How to Manage Fibromyalgia Symptoms

Fibromyalgia is one of the most common chronic pain conditions. Although there’s no cure at this time, we do know that self-care is very effective in managing Fibromyalgia symptoms and minimizing the impact on daily life. 

Individuals with Fibromyalgia experience pain or tenderness that is very sensitive to the touch and in greater intensity than others, even under gentle pressure. Therefore, Fibromyalgia is considered to be a “pain regulation” or “neurosensory” disorder.

The pain can happen just about anywhere throughout the body, and lasts for days, weeks, months, or longer. It can also come and go throughout the body in “flares” and it often occurs along with stiffness, fatigue, “fibro fog,” and mental health issues. It can sometimes feel debilitating and cause a lot of distress.

In the U.S., it’s estimated that up to 7.7 percent of women and 4.9 percent of men experience fibromyalgia. These rates are higher than in Europe or South America. 

Researchers still don’t know exactly what causes fibromyalgia, but it does not seem to be the result of physical damage to the bones, joints, or muscles. The pain may be triggered and worsened by infections, injury, inflammation, or emotional stress. Fibromyalgia tends to occur in families, however no specific genes have yet been found that predispose someone to getting it.

Typical symptoms of fibromyalgia

Some of the common symptoms of fibromyalgia include

  • Pain or tenderness in the muscles, soft tissues, and/or bones throughout the body (muscle pain, joint pain), including the arms, legs, head, chest, abdomen, back, and buttocks
  • Numbness or tingling in the arms and legs
  • Fatigue, inability to get a good night’s sleep, restless leg syndrome, feeling stiff upon waking up
  • “Fibro fog” (memory problems, confusion, inability to pay close attention or concentrate)
  • Headaches (migraines, tension headaches)
  • Pain in the face or jaw, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome
  • Increased sensitivity to light, odors, noise, and temperature
  • Mental health issues (anxiety, depression)
  • Gut ssues (bloating, constipation, IBS, GERD, difficulty swallowing)
  • Painful menstrual periods
  • Overactive bladder, pelvic pain

The risk for fibromyalgia is higher in people who experience other conditions such as chronic back pain, lupus, polymyalgia rheumatica, spondyloarthritis, osteoarthritis, inflammatory myopathy, systemic inflammatory arthropathies, hypothyroidism, endometriosis, and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). It is also possible to experience several of these at the same time. Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose because there isn’t a definitive test for it, however your doctor will likely do a physical exam and medical tests to try to determine which of these you may be experiencing.

Nutrition and fitness strategies to deal with fibromyalgia

There are many things that you can do to help alleviate these symptoms and reduce the impact of fibromyalgia on your life. The first thing is to know that even though it’s difficult to diagnose and doesn’t have a definitive test, fibromyalgia is a real disease and research is being done to try to better understand and eventually cure it. 

While there isn’t a cure just yet, there are ways to manage fibromyalgia symptoms and self-care plays an important role in reducing its impact. According to the American College of Rheumatology, “patient self-care is vital to improving symptoms and daily function. In concert with medical treatment, healthy lifestyle behaviors can reduce pain, increase sleep quality, lessen fatigue, and help you cope better with fibromyalgia.”

Exercise

While more research is underway, physical exercise is currently considered to be the most effective treatment for fibromyalgia. Cardiovascular fitness training (“cardio”) can ease symptoms by helping with pain and improving sleep. Ideally, doing 30 minutes of cardio three times each week is recommended. Low-impact exercises like walking, biking, stretching, yoga, tai chi, and water-based exercises are helpful. If regular exercise is new for you or feels like a lot, simply start low and go slow to create a comfortable routine. It may take time to build up your endurance and the intensity of physical activity that you can do.

Photo by nextbike on Pexels.com

Nutrition

Eating a healthy and nutritious diet is also highly recommended. While there currently isn’t a huge amount of strong evidence to recommend one comprehensive dietary strategy to help with fibromyalgia symptoms, a few small studies show promising results for the following nutrition recommendations:

  • If you are low in vitamin D, taking a supplement can help reduce fibromyalgia pain. As with any nutrition supplement, ensure you are buying yours from a reputable source. Check out professional brands recommended by doctors and nutritionists in my wellness store
  • Additional supplements that may help include Chlorella green algae, Coenzyme Q10, acetyl-L-carnitine, magnesium, iron, vitamins C and E, probiotics, and Nigella sativa (Black cumin) seeds.
  • Different types of elimination diets have helped different people, such as the vegetarian diet (eliminates meat, poultry, and fish), vegan diet (eliminates all animal products including dairy and eggs), the low FODMAP diet (reduces intake of short-chain carbohydrates that are fermentable oligo-di-mono-saccharides and polyols), a low calorie diet (reduces calorie intake), gluten-free diet (eliminates the protein gluten), or a diet free from both MSG (monosodium glutamate) and aspartame (an artificial sweetener).
  • Reducing inflammation will provide some pain relief. An anti-inflammatory diet has been demonstrated to be effective for many people in my clinical practice.
  • The Mediterranean diet has been shown to decrease fatigue and improve moods.
  • The replacement of some foods may also help, including replacing non-olive oil fats with olive oil and replacing non-ancient grains with ancient grains such as Khorasan wheat, also known as Kamut. 
Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

This is a long list of potential dietary strategies and more research is needed. Because many of these should not be combined together, it’s wise to approach these dietary changes cautiously and work with a registered dietitian who is knowledgeable in dealing with your symptoms and can work with you to choose the best path forward.

