Monthly Archives: January 2014

American Crab Apple blossoms - beautiful and good for the nutritarian in you! From Willis Orchards.

Are You a Nutritarian?

I *love* the concept of being a nutritarian – of looking for the most nutrient dense foods and enjoying those. Of broadening your ideas about what good food really is – we’ll be talking about this so much more because all of a sudden I’m an aspiring nutritarian (does anyone know do crab apples grow in Texas? I’m getting a tree). It’s time we embrace the sweet apples sour cousins, the grains less convenient early ancestors and yes, even the lowly dandelion from the yard (please don’t spray with weed killer – just dig it out and add it to your lunch.) Yes – there may be some growing pains for all of us as we adjust our taste buds to enjoy more bitter, tart and pungent but WOW about the nutrition!

What is a Nutritarian you Ask?

Funny – I have this AWESOME infographic right here…

An infographic by the team at Online Masters In Public Health

In answer to my own question, there is a Texas Crab Apple, which you can learn about from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. There is also an American Crab Apple which you can buy for $3.95 for a seedling that is rated for zones 5-9 (we’re an 8 in Austin but need something that’s rated to 9, which is hotter, and about 5, which is colder because you know as well as I do it’s unpredictable here.) Here’s a picture from Willis Orchards:

American Crab Apple blossoms - beautiful and good for the nutritarian in you! From Willis Orchards.

American Crab Apple blossoms – beautiful and good for the nutritarian in you! From Willis Orchards.

If anyone plants one this spring will you keep me posted? And expect more posts about foraged foods in Texas, because we’ve all got weeds, we might as well eat them.

Missing The Best Part? Avocado Seed Benefits

Kind of a random topic, but I have been learning about avocado seed benefits in these past couple of weeks, mostly because I’m hungry. I chose this time to do a 21 day cleanse with a complete elimination diet, which sounded awesome in my head but is working out to be one heck of a challenge. If you’re not sure why anyone would be insane enough to do this, read more about elimination diets here (although I’d suggest doing it in summer when nobody in Texas feels like eating anyway).  So – my diet right now is incredibly limited and I’m looking for ways to get extra nutrition out of the things I’m allowed to eat, hence the avocado seed benefits, and as it turns out they are AWESOME for you. I’m noticing a big difference in  my level of satisfaction with the morning smoothie as well as energy and feeling of fullness.

How do You Eat An Avocado Seed?

Avocado seed benefits may be greater than the rest of the avocado!

Avocado seed benefits may be greater than the rest of the avocado!

Avocado seeds are pretty significantly hard, and not the most pleasant tasting things to chew on directly – they have a little bit astringent, little bit bitter flavor (but if you read the nutritarian post, you know that the astringent/bitter flavor usually means it’s literally full of amazing nutrients, which happens to be one of the avocado seed benefits as well). My compromise was to chop it into smaller pieces (carefully, I found out the hard way that kitchen knives like to slide off rounded edges rather than cut through them. Oops!) and add it to my morning smoothie.  The flavor is easily covered by a banana and frozen berries and my vitamix makes short work of the grinding.

Avocado Seed Benefits:

  1. Fiber. More soluble fiber ounce per ounce than almost any other food out there.
  2. Antibacterial and antifungal. There is evidence that avocado seeds inhibit the growth of bacteria in the gram positive rod group and also of a variety of fungii including candida.
  3. Antioxidant.  70% of the total antioxidants from the whole avocado are found within the seed, which means we often throw away the best part. Just as an aside, the skins are also extremely high in antioxidants so that might be the next food experiment.
  4. Anti-cancer!! A flavenol from avocado seed was given to rats with cancer, which  induced programmed cell death (apoptosis) in the cancer cells. Serious avocado seed benefits!
  5. Anti-inflammatory for the GI tract. Historically avocado seeds were used in South America to help treat dysentery, gastric ulcers and other digestive disorders.
  6. Boosts skin collagen. Avodaco seed oil actually boosts collagen production in your skin and makes hair shinier and skin softer. Talk about a super food!
  7. Boosts heart health. The oils from avocado seeds and flesh include 71% monounsaturated fats (MUFA), 13% polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) and 16% saturated fatty acids (SFA). This helps promote healthy blood lipid profiles and support cardiovascular health.

