I agree – they’re intimidating! The mounds of colorful, tough-skinned squash and gourds arranged in boxes outside the automatic grocery doors as their more approachable, thin-skinned cousins nestle in their cozy produce-aisle beds. There’s no doubt that members of the Cucurbitaceae family, notably pumpkins, gourds, and winter squash, are beautiful, if not interesting, ornamental works of Mother Nature. But it seems that many are destined to be arranged on the front stoop of every suburban home from November through December.
Underneath their colorful, sometimes rough, exteriors is nutrient-dense flesh that does really well in soups – it’s just the right amount of starch to yield a creamy texture. But don’t stop there. They are also delicious baked and roasted along with protein of your choice….think sheet pan dinner! Many varieties have edible skins and do not need to be peeled. This makes them easy to prepare and high in fiber. No lie – it was a game changer for me when I discovered I can cook and eat the peel.
In addition to fiber, winter squash is an excellent source of beta carotene, vitamin A and vitamin C. If the nutritional attributes alone have not convinced you to make this healthy plant-based food a part of your regular diet, I hope you will give it a whirl once you learn all the delicious and versatile ways to use them in recipes. Personally, I love adding roasted squash to salads and puréed squash to baked goods (recipe below). Here I share with you some top picks for edible varieties.
Also known as Japanese pumpkin, kabocha squash has green skin, orange flesh, and a shape similar to pumpkin. The flesh is super sweet when cooked and is rich in beta-carotene – 1 cup has more than 200% DV (daily value) of vitamin A! Before preparing for cooking, place whole squash in a 350°F oven for about 20 minutes to soften the skin. It will make cutting, peeling, and chopping an easier and much safer experience. Try using kabocha in place of the butternut squash in your favorite soup.
Acorn squash varies in color from dark green to tie-dyed green with orange shades. The flesh is less sweet than kabocha and is more yellow than orange. Just one cup provides more than 25% DV of vitamin C. You can soften the squash if needed by heating in the oven, although it is small enough that this may not be needed. Trim the top from each squash, invert on the cutting board, and slice from bottom to top to create two halves. Remove seeds. You can bake the halves with a drizzle of olive oil and a touch of maple syrup for 30 minutes at 350°F – an excellent side dish. You can also slice into half moons to prepare for roasting.
Sugar pumpkins look a lot like carving pumpkins so be sure to select those marked especially for cooking. They are sweeter than those cultivated for jack-o-lantern displays. The best way to cook the flesh is to roast the entire pumpkin – this allows the flesh to remain moist and helps the sugars to develop. Remove stem from pumpkin, rinse, and make several slits through the skin with a sharp knife. Bake at 350°F for about an hour. Remove from the oven and let sit until cooled. Cut off the top portion (around where the stem would be), remove seeds, and scoop out flesh. Try adding pumpkin to hummus or stir some into yogurt. Of course, you can always use it for baking!
Probably on the top of my list for ease of preparation! Delicata squash has a mild, nutty flavor, firm flesh, and thin edible skin. Preparing this variety could not be simpler: rinse, cut in half, remove seeds, slice into half-moons, toss with some olive oil and salt and bake at 350°F for about 20 minutes until browned. Delicious enough to eat on their own as a fiber-rich snack!
Now that you have a little more culinary knowledge about squash, why not put it to use and impress family and friends over Thanksgiving dinner. Here’s a recipe to inspire you:
Preheat oven to 325ºF and combine all dry ingredients in a bowl.
Combine all wet ingredients in another bowl.
Mix the dry ingredients into the wet until well incorporated.
Pour into a greased shallow 8×8 pan or mini muffin pan.
Bake for 20-30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool before serving.
Per Serving: 167 calories; 9.2 g fat; 20 g carbohydrates; 2 g protein; 0 mg cholesterol; 125 mg sodium.
Harvard Health calls it a “medical mystery” and “mysterious ailment.” It’s been linked to everything from gut troubles, autoimmune diseases, and even mental health concerns.
I’m talking about “leaky gut” or “intestinal permeability”—have you heard of it?
Many doctors and the established medical community may not recognize it, but there is growing research to suggest it is associated with many health conditions. Working in tandem with integrative medicine doctors, I have been able to help many people return to better health by healing their leaky gut.
What exactly is “leaky gut?” Do you have it? How does it happen? What can you do about it?
What is “leaky gut?”
Your gut (gastrointestinal system) is not just a 30-foot-long muscular tube (tract) that starts at your mouth and ends with you going to the bathroom. In fact, It’s a vast and complex system with many functions. It breaks down food into smaller digestible bits, keeps it moving through the gastrointestinal tract, and skillfully absorbs water and nutrients while keeping out harmful substances. More and more research shows that these essential gut functions are interconnected throughout your body—to everything from your heart to your brain.
Your gastrointestinal tract is lined with millions of cells, all side-by-side in a single layer. In fact, this layer, if spread out flat, covers 400m2 of surface area! Those intestinal cells help the body to absorb what we need from foods and drinks, while keeping out what needs to stay out. It acts as a gatekeeper allowing in what your body uses, and keeping out the rest which ends up as waste. This ability to selectively allow some things in our gut to be absorbed while keeping others out is only possible if the cells are working properly and physically joined together very tightly. The bonds that keep the cells tightly together are called “tight junctions.”
Leaky gut happens when the tight junctions aren’t so tight anymore. The cellular barrier is irritated and weakened, allowing tiny holes to appear. These perforations allow things that normally would stay out of the bloodstream get into the bloodstream. Things like food particles, waste products, and bacteria.
