Thursday, August 28, 2014

Coconut Oil: The Superfood and Super Cosmetic Product

Coconut oil is exciting because there is a long list of health, skin, hair and teeth benefits with no "ingredients" except for the coconut. oil.  It's packaged yes, but that organic, virgin coconut oil is straight from the coconut, ready to help you feel healthy and look vibrant.  What comes to mind when I think of a coconut is that tropical aroma, lounging on white sand while gazing out to the calm turquoise sea rolling in and out being canopied by palm trees and misted with cool sea air with each breeze.  I imagine it has this relaxing effect on the body when it's used!

For a list of evidence based health advantages visit this website!  The highlights are that it is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, increases your energy to burn more fat, natural antiviral and antibacterial agent, kills hunger, prevent damage to hair (when applied to hair), natural sunscreen, moisturizes the skin, and the type of fat it contains promotes nerve and brain health.

To cook with it:

I will usually mix coconut oil with organic butter so that the coconut taste isn't as strong.  The best thing I have used coconut oil with is sweet potatoes.  Ill coat them in the oil before baking fries, or mix it into mashed sweet potato with some cinnamon.  I have used it in other savory applications, the aroma can be funky but the taste isn't noticeable.

To use in your hair:

It may seem odd to coat your head in coconut oil but the result is shiny and soft hair.  I'll take a tablespoon in my hand and start at the scalp massaging it in and then work my way down to the tip of my hair.  Once it's oiled up, put it in a bun and go about your day! Well, do this on a day off and don't lay on a pillow or anything because you'll leave oil stains! Wash it out a couple hours later with a good shampoo lather and light conditioner.

To moisturize the skin:

Use a small amount to cover an area so that it isn't too oiled, its great on the hands and especially the face.  I'll exfoliate my face, and then apply a thicker layer of oil and leave it on for about an hour, then I'll rinse it off and put a light moisturizer over that. (Since my skin is extra dry, most people don't need to do that)

Oil Pulling:

If you want radiantly clean teeth and healthy gums, then use coconut oil as a mouthwash!  Take about teaspoon into your mouth before brushing your teeth and swish it around for about 10 minutes.  You don't have vigorously swish it, just gently move it around and have it sit your mouth.  Then brush after and your teeth will feel so smooth and clean!

The brand I have been using is Whole Food's 365 organic, unrefined, virgin coconut oil!

Autoimmune Disease and Environmental/Lifestyle triggers

The link between autoimmune disease and environmental toxins and lifestyle triggers have recently gained more traction and merit with an increase in studies and articles being published on the matter.  There are numerous books now available, where people have sent their autoimmune disease into remission and have reversed some of their symptoms by changing their lifestyle, including diet and lowering their exposure to toxins.  A book I read recently, called the Wahls Protocol by Terry Wahls, MD., was written by someone who did just that.  She changed her lifestyle after being bound to a wheel chair as a result of the damage to her nerves caused by Multiple Sclerosis.  She has reversed many of her symptoms and put the disease into remission.  She has now began her study to implement her successful lifestyle changes in others who have Multiple Sclerosis to assess their results.

If a chronic disease has already begun, lifestyle change isn't a quick fix, as in making some changes will yield a result right away.  Working with the theory that autoimmune disease is the result of how your body responds to toxins, diet and various environmental triggers, it takes many years for the disease to present itself, therefore can take months to years to see the results of the healing process.  It can seem difficult to make seemingly radical changes to your life and not feel the reward, but it is important to stick with it.  For Dr. Wahls, it took her 9 months after her lifestyle changes to start noticing small improvements in her disease.

I came across a blog post written by Dr. Mark Hyman, who is dedicated to finding the root cause of chronic disease, a best selling author and advocate in the field.  He writes about medicine, disease and nutrition in the context of integrative and functional medicine.  This has a lot to do with optimal nutrition, lifestyle changes, relaxation and dealing with stress that relate to ultimate health.  He shares a wealth of information on autoimmune disease that is worth reading through to get an idea of the triggers and healing principles.  One quote that resonated with me was, "Over 80,000 chemicals have been introduced into our society since 1900, and only 550 have been tested for safety."  The paragraph that puts this into context only supports that you cannot assume what you are exposed to and that packaged food/beverages and cleaning products you buy in stores are safe!  Another quote from this section, "The Environmental Working Group examined the umbilical cord blood of children just as they emerged from the womb. They found 287 industrial chemicals, including pesticides, phthalates, dioxins, flame-retardants, Teflon, and toxic metals like mercury."  These are all established toxins, from food and the environment, and we now are seeing that these chemicals pass through the placenta and enter the developing fetus.  The toxins, which can be endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, reproductive toxins among others, that we come in contact with are undetectable at the time of exposure and only present themselves after years of exposure in the form of disease, that seem unrelated.

The unfortunate part is that you can't change the air you breathe or what is in your tap water.  There are those things that can be controlled and will make an impact on toxin exposure.  One way to decrease toxins is through your food and cosmetic/hygiene products.  Read the label, if there is a long list of unpronounceable ingredients, its probably not so good.  Buying whole foods, organic produce and responsibly raised animal products will eliminate toxins that you would be intaking directly.  For cosmetic and hygiene products, I use this helpful website called Skin Deep, there's also an app!  I search for a product before purchasing it to see the rating and the ingredients of concern.  On the app, you can scan a barcode if you're already out shopping and need to check a product.

