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Oh, the words “blood sugar.”

Does it conjure up visions of restrictive eating, diabetes medications, or insulin injections?

Blood sugar is the measure of the amount of sugar in your blood. You need the right balance of sugar in your blood to fuel your brain and muscles.

The thing is, it can fluctuate. A lot.

This fluctuation is the natural balance between things that increase it; and things that decrease it. When you eat food with sugars or starches (“carbs”), then your digestive system absorbs sugar into your blood. When carbs are ingested and broken down into simple sugars, your body keeps blood sugar levels stable by secreting insulin. Insulin allows excess sugar to get it out of your bloodstream and into your muscle cells and other tissues
for energy

Why keep my blood sugar stable?

Your body wants your blood sugar to be at an optimal level. It should be high enough, so you’re not light-headed, fatigued, and irritable. It should be low enough that your body isn’t scrambling to remove excess from the blood.

When blood sugar is too low, this is referred to as “hypoglycemia.”

When blood sugar is too high, it is referred to as hyperglycemia. Prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar levels (chronic hyperglycemia) can lead to “insulin resistance.”

Insulin resistance is when your cells are just so bored of the excess insulin that they start ignoring (resisting) it, and that keeps your blood sugar levels too high.

Insulin resistance and chronic hyperglycemia can eventually lead to diabetes.

So let’s look at how you can optimize your food and lifestyle to keep your blood sugar stable.

Food for stable blood sugar

The simplest thing to do to balance your blood sugar is to reduce the number of refined sugars and starches you eat. To do this, you can start by dumping sweet drinks and having smaller portions of dessert.

Eating more fiber is helpful too. Fiber helps to slow down the amount of sugar absorbed from your meal; it reduces the “spike” in your blood sugar level. Fiber is found in plant-based foods (as long as they are eaten in their natural state, processing foods removed fiber). Eating nuts, seeds, and whole fruits and veggies (not juiced) is a great way to increase your fiber intake.

FUN FACT: Cinnamon has been shown to help cells increase insulin sensitivity. Not to mention it’s a delicious spice that can be used in place of sugar. (HINT: It’s in the recipe below)

Lifestyle for stable blood sugar

Exercise also helps to improve your insulin sensitivity; this means that your cells don’t ignore insulin’s call to get excess sugar out of the blood. Not to mention, when you exercise, your muscles are using up that sugar they absorbed from your blood. But you already knew that exercise is healthy, didn’t you?

Would you believe that stress affects your blood sugar levels? Yup! Stress hormones increase your blood sugar levels. If you think about the “fight or flight” stress response, what fuel do your brain and muscles need to “fight” or “flee”? Sugar! When you are stressed signals are sent to release stored forms of sugar back into the bloodstream, increasing blood sugar levels. So, try to reduce the stress you’re under and manage it more effectively. Simple tips are meditation, deep breathing, or gentle movement.

Sleep goes hand-in-hand with stress. When you don’t get enough quality sleep, you tend to release stress hormones, have a higher appetite, and even get sugar cravings. Sleep is crucial, often overlooked, factor when it comes to keeping your blood sugar stable. Make sleep more of a priority – it will do your blood sugar (and the rest of your physical and mental health) good.

Conclusion

Your body is on a constant 24-hour quest to keep your blood sugar stable. The body has mechanisms in place to do this, but those mechanisms can get tired (resistant). Long-term blood sugar issues can spell trouble.

There are many nutrition and lifestyle approaches you can take to help keep your blood sugar stable. Minimizing excessive carbs, and eating more fiber, exercising, reducing stress, and improving sleep are all key to having stable blood sugar (and overall good health).

Recipe (blood sugar balancing): Cinnamon Apples

Serves 4

2 apples, chopped
1 tbsp coconut oil
½ tsp ground cinnamon
⅛ tsp sea salt
¼ tsp vanilla extract
Place chopped apples into a small saucepan with 2 tbsp water. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. After about 5 minutes the apples will become slightly soft, and water will be absorbed.

Add 1 tbsp coconut oil. Stir apples and oil together.

Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring every minute or so.

Add cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. Stir well.

Cook for another few minutes, stirring until the apples reach your desired softness!

Serve and enjoy!

Tip: Keeping the peel on increases the fiber, which is even better for stabilizing your blood sugar.

Glycemic this and glycemic that. Does it matter?

You’ll notice that they both begin with “glycemic.” That’s one tip that they have to do with sugars and carbs. Not only how much sugar is in foods, but more importantly, how it affects your blood sugar levels.

In general, diets that are high on the glycemic index (GI) and high in glycemic load (GL), tend to increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

FUN FACT: Starches like those in potatoes and grains are digested into sugar; this is because starch is just a bunch of sugars linked together. Digestive enzymes break those bonds so that the sugars become free. Then those sugars affect your body the same way that eating sugary foods do.