When these get into the bloodstream your immune system is triggered to start fighting them. Similarly to how your immune system starts fighting the cold virus and causes inflammation. This immune reaction is normal and helps keep you healthy.
Do you have a leaky gut?
The symptoms of leaky gut are similar to those of other digestive conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease. Symptoms can include diarrhea, constipation, cramps, bloating, food sensitivities, or nutrient deficiencies.
But, because the food particles, toxins, and bacteria have been absorbed into the bloodstream which travels throughout your body, symptoms can appear anywhere. Studies show that leaky gut may feel like fatigue, headaches, confusion, difficulty concentrating, joint pain, or skin problems (e.g., acne, rashes, eczema). Leaky gut is also linked with diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, liver disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis. There may even be links to anxiety and depression.
Many of these gut and non-gut symptoms and conditions are linked to chronic inflammation, but more research is needed to understand how they are connected.
Even if you have some of these symptoms, the fact is, it’s very difficult to diagnose a leaky gut, nor how leaky it is. This means that, while there are some biomarker tests, there isn’t a reliable diagnostic test available just yet. So, it’s difficult to say whether your symptoms are from leaky gut, or whether leaky gut is a symptom of another issue.
What causes leaky guts?
It’s not 100 percent clear what causes those bonds to loosen and result in tiny perforations in the gut barrier. In fact, we’re just starting to understand how the gut barrier functions and there is a lot of ongoing research.
Part of leaky gut may be due to the genes you inherit from your parents. It can also be from medications or gut infections. Leaky gut is also linked to eating a diet that is low in gut-friendly fiber (adults should aim for 25-30 g of fiber per day). It can also be from consuming too much added sugar and saturated fat. Leaky gut may even result from stress or an imbalance in the diversity and numbers of your friendly gut microbes.
Also, as you age your cells can get damaged more easily and heal slowly, including the cells that line your gut. This can leave you more susceptible to loosening of the gut barrier.
What can you do about a leaky gut?
One way to approach a suspected leaky gut is to address inflammation and eat a more gut-friendly diet. This means reducing excessive alcohol and processed foods that tend to be high in fat and sugar or artificial sweeteners. It’s also a good idea to avoid foods that you’re allergic or sensitive to. For example, if you have diagnosed celiac disease, you want to be sure to stay away from gluten, as exposing your gut to it can cause a large inflammatory response.
Instead, enjoy more foods rich in gut-friendly probiotics and fiber – which is a prebiotic that feeds your friendly gut microbes. These include:
yogurt or kefir
fermented foods (e.g., kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso)
fruits and vegetables (e.g., berries, oranges, broccoli, carrots, and zucchini)
nuts and seeds (e.g., walnuts, cashews, and chia seeds)
Whole grains (e.g., oats, corn, and quinoa)
If you’re going to proactively increase your fiber intake, do it over several days or weeks because sudden increases in fiber can cause gas, bloating, and other gut discomfort. If you have IBS, check with a Registered Dietitian to see if certain fibers may worsen your condition and which are recommended.
Also, regular exercise can help your digestive system. This means taking even a 15- or 20-minute walk after you eat to help you digest your food. And don’t forget the importance of stress management, quality sleep, and not smoking.
If you plan on making changes to your diet and lifestyle, consider keeping a journal to help see if the changes are helping your symptoms.
When it comes to leaky gut, a few simple shifts toward a gut-friendly diet can help you navigate your symptoms and start the healing process.
A leaky gut is associated with gut and non-gut symptoms. It’s an inflammatory condition that has been linked to metabolic disorders, autoimmune conditions, and even mental health. There is no good diagnostic test at this time to know for sure if you have it or not. And remember, this is still a rather new area of research, so more information emerges all the time.
In the meantime, if you have symptoms that suggest a leaky gut, you can move toward a more gut-friendly diet. Try cutting down on alcohol, processed foods, and any that you may be allergic or sensitive to. Replace these foods and drinks with ones higher in gut-friendy probiotics and fiber. And remember that regular exercise, stress management, and quality sleep are great lifestyle strategies for your gut and the rest of your body.
Feeding your kids a healthy meal on Halloween night may not be the first thing on your mind. But it should be high up on the check list for a successful Halloween. Fueling their bodies with some high quality food before they dash out for a long night of trick-or-treating may prevent a sugar crash!
A blood sugar crash is a result of eating too much simple carbohydrates – in this case Halloween candies. When the body gets a flood of sugar, it triggers the active production of insulin which is the hormone that regulates blood sugar. This may cause the blood glucose to decrease suddenly, resulting in a drop in energy level, also known as hypoglycemia. Some of the common symptoms are irritability, fatigue, anxiety, headaches, excess sweating, jitters, shakiness and dizziness.
Although the response to a sugar rush is very individual but why take a chance on Halloween night when kids are out on the busy streets in the dark.
Frozen pizzas, mac & cheese packages, and the like may seem like a quick solution for feeding your kids when you are busy. Surprisingly, in the time it takes to preheat you oven or boil water for packaged food, you can whip up a nutritious kid-friendly meal without preservatives, food-coloring, and added chemicals. The recipe below, Easy Pumpkin Mac & Cheese is easy (of course), fun, nutrient-packed, and only takes 20 minutes to make. Pumpkin is a very nutrient-rich ingredient – high in vitamin A, C, and fiber. If you want to boost the antioxidants even more – without doing more work – just add your kids’ favorite vegetables (chopped broccoli is my kid’s choice) to the pasta cooking water in the last minute of the cooking time. For more healthy food and cooking tips, check out my Instagram feed. Happy Halloween!