Lifestyle tips to deal with fibromyalgia symptoms

Improving sleep patterns and sleep hygiene can also be very helpful if you’re dealing with fibromyalgia. For example, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day and limit stimulants like caffeine and nicotine as much as possible, especially in the evenings. Establish a relaxing nightly routine that may include reduced screen time, dimmed lights, soft music, meditation, and a warm bath. Also, keep your bedroom comfortable for sleeping by keeping it dark, quiet, and cool. If you suspect you may have a sleep disorder such as sleep apnea, reach out to your healthcare provider.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Managing stress and moods can also help relieve symptoms. If you experience symptoms of fibromyalgia, pace yourself and balance your need to work and rest by taking breaks when necessary. Also, make time to relax each day and try deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, mindfulness, and stress reduction techniques. If you feel lonely or isolated, consider joining a support group that you find to be positive and encouraging—one that shares helpful coping techniques. Cognitive behavioral therapy with a therapist or counselor may help by focusing on how thoughts and behaviors affect pain and other symptoms. If you have any mental health concerns such as anxiety or depression, seek out professional help.

Final Thoughts

Fibromyalgia is a complex condition of chronic widespread pain. It’s thought to result from the brain becoming more sensitive to pain signals, as if even a small signal becomes amplified and feels much stronger. In addition to the pain, people with fibromyalgia tend to also have difficulty sleeping and experience fatigue, stiffness, changing moods, and “fibro fog.”

The American College of Rheumatology recommends that you “look forward, not backward. Focus on what you need to do to get better, not what caused your illness.” Self-care is the mainstay for improving symptoms of fibromyalgia. Current research suggests that the most effective treatment is physical activity. In addition to that, there are several dietary and lifestyle strategies that can help, including certain diets and supplements, improving sleep, and managing stress.


Improve Your Mood With Brain Food

Imagine if eating differently could elevate your moods or improve your brain and mental health. It can! Or if reducing stress can also reduce gut symptoms . It does!

The gut and brain are interconnected more than we previously thought—new research is proving it. These discoveries have huge potential to help people with gut issues by improving brain health. At the same time, improving gut health can help people with brain or mood issues.

Sounds interesting? Learn all about the gut-brain axis and how you can leverage this new research to improve your gut and brain.

Your gut is partially controlled by your brain

Gut disorders can cause pain, bloating, or other discomfort. They impact over 35 percent of people at some point in life—affecting women more than men. Many times, these gut issues don’t have an apparent or easily diagnosable physical cause, so they can be difficult to treat and find relief from.

We already knew that our brains control some of our digestive processes. For example, research has found that even thinking about eating can cause the stomach to release juices to get itself ready for food. Your gut is also sensitive to emotions. You may recall a time when you felt anxious and nauseous or felt “knots” or “butterflies” in your stomach. 

Several studies show that stress may be an important—often overlooked—reason for gut issues. According to Harvard Health, “Stress can trigger and worsen gastrointestinal pain and other symptoms, and vice versa.”

This is why it’s so important to look at your stress and emotions if you have gut issues. Many studies have found that stress reduction techniques can lead to greater improvement in gut symptoms compared to conventional medical treatment alone. 

Before I go over how to do this, let’s take a closer look at the biology behind the gut-brain axis.

Your nervous systems

There are two main parts of your “main” nervous system. One is the part that we can consciously control, like when we move our muscles to walk around, chew our food, or play with our kids. This is called the somatic nervous system.

The other part of our nervous system controls all of those things that we can’t control, but need to survive. These include processes that happen automatically in the background: breathing, heart beating, sweating, or shivering. This part of the nervous system is called the autonomic nervous system because it works automatically.

The autonomic system regulates our body’s functions by either speeding things up or slowing them down. When things are sped up, like when our “fight or flight” reactions kick in, this is done by the sympathetic part. We feel this happening when we sense danger – real or not – and get stressed. Our heart beats faster and we breathe heavier. We’re preparing to fight or flee, so our body focuses on ensuring our muscles get enough blood and oxygen to work hard.

Slowing things down, on the other hand, is done by the parasympathetic part. This happens when we’re relaxing or after the danger has passed and we start to calm down. It allows our heart, lungs, muscles and our digestive systems do their jobs much better. In this phase, we’re secreting more digestive juices to break down food, therefore absorbing more nutrients, as well as lowering levels of inflammation in our gut. That’s why this is called the “rest and digest” phase.

Both of these arms of the autonomic nervous system—the sympathetic and parasympathetic—interact with the gut. This means that when our body is stressed we can experience gut symptoms and when we’re relaxed our digestion does what it’s meant to do. 

Your gut is your “second brain”

In addition to your “main” nervous system, your gut has its own nervous system called the enteric nervous system. The enteric nervous system spans your whole digestive tract from your esophagus, along your stomach, intestines, and colon. This nervous system is sometimes referred to as the “second brain” because it works in the same way that the “main” one does. It has 100 million nerve cells (called neurons) that communicate with each other using biochemicals called neurotransmitters.

Your enteric nervous system gets input from both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, so it can speed up or slow down when it has to. It also has a “mind” of its own and can function independently of them.

This complex system is important because of how complex our digestive processes are. For example, after we eat, the neurons in our enteric system tell the muscle cells of the stomach and intestines to contract to move food along to the next part. As our gut does this, our enteric nervous system uses neurotransmitters to communicate with the central nervous system.

Your enteric nervous system is also very closely linked to your immune system. This is because a lot of bacteria can enter the body through the mouth and end up in the gut. You have a large immune presence there to help fight them off before they become a larger problem and infect other parts of the body. The cells of the immune system provide another path for the gut to communicate up to the brain. They relay information like when they detect an infection or when your stomach is bloated, so your brain knows, too.

Even the friendly gut microbes (gut microbiota) that help us digest and make certain nutrients play a role in communicating with the brain. They make neurotransmitters, some of which are known to influence our moods.

The gut-brain axis

This intimate and complex connection between your gut and brain is called the gut-brain axis. And we now know that the signals go in both directions: from your brain down to your gut, and from your gut up to your brain.

This is where we see the link between digestive issues and brain, stress, and mood issues.

