that it’s made with real fruit, vegetables or any other ingredient, beware. This is a clever way of getting around the fact that it’s also made with many other ingredients that are not real. Made “with” is not the same as “made up solely of…” By this tactic, a fruit punch containing only 25% real fruit juice can still claim “Made with real fruit!” Unless you see a “100%” check your label to see how much of a product is indeed “real.”
Lots of food products contain claims about their nutritional quality right in their name. But just because something claims to be “smart” “healthy” “light” or “natural” doesn’t mean it’s a nutritionally balanced or beneficial choice. The worthiness of a product can’t be found in its name- it can only be found on that food label.
So what are the top food label culprits?
High-fructose corn syrup: This is a widely used sweetener that appears in many packaged foods especially sweet treats for children. It boosts calorie content, functions as a thick, concentrated sugar substance, and offers no nutritional value to a food product. Avoid low / no calorie alternatives especially if they contain artificial sweeteners. Natural sweeteners like stevia and honey are a better choice.
Artificial flavours: Naturally Savvy makes a great point about artificial flavours: they could contain anywhere from one to fifty different chemical ingredients. Our thought? Why combine dozens of synthetic chemicals to mimic a real, natural flavour? There are so many delicious flavours and colours found in natural foods that there’s no reason to chemically manipulate our tastes.
Nitrates/Nitrites: Typically written as sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite, these are most commonly found in processed and packaged meats. The alternative to using these products is buying fresh chicken or turkey, cooking it in whatever manner you prefer and slicing it up to use in salad form (ie. Chicken salad) or in sandwiches over the following few days.
MSG: Monosodium glutamate is a commonly-used additive in many packaged foods, especially soups, sauces, prepared meals, and frozen foods. As with many of our food culprits, the easiest way to avoid MSG is to try and limit your consumption of pre-packaged foods. If you can’t avoid buying prepared foods, buy them fresh rather than frozen.
If you have any food label questions, drop us a line here, or on our Facebook page –we love to help families make informed choices. Happy (and healthy) grocery shopping to you!
Sara Vartanian, founder of Green Moms Collective, recently hosted a Twitter chat about the benefits of shopping at local farmer’s markets. While her #GreenMom chats are always interesting and informative, we thought we’d take the opportunity to expand on the fun and relevant topic of buying local, especially as farmer’s market season kicks off.
Why buy local?
Shopping at a local market is a great way to be more involved and informed as you set an example for your family’s food choices. As the #GreenMom discussion demonstrated, simply visiting or discussing local food market vendors encourages us to think more critically about our food sources.
Local, Organic & In Season
For many people the decision to shop at a local market has a lot to do with the integrity of the produce and meat they want to buy. But as Sara Vartanian points out, it’s easy to assume what you’re buying is organic, when in fact it may not be. Just because you shop locally doesn’t mean you’re shopping organically. This is why it’s important to chat with the vendors you buy from. Ask them about their farming practices to ensure your purchases meet your personal standards. Questions that you may want to ask include:
- Does the vendor use chemical pesticides?
- How many different crops does the vendor grow?
- Are the farm animals given antibiotics or hormones? What are they fed?
Inspiration and Food Literacy
Shopping at a local farmer’s market can also help you get out of a food rut because so many different fresh choices are laid out before you. Aviva Allen, Registered Nutritionist, recommends leaving your list and recipes at home, and seeing where inspiration leads you! You might end up basing a meal or a dish around whatever item looked the freshest or was offered at a great price.
The experience of shopping at a farmer’s market with your family also helps to instill positive habits in children. Let them smell, touch and sample the food you buy, and learn about how it is farmed or raised. This establishes the practice of thinking about our food sources and quality, and being an active participant in food shopping.
Clean, Green Family Fun
Let’s not forget to advocate for the richly enjoyable experience of visiting your favourite market on a regular basis! Shopping locally, chatting with vendors and getting out in the open air of the market can be a really rewarding way to connect with your children and community. The sunshine, exercise, music and snacks all help to make food shopping an overwhelmingly positive experience, rather than an errand or a chore. Without the resource-demands of the supermarket (scanners, electric lights, and checkouts), the market also provides a greener way to shop. Bring your re-usable bags and your good old-fashioned cash for a simpler exchange and a fun family experience.
