Although the ingredients found in store-bought pesto tend to be fairly clean, nothing beats a homemade batch of the fresh stuff! I love being able to customize my pesto recipe as far as the types… More
More families are being affected by food allergies and intolerances then ever. According to a study released in 2013 by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, food allergies among children increased by ~50% between 1997 and 2011. While most of us are aware of the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction, intolerances are a whole different animal. Understanding the difference and being able to identify potential symptoms of both food allergies and intolerances is essential for maintaining and optimizing health and quality of life.
What Is a Food Allergy?
Food allergies occur when your immune system identifies a food as a foreign invader. Your immune system then reacts, or rather overreacts, by producing antibodies called imunoglobulin E (IgE) which travel to cells that then release chemicals to cause a reaction. This reaction typically happens immediately and can be as mild as inflammation (hives, for example) or as severe as anaphylactic shock.
The “Big 8” most common food allergies include milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy. These account for 90% of all allergies.
- hives, itchiness, swelling of skin
- anaphylaxis (difficulty breathing, dizziness, loss of consciousness)
- Avoidance of allergens. Previous recommendations for the avoidance of allergens, particularly peanuts, during pregnancy, infancy and breastfeeding have been dispelled. New evidence supports early exposure to allergenic foods to reduce the risk. In fact, it’s predicted that following the LEAP (Learning Early About Peanut allergy) study protocol could prevent 40-60% of peanut allergies!
- Vitamin D deficiency. Studies have suggested that infants with low vitamin D are at an increased risk for food allergies. Check out my post on vitamin D for more information on how to optimize your levels.
- The Hygiene Hypothesis. This theory states that being too clean and lack of exposure to microbes and pathogens at an early age can increase susceptibility to allergies. Living on a farm, having a pet dog, playing in the dirt, childcare attendance, and having an older sibling may have a protective effect.
- A history of eczema. This study demonstrated that 1 in 5 infants with eczema had an allergy by 12 months of age, compared to 1 in 25 infants without eczema. One of the primary reasons for this is due to the break in skin barrier, so maintaining skin integrity by preventing eczema is key.
You can refer to this article on the Prevention of Food Allergies for a more in-depth review on causes and prevention strategies.
What Is a Food Intolerance?
Food intolerances are typically more difficult to diagnose than allergies because they present in so many different ways and can take up to 72 hours to occur after eating the offending food. Also unlike allergies, they don’t involve the immune system.
Symptoms may include:
- digestive upset
- headaches or migraines
Based on the above symptoms, you can see why it may be difficult to connect the dots between food and what you may be experiencing. Unlike IgE, which causes an immediate response, the immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibody is related to delayed reactions. Food intolerances are typically caused by increasing levels of IgG in the body.
- enzymatic deficiencies (e.g. lactose intolerance due to lactase deficiency)
- nutrient malabsorption (e.g. fructose)
- sensitivities to certain proteins or components of food such as histamine, gluten or FODMAPs (fermented carbohydrates, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols)
- leaky gut (more on this to come!)
So What Do I Do?
If a food intolerance is suspected, an elimination diet is the most cost effective way to identify foods that may be causing issues. This type of diet removes foods that could be problematic, then reintroduces them one by one.
Receiving testing is also an option. Have your doctor test for suspected food allergies or take a test such as this one to identify IgG-mediated food intolerances.
Improving your nutrition starts by making simple changes, particularly with items you tend to use on a daily basis as these changes will have a more significant impact on your health. If you’re looking for inspiration to make heathy swaps, I’ve got 11 here for you!
- SWAP JIFF FOR A MORE NATURAL PEANUT BUTTER Peanut butter is one of those foods manufacturers tend sneak in unhealthy ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. Instead, choose a nut butter with only one ingredient: the nut. Freshly ground is even better (and it tastes better)!
- SWAP MARGARINE FOR BUTTER OR GHEE This previously deemed “healthier option” has nothing healthy about it as it is a highly processed product made with low quality vegetable oils. It initially gained popularity as it is lower in saturated fat but we now know saturated fat is not as bad as it was made out to be. Try butter, ghee or even coconut oil instead. FUN FACT: The more yellow the butter the higher the nutrient content!