When someone is stressed enough that they get into the “fight or flight” reaction, digestion slows right down to allow the muscles to fight or flee. The same physical reaction appears whether the stress is from a real threat or a perceived one. This means that your body reacts the same whether you’re facing a real life-threatening situation or whether you’re super-stressed about a looming deadline. This disruption of the digestive process can cause pain, nausea, or other related issues.

Meanwhile, it’s known that experiencing strong or frequent digestive issues can increase your stress levels and moods. People with depression and anxiety have more GI symptoms, and vice versa.

How stress and emotions affect your gut

Because of these strong connections between the gut and brain, it’s easy to see how stress and other emotions can affect the gut. Things like fear, sadness, anger, or feeling anxious or depressed are often felt in the digestive systems. When they cause our digestive systems to speed up (or slow down) too much, this can influence pain and bloating. It can also allow bacteria to cross the lining of the gut and get into the bloodstream, activating our immune systems. It can increase inflammation in the gut or even change the microbiota.

This is why stress and strong emotions can contribute to or worsen a number of digestive issues such as Crohn’s disease, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or food allergies or sensitivities.

Then, these gut issues are communicated to the brain, increasing the stress response and affecting our moods. This loop of stress and gut issues leads to a vicious cycle.

New research shows that changes to the gut’s inflammation or microbiome can strongly affect many other parts of the body as well—not just the brain and mood. They’re also associated with depression and heart disease.

How to eat and de-stress for better gut and brain health

What you eat can have a huge impact on your health. This is particularly true when it comes to the microbiome. Your gut health improves when you eat a higher-fiber, more plant-based diet. That’s because it provides your friendly gut microbes with their preferred foods so they can grow and thrive. Probiotic foods that include health promoting bacteria are also recommended. Reducing the amount of sugar and red meat you eat can also help. These can lead to a healthier microbiome by helping to maintain a diverse community of many species of microbes to maximize your health. They can also lower the level of gut inflammation, as well as reduce the risk of depression and heart disease.

Photo by ANTONI SHKRABA on Pexels.com

For better gut and brain/mental health:

Eat More: Eat Less:
Fruits and VegetablesSugar
Nuts and SeedsRed Meat
Whole grainsProcessed breads and cereals
Fermented foods
e.g. miso, sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, yogurt
Artificial sweeteners

What about stress? Evidence suggests that some stress reduction techniques or psychotherapy may help people who experience gut issues. They can lower the sympathetic “fight or flight” response, enhance the parasympathetic “rest and digest” response, and even reduce inflammation. 

Photo by Valeria Ushakova on Pexels.com

Some of the stress-reduction techniques I love and recommend are:

  • Guided meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Mindfulness
  • Relaxation
  • Hypnosis
  • Yoga

Your gut, brain, and mood will thank you!

Final thoughts

Our bodies are complex and interact with other parts on so many different levels. The gut-brain axis is a prime example. Research shows that what we eat not only improves the gut and overall health, but also brain and mental health. Not to mention that several stress-reduction techniques have been shown to reduce digestive illness and distress as well.

If you want a meal plan to help you eat—and enjoy—more of the foods that help your gut, brain, and moods. Use promo code HG50 to save 50% on my digital meal plans . You can customize your the meal plan with hundreds of our deliciously fresh recipes suitable for the whole family to enjoy.

If you have specific medical conditions requiring dietary changes, be sure to consult a registered dietitian who can provide personalized research-based nutrition advice for your health, lifestyle, and goals.


How to reduce inflammation with Diet and Lifestyle

Many diseases are linked to chronic inflammatory. “For chronic low-grade inflammation not caused by a defined illness, lifestyle changes are the mainstay of both prevention and treatment,” says Harvard Health. The good news is that anti-inflammatory foods combined with an active lifestyle can help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of many diseases. In fact, it’s estimated that 60 percent of chronic diseases could be prevented with a healthy diet.

Chronic inflammation is often invisible without immediate or serious symptoms, but over the long-term it’s been linked to many chronic diseases such as:

  • Acne, eczema, and psoriasis
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Autoimmune diseases (arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Gastrointestinal disorders (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Lung diseases (emphysema)
  • Mental illnesses (anxiety, depression)
  • Metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes)
  • Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)

How does chronic inflammation begin? 

It may start acutely—from an infection or injury—and then instead of shutting off, it becomes persistent. Chronic low-grade inflammation can also occur with exposure to chemicals (e.g., tobacco) or radiation, consuming an unhealthy diet or too much alcohol, not being very physically active, feeling stressed or socially isolated, and having excess weight.

Now that we see that inflammation underlies so many of our medical conditions, here’s what to do to put out those slow-burning, smoldering fires.

How to reduce Inflammation

Studies show that reducing inflammation can reduce the risk of several chronic diseases, including heart disease and cancer. There are medications used to help lower inflammation to treat some of these diseases such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics. However, there are also several lifestyle changes—including a healthy diet—that can be very helpful to prevent and scale down inflammation to reduce its many damaging effects on the body. 

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet 

  • Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, oats, bran), nuts (almonds), seeds, fish, poultry, legumes (beans, lentils), and healthy oils (olive oil)
  • Pay particular attention to foods high in antioxidant polyphenols, including colorful plants such as berries, cherries, plums, red grapes, avocados, onions, carrots, beets, turmeric, green tea, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
  • Omega-3 fats can help to reduce pain and clear up inflammation and are found in salmon, trout, mackerel, soy, walnuts, and flax
  • High fiber foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes) encourage friendly gut microbes to help reduce inflammation
  • Avoid charring foods when cooking at high temperatures
  • Limit inflammatory foods such as red and processed meats (lunch meats, hot dogs, hamburgers), fried foods (fries), unhealthy fats (shortening, lard), sugary foods and drinks (sodas, candy, sports drinks), refined carbohydrates (white bread, cookies, pie), and ultra-processed foods (microwaveable dinners, dehydrated soups)

If you need a little help incorporating all these principles into your daily diet, check out Healthydigz’s anti-inflammatory eating plan . You will find weekly menus, delicious recipes, and shopping lists for your customizable meal plan.

