How We Eat Now (Pt. 1)

Welcome to the first installment to “How We Eat Now”, a four-part series looking at the basics of today’s most popular diets. 

 

Part 1: Intermittent Fasting

 
 

what is it?

While intermittent fasting (IF) may be treated like the new kid on the block, it is far from it. Humans have been fasting (intentionally or otherwise) since the beginning of time, and remains an important practice in many cultures today. IF is an umbrella term for different styles of time-restricted feeding (i.e. alternating between fed and fasted states). 

Types of IF

  • Feeding window
    • Eat for a period of time and fast for the rest
      • Example: Eat over 8 hours (12 pm to 8 pm), and fast for the remaining 16 hours
  • Alternate-day fasting
    • Varying periods of eating and fasting/restricting calories
      • Example: Eating over 12 hours and fast for 36 hours, or eat over 24 hours and fast for 24 hours  
  • Eat-stop-eat
    • Severely restrict calories for 24 hours either regularly (e.g. two days per week, this is known as a 5:2), or at random times 
  • Random meal skipping
    • Skip random meals through the week 

Why do it?

When we were hunters and gatherers in the pre-modern eras, food was often scarce. It was not unusual for our predecessors to go from periods of feast to periods of famine. Fasting at regular intervals (a la IF) mimics the feast/famine cycle. When you look at our physiology, it becomes more evident that being in a fasting state promotes the breakdown of fat (lipolysis). 

 
 
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The Body's Natural Fasting Cycle

Although you may not be aware of it, you already have a regular 8-hour fast built into your day… that is, unless, you have a chronic case of the midnight munchies. Between your last meal of the day until the time you break fast, there are many physiological processes that occur to either store or burn fat. 

Immediately after dinner you enter a state known as the “well-fed” state. Several hours after that, your body transitions into the “early fasting” state, and it stays there until you eat a healthy breakfast first thing in the am. 

 

 
 
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1. Well-fed state: 

  • Sugar and protein (broken down into amino acids) enter the bloodstream from the intestines, and dietary lipids enter via the lymphatic system.
  • Beta cells in the pancreas secrete insulin, which stimulates the storage of fuels (i.e. fat and sugar) and protein synthesis.

 

2. Early-fasting state: 

  • As blood glucose levels begin to drop, there is a decrease in secretion of insulin, triggering a rise in glucagon secretion. 
  • Glucagon is secreted by the alpha-cells in the pancreas. 
  • Glucagon signals a starved state and causes the release of glycogen stores. 
  • When there is low blood-sugar, the muscles and liver use fatty acids as energy 

 

3. Re-fed state

  • Fat is processed normally (i.e. stored in adipose tissue)
  • The liver replenishes it’s glycogen supplies with the rising blood-sugar, and processes the extra glucose for fatty acid synthesis 
 
 
 

Benefits of IF

If you love food as much as I do, then the thought of intentional fasting may seem like sacrilege. Depriving yourself of food cannot be a good thing, right? Well, the stars (and scientific literature) seem to point in the opposite direction. There are actually quite a few benefits to fasting including: 

  • Weight loss
  • Improved insulin sensitivity 
  • Decreased blood pressure 
  • Improved neuro-protection
  • Improved blood lipid profile

But is it all sunshine and rainbows?

Not exactly. While research seems to support the inclusion of intermittent fasting to a healthy lifestyle (READ: a lifestyle including healthy eating and exercise), a closer look needs to be taken at the type of studies being done. To date, the majority of studies showing benefit have been done on mice/rodents, so the findings cannot be superimposed on to humans. Moreover, the studies that HAVE been done haven’t been as conclusive (some show that there is a benefit, while others do not). Without a large body of double-blind, RCT studies (randomized controlled trials - the gold standard of scientific research), it is difficult to say with certainty that IF is something that we should all do

So.. what you’re saying is…

Health and human physiology is not black and white. Intermittent fasting may be really beneficial to some people, but not work at all in others. It all depends on your individual circumstances. While I cannot say for certain that IF is the way to go, there is enough evidence to show that reducing overall calorie intake in combination with regular exercise and a healthy, whole foods-rich diet is conducive to good health. 

That being said, if you have poor glycemic control, are underweight, pregnant, under 18, or have a history of disordered eating, do not start this type of eating plan before having a proper consultation with a licensed healthcare practitioner. 

 

Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose, prescribe, or treat. Always consult your primary care physician for advice on your wellness goals.

