fatty acids in nuts
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Why Fat is so Crucial to Your Health and Recovery

Photo by Roberta Sorge on Unsplash

Let’s talk dietary fat, yep the fats we eat. For decades the media has demonized fat, telling us that too much fat would give us a heart attack and make us gain weight. Well, it turns out they based this on limited studies and inaccurate statistics. The truth is that processed carbs are the bigger player here! But this post is not addressing processed carbs (I’ll save that for a later post). In this post I’m going to explain why our body actually needs fat in order to properly recover from hard workouts, optimize our metabolism, hormones, and our overall health.

Fats play a number of roles in the body, but here are three key roles that I think are most applicable to active adults:

  • Fats provide a source of energy, especially for endurance type (low heart rate) exercise
  • Fats act as a building block for cell membranes and hormones which help to regulate inflammation
  • Fats aid in absorption of fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K – all which support immune function

There are three types of fatty acids – saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated – and we need all types, yes, even the saturated fats! In fact, saturated fats should be around 30% of total fat intake. Monounsaturated fats (Omega 9’s) should be the highest consumed at ~60%. And Polyunsaturated fats (Omega 3 & 6) should be around 10% of total intake. Saturated fats are those mostly found in animal fats as well as tropical oils. Monounsaturated fats are avocado and extra virgin olive oil as well as nuts like almonds, cashews, and pecans.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

Despite (ideally) being the smallest percentage of our total fats, polyunsaturated fats deserve a little more attention. These fats are often identified as Omega-6 or Omega-3 fatty acids and the ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 should ideally be consumed in a 2:1 ratio. Unfortunately, in today’s world of processed foods and inflammatory oils, we can see ratios as high as 20:1! Read those labels on your crackers, cookies, cereals, and even “healthy” products. So many are using canola, soy, or corn oils – and its actually quite hard to avoid them if not making a conscious effort. Corn oil has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 46:1!!! Remember, your average ratio should be 2:1! Read on to understand why this is so important…

Some Omega 6 & 3 fatty acids are actually good for you. Here are some examples of healthy Omega 3 and 6 oils:

  • Omega-6: sunflower oil, sesame oil, and safflower oil
  • Omega-3: fish oil, flaxseed oil, walnuts or oil, pumpkin seeds or oil

These oils should be produced from organic sources and cold pressed; not by using high-heat industrial processing which cause these oils to go rancid before they even hit the grocery store shelves.

Photo by Louis Hansel @shotsoflouis on Unsplash

A balance of all three fatty acids help to control inflammation throughout your body because they are all precursors to the production of hormone-like substances called prostaglandins. There are two anti-inflammatory and one inflammatory prostaglandin, and you need all three to heal from various stress and injuries since they control inflammatory function.

Its worth noting that in order for fats to be properly converted into these important prostaglandins and to do their job, your digestion, liver, and enzymatic function all need to be working properly. This is why my last post was dedicated to proper digestion.

Inflammation is something that I think most physically active folks understand well. Anyone ever feel sore after a hard workout?! That’s the body inflaming an overworked area to shuttle more blood flow there to allow for healing to happen faster. After the initial inflammation, the anti-inflammatory prostaglandins come in to help calm the system. This is the cycle of healing.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

So you are probably wondering where to start? If you are like many who think the low-fat diet is the answer to health, but you are still struggling to lose weight and feel your best, its time to try something old. Yes, I said old, because this is going back to a more ancestral approach to eating which utilizes a mix of fats in the diet!

Here are a few easy ways to incorporate some healthy fats into your meals without following recipes or meal plans:

  • If you typically steam veggies, rub them with extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil or melted tallow and sprinkle with salt – roast them in the oven at 375F until lightly browned and tender
  • Opt for chicken thighs over chicken breasts (skin-on is even better)
  • Make your own salad dressings or mayo using avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil
  • Fry your eggs in grass-fed butter or ghee
  • Snack on nuts and seeds

Try eating this way and see if you feel any different. Do you feel satisfied for longer after a meal? Do you feel like you recover faster after big workouts? How is your mood and digestion?