Avocado Seed Smoothie:

Awesome Avocado seed benefits from this berry smoothie. Thanks Praisaeng at

Awesome Avocado seed benefits from this berry smoothie. Thanks Praisaeng at

Here’s what I’ve been doing mornings this week to enjoy the avocado seed benefits and supercharge my nutrition:

  1. 1/2 avocado (including flesh and 1/2 of the seed, cut in pieces)
  2. 1 banana
  3. 3/4-1 cup organic frozen berry blend
  4. 1 scoop fiber powder
  5. 2-3 scoops protein powder (right now I’m using SP complete dairy-free, which is unflavored and unsweetened)
  6. Water to bring to the right texture.

Blended this tastes like a rich, creamy, berry smoothie and it’s really filling. You know you’re getting great fiber, great fats, protein and a ton of antioxidants.  The berries and banana cover up the flavor of the avocado seed, but you still get all the avocado seed benefits. You will feel a health boost from the antioxidants and phenolic compounds and power-pack your day. This smoothie also starts you out on the right track with so much fiber to keep your blood sugars regulate, and give you sustained energy to last the morning. Just be sure you let it blend for a while because chunks of avocado seed aren’t the most appetizing thing.

Just in case you don't want to look at the whole infographic - you can see the toilet germs ON YOUR TOOTHBRUSH bit and move on. :)

OMG Toilet Germs on Your Toothbrush.

SERIOUSLY – – toilet germs on your toothbrush. Gak! For that alone (well, maybe that plus the creepy celebrity pictures – is it me or do they all look a little shady???) this infographic is totally worth it. And thanks so much to reader Mike for the suggestion – seriously, that’s kind of awesome.  Now – close the toilet lid already. Forget Fung Shui, this is a far more compelling reason. It’s toilet germs ON YOUR TOOTHBRUSH. God I’m scarred for life.


Just in case you don't want to look at the whole infographic - you can see the toilet germs ON YOUR TOOTHBRUSH bit and move on. :)

Just in case you don’t want to look at the whole infographic – you can see the toilet germs ON YOUR TOOTHBRUSH bit and move on. 🙂

Germ Warfare

Your Microbiome: Eating for ten trillion

You have a fantastic and wonderful microbiome, or personal ecosystem of beneficial bugs, which means that you are in fact eating for ten trillion. While ten trillion helpful friends seems like a rather large dinner party, these good bacteria and other critters are busy constantly strengthening your immune system, helping you to digest your food and manufacturing vitamins in your gut as well as strengthening your skin and mucosal barriers by defending their turf from invaders.  If you’re a little fuzzy on the whole microbiome concept then here is more information about your own personal microbiome. Given everything that your good bacteria are doing for you, it makes sense to add some microbiome-friendly foods into your diet.

Simple Foods that Protect Your Good Bacteria – The  Microbiome Maximizing Diet:

  1. Breast Milk! Yeah –  probably not. But it’s a good option to give your babies because human breast milk is chock full of not only beneficial microbes that help baby to build a good microbiome, but also complex carbs (oligosaccharides) and glycosolated proteins that your baby can’t break down or digest.  But guess who can? Beneficial bacteria in the Bifidobacterium species. These Bifidobacterium buddies actually help coat and defend the babies growing intestinal tract. While it’s a little odd, breast milk is being used as an experimental treatment for some forms of intestinal disease in adults as well.
  2. Prebiotics. You may have heard this term before, probably from a supplement or on your probiotic bottle.  Prebiotics are actually specific carbohydrates, especially fibers, that are the preferred food for different strains of beneficial organisms in your digestive tract.  Just to review, the largest group of gut bacteria lives in your ascending colon, which connects to your small intestine and runs up the right side of your abdomen.  It is here that a fermentation process takes place.  In this fermentation process prebiotics are gradually changed and release different end-products that feed flora in a beneficial way. Prebiotics include inulin, galactooligosaccharide, and many other long-named substances which can be conveniently lumped into the much more pronounceable category of fiber.  Eating a diet high in fiber, fruits and veggies feeds your microbiome and helps your gut to have healthy bacteria and good digestion.

    Awesome wikimedia commons file of your digestive tract. Your ascending colon is where fermentation happens for your microbiome.

    Awesome wikimedia commons file of your digestive tract. Your ascending colon is where fermentation happens for your microbiome.