Chickpea Quinoa Fritters (plant-based)

Be physically active

  • Regular exercise reduces inflammation over the long-term, so try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (brisk walking) per week; about 20-30 minutes per day
  • To this add two or more strength training sessions (using weights or resistance bands) each week
A person training with resistance band.
Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.com

Get enough restful sleep

  • Disrupted sleep has recently been linked to increased inflammation and atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the vessels that’s linked with heart disease), so aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night to help the body heal and repair
  • Tips for better sleep: try to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule every day, get exposure to natural daylight earlier in the day, avoid caffeine later in the day, cut out screens an hour before bedtime, and create a relaxing nighttime routine

Quit smoking and limit alcohol

  • Quitting smoking can help reduce inflammation and several other health concerns by reducing exposure to toxins that are directly linked to inflammation
  • Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks per day

Manage your stress

  • Engage in relaxing stress-reducing activities such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi
Three women practicing yoga
Photo by Elina Fairytale on Pexels.com

Be social

  • New research suggests that feeling socially isolated is linked with higher levels of inflammation, so reach out to family and friends (or make new ones)

See your doctor or dentist

  • Get your cholesterol and blood lipids tested because high amounts of “bad” LDL cholesterol is linked to inflammation and negatively affects your vessels
  • You can request a blood test to measure levels of CRP (C-reactive protein) which is a marker of inflammation (this test is also used to check your risk of developing heart disease)
  • If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, this may be a sign of gum inflammation (gingivitis), so ramp up your oral hygiene and see your dentist

Final Thoughts

Chronic, long-term, low-level inflammation is linked with many health issues. The first approach to preventing and improving this is through food and lifestyle changes. Start by focusing on adding colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fish to your diet. Then layer in lifestyle upgrades like physical activity, restful sleep, and stress management.

These changes can be integrated into your day-to-day practices. First try adding one additional fruit or vegetable to your day. Then, several times a day at each snack or meal. For inspiration, try recipes from my Anti-inflammatory Meal Plan.

If you’d like a plan designed to help you enjoy more of these anti-inflammatory foods, consult a registered dietitian/nutritionist who can provide personalized research-based nutrition advice for your health, lifestyle, and goals.


How to Detox Naturally

Detoxification is an essential function in the body. Believe it or not, your body can detox naturally if you eat a nutritious diet! You wouldn’t know it with so many variations of commercial detoxes and cleanses and each one is advertised with many health claims and compelling testimonials. The question is: Do they really improve skin and digestion, boost the immune system, increase energy, reduce inflammation, or cure diseases? A lot of the time—even when they don’t explicitly say so—they’re code words for a calorie restricted weight loss diet. 

But, what effect can they really have on your health? How can you use nutrition to support your body’s detoxification naturally without spending money on expensive detox `supplements.

What is detoxification?

Detoxification is your body’s own process for breaking down and eliminating toxins. We are all exposed to toxins every day through food, water, and the air we breathe. Toxins include those naturally found in tiny quantities in foods (e.g., methanol naturally occurs in small amounts in some fruits and vegetables—which are very healthy). There are also synthetic toxins found in medicines, pesticides, and preservatives (e.g., sulfur dioxide is used to preserve some fruits and vegetables). 

In fact, the body makes its own toxins through normal everyday processes like digestion, metabolism, and physical activity (e.g., urea which is excreted in the urine). 

The good news is that your body does a great job breaking down toxins and eliminating them.

Because the world is full of toxins that can affect us, we’ve evolved some pretty sophisticated detoxification systems. Detoxification systems are mainly in the liver, but are also located in the kidneys, gut, etc. They help to make toxins less dangerous and allow them to be excreted mostly through urine and stool and also through breathing and sweating.

What does this have to do with nutrition?

These detoxification systems are made from many biochemicals in our bodies, such as enzymes. Part of what makes enzymes work are key essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals. So, getting quality nutrition helps your body maintain all aspects of your health—including detoxification.

What are “detox diets” and “cleanses”?

Search the internet and you’ll find thousands of website pages and posts on these topics. There are so many different types of detox diets and cleanses being advertised. Many make bold promises of weight loss and improved health. 

Detox diets and cleanses often include at least one of the following:

  • Eating more nutritious foods
  • Reducing [junk/processed/fast] foods
  • Avoiding alcohol and/or caffeine
  • Eliminating some common allergens (e.g., wheat or dairy)
  • Replacing meals with smoothies, juices, teas, or powders
  • Short or long-term fasting
  • Only eating/drinking a handful of recommended foods/beverages
  • Taking several dietary supplements and/or laxatives
  • Getting “colon cleanses” (enemas)

Some of these recommendations seem reasonable and healthy. It’s hard to argue that eating more nutritious foods or reducing processed foods isn’t a good step towards better health. However, some of the more extreme recommendations can pose a risk to people including those with underlying health conditions, children, adolescents, athletes, older adults, or those who are pregnant or breastfeeding. As you can imagine, the more foods you eliminate from your diet, the fewer nutrients you will get. So, one of the risks of extreme diets in the long-term are nutrient deficiencies. As we discussed, it’s counterintuitive to cut out too many foods because there are critical nutrients scientifically proven to be necessary for your body’s natural detoxification enzymes to work efficiently. Nutrition is key!

Another risk with certain detox supplements or teas are serious side effects. You may have heard about cases of unsafe ingredients or contamination that have harmed people.

Overall, there is a lack of good quality research into detox diets and cleanses, as most studies have been conducted on animals, not people. As Dr. Robert H. Schmerling from Harvard Health says, “It’s not even clear what toxin or toxins a cleanse is supposed to remove, or whether this actually happens.”

There’s no evidence that detoxes or cleanses actually help your body eliminate more toxins than it normally does. A few studies show that they can help with initial weight loss, however experts believe that’s due to a reduction in calorie intake. The weight lost is often water and carbohydrate (not fat), so it’s easily regained as soon as the dieting stops. There are no studies of the long-term effects of detox diets or cleanses.