Easy Pumpkin Mac & Cheese
8 oz dried pasta
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs flour
1 cup lowfat 2% milk
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 tsp granulated garlic
1/2 tsp granulated onion
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
Cook pasta according to package directions.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until it forms a paste, then slowly add the milk while whisking constantly. Cook 1-2 minutes until it comes to a simmer.
Stir in the pumpkin, cheese and spices then continue to cook over medium low, whisking often. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Once pasta is done, strain and transfer to the warm cheese sauce. Stir until completely coated.
Makes 6 servings
Per Serving: Calories 248; Protein 10g; Total Fat 7.9g Saturated Fat 4.3g Trans Fat 0.0g; Total Carbohydrates 34g Dietary Fiber 2g
As parents, it’s up to us to teach our children how to care for themselves. We can never start building a foundation of self-care too early. Children today are under exponential stress, and giving them permission to take care of their own personal physical and emotional needs will help them stay healthy into adulthood.
Model Healthy Behaviors
It is simply not enough to tell your kids they have to do things like sleep and eat well. If you want to truly have an impact, you have to model healthy behaviors yourself. This is especially important if you work remotely, like many parents across the country, and also have children at home. Working at home with kids is difficult in the best of times. We are not living in the best of times! The pandemic has put a great deal of stress and strain on working parents to the point where it’s taking a toll on their physical and mental health.
As a remote working parent, you have to find ways to reduce stress on yourself. Start by asking your employer for a flexible schedule. You will then want to set rules with your family, especially with kids, so that they are not continually interrupting you while you are trying to focus on making a living. Make a schedule, and then ensure everyone in your family understands when you are and are not available.
Other ways to model healthy behaviors are to make sure that you get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat the right balance of food so that your body has ample stores of the vitamins and minerals it needs to function at its peak. It can also help to take care of your outward appearance. Make a point to shower each morning and get yourself dressed as though you are going into the office. This will help keep you on a schedule and instill in your children that it’s wise to transition from “home” mode into work or school mode.
Make Fitness Fun
You don’t need statistics to tell you that kids today don’t exercise nearly as much as they did in the days before high-definition video games and the internet. Children as young as 11 are living sedentary lives, according to Cleveland Clinic. This is an alarming issue as lack of activity can result in a host of health problems, including obesity and heart disease.
Fortunately, there are many fun and exciting ways to get the kids off the couch, even during the digital age. You can even use their electronics to encourage fitness. One great example is the game Beat Saber, which is available on the Oculus VR system. This game is just one of many active games that can help children keep their bodies moving while burning a similar number of calories as they would if they were outdoors playing tennis.
You can also eliminate tech time for a few hours each day, and go outside with your children. Build a fort, toss a football, or simply go for a walk around the neighborhood. Your activities don’t have to be extreme or regimented to be beneficial. Keeping your own self up and moving will ensure that your children do so throughout their lifetime!
Empower kids to take charge
Modeling self-care behaviors and encouraging exercise are an excellent start. But, self-care is more than just this. Self-care is a broad term that refers to everything we can do to keep ourselves mentally and physically well every day.
An important part of our self-care efforts is teaching our children how to make healthy food decisions. Even the youngest members of your family can do so, but they do need your help. Get in the kitchen with them, and let them whip up their own healthy snacks after school. Smoothies, fruit trays, and peanut butter and apple pitas are all options that children in the ten and under crowd can make for themselves.
Self-care also means paying attention to how we feel about how other people treat us. Kids today are exposed to so much negativity in the real world and the media alike. It can be difficult for them to distinguish healthy relationships from those that take a toll on their mental health. Unfortunately, children are not immune from having toxic friendships, which are often emotionally, verbally, or physically abusive. Talk to your children about what types of behaviors are acceptable and which are not. And, if you have friendships that make you question your own worth, it’s time to cut ties to these.
The hope here is that kids will learn how to recognize what makes them feel good. Whether this is eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep, or even playing games that incorporate their favorite music, self-care is crucial to build them up. As a parent, you can model healthy behaviors by taking care of yourself and giving your children opportunities to do the same.
Sugar, trans-fats, and alcohol are known to contribute to many diseases. But did you know that red meat, especially processed meat, and dairy foods may be pro-inflammatory and can lead to chronic inflammation? Before we get into how a plant-based diet can help, let’s have a look at how inflammation happens in our body.
Can you remember the last time you cut yourself, were stung by a bee, or injured a joint? Your body reacted in a way to heal itself – to return the injured tissue to a normal state. The reaction that caused the uncomfortable pain, redness, and swelling is the result of a protective response known as inflammation. Inflammation is necessary and is not bad, but it has its place – as in the cases cited above when there is an acute injury. The benefit of an inflammatory reaction can be life-saving, so suppressing inflammation completely is not possible. When inflammation becomes chronic, however, extinguishing some of the fire can have big health benefits.
Chronic inflammation is harder to identify than acute and is a state of prolonged inflammation. The same cells that help with acute injury healing actually do damage if they hang around too long when the inflammatory switch gets stuck in the “on” position. While chronic inflammation is not known to be the primary cause any one disease, it is now widely accepted that it plays a role in diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, metabolic disorders, such as overweight and obesity, as well as neurological diseases. Causes of chronic inflammation may include persistent infection, food sensitivities, leaky gut, poor diet, poor sleep hygiene, environment, and exercise without proper recovery. Also, visceral fat, which is the fat tissue stored close to organs in the mid-section, can be a driver of chronic inflammation as it is dynamic and produces a variety of pro-inflammatory hormones.