  3. Cultured Foods.  Foods that have been cultured actually have their own little microbiome – the process of fermenting or culturing food is simply allowing good bacteria to grow and partially digest those foods and give them a fabulous taste in the process. Think yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and cheese. Also there are cultured fruit juice (belly), cultured coconut water (inner eco), and cultured butter (Vermont creamery, organic valley) available.

So the short list is fruits, veggies, fiber and cultured foods.  Easy enough! These simple steps help you to maintain a great immune system, have healthy digestive function, and even maintain normal weight.  Yes – your microbiome can contribute to your body shape too. These are ten trillion friends worth keeping!

Your Microbiome: Are You Too Clean?

Your microbiome is getting a lot more attention lately, which makes sense because as of 10 years ago nobody even knew the word “microbiome” let alone had any idea why they should pay attention to it. Your microbiome, according to Joshua Lederberg who coined the term, is:

“The ecological community of commensal, symbiotic, and pathogenic microorganisms that literally share our body space.”

What that means in reality is that this is your population of bugs.  It’s the bacteria and microbes that populate your skin, your digestive tract, your mouth, ears, eyes, fingers, toes and genitals. It’s the community that makes up you. In fact, if you look at your entire body there are about 100 trillion organisms – that’s 100,000,000,000,000.  Essentially that means there are at least three times as many bacterial cells as human ones. Makes you think, doesn’t it?  Even without all the research, it follows naturally that just like your bacteria need you to survive, you need your bacteria to survive too.  Your microbiome helps you to protect yourself from harmful bacteria that might actually produce disease, help you digest your food, manufacture vitamins for you to absorb and generally maintain the health of your tissues. In fact there is a link between poor mixtures of bacteria in the gut and conditions like obesity, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and even some cancers.

Your microbiome, as imagined by Rosemary Mosco, artist at

Your microbiome, as imagined by Rosemary Mosco, artist at

So let’s talk about taking care of your microbiome – all those trillions of things are helping to protect you, so it makes sense that you should also protect them.  In this post we’ll talk about lifestyle factors and the next post will focus on the best diet for your community of trillions.

Keys  to a healthy microbiome:

  1. Get dirty already. There is a growing body of evidence that shows that modern standards of hygiene are linked to the increasing incidence of allergies and autoimmune disorders.  We don’t just keep clean, we actually make an attempt to ‘sterilize’ which is a horrible idea because if we actually managed it we’d probably die shortly thereafter. One of our major sources of new microbial material is simple soil – the earth from the place where you live.  This to me is a great reason to get out there and garden, to eat veggies from your garden straight out of the soil, and generally wallow around in the rich microbial environment that the earth has provided for us.
  2. Boycot the sanitizer. Of course it’s important to wash your hands if you’re exposed to people who have the flu or if you’re around a sick population, but wash with warm water and regular (not antibacterial) soap. Avoid the hand sanitizer, which typically contains toxic ingredients (like triclosan) and doesn’t actually help other than to encourage bacteria to develop triclosan resistance. So yes to normal hand washing as a way to prevent acute illness, but no to the overly-clean “sanitized” hands.
  3. Forget the antibacterial soaps. Not just do you not want to kill your bacteria, which sharply reduces the interest in anything antibacterial, there is also no actual benefit to most things labeled as antibacterial. Research studies have compared the effects of soaps and consumer products which claim to be antibacterial versus those which don’t and found literally no difference.  In fact, the FDA is currently taking a closer look at whether or not it is ethical for this labeling to continue.
  4. Skip the antibiotics unless they are absolutely necessary. Obviously antibiotics have a broad range of killing potential and that includes your healthy microbiome. Antibiotics don’t discriminate.  Obviously there is a time and a place where antibiotics could save your life and I am all for that use, but there is also a time and a place where your doctor hands you a prescription because they don’t feel right letting you leave the office without something in your hand, but it’s also probably not really useful for whatever you’re coming to see them for (like the ear infection). We also know that the effect of broad-spectrum antibiotics on your microbiome is long-lasting.
  5. Consider probiotics when you need them. Probiotics are basically packaged bacteria that are similar to the ones that make their home in your gut. If you’re in a situation where you had to take antibiotics or you had a stomach bug that might have knocked out the bacteria in your gut then it can be really helpful to replace those with a supplement.  Of course there are lots of different options for probiotics, and different ones are better for different situations so we’ll save the which-probiotic-is-best conversation for another day.
  6. Wear your probiotics with pride. It isn’t just your gut that benefits from beneficial bacteria, your skin is a colony too.  Fermented foods which contain bacteria similar to the bacteria in your gut can make a great topical treatment for a variety of skin imbalances.  There is a reason that yoghurt skin masks are so awesome.  Or kombucha toner. In fact, here are a couple of my favorite skin care recipes from my book, DIY Health: For Women.