Some people claim to feel better and more energized when they’re on these diets. This may be because they’re eating more nutritious foods and fewer processed foods that are high in salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats.

Having said this, there may be medical conditions for which eliminating certain foods is recommended. For example, if you have a food allergy or intolerance or if you need to be on a low-fiber diet due to digestive issues you have a valid reason for eliminating certain foods. Before jumping into a detox diet or cleanse, it’s best to speak with your healthcare provider first.

Nutrition plays a vital role in your body’s ability to naturally detoxify and eliminate toxins. And you don’t need to follow an overly restrictive or extreme detox diet or cleanse to support them.

How to use nutrition to support your body’s natural detoxification

You probably don’t need to eliminate a long list of foods from your diet. In fact, getting enough of your daily nutrients is what can help ensure your detoxification enzymes have what they need to keep up their ongoing very important work. 

Here are a few simple things you can do every day to “detox” yourself:

  • Don’t unnecessarily expose yourself to toxins in the first place. Avoid things like caffeine, sugar, tobacco and alcohol.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking enough water – this promotes excretion via urine. Use a reverse osmosis water filtration system at home if it fits into your budget.
  • Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables – choose organic if possible. These are great sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber.
  • Include a cruciferous vegetable like broccoli or Brussels sprouts. These contain compounds that help support detoxification pathways.
  • Get enough dietary fiber by eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds. By promoting bowel regularity, these help to eliminate toxins from the body via your poop.
  • Transition to a more plant-based diet will swing your diet towards more high fiber and nutrient-dense foods.
  • Enjoy some naturally fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. These promote digestive health and support your gut microbiome.
  • Consume lean protein. Protein is needed for many things including maintaining optimal levels of a “master” detoxification enzyme called glutathione.
  • Consult with a registered dietitian to see if you may be lacking in any key nutrients. Follow recommendations to eat more or less of a certain food or nutrient or take high-quality supplements if necessary.

Final thought

Nutrition is a key aspect of detoxification. Your body’s own natural detoxification pathways in the liver, kidneys, etc. include many enzymes that require vitamins and minerals to function optimally. By getting enough of your essential vitamins and minerals, you’re supplying your detox enzymes what they need to work.

Detoxification diets or cleanses that you see advertised online tend to overpromise. They often oversell their abilities to improve health. There are almost no quality human studies showing benefits and there are no long-term studies. I recommend speaking with your healthcare professional before embarking on a detox diet or cleanse. If you are looking to lose weight, consider a nutritious and varied diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, reduced portion sizes, and be active every day.

If you have questions about diets, nutrition, detoxification, or weight loss consult a registered dietitian who can provide personalized research-based nutrition advice for your health, lifestyle, and goals.


How does intermittent fasting work

You may have tried many different diets that claim to help with weight loss and disease prevention: low-fat, low-carb, ketogenic, paleo, whole 30, vegetarian, vegan, DASH, Mediterranean, MIND, etc. Yet, still not getting the results you want. Let’s explore one of the latest trends: intermittent fasting, and see how it works and if it works.

You may be used to eating three meals every day, plus snacks. That’s pretty common. With intermittent fasting you can essentially eat how much of whatever you want—but here’s the catch: you have to stay on schedule. With intermittent fasting there are scheduled periods of time when you can eat and others when you have to fast. Unlike most other diets, intermittent fasting tells you when to eat, not what to eat.

And, many people say that it can help lead you to better health and a longer life.

Sound interesting? Let’s dive into some of the pros and cons of intermittent fasting and see if it works for you.

How to intermittently fast

Most of the diets that help achieve weight loss work by reducing the number of calories consumed. Intermittent fasting does the same thing, but in a different way. This way of eating significantly limits calories (requiring fasting) for certain durations of time (intermittently), while allowing little or no restrictions the rest of the time. 

Intermittent fasting essentially means skipping meals on a regular basis, sometimes daily, weekly, or monthly. Here are a few different approaches:

  • Time-restricted feeding—Having all of your meals during an 8 to 12 hour window each day, drinking only water the rest of the day.
  • Alternate day fasting—Eating normally one day but only a minimal amount of calories the next; alternating between “feast” days and “fast” days.
  • 5:2 eating pattern—Consuming meals regularly for five days per week, then restricting to no more than 600 calories per day for the other two. This happens by eating very little and drinking only water on those two fasting days. 
  • Periodic fasting—Caloric intake is restricted for several consecutive days and unrestricted on all other days. For example, fasting for five straight days per month.

Benefits of intermittent fasting

Studies show that intermittent fasting can achieve weight loss. The success is similar to other diets. Yes, similar—not necessarily better. 

Overall, research on the effect of intermittent fasting on people’s health is still emerging as to whether it can also prevent disease or slow down aging, in addition to weight loss.

Most of the research on calorie restriction and intermittent fasting have been conducted in cells (e.g., yeasts), rodents, and even monkeys. Some, but not all of these studies show it may help to build exercise endurance, immune function, and live longer. It also seems to help resist some diseases like diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and Alzheimer’s. 

When it comes to clinical studies (those done in people) on intermittent fasting, most have been pretty short—a few months or less. But, what we know so far is that it may help with markers of inflammation (C-reactive protein), diabetes (blood glucose levels and insulin sensitivity), and help to reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol.

When it comes to weight loss, intermittently fasting seems to work just as well—not better—than other diets. Researchers think that eating this way decreases appetite for some people by slowing down the body’s metabolism. With a smaller appetite, you simply eat less and that is going to help you lose weight. Other people who intermittently fast struggle with and are much more uncomfortable during the fasting days, and some animal studies show that when they were allowed to eat as much as they wanted, many overate.

What about extending the lifespan of humans? Those studies haven’t been done yet, so we simply don’t know the effects of intermittent fasting on our lifespan.