 
 

Please Pass the Haldi: Achieving Optimal Health with Turmeric, Nature’s Superstar

 

Just search the terms ‘turmeric’ and ‘health’ online and you will find a myriad of blog posts, articles, and scholarly papers touting the benefits of turmeric. From fighting cholesterol to giving skin a healthy glow, proponents of this superfood claim that it can benefit anything and everything. While turmeric, or haldi, is best known as a South Asian and Middle Eastern culinary spice, it has also been a mainstay in traditional medicine for over 6000 years. Ancient Ayurvedic practitioners used this healing herb to strengthen the body, relieve digestive disorders, and treat respiratory conditions, amongst many other maladies. As the popularity of turmeric spread throughout Asia and the Middle East, it quickly became integrated with other traditional systems of medicine. Present-day researchers have been able to prove hundreds of its actions and turmeric is being used adjunctivally for many medical conditions.  

Turmeric (Latin Curcuma longa) is a close relative of the ginger root. Like ginger, it boasts an impressive number of vitamins and mineral such as vitamins C, E, and B6, potassium and iron. The primary active compound in turmeric, curcumin, exhibits 600 potential benefits, including antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties.

 

The daily inclusion of turmeric can enhance wellness by:

 

• Improving cognitive function
◦ Protects brain health by targeting dissolving abnormal proteins.

• Supporting muscle and joint health
◦ Decreases inflammation, and relieves joint and muscle pain

• Fighting systemic inflammation
◦ Regular consumption of turmeric can significantly lower levels of inflammatory markers.

• Boosting detoxification
◦ Optimizes liver detoxification function

• Promoting balanced mood
◦ Acts as a natural and effective mood enhancer

• Promoting youthful and radiant skin
◦ Promotes glowing, healthy skin by counteracting fine lines and wrinkles.

 
 

One of my favourite ways to get a daily dose of turmeric is to make ‘Golden Milk’. This warming beverage soothes the spirit and staves off aches and pains during the cooler seasons. This drink is boosted with the power of black pepper; research suggests that the extract of black pepper (piperine) can boost the bioavailability of curcumin by 2000%.

 
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Golden Paste
¼ cup Organic turmeric powder
¾ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup water

Combine the ingredients in a small saucepan over a medium-low heat. Stir the mixture until it becomes a thick paste Remove the paste from heat, allow it to cool, and place in a jar. This can be stored for several days in the fridge.

 
 
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Golden Milk
1-cup milk of your choice (dairy, nut milk, coconut milk)
½ teaspoon ‘Golden paste’
1-teaspoon coconut oil
1-teaspoon maple syrup, honey, or sweetener of your choice

In a small saucepan, combine milk, ‘Golden paste’, and coconut oil over low heat. Heat until the desired temperature is reached and add the sweetener. Pour into your favourite mug and enjoy! 

 
 

Exercise Your Way to Better Mental Health

As you step into the gym, chances are you are thinking about improving heart health, building muscle, or achieving the body of your dreams. But did you know that jaunt on the stepmaster could benefit your brain too? For over a decade, scientists have been studying the effects of exercise on the brain. Studies show that regardless of age or fitness levels, exercise can yield some major mental benefits. According to Harvard Medical School psychiatrist and author, John Ratey, "Exercise is the single best thing you can do for your brain in terms of mood, memory, and learning". Need more convincing? Read on below to find out how exercise can do more than just torch calories!


1) Reduce stress
Combat everyday stressors by taking a walk or heading to the gym. According to studies, as little as 30 minutes of aerobic exercise can drastically decrease stress levels by increasing the brain's feel-good chemicals, such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Regular physical activity may even be working on a cellular level to reverse the effects of stress on the body's natural aging process. 

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2) Boosts the good stuff
While running laps may not exactly make you want to jump for joy, the effects of it may be worth the effort. Regular exercise causes the release of endorphins, which create the feeling of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that burning approximately 350 calories 3 times a week can reduce symptoms of depression as effectively as anti-depressants. 

What do 350 calories look like?

  • 3 continuous, 10-minute sets of: 10 kettlebell swings, 10 kettlebell sumo deadlifts, 3 minutes of rest, repeat 
  • 36 minutes of jumping rope
  • 52 minutes of a high-intensity aerobics class 
  • 1.5-hour walk at 3.5 mph

3) Prevents cognitive decline
Even though the heart may be forever young, the brain does go through some less than pleasant changes as we age. As the years progress, the natural aging progress and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's begin to destroy brain cells, causing our thinking to become hazy. Although Alzheimer's disease is currently incurable, studies have shown that regular exercise, especially between the ages of 25-35, have a neuroprotective effect on the hippocampus, the area of the brain that is responsible for memory and special navigation, and which is one of the first parts of the brain to succumb to Alzheimer's related damage. 