- SWAP BREAKFAST CEREAL FOR ROLLED OR STEEL CUT OATS Dessert for breakfast anyone? Breakfast cereals are typically loaded with sugar and lacking in fiber and protein, leading to spikes in blood sugar and sugar cravings later in the day. Plain oatmeal is a much healthier option as it is a whole grain and higher in fiber and protein, meaning it will help to stabilize blood sugar and keep you feeling full for longer. Add berries, cinnamon and a spoonful of peanut butter for some flavor.
- SWAP CANNED FOR FRESH FRUIT Although any fruit is better than none, canned fruit often contains added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and even artificial sweeteners (when in light syrup). BPA, a known hormone disrupter, from the cans can also leech into the syrup and fruit. Choose fresh fruit when possible. Frozen fruit is also a great option, especially when a particular fruit is not in season.
- SWAP POP FOR KOMBUCHA It is nothing new that pop contains up to 40 grams of refined sugar, carcinogenic caramel coloring, and toxic artificial flavors. Swapping pop for kombucha is a great switch because it is similar in taste and fizziness but without the added sugar. Kombucha is also a healthful beverage plentiful in polyphenols, vitamins, and minerals that help boosts digestion and immunity. It is also simple to make if you don’t want to spend $3-4 for it in the store.
- SWAP TABLE SALT FOR SEA SALT Salt is a vital mineral that I feel often has a bad reputation, most commonly due to its connection to elevated blood pressure and fluid retention. However, this is typically only and issue when consuming it in excess from process foods such as lunchmeat, fast food, canned soups, and potato chips. Table salt is a manmade product that highly refined and contains anti-caking agents. During the refining process the salt is heated to high temperatures, a process which removes any existing minerals and makes it behave differently in the body than other unrefined salts. On the other hand, sea salt, especially Himalayan pink salt, is an unrefined product containing a wide profile of 50+ trace minerals! Its lower sodium profile and high mineral content allow it to be assimilated more easily by the body. FUN FACT: Its pink color comes from its iron content!
- SWAP ICEBERG FOR DARK LEAFY GREENS If your go-to lettuce is iceberg, it time to make an upgrade. While iceberg lettuce has a mild flavor and provides a satisfying crunchy texture, it provides very little nutrition. Try switching it up with spinach, arugula, kale or spring mix.
- SWAP SPORTS DRINKS FOR COCONUT WATER It is important to stay hydrated during exercise, especially as summer starts to approach. Unfortunately, some of the most popular go-to beverages marketed for this are loaded with refined sugar and are artificially flavored and colored. Products such as Gatorade and Powerade do help replace beneficial electrolytes that are lost through sweat, but coconut water is a much healthier alternative. It naturally contains electrolytes (potassium and sodium) providing all the same benefits as sports drinks without the artificial ingredients. It naturally contains sugar but you will want to look for brands that don’t contain added sugar.
- SWAP WHITE OR WHEAT BREAD FOR 100% WHOLE GRAIN OR SPROUTED BREAD Sometimes there is nothing better than an egg sandwich or avocado toast. White and wheat bread is highly processed which removes the majority of the nutrients. Some micronutrients are fortified back into the bread but will be in a poorly digestible form. If you are looking to upgrade your bread, choose a high fiber, multigrain loaf or sourdough bread. Even better, choose a sprouted brand, such as Ezekiel bread. When wheat is sprouted, it makes the gluten more digestible and the nutrients more bioavailable, so you’re getting more bang for your buck!
- SWAP CANDY FOR DARK CHOCOLATE (75% COCOA OR HIGHER) Dark chocolate is lower in added sugar and high in polyphenols. Cacao has long been promoted for its cardiovascular and mood enhancement properties. Cacao may also help decrease inflammation and control appetite.
- SWAP WHITE PASTA FOR CHICKPEA OR LENTIL PASTA White pasta is void of nutrients and fiber while chickpea or lentil pasta varieties are high in fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates. This makes for a more balanced and filling meal. Lentil or chickpea pasta will also not cause spikes in blood sugar like regular white pasta will. Note: For those that are hesitant to try it, I have served it to multiple friends and family members – they all loved it and could barely taste a difference!