The easiest, low-risk approach to addressing chronic inflammation is with diet. An anti-inflammatory diet is described in research as one that is appropriate in calories, low in processed carbohydrates, high in fiber, high in mono and polyunsaturated fats, higher in omega 3 than omega 6, and high in antioxidants. Translation: High in whole, plant foods with a focus on healthy fats and moderate animal protein intake –at least 75% plant foods and no more than 25% animal proteins.
This type of 75/25 dietary ratio hits all the anti-inflammatory buttons as whole plant foods are almost always less calorie-dense than processed foods, they are high in fiber, and contain a wide variety of disease-fighting antioxidants. Certain plant foods such as chia seed, avocados, walnuts, and olive oil are rich in healthy fats. The other 25% of your plate? High-quality animal proteins. Salmon, sardines, and mackerel are animal proteins of note as they are also excellent sources of omega-3 fats, which are anti-inflammatory.
Transitioning to a Plant-based Diet
By reducing intake of processed foods and replacing them with colorful, whole plant foods you are well on your way to reaping the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet and reducing risk of many chronic diseases. Curious as how to transition to a plant-based diet with success? I have created an e-book that shows you how to plan, shop, and cook plant foods, including an extensive pantry list to stock up on essential ingredients. This FREE e-book is a great resource to get you started on plant-based eating.
It’s proven: 31 percent of people in the United States are at risk for a deficiency in at least one vitamin or mineral essential for good health. It may be hard to imagine that we don’t get enough nutrition when we see an abundance of food available 24/7, but it’s true. A recent study showed that many of us need more of these top five nutrients: Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin D, and iron.
Should you be concerned about being low in one or two vitamins or minerals? In a word, yes. That’s because vitamins and minerals are essential for optimal health. Being low may not cause immediate symptoms, but it puts you at risk for many serious diseases that can affect your brain, heart, blood, immune system, metabolism, bones, mental health, etc. Nutrients are key pieces your body needs to maintain all of your systems in good working order. Missing just one or two pieces can throw off the delicate balance you need to be healthy and feel great. That’s because most nutrients don’t have just one vital role to play within the body, they play many, many vital roles.
How would you even know if you’re at risk for a nutrient deficiency? It’s not always obvious. Sometimes symptoms aren’t felt for a long time and sometimes they’re very vague and non-specific. For example, fatigue, irritability, aches and pains, decreased immune function, and heart palpitations can be signs of many things, including a nutrient deficiency. This article goes over the five most commonly deficient nutrients, some of the more obvious symptoms, and foods that are high in each so you can get enough.
The number one most common nutrient deficiency found in the US was Vitamin B6. This vitamin is important for your blood, brain, and metabolism. Vitamin B6 helps the formation of hemoglobin in the blood (the part that carries oxygen around). It also helps to maintain normal levels of homocysteine (high levels of homocysteine are linked with heart disease). In addition, this vitamin plays an important role in the production of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers allowing nerve cells to communicate with each other). Not to mention the fact that it’s also involved with over 100 enzyme reactions in the body, mostly for metabolism.
Some of the main symptoms of a serious deficiency in Vitamin B6 are depression, confusion, convulsions, and a type of anemia called “microcytic” anemia. Symptoms of a less serious deficiency are no less serious. They include increased risks for heart disease and Alzheimer’s. These wide-ranging health effects are why Vitamin B6 is so essential for health.
Vitamin B6 is found in all food groups. People who eat high-fiber cereals tend to have higher levels of the vitamin because cereals are often fortified with it. Vitamin B6 is also found in high quantities in potatoes, non-citrus fruits (e.g., bananas), and various animal-based foods such as poultry, fish, and organ meats.
Like Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12 is also very important for your blood and brain. It is needed for the creation of healthy red blood cells and the formation of the outer coating of nerve cells (myelin) which is very important for their optimal functioning.
Vitamin B12 can be a bit difficult to absorb from your food. To improve absorption, it’s important to have adequate acid and digestive enzymes in the stomach. This is because the vitamin is very strongly bound to the proteins in food, and stomach acid and enzymes help to break those bonds and free the vitamin so your body can take it in.
Having a Vitamin B12 deficiency can be caused by a type of anemia called “pernicious” anemia. Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune disease that affects the stomach and reduces its ability to absorb Vitamin B12. A deficiency in Vitamin B12 can then lead to a different type of anemia called “megaloblastic” anemia. Low levels of Vitamin B12 can also cause neurological damage (due to impaired myelination of nerve cells).
Vitamin B12 isn’t naturally present in most plant-based foods, except it is found in some nutritional yeast products. It is naturally found in dairy, eggs, fish, poultry and meat and is particularly high in clams, beef liver, trout, and salmon. Many breakfast cereals are fortified with Vitamin B12.
If you are consuming Vitamin B12 supplements or eating foods that are fortified with Vitamin B12, your levels of stomach acid and digestive enzymes aren’t as critical as they are for the absorption of the vitamin directly from foods. This is because when adding Vitamin B12 to foods and supplements, it’s not tightly bound to their proteins and this makes it much more easily absorbed.
Vitamin C is important for wound healing (by assisting in collagen formation), the production of neurotransmitters, metabolism, and the proper functioning of the immune system. Vitamin C deficiency can result in a disease called scurvy. Symptoms of scurvy include weak connective tissue such as bleeding, wounds that won’t heal, and even the loss of teeth.
