Random Thoughts

Traveling Solo

I wrote this blog while traveling 2 years ago and never got around to posting it. I am currently craving travel in these post-COVID times and yearning for the day I can travel to Europe again. I hope you enjoy and comment below on your favorite travel spots! Thanks for reading!

I love my boys (i.e. husband and 5 yr old son), oh how I love my boys. And while its hard every single time I leave them, there is also this small part of me that feels fulfilled and balanced when I have some alone time. Maybe its my introverted nature or maybe everyone just needs some time alone to unplug from the everyday? Im not sure.

Im 42 and, until this week, Ive never traveled alone internationally. Technically not in the states either unless you count multiple 12 hour drives back to my home state – but that was just traveling alone, not exploring alone. Exploring alone is a whole different thing. In one way it sucks not to have someone else to explore with and then later recount the sights and experiences from your memories of the trip weeks or even years later. But there is also a freedom to exploring alone. You go where the wind takes you, stop and have a coffee when you want, the photos you want, and pick your own pace.

I used to get antsy sitting alone at dinner. I’ve come now to appreciate the quiet and slow pace I can take eating along over the frantic rush of shoveling food into my face AND my distracted kids face at the same time so that he actually eats his dinner.

I was on my way to Europe for a work trip and decided to go a couple days early and explore Athens, Greece and see the historical sites Ive only read about in books. The Acropolis hill top was pretty awe inspiring and the history of Greece is fascinating. While cold and windy that weekend due to a storm that had blown through, I made the most of it and  the lack of big crowds. I went on a bike tour (which just happened to be a private tour b/c it was so cold I was the only crazy person interested in a bike tour that day) and either foot or bike is the absolute best ways to explore a city. Athens has all kinds of diagonal, snaking, zig-zag roads with cafes on every corner and plenty of fantastic Mediterranean food options.

Of course you have to be smart traveling alone, especially as a woman. I said hello (apparently too friendly) to a man working a booth at the open market which started a conversation about if I was traveling along – “No” I said. He pursues and asks if its with a friend. “Oh no, with my husband.” I lied. He continues and tries to encourage me to leave my husband at the hotel and come have a coffee with him. At that point I just laugh, wave my hand and walk away. Part of me getting a little nervous just because the reality of being there alone hit me. Honestly, that whole market was a little unnerving. It was in a more industrial part of town and not as nice. Once I got out of there and back to the quaint little streets, I was much more comfortable. While its good to do things that put you out of your comfort zone, you have to read your environment and know when to be cautious.

It was only for 2 days, but I thoroughly enjoyed getting lost in a new city by myself and I plan to do this again another time soon. Anyone have good suggestions in Europe for solo female travelers? Rome is definitely high on my list.

Resources

Tired of being bloated, gassy or having inconsistent BMs – Then you NEED to read this!

Have you been struggling for months (or years) to figure out the cause of your digestive issues but instead finding yourself more and more frustrated? You are not alone! 

I have personally struggled with this as well and witnessed countless friends and family members deal with the same. You might have tried various cleanses, detoxes, restrictive diets… and maybe these things help for a while, but you never can really figure out what helped the most. Ultimately, you end up right back where you were but feeling more defeated each time. 

You end up dealing with the symptoms for years and even rationalize to yourself that they are “normal” or just part of getting older. After all, everyone belches and passes gas after meals, right? And having a bowel movement (BM) every 2-4 days is totally normal, right? Well, I’m here to tell you that it’s NOT normal. You should be having 1-2 BMs DAILY and it should be an easy to pass smooth sausage shape with no cracks and have no foul odor. We rarely talk about the specifics of what a healthy bowel movement should be like, so I’m putting this out there for anyone who ever wondered ‘what is a normal BM?’! 

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Additionally, digestion should be a silent process if all of your digestive enzymes and bile are flowing properly. If you are belching or passing gas during or after meals or feel bloated after eating; it is very likely that you are not producing adequate stomach acid, pancreatic enzymes, and/or bile. But another common reason for any or all of these symptoms is a gut microbiome imbalance (dysbiosis). This could be in the form of a pathogen (bad bacteria), parasite, or even low good bacterial flora. And if your microbiome is out of balance for long enough, it can lead to a host of chronic diseases such as IBS, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, kidney disease, heart disease and hypertension just to name a few. Just search “gut dysbiosis and chronic disease” on pubmed.gov and it turns up over 1,000 results! We are learning more every day about how an unchecked unbalanced microbiome is linked to many chronic diseases. In fact, gut imbalances can also be closely tied to mental health conditions as well. Dysbiosis is often linked to anxiety, depression, and mood disorders. It is estimated that 60% of people with these conditions have some sort of dysbiosis. I have personally experienced this for myself when I had a yeast overgrowth.