Glycemic Index (“how fast”)

The most common of the two terms is “glycemic index” (GI).

As the name suggests, it “indexes” (or compares) the effect that different foods have on your blood sugar level. Then each food is given a score from 0 (no effect on blood sugar) to 100 (big effect on blood sugar). Foods that cause a fast increase in blood sugar have a high GI. That is because the sugar in them is quickly processed by your digestive system and absorbed into your blood. They cause a “spike” in your blood sugar.

So, you can probably guess that pure glucose is given a GI rating of 100. On the other hand, chickpeas are right down there at a GI of 10.

Regarding GI: low is anything under 55; moderate is 56-69, and 70+ is considered a high GI food.

Remember, this is a measure of how fast a carbohydrate containing food is digested and raised your blood sugar. It’s not a measure of the sugar content of the food.

How the carbohydrates in food affect your blood sugar level depend on other components of the food. Things like fiber and protein can slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream, and this can make even a high-sugar food, low on the GI scale.

So, lower GI foods are better at keeping your blood sugar levels stable because they don’t increase your blood sugar level as fast.

FUN FACT: Can you guess which food has a GI of higher than 100? (Think of something super-starchy) White potatoes! They have a GI of 111.

Glycemic Load (“how much”)

The glycemic load is different.

Glycemic load (GL) doesn’t take into account how quickly your blood sugar “spikes”, but it looks at how high that spike is. Basically, how much the food increases your blood sugar.

GL depends on two things. First, how much sugar is actually in the food. Second, how much of the food is typically eaten.

Low GL would be 0-10, moderate GL would be 10-20, and high GL would 20+.

Example of GL and GI

So, let’s compare average (120 g) servings of bananas and oranges:

Excerpt from: Harvard Health Publications, Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods

As you can see, the banana and orange have almost the same glycemic index.; this means they both raise your blood sugar in about the same amount of time.

But, the average banana raises the blood sugar twice as high (11) as the orange does (5). So, it contains more overall sugar than the same amount (120 g) of orange.

Of course, this is all relative. A GL of 11 is not high at all. Please keep eating whole fruits. 🙂

What does this all mean for your health?

Certain people should be aware of the effects that foods have on their blood sugar. People who have diabetes or pre-diabetes conditions like insulin resistance
need to be aware of the glycemic index and glycemic load of foods they are eating regularly.

The GI and GL are just two factors to consider when it comes to blood sugar. Some high GI foods are pretty good for you but if you want to reduce the impact on your blood sugar, have them with a high-fiber or high-protein food.

Conclusion

If you have blood sugar imbalances or diabetes, you should probably be aware of the GI and GL of your food.

If you are at risk of diabetes or heart disease, you might try swapping out some higher GI/GL foods and replacing with lower GI/GL foods.

Oh, and try this low GI recipe I have for you.

Recipe (low GI): Mediterranean Salad

Serves 2

1 cucumber, chopped
½ cup chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup black olives
¼ red onion, diced
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp basil
½ tsp oregano
1 dash sea salt
1 dash black pepper

Place first five ingredients together in a bowl.

Add remaining ingredients to a jar (to make the dressing) with a tight-fitting lid and shake vigorously.

Add dressing to salad and gently toss.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Add chopped avocado for even more fiber and healthy fat.

When we think of “vitamins,” we know they’re super-important for health.

But vitamin D is special.

It’s difficult to get enough vitamin D; vitamin D is, therefore, a very common deficiency.

So, let’s talk about how much of this critical fat-soluble vitamin we need, and how you can get enough. The three ways to vitamin D are exposure to the sun, consuming vitamin D containing food, and through supplements.

Why is vitamin D important, and how much do we need?

Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium from our food and acts like a hormone to help us build strong bones. Vitamin D can also help with immune function, cellular growth, and help to prevent mood imbalances such as depression and seasonal affective disorder.

Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to bone diseases like osteomalacia. Inadequate vitamin D can also increase your risk of heart disease, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, and even death. The “official” minimum amount of vitamin D to strive for each day is merely 400-600 IU. Many experts think that this is not nearly enough for optimal health.

To ensure you get adequate amounts of vitamin D, you can implement any combination of the three vitamin D sources mentioned above on a weekly basis.

How can I get enough vitamin D from the sun?

Your skin makes vitamin D when it’s exposed to the sun; that’s why it’s referred to as the “sunshine vitamin.”How much vitamin D your skin makes depends on many things. Location, season, clouds, clothing, all affect the amount of vitamin D your skin can produce from the sun. One standard recommendation is to get about 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. to the face, arms, legs, or back. This should be done without sunscreen, at least twice a week.Of course, we should always avoid sunburns and of course in some locations (and seasons of the year) it’s not easy to get sun exposure. So, how can we get enough vitamin D in other ways?

