Supplementation is probably the topic I get asked about the most. Should I supplement? What should I be taking? And my answer always is…it depends.
Supplements have the potential to be a giant waste of money. Frequently, people start taking a supplement because they saw something on TV or heard positive benefits from a friend or co-worker.
There are a few problems with this:
1. Every BODY is different and your body may be using certain vitamins or minerals more or less rapidly than the person next to you. Your needs will be different.
2. Not all supplements are created equal. Some brands are undoubtedly better than others.
3. What’s made in a lab will never be equal to what you get in nature.
So, who should consider taking supplements?
1. Generally healthy people who are under an increased amount of stress. Stress depletes vitamin stores in the body, particularly the B vitamins, and since these are water soluble it is generally safe to take a B-complex daily.
2. People who have been ill or are recovering from surgery. The body needs extra support during this time to support rapid healing.
3. People who are dieting or limited diets due to allergies. This group will likely be missing the recommended daily intake amounts for each nutrient due to a limited food intake.
4. People who consume large amounts of sugar because sugar is a nutrient depleting substance.
5. People who smoke or are exposed to second hand smoke regularly. Antioxidant therapy is generally beneficial for this group due to the increase of free radicals in the body.
I believe in short term supplementation. Feel a cold coming on? Take a vitamin C supplement to give your body extra support to fight off the virus, but if you are eating a well-rounded diet with a variety of fruits and vegetables, your need for supplementation will be minimal if at all.
If you do feel the need to take extra vitamins and minerals, here are a few tips:
1. Try to find a supplement in liquid, powder, or liquid gel cap form. These are best absorbed.
2. Take your supplements with or just after food.
3. Research your supplements so that you know the best time of day to take them. Some act as stimulants and are best avoided after lunchtime.
4. Avoid generic brands, commonly found at drug or grocery stores. Buy better quality products from your local health food store. The people that work in these stores are typically well educated on the different products.
5. Consult a nutritional practitioner for an individualized supplementation program.
*Special note: do not begin taking an iron supplement unless it has been recommended and is being supervised by a medical or naturopathic doctor. Iron toxicity can occur quickly in those who do not need the supplement.
The goal of a proper diet is to provide all the nutrients essential for body and health maintenance, but we don’t just want to live healthily, we want to THRIVE. Many people change their diets, include more natural foods while ditching the processed junk, but what they haven’t given up are the “non-foods”. This group includes coffee/tea, chocolate, alcohol, white sugar, and tobacco. Each of these can have an adverse effect on your health and nullify all the hard work and positive steps you’re taking.
Regular intake of caffeine is linked to a variety of health problems and plays a major role in masking chronic fatigue. When consumed, it will deplete your body’s stores of vitamin C and all B vitamins. The B vitamins play a large role in providing you with natural energy. When you drink caffeinated drinks, these are depleted and unless replaced, the effects of caffeine will wear off and you’ll be left feeling exhausted, which will in turn have you reaching for more caffeine. It’s a vicious cycle!
I definitely love my morning cup of coffee, but I do limit my daily intake to JUST ONE cup. After that, I supplement with a B-complex mid-morning to stave off any caffeine withdrawal lethargy. Some days I don’t need coffee, but let’s get serious, this life is crazy. So just make sure you are consuming limited quantities and supplementing appropriately.
Chocolate is also considered a stimulant as it contains mild levels of caffeine. Because of the sweet taste of processed chocolate, it is one of the most commonly craved foods. Like all non-foods, it is an irritant to the stomach and can cause digestion to slow as the body tries to regulate the sudden and drastic rise in blood sugar. There is no nutritional value to processes chocolate (especially milk chocolate) BUT you can now easily buy raw cacao nibs, which are crushed cacao bean and are high in vitamin C and manganese.
Alcohol is a staple in many cultures all throughout the world and there is documentation that suggests moderate consumption of alcohol can provide health benefits. The problem in the west is that we don’t do well with moderation; we are over-consumers. Regular overconsumption of alcohol can lead to addiction, obesity, ulcers, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, diabetes, and cancer just to name a few. It will also impair the absorption of nutrients, particularly B vitamins, and will cause dehydration.