Photo by Sangga Rima Roman Selia on Unsplash

So now you’re wondering how you find out if you have dysbiosis, right?! This is where stool testing comes in. The GI-MAP is a powerful tool that is very comprehensive. I use this functional lab with clients who want to identify the root cause of and support their bodies to find balance in their gut microbiota again! While functional labs are never cheap, tested and targeted protocols that are developed with the bio-individuality of each client in mind can really save clients time, frustration, and money in the long run! 

While there are a number of stool tests available, the GI-MAP is more sensitive than a culturing or microscopy test since it identifies the DNA of the parts and pieces of all organisms present in the stool even if they are no longer able to grow in a culture. Additionally, it is quantitative versus qualitative so it is possible to determine how detrimental the levels of various organisms might be to your’e health! 

At home test kit

The reason that other tests are sub-par is that culturing or microscopy can miss up to 50% of bacterial species due to the small sample size. Even for stool tests which require 3 samples, a small test sample is pulled from this and on such a small sample size, a parasite could easily be missed completely. Additionally, live yeast organisms are unlikely to survive all the way through the digestive tract so the likelihood of finding an active yeast culture in a traditional stool test is rare. While the GI-MAP only requires 1 sample, it provides more accuracy since it uses qPCR technology. This allows it to identify the tiny DNA SNPs present (even if the species is no longer alive) and also provides a list of prescription drugs that would most effectively treat each identified pathogen or parasite while considering the bio-individuality of the client (in the case that a client would want to have their doctor treat the pathogen via prescription antibiotics). 

Small sample of tested strains

Only requiring 1 sample is helpful for clients who must discontinue medications or digestive supplements to take the test, minimizing their discomfort. The GI-MAPs ability to quantify the amount of each species found versus just providing a positive/negative result allows to really narrow in on the species that is likely causing the most disruption and suggest a targeted healing protocol that will be efficient and effective. 

I had the privilege of being taught by practitioners from the Restorative Wellness Solutions program with over 20 years of experience on the best protocols to eradicate various pathogens, parasites, yeast, and fungi. These protocols typically include antimicrobial or antifungal herbs, biofilm disruptors, as well as functional supports of ‘northern’ digestive stress (such as bloating, gas, heartburn, etc.). 

In addition to the GI-MAP, I always recommend an MRT (Mediator Release Test) as well which is a food sensitivity test. In a future post, Ill dig into that more, but I wanted to point out that this is typically part of a healing protocol as well. The MRT looks at which foods are causing an inflammatory response on a cellular level. This way, I can work with clients to temporarily pull out these foods to allow for quicker and more complete resolution of their dysbiosis.

If you suspect that dysbiosis is an issue for you and you are interested in determining the root cause once and for all, let’s talk!  

Photo by Fernando Brasil on Unsplash

Resources

Why You Are Likely Dehydrated…

Photo by mrjn Photography on Unsplash

Let’s talk water and hydration! Did you know that most Americans are living in a state of constant dehydration?! Not only do caffeinated beverages, including energy drinks and sodas, make up a disproportionate amount of our fluid intake, they are diuretics. Fun (geeky) fact: I always thought that a diuretic just made you urinate more, and therefore made you less hydrated. While this is true, did you know it’s because it slows the reabsorption of water by the kidneys? So essentially, what would normally be moving back into your bloodstream, is instead excreted (via urine). I found that pretty interesting.

SOFT DRINKS

PSA on soda – remember when we discussed the role of minerals on the last post, and how proper digestion is critical to proper absorption of minerals? Well, the phosphoric acid in soda impedes the production of stomach acid (HCl) which impacts the absorption of calcium! Therefore, chronic soda drinkers could severely impact their long-term bone health. Time to switch to sparkling water!