Speaking of digestion, be sure to start slow. If you eat a very low-fat diet right now, your body will need some time to adjust, so take baby steps. But I think you will find yourself reaching for those frequent snacks less often and will feel more balanced!

Need more support in your efforts to improve digestion and get more fat? Let’s work together!

blood sugar regulation
Resources

Why is Blood Sugar Regulation so Important to My Health?

Photo by Evan Hein on Unsplash

This is part 2 of a series of educational nutrition topics that I’m putting together. This time, we are talking blood sugar regulation. In my opinion, this is the biggest reason people have losing weight and keeping it off!

In the past few years, as low carb diets have gained in popularity, blood sugar regulation has gotten more attention. I think this is in part because more of the general population have realized just what a big deal it is to our overall health and weight loss goals. It seems crazy that people can drop hundreds of pounds and heal their bodies in numerous ways all through better blood sugar regulation! It just goes to show how powerful this particular function is in bringing our bodies back to hemostasis (balance).

Have you ever wondered what parts of the body make this magic happen the way it should? If so, read on because its about to get a little nerdy! First, the brain and central nervous regulate our blood sugar using some key organ systems that can be remembered using the acronym “PAALS”. This stands for pancreas, adrenal glands, adipose tissue, liver, and skeletal muscle. The part of the brain that starts the communication chain related to blood sugar is the hypothalamus which is the control center for our autonomic nervous system (unconscious body functions) . The hypothalamus communicates with another part of the brain called the pituitary. The pituitary is often referred to as the “master gland” (medicinenet.com) since it produces hormones and sends messages to other glands in the body as well as the PAALS. The graphic below does a great job of summarizing the various functions of the PAALS and giving you a visual as I talk through the rest of the organs.

NTA (2020)

The pituitary communicates with the pancreas in regulating the creation of two key blood sugar hormones: insulin and glucagon. When blood sugar levels are too high, the pancreas releases insulin which lets glucose and fat into our cells to store the excess energy. When blood sugar is too low, it releases glucagon which lets glucose and fat out of our cells to release stored energy for the body to use. As a side note, on top of this critical function, the pancreas also performs functions to aid in digestion (secreting pancreatic juice and digestive enzymes).

On to the 1st “A” of the PAALS – the adrenal glands. These little glands are responsible for producing a number of hormones. Most notably are epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol, as well as a few others like our sex hormones. In relation to blood sugar regulation, cortisol is a key player. When blood sugar gets too low (or if stress is high) the adrenals release cortisol, a steroid hormone. Cortisol acts in much the same way as epinephrine but with a slower response time. Epinephrine is that flight or fight hormone that triggers when you are under acute stress – folks like to use the ‘chased by a tiger’ analogy because it’s a good one. When epinephrine is released it stimulates glycogenolysis, lipolysis, and gluconeogenesis in the liver. These are all big words to say that your body pulls out stored glucose from your cells, and creates glucose from non-carbohydrate sources into energy in order to prepare your body to run FAST!  Well, its crazy to think, but when your blood sugar drops, your body sees this as a similar type of stress and therefore it triggers the same processes.  As blood sugar rises back up, signals are sent back to the hypothalamus and pituitary to regulate and back off the release of these hormones.

The adipose tissue plays a part in blood sugar regulation as well by secreting a number of hormones, along with a key hunger signaling hormone – leptin. Leptin hinders hunger signals (higher leptin means less cravings). If you want higher leptin levels and fewer cravings, blood sugar regulation is key!

Finally, the skeletal muscles help regulate blood sugar a few key ways. When the body receives excess glucose (you eat too much sugar or carbohydrates than you are burning), in order to prevent high blood sugar, the body converts the glucose into glycogen and then stores it in either the liver or your muscles. On the flip side, when you blood sugar is low, your body can pull the stored glycogen from the muscles and convert it back to glucose to be used for energy. This is why you can tolerate more glucose when exercising, because your body is utilizing it right away. If you eat a bunch of sugar and then sit at your desk, its going to get stored. If this is a chronic scenario, it can lead to a host of health issues.