Alcohol is also considered a stimulant which is surprising for most people. It does have a depressant effect at first, but will stimulate the nervous system about 3-4 hours after consumption. Have you ever had 1 or 2 glasses of wine with dinner only to find you can’t fall asleep or you wake up in the night? Try cutting out the booze and see if there’s any improvement.
4. White Sugar
Overconsumption and daily use of sugar is the first compulsive habit for almost everyone with addictions later in life. Sugar is addictive and it is in everything! Reading the nutritional labels in the grocery store is what nightmares are made of. Many nutritional authorities believe that the high use of sugar in our diet is a significant underlying cause of disease and it just ravages all the vitamins and minerals in your body. On top of everything, it produces quick bursts of energy, which is why many people turn to it. The problem is, once ingested, it quickly burns up and your energy levels will come crashing down. This leads you to search for the next “fix”.
The physical withdrawal from sugar is actually considered quite mild. You will have periodic strong cravings, but if you can resist they will fade. To make this time more tolerable, ensure that you are getting adequate protein and you can try supplementing with extra B vitamins, vitamin C and zinc.
We all know smoking is bad for our health. It is one of the top causes of preventable disease and one of the hardest addictions to deal with. It increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer, respiratory disease, and the list goes on. Nicotine is a well-known stimulant and this is part of the addictive nature of cigarettes; even the strongest willed people cannot stop smoking. Smokers and people exposed to cigarette smoke should ensure they are taking at least a basic vitamin-mineral and antioxidant formula daily.
If you feel that you cannot cut out these non-foods completely (which would be very difficult in today’s society) ensure that you are consuming only in moderation and supplementing appropriately to ensure you are providing your body with the appropriate support.
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Herbal remedies have been used in traditional cultures for thousands of years to not only cure illness, but to maintain health. There are many herbs and spices that are readily available in your local grocery store, that won’t cost an arm and a leg, and that can provide you with significant health benefits. Here are my top 7 herbs and spices for health.
Parsley is a great detoxifier. It is so rich in chlorophyll that it was historically used in hospitals as an internal deodorant for patients (often why it’s served as a garnish with meals containing a lot of garlic!). It’s also great for alkalizing the body. Your body is either in a state of acidity or alkalinity and when it is in an acidic state is when diseases occur. So basically you don’t want to be in an acidic state.
You don’t need to chow down on the actual leaves though; you can juice parsley as part of a raw vegetable juice or you can steep it in a tea and get the full benefits of the B vitamins and vitamins A, C, and K it contains.
Garlic is one of the top dogs of herbal lore. It has been used for centuries and is probably one of the best known herbs to benefit health. Fresh garlic provides the best benefits and its antimicrobial affects have been well documented. If taken in large quantities, it can be irritating to the digestive tract and when applied directly to the skin can cause burns. Some people avoid garlic because of the offensive smell; so eat it at home, brush your teeth, and maybe don’t go anywhere sweaty for the rest of the day.
This spice, is a long-standing staple in Indian and Asian cooking and has far reaching medicinal properties. It can be purchased ground in the spice aisle or fresh in the produce section. I recommend checking the organic section or asking an employee to help you locate it. It has well researched benefits as an antibiotic and is popularly known as an anti-inflammatory.
It has high levels of manganese, which when combined with its curcumin, make it great for the cardiovascular system and lowering LDL cholesterol.
Sea salt could be seen as slightly controversial to include as a source of health. The difference between sea salt and table salt is essentially the natural iodine content. Many table salts do contain added iodine, but it doesn’t make much sense to process and refine a substance (taking the minerals out) just to artificially add them back in. I’ll just say I like my iodine natural.
Why is iodine important? Well there are many places where the soil is now deficient in iodine which causes hypothyroidism and goiter in the populations. For example, I live in what is called “the goiter belt” of southern Ontario. So, iodine is an especially important nutrient for people living in these areas or if you’re buying produce grown in these areas.
