health

The Best Foods To Eliminate Anxiety

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Although anxiety stems from a variety of factors, one thing is certain: Diet plays a very important role. As holistic beings, our mental and physical health are inseparable. How we nourish our bodies, therefore, determines how well we achieve a calmer state of mind.

Most often we hear about the anxiety-promoting effects of too much caffeine, skipping a meal, or too many simple carbohydrates. But what we don’t often hear about are foods that actually reduce anxiety.

Here are some of my favorite foods to help you keep calm and carry on:

1. Beans:

Not only are beans good for the heart, as the saying goes, but they are also good for the nerves. Beans offer a healthy dose of fiber, which slows the digestion process and results in more stable blood sugars. Physiologically, this prevents the body from going on an undesirable roller-coaster ride—one that goes from buzzing to crashing.

Beans are also an excellent source of antioxidants. In fact, they’re right up there with popular superfoods such as berries. So what does this have to do with anxiety? Turns out an antioxidant-rich diet has been found to protect the body from harmful free radicals (which anxiety promotes).

2. Cashews:

Photo: Kim Suddeath

Cashews are a wonderfully versatile nut. They can be made into vegan ricotta, savory or sweet cream sauces, or even energy bites. They’re also a good source of zinc, which is a trace mineral essential for brain function. Zinc is like a behind-the-scenes agent when it comes to anxiety. It’s role is to convert vitamin B-6 to its active form, which goes on to help synthesize serotonin, a neurotransmitter known for maintaining mood balance. Getting enough zinc in the diet, therefore, is essential for mood balance.

3. Yogurt:

Yogurt is a probiotic-rich food. The consumption of probiotics has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of anxiety, according to a recent study. Although the exact reason is unknown, consuming probiotic-rich foods can be a great low-risk strategy to reduce anxiety. Other probiotic-rich foods to include in your regular diet are kombucha, kefir, kimchi, pickles, sour cream, sauerkraut, and tempeh.

4. Asparagus:

Photo: Kim Suddeath

Asparagus extract is used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as a tonic, cough suppressant, and diuretic agent. More recently, though, the extract has been used in mice to study its effect on anxiety reduction. One study found that asparagus extract was very effective in reducing anxiety symptoms. Although it may be difficult to find asparagus extract, eating asparagus when it’s in season is a beneficial (and delicious!) alternative.

5. Lemon:

Looking to start a new health routine that can also help ease anxiety? Lemon water is your answer! Abundant in vitamin C, this lovely citrus fruit is known for its powerful antioxidant abilities. In regard to anxiety, vitamin C is quickly used up when the body is under stress. And if there is not enough vitamin C available, this can actually extend the stress response and lead to higher cortisol levels in the body over a longer period of time—so to keep chronic stress away, plenty of vitamin C is required.

6. Salmon:

Photo: Kim Suddeath

Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, an essential fat we must get from our diet. Omega-3s play an important role in brain development and function. Just like zinc, omega-3s are highly concentrated in the brain. Authors in one randomized-controlled study evaluated the effects of omega-3 fatty-acid supplementation on anxiety reduction and found that subjects reduced their anxiety symptoms by 20 percent and also had lower levels of inflammation. To keep those nerves in check, eat at least two servings per week of fatty fish like salmon.

7. Pumpkin seeds:

Delivering almost 40 percent of the daily value of magnesium in just 1 ounce (~¼ cup), pumpkin seeds are another surprising food that reduces anxiety. Most adults are deficient in magnesium, and magnesium is crucial in regulating our internal response to stress. When magnesium is deficient in our diets, our bodies are less capable of reducing the amount of stress hormones released. Next time you’re at the salad bar or preparing oatmeal or making muffins, be sure to add magnesium-rich pumpkin seeds to help fight off stress.

8. Oats:

Photo: Kim Suddeath

Oats are abundant in many vitamins and minerals helpful in reducing anxiety. They contain B-vitamins, magnesium, and fiber, all of which help control stress. Because oats are whole grains containing complex carbohydrates, eating them is a great way to increase serotonin production. And serotonin, as we know, is a major antidepressant and anti-anxiety hormone. Starting the day with oatmeal for breakfast just might be the difference between a stress-reduced or stress-filled day.

