What is Intermittent Fasting? Key Components for Success

If you are interested in wellness or weight loss, you have probably heard the term “intermittent fasting” and like most health and diet crazes, have also most likely heard conflicting information about it.

So what exactly is intermittent fasting? Unlike specific diets that manipulate what you eat, intermittent fasting manipulates when  you eat. The most typical time people fast is from the time they eat their last bite of food in the evening until their first meal the next day. Unless you tend to wake up for a little midnight snack, you are already fasting! However, this pattern of eating prolongs the amount of time you go without eating to achieve a level of benefit.

Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

  • Improved blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity  –> reduced risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Weight loss via increased metabolism and decreased caloric intake    
  • Reduces oxidative stress and inflammation –> reduced risk of disease overall
  • Improved memory and learning
  • Improved cardiovascular function
  • Appetite control

According to a study from the National Institute on Aging:

Although all cells in the body require energy to survive and function properly, excessive calorie intake over long time periods can compromise cell function and promote disorders such as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and cancers. Accordingly, dietary restriction (DR; either caloric restriction or intermittent fasting, with maintained vitamin and mineral intake) can extend lifespan and can increase disease resistance. Recent studies have shown that DR can have profound effects on brain functions and vulnerability to injury and disease.  DR can protect neurons against brain degeneration in animal models of Alzheimer’s Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases and stroke. Moreover, DR can stimulate the production of new neurons  from stem cells (neurogenesis) and can enhance synaptic plasticity, which may increase the ability of the brain to resist aging and restore function following injury.

How to Incorporate Intermittent Fasting

There are several ways to perform intermittent fasting so you can choose the method that would be most realistic with your lifestyle. Individuals have been shown to benefit from fasting windows lasting anywhere from 12-20 hours, though 14-16 hours seems to be ideal for most people.

For example:

  • If you stop eating at 8pm, start eating at 10am (14 hour fast, 10 hour eating window)
  • If you stop eating at 7pm, start eating at 11am (16 hour fast, 8 hour eating window)

Intermittent fasting has the ability to be very flexible based on individuals work schedule, eating habits, ability to control blood sugar, etc. Those that tend to be late night snackers may benefit from a later dinner, and starting their fast at their last bite of food to help avoid those late night trips to the pantry.

Safety

For generally healthy individuals, intermittent fasting is safe if done correctly. On the other hand, extended periods of food restriction is NOT recommend for diabetic individuals, those that tend to experience low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), breastfeeding moms, or moms-to-be.

Tips For Success

In order to have success with intermittent fasting, it is vital to have a plan on how to make it sustainable for YOU.

  1. Quality: Since you may now be eating slightly less or skipping a meal, it is even more important to eat healthy, nutrient dense foods. Fasting is not an excuse to eat pizza and ice cream during your eating window (sorry!) — this is not the purpose or goal. In order to experience the biological benefits, we must maintain healthy (and sustainable) habits.
  2. Quantity: It is important to make sure you still eat enough food and maintain your caloric requirements, especially if you are fairly active or exercise regularly. I recommend eating at least 2 meals plus a small snack if you are hungry.
  3. Be realistic: Start with a fasting time frame you know you can be successful with. For example, if you typically stop eating at 11pm and eat breakfast at 7am, start with extending the fast 1 hour each way until you feel comfortable extending it further.
  4. Use exercise to your advantage: Research has shown that exercise can enhance the benefits of intermittent fasting!

Example of Daily Routine With Fasting Exercise

I have personally noticed that exercising first thing in the morning while maintaining my fast can improve my physical performance (less sluggish) and increase my mental clarity and productivity throughout my workday. Here’s an example of what a typical day with a 13-hour fast could look like:

6am – exercise (only drink black coffee or water)

8am: eat breakfast

12pm- eat lunch

7pm: Finish eating dinner

Rest of evening: Drink water or unsweetened hot tea

In Conclusion…

Many of us have been conditioned to believe that we need to eat 3 meals per day plus snacks to maintain a healthy metabolism and blood sugar control. However, this can often lead to high blood sugar, excessive caloric intake and ultimately, weight gain.

Our bodies came with excellent feedback mechanisms to let us know when we are hungry. In additional to occasional intermittent fasting, a goal of mine has been to let my hunger guide my eating, rather than forcing myself to eat because it is a certain time of day. If I’m not hungry in the morning, I don’t eat.