Yummy Yogurt mask for dry skin:

1/2 Avocado
1 teaspoon yogurt
1 teaspoon honey
1 tbsp oatmeal

Protein Microbiome Tingler:
Leave this one on until it dries and it will refresh and renew your skin. The enzymes in the papaya and the probiotics in the kombucha eat away dead skin cells and replenish your skin microbiome and the raw egg firms up your collagen and connective tissue. You can always add a few drops of essential oil for additional pampering. Blend it up in the blender and apply to your face, decollete, or really any area that needs a little lift.

1 raw egg
1 tbsp kombucha
1/4 cup papaya

The bottom line is that if you’re fighting against your microbiome, or being generally  unfriendly with the sanitizers and wipes then it’s time to consider changing your tune and softening up your attitude towards your friendly helpers.  Without your microbiome, your life would be a whole lot harder so learn to love your own trillions of personal assistants.

For more information about your microbiome in general check out this great document from the American Academy of Microbiology.

How do Gender Roles Hold You Back?

Gender roles and stereotypes are all around us. The expectations that men or women must be a certain way, act a certain way, look a certain way to be men or women.  For women, the driving message is that we must be what society considers “sexy” to have worth or value as a woman. I know among my clients there are so many who suffer from eating disorders, low self-esteem, and addictions, not to mention the number of women who don’t take on big projects, or pass up opportunities for the simple reason that they don’t believe in themselves. The change has to come from us – from consumers.  I don’t believe any big corporation is going to voluntarily stop sexualizing women, stop using women’s own fears and insecurities to sell us face cream or plastic surgery or really take any steps to change their impact on the images that both young women and young men see on a day to day basis.

We as consumers have to actually tell companies that we aren’t interested in their blanket perpetuation of gender roles and stereotypes. That we won’t buy products that are marketed in this way, that we want to see real women. Women who actually look like women you might see at work, in the office or in the grocery store. In supporting businesses that value women as people, not as objects or pretty things. This lack of gender roles and stereotypes should extend to their business practices too, we should spend our money with companies that actually treat women and men equally.

Here are the images we see daily – this is how we think of women:

Here’s a trailer for the Film Missrepresentation, a look at how gender roles and stereotypes and media bias perpetuate gender differences and gender inequality in America:

And on a final note, the women in our culture aren’t the only ones to suffer from gender roles and stereotypes.  Here’s how we teach our boys to “be a man:”

I can’t claim innocence – of course I have held men that I’ve dated to the “man” standard. In my weakest moments I am completely capable of judging myself by the “woman” standard. I don’t always shop consciously or act as an informed consumer.  I don’t always boycott the magazines that are exploitative to women, but I’m getting better. It’s a process. Maybe you can join me and we can help each other?

Thyroid and Fertility

Thyroid and fertility are intimately linked. Anyone who is having infertility issues or actively trying to conceive can pretty much tell you that everything and fertility seem linked – it’s just the way it goes.  It takes a healthy momma to make a healthy baby and if your body isn’t keeping up with its own needs it’s certainly not going to take on the burden of an entirely new, vulnerable human that is 100% dependent. That is just good sound decision making.  What that means is that in order to get pregnant you have to get healthy in lots of ways, and one of those ways is balancing your other hormones – thyroid included.

Thyroid and Fertility Infographic from Dr. Fiona – a ND in Toronto.

Thyroid and fertility are highly linked.

The link between thyroid and fertility is important.

Thyroid and pregnancy Infographic, brought to you by White Lotus Naturopathic Clinic

 Thyroid and Fertility and Food Sensitivities

Thyroid health in women is not as easy as it sounds like it should be.  There are so many factors and thyroid is often just the canary in the coal mine that lets you know there is something bigger going on.  For both thyroid and fertility it is incredibly important to find and eliminate hidden food sensitivities.  Food sensitivities can cause general inflammation, which can make implantation more difficult and affect sex hormone levels. Food sensitivities can also set up an unhealthy immune cascade which actually triggers your body to start attacking itself like in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. If your body is attacking your thyroid then it’s absolutely vital to do whatever you can to protect yourself.  Essentially if you’re worried about your thyroid or trying to get pregnant you have a good reason to get rid of food sensitivities. If you’re doing both or those things then there’s no excuse not to do this for yourself.