How can I get enough vitamin D from food?

Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish, liver, and egg yolks. Some mushrooms make vitamin D when they’re exposed to the sun.
Some foods are “fortified” (which means vitamin D has been added) with vitamin D. These include milk, some orange juices, breakfast cereals, and yogurt. It will say on the label how much vitamin D has been added per serving.

Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, you can increase absorption of it from your food if you eat it with some fat (healthy fat, of course).Between sun exposure and food, it still may be difficult to get even the minimum of 400 IU of vitamin D each day; this is why vitamin D supplements are quite popular.

How can I get enough vitamin D from supplements?

It’s easy enough to just “pop a pill” or take some cod liver oil (which also contains vitamin A). Either of these can ensure that you get the minimum amount of vitamin D, plus a bit extra.

But before you take vitamin D containing supplements, make sure you check that it won’t interact with other supplements or medications you may be taking. Always read your labels, and ask a healthcare professional for advice.

Do not take more than the suggested dosage on the label of any vitamin D supplement, except under medical care.

The maximum amount recommended (for the general population) is 4,000 IU/day. Too much vitamin D can raise your blood levels of calcium (to an unsafe level), and this can affect your heart and kidneys.

The best thing, if you’re concerned, is to ask your healthcare professional to do a blood test and make a recommendation about how much vitamin in supplement form is right for you. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend higher amounts of vitamin D supplementation for a short time while under their care.


Conclusion:

Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin which; many people have a hard time maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D. There are three ways to get enough vitamin D: sun exposure, through certain foods, and in supplements.

I’ve given you some ideas how you can get the minimum 400-600 IU or vitamin D daily.

If you’re concerned, it’s best to request a blood test that tests your vitamin D levels to be sure what’s right for you. Always take supplements as directed.

Recipe (vitamin D): Super-Simple Grilled Salmon

Serves 4

4 wild salmon fillets
1 bunch asparagus
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/4 black pepper
1/4 tsp dried parsley
1/4 tsp. dried dill
4 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven broiler and raise the oven rack. Place parchment paper on a baking sheet and place fish on top, skin-side down. Surround with a single layer of asparagus.

Sprinkle the fish and asparagus with sea salt, pepper, parsley, and dill. Drizzle with olive oil.

Broil for 8-10 minutes until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Serve with a side of rice or quinoa.

If there was ever a call for “digestive health,” this is it!

Yes, it’s true. Your gut is considered your “second brain.”

There is no denying it anymore.

And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it’s no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.

I find it amazing (but not too surprising).

 

What exactly is the “gut-brain connection.”

 

Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it!

There seem to be multiple things working together.  Things like:

  • The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain;
  • The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain;
  • The massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut;
  • The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body; and,
  • The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.

This is complex. And amazing, if you ask me.

I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!)

 

Vagus nerve

 

There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.

And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…

Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!

 

The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters

 

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord?

I knew you would!

And that’s why it’s referred to as the “second brain.”

And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty “smartly”…don’t you think?

And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called “neurotransmitters.”

In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!

 

The immune system of the gut

 

Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!

And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?

Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.

 

Gut microbes

 

Your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!

But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.

 

How do these all work together for brain health?

 

The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don’t know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.

But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!

So, how do you feed your brain?

Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.

But two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.

 

Recipe (Gut food fibre, Brain food omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats

 

Serves 2

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

1 cup oats (gluten-free)

1 cup almond milk

1 tablespoon chia seeds

2 tablespoons hemp seeds

½ teaspoon cinnamon

1 banana, sliced

¼ cup chopped walnuts

  1. Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
  2. Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
  3. Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.

Let’s finally put an end to the debate of raw vs. cooked.

Of course, in the grand scheme of a well-balanced, nutrient-dense, varied, whole foods diet, the cooked vs. raw debate isn’t that critical for most people.

Where this can become a consideration is for vitamin and mineral deficiencies (or “insufficiencies”). These may be due to digestion or absorption issues, or avoidance of certain foods (due to allergies, intolerances, or choice).

And I’ll tell you that the answer isn’t as simple as “raw is always better” or “cooked is always better.”  As with most nutrition science, it depends on several factors. Some vitamins are destroyed in cooking, while others become easier to absorb (a.k.a. more “bioavailable”).

Here is the skinny on vitamins and minerals in raw foods versus cooked foods.

 

 Foods to eat raw

 

As a general rule, water soluble nutrients, like vitamin C and the B vitamins, found mostly in fruits and vegetables, are best eaten raw.