How intermittent fasting affects health

Naturally, our bodies have survival mechanisms allowing us to adjust to periods of fasting. This has been necessary, as throughout history, humans have endured many periods where food was scarce. 

What happens when we don’t take in sufficient calories is that our body starts using up stored carbohydrates called glycogen. The liver stores enough glycogen to last about 12 to 16 hours before it runs out of fuel. Beyond 16 hours, the body switches fuels and begins to use fat as an energy source.

At this time, our metabolism shifts from a carbohydrate-burning state to a fat-burning state. Some of the fat is used directly as fuel, while some is metabolized into biochemicals called ketones. This new fat-burning metabolic state is called ketosis. The state of ketosis brings on other changes throughout the body. It’s these changes that are thought to underlie some of the health benefits seen with intermittent fasting.

Ketones are a more efficient source of energy for our bodies than glucose is and so they can help keep many of our cells working well even during periods of fasting. This is particularly true for brain cells and this may be part of the reason some animal studies show protection against age-related declines like Alzheimer’s.

Ketones may also help to ward off some cancers and inflammatory diseases like arthritis. They are also thought to reduce the amount of insulin in the blood which may help protect against type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, too many ketones may be harmful, so more research is needed to better understand the links between fasting, ketones, and health.

On a molecular level, intermittent fasting may extend lifespan in animals because of its effect on the DNA in our genes. Over time as we age, the way our genes are switched on and off changes. It appears that, in animals, restricting calories may slow down these age-related changes and help them to live a bit longer.

More research is underway to better understand the effect of fasting on these biological processes.

Before you start intermittently fasting

As with all major dietary changes, be sure to discuss it with your healthcare professional. 

Before considering intermittent fasting, know that there are certain conditions that can make it dangerous. For example, if you have diabetes you need to eat regularly to maintain your blood sugar levels, so fasting is not recommended. Also, if you’re taking certain medications like diuretics for high blood pressure or heart disease, intermittent fasting increases your risk for electrolyte abnormalities.

Intermittent fasting is also not recommended for anyone who is under 18, has a history of eating disorders or anyone who may be pregnant or breastfeeding.

Of course whenever you change your diet you may experience side effects. Some side effects of people who restrict their calories or start intermittently fasting include fatigue, weakness, headache, reductions in sexual interest, and a reduced ability to maintain body temperature in cold environments.

Beyond the health risks and side effects, fasting is simply hard to do voluntarily—especially when it’s for two or more days. Some people may have a natural tendency to indulge too much on their “feast” days which can negate some of the benefits of fasting.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “More research will be needed to determine the long-term impact of the diet on human health and provide information on when and how such a diet might be applied.”

Nutrition tips for intermittent fasting

Intermittent fasting can be hard. One thing that can help is having a social support network—especially for those days when you’re fasting.

Although the premise of intermittent fasting is to restrict when you eat, not what you eat, the quality of your food choices is still very important. Regardless of your eating style and preferences, you still need all of your essential nutrients. Intermittent fasting is not a good reason to eat a lot of the high-calorie nutrient-poor foods we all sometimes crave. I recommend eating adequate amounts of lean proteins, healthy fats, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Also, avoid too many sugars and refined grains. Follow a Meal plan with nutritious foods of appropriate amounts will definitely maximize your chance of success with any intermittent fasting approach you choose.

Final Consideration

The main reason for any dietary change is to have a sustainable and healthy lifestyle that helps you meet your health goals. Whether you’re looking to lose weight or prevent disease, intermittent fasting is one eating style that may work for you. The most important thing with any diet is to get all of your essential nutrients, appropriate amounts of food, and enjoy your lifestyle in the long run.

Any diet or eating pattern that helps some people may not have the same effect on everyone. That’s why it’s important to not make any significant dietary changes without consulting your healthcare professional or a registered dietitian. 


Simple Strategies for Better Wellness

Wellness isn’t just a buzzword; it’s the foundation of a good life. By focusing on your wellbeing, you improve your health, reduce the impact of stress, and set yourself up for a more satisfying life.

For many people, improving their health and wellness seems impossible. However, with the right strategies, it’s much easier than it may appear. If you aren’t sure where to begin, here are some simple ways to achieve better wellness.

Start Moving

Most adults need 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity or 75 to 150 minutes of high-intensity exercise each week. While you can do this with longer sweat sessions, breaking the time down into 10-minute intervals also works. So, if you’re struggling to cram exercise into your day, focus on fitting in 10-minute sessions wherever you can, as that might feel more manageable.

It also helps to pursue exercise that you will enjoy. Explore Our Indian Culture’s dance classes for Indian dance lessons and workshops that will have you having fun while breaking a sweat.

Eat Healthier

Not to minimize the dollars and effort required to maintain healthy eating, but good food pays off. It has been proven that diet is linked to preventable diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Unhealthy diet contributes to approximately 678,000 deaths each year in the U.S.

With the ever-evolving diet trends, choosing healthy foods can be confusing. It helps to find a trusted source of information from a credentialed professional like a Registered Dietitian.  

You can start by trying delicious new foods while boosting your immunity. With some creativity and an open mind, you’ll discover lots of ways to eat healthy on a budget.

Sushi Bowl

Get Quality Shuteye

In general, adults need at least 7 hours of quality sleep every day. By sleeping that long, you can have enough sleep cycles to ensure specific body processes can happen, ensuring your muscles, brain, nervous system, and more are able to repair and recover from the day.

Ideally, you want to make sure you give yourself enough time every day to get the sleep you need. Additionally, if you have any sleep disorder symptoms, seeing a doctor is essential. With a sleep disorder, you might not be getting the quality rest you need. By scheduling a medical appointment with your physician, you can get an assessment of your situation and create a treatment strategy that can help.

Schedule Some Me-Time

When your life is busy, it’s normal to focus on other people’s needs. You might prioritize your family or work over yourself, and while that’s okay on occasion, it can be detrimental to your wellbeing if you never come first in your own life.

