February 13, 2014
I don’t know about you, but I am really ready for spring. I miss the feel of sunshine on my skin, this winter’s snow has ruined too many of my good shoes that were just too young to die, and I think if I hear the word “vortex” one more time I might cry. Plus, it seems that at this time of year, every other person is either sick or recovering from a horrendous cold or virus.
While we can’t change the seasons, there are a few things we can do to naturally build our immunity. In that vein, I thought I would share some ideas on how to boost our body’s defenses through the final stretch of winter:
Get your lymphatic system moving
Our lymphatic system, which is essential to supporting immune function, does not have its own pump as our cardiovascular system does. Hence, it relies on our physical movement to function effectively. No/low movement = sluggish lymphatic system = underperforming immune system. Moreover, from the perspective of Chinese medicine, a lack of exercise can result in what is called low protective energy (or qi), as sufficient movement is essential to building the defenses needed to protect our body from disease. On terribly cold days, I resort to exercising at home with this program, which is pretty cool.
Another way to stimulate the lymphatic system is through dry-brushing the skin daily before showering (I will post something about this soon).
Don’t fight nature’s cycles
Winter is a time when nature slows down and retreats; it is a perfect period for inwardness, contemplation, and self-care. At this time of year, it is best to emulate the sun’s winter cycles by getting to bed early and rising later. Extra effort should be invested into decreasing unnecessary stress, which is linked to increases in the common cold and other viruses (plus a plethora of other more serious ailments). In Chinese medicine, stress and anxiety is thought to deplete one’s protective qi.
To the best of your ability, try to use the last few weeks of winter as an opportunity to find balance and regroup. As always, nature is often our best teacher.
Check your diet
Enjoy whole foods which have not been denatured and are full of nutrients that boost the body’s defenses. Processed foods as well as refined sugars must be avoided as they are depleting. An excess of salt has a tendency of “working against the qi’s outer defense of the body”, and should therefore be avoided in most cases (Pitchford, 2002).
Helpful foods to include in your diet at this time of year are are broccoli, turnips, parsnips, garlic, lemon juice, grapefruit, carrots, turmeric and ginger.
If you find you are beginning to feel under the weather…
…cut out dairy, animal protein, sweets and excess salt until you recover from your cold as these foods can be mucous and acid-forming. Instead, a predominantly liquid, plant-based diet is more healing (think soups full of fresh vegetables and whole grains).
Your external environment is important
Chinese healing philosophies tell us that maintaining a neat, serene environment is essential to support our immunity (our outside environment often reflects our inward state). Sunlight and fresh air are also key, so make sure to open those windows on days that the weather is tolerable to allow the air to circulate.
Also, at this time of year when everything outside looks gray and blah, I like to play make-believe and create a spring-like ambience in my home with lots of gorgeous flowers to keep my spirits high. Right now, I have three vases of beautiful blooms in the living room alone.
And of course, maintaining a healthy routine year-round and sticking to a clean, wholesome diet is always the body’s first line of defense against disease.
January 29, 2014
I am thrilled that my friend, former coworker and super-talented writer, Megan Margulies, is sharing her thoughts on “natural” food with us below in what is NL’s first ever guest post.
Back in February of 2013, Nourished Living shared a blog post called, “Understanding Labels: What is in your Meat? Conventional vs. Organic vs. Natural Meat.” We know that the “all-natural” label holds farms to very little regulations in the raising or production of their meat. Most frightening, and you will find this on the above-mentioned chart, is the fact that farms aren’t required to be inspected for federal/state compliance.
By now, it’s pretty clear that the “all-natural” label is one that we should be leery of. At first glance, the term sounds lovely. You can almost see the chicken gallivanting across an open field as its loving farmer looks on smiling. But when you stop to really, truly think about it—of course that chicken breast is natural…it’s a chicken! There is no reason for you to look at this label, and think, “Oh, good, this chicken is natural…it’s not made out of…plastic?”