The reason why is two-fold.

First, when these nutrients are heated, they tend to degrade;  this is from any heat, be it steaming, boiling, roasting, or frying. Vitamin C and the B vitamins are a bit more “delicate” and susceptible to heat than many other nutrients.

Of course, the obvious way to combat these nutrient losses is to eat foods high vitamin C and B vitamins in their raw form (like in an awesome salad) or to cook them for as short a time as possible (like quickly steaming or blanching).

Fun fact: Raw spinach can contain three times the amount of vitamin C as cooked spinach.

The second reason why foods high in vitamin C and the B vitamins are best eaten raw is that they’re “water soluble.”  So, guess where the vitamins go when they’re cooked in water?  Yes, they’re dissolved right into the water;  this is particularly true for fruits and veggies that are boiled and poached but even for foods that steamed as well.

Of course, if you’re a savvy health nut, you’ll probably keep that liquid to use in your next soup or sauce to preserve those nutrients that are left after cooking. Just don’t overheat it or you may lose what you were aiming to keep.

But, how much loss are we talking about?  Well, of course, it ranges but can go from as low as 15%, up to over 50%.

In short, the water soluble vitamins like vitamin C and the B vitamins degrade with heat and some of what’s left over after they’re heated dissolves into the cooking water. So be sure to cook your fruits and veggies as little as possible, and keep that cooking water to use in your next recipe.

 

Soaking nuts and seeds

 

Regarding raw nuts and seeds, it may be beneficial to soak them. Soaking nuts and seeds (for several hours at room temperature) allows some of the minerals to become “unlocked” from their chemical structure, so they’re more absorbable.

 

Foods to eat cooked

 

Cooking certain orange and red “beta-carotene rich” veggies (e.g. tomatoes, carrots, & sweet potatoes) can help make this pre-vitamin A compound more absorbable.

Fun fact: One study found that absorption of beta-carotene was 6.5 times greater in stir-fried carrots than in raw carrots!

Of course, eating your fat-soluble vitamins with a bit of fat will help you to absorb more of them, so that’s one factor to consider.

 

One vegetable that’s best eaten both raw and cooked

 

Spinach!

And I’m not just saying this to get everyone to eat it any way possible (although, I would love for this to happen…unless you’re allergic, of course).

Spinach contains so many beneficial compounds that it’s great eaten both raw and cooked.

Eating raw spinach preserves the water-soluble vitamins C & the B vitamins.

Eating spinach cooked allows the pre-vitamin A, as well as some of the minerals like iron to be better absorbed. Not to mention how much spinach reduces in size when it’s cooked, so it’s easier to eat way more cooked spinach than raw spinach.

 

Conclusion:

 

The old nutrition philosophy of making sure you get a lot of nutrient-dense whole foods into your diet holds true. Feel free to mix up how you eat them, whether you prefer raw or cooked just make sure you eat them.

 

Recipe (cooked spinach): Sauteed Spinach

 

Serves 4

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic

1 bag baby spinach leaves

1 dash salt

1 dash black pepper

Fresh lemon

1. In a large cast iron pan heat olive oil.

2. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.

3. Add spinach, salt, pepper and toss with garlic and oil.

4. Cover pan and cook on low for about 2 minutes.

5. Saute cook spinach for another minute, stirring frequently, until all the spinach is wilted.

6. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Enjoying the cooked spinach with the vitamin C in the “raw” lemon juice helps your body absorb more of the iron.

You probably know the negative health effects of eating too much sugar, especially “added sugars” like in soda pop, candy, baked goods, and many commercially-available cereals, just to name a few.  Added sugar is hiding just about everywhere in the grocery store.

Yes, ingesting refined sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin, and increases your risk for a whole host of issues.

A while ago, one of the food industry’s responses to the demand for lower-calorie foods that still taste great, was artificial sweeteners.

The idea behind them is that you can still get the sweetness, without the calories; like when you have a “diet pop” versus a regular one. Theoretically, this was going to help people maintain a healthy body weight, and hopefully not increase anyone’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, or obesity.

But, it doesn’t always work out the way we think it will…

 

Types of artificial sweeteners

 

Sugar substitutes fall into several categories, but what they all have in common is that they have a sweet taste and fewer calories than plain sugar.

Today we’ll specifically discuss “artificial sweeteners,” which are synthetic chemicals where a tiny bit tastes very sweet.

They’re also known as “non-nutritive sweeteners,” and include things like:

  • Saccharin (Sweet & Low),
  • Acesulfame potassium,
  • Aspartame (Equal & NutraSweet), and
  • Sucralose (Splenda).