9. Dark chocolate:

Easily one of the most exciting ways to manage stress, dark chocolate is an instant mood lifter with benefits to back up its use. Not only does dark chocolate contain antioxidants and magnesium, but it also contains an interesting fatty-acid neurotransmitter called anandamide. Anandamide has mood-lifting effects in the body and has recently been found to reverse stress-induced anxiety in mice. These results suggest that reaching for dark chocolate when we are stressed is not a bad thing and can actually be helpful in managing anxiety.

health

5 Overrated Superfoods

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Photo: superfoodly

Every few months a health expert seems to uncover a “superfood” that they enthusiastically endorse as the greatest thing ever. Think back to a few years ago to quinoa. Mainstream media and big food companies fervently praised this perfectly fine seed (often confused for a grain). Quinoa is a healthy food, but before long manufacturers capitalized on the trend with quinoa chips and other quinoa-based products that were less than healthy. Inevitably, when this happens, a revolt occurs; a health blogger writes about quinoa’s anti-nutrients, a prominent doctor calls it overrated, and secretly millions of quinoa haters rejoice.

In the end, we all calm down and see quinoa (or whatever) for what it is: a perfectly healthy food or drink that fits into a well-designed diet and lifestyle plan. You’ve probably read similar hype about the following five foods and drinks. Along the way, they may have accrued a little too much hype and an inevitable backlash occurred. So here’s how to enjoy them without subscribing to the hyperbole:

1. Red wine.

Cabernet, merlot, pinot noir—take your pick. Among its purported benefits, the antioxidant resveratrol in red wine can increase HDL levels (your so-called good cholesterol), decrease platelet aggregation, and improve blood vessel function, decreasing your risk for cardiovascular disease. But over-drinking wine or other alcohol can also trigger or exacerbate inflammation, liver toxicity, and heart disease.

So what about those health benefits? Well, to get beneficial amounts of resveratrol, you’d have to drink upward of 1,000 glasses of red daily—which I definitely don’t recommend. That said, studies show that among folks who drank red wine daily, health-conscious people got its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and other health benefits. In other words, they weren’t just tossing back a few glasses of cabernet, staying sedentary, and diving into cheeseburgers. They used wine as a part of a healthy life. If you imbibe, quantity matters (opt for a glass or two, and call it quits) but so does quality. Cheaply produced wine hasn’t been optimally fermented (that takes time, which costs money), yielding more sugar in that glass of red.

2. Apple cider vinegar.

Photo: Yelena Yemchuk

A powerhouse of polyphenols and other nutrients, apple cider vinegar has been used for medicinal purposes for millennia. Problem is, little science substantiates its health claims. Research shows that for over 2,000 years, vinegar has been used to flavor and preserve foods, heal wounds, fight infections, clean surfaces, and manage diabetes, yet researchers note “much scrutiny surrounds its medicinal use.”

Research does, however, substantiate a few benefits. One study found that apple cider vinegar could significantly improve insulin sensitivity, and another found that apple cider vinegar helps slow stomach emptying, helping maintain healthy insulin levels. Apple cider vinegar might even nudge the scales favorably. One recent study found body weight, body mass index (BMI), visceral fat, waist circumference, and serum triglyceride levels were significantly lower for those who used apple cider vinegar daily compared with the placebo group.

Unfortunately, most apple cider vinegar you find in grocery stores is poor quality. One study found massive variation among eight different brands. And researchers found that their labels’ health claims were completely unsubstantiated. Among its problems, processing kills its active constituents. One study compared conventionally pasteurized apple cider vinegar with a raw, organic product. The raw organic one had more polyphenolic compounds, enzymatic strains, and acetic acid. If you struggle with indigestion or acid reflux, want to boost your immune system, or need to maintain healthy insulin levels, you would probably benefit from a few daily tablespoons of raw, unfiltered, organic apple cider vinegar. Just don’t think doing so will magically cure all your health woes.

3. Kombucha.

Kombucha has been around for thousands of years. Along with some nutrients, kombucha contains several strains of probiotics. Regardless, very little scientific evidence is available that validates the beneficial effects of kombucha.

One systematic review even concluded “the largely undetermined benefits do not outweigh the documented risks of kombucha.” the risks referring to the fact that there is no standardized process for making kombucha, and the wrong strains cultivated during the fermentation process could lead to food poisoning. Fermentation could also produce excessive acid formation, creating lactic acidosis. Researchers found that bad strains could create jaundice, nausea, vomiting, and full-blown allergic reactions that stopped in most subjects when they ditched kombucha. In other words, if you get a bad batch—you’re not in for a fun evening.

If you still opt for kombucha, check sugar content (some brands contain too much added sugar) and be ready to show your ID: The fermentation process means some varieties of kombucha contain alcohol.