Vitamin C also acts as an antioxidant to reduce the damage caused by free radicals that can worsen several diseases such as certain cancers and heart disease. Vitamin C also helps your body absorb the essential mineral iron, which is one of the top five nutrient deficiencies also included in this article.
You can get Vitamin C from many fruits and vegetables. Ones particularly high in Vitamin C include bell peppers, oranges, and orange juice. Other good sources of the vitamin include kiwifruit, broccoli, strawberries, Brussels sprouts, tomato juice, cantaloupe, cabbage, and cauliflower. Vitamin C is not naturally present in grains, but some breakfast cereals are fortified with it.
When choosing foods for Vitamin C, choose the freshest options because levels of the vitamin naturally reduce over time the longer the food is stored. Try, as much as possible, to eat Vitamin C-rich foods raw. If you do cook them, then choose steaming and microwaving instead of prolonged boiling because the vitamin is destroyed by heat and is water-soluble.
Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is very important for your bones. It promotes the absorption of the mineral calcium. When your body has enough calcium, it can maintain normal bone mineralization and prevent problems in the muscles that lead to cramps and spasms. Getting enough Vitamin D and calcium can also help protect against osteoporosis. In addition to all of these bone and muscle impacts, Vitamin D helps to reduce inflammation and modulate both immune function and sugar metabolism.
Without enough Vitamin D bones can become thin, brittle, or misshapen. Vitamin D prevents these issues known as rickets (in children) and osteomalacia (in adults).
Your skin makes Vitamin D when it’s exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun and very few foods naturally contain it. The few Vitamin D-rich foods include fatty fish and fish liver oils (e.g., salmon, trout, cod liver oil). Other foods that naturally contain small amounts of Vitamin D include egg yolks, beef liver, and cheddar cheese. Some mushrooms can contain Vitamin D—particularly those exposed to UV light.
Most of the dietary Vitamin D that people in the US get is from fortified foods and beverages. These include some dairy products (mainly milk), certain plant milks (e.g., soy, almond, or oat milks), various breakfast cereals, and a few types of orange juice. Be sure to look at the nutrition labels to see if and how much Vitamin D is in each serving of the food or beverage.
Iron is a mineral essential for healthy blood so that it can transport vital oxygen throughout your body every second of every day. This happens via a compound in your red blood cells called “hemoglobin.” Iron also supports your muscles (like Vitamin D) and your connective tissue (like Vitamin C). Having adequate iron is necessary for physical growth, neurological development, hormone production, and the function of your cells.
A deficiency in iron is commonly known as “anemia.” Menstruating women tend to be lower in iron simply because of their regular loss of blood.
Most iron in the body is in the blood, but there is some stored in the liver, spleen, bone marrow, and muscles. This is why iron deficiency progresses slowly from depleting your stores (mild iron deficiency), to reducing the number of red blood cells (marginal iron deficiency), before you get to full-out iron deficiency anemia.
Iron is naturally found in many foods in one of two forms: heme and nonheme. Animal-based foods contain the more absorbable heme form. Plant-based foods naturally contain nonheme iron. This is where Vitamin C comes in. Vitamin C helps your body absorb the nonheme iron from plants, which is why, if plants are a main source of iron in your diet, it’s important to combine iron-rich plants with Vitamin C-rich plants in the same meal.
Some of the best sources of iron include fortified cereals, oysters, white beans, dark chocolate, beef liver, lentils, spinach, and tofu.
Up to one-third of people in the US are at risk for at least one nutrient deficiency. Most commonly, that deficient nutrient is Vitamin B6, but there are also many people deficient in vitamins B12, C, and D, as well as the mineral iron. Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients because everybody needs them on a regular basis for good health. Lacking in any one nutrient can have far-reaching consequences. Eating a nutrient-rich diet with a variety of foods can help everyone achieve their health and nutrition goals. If you are uncertain about the nutrient adequacy of your diet, taking a multivitamin is a good insurance policy. Optimal Multivitamin with Iron by Seeking Health is a well-rounded daily multivitamin and mineral supplement with high-potency gentle iron and active B vitamins. Quality matters when it comes to dietary supplement. Consider the bioavailability of the nutrients when comparing prices. Don’t waste your money buying supplements that your body can’t absorb and utilize. Be sure to choose a reputable brand with 3rd party testing to verify the content of the supplement. For trusted professional brands, check out my wellness store. I offer my readers 15% off all purchases.
To know if you’re at risk for a nutrient deficiency, consult a Registered Dietitian who can review your food intake and supplements.
When it comes to leafy greens, most of us rely on the basics like romaine, leaf lettuce and spinach week after week – and while all of these provide health benefits, there is a huge selection of leafy greens in the produce aisle that you could potentially be missing! Shaking things up can help keep things fun and interesting in the kitchen while also diversifying your nutrient intake.
We’ve all heard that it’s important to eat those green vegetables and I have to say, that age-old recommendation has merit! Leafy green vegetables are a total nutrition powerhouse providing plant-based calcium, iron and magnesium, plus vitamins A, C and K (vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting and bone health).
If you don’t like the taste of one variety, chances are you can find an alternative. It might also be a matter of preparation method, so don’t hesitate to do some experimenting. Here are some of my favorites healthy greens along with simple ways you can try incorporating them into your regular rotation:
Swapping arugula for romaine is a great way to spice up a salad (literally!). This leafy green has a peppery bite and delicate texture. It pairs perfectly with a light citrus vinaigrette and some shaved parmesan cheese (aka – the ultimate no hassle dinner side salad).