Photo by Alexandra Nosova on Unsplash

SIGNS OF DEHYDRATION

Given that water makes up 55-60% of our total body mass, I’d say its pretty darn important! And a drop of only 2% can cause early signs of dehydration. Early signs include:

  • Fatigue (most common symptom)
  • Thirst
  • Dry Mouth
  • Muscle Cramps
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Dark urine


If this deficiency is chronic, it can lead to a host of health issues like:

  • Heart burn
  • Joint pain
  • Constipation
  • Colitis
  • Exercise induced asthma
Photo by Mehrpouya H on Unsplash

ROLES OF WATER

If you want to feel (and look) your best, water is your BFF! Did you regularly experience aches and pains in your body or just feel tired all of the time? Try increasing your water intake. It really could be just that simple! As related to physical activity, water cushions our bones and joints – its actually like lubricant for your joints, prevents tissues from sticking (dehydration actually makes you less flexible), and even regulates your body temperature. These are all key components to performing at your sport or just generally feeling like a rock star.

HOW MUCH

There are a number of formulas that can be used to determine your necessary water intake. Many people use the ‘drink ½ your body weight (lbs) in ounces of water’. This is a pretty good quick guide. Keep in mind that many conditions affect your water needs. How much you exercise, age, pregnancy and lactation, and medications consumed. Here is one guideline called Adequate Intake or AI:

https://www.nal.usda.gov/sites/default/files/fnic_uploads/water_full_report.pdf

For physically active folks, there are some additional guidelines I’d like to cover. The American College of Sports Medicine has guidelines for intake which I have summarized below. These are for males, so keep in mind that females will need slightly less. Intake will also depend on the length and exertion of the activity. For longer activities, or if you have sweated a great deal, you should add electrolytes to your water because water alone cannot fully hydrate you. Alternatively, you could add a more high quality sea salt to your recovery meal.

WHEN AND HOW TO GET IN YOUR WATER

Photo by Maria Di Lorenzo on Unsplash
  • Start your day with a glass of water.
    I like to squeeze ¼ of a lemon and a pinch of sea salt to mine. It’s a great way tostart the day off!
  • Drink at the first sign of thirst.
    Or if your tired, tense, had a headache or can’t concentrate.
  • Drink more if your urine is dark.
    You want it to be light yellow or straw colored. Note that vitamins can often darken urine, this does not mean you are dehydrated.
  • Drink before, during and after physical activity.
    Use the guidelines above as a starting point

IN SUMMARY

Unfortunately, most people are not able to recognize signs of dehydration. Our modern lifestyles are so full of distractions that its easy to forget to drink. Try carrying a nice glass or stainless-steel bottle with you everywhere you go – in the car, in meetings, at your desk. This is a great way to ensure you always have it on hand and it’s a great reminder to sip throughout the day.

For more support in your efforts to improve hydration click here!: Let’s work together!

Resources

Mineral Balance For Performance and Recovery

Photo by Harris Vo on Unsplash

So far, we have discussed a number of topics including digestion, blood sugar regulation, and fatty acids. Today I want to talk all about minerals and why they are so important. They are always important, but as we approach summer, they become crucial to sports performance. Let’s start with the basics – what are minerals?

Minerals are broken up into Major and Minor Minerals, based on their levels in the body. The Major minerals include Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sulfur, and Sodium. Calcium is the most abundant in the body amounting to 40% of the total mineral mass (only 1.5% of total body mass). Having balanced mineral levels are key for everyone, but they are particularly important for physically active adults. Too much or too little can really throw your entire system off!

The simplified mineral interaction chart below shows how some minerals interact with each other. Though this looks complicated, let me explain how to read it. If a mineral has an arrow pointing to another mineral, it means a deficiency of that mineral (or interference with its metabolism) may be caused by an excess of the mineral from where the arrow originates. And some pairs work in both directions – such as magnesium and calcium. If you have too much calcium, you may not be absorbing the magnesium you are consuming and vice versa.

Minerals serve a number of roles including: contracting and relaxing muscles, maintaining proper nerve function, regulating tissue growth and providing functional and structural support (think strong bones here).

An example of a mineral imbalance would be when an athlete gets leg cramps during short high-intensity or endurance type workouts or events. Without the proper balance of calcium and magnesium, this can happen easily since calcium regulates muscle contraction and magnesium regulates the muscle relaxing.

Even the microminerals can have a big impact on how you feel. For example, if you’re looking for peak performance (or just want to feel your best), you need to have proper levels of iodine. Iodine is essential in the production of thyroid hormone, which affects everything from metabolism to sexual hormones. Iodine is also key in nerve and bone formation which affects muscle memory and recovery.