4. Coconut oil.

“In the 1940s, when farmers wanted to fatten up their livestock, they gave them coconut oil,” writes Mark Hyman, M.D., in Eat Fat, Get Thin. “This plan backfired. The animals lost weight and had more energy!” Despite those and other promises, coconut got a bad rep because it’s mostly saturated fat. In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) recently resurfaced the coconut-oil-is-bad-for-you theory. Here’s the scoop. Most of that saturated fat comes from medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which your body metabolizes differently from other fatty acids and prefers to utilize for energy rather than store. Furthermore, about half of the fat in coconut comes from lauric acid, which Bowden says your body converts into antiviral, antibacterial monolaurin.

However, this still doesn’t give you permission to go overboard. Extra-virgin coconut oil makes an excellent medium-heat cooking oil, so throw a few tablespoons into your broccoli stir-fry, and you’ll get all the benefits and none of the worry.

5. Bone broth.

Your great-grandparents might have made bone broth, which is simmered for 8 to 24 hours, creating gelatin from collagen-rich joints and releasing trace minerals from bones. Essentially, bone broth is a healthy mineral-and-amino-acid-rich drink or food, yet few scientific studies show specific healthful properties. What’s more, there is no single bone broth recipe.

Bones can also sequester the heavy metal lead, potentially contaminating the broth that is supposed to supply so many health benefits. One study looked at lead concentrations in three types of organic chicken broth and found broths contain several times the lead concentration of the water with which the broth is made. Then there are practical problems: Traditional bone broth takes time and effort. If simmering for hours doesn’t fit your schedule (bone broth can be time-consuming), you can find many premade broths online or at your local health food store. As always, read those ingredients.

Remember, too, that most plans combine bone broth with other health-minded endeavors like regular exercise and optimal sleep. In other words, no one food or drink is a “cure-all.” But you knew that already.

 

blog · lyme disease

A Love Note To Myself

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Dear Awesome You,

This day isn’t going like you’d hoped. Your heart and mind want to be out in the world doing the things you love. Heck, you wouldn’t even mind doing something you don’t love if it meant you’d be out in the world.

Today, your body is asking you to slow down. It’s an invitation you’d rather not accept. You have so much planned for yourself, and this doesn’t feel fair.

You look out the window and see people and birds and trees doing their usual people and bird and tree things, living their lives outside, and you’d really like to join them.

Today feels lonelier than usual, and that’s alright. Maybe there’s sadness, regret, fear, frustration, longing, anger and confusion. It’s okay to feel it all. In fact, it’s actually good to really feel those emotions when they arise. I like to remind myself, cry when you’re sad, stop when you’re done.

The feelings that show up today actually need to be felt. When you let them be what they are without fighting them, they’ll be able to shift and transform. Feelings are always moving, they rarely stick unless we resist them. They just want us to stop and acknowledge them and give them love.

In some ways, you aren’t actually alone today. There are so many of us who woke up today with the same invitation from our bodies to slow down. You’re a part of a bigger group of people who are navigating the challenging world of chronic illness even if you can’t see them. Bring them into your mind and heart today.

What you experience matters, and it might mean a lot to someone out there to read about what you’re going through today. Likewise, maybe you’ll find someone else that was planning to leave the house today just like you, but their body had other plans too.

Be good to yourself today. You’re fantastic, and sometimes down days can trick you into thinking you’re not. But you aren’t your body, or your thoughts, or even your emotions. You’re the thing that exists whether you feel amazing or awful, you are your spirit.

I may not know you all out there, but I do know you’re deserving of love and patience and kindness. As author Louise Hay would recommend, go to the mirror during a difficult moment and say, “It’s okay, I love you. This will pass, but I love you and that’s forever.”

So feel your feelings, remember you’re not alone, and enjoy the company of the thoughtful, sensitive, amazing person that is you. Today you’ve got her all to yourself.

health

Mindful Eating And Easy Ways To Improve Your Diet

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Maybe you’re eating a pretty healthy diet already; you’re all about that morning smoothie and make sure to get a good dose of leafy greens regularly. Or maybe you’re eating a pretty standard diet and looking for a few new ways to make it healthier. To get an energized and healthy body, you don’t need to restrict; you just need to get more mindful. Making your diet more mindful is all about being aware of what you’re consuming, opting for healthy alternatives where possible, and living a little bit greener.

Practicing a mindful diet is pretty simple once you get savvy about a few areas like additives, whole foods, healthier replacements, and new additions. I’ve put together this guide to making more mindful choices accessible for those looking to make both big and small changes to their routine.