If you are interested in experimenting with fasting, try out the Zero fasting app, which can make getting started easier and help you stick with a fast longer via the built in timer and Fast Journal.

Are you open to fasting? Have you already tried it, and if so, how was your experience? Let me know below!

Eating With the Seasons: 4 Reasons Why

It’s October and you’re picking apples and drinking hot apple cider, or August and you just visited your local blueberry patch. Many of us eat seasonally without even realizing its fantastic benefits! Seasonal eating is something that our ancestors did naturally but now can take a bit of effort due to the convenience of being able to buy almost any food year round at your local grocer.

Listed are some reasons why eating seasonally could not only benefit you, but also your community.

  1. More nutritious. Nutrient degradation starts immediately as produce is harvested! The farther the produce has to travel to reach its destination and the longer it sits on supermarket shelves, the more its nutrients become depleted. Much of the produce is harvested before ripe and then exposed to gas to ripen it after transport. Picking produce before it has fully matured results in a lower nutrient density.  According to biochemical researcher Donald R. Davis, the average fruit and vegetable sold in our supermarkets contain 5 to 40% less minerals than those 50 years ago. In fact, vegetables can lose 15 to 55% of vitamin C within a week. No wonder over 52% of Americans are deficient in magnesium, and 43% do not get enough vitamin A!
  2. You Save Moolah! The cost-savings of buying food from  your local farmers market boils down to a matter of supply and demand. When you buy in-season produce,  you are buying food at the height of its supply. When there is more available, prices go down. This may seem like common sense, but many don’t take advantage of this or plan their meals around what’s in season. Although eating healthy can be expensive, it doesn’t HAVE to be. This can save you a lot of money in the long run. 
  3. It supports your community. Buying straight from the farmer, whether it be via farmers market or CSA, cuts out the middle man so the farmer makes more money. City Fresh, a Cleveland Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), reports “We are consistently 20-40% cheaper than the grocery store, and unlike the typical grocery store, where only 5 to 15 cents of your dollar goes to the farmer who grew your produce, 81 cents of your City Fresh dollar goes directly to our farmers.”
  4. Increased nutrient variety. An added bonus of eating in season is a more nutritionally varied diet. Ever heard the phrase, eat the rainbow? Not only do different plant foods grow best in different seasons, but different colored foods contain different types of micronutrients. For example, the purple/blue hue of plants such as plums, blueberries and eggplant is primarily due to its anthocyanin content. This antioxidant is particularly beneficial for preventing blood clots and cancer. When you eat seasonally, you are exposed to a wider profile of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants at the peak of their nutrient density.

So whats in season?!

This user friendly Seasonal Food Guide makes finding what’s in season easy based on your location! Below, I have also provided a seasonal food guide for my Ohio followers.

Interested in finding a local farmer’s market or CSA in your area? LocalHarvest.org is one of my go-to resources for this!

11 Food Swaps For Better Health

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!

  1. 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)!
  2. 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!
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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!
  7. 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.
  8. 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.  
  9. 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!
  10. 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.
  11. 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?

What is “Dirty Keto” and How to do Keto Right

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.

Sample Menu

Breakfast:

  • Eggs scrambled with spinach, onions and mushrooms, drizzled with olive oil and served with a side of avocado
  • Beverage options –
    • water
    • 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
  • Dressing-
    • 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?

What’s in Your Water?

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?”

The What and Why on Probiotics

As increasingly more studies have been published demonstrating the importance of gastrointestinal (GI) or “gut” health on our overall well being, naturally the popularity of methods to improve gut health has also become more mainstream. Enter probiotics.  The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization defines probiotics as “living microorganisms, which when administered in adequate amounts confer health benefits on the host”.  

We have 10 times as many microbes in our body than we do human cells, and around 1000 different species. Some species have been associated with different health benefits, and the benefits of these little organisms have been known since 1907, when Elie Metchnikoff published a report linking the longevity of Bulgarians with consumption of fermented milk products containing Lactobacilli. Ever since, foods and supplements containing probiotics have been widely marketed and consumed. 

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Organic: Is it Worth the Hype?

The increasing popularity of organic agriculture has been a source of confusion to many. What are the benefits? Is organic actually better? Could the crops and livestock feed be contaminated with herbicides and pesticides from neighboring non-organic farms? These are all valid questions in which I will help you navigate in this post.

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