Ginger is known for its anti-nausea effects, but it has also been used effectively as an antibiotic for many intestinal disorders. It is also beneficial for providing a calming effect and has been called an antispasmodic. We currently live in a culture where were are constantly in a heightened state – always on alert for the next crisis. Ginger has the ability to provide respite from this state and allow bodies and minds to relax. I’ve used this as part of the base for my Soothing Ginger Soup but it can also be steeped in hot water to make ginger tea.
Cinnamon serves as a post-meal digestive aid and can be especially helpful if there are any feelings of indigestion or heartburn. Some of the popularity of cinnamon teas can be attributed to this. It has similar properties to ginger in that it does stimulate weak digestion. Cinnamon is also a known source of anti-oxidants and is used as an anti-inflammatory.
This herb/flower has not grown to the same level of popularity in North America as some of the other herbs, but it does have many beneficial properties. I first starting using it several years ago to brew tea in the evening as it is great for calming nerves and relaxing the body. It is also an anti-inflammatory and immune system booster. This one is a little bit harder to find. You may be able to locate it at an organic market, but you will be able to find it for a better price from a local Asian grocer.
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We’ve all seen that article a million times, how eating several small meals throughout the day can help you lose weight. There is good science to back up this claim, but if you find that you’re not losing weight, you’re bloated, gassy, and just generally uncomfortable, you may actually be doing more harm than good by eating 5-6 small meals per day.
Eating 5-6 small meals rather than 3 large meals does make sense. The science behind this method of eating is that, by eating smaller meals more frequently, the dieter will be able to keep their blood sugar stable. In doing this, it prevents hunger pangs and binge eating caused by those dreadful drops in blood sugar (the kind that make you want to go home and eat EVERYTHING in sight).
But what this method of eating doesn’t really take into consideration is the digestive process. When we eat something and I mean anything, our stomach releases hydrochloric acid (HCl) or stomach acid. This acid begins the digestive process in the stomach before the food moves on to the small intestine where the real digestion takes place.
What can happen when you eat frequently, is that your stomach is having to constantly secrete hydrochloric acid and over time, it can exhaust and begin to secrete less. This leads to a condition called ‘underactive stomach’ and can wreak havoc on the entire digestive system.
An underactive stomach does not produce enough enzymes for the proper digestion of food and will affect the proper functioning of the colon leading to malabsorption of vitamins and minerals (and constipation which is super annoying). When food isn’t broken down enough at the beginning of the digestive process it can also cause putrification in the intestinal tract (bloating, gas, and flatulence) this is especially true of animal protein since it is already so difficult for the body to break down and a slow transit time just makes it that much worse.
So what do you do? Give up snacking all together? While that is one option that many people choose to follow, if you determine that it is not right for you, you can start with some of the following suggestions
1. Choose foods that are easy to digest such as fruits and vegetables. When eaten raw, these foods have natural live enzymes that will aid in digestion. Yes, that’s right. Food will break itself down when eaten raw!
2. Supplement with Betaine HCl with all meals. Start with one tablet for smaller meals/snacks and increase to about 2 or 3 for larger meals. If you take too many don’t worry, you’ll just feel a bit of discomfort (like an acid reflux feeling) and then you know to decrease your amounts at the next meal.
3. Proper food combining. Some foods are easier to digest when eaten together than others. For example, fruit should always be eating alone because it is digested quickly. Protein can be eaten with fats or vegetables and the same with carbohydrates, but protein should not be combined with carbohydrates.
At the end of the day, every body is different and will respond differently to different kinds of foods. For example, I have a difficult time digesting raw apples (which sucks because I love apples!). You really do have to experiment with different combinations to find what works for you. I do recommend that you try food combinations for at least 2-3 days to see how your body reacts, then make adjustments after that.
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Nutrition and weight loss have never been more confusing and not to mention disheartening. Raise your hand if you’re part of the “lose 10lbs gain 15lbs” club! I was too, for a long time. Here you’ll find my top 5 reasons your last diet failed and how to avoid these pitfalls.