Health effects of artificial sweeteners

 

Negative health effects from artificial sweeteners are cited all over the place, and while many studies show effects, others don’t. Cancer? Maybe yes, maybe no. Heart disease? Maybe yes, maybe no. Not to mention that much of the research has been on animals, which may or may not translate to people.

I did want to point out one ironic thing, to do with artificial sweeteners and weight.

One study found that people who tend to drink diet sodas have double the risk of gaining weight than those who didn’t.

Another study has shown an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and diabetes for those who consume diet drinks every day.

While these results don’t apply equally to everyone, they do somehow seem ironic, don’t they?

 

How do artificial sweeteners affect our bodies?

 

Now that’s a million-dollar question!

There are so many ideas out there to try to explain it, but the reality is we don’t know for sure; plus, it might play out differently in different people.

 

  • Is it because people feel that they can eat cake because they’ve switched to diet soda?
  • Perhaps it’s because the sweeteners change the taste preferences so that fruit starts to taste worse, and veggies taste terrible?
  • Maybe artificial sweeteners increase our cravings for more (real) sweets?
  • It can be that the sweet taste of these sweeteners signals to our body to release insulin to lower our blood sugar; but, because we didn’t actually ingest sugar, our blood sugar levels get too low, to the point where we get sugar cravings.
  • Some even say (and at least one animal study suggests) that saccharin may inspire addictive tendencies toward it.
  • Maybe there is even a more complex response that involves our gut microbes and how they help to regulate our blood sugar levels.

Conclusion:

 

Understand that added sugar is not good for you, but the solution may not be to replace them all with artificial sweeteners.

I highly recommend reducing your sugar intake, so you naturally re-train your palate and start enjoying the taste of real food that isn’t overly sweet.  This way you’re reducing your intake of added sugar, as well as not needing to replace it with artificial sweeteners.

Try having ½ teaspoon less of sugar in your hot morning drink. Try reducing a ¼ cup of the sugar called for in some recipes. Try diluting juice with water.

Your body will thank you!

 

Recipe (naturally sweetened): Sweet Enough Matcha Latte

 

Serves 1

1 teaspoon matcha powder

1.5 cup almond milk, unsweetened

1-2 teaspoons maple syrup or honey (optional)

1. Heat almond milk and maple syrup/honey (if using) in a small pot.

2. Add matcha powder to cup.

3. When almond milk is hot, add about a ¼ cup to matcha and stir to combine.

4. Add rest of the milk to cup.

 Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can steep a chai tea bag in the milk if you prefer chai tea over matcha.

Yes you should (end of post).

But what exactly is it about coconut oil that makes it so healthy? And which type is best?

Let’s dive into some of the fascinating research and find out.

 

Coconut oil is a special kind of fat

 

Coconut oil is fat and contains the same 9 calories per gram as other fats.

It is extracted from the “meat” of the coconut. Coconut oil is a white solid at room temperature and easily melts into a clear liquid on a hot day.

The idea of adding coconut oil to your diet is NOT to add on to what you already eat but to substitute it for some of the (possibly) less healthy fats you may be eating now.

And here’s why – Because not all calories or fats are created equal.

Coconut oil contains a unique type of fat known as “Medium Chain Triglycerides” (MCTs). In fact, 65% of the fat in coconut oil are these MCTs.

What makes MCTs unique is how your body metabolizes them;  they’re easily absorbed into the bloodstream by your gut, where they go straight to the liver, and they’re burned for fuel or converted into “ketones.”

This metabolic process, unique to MCTs, is what sets coconut oil apart from other fats.

 

Coconut oil MCTs may help with fat loss

 

Coconut oil’s MCTs have been shown to have a few different fat loss benefits.

First, it can help to increase feelings of fullness, which can lead to a natural reduction in the amount of food you eat.

Second, because of their unique metabolic route, MCTs can also increase the number of calories you burn;  this happens when you compare the calories burned after eating the same amount of other fats.

In fact, a few studies show that coconut oil may increase the number of calories you burn by as much as 5%.

Third, some studies show that eating coconut oil can help reduce belly fat (a.k.a. “waist circumference”).

Just remember not to add coconut oil to your diet without reducing other fats and oils!

 

How much coconut oil should I eat?

 

Many of the studies that showed increased fullness, increased metabolism, and reduced belly fat only used about 2 tablespoons per day.

You probably don’t need any more than that.

 

What kind of coconut oil is the best?

 

There are so many coconut oil options available in grocery stores these days

that it can make it difficult to know which is best.

I recommend you stay away from “refined” ones, and opt for “virgin” coconut oil. That is because it is processed at lower temperatures and avoids some of the chemical solvents used in the refining process;  this helps to preserve more of the oil’s natural health-promoting antioxidants.