Ditch food additives:

This is the biggie. One surefire way to get healthier is to avoid food additives that can range from preservatives to unnatural colorings to weird-sounding substances that you definitely wouldn’t see outside of a lab. Processed foods (i.e., most packaged foods) generally have additives and are linked to chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes. A few additives in particular to avoid are sodium nitrites, sulfites, trans fats, monosodium glutamate, and FD&C yellow No. 5 and No. 6.

I go by one major rule: Only buy foods with ingredients you know and recognize. The best way to avoid additives and overly processed foods is to buy and eat whole foods (as in foods that don’t come from a factory in a colorfully designed package), like fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and pseudograins (like quinoa), eggs, organic and antibiotic-free meat, and wild-caught seafood.

Prepare whole-food-based meals during week:

Preparing your own food requires you to be mindful. Cooking with whole foods can have a big impact on how you think about food and eating. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and you don’t have to be a talented chef—in fact, simple preparations are some of the best. Look for organic options and non-GMO varieties of your foods when available.

I understand buying organic can sometimes be more expensive than buying conventional, but the good news is, you don’t have to buy everything organic. Look to the Clean 15 and Dirty Dozen lists to determine which foods you can get away with buying conventionally without worrying that you’re taking on too many chemicals.

Cooking and preparing meals with these foods can be as simple as a smoothie or a salad; don’t make it hard on yourself, especially if you’re just starting out.

Observe your eating habits for how much sugar you’re consuming on a daily basis:

We often don’t realize that we’re eating and drinking waaay more sugar than we think. Sugar can be inflammatory in large doses, and while a little bit of sugar daily is natural, it’s a great idea to get most of your sugar from natural (minimally processed) sources. If you’re just looking for a little sweetness in your morning coffee, there are a ton of great alternative ingredients, with sugar-free sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit sugar becoming far easier to find.

If you’re looking to use fruit for natural sweetness, dates and bananas are great for sweetening dishes while still providing healthy ingredients that benefit the body. In addition to the natural fiber they bring, sweetening with fruit also provides essential vitamins and minerals like potassium and magnesium.

Pay attention to how your body feels when you have dairy:

It’s true that many people are dairy intolerant. If you find that your stomach is upset or constipated, or your skin breaks out after having dairy, you might want to explore reducing your intake and see how you feel. It’s easy to find high-quality alternatives to butter, milk, and cream—if you know what to look for.

Unrefined coconut oil is a great alternative to butter for baking. You can also use olive oil, ghee or avocado oil for everyday cooking and sauteing. Try to opt for organic versions where you can. If you’re looking for milk alternatives, consider coconut, hemp, and almond milks—again, being aware of any weird-sounding additives.

If you eat a lot of wheat-based foods, try eliminating them or finding alternatives for a couple of weeks and see if you feel a shift:

While there are plenty of gluten-free products on the market, many aren’t automatically healthy, so as usual, ingredients are something to be conscious of. Or better yet, opt for great healthier replacements to gluten-free foods like oats, buckwheat, quinoa, sweet potatoes, and brown or black rice to get your carb fix.

Eat a super green food with every meal for a week and see how you feel:

While you can elevate your normal greens consumption with concentrated green superfood powders like spirulina and chlorella, don’t forget the original super green foods that are affordable and easily accessible like:

  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Arugula
  • Mustard greens
  • Collard greens
  • Asparagus
  • Swiss chard
  • Zucchini
  • Avocado
  • Herbs

There are tons of ways to incorporate these veggies into every meal.

Get intuitive about eating:

The practice of listening to your body and eating intuitively, is possibly the most important piece of this mindful diet equation. It’s about listening to your body’s hunger cues—so eating when you’re actually hungry and stopping when you’re full. This sounds simple but can actually be quite challenging when you’ve become disconnected from your body. Becoming more aware of how your body feels before, during, and after mealtimes can reinforce this important connection. Get more mindful at breakfast, lunch, and dinner by:

  • Removing any screens from the table (hard, I know)
  • Eating without any other distractions
  • Focusing on chewing your food
  • Putting your fork down in between bites
  • Taking a deep breath in between bites
  • Reminding yourself there will be more food later if you’re hungry

 

Having a mindful diet can be easy. Don’t get overwhelmed, just pick one change or action from above and start there and look for the positive differences in your life. This is an ongoing process that will ultimately pay you back with improved health and a stronger mind-body connection.

 

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