Do you shop at a farmer’s market? What’s your favourite thing about buying local?
A juicy burger. Salty fries. A cold, sugary soda.
Have we sparked a craving? Food cravings are unfortunate road blocks in many people’s diet plans. While some cravings are circumstantial and easier to resist (like salivating at the smell of a bakery) others can be persistent, frequent and much more physical by nature (like craving a cup of coffee in the morning). For those who eat a balanced, nutrient-dense diet, cravings should be minimal and controllable, but of course this isn’t always the case. Here are a few common cravings, what they mean for your body, and how you can deal with them.
Your body requires a very small amount of salt each day. As an electrolyte that helps your body maintain regular, consistent fluid levels, salt is an important ingredient in your biological balance and health. Often we crave salty snacks, or foods that have an exorbitant sodium content that we may not even be aware of (check your canned soups as an example!)
Why do we crave it? Cravings for salt are often the result of your body’s conditioning. A high-sodium diet makes your body accustomed to lots of salt. When you try to cut back, your body reminds you. Excessive perspiration and dehydration can also trigger salt cravings, since our bodies lose sodium and other minerals when we sweat. It is also possible that salt cravings can be an indicator of more severe consitions associated with our endocrine / hormonal system so make sure to speak with a Health Care Professional if symptoms are unexplained or persistant.
How to manage the craving: Drink an electrolyte beverage after heavy exercise. Learning about proper endurance exercise hydration and electrolyte protocols are helpful for routine exercise. If your salt craving isn’t related to sweat, try something crunchy and flavourful like seasoned rice crackers, a small handful of nuts, an algae product or dill pickle. Follow up your snack with a big glass of water.
Sugar is another ingredient that hides in many foods and habits. Minimizing your sugar intake isn’t just about avoiding sweets like pastries and candy. It means being mindful of the sugar content in everything that you eat-from granola to peanut butter to juice.
Why do we crave it? When we consume a lot of sugar it causes a spike in blood glucose levels. You’ve likely experienced this- you eat something sweet and immediately feel good. Your energy rises and peaks and you may even feel happier. But shortly afterwards, your blood sugar dips again. This is the unfortunate reality of refined sugar; it sends your body on a roller coaster. When your blood sugar drops, your brain starts thinking it needs more refined sugar. Your craving returns. The cycle continues.
How to manage the craving: Read your labels! Avoid products that have sugar added. Choose natural sweeteners like stevia or a touch of honey. You may also try satisfying cravings for sweetness with flavours. Add a pinch of cinnamon to your coffee instead of a sweetening agent. Use vanilla or nutmeg in oatmeal instead of brown sugar. And if you need a sweet fix, choose a tasty fruit like strawberries or watermelon. Remember to always balance out sweet fixes, even healthy ones, with some protein or healthy fat. This helps keep your blood sugar more stable and avoid the rollercoaster effect.
For you coffee-addicts, you may find that your caffeine intake requires much more willpower to control than those cravings for sugar and salt. In truth, a single caffeinated drink triggers a significant reaction in your body, producing for many people a “rollercoaster effect” similar to that of sugar.
Why do we crave it? Caffeine triggers neural activity that stimulates the release of hormones. These stimulate your adrenal glands to produce that burst of energy you might experience after a dose of caffeine. When the “high” ends however, you may experience lethargy, restlessness, and an inability to concentrate. It’s a combination of taste and effect that brings most of us back to caffeinated beverages on a regular basis. With enough consumption however, your body will reach a state of adrenal exhaustion. It will require more caffeine to reproduce that desired high.
How to manage the craving: Ensure that you are getting enough sleep so that you aren’t depending on caffeine as a major source of energy. Try alternatives like herbal tea and natural coffee alternatives such as chicory. Any caffeinated beverage should be taken in moderation, to avoid putting your body through the unnecessary stress responses that caffeine can produce. Speaking to a Naturopath is a good way to identify if your adrenal glands need support and the best way to use herbs and lifestyle modification to help get your energy levels back up…sans caffeine!