Pro Tip: Always (and I mean ALWAYS) avoid “hydrogenated” coconut oil. It can be a health nightmare because it contains the infamous “trans fats.”

One thing you should also consider is that each oil has a specific high temperature that you should avoid surpassing (e.g. its “smoke point”). For virgin coconut oil, that temperature is 350F. That means you can safely use it on the stovetop on a low-medium setting, as well as in most baking.

 

Conclusion:

 

Substitute some of the fat you eat with virgin coconut oil;  this may help you to lose weight and belly fat by naturally helping you to eat less, as well as slightly increasing your metabolism.

Oh, and it tastes great too!

 

Recipe (Coconut Oil): Homemade Healthy Chocolate

Serves 12

⅓ cup coconut oil, melted

1 cup cocoa/cacao powder

4 tablespoons maple syrup

2 dashes salt

4 tablespoons slivered almonds

1. Melt coconut oil, and whisk in maple syrup, salt, and cocoa/cacao powder until smooth.

2. Stir in slivered almonds until evenly distributed.

3. Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze.

4. Store in fridge or freezer to avoid melting.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Substitute other seeds, chopped nuts, or dried fruit instead of the almonds if you wish.

Food intolerances or “sensitivities” can affect you in so many ways.

And they’re a lot more common than most people think.

I’m not talking about anaphylaxis or immediate allergic reactions that involve an immune response. Those can be serious and life-threatening.  If you have any allergies, you need to steer clear of any traces of foods you are allergic to, and speak with your doctor or pharmacist about emergency medication, if necessary.

 

What I’m talking about, is an intolerance, meaning you do not tolerate a specific food very well and it causes immediate or chronic symptoms anywhere in the body. Symptoms can take hours or even days to show themselves. And symptoms can be located just about anywhere in the body.

 

This is what makes them so tricky to identify.

 

Symptoms of food intolerances

 

There are some common food intolerances that have immediate and terribly painful gastrointestinal symptoms, such as lactose intolerance or celiac disease. These can cause stomach pain, gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea;  symptoms can start immediately after eating lactose or gluten.

On the other hand, other more insidious symptoms may not be linked to foods in an obvious way.

 

Symptoms like:

 

  • Chronic muscle or joint pain
  • Sweating, or increased heart rate or blood pressure
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Exhaustion after a good night’s sleep
  • Autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Rashes or eczema
  • Inability to concentrate or feeling like your brain is “foggy”
  • Shortness of breath

If your body has trouble digesting specific foods, it can affect your hormones, metabolism, or even cause inflammation and result in any of the symptoms listed above. And these can affect any (or all) parts of the body, not just your gastrointestinal system.

 

How to prevent these intolerances

 

The main thing you can do is to figure out which foods or drinks you may be reacting to and stop ingesting them.

I know, I know…this sounds so simple, and yet it can be SO HARD.

The best way to identify your food/drink triggers is to eliminate them.

Yup, get rid of those offending foods/drinks. All traces of them, for three full weeks and monitor your symptoms.

If things get better, then you need to decide whether it’s worth it to stop ingesting them, or if you want to slowly introduce them back one at a time while still looking out to see if/when symptoms return.

 

Start Here: Two common food intolerances

 

Here are two of the most common triggers of food intolerances:

 

  • Lactose (in dairy  – eliminate altogether, or look for a “lactose-free” label – try nut or coconut milk instead).
  • Gluten (in wheat, rye, and other common grains – look for a “gluten-free” label – try gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa & gluten-free oats).

This is by no means a complete list, but it’s a good place to start because lactose intolerance is thought to affect up to 75% of people, while “non-celiac gluten sensitivity” can affect up to 13% of people.

So, if you can eliminate all traces of lactose and gluten for three weeks, it can confirm whether either or both of these, are a source of your symptoms.

Yes, dairy and grains are a part of many government-recommended food guidelines, but you absolutely can get all of the nutrients you need if you focus on replacing them with nutrient-dense foods.

A reliable way to monitor how you feel after eating certain foods is to track it. After every meal or snack, write down the foods you ate, and any symptoms so you can more easily spot trends.

And, as mentioned earlier, symptoms may not start immediately following a meal. You may find, for example, that you wake up with a headache the morning after eating bananas.

You might be surprised what links you can find if you track your food and symptoms well!

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: When you eliminate something, you need to make sure it’s not hiding in other foods, or the whole point of eliminating it for a few weeks is lost. Restaurant food, packaged foods, and sauces or dressings are notorious for adding ingredients that you’d never think are there. You know that sugar hides in almost everything, but did you also know that wheat is often added to processed meats and soy sauce, and lactose can even be found in some medications or supplements?