Arugula is a cruciferous vegetable, like its cousins broccoli and cauliflower, and therefore has added disease-preventative effects. Try tossing some arugula in a balsamic vinaigrette and sprinkle on top of baked flatbread and pizza – great way to amp up the nutritional value and add a refreshing flavor!
You might already be familiar with traditional “curly” kale that has become a grocery store staple in recent years. Lacinato or “dino” kale is the one that has a long flat leaves with a bumpy texture and newer to the scene. Add it to your favorite soup or stew near the end of cooking time for a pop of bright green color and an extra element of texture.
Cooking kale mellows its bitter flavor, so a quick sauté in some olive oil with a bit of lemon juice is a delicious way to enjoy this nutrient powerhouse. If you don’t want to turn on the stove, try massaging the chopped kale with a little salt and olive oil to soften the leaves for a more digestible salad.
This leafy green comes in many varietals. The stem color ranges from white to purple and bestows its varietal name, such as red chard. Swiss chard is most commonly known and typically has a gorgeous bright pink or yellow stem.
Due to the large size of the leaves, chard makes a nice swap for tortillas (a great low-carbohydrate option!). Use the leaves to wrap hummus and vegetables or stuff with your favorite filling. You can also sauté the delicate leaves, as they cook up quickly. The stems are full of nutrition so chop them and sauté first with some onion and garlic for an amazing side dish. For an easy plant-focused meal, simply add in some chickpeas.
Watercress is a cruciferous vegetable with long stems and small, circular leaves. It makes a great sandwich topper in place of traditional leaf lettuce for a fun presentation.
The bright, peppery taste does well with just a bit of vinegar and olive oil. You can also drop into soups just before serving for a burst of flavor. One of my favorite salads includes watercress, cucumbers, and radishes – fresh and delicious!
Bok Choy is a type of Chinese cabbage with a bright white stem surrounded by dark green leaves. Baby Bok Choy has a green stem and tends to be a little more tender.
It’s most commonly used in Asian cuisines including stir-fries and soups like ramen, but feel free to add it to salads and slaws. You can also cook Bok Choy on a sheet pan very easily – simply place quartered bok choy on parchment-lined sheet pan and toss with freshly grated ginger and sesame oil. Roast at 350° F until softened and serve with fresh lime wedges. Baby Boy Choy is also delicious grilled – place the quartered Baby Bok Choy on an oiled grill and brush with your favorite Asian-inspired marinate and cook for approximately 4 minutes or until tender.
Baby Bok Choy
Leafy greens are available year-round in the supermarket. Make it a habit to add greens to your grocery basket very time you shop. Produce should be eaten as fresh as possible for maximum quality and nutritional value – greens are no exception. With such vast varieties, it’s time to try a couple new ones!
There’s no question that “You are what you eat”! What we eat and drink affects all of our vital organs—including our skin. Whether you want to prevent or correct skin issues, there are specific foods that are good for your skin!
Your skin is your largest organ and it plays a vital role in your overall health and wellness. It protects what’s inside you by keeping water and nutrients in, while keeping harmful bacteria and viruses out. Your skin helps you maintain your body temperature and makes vitamin D when exposed to the sun. It’s also full of nerve endings to help you sense the outside world and avoid damage from things that are too hot, cold, or sharp.
Skin care isn’t only something we need to do on the outside. Your skin is created and nourished from the inside out. The nutrients you consume on a day-to-day basis affect the way your skin feels and looks. Here is a list of some of the essential nutrients you need to keep your skin in top shape so it can play its many fundamental roles and look its very best.
Foods for your skin
Your skin is a complex organ and needs a variety of different nutrients every day to stay healthy. Here are some of my top recommendations.
You may not always think about water as an essential nutrient, but it is. Water plays many important roles in your body. It’s the main component in your cells and fluids. It allows you to maintain your body temperature and it provides shock absorption for your joints. It’s no wonder that adults are 60% water.
When it comes to our skin, water is just as essential. Your skin has three layers. The outermost layer—the one you see and feel—is called the epidermis. The middle layer is the dermis and underneath that is your hypodermis. When your epidermis doesn’t have enough water, your skin feels rough and loses elasticity. The water your epidermis needs comes from the inside. One clinical study found that when participants who didn’t drink a lot of water increased their intake, their skin became more hydrated and their skin’s “extensibility” improved within 2 weeks. Drinking more water can help skin hydration and may be particularly beneficial if you have dry skin or don’t drink enough water.
How much water do you need every day? According to the Mayo Clinic, women should aim for 2.7 L (11.5 cups) of fluids per day, while men should aim for 3.7 L (15.5 cups) per day. Note that these fluids can come from drinking water or other beverages, and can even come from water-rich foods like soups, fruits, and vegetables. Your personal water needs may be higher if you sweat a lot (from physical activity or living in a hot, humid environment), if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you are prone to urinary or digestive tract conditions (kidney stones, vomiting, diarrhea).
Protein is an essential macronutrient which means you need quite a bit of it every day (more than with micronutrients like vitamins where you need much smaller amounts every day). Protein makes up parts of your cells, immune system antibodies, and the enzymes needed for thousands of reactions (including digestion). Your body’s main structure is also made from proteins. This includes your bones, muscles, organs . . . and skin. Different proteins are made by combining different building blocks called amino acids.