We’re all familiar with phrases like “gut feeling” and “go with your gut.” As every ND knows, patients really should listen to their gut, because its symptoms are important indicators of overall health, and the functioning of the digestive system. If you’re experiencing symptoms like bloating, gas, cramps and irregularity, it’s time to take a look at what’s causing your digestive distress.
The Traveling Naturopath has some helpful advice about the natural, preventative health factors that may be affecting your gut health. Here are three important behaviours for keeping a balanced, healthy digestive system.
1. Practising good food hygiene. This is an essential practice for every meal. Practising good food hygiene requires many things. Most obviously, ensure that your food is safe and kept free from avoidable contaminants. Store and prepare food with careful attention paid to temperature, sealing of containers, shelf life, and the cleanliness of your storage environment. Rinse all produce thoroughly and be sure to keep an extremely sanitary food prep area. As the Traveling Naturopath emphasizes, good food hygiene also includes chewing your food thoroughly and carefully, and taking time to eat slowly.
2. Cultivating gut flora. Antibiotics strip the intestinal tract of healthy gut flora, which are necessary to facilitate digestion, avoid stomach upset and boost immunity. These probiotics or “good bacteria” are multi-functional. They secrete substances that aid cell function and protect your digestive system from harmful bacteria. They also suppress the attachment of disease-causing bacteria to the walls of the intestines. Talk to a naturopathic doctor to determine which probiotics would benefit your diet, as there are a number of different types, each with their own specific health functions.
Image source: http://ow.ly/lxKod
3. Identifying food intolerances: Food intolerances and sensitivities exist in varying degrees. A sensitivity to a certain food (or group of foods) can often go ignored however, because it doesn’t produce symptoms severe enough to be immediately identified as an allergy or dietary problem. Just because you don’t break into hives or have a violent reaction, doesn’t mean that you are immune to food sensitivities. Many of your mild but unpleasant symptoms like digestive distress may be attributed to a certain food or ingredient. An elimination diet is an easy first step at figuring out which foods may be causing you those unwanted symptoms. Food sensitivity testing is also commonly used, via a blood prick test, to easily determine problem foods. A consultation with a naturopathic doctor can help you better understand the biological causes for your intolerance, and how you can continue meeting your nutrition needs while limiting or eliminating the problem foods from your diet.
So if you’re experiencing unwanted health-related symptoms, take that familiar advice: listen to your gut!
The following is a guest post from Aviva Allen, Registered Holistic Nutritionist and newest member of the Thrive Health team! Aviva has authored two cookbooks and completed a health-supportive chef training program at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts. She specializes in helping children and young families adopt healthy eating practices through nutrition counselling. This article was reprinted with permission from Aviva’s blog.
My Son the Neophobe
by Aviva Allen
I wouldn’t label my son a picky eater. He loves beans, whole grains, all fruits…even enjoys Indian and Ethiopian cuisines. Certainly not your typical four year old. That being said, he is not the most adventurous in the vegetable department. The biggest roadblock we have been dealing with for the last two years is his stubbornness when it comes to trying new foods. There is actually a term for this.FOOD NEOPHOBIA: The fear of new or novel foods. Believe it or not, food neophobia is actually a naturally occurring reaction in humans that protects us from consuming potentially poisonous things. He’s just following his instincts.
I’ve had success using my Healthy Eating Reward Chart with my clients for a while now, but only recently have I been able to try it out on my own son, since prior to age four I find they cannot really understand the concept. While my son has been completing many of the food categories with ease, he had yet to receive any bonus points for “trying something new.” Day after day, I would suggest that he try something new to get those extra points, but he would politely decline.
I am not quite sure how it happened, but all of the sudden he really wanted those bonus points. Tonight he was determined to get one. There were two new foods sitting on his plate. He stared at them for a minute or so and decided on the red pepper. He popped it into his mouth and slowly began to chew it, although he looked as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to keep in in there. At last, he swallowed it. Success! Well that was just the beginning for him. He NEEDED to get another point. In went a piece of sautéed kale. What??!! I couldn’t believe my eyes. Chewed and swallowed….and followed by a huge smile. He was so proud of himself, as was I, but for me, the best part was actually listening to him brag about what he had eaten to his little brother at bath time.