What healthy swaps have you made recently to improve your health?
One of the most popular questions I have been receiving lately is “What do you think about keto?” The ketogenetic diet has become very popular due to its potential to help with rapid weight loss. It’s different then other fad diets as the focus is primarily on fats (75% of your daily calories), some protein (20% of daily calories), and a small amount of carbohydrates (5% of your daily calories). The result is you enter a state of “ketosis” where you body is burning fat as its main source of fuel rather than glucose.
This is different from other low carb diets, such as the Atkins diet, as those focus on limited amounts of carbohydrates with no emphasis on fat and liberal amounts of other foods. It is easy to be following a low carb diet but never achieve ketosis.
Dirty Keto follows the same breakdown of fats, protein, and carbohydrates with one key difference – it does’t matter where the macronutrients come from. This has enabled many to use this diet as a way to lose weight while still eating limitless amounts of bunnless bacon cheeseburgers with a Diet Coke. Although this eating pattern may sound tempting, no amount of breadless fast food or artificially sweetened beverages is healthy, even in the presence of weight loss. Micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc.) are a key component commonly lacking in the dirty keto eating pattern. These are just as much, if not more, important than the macronutrient profile of ones meal as micronutrients are essential for system function, keeping a strong immune system, and maintaining healthy looking hair, skin and nails.
Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet
Although it is predominantly known for its potential to help with rapid weight loss, nearly a century ago the Ketogenic diet was used as a tool for clinitians to effectively treat patients with epilpsy. It has also been shown to be beneficial in treating other brain conditions including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and bipolar disorder.
According to this study, a “Spanish Ketogenic Mediterranean diet” (healthy keto with wine, basically) followed for 12 weeks cured people of their metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol). In addition, while over 92% improved their liver health, 21% saw complete resolution in their previous diagnosis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
There are also benefits for healthy individuals including:
- a more stabilized and reduced blood sugar, which will lower the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
- improved cognitive performance and decreased brain fog.
- reduced appetite and cravings.
- slowed aging through activation of anti-aging and anti-inflammatory biochemical pathways.
- it provides our cells with a steady source of ketone bodies, which is a cleaner-burning fuel than glucose.
3 Common Mistakes
- Not eating enough non-starchy vegetables. These are vegetables that are low in carbohydrates and will have a minimal effect on your blood sugar. They should compose at least half of your plate. Examples: peppers, asparagus, tomatoes, any type of leafy green, Brussel sprouts, onions, celery, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower.
- Eating the wrong types of fat. Obtaining the majority of fat from conventional meat, dairy and ranch dressing is not only unhealthy, but it may not be enough to get you into ketosis. Drizzle your vegetables with extra virgin olive oil and cook your eggs with a little extra butter or coconut oil. Healthy fat sources: avocado, olives, avocado oil, coconut oil, butter, olive oil, tuna, sardines. Refer to this post for more information on fats.
- Eating too much protein. Because it is a protein-sparing diet, protein requirements are lower than when you rely on carbohydrates for energy. Consuming too much protein could also kick you out of ketosis as amino acids can be converter into sugar when consumed in excess. Limit your meat to 3-6oz per meal.
- Eggs scrambled with spinach, onions and mushrooms, drizzled with olive oil and served with a side of avocado
- Beverage options –
- hot water with lemon
- black coffee, coffee with stevia, coffee blended with coconut cream
- unsweetened hot tea
Lunch: Keto Salad
- Ingredients –
- 2 cups wild greens (romaine, arugula, kale, etc)
- 2 hard boiled eggs or 4-6oz smoked salmon
- 1/2 avocado
- 1/2 bell pepper
- sliced cucumber
- olive oil and balsamic vinegar
Dinner: Chicken Thighs with Roasted Brussel Sprouts
- To cook the chicken:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- Rub thighs with olive oil and sea salt. May also add additional seasonings such as rosemary and paprika.
- Place on baking sheet and bake until no longer pink, ~30 minutes.
- To cook Brussel sprouts:
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- Place on a baking pan and drizzle with olive oil or cover with butter.