As you can see, the PAALS are a symphony of organs and glands which all work in harmony to keep your blood sugar stable throughout the day. By balancing your intake of all of the macronutrients, you can keep your blood sugar more even so if you graphed it, it would look more like rolling foothills and not the peaks and valleys of a mountain pass! Every time your body sees those high peaks (spikes) in blood sugar, it sees it as a stressor and your hormones react accordingly. Over time this stresses your HPA axis and can cause dysregulation. This is why finding a macro balance that feels good to your body is key to long term health.

If you want to learn more, Im currently taking clients and I’d love to help you with your nutrition goals! See my Work With Me Page for more information!

lemon water for digestion
Resources

What Healthy Digestion Feels Like

This is the first part of some educational segments on various systems that have a big impact on their overall health. The first will be on Digestion. I hope you find it helpful!

Do most people truly know what healthy digestion feels and looks like? I’m gonna go with no, not the majority. I wish I could meet my 28 year old self and tell her many things. But, most importantly I’d share what I’ve learned over the past 15 years about digestive imbalances and how to heal it early or prevent it altogether!

I suffered through lactose intolerance for many years without realizing the cause of my numerous bathroom visits. Did I mention we would talk about poo, cause yeah, that’s part of digestion and impossible to leave out of the conversation! Then, after the birth of my son, I had a terrible yeast overgrowth (gut dysbiosis) issue that caused fatigue and brain fog I have never thought possible! All of those burbs, flatulence, and consistencies of stool are all cues our body is sending you about the health of your digestion. However, without the education to translate and decode it, it might feel like your body is speaking to you in another language!

So why is digestion so important? I mean, you eat, you poo…right?! What’s so complicated? As long as you’re eating healthy foods, you should be good. Well…not exactly. See, you are what you absorb, more than you ‘are what you eat’. And every cell in your body depends on the digestive system to provide the nutrients it needs for structure and function. So if there is an imbalance in the digestive process, this can often cause downstream health issues. Not to give a full on biology lesson here, but it truly helps to understand all of the parts of your digestive process and I think pictures help. Below is a simple diagram from Wikipedia that should guide you when I start spouting various organs and sections of organs.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_digestive_system#/media/File:Sobo_1906_323.png

Digestion could be thought of as a north to south process – starting at the brain and ending in elimination. In a healthy digestive process, your body would be in a parasympathetic state (often referred to as rest and digest). This is because digestion actually starts in your BRAIN. What? Ok, before I lose you, this is a real thing. Just thinking about your food, preparing it, smelling it. This all prepares your body to start the digestive process. Your salivary glands even perk up and get ready to receive food into your mouth.

So you have thought about your food, its on your plate in front of you. So now you place the food into your mouth and chew. Yumm! The longer you chew, the better broken down the food particles are before you send them down your esophagus and into your stomach. Additionally, enzymes for carbohydrate digestion start releasing in the MOUTH. So chew those carbs up until its like a smoothie consistency (typically 20-30 times).

Once you swallow, the food travels to your stomach and gets ‘washed’ with HCl (or stomach acid). Something you may not realize is how important protein consumption is for your stomach acid levels to be optimal! Protein stimulates the release of a hormone (gastrin) which tells the body how much HCl to produce and essentially jumpstarts protein digestion. Note that the stomach is not actually absorbing many nutrients. Its mainly preparing the partially digested food (now an acidic liquid called chyme) to go into the small intestines where nutrients will be absorbed into the body.

As the chyme moves into the small intestine, the gallbladder releases bile and the pancreas releases pancreatic juices which help to further break down the macronutrients into nutrients that the body can absorb into the bloodstream. The small intestine is surprisingly long, averaging 20 feet and covered with villi and microvilli which create a type of brush boarder which helps to increase the area in which to absorb nutrients from the chyme.

The large intestine absorbs the few remaining nutrients, but mostly it is absorbing water. The microbiota in the large intestine have been sitting there patiently waiting for prebiotic fibers (from your fruits and veggies) to make valuable nutrients like B vitamins and some important amino acids. A balanced microbiome is critical to optimal digestion, so keeping these “bugs” happy is important! Any sort of imbalance and your body will send you signals through digestive upset and sometimes even skin irritations (like acne or eczema). As for what’s left, well, its the remaining waste (toxins, fiber, and dead microbes) that’s eliminated (yep, poo).