The FDA says “from a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth.” This means that they have not developed a definition for use of term “natural, ” but will allow the label to be used “if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”
In recent years, we have been wired to think “natural” is the almighty version of meat and produce. Not so, says Jessi Haggerty, RD, and wellness blogger. “It’s important to remember that “natural” ingredients can be harmful. Cocaine, Alcohol, and Tobacco are all natural, but shouldn’t be consumed in unlimited amounts.”
With ever-evolving education and public awareness of food and farming practices, it would be expected that stricter federal regulations would be put into place for food labeling. In a letter dated January 6, 2014, the FDA responded to the issue saying that they have not devised a formal definition of the term “natural” with respect to foods because there are too many factors to consider. These factors include “relevant science; consumer preferences, perceptions, and beliefs; the vast array of modern food production technologies in addition to genetic engineering (e.g. use of different types of fertilizer, growth promotion drugs, animal husbandry methods); the myriad food processing methods, and any strictures flowing from the First Amendment.” They go on to say that even if they were to define “natural” in the context of food labeling, there would be “no assurance that we would revoke, amend, or add to the current policy, or develop any definition at all.”
It’s clear that we cannot rely on the FDA to protect us from the marketing maneuvers of companies like Perdue. So what should we be looking for? Haggerty recommends buying meat with an “antibiotic-free” label. “Remember, you eat what the animal eats, and if it’s eating antibiotics, so are you. If you want to go one step further, find meats that are eating an ‘all-natural’ diet as well. Grass-fed beef, pasture-raised pork, and free-range chicken are signs of higher-quality meats. If you are looking for humanely raised meats, find something that falls on the Global Animal Partnership rating scale.
We live in a world that is constantly increasing in its rate of production and consumption—and with that, comes unhealthy “farming” practices. It’s important to keep ourselves educated so that we can continue to live long, healthy, and delicious lives.
Megan Margulies is a freelance writer based in Boston, Massachusetts. To learn more, visit her website at www.meganmargulies.com.
December 31, 2013
While I have always admired friends who make grand New Year’s resolutions (especially those who are able to stick to them), I often find that positive change for both myself and my clients comes in small and digestible steps in the right direction.
In that spirit, I put together a list of small shifts you can make to your everyday routine that will have a significant effect on your health and wellbeing this New Year:
Ditch the plastic
You already know that plastic + food = an unnecessarily high level of exposure to environmental toxins including hormone disruptor Bisphenol-A, so now is the time to finally take the leap and make a change. Get rid of your plastic tupperware, coffee cups, baby bottles, mixing bowls, cooking utensils, etc. and replace them with glass, porcelain, wood or stainless steel alternatives (they are available everywhere and last forever).
In case you need a bit of a nudge on this one, consider this: we have all seen plastic tupperware that has been irreparably stained (usually red, by tomato sauce), where no matter how hard one scrubs, the color refuses to budge. The sauce has literally become “one” with the plastic. In the same way that a little part of the sauce has fused with your tupperware, just know that the reverse is true as well: a little bit of that plastic has merged with your food! (gross).
Keep a food journal
The number of people who suffer from food allergies and sensitivities is skyrocketing, probably due to the fact that our bodies are exposed to unprecedented amounts of processed foods and environmental toxins, causing our immune systems to run awry. If you find that you have unexplained symptoms such as bloating, fatigue, skin problems such as acne or eczema, etc., then it might be a good idea to keep a daily food journal for a week or two to help identify potential allergies or food sensitivities. This journal should track all of your meals and snacks as well as any general “symptoms” you might experience during the day. The symptoms can be both positive or negative; for example, one day you might note that you felt wonderful and were able to make it through the typical mid-afternoon slump without your regular coffee, while the next day you might be experiencing a skin flare-up. By systematically tracking what you eat and how you feel, you may be able to make a link between certain foods and previously unexplained symptoms. This one simple habit can garner life-changing insights; you might uncover food sensitivities you never even suspected before.