Your skin is made up of several different proteins. For example, collagen and elastin are very plentiful and build up the structure of your skin. Over time, and with exposure to the elements, your body’s ability to produce collagen decreases. Keratin is another important protein in your skin. Keratin makes up the outer epidermis layer giving it rigidity and enhancing its barrier protection.
Food That Is Good For Your Skin
The recommended daily amount of protein is based on your body weight. For every 20 lbs you weigh you should try to get just over 7 grams of protein each day. This means a person who weighs 140 lbs needs about 50 g protein/day, while someone who weighs 200 lbs would need about 70 g protein/day. Protein is found in meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs. Plant-based sources of protein include soy, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and even vegetables like corn, broccoli, and asparagus.
Essential fatty acids
There are two types of fatty acids that are essential nutrients for our health and our skin. They are linoleic acid (omega-6) and linolenic acid (omega-3). Omega-3 fatty acids in particular are antiinflammatory and have been linked to many health benefits including improvements in rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, heart disease, and psoriasis, to name a few.
A higher intake of linoleic acid is associated with lower levels of skin dryness and thinning as skin ages. On the other hand, a lack of fatty acids is linked to increased water loss from the skin, drying it out and causing weakness in the protective outer barrier.
You can get these essential fatty acids from eating fish (salmon, tuna), shellfish, nuts (walnuts), seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame), oils (soy, canola), leafy vegetables, and avocados.
Food That Is Good For Your Skin
Essential fatty acids are also available in fish oil supplements which may contain additional vitamins and minerals. When buying nutritional supplements, especially fish oil (beware of potential mercury contamination) it is critical to choose reputable brands and the proper dosages. Check out my Wellness Store if you wish to purchase professional brands, only available through health professionals. I offer my readers 15% off their orders to make high quality supplements more affordable.
Vitamin C is an essential nutrient and has several functions including making other nutrients more absorbable and available. It is a water-soluble antioxidant vitamin that plays many roles in your body, including in skin health.
A deficiency of Vitamin C (scurvy) results in skin lesions, as well as skin that is easily bruised and slow to heal. This is, in part, because of Vitamin C’s role in stabilizing the protein collagen. Another sign of Vitamin C deficiency in the skin affects hair follicles and can cause “corkscrew hairs.” These are examples of why Vitamin C is so important for skin health.
Food That Is Good For Your Skin
Every day you should aim for at least 75 mg of Vitamin C. Fruits and vegetables are rich sources In particular, bell peppers, citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits), broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, kiwis, blackcurrants, potatoes, rose hip, and parsley.
Vitamin E is a group of essential vitamins called tocopherols. They are fat-soluble antioxidants that work synergistically with Vitamin C. When given together, vitamins C and E (and zinc) can speed up wound healing. Deficiency of Vitamin E is linked to red, dry skin.
Vitamin E is often applied directly (topically) on the skin to reduce redness and some of the effects of sun damage. Ingesting Vitamin E helps the skin from the inside by protecting collagen and fats from breaking down. One clinical study successfully improved symptoms of dermatitis (skin inflammation) in participants who took Vitamin E supplements over the course of several months.
Food That Is Good For Your Skin
The recommended daily allowance for Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) is 15 mg. You can get Vitamin E in vegetables, oils (wheat germ oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil), nuts (almonds, hazelnuts), spinach, broccoli, corn, kiwis, and soy.
Skin care beyond nutrition
While nutrition is essential, and I’ve covered my top 5 recommendations above, don’t forget other important skin care practices that help protect and nurture your skin. Refer to my earlier blog post to learn how a daily routine with the correct products can give you beautiful skin.
Use gentle cleansers and warm (not too hot) water to keep skin clean
Moisturize after taking a shower or washing your hands
Avoid things that bother your skin such as harsh cleansers, fragrances, and irritating fabrics
If you have allergies or intolerances (e.g., to gluten or pollen), avoid those
Limit your sun exposure and use sunscreen as appropriate
Be physically active
Try to get enough quality sleep
Use a humidifier and wear gloves when the weather is dry and cold
The nutrients you consume feed your whole body—including your skin. As your largest organ with many critical roles, your skin needs a variety of different nutrients every single day. Water, protein and essential fatty acids are important macronutrients. While the antioxidant vitamins C and E are among some of the micronutrients your skin needs to heal and stay healthy.
In addition to nutrition, caring for the outside of your skin is also important. Using gentle cleansers, warm water, and moisturizers, and avoiding irritants and allergens will help. If you have any medical concerns with your skin, see your healthcare professional.
Food allergies and sensitivities are soaring to an epidemic proportion! Over 32 million Americans have a serious and potentially life-threatening food allergy. That number explodes to nearly 85 million people impacted when you include those with food sensitivities and intolerances.
May is Allergy Awareness Month and there is no better time to learn more about food allergies to help yourself and those you love.
My 2 children both have serious allergies to egg and peanuts since day one. It required lifelong learning for our family to manage their diet. I accepted the challenge of reading every food label in the grocery store, making all our meals from scratch, and baking every birthday cake . As a result, our kids grew up on minimal amount of processed food and mostly healthy home-made meals. There is a silver lining if you can look beyond the often cloudy picture of an allergen-free diet.
Food Allergies vs Food Sensitivities
Food allergies and sensitivities have a range of severity and mechanism. Food allergy is an immunologic response that shows immediate symptoms within minutes to several hours after consuming the allergen. In many cases, it can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. On the other hand, food sensitivity is a non-immunologic response to food and the symptoms may appear over a period of days. The range of manifestations may include stomach pain, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, brain fog, headache, skin rash, muscle/join pain, fatigue and insomnia. For those of us who are affected, it can be very frustrating to pinpoint the foods that are causing the problem. Be sure to consult a qualified health practitioner to help you with diagnosis and treatment.