Still reading? All of this is to explain how things SHOULD work. If you’re not properly digesting and breaking down your foods, the undigested macronutrients in the chyme will irritate the small intestinal lining and over time cause what many refer to as “leaky gut”. This is because the junctions of the lining, which should be tight, open up due to inflammation and allow undigested food particles into the blood stream. This can cause inflammation throughout the body and present in many different ways.

The overall take away is that if every upstream (northern) digestive system is out of whack, then everything downstream (south) will suffer. And if your digestive system is under stress, your entire body will feel the effects via inflammation. It may not be right away, but over time, they can add up to many common health concerns. Your digestion is paramount to your overall health!

I’m currently studying to be a NTP (Nutritional Therapy Practitioner) and will graduate in late fall 2020! I am so Excited to pursue my passion in this way. And as an NTP I can help you address your digestive concerns and teach you ways to support your body. Around the holidays, I’ll be taking on a limited number of clients but feel free to reach out on my social media outlets if you want to learn more!

nutrient dense kitchen
Resources

Nutrient Dense Kitchen 101

Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash

Today I want to talk about how we can make some small changes to “tune up” our kitchen and our health. You don’t need a big overhaul to make impactful changes to you and your families health!

The 3 things I want to cover today are:

  • Selection of high quality foods
  • Preparation of foods to improve nutrients and digestibility
  • Selection of cookware and storage containers
Photo by Megan Markham on Unsplash

Selection of High Quality Foods

Sourcing high quality meats and vegetables are paramount to our health and to the sustainability of our natural resources. Its easy to gravitate towards very cheap meats to feed you and your family, it feels like kids are a never ending pit after all! But those low cost meats are loaded with chemicals (from the animal having eaten grains sprayed with fertilizers and pesticides) as well as hormones and antibiotics. These directly affect our health when we eat the meat of these animals. By sourcing grass-fed beef and pastured chicken and pork, you will be eating much more nutrient dense meats since those animals were allowed to eat wild grasses, bugs, and are not living in such close proximity to each other. Selecting fruits and vegetables which are organic or not sprayed with synthetic pesticides is also important. Even better, eating foods that are seasonally grown in your area will provide the biggest nutrient punch. Produce shipped from other countries are picked when they are not yet ripe in order to get it to you around the time it is ripe. If allowed to ripen fully prior to picking, our fruits and veggies are able to uptake and develop the most about of vitamins and minerals.

The best sources of sustainable meats and vegetables can be found at a local farmers market or a butcher shop that sources from small local farms. You might even sign up for a CSA (Community Sharing Agriculture) or CCSA (Combined CSA) which works with one or many local farmers and provides you a box, or share, of food each week. This allows you to support your local economy and help to pay local farmers a fair wage. For those in the St. Louis area, I love Fair Shares CCSA because of the variety you get in a share. There are other options as well, such as meat delivery services that work with small farms to supply high quality meats, right to your door. Two worth mentioning are Crowd Cow and Butcher Box. You can typically find vegetable delivery in your local area as well. Or, look for an open produce stand, or maybe experiment with growing some of your own!

Photo by Tijana Drndarski on Unsplash

Preparation of Foods to Improve Nutrients and Digestibility

Not only is sourcing important, but how you prepare the foods is also key to getting the most nutrients as you can. Plus, some foods, are more difficult to digest than others, so there are preparation techniques that can help start to breakdown the foods prior to consuming to help with this.

Let me give some examples of a good, better, best approach. Depending on where you are right now, you can select an entry point that is an improvement to your current approach, but not so much that you feel overwhelmed.

Dairy:
Dairy can be difficult for many to digest, but there are some ways to make it easier to digest.

Good:
Instead of drinking conventional milk, you could switch to organic milk and try to purchase brands that come in a paper carton or glass over plastic jugs. This would apply to cheese, yogurt, and all other dairy products as well. Try to switch all of these products to organic sources.