Aside from performance improvements through better mineral balance, minerals directly affect your immune system. For example, most people are aware that zinc can support the immune system, but did you know that zinc is also important in the creation of stomach acid?! Since minerals are essential cofactors in creating enzymes which then convert fatty acids into prostaglandins (inflammatory regulators) – you can better understand why proper digestion is key. Isn’t it amazing how everything is truly connected in our bodies! Psst…If you haven’t been reading along, my last post on fatty acids discussed prostaglandins and how important they are for managing inflammation.

So now you might be wondering, “How do I balance my minerals? Do I take a supplement?” The short answer is – “It depends”. Many Functional Practitioners and some M.D.s will run tests for vitamin and mineral levels. If you have a known deficiency, talk to your Doctor or Practitioner about supplementing. Regardless of your mineral status, the best way to get your minerals is through your food. This is why variety matters! Eat all different colors of veggies, types of meat and seafood, and a variety of leafy greens. This will give you a full spectrum of minerals from your food.

Mineral rich foods include:

  • Shellfish
  • Cruciferous veggies (kale, cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, bok choy, arugula, etc.)
  • organ meats (try making a chicken liver pate!)
  • Eggs ( WITH the yolks!)
  • Avocados (more potassium than a banana)
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Fatty fish (sardines, herring, salmon)
Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash

And if you are going to hit a hard workout, you should consider adding electrolytes to your water. A simple pinch of high-quality sea salt is the cheapest method and is just as effective as the $20 sports electrolyte powder without the added sugar or sweeteners. (Note – there are some decent ones on the market now DM me for some recommendations)

Photo by Jason Tuinstra on Unsplash

Remember though that digestion is Queen in this cascade and if your digestion is not functioning properly, you may not be absorbing the minerals you are eating. It all starts with digestion!

Something else to look at is if any prescription or over the counter medications could be causing deficiencies of some minerals. This is very common, so ask your Pharmacist or Doctor about this when you start any new meds. And finally, times of high stress can also cause depletions, and some minerals are more prone to depletion from stress than others. Magnesium is a big one that is depleted with stress (physical and emotional). This is where supplementation can help support your system. A Nutritional Therapy Practitioner can also help evaluate ways to help you functionally support your body through food and/or supplements. If this is a concern for you, let’s talk. I’m here to help!

For more support in your efforts to improve digestion and mineral balance: Let’s work together!

Clean Eats, Keto Recipes, Paleo Recipes, Recipes

Dairy Free Yogurt Thats Better Than Store-Bought!

I’ve been meaning to post this one for quite some time! I can’t tolerate cow’s milk yogurt, so about 6 years ago, I started a pursuit to find (or make) the perfect homemade dairy free yogurt! This was mostly due to the store-bought stuff costing WAY too much. And over the years, it has morphed into the recipe below. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Its a regular staple in our house!

The easiest way to make it is in an Instant Pot with a yogurt setting. However, if you dont have one, its still possible. Just mix up the ingredients in a large stock pot and then pour it into a container (or multiple small containers) that will fit in your crock pot. You can then add about a cup of water to the bottom of the crock pot, place the lid on and set it to the lowest setting (warm would be best) for 9-10 hrs.

One time saving trick I found was to take the Instant Pot stainless insert out and putting it directly on your stove burner to prepare the yogurt. You can also do this with the “sauté” setting on the InstaPot, but then it takes forever for your Instant Pot to cool to a temperature that will not kill those good bacteria you are trying to grow! But if its your only choice, it also works.

Ill walk you through the prep steps and tricks below, but a recipe summary can also be found at the bottom of this post.

First your going to want to soak your cashews (1 cup). I usually do this the day before or in the morning before work so I can make the yogurt overnight that evening. I have soaked them in hot water for only an hour, or 1- 2 days with cold water. Either works if you have a good blender. Be sure to use filtered water if at all possible as chlorine can inhibit the growth of the bacteria.

Strain the soaked cashews, rise them well, then place them in a blender (I’m a big Vitamix fan). The nice thing about cashews is that you don’t have to strain them with a nut milk bag, so it avoids a messy step! Add water to the blender until it reaches the 4 cup mark (with the nuts and water together). Blend on high for about 30 seconds. You can make this ahead and store in the fridge until you are ready to make the yogurt, or just have it at the ready when prepping the yogurt.

You can really use any nut, but you will have to strain the pulp out of the milk. I suppose you could use oat, rice, etc as well but I have not tried this. You might have to play around with the amount of gelatin and tapioca flour you use.

Put 3 cups of filtered water in the Instant Pot insert on your stove burner and heat to a near boil.