How to manage your diet
Whether you have food allergies, sensitivities or intolerances, it is necessary to avoid the problem foods to feel well. The first step is to determine what food ingredients you need to eliminate from your diet. This may be done by food allergy (IgE) or food sensitivity (IgG) testing by your doctor or the use of an elimination diet with the help of a Registered Dietitian. The next step is to learn to recognize what food is safe to eat by deciphering food labels and sourcing trusted food companies that make allergy-friendly food.
These eight foods account for 90 percent of all food allergy reactions:
Peanuts Tree nuts (cashews, pecans, walnuts, etc.) Milk Egg Wheat Soy Fish (halibut, salmon, etc.) Shellfish (crab, lobster, shrimp, crayfish). Not including mollusks (oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, squid)
Avoiding these food allergens is not easy because they are often found in prepared dishes or hidden in processed and packaged foods in different forms. It is key to learn all you can about your problem food including its various names and derivatives, so you can detect them. Some examples of the not-so-common names are sodium caseinate (milk), semolina (wheat), albumin (egg), and lecithin (soy). You can learn more about these common allergens and how to avoid them at www. foodallergyawareness.org.
Sharpen your food shopping skills
According to FDA food labeling law, manufacturers must list all food ingredients in descending order of concentration. In addition, The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) requires these 8 most common allergens be declared on the food label. Under the Food Allergy Safety, Treatment, Education, and Research (FASTER) Act of 2021, sesame is being added as the 9th major food allergen effective January 1, 2023.
Although these labeling regulations are extremely helpful to consumers, they only cover a fraction of the 160+ foods identified to cause food allergies in sensitive individuals.
Best practices for buying allergen-free foods
Avoid highly processed foods. Less is more here – fewer the ingredients the better!
Never buy packaged food without an ingredient list.
Don’t buy any food with ingredients unknown to you.
Read food labels carefully, including foods you have purchased before. Food manufacturers may change their ingredients without warning.
Beware of general and non-specific ingredient terms, such as natural flavoring which may contain allergens unless you know the ingredient used in the flavoring.
Don’t just go with claims on the label. Phrases such as “peanut-free” and “egg-free” are not regulated by law. Be sure the allergen is not on the ingredient list.
Beware of cross-contamination. Allergen-free products could still be made in facilities where the allergens are present. Always check with the manufacturer if you are unsure.
Be careful with imported foods. They may not comply with domestic food labeling laws.
Happy Earth Day! What lifestyle changes are you making to help save our planet? You might be walking instead of driving to run errands or refashioning and recycling your house decors rather than trashing them. There is no change that is too small to make a difference in our environment!
The earth friendly changes I made consciously this past year include eating more plant-based food and reducing plastic bottles beyond disposable water bottles – think food containers and body care packaging. Eating more plant-based is not only better for the earth but it’s better for the body. Shifting to a plant-based diet contributes greatly to the reduction of greenhouse-gas emission. According to an Oxford University study, people who eat more than 0.1 kg (3.5 oz) of meat per day—about the size of a hamburger patty—generate 7.2 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) each day, while vegetarians and vegans generate 3.8 kg and 2.9 kg of CO2e, respectively. That means you can reduce your carbon foot print by more than 50% by eating a meatless meal. Just like any lifestyle change, it’s not easy to switch to a meatless diet overnight. You don’t have to go vegan if that’s not your thing. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Think of it as a sliding scale – the more plants you eat instead of meat the less CO2e is produced – and make that shift gradually!
As I push forward with my quest for a more plant-based diet, I want to share with you some of my flavorful and interesting ways to incorporate more grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables into everyday meals. If you want a step-by-step guide to show you how to transition to a plant-based diet, you can get click the link to get my free e-book.
Have some fun making the shift to a plant-based diet
1. Explore some new plant-based foods
Try a new vegetable weekly. Don’t be intimidated just because you haven’t tasted or cooked it before. Check out your weekly farmer’s market for inspiration.
Buy fresh and seasonal to add interest and variety to your meals. Avoid processed plant-based food.
Experiment with high protein grains such as kamut, quinoa, spelt, teff, millet, and wild rice. They are easier to cook than you think. If you know how to cook rice, you can cook other grains.
2. Discover new seasonings
Use chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, and dill to flavor your grains
Add nuts and seeds to vegetables and grains for texture and taste.
Try spices from around the globe. You can learn a lot about cooking with spices from visiting a spice shop. If you don’t have one near you, try Oaktown Spice Shop (one of my fave) and they will ship your order to your door.
Sauce it up with tahini, hummus, sriracha, pesto, etc to heighten the flavor.
3. Learn new cooking techniques
Checkout Instagram and YouTube for cooking demos to learn various cooking techniques.
Invest in a couple good cookbooks. One of my favorite cookbook by a fellow dietitian is Vegetable Cookbook for Vegetarians. It’s a perfect book for newcomers to the adventure land of vegetables. There are 200 recipes from artichokes to zucchini so you can be sure to find something new to try!
For plant-forward global recipes, I recommend Spicebox Kitchen, a new cookbook released in March, 2021 that throws a healthy twist to traditional recipes, such as whole wheat onion pancakes.
My Cooking Demo – an easy delicious plant-based meal