 

When in doubt you HAVE to ask the server in a restaurant about hidden ingredients, read labels, and consider cooking from scratch.

 

What if it doesn’t work?

 

If eliminating these two common food intolerances doesn’t work, then you can go one step further to eliminate all dairy (even lactose-free) and all grains (even gluten-free) for three weeks.

You may need to see a qualified healthcare practitioner for help, and that’s OK. I don’t want you to continue suffering if you don’t need to!

 

Recipe (dairy-free milk): Homemade Nut/Seed Milk

 

 Makes 3 cups

½ cup raw nuts/seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, or sesame seeds)

2 cups water

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

 

  1. Soak nuts/seeds for about 8 hours (optional, but recommended).
  2. Dump soaking water & rinse nuts/seeds.
  3. Add soaked nuts/seeds and 2 cups water to a high-speed blender and blend on high for about one minute until very smooth.
  4. Strain through a small mesh sieve with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Squeeze if necessary.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can double the recipe and store the milk in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days.

Not everyone should be taking digestive enzyme supplements; and not all of them are created equal.

As a practitioner, I find that many people with digestive issues want to jump straight into using a supplement. And many times I would rather try other strategies first. Not to mention, that some supplements can be harmful if used inappropriately.

So, let’s dive into a few of the common digestive enzymes, what they do, and who should NOT take them.

 

What are digestive enzymes?

 

Technically, “enzymes” are compounds that help critical biochemical reactions to happen in your body. These reactions can be anything, from making neurotransmitters like serotonin, to burning food for energy, to breaking down food we eat into smaller pieces that our guts can absorb.

Oh, and they all end with “ase”.

As I just hinted, “digestive enzymes” are specifically those enzymes we use for digestion. They’re enzymes that our digestive system naturally makes and secretes when we eat.

Now, all of the “macronutrients” we eat (carbs, protein & fat) need to be broken down into their individual (smaller) parts so that we can properly absorb and digest them. They’re just too big otherwise, and if we don’t absorb them properly, we can get symptoms of fatigue, malnutrition, digestive distress, or a host of other symptoms.

It is these individual (smaller) parts that our body amazingly rearranges and uses to create other larger molecules that our body needs.

 

The most common digestive enzymes you’ll see on product labels are:

 

  • Amylase – Helps to break down starch into its sugars.
  • alpha-Galactosidase – Helps to break down specific “fermentable carbohydrates” into its sugars.
  • Lactase – Helps to break down lactose into its sugars.
  • Protease – Helps to break down protein into its amino acids.
  • Bromelain and/or Papain – Help to break down protein into its amino acids.
  • Lipase – Helps to break down fats into its lipids.


Who should consider taking digestive enzymes?

 

I would always recommend that you see a qualified health care practitioner for an expert opinion on whether your issues can be related to digestion, and which, if any, supplements can help you.

In general, the most common digestive symptoms that enzymes *may* help with are bloating, cramping, and/or diarrhea. Particularly if it happens after eating certain foods (think lactose-intolerance symptoms after eating dairy).

One reason for these symptoms can be that food particles are not broken down properly, and the larger pieces travel further down the digestive tract to the microbiota where those little critters start breaking them down themselves. And this is definitely troublesome for certain people.

Don’t get me wrong, a healthy gut microbiota is absolutely essential for good health. And more and more research is showing just how it can affect not only our digestion, but also our immune system, and even our mood.

 

What do I need to know? – Medical conditions

 

Of course, you should read the label of any products you take, and take them as directed, especially if they’re not specifically recommended for you by your health care practitioner who knows your history.

 

Here are two critical things to be aware of:

 

1 – Digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates into sugars are not recommended for diabetics, or pregnant/breastfeeding women.

This is because taking them breaks down more carbohydrates into sugars than your body normally would; so, anyone at risk of blood sugar issues should take caution.

2 – When it comes to enzymes that break down proteins into amino acids, there are a few people who should avoid them because of potential interactions. That is if you have an ulcer, or are taking blood-thinners or anti-inflammatories, or if you’re having surgery.

The reason is because the digestive enzymes that break down protein are thought to cause or worsen ulcers, as well as have the ability to “thin” the blood and prevent normal clotting.

 

What do I need to know? – Possible Side effects

 

Using digestive enzyme supplements for a prolonged period of time may well justify an appointment with a knowledgeable practitioner. There may be strategies other than daily supplementation that can serve you better.

If you find that your symptoms get worse, or even if they don’t get better, you should probably stop using them.

Allergies are always a possiblity, so if you know or suspect you’re allergic, then you should avoid them.

And, as always, keep supplements away from children.