4) Anxiety eliminator!
While sipping on a glass of wine may seem like a nice way to relax, studies have shown that a dose of exercise is what people suffering from anxiety disorders may need. The brain chemicals that are released during and after exercise (serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine) are effective in decreasing levels of anxiety and tension.

5) Brain power!
Going to a salsa dance class does more than just work the hips. Complicated activities, such as playing tennis or going to a dance class, causes an increase in brain growth factors, which help produce new brain cells and establish connections between existing brain cells to help us learn. Not only do you get to learn an awesome new skill, but you also gain the benefits of increased attention and concentration skills. Win-win-win!

6) Builds self-esteem and improves body images
"Love yourself the way you want someone to love you"
One of the best ways to boost your self-love is by getting outdoors and exercising. Research shows that by seeing improvements in fitness, such as running a longer distance without getting winded or beating your PR on the bench press, can improve self-esteem and body image. The added benefits of exercising in nature is an increase of vitamin D, an important vitamin in preventing Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. 

 

If exercising on your own doesn't feel particularly inspiring, try any of all of these ideas:

  • Join a fitness class at your local gym or community center
  • Find a workout buddy who can hold you accountable
  • Track your progress in a fitness diary, fitness tracker app, or the Apple watch
  • Hire a personal trainer 

Exercise is one of the best things that you can do for yourself, both mentally and physically. By incorporating small chunks of physical activity, you can have a healthier heart, happier mood, and (bonus) a rocking bod! 

 

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia

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Chia seeds; what more can I say about them that hasn't been said? While modest in size and appearance, these tiny seeds are powerhouses of nutrition. In fact, according to author Christopher McDougall, a tablespoon of chia is nutritionally equivalent to a smoothie made from salmon, spinach, and human growth hormone! 

Chia seeds come from a flowering plant (Salvia hispanica) that is native to the valley of Mexico and has been domesticated since as early as 2700 BC. According to historical references, chia was a staple food for the indigenous peoples, including the Nahuati (Aztec), Mayan, and Incan peoples. In these cultures, chia seeds were greatly revered for its medicinal properties and nutritional value, was offered to the gods, and was even considered currency. Its name stems from the Nahuatian word, Chiapan – river of Chia, and means “energy” or “strength”. Traditionally, the seeds were roasted, crushed, and mixed with water to form a highly nutritious gel. This gel was the fuel of choice for ancient warriors and runners; one spoon of the seeds in water was considered to be nutrition enough to provide sustenance for an entire day. 

 

Nutrition Profile

While humble in size, chia seeds pack a nutritious punch. They are rich in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, proteins, vitamins and minerals. Trust me, these are all good things! 

Per 28-gram (1 ounce) serving: 

  • Dietary fiber (11g – 42% recommended daily value)
  • Protein (4.4g – 9% RDV)
  • Omega-3 fatty acids (4915 mg)
  • Omega-6 fatty acids (1620 mg)
  • Calcium (77 mg – 18% RDV)
  • Copper (0.1 mg – 3% RDV)
  • Phosphorus (265 mg – 27% RDV)
  • Potassium (44.8 mg – 1% RDV)
  • Zinc (1.0 mg – 7% RDV) 

Other notable nutrients: 

  • Essential fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid, linoleic acid
  • Strontium
  • Vitamins: A, B, E, D
  • Minerals: Iron, Iodide, Sulphur, Magnesium, Manganese
 

Benefits of Chia

In case you are not already convinced that chia should be your best friend, here are a few more reasons:

  • Diabetes destroyer
    • Chia is currently being studied as a potential treatment for type-2 diabetes. The theory is that since it can slow down digestion, it may be helpful in preventing blood sugar spikes.
  • Fibrous friend
    • Just one ounce of chia seeds has enough fiber to cover 1/3 of your daily needs. As we all know, increasing fiber can positively benefit cholesterol levels, digestive issues, and helps keep you fuller, longer. 
  • Fountain of youth
    • Forget going to the cosmetics counter for your anti-aging cream, and just add some chia to your smoothie instead. Chia seeds are stock-full of anti-oxidants, powerful constituents that are key in fighting off free-radical damage and speeding up the skin’s repair systems. 
  • Pre-workout
    • A study published by the Journal of Strength and Conditioning found that eating chia seeds prior to activity enhanced exercise performance in workouts that lasted 90 minutes. Who needs a chemical-laden sports drink when you can have refreshing chia water instead?
  • Healthy heart, stronger bones, and teeth, increased metabolism…
    • And the list goes on. Chia seeds are truly an amazing superfood with so many benefits for your body. 

How to eat chia seeds?