Sprinkle 1.5 Tbsp of a high-quality gelatin (from grass fed or pastured beef or pork) and whisk until dissolved. I love this brand Further Food (not sponsored at all, just a fan). Its women owned and the quality is top notch.

Once the gelatin is all whisked in and dissolved, pour in the homemade nut milk into the pot. Add 2 Tbsp of organic cane sugar and whisk to dissolve. You need the sugar as food for those bacteria you want to grow. You cannot make yogurt without it. During the fermentation process, it will get “eaten up” and very low levels of sugar will actually be left in the batch. Continue heating the mixture.

In a small bowl, add 1/4 cup tapioca flour and about 1/4 – 1/2 cup of water and whisk until blended. You will need this prepared BEFORE the milk mixture starts bubbling!

Watch the mixture closely, as soon as it starts bubbling, add the tapioca slurry and quickly whisk into the pot. Whisk and allow to boil for about 15 seconds. No longer. Then turn off the heat and move to a cool burner.

Allow to cool to 110 degrees or less, whisking periodically as it cools if you are able (this is optional but can make for a smoother yogurt and speeds up the cooling). Then add your yogurt starter and whisk it through. I have found that this vegan starter from Cultures For Health to make the best tasting yogurt, but I have also used high quality probiotic capsules well (make sure they don’t contain any prebiotic fibers). In a pinch I have also used 1/2 cup of store-bought plain dairy free yogurt. If using probiotic capsules, you have to experiment a little with your formula. Try adding just one capsule to start and if its not very tangy, add more on the next batch or let it go longer.

A trick is that once you have made a batch, set aside 1 cup (in the fridge) that is off limits for eating, so you can use it to start your next batch! It works great!

Place the stainless insert containing your yogurt mixture into the Instant Pot, put on the lid (vent can remain open or closed), and push the “Yogurt” button and set for 9 hours.

You can open and taste the yogurt after 9 hours and if it isnt tangy enough, put in back on for another 2-3 hours and try again.

The yogurt will be runny coming out of the Instant Pot, but will set up nicely in the fridge. Whisk and then pour the mixture into large glass mason jars (wide mouth is best), seal and place in fridge. It sets up in about 2-3 hours.

I love making parfaits with grain free granola and berries, using it as a topping, or just eating it straight up! You can of course add cinnamon or vanilla to it to flavor it, but I would recommend doing this AFTER fermentation so you dont inhibit the growth of those good guys! However you eat it, I hope you enjoy this. It might sound intimidating, but its really quite simple once you do it a few times.


Cashew Milk:
* 1 cup soaked cashews
* 3 cups filtered water
Blend for 30 sec in high powered blender

Ingredients:
* 3 cups filtered water
* 1.5 Tbsp high quality gelatin
* 4 cups homemade cashew milk
* 2 Tbsp cane sugar
* 1/4 cup tapioca flour + 1/4 – 1/2 filtered water – whisked together
Whisk all dry ingredients in a separate bowl.

Directions:
1) Put 3 cups of filtered water in the InstaPot insert on your stove burner and heat to a near boil.
2) Sprinkle 1.5 Tbsp of a high quality gelatin (from grass fed or pastured beef or pork) and whisk until dissolved.
3) Once the genatin is dissolved, pour in the homemade nut milk into the pot.
4) Add 2 Tbsp of organic cane sugar and whisk all together.
5) In a small bowl, add 1/4 cup tapioca flour and about 1/4 – 1/2 cup of water and whisk until blended. You will need this prepared BEFORE the milk mixutre starts bubbling!
6) Watch the mixture closely, as soon as it starts bubbling, add the tapioca slurry and quickly whisk into the pot. Whisk and allow to boil for about 15 seconds. No longer. Then turn off the heat and move to a cool burner.
7) Allow to cool to 110 degrees or less, whisking periodically as it cools if you are able (this is optional but can make for a smoother yogurt and speeds up the cooling process).
8) Add your yogurt starter (actual starter, 1 cup from a previous batch, or 1/2 – 1 cup of store-bought yogurt. Whisk through thoroughly.
9) Place the stainless insert with the yogurt mixture into the InstaPot, put on the lid (vent can remain open or closed), and push the “Yogurt” button and set for 9 hours.
10) The yogurt will be runny coming out of the InstaPot, but will set up nicely in the fridge. Whisk and then pour the mixture into large glass mason jars, seal and place in fridge.
11) The yogurt sets up in about 2-3 hours.

Optional Toppings:
* berries
* shredded coconut flakes
* cacao nibs
* nut butter
* granola