Photo by Samuel Theo Manat Silitonga on Pexels.com

Scheduling some me-time is critical for your wellbeing. It lets you focus on yourself, giving you a chance to do things that you enjoy. With regular me-time, you’ll have more energy, reduce stress, and have an easier time being at your best. Not only is that good for you, but also it ensures you can be there for others, making it a win-win.

Reduce Job Stress

On a typical workday, you spend about a third of your time at your job if you work full-time. If you aren’t happy while working, the fact that your overall well-being suffers shouldn’t be a surprise.

When your job isn’t challenging, you may become bored and frustrated. If your workplace is toxic or your workload is unmanageable, that could lead to feelings of depression, anxiety, or burnout, all of which can harm your wellbeing.

In some cases, the best thing you can do for yourself is to plan your exit. By moving forward with a career change, you can start in a role that ignites your passion, keeps you engaged, and brings you a new level of satisfaction.

If you already have the skills you need for a new job, you may simply need to launch a job search. If you don’t, then signing up for an online degree program could be an excellent move. With an online college, you get a flexible approach to education that can put you on the path toward something better, in business, IT, and many other fields. Then, once you’re done, you can begin your new career with ease.


Contributor: Scott Sanders,  www.cancerwell.org


A Guide to Successful Gluten-free Baking

Baking is a science. Unlike traditional wheat-based flours, gluten-free flours typically require additional ingredients that contribute to successful gluten-free baking when it comes to binding, texture, and structure (due to the absence of gluten). Each flour has a different flavor, texture, and nutritional attributes. Understanding the personality of each gluten-free flour will help you choose the most suitable one for your recipe. 

Before we get into the types of gluten-free options and how to make DIY flour blends, let me answer a few basic gluten-free baking questions.

What is Gluten?

Gluten is a type of protein found in some grains that provides structure in baked goods. The most common gluten-containing grains include wheat, barley, and rye. It’s also found In relatives of wheat like spelt and kamut.

Can I just substitute a gluten-free flour for all-purpose in my favorite recipes?

It might be tempting to sub a gluten-free flour for all-purpose 1:1 and hope for the best! However there’s a good chance it might not turn out quite right. Some baked goods are more forgiving than others. Use the information below to determine if and when you need to alter amount and/or add ingredients like starches or binders.

How will gluten-free flour affect the baking time?

Most gluten-free baked goods will require a longer baking time to prevent a gummy, mushy texture. The reason? More liquid. The “toothpick test” isn’t the best indicator of doneness so make sure your oven is calibrated properly and use the time instead.

What about store-bought gluten-free flour? 

Some popular flour companies now make 1:1 gluten-free baking flour blends that already have a proper mix of flours and starches (like xanthan gum). It’s a great option in a pinch because you can use as a 1:1 replacement for all-purpose flour and it mimics results of all-purpose flour. Just note that these are typically rice-based, so they aren’t as nutritionally dense as some of the other options mentioned here. They can also be expensive.

Photo by Klaus Nielsen on Pexels.com

Rice Flour

Light, mild and easy to digest. Often used to make noodles in Asian cuisines. It’s also rich in carbohydrates and low in fat. A common ingredient In store-bought flour blends because it’s texture is most similar to all-purpose.

Chickpea Flour

Chickpea (or garbanzo bean) flour contains significantly more fiber and protein than others on this list. It’s also a good source of plant-based iron. Popular in Middle Eastern and Indian cooking.

Millet Flour

Millet flour has a mild, sweet flavor and a cake-like crumb. It works great in muffins and quick-breads. It’s also a very nutritious whole grain.

Buckwheat Flour

Despite what the name suggests, buckwheat is naturally gluten-free. It’s often used to make noodles (soba), pancakes and Russian blini. This flour adds a beautiful deep brown color to baked goods and has a nutty flavor.

Almond Flour

This may be the most versatile of the bunch. Almond flour has a high fat content which equates to moisture, tenderness and rich flavor. It can produce a “heavy” final product at times which might not rise as easily as traditional wheat flour baked goods. 

Coconut Flour 

It has a sweet coconut flavor and is very high in fiber. Note that it is also highly absorbent, so you’ll only need a small amount (1/3 or 1/4 as much) and you’ll likely need to combine it with another flour for structure.

Oat Flour 

Oat flour is made from milled oats and has a mild flavor. It’s light texture lends soft and fluffy quality to baked goods. Remember that oats need to be certified gluten-free as they are often cross-contaminated. 

Cassava Flour 

Cassava is rich in carbohydrates and high in fiber. This flour is similar to wheat, so works well in a variety of baked goods.

Why use binders and starches? 

In baking, gluten allows dough to come together and become elastic (think pizza dough!). When working with gluten-free flours, you’ll need to add an extra ingredient that does its job. This is where binders (like gums) and starches come in. In baking, these ingredients help hold everything together. They also add much-needed moisture and a more pleasant texture. Too much can lead to a gummy final product so it’s important to use the correct amount. See below for a description of some of the more popular options available. 

CornStarch

Commonly used to thicken sauces and and soups. It’s not usually recommended in baked goods because it can taste too starchy. 

Arrowroot Powder

Flavorless. Similar to cornstarch and a great substitute for those who avoid corn. Use it to thicken sauces or pie filling. Sub 2 teaspoon for every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. 

Tapioca Starch

Also known as tapioca flour and is used as a thickening agent. It also provides “chew” and elasticity. It can contribute to browning. 

Potato Starch

Similar texture to cornstarch and tapioca starch but derived from white potatoes. Helps bind recipes together and keep baked goods tender. 

Guar Gum

Adds structure or “glue” to baked goods as a way to prevent a crumbly texture. It has 8x the thickening power of cornstarch! 

Xanthan Gum

Similarly to guar gum, xanthan gum helps prevent crumbling in baked goods by providing structure and strengthening elastic networks. It’s corn-based. 