I won't get into nutrition advice for autoimmune disease in this post, but there are plenty of resources that can provide additional information.  Dr. Hyman's website is a great resource to start.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

You know what you're drinking, but do you really know what you're drinking?

A huge part in why I wanted to start this page on my blog is to expose the harmful additives lurking in our common, every day food choices and explain associated health concerns.  This is a topic that has influenced most of my lifestyle changes.  Once the connection was made in my own life between lifestyle, more specifically food choices, and health/wellbeing, my passion for holistic and alternative medicine grew.  And so did my passion for spreading awareness, so that others can make educated decisions about what they eat and possibly yield a change in the food industry as we know it today.  Today, you can't simply assume the food you buy is good quality.

My experience with GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder)

This obviously isn't an acute life threatening condition, though it can be when it continues over many years.  It is something I had so severely growing up, that on top of going to bed every night with an intense burning throat sensation, sometimes the acid would make its way up to my nose with a belch.  Obviously not something you want happening.  So, I went on Nexium for a couple of years until I read about what it silently can do to your body, such as deplete your body of magnesium, an extremely crucial mineral needed for living. Also, it can cause the decrease in absorption of nutrients, also not good. Nexium decreases stomach acid, food needs stomach acid to digest and to absorb nutrients, so it makes sense that with less of it you'll absorb less nutrients.  I had already started my transition to clean eating, so I stopped taking the medication and had no more heart burn.  The test came when I was craving a turkey hoagie.  A stop at a local deli "Proudly Serving Boar's Head" and a turkey hoagie later, yielded terrible heart burn for days.  There were a couple more instances like this, where I isolated the lunch meat, with the same results.  Traditional lunch meats are very much processed and contain a long list of additives that always cause a reaction for me in the form of heart burn.  Now I know that I have a sensitivity to any one or all of the common preservatives and additives that, for me, cause gastritis.  The trigger, a food/drink additive and the resulting symptoms are individual and can be anything a person consumes.

So what can be hidden in your favorite beverages?

I read a blog post by Vani aka Food Babe yesterday that really resonated with me.  I stopped ordering Starbucks beverages with syrups or flavorings a couple years ago but I was disappointed on how it is was nearly impossible for anyone Vani to get an ingredients list from their company.  Also a disappointment, how they use coffee from countries that do no restrict pesticides that are restricted in the US and EU.  She also noted that they do not have organic soy/dairy milk options and only recently stopped serving milk from cows treated with hormones.  Though, the main point of the post was that Starbucks uses a known carcinogen in their syrups and flavorings, in the form of caramel color (4-Mel).  This chemical, that's sole purpose is to make things a caramel color, has been linked to cancer.  In California under Prop 65, any food product that contains over 29 micrograms of 4-Mel must contain a warning on its label, saying that it contains an ingredient that may cause cancer.

Starbucks isn't the only big company putting this in their food or beverage.  Coka Cola and Pepsi are also doing it.  After Prop 65 was going into effect, the makers of Coke and Pepsi announced they would use a different caramel coloring for their beverages.  In this post, a study performed by Consumer Reports, shows that Coco Cola and Pepsi, among other soda beverages, all contained 4-Mel.  Pepsi and Malta Goya showed higher amounts than 29 micrograms, and there was no warning on their labels. These tests were run on samples in 2013 and did show a decrease in 4-Mel amounts later in the year compared to the beginning, but still remained above 29 micrograms.  Consumer Reports used a relatively small sample size of sodas and did not look at popular iced teas and other types of brown sodas. Though California set 29 micrograms as the cut off because at that level, the associated risk of cancer is 1 in 100,000, some researches say that even 29 micrograms of 4-Mel is too much.

What about bottled water?

Yup, there's additives in there too.  I saw this blog post a couple months ago and people were surprised and angry that bottled water could contain additives.  My first thought was, why would water be different, all other packaged or processed food and beverages have additives.  But I realized that a lot of people don't read food labels and even if they do, don't know what more than half the additives are.  This is an article from TIME, it states that the same ingredients listed within Dasani, are in many bottled waters but doesn't make it seem as terrible.  You be the judge!

Vote with your wallet

It often feels like we have little to no power in how our food is handled, prepared, processed or packaged.  The fact is, that without consumers, there would't be these products.  If everyone voted with their wallets, stopped buying poor quality, pre-made products, maybe then a change can be initiated!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My lifestyle today

I want to share a little of what of my lifestyle is like now after 5 years.  It has evolved through medical training, clinical experience and simply gauging how things make me feel.   It has been 5 years since I made the decision to get healthy and I feel so, overwhelmingly, better than I used to, which motivates me to help others make the transformation to this side of things.  It's not always easy in the beginning but once you take control of your life, you realize you don't want to go back!  The transformation doesn't even have to do with weight loss, it involves putting the health of your body first and making choices based on that.  Frequent headaches, rashes, GERD/heart burn, IBS, fatigue are a few of the things that can be improved with lifestyle changes.  Personally, I had GERD, low energy and was moody, which all went away with the changes I implemented.