I can’t wait to see what he tries tomorrow!
Embracing Health produced an interesting blog post titled “Deadly Legal Addictions,” discussing a recent publicized death that occurred as the result of an extremely unhealthy diet. It raises an interesting suggestion that instead of thinking of unhealthy foods and habits as indulgences, we should take them to be much more serious and dangerous dependencies that have real consequences for our long-term health.
While you may not be surprised by the culprit soft drink named in the article, the characterization of familiar vices like Coca Cola as “addictions” is perhaps jarring. Yet to a large degree, that’s what they are. In fact, a recent study mentioned in Time suggests that as we increase our consumption of unhealthy, high-fat, high-sugar foods, our “reward-threshold” decreases. Much like the pattern we see among drug users, repeated ingestion of these substances makes it more difficult to get the same satisfaction that the “user” or consumer initially enjoyed. In other words: over time, eating addictive, unhealthy foods becomes similar to chasing a high.
Our consciousness regarding portion size or guilt can be affected in a similar way as well. While we may initially feel like a small serving of a “cheat food” is a luxury, treat, or even something to feel guilty about, eventually those sensibilities erode. If we don’t feel the same rush or satiety that junk food once brought us, it’s easy to lose sight of how much of it we’re consuming. Eventually a large allowance for junk food begins to feel like the new “normal.”
It’s certainly a dangerous trajectory. One way to address common food “addictions” mentioned by Embracing Health is to include warning labels on certain junk foods. Ultimately however, resistance to food addiction and its prevention have much more to do with a holistic dialogue with our bodies. The article stresses the importance of listening to our physiological messages by paying close attention to how we feel, look, and react to our diet. The body gives so many signs when something is wrong that there’s no reason to leave them ignored.
If your diet is leaving you with constant cravings for sugar and salt, uncontrollable appetite, or physical symptoms like headaches and nausea, it’s time to tune in more closely. A health care practitioner can help you refine your diet and avoid experiencing that all-too-common cycle of a diminishing reward threshold. Food should always be satisfying, rewarding and nourishing!
What do you think: Should warning labels be printed on certain unhealthy foods?
There are many reasons to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Chronic inflammation has been identified as a contributing factor for a number of diseases, as well as chronic pain. Additionally, the most inflammatory foods are those that carry the highest risk for allergic reactions. So how can you reduce inflammation without reaching for over-the-counter medications? A preventative diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods is a start.
The Conscious Life offers a great list of top anti-inflammatory foods. Here are some of the best natural ingredients for your diet:
Seaweed: Kelp is rich in the complex-carbohydrate fucoidan. Fucoidan has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. It’s also high in fibre, meaning that seaweed can help optimize digestion and fat absorption for the maintenance of a healthy weight.
Wild salmon: Rich in omega-3 fatty acids like EPA and DHA, salmon is an anti-inflammatory and may also prevent heart disease and certain cancers. Studies suggest omega-3’s may also reduce symptoms of autoimmune disease. This is a definite powerhouse food, so try to include salmon in your weekly meal plan. If you find it too “fishy” try dressing it up with powerful flavours like lemon and dill.
Green tea: Choc-full of anti-inflammatory flavonoids, green tea is great for reducing risk of heart disease and cancer. It’s also the perfect guilt-free hot beverage if you’re trying to lose weight, because the polyphenol found in green tea helps to boost metabolism and fat oxidation.
Broccoli: This green veggie contains the phytonutrient sulforaphane, which helps the body kick potentially cancer-causing compounds. Broccoli is also rich in magnesium and calcium to regulate blood pressure, and its high potassium content helps maintain the functioning of a healthy nervous system.
Sweet potato: This is a powerful potato! Versatile and mild-flavoured, sweet potatoes are becoming a nutritious favourite with many people. They contain a whole host of nutrients, including fibre, vitamin C and B6, and beta-carotene. Together, all of these powerful components work to reduce inflammation and purify the body.