 

Before considering a digestive enzyme supplement

 

You shouldn’t just jump to supplementing with digestive enzymes without a proper diagnosis, or trying a few strategies first.

My first recommendation for digestive distress would be to relax more, eat slower, and chew more thoroughly. This helps to break down food and can put less stress on your digestive tract.

The second step would be to try eliminating certain troublesome foods from your diet (dairy & gluten, for example) and see if that helps.

 

Conclusion:

 

While many supplements are safe products, they’re not all for everyone.

I recommend that you:

  • Read your labels carefully (who should take them, how to take them, when to stop taking them).
  • If you have a medical condition or are taking medications speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • If you want expert advice on whether a specific supplement is for you, speak with a qualified health care practitioner.

Recipe (food containing bromelain & papain): Tropical (digestive) smoothie

Serves 1

1 cup pineapple, diced

1 cup papaya, diced

1 banana, chopped

1 cup coconut milk

ice if desired

Put all ingredients(except ice) into the blender and blend. Add ice if desired.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: The levels of enzymes in whole pineapple and papaya aren’t as concentrated as taking them in a supplement; so if you’re not allergic to these delicious fruits, you can try this smoothie.

Yes, I’m serious! (And don’t you sometimes wonder anyway?)

 

You already know that your poop can reflect your physical, and sometimes even emotional, health.

You may get constipation or have diarrhea when you eat something that “doesn’t agree with you,” or when you’re super-nervous about something.

And what about fiber and water? If you’re not getting enough, it’ll probably show in your poop.

What about the all-important gut microbes? If they’re not happy, it’ll probably show in your poop.

 

Here’s a trivia question for you:

 

Did you know there is an “official” standard for poop? I mean a university-created chart! One that is used to help diagnose conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

 

Meet the Bristol Stool Scale

 

The Bristol Stool Scale was created at the prestigious University of Bristol in the UK back in 1997.

 

You can see the chart here.

 

LINK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristol_stool_scale

 

The scale breaks down type of poop into seven different categories ranging from type 1 which is very constipated, to type 7 which is diarrhea:

 

1 – Separate hard lumps (very constipated).

 

2 – Lumpy and sausage-like (slightly constipated).

 

3 – Sausage shaped with cracks in the surface (normal)

 

4 – Smooth, soft sausage (normal).

 

5 – Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (lacking fiber).

 

6 – Mushy consistency with ragged edges (inflammation).

 

7 – Liquid consistency with no solid pieces (inflammation).

 

Other “poop” factors to consider

 

You probably guessed that the shapes described in the Bristol Stool Scale are not the only thing to consider for poop health.

Think about how often you go. At least once per day, up to 3 times per day is pretty good. Less than one, or more than three can mean there is something going on.

What about how hard you have to try to go? You want it to be as effortless as possible.

And the colour? It should be brown from the bile that you need to break down the fats you ingest.

And if it’s green after a day of massive veggies, or red after that large glass of beet juice, you’re just fine.

But if you see an abnormal colour, like red or even black, that you can’t explain based on what you ate or drank in the last day or two, you probably want to get that checked out.

 

What do you do when you have “imperfect” poo?

 

Well, the first thing to consider is how imperfect it is, and how often it is like that? Once in a while, things aren’t going to be perfect, and that’s A-OK.

If you know you need to get more fiber or water, then try increasing that.

If you haven’t had enough probiotic foods, then try getting more of them.

If you’re super-stressed, then try deep breathing, meditating, or having a warm bath.

 

Oh, and don’t forget the two most basic pieces of nutrition advice:

  • First, eat a variety of nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods, including a lot of fruits & veggies (and their “fibrous” skins, wherever possible). The fiber in these is not only helpful for pushing food through your gut, but they also feed those millions of amazing helpful critters that live there (your friendly gut microbes.)
  • The second piece of advice is to eat slowly, and mindfully, chewing thoroughly.

These are good habits for anyone and everyone, even when you have perfect poop!

Of course, long-term issues might require a more thorough review with a qualified health care practitioner. Don’t suffer from poop issues for too long before seeking help.

 

Recipe (dairy-free probiotic): Super-Simple Coconut Milk Yogurt

Serves 6

2 cans full-fat coconut milk

2 probiotic capsules,

  1. Open the probiotic capsules and empty contents into the blender. Blend with coconut milk.
  2. Transfer to a sanitized glass jar (make sure it’s not still hot – you don’t want those probiotics to die).
  3. Store it in a warm place for 24-48 hours. If it’s not thick enough for you, you can let it ferment for another 24 hours.
  4. Add your favourite yogurt toppings, and store the rest for up to a week in the fridge.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Fermenting food is not an exact science. If this doesn’t work out as you’d like it to, try different brands of coconut milk and/or probiotics.

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