Thyroid and Fertility – Working With a Good Practitioner

It’s also important to know exactly what is going on – most primary care physicians will just test your TSH levels on a screening without looking into things on any deeper level.  It can really help to see a good endocrinologist who will actually look at your hormone levels and thyroid antibodies (just in case it is Hashimoto’s) or to talk with a naturopathic doctor who can balance you on a whole body level. If you’re trying to get pregnant this becomes especially important because we can’t address the link between thyroid and fertility unless we are clear about exactly what is going on. Thyroids can be under-functioning because of poor nutrition, because of a goiter, because of altered sex or adrenal hormones or because of hashimoto’s.  TSH levels just aren’t going to tell you any of those things. The best fertility team should have a reproductive endocrinologist, a naturopathic doctor and a good acupuncturist – especially if you’re considering IVF (In vitro fertilization)  because acupuncture has been shown in research to increase the success rate of IVF so many IVF centers have licensed acupuncturists on staff. Keep in mind fertility is a group effort – mom, dad and all of the health care practitioners have to be working towards the same goal.

Thyroid and fertility are intimately linked because in order to have a healthy pregnancy, you really have to have a healthy body starting out.  You just can’t skip this step.

Calcium Rich Foods

Calcium rich foods may just be the perfect answer to the raging calcium debate, simply because it’s entirely questionable whether calcium supplements are helpful or harmful. Calcium supplementation has been widely studied and obviously in areas where calcium intake is extremely low and undernourishment is an issue, calcium supplements make sense.  For those of us living in first world countries, undernourishment is far less likely than over-nourishment (or at least excessive calorie intake) so the question of calcium supplements becomes more difficult.

The Danger of Calcium Supplements

Research is increasingly showing a link between calcium supplements and heart disease, which is more than a little distressing. A 2010 meta-analysis which combined the data from over 8,000 shows that people taking a calcium supplement of more than 500 mg daily are 30% more likely to have a heart attack than those not taking calcium supplements. A separate study published in the British Medical Journal in 2008 showed a slightly increase risk of death, heart attack, stroke, angina, other chest pain and transient ischemic attack in women taking calcium supplements vs. those not taking calcium supplements. In addition, there are risks of kidney stones with calcium supplementation and also risks of laying down calcium in soft tissues where there shouldn’t be any calcium deposits.

The Benefits of Calcium

A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that people with high dietary intake of minerals, especially calcium and magnesium have lower odds of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension and obesity. Add to this the obvious necessity for calcium to maintain healthy bones and teeth and prevent osteoporosis and osteopenia.  So what to do?  I feel the answer lies in a diet high in calcium rich foods, rather than calcium supplementation.

Calcium Rich Foods

Calcium is most available to your body in an acidic environment – which means calcium from milk is a little more challenging simply because milk is alkaline (the opposite of acidic).  Milk and other dairy is high in calcium though, so the larger amount may overcome the lower rate of absorption due to the basic nature of dairy.  Other calcium rich foods include dark green leafy veggies (where do you think the cows get it from???), bone broth and sardines. Also think about okra, broccoli, green snap beans, almonds, dry herbs, sesame seeds and flax seeds as calcium rich additions to your diet.  Eating those foods with something acidic – like vinegar – makes the calcium even more available to your body.

Eggshell Calcium in Vinegar Drink

calcium rich foods

Backyard eggs for a great eggshell in vinegar health tonic. Talk about calcium rich foods!

I was first told about this drink by a friend who claims it gave him an instant energy boost, and of course looked into it right away.  Apparently, it’s originally from Dr. Christopher – although I imagine many variations have existed.  Here’s how to make it:

  • 12 Farm-fresh eggshells with the inner membrane removed – dried and crushed
  • 1 pint of raw apple cider vinegar.

Combine the eggshells and vinegar in a container with room for air at the top because the mixture will bubble a bit. Let sit for a couple of days until the eggshells are completely dissolved and take 1 tablespoon daily with water and honey to taste (or straight if you’re feeling especially robust). To this basic mixture you can add other goodies that are health enhancing like garlic or various spices or herbs to make an amazing health tonic.