Nutrient Dense Food

It seems like common sense to eat more fruits and vegetables but it really does make a difference in how you feel day to day and the prevention of disease in the future.  Well sourced and researched supplements can be great, but food is always the best source.  It is not yet understood why but the body absorbs and utilizes nutrients from food better than a pill.  There are those nutrients that are difficult to get from food where supplements can be useful but that topic is for another day! The reason you need to consume a variety of nutrients each day is because they are all crucial to normal functions of the body.  When you're missing a piece (antioxidant/mineral/amino acid) to the whole puzzle (making enzymes, muscle movement, cell regeneration..) then that process won't happen as it should.  If this consistently occurs it can lead to current symptoms or future medical problems.  Crucial nutrients aren't only in fruits and vegetables but organic meats/ seafood, fats (butter, coconut oil, olive oil) and especially egg yolks!

To get the 6-9 cups of fruits and vegetables a day I make a smoothie each morning that has 2-3 fruits and a green leafy vegetable.  This week, for example, I mixed full fat (yes, it's good for you!) coconut milk, banana, mango and spinach with hard boiled eggs on the side.  Have a couple at lunch, this week is beef and bean chili stuffed peppers with salsa, and a couple more veggies with each dinner!  It's helpful to think ahead each week by meal planning to incorporate a variety of foods into each day!


What started out as walking has changed to running 3-6 miles and weight training.  This won't work for everyone so find what you like to get your heart rate up and give your muscles a burn 4-5 days a week.  Walking, biking, pilates, tennis- endless options!

I only eat when I'm hungry.

This was a foreign thing to me before my transformation, I ate whenever I felt like it.  I remember coming back from a late class after dinner in college and making risotto at 10 o'clock at night because I craved some comfort carbs.  Don't get me wrong, risotto is great for a dinner, not for a before bed snack! I would eat dinner at 5 o'clock on the dot because that was dinner time in my head, not because I was actually hungry for dinner.  Now, I listen to my body and eat when I am hungry.  Since I end up eating less this way, I make each meal/snack count.  I don't choose something with no nutritional value like chips, pretzels or a sugar packed treat. For snacking I choose an apple and peanut butter, grapes and cheese, vegetables and hummus, hard boiled eggs, chips and salsa (there's at least some nutrients in the salsa!).  Though, I should admit that I will never give up my dark chocolate.

I avoid sugar at all costs, especially soda.

As a kid I remember drinking soda with cake at birthday parties and I remember it not even tasting good.  Why on earth did I ever even do that, I guess I was a sugar junkie.  The more sugar you have the less sweet it tastes so you need more to taste it.  I probably loved the short jolt of chaotic energy it provided me.  As soon as I cut processed sugar from my diet my mood, skin and fatigue really improved.  There is NO nutritional benefit of sugar.  Carbohydrates yes, and you get sufficient amounts from fruits and vegetables.  Since I've cut out sugar, bittersweet chocolate tastes sweet to me and soda is grossly too sweet, it makes it easier to stay away!  The reason I urge everyone to avoid it is because sugar creates a lot of inflammation in the body and inflammation is only good when it's short term and needed to heal an injury.  In a recent TIME article, it was said to be the culprit of heart disease rather than cholesterol from causing chronic inflammation of the vessels.  It has also been linked to mood and behavioral issues and acne.  I cut it out because it has helped me feel better, so I go by that.  Though, a little dessert here and there is completely necessary to enjoy life.  Moderation is key!

I went organic.

It took some research for me to believe that you do get what you pay for.  Yes, it's more expensive but I learned how to food shop at Whole Foods on a budget.  I once compared with a friend who does not shop at whole foods and we spent a comparable amount on food shopping each week!  Meal planning is everything, I plan out breakfast, lunch, snacks and dinner for the week and buy only what's on my list.  This way, each day has been thoughtfully planned to include nutritious food and I'm not impulse buying extras that can drive up the cost.  Organic food has been shown to have less pesticides, which means less toxic metals and chemicals.  It has also been shown to be more nutrient dense, so you pay more but get more nutrients!  I always make sure to choose the deepest colored produce in the bunch, get organic eggs, milk, cheeses and meats.

Just to touch on GMO, corn and soy are the most common GMO products and conveniently enough, most processed foods contain one or the other.  After doing some research, I am unsure if GMO is actually harmful but I refuse to buy it.  It has been shown that GMO products the have the highest pesticide use.  Just something to be aware of, if you buy processed foods, even corn chips, and it is not labeled nonGMO, then it most likely is.


My Lifestyle Transformation to Health

In 2009, after living my life without putting much thought into my food and lifestyle choices or the amount of exercise I got but simultaneously felt sluggish, out of shape and brain fogged, I decided enough was enough.  I decided to change my lifestyle to make choices based on my health and wellbeing, which, really simply, was cutting out junk food and getting some exercise.  You can see my before and after below!