Better:
Instead of pasteurized and homogenized milk, you might try to find a source of raw milk and see if that changes the way you feel after drinking it. Again, apply this to all of your dairy products. Many people who do not digest pasteurized dairy very well, can do well on raw dairy products since pasteurization destroys the enzymes that help us to break down the lactose in these foods.

Best:
Forgo any diary that is not fermented or cultured. Focus on milk products like kefir, yogurt, or cottage cheese that is loaded with probiotics which help balance your gut microbiome and improve digestion. Eventually, you might experiment with making your own fermented and cultured dairy!

If you find that you still do not tolerate dairy very well, then you might try goat or sheeps milk, or eliminate it from your diet for a period of time, and use non-dairy milks instead.

Beans and Legumes (Pluses):
Beans and legumes (like lentils) can also be difficult to digest, but if you haven’t tried some of the suggestions below, you may be surprised at how well your body can tolerate them. Pluses can be an economical way to add protein and fiber into your diet and can be used to complement meat dishes or have the occasional vegetable-based meal.

Good:
Focus on buying organic canned beans over conventional in order to avoid synthetic pesticide residue that is present on non-organically grown veggies.

Better:
Purchase organic canned beans that come in BPA free cans, like Eden Foods brand who soak their beans before cooking. Soaking beans is an great way to start to break down the beans and make them more digestible.

Best:
Try soaking and/or sprouting your own dry pulses. One way that soaking helps improve digestion is by minimizing raffinose in beans. Raffinose is a complex carbohydrate that is difficult to break down and can lead to bloating and/or gas after consuming beans. Soaking your dried beans in water with baking soda can help to break it down and make beans easier to digest. “To further reduce the gas-producing properties of beans, add a large strip of dried kombu seaweed to the pot of beans and water prior to boiling.” (www.drweil.com) Beans can be made in large batches and frozen for future use. And as an added bonus, dried beans are a fraction of the cost of ready-to-eat canned beans.
Here is a great reference guide by the Nutritional Therapy Association on the best ways to soak and sprout your grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.

Above, I gave just two examples of how you can baby step your way into better preparations of your foods to make them more nutrient dense and digestible. With every food, you can find a good/better/best approach. Take your time, be patient, and soon you will have incorporated a number of these approaches into your daily food prep!

Photo by Sarah Gualtieri on Unsplash

Selection of Cookware and Storage Containers

One final and simple way to improve your kitchen is through your selection of cookware and storage containers.
Pots and pans with non-stick coatings as well as plastic storage containers both utilize plastics which can leach (or leak) chemicals from the plastic into your food. This is more prone to happen when the plastics are heated, which is why cookware is of particular concern and why you never want to microwave food in plastic containers.

This can be an expensive endeavor, but don’t feel like you need to do it all at once. In terms of priorities, here are the top three swamps you can make with minimal cost to greatly reduce the chemical load on your body.

  1. Buy one cast iron skillet and a good knife.
    • You can buy one new, but I have also found some nicely seasoned previously owned pans at antique shops for around $20. These pans will last more than your lifetime if properly cared for.
    • Your knife should be forged from a single piece of steel (avoid those screwed at the top to a handle). These knives can be sharpened over and over.
  2. Be sure to cool your food prior to storing in plastic containers.
    • This minimizes the “leaching” effect from hot food in the container.
    • Along these lines, transfer food to a non-plastic container to reheat it.
    • Over time, replace your plastic containers with glass.
  3. Swap out foil with unbleached parchment paper
    • Foil will leach aluminum into your foods.
    • If you commonly wrap baked potatoes in foil, wrap fish or other meats in foil for baking, try swapping to parchment paper instead.

As you can see, there are a number of simple, and affordable ways to upgrade your kitchen game! Try some of these simple swaps and see if you notice a difference in your body.

If you like this content and want to learn more, please comment below or drop me a dm on Instagram @dailybagofgoodness and Ill focus more on topics like these on future posts.

References:
NTA (2020). Soaking & Sprouting Guide
NTA (2020). Culinary Wellness Pt1. Student Guide
https://www.drweil.com/diet-nutrition/anti-inflammatory-diet-pyramid/cooking-with-beans-legumes/