Drink more water
Drinking plenty of water is vital to our health, however, many of us are in an almost constant state of dehydration. Dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, slow metabolism, constipation, and more. Moreover, the mechanism for thirst is often confused with hunger, so ensuring one has had enough to drink can help decrease overeating and subsequent weight gain.
Ideally, we should aim to drink 8 to 12 ounces of water per day to help us stay hydrated and to assist with the body’s detox functions. Make a habit to bring along a glass water bottle everywhere you go and to sip on it throughout the day – nothing could be easier!
Eat real food
One of the primary pieces of advice I give to my clients is that I ask them to read labels on everything they buy. If a food item contains a laundry-list of ingredients or any item that sounds like it belongs in a chemistry lab and not on our plate, then it should not make its way into our bellies. If you couldn’t conceivably make it at home with easy to access ingredients then you shouldn’t buy it.
Once you get into this habit and do it regularly, identifying and avoiding questionable ingredients will become second-nature. A few common ingredients which you should avoid at all costs are hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and hidden sources of MSG (anything hydrolyzed, glutamic acid, soy protein, etc. – full list here).
Cut down on sugar (a lot)
I wrote a whole post on this (read it here), so I won’t bother you again with the details, but I remain convinced that cutting sugar (especially processed sugar) out of our diet can have a dramatic impact on our health. High sugar consumption is connected with a plethora of diseases including cancer, heart disease, diabetes and depression.
Thanks to our food supply which values cheap ingredients over quality, the sweet stuff is everywhere, so, once again, make sure to read labels to avoid sugars hiding in everyday products (for example, high fructose corn syrup in our bread and salad dressing!).
Cutting sugar out of your diet might seem like a daunting task at first, so I suggest taking it slow and starting with the most highly processed (and toxic) varieties first. This resource I put together with a guide to everyday sweeteners is a good place to start.
Indulge in “self-care”
With our hectic schedules and stressful lifestyles, I believe that putting aside at least half an hour of sacred alone time is essential. Use this time to meditate, read a good book, get a massage, or take a walk outside – just make sure to prioritize it as though your health depends on it (because it does!).
Wishing you a wonderful 2014, full of many blessings and health of mind, body and soul.
November 19, 2013
When we moved across the country from Massachusetts to Illinois, one of the first things I noticed was that the water here tastes different, and not in a good way. Sensing that something was amiss, I dove into researching water quality reports (which, I discovered, is not an exercise for the weak-hearted!). It’s insane to find out what they are dumping in our water and how tolerant government-mandated “safe levels” are (not to mention that there are hundreds of untracked chemicals that do not even make it onto the reports).
As I was reading about drinking water, I came across alarming research on the chemicals we are exposed to as we shower: not only are we absorbing whatever (unfiltered) chemicals are present in the water through our skin, but more importantly, we are also inhaling these chemicals as water vapor. All of these unfiltered toxins are going straight into our bloodstream – yikes! It never crossed my mind that my morning shower could be so problematic.
As an example, let’s look at chlorine, one of the most common chemicals in our water. We absorb 100 times more chlorine in a short, ten-minute shower than we would from drinking one gallon of the same water. Moreover, heated chlorine (i.e., in a hot shower) can transform into chloroform, a known carcinogen. Chlorine and other chemicals in our water can also result in dry skin and hair, and can aggravate skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis).
Thankfully, by installing a shower filter, we can minimize our exposure to at least some of these toxins. A whole-house filtration system is another more comprehensive (but more expensive) solution.
To ensure that you purchase the most effective filter, first look at your area’s water quality report (a quick google search should bring it up). Next, use this NSF database to research filters that address the contaminants specific to the water in your town. Individual research is important, as there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution – these chemicals can vary greatly from place to place due to the different industries polluting your water source as well as your town’s water treatment cocktail.
With these simple steps and a little bit of research, you can mitigate this significant source of daily toxic exposure (yay!).