- Sprinkle with sea salt and turmeric.
- Bake for 25-35 minutes, until tender.
Have you tried the Ketogenic diet before? How was your experience?
Over the years, as I started paying more attention to food labels and limiting processed foods, pancakes were on of the foods I started making homemade rather than buying a mix. Unfortunately, top brands are most often made with highly processed white flour, sugar, dextrose (aka more sugar), unhealthy oils (soybean, palm, canola), and have very little, if any, fiber.
My favorite part about these pancakes is that they only have two main ingredients and can be made in a matter of minutes! They are also very easy to customize by adding blueberries, chia seeds, nuts, cinnamon, cacao powder or dried coconut. Additionally, since the banana gives them a natural sweetness, minimal syrup is needed.
– 1 banana (I typically make this recipe when my bananas are about to go bad as that is when they are the most sweet!)
– Optional ingredients to add to batter: cinnamon, cacao powder, coconut flakes, chia seeds.
– Top with: berries, nuts
– Drizzle with: honey, pure maple syrup
- Mash banana in a bowl using a fork.
- Add 2 eggs and scramble together with the banana.
- Add optional ingredients and mix together.
- Cook pancakes on preheated griddle or large pan for 2-3 minutes or until bubbles form.
- Flip and cook and additional 2-3 minutes until they are done in the center.
NOTE: I prefer to use coconut oil on the pan as it is stable at high temperatures and adds great flavor to the pancakes.
A quick walk down almost any isle of the grocery store will expose you to a host of toxic ingredients that are fueling the epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Items in which many consider to be “food” more so resemble science projects, as the majority of the ingredients are chemicals most have never heard of and that surely don’t sound like anything anyone would want to eat. In other words, they’re “frankenfoods”.
You are probably wondering, “So how do I know which foods are safe and which to avoid?” A good rule of thumb is if the food has more than 5 ingredients, or multiple ingredients you can’t pronounce, put it back on the shelf. Otherwise, here is a quick and dirty list of some of the top offenders that should be avoided as often as possible.
- Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils AKA trans-fats – The purpose of these fats is to prolong the shelf life of products. They have been shown to increase bad cholesterol, lower good cholesterol, slow your metabolism, and cause obesity, heart attacks, dementia, inflammation and cancer. The FDA has declared trans fats unsafe and banned their use. However, small amount still remain in the food supply. Commonly found in: peanut butter, non-dairy creamer, baked goods
- High fructose corn syrup – This is a highly processed sweetener made from corn. It is incredibly cheap to make and even sweeter than sugar. As reviewed in this study, it has been associated with increased risk of fatty liver when consumed in excess amounts. It has also been show to lead to insulin resistance, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Commonly found in: ice cream, pop, desserts, peanut butter, bread, salad dressing, canned fruit, candy
- Artificial sweeteners – This group includes aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), sucralose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet’N Low), and acesulfame potassium (Sweet One, Swiss Sweet). According to this study, (plublished this month!) high intake of artificially sweetened beverages (>2 per day) was associated with an increased risk of stroke, coronary artery disease and all-cause mortality. Commonly found in – diet pop, “sugar-free” foods, yogurt, gum, zero calorie flavored water
- Artificial flavors – These are fake flavors used to make frankenfoods taste more palatable. Each flavor can contain up to 100 ingredients, including synthetic chemicals, solvents and preservatives such as BHA, propylene glycol, MSG, parabens, and more. The FDA recently banned 7 ingredients used to make artificial flavors as they have been shown to cause cancer in animal studies. However, food companies have TWO years to remove these ingredients from their products. They are also not required to disclosed if their product contains these ingredients, leaving consumers completely clueless to what they are consuming. Refer to this article for more information on this topic. Commonly found in: cereal, candy, desserts, drink mixes, pop
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) – Used as a flavor enhancer. It increases food cravings and has been linked to chronic pain, headaches, obesity, depression, and mental disorders. Commonly found in: Chinese food, frozen meals, chips, salad dressing
- Carrageenen – Commonly used as a thickening and stabilizing agent. Although it is derived from seaweed and considered a “natural” ingredient, it has been associated with a host of issues, particularly related to the gastrointestinal system. The inflammation it causes can lead to ulcerations and bleeding. According to research conducted by Joanne Tobacman, MD, there may also be a connection between carrageenan and gastrointestinal cancer. Commonly found in: almond milk, coconut milk, ice cream, deli meat, cottage cheese