DIY Gluten-Free Flour Blends 

If you want to give gluten-free baking a try and prefer to experiment with your own flour blends, start with one of these! Option one is rice-based and will yield results most similar to all-purpose (wheat) flour. Option two is oat-based, which is a high-fiber choice. Option three is made with almond flour to create a dense, moist and ultra satisfying final product. 

Rice Flour Blend

  • 1 1/2 cups brown rice flour 
  • 1/4 cup white rice flour 
  • 1/4 cup tapioca flour 
  • 1/2 cup potato starch 
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum 

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to an airtight container for storing. 

Oat Flour Blend

  • 1 1/2 cup [certified gluten-free] oat flour 
  • 1/2 cup tapioca flour 
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum 

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to an airtight container for storing. 

Almond Flour Blend

  • 2 1/2 cups blanched almond flour 
  • 2 1/4 cups buckwheat flour 
  • 1 3/4 cup potato starch 
  • 3/4 cup arrowroot powder 

Whisk all ingredients in a large bowl, then transfer to an airtight container for storing.

Baking with gluten-free flour may seem a little intimidating at first. But you really can’t go wrong if you start with one of these flour blends. Once you determine the flavor and texture you desire in your baked goods, you can fine tune your flour recipe. Have some fun in your discovery and put your personal stamp on your creation. Happy Baking!


5 Budget-Friendly Sleep Solutions Any Family Can Use 

Guest blog by Ana Willis, http://fitkids.info 

We all know we need sleep, but many of us may not realize just how important sleep is to our overall health. Not only can it help improve your concentration and resulting in heightened productivity, but sleep can also help bolster your immune system and fight off the symptoms of depression. The benefits of a good night’s rest are far-reaching, but finding budget-friendly sleep solutions can seem like an impossible task.

With that in mind, you may be Looking for some ways to help your family sleep better without breaking your budget. With cash back offers, coupons, and special online offers, it’s easier than ever to get the sleep you need while saving money. We will share 5 inexpensive ways you can improve your family’s sleep. 


Shop for a New Mattress  

You may have heard that a mattress needs to be replaced every 7 to 10 years, but that may not necessarily be the case. Your comfort should be a priority when it comes to your mattress, and, as The Spruce notes, that’s the most important factor to consider when you are thinking of replacing it. If you have springs poking into your back or if you find your back constantly hurting, it may be time to shop for a new one. 

Luckily, there are tons of cost-effective, comfortable mattress options on the market these days, whether you’re a side, back, or stomach sleeper. You may also be able to purchase a mattress from a major retailer, and you can take advantage of promo codes to help you save a little money. 

Get Affordable New Linens 

Your sheets and blankets can also have an impact on how well you sleep, and you don’t have to spend hundreds to get quality linens into your life. Higher thread counts often mean higher prices, but thread count does not always equal comfort. Huffington Post explains how to never buy your sheets wrong again by looking at other more important factors, such as fiber and weave, which really affect how your bedding feels. As far as thread count, anything over 200 should do the trick, and it’s easy to find this style of sheet at affordable prices from online stores like Overstock.com. 

Build a Better Relaxation Routine

Getting ready for a good night’s sleep doesn’t have to involve pricey spa treatments to help you feel relaxed. In fact, exercise has been shown to promote better sleep, so work in a fitness regimen or simply take a walk around the block or get active in the backyard with the kiddos. Look into kids smartwatches that come with features that help your children stay active.

There are other simple steps that can help you unwind and improve your sleep much more. Shut off your screens a couple of hours before your bedtime, and try relaxing with a book instead. Reading before bed is a great way to relax your brain, so hit up a used bookstore or Amazon to pick up some relaxing books. Amazon has some of the best prices on popular titles, and while you’re there, pick up some essential oils and a diffuser to further boost your relaxation. 

Create a Cozy, Comfortable Bedroom  

If your bedroom is pretty bare, spend some time sprucing it up with inexpensive, relaxing touches. The ideal bedroom should pretty much resemble a cave: dark, cool, and quiet. If you have outside light peeking into your windows or noisy neighbors keeping you up at night, plan a trip to Target to pick up some sleep essentials. You can find affordable blackout curtains, noise machines, and fans that will transform your room into your own personal sleep cave.

Watch What You Eat and Drink 

Photo by Viktoria Alipatova on Pexels.com

Your food and drink choices can also hinder your sleep. Consuming tons of caffeine — even during the day — and eating heavy meals can make it difficult to get comfy at night. Instead of spending money on coffee, try switching to inexpensive herbal teas instead. You can even use chamomile tea to calm your anxieties and help you fall asleep faster. 

Making healthy choices when it comes to meals can also mean better sleep for you and your family. Try putting together a menu to keep you on track with your eating and your spending – look around online for grocery coupons to help you stay within your budget. More helpful tips on staying healthy can be found on home-related websites like Home Life Daily and healthydigz.com. There, you can find resources like best cooking appliances, home improvement articles, and more. 

Getting a good night’s sleep and saving money are both important. So, use these cost-effective, sleep-enhancing tips to boost your sleep and keep your budget on track too.

Photo Credit: Pixabay


How to cook squash – from Kabocha to Delicata

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.

Kabocha

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.

Kabocha

Acorn

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.

Acorn

Sugar Pumpkin

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!

Sugar Pumpkin

Delicata

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!

Delicata Squash

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:

Chewy Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bars

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup almond flour
  • 1/3 cup brown rice flour
  • 1/3 cup Tapioca Starch (tapioca flour)
  • 1/4 tsp xantham gum
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 cup pumpkin purée
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips

Directions

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.


Nutrition


Per Serving: 167 calories; 9.2 g fat; 20 g carbohydrates; 2 g protein; 0 mg cholesterol; 125 mg sodium.

How to Heal Your Leaky Gut

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)
Photo by Marta Branco on Pexels.com

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.

Take Action

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.