#1 Too Little Calories Consumed
So here’s the deal, your body requires a certain number of calories per day to carry out basic functioning, things like breathing and digestion (what keeps you alive basically) and this is called your Basal Metabolic Rate. Everyone’s is different and you can find a basic calculation in quick Google search. This calorie count doesn’t include the additional calories burned doing things like walking to the bus or the store, etc.
When you drastically decrease your calories you also subsequently decrease your nutrient intake (the stuff that makes sure you don’t get sick and die). Your body will start pulling from its stores and will be able to survive short term. THEN hunger…..you haven’t provided your body with adequate nutrients in several days and now its crying out in pain and what happens? You binge. You get home from work and anything and everything you see gets inhaled and you say f**k this! And go back to your old eating habits a little worse for wear.
#2 You’re Eating Too Much Fruit and Not Enough Protein
When we think of “healthy eating” certain things come to mind and one of those is large plates FULL of fresh fruit. Fruit is amazing. It’s full of vitamins and antioxidants, but it is also full of sugar. Instead of telling people to eat their fruits and vegetables, I say “eat your vegetables and fruit”. Fruit does have SO much good stuff in it and I would prefer you eat an apple than a granola bar, but it only takes your body about 1 hour to digest a serving of fruit. Instead of snacking on fruit throughout the day, I recommend you have a serving a fruit first thing in the morning on its own. The about 1 hour later, have your breakfast and for snacks during the day, try nuts/seeds, or roasted chickpeas (you can eat this like pop-corn!).
You also want to make sure you’re getting enough protein at every meal. Being vegetarian, I have to be a bit more strategic, but some vegetarian protein options are:
Beans and rice
Have you ever put soft tofu in a fruit smoothie? DO IT, you can’t really taste the tofu and it gives your smoothie a natural protein punch!
#3 You Didn’t Plan It Out
I’m talking meal prep here guys and I preach this ALL the time, everywhere I go. Meal prep is probably the #1 thing that you can do to ensure success. Imagine you get home from work and you’re hungry…I’m talking hangry level hungry. You could easily shove half a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos into your face (done it) or 6 handfuls of peanut M&M’s (done it) OR you could have a nice little bowl of grapes that’s about 100-150 calories and that will be digested by the time you’re ready for dinner.
In order to be successful with weight loss YOU have to set yourself up for success. The 2 feet between your hand and your mouth is about that last bit of true freedom we have in the world and only you control what happens there.
Having lunches and dinner ready to go Monday-Friday is key for people with busy schedules. No last minute pizza pick-ups because you’re too tired to cook dinner. Literally scoop and reheat. I’ve done this for years; every day and every week and attribute my success to being prepared.
#4 You’re Not Exercising
Ok here’s the thing…unless you’re grossly overweight, you’re going to have to move your butt to shed those pounds. You can probably lose a few pounds with diet change, but if you have a slip up you’ll gain it back. More than the calorie burn, exercise has so many great benefits:
Exercise actually INCREASES your HDL (good cholesterol)
Build lean muscle and burn more calories at rest
Improve your cardiovascular health
Resistance exercise increases bone density especially in menopausal and post-menopausal women
So my advice is to get moving, get motivated, and feel great!
#5 You’re Calling It a “Diet”
I’ve always disliked the word “diet”. To me, it’s associated with other words like “restrictive” and “temporary”. When you decide to change the food that you are eating and come into the health world, you are actually reverting back to the diet that humans were meant to eat. This is our “diet”; vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes. All the bounty that Mother Nature has to offer us. You need to think of this in the long term. A typical “diet” may last 12 weeks or so, but this way of eating is for life and for lifelong health. And if you approach it from a perspective of health improvement rather than a weight loss perspective your odds of lasting success are astronomically higher. The “diet” industry didn’t become a billion dollar industry because it actually works.
If you’re looking for some inspiration check out some of my recipes on my website. I’d also love it you guys would share this post with anyone who is struggling or starting a new healthy lifestyle and leave any questions in the comments section below.
Health and Happiness