- Artificial colors – These have been linked to anything from hyperactivity in children to cancer. Commonly found in: ice cream, baked goods, cereal, pop, gum, popsicles, fruit snacks
- Canola oil/soybean oil/corn oil – These are highly processed oils that go rancid very quickly, which causes inflammation when consumed. Refer to my previoud post, Fat: Friend or Foe, for more information on this topic. Commonly found in: chips, bread, nuts, granola bars, baked goods, cereal, salad dressing
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) – A synthetic preservative shown to be an endocrine disrupter. National Toxicology Program has classified it as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Commonly found in: Sausage, pepperoni, pizza, canned soup, instant potatoes, potato chips, drink mixes, spaghetti sauce, gum
- Butlated hydroxytoluene (BHT) – Another synthetic preservative. This one has been shown to impact the signaling that tells us we are full, which could contribute to overeating and obesity. It has also been shown to cause cancer in animals. Commonly found in: potato chips, cereal, instant potatoes, dry beverage and dessert mixes, gum
Did you find one of these ingredients in any of your favorite foods? Which one? Comment below!
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, food scraps and yard waste account for 30% of what ends up in landfills. Instead of throwing these materials away, they can be composted! Compost is decomposed organic material that is commonly added to soil to enhance nutrient quality, promote soil bacteria and fungi that aid in plant growth , and help retain soil moisture. In addition, organic material disposed in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas. Production of this gas is greatly reduced when wasted food and yard clippings are composted.
What You Need
Brown material – dead leaves, twigs, branches, shredded paper
Green material – grass clippings, fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds
Composting at Home
Select a dry spot near a water source to host your pile. You can fence off a small area or, if you prefer a tidier arrangement, purchase bins to contain the waste. In the past I have used a bin with a lift off lid to add in the materials. Although this was cleaner and kept the critters away, I found it more difficult to access and mix the compost compared to open piles. Tumblers are also a good option as they are easy to maneuver.
Once you have set up your space, add clippings, scraps and any other organic material as it is accumulated. As the “greens” carry more nitrogen and the “browns” carry more carbon, alternate layers of each type, being sure to moisten dry materials as they are added. Turn your compost pile with a shovel or pitch fork weekly during the summer and monthly during the winter. Don’t worry – a compost pile that is managed appropriately will not smell or attract rodents!
From the Kitchen to the Bin
Although this may seem like common sense, be sure to determine a sustainable way to get your compost outside to you pile. Here are some ideas that may work for you:
- Take it out after every meal
- Store it on a small countertop container, like this one, to be taken out every other day or so
- Store food scraps in the freezer until you run out of space
Your compost may take anywhere from 1 to 6 months to fully breakdown. This will depend on the moisture, temperature, and composition of the material. When the material at the bottom is a rich dark color your compost is ready to use. Now have at it and don’t forget to add the finished compost to your garden, house plants or landscaping!
*For those uninterested or unable to participate in backyard composting, but would still like to recycle organic waste, check out findacomposter.com . This resource connects you to organics collection services in your area. Rust Belt Riders, the top commercial organics collection service in Northeast Ohio, have been collecting and diverting over 32,000 pounds of food scraps each week from landfills as of December, 2018! They plan to have their Residential Composting Service up and running by summer 2019.
For many families, mine included, bottled water is just another regular item on the grocery list. Many choose whatever store brand is cheapest, while others purchase the bottles with images of mountain springs, expecting a superior product. However, few (including myself until recently!) have ever taken a deeper look at the food label or what exactly is in the water they are drinking.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are both responsible for regulating the safety of drinking water. The EPA oversees the tap water system while the FDA regulates bottled drinking water. Most would expect bottled drinking water to be safer than tap water. However, the FDA’s bottled water regulations are not any stricter than the EPA limits for tap water and in most cases, are the same.Continue reading “What’s in Your Water?”