While there are many anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant foods, without thoughtful meal planning you’d be surprised at how easy they are to overlook. Challenge yourself by including one anti-inflammatory food in all of your major meals!
We often only think about hormones in terms of side effects. Despite their importance to our body’s functioning, they tend to go unacknowledged until they begin to cause us grief.
Hormones are key to the performance of many processes and capabilities of the body, including our fertility, digestion processes, and thyroid function. Since they play such a multi-faceted and important role, a number of unpleasant side effects can present themselves when our hormones fluctuate.
So what causes our hormones to get out of sync or off the charts? Human hormone levels are highly sensitive to a variety of factors. These include oral medications you may be taking, the things you’re eating, and lifestyle factors such as stress. Hormonal imbalances can also result from major physical changes that are facilitated by hormonal releases (such as reproductive process and the onset of puberty). When these factors come into play against your natural hormone levels, eventually your body may struggle with overall hormone regulation and control. At this point, a treatment method is often needed to restore balance.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances include:
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Changes in appetite
If you’re consistently experiencing these symptoms, a saliva or blood test can determine whether you have a hormone imbalance and its severity. While many people fear they’ll have to take synthetic hormone doses to treat an imbalance, this isn’t always a necessary or ideal solution, particularly when an imbalance has been triggered by lifestyle factors.
Some of the dietary strategies used to treat hormone imbalances include:
- Enriching meals with protein, fibre and iron by incorporating more lentils and beans.
- Eating more foods that contain phytoestrogens, a compound in plants that resembles the human hormone estrogen. Soy and flaxseed are great choices.
- Increasing soluble fibre intake.
- Ensuring that you’re getting enough vitamin D and calcium.
If you think you may have a hormonal imbalance, have a consultation to find out if a natural, nutrition-based approach is best for you.
In her blog post “Why Feed Kids Healthy NOW?” nutritionist Lauren Talbot points out how lucky parents are to have the opportunity to instill good eating habits in their children right from infancy. As she reminds readers- and as we’ve mentioned on our blog before- not only is a baby’s development affected directly by prenatal diet, but newborn infants begin to develop taste preferences from their earliest feedings. From birth, we have a responsibility to guide and direct our children’s diet- this is a big responsibility, but we’re fortunate to have it.
Raising a child from infancy can offer an opportunity to encourage certain tastes, food preferences and understandings of nutrition… but what about when we want to influence eating habits at a later stage in development? Talbot mentions how challenging it can be to break the ingrained eating habits of older children and adolescents, which she’s experienced firsthand as a stepmother. At this point, children have already come to expect and crave certain unhealthy foods because they’re such a regular part of their lifestyle. This doesn’t just apply to particularly lackadaisical families either- let’s face it: most of us have an appetite for foods we could certainly do without. We recall craving unhealthy food as children, as adolescents, and even as nutritionally-minded adults.
So how do processed, sugary, high-fat and junky foods sneak into so many children’s diets? A large part of it is our own leniency. In order to truly adopt the cleanest, most healthful eating habits, Talbot says we need to make a critical shift in our attitudes. She suggests that we redefine how we conceive of “normal” eating, and stop making allowances for unhealthy foods on account of how mainstream they may be. She stresses the importance of adult guidance, reminding us that “it’s okay for children to be different from the norm.”
It’s true that the “norm” is far from optimal. Just think of the many factors that contribute to our conceptions of customary eating behaviours: we see other families eating a typical North American diet; we find the same packaged foods lining our grocery store shelves; we are surrounded by cheap and readily accessible fast food options. These things all shape our views of acceptable eating patterns and make healthy, organic eating seem different, difficult, and deviant.
We need to set a positive example for our children to help make healthy eating habits seem (and in fact become) more common. Let’s strive for a culture in which healthy, whole food choices are what’s normal. In the meantime however, it’s important that we make the choices that are best for our health, regardless of how irregular and inconvenient they may seem in comparison to those around us.
Teach your family to share your priority of clean eating. Teach them to choose fresh, whole foods. Teach them the value of food preparation and empower them with the skills to nourish their bodies. By doing these things, together we can help to create a new “normal.”