By Dr. Kristin Heins
I read an interesting article recently about beating the winter blues. I was then reminded the next day, when a boost of sunshine elevated my spirits in a noticeable way, that “winter blues” is a catch phrase for a spectrum of mood related changes that affect many of us in winter months. As a naturopath, I work with patients to physiologically support their neuroendocrine (the complex interplay between our brain and hormones) system. Now as a psychotherapy student under supervision, I look at the social and psychological implications of these mood changes. Both these options would be ideal for someone who is feeling that the quality of their life is being notably impacted by the change of season.
For others who may feel “winter blues” to a lesser extent – I have listed a few lifestyle ideas to help increase the pep in your step until our longer days and warmer temperatures fill our spirits once again.
- Brighten your environment: using a light box / SAD lamp for 30 minutes a day has shown to be highly affected in some studies on SAD ( a clinical diagnosis of seasonally related depressive symptoms). Sit close to Windows and draw open curtains when possible.
- Eat for Mood: speaking to a naturopath or nutritionist to help support mood through diet can be a great support. Simple carbohydrates like sugar can provide short term boosts but longer term patterns of mood instability. Alternatively increasing proteins and in particular tryptophan and tyrosine containing foods can help boost mood.
- Exercise: A 2005 study by Harvard university suggests fast walking 35 minutes daily 5 days a week to improve mild to moderate depressive symptoms. Exercising under brighter light may also improve general mental health and social functioning according to a preliminary study on exercise and mental health.
- Get Outside: Being outside and in nature when possible can help improve focus and lower stress levels. So add a layer and bundle up!
- Get Involved: Social isolation in cold winter months can add to poor sense of wellbeing. Make social arrangements or find volunteer or charity groups to be involved with as a way to boost spirits and outlook.
If you would like individualized support please email firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.thrivehealth.ca
As school starts back up, many families start to anticipate, or fear, cold and flu season. Yikes! Naturopathic treatment for colds and the flu can help reduce symptoms and shorten illness time; but, an even better approach for the fall is prevention. Take active steps to boost your family’s immunity and reduce exposure to the germs that get you and your little one(s) sick in the first place.
The body’s immune system works to ward off and kill germs that we are exposed to. Children are more vulnerable to sickness because they are still ‘growing’ an immune system…and because they touch everything!! In order for an immune system to function optimally, it requires adequate nutrients, proper rest and balanced exercise. While these principles may seem basic, they can be tricky to implement regularly in a busy household. Below are some specific strategies to help you maximize your children’s health. Apply them to yourself and double the benefits.
- Keep a routine bedtime that ensures your child stays well rested through the winter. White blood cells (the guys that fight germs) multiply most while we sleep.
- Enroll children in lessons or make time as a family to engage in activities through the fall and winter – be it swimming, skating, skiing or sledding.
- Increase protein, vitamin C and zinc in your family’s diet as they are all required for optimal immune system function.
- Reduce germ exposure through regular hand washing and proper nasal rinsing. Sound strange? If we breathe in germs and they grow and multiply, in part, in our nasal passages, cleaning them out regularly also flushes out the germs. Infant and child nasal rinsing products are easily available through health and drug stores and are best used in the evening
When you are trying to lose weight you may be thinking of taking a fast a furious approach eating as little as possible while working out as much as possible. However this is not only unwise, but also ineffective in the long run.
Healthy Eating Habits
When you skip a meal or cut calories drastically you will slow down your metabolism. This is because your body is concerned you are not getting enough calories to survive and is trying to conserve energy. You will lose weight using this method for the first few days or even a week, but as your body goes into panic mode it will fight starvation by storing fat. Therefore the only weight you will continue to lose will be water and muscle, which is not only bad for you, but will also make you reach a plateau far more quickly than you should. This makes all of your efforts for naught as your system will decide it is not safe to lose weight. Therefore it is important to eat healthy foods throughout the day. Taking an approach that reduces carbs and adds more veggies and fruits is the best approach as well as eating 5 small meals instead of 3 larger meals. Obviously cutting out sugars is important as well.
When your body’s metabolism slows due to dieting this is where exercise helps. Exercising in hand with dieting provide the energy required to help you burn more calories and do so naturally and safely. Regular exercise is a must to lose weight and it will give you more energy and keep your metabolism working at peak efficiency to continue to burn calories at rest. Do not forget the importance of weight lifting as the more muscle you can build the higher your metabolism remains.
Before and After Work Out Foods
Prior to a work out this is the best place to have a combination of simple and complex carbs. Have a slice of whole grain bread a smear of peanut butter and a banana sliced on top and a sprinkle of cinnamon for the perfect combo. You can also eat something like Greek yogurt with a few nuts or a meal with protein and carbs or oatmeal with blueberries. Following a work out you can eat a yummy omelette with eggs and fresh veggies and a slice of avocado for morning workouts or salmon and some sweet potato for dinner for late afternoon workouts. Lunch time work outs work well with a tuna sandwich on whole grain bread.
The key to weight loss is balance. You must exercise and eat a modified amount of calories without cutting meals to lower your calorie count. Moderation, variety and dedication are the key to a successful weight loss plan.
Let’s face it: there’s a lot of health and nutrition information out there. We live in a super-saturated society of digital advice, urging us to adopt certain lifestyle and diet habits while writing off others as severely damaging. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, especially if you start to feel like your available nutritious dietary options have been halved!
That’s why we really enjoyed this Eating Well article that offers some important health analyses for a few of the foods we’re told to avoid. It’s important to balance your perspective, and to bring a realistic, sustainable approach to your healthy eating. So take a look at our list, and celebrate the tasty foods that can be enjoyed in moderation, and as part of a nutritious diet.
We hear lots of mixed things about eggs, but many people are scared off by the high cholesterol count. Cholesterol definitely needs to be moderated, but as Eating Well reminds us, the cholesterol that we consume in foods doesn’t typically raise our blood cholesterol significantly. Rather, the bigger heart-disease dangers are saturated and trans fats. Enjoy eggs in moderation and pay attention to your cholesterol intake on a daily basis. For a healthier breakfast, skip the yolk and double up on egg whites –you’ll still get the protein and consistency you love without as much cholesterol and fat.
Bread, Pasta and Other Mega-Carbs
Mmmmm….if you love your carbs, you’re not alone. Carbohydrates are comforting, relatively filling and just plain tasty. But many of us know to tread with caution- When you load up on refined foods and simple carbs, you’re definitely making a poor dietary choice and increasing your risk of weight gain, obesity, and diabetes. But there’s plenty of great carbs out there too, that have an important place in your diet. These include whole grains and beans which can help provide some filling substance to a meal while also offering nutrients and protein.
We took note of this one, because it seems that going GF or gluten-free is a dieting fad these days. With so many products being marketed sans gluten, Eating Well points out that “it’s easy to think their benefits might stretch beyond the audience for whom they’re intended: people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance.” Well put! If you don’t have a medical condition that prevents you from eating gluten, there is no reason to cut it from your diet, as this won’t offer you any health benefits.
Without an intolerance causing you symptoms in the first place you won’t experience the surge in health or energy associated with a gluten free regimen. So don’t self-diagnose! There are a number of reasons why we experience digestive distresses that are easily mistaken for a gluten intolerance. A thorough consultation can help you sort out what’s making your insides unhappy.
Check out all 13 of Eating Well’s Food and Nutrition myths here!
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?