In my experience, chia seeds are easiest to consume when they are soaked in water beforehand. By soaking your chia seeds, you allow them to sprout and release their enzyme inhibitors, which are used to protect the seed. This is beneficial because it allows for the chia seeds to be digested more easily and also helps your body access all the nutrients within the seed. Also, chia seeds can hold up to 10-12 times its weight in water, so soaking them can massively increase hydration. On the flip side, if you decide to eat chia without soaking them first, they may soak water from you during the digestive process; to prevent this from happening, ensure that you are well hydrated throughout the day. 

Soaking instructions: 

  • Soak chia seeds in water in a 1:10 ratio 
    • E.g. 1.5 tablespoons chia seeds to 1 cup water
  • Stir the seeds so they are well distributed throughout the water
  • Let the mixture sit for 30 minutes – 2 hours 

How to add chia into your diet?

  1. Chia water or chia fresca (recipe below)
  2. Replace sesame seeds with chia seeds in recipes
  3. Add chia seeds to your frozen yogurt or ice cream
  4. Add chia to your morning smoothie
  5. Use chia seeds as a vegan substitute for eggs
    • Grind 1 Tbsp. of chia seeds, mix with 3 Tbsp. of water and let sit for 5 minutes 

 

Chia Fresca

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 2 cups water
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp. maple syrup or honey

Instructions:

  • Mix all the ingredients together and let it cool in the fridge for 2-3 hours
  • Drink and feel instantly uplifted 
 
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Whether you are a high-endurance athlete, or simply want to feel energized as you navigate through the day, chia seeds are a great way to boost your nutrition and super-charge your health. Plus, its fun to say… ch-ch-ch-chia!

Leaky Gut Syndrome: A Primer on Intestinal Permeability

Understanding your intestines

Our "gut" or intestines is a long, continuous tube extending from the mouth to the anus that covers more than 4000 square feet of surface area. It interacts with the outside environment (in the form of food, beverages, medications, etc.), extracts what it needs, and releases what it doesn't. From the bottom of your esophagus to your anus, the intestine is covered in a single layer of cells, called the epithelial barrier.

The epithelial barrier is important for two reasons:

  1. It creates a boundary between the "outside" (.e. the inside of your intestines and all of the external agents traveling through it) and the "inside" (i.e. your bloodstream and organs). The epithelial cells need to be highly selective; if anything that isn't welcome crosses the barrier, it can cause or perpetuate mucosal inflammation. 
  2. It secretes immunoglobulins (antibodies) and other antimicrobials that make up an integral part of your immune system. 

What is leaky gut?

Between the individual cells, lie junctions that serve to pull the cells that serve to pull the cells as tightly towards each other as possible. Certain factors cause these junctions to loosen their hold, thereby weakening the integrity of the epithelial barrier. When there is increased intestinal permeability (a fancy term for leaky gut), external agents (antigens) such as partially digested food, toxins, and bugs enter the bloodstream and have easy access to organ tissues. This invasion of antigens not only adds more burden to the liver, which has to process and eliminate them, but it also causes an imbalance of the inflammatory immune response and eventually leads to chronic inflammation. 

Risk factors

Since the epithelial lining is not meant to be impenetrable, each of us have intestinal permeability to some extent. The more porous your epithelial lining is, however, the higher your chance of experiencing symptoms. Certain genetic and lifestyle factors are associated with a higher degree of permeability; these include:

  • Food sensitivities 
  • Chronic stress 
  • History of gastroenteritis
  • Highly oxidative diet (low in fiber, high in sugar and saturated fats)
  • Heavy alcohol consumption 

Symptoms

The tricky thing with leaky gut syndrome is that since it triggers widespread inflammation, symptoms can show up virtually anywhere in the body. This makes the diagnosis of leaky gut syndrome difficult without a proper assessment or diagnostic testing by a healthcare provider. Some common symptoms include: skin rashes, food sensitivities, gastrointestinal complaints (e.g. gas and bloating), fibromyalgia, thyroid dysfunction, and cognitive impairment. A 2014 literature review showed that chronic intestinal permeability was linked to both intestinal and extra-intestinal (outside the gut) diseases.

  • Extra-intestinal conditions
    • Allergies
    • Infectious (e.g. respiratory) 
    • Acute inflammation (e.g. sepsis, multiple organ failure)
    • Chronic inflammation (e.g. arthritis)
    • Obesity-associated metabolic diseases (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, diabetes type I and II, cardiovascular disease)
  • Intestinal conditions
    • Gastric ulcers
    • Infectious diarrhea
    • Irritable bowel syndrome
    • Cancer (esophageal, colorectal)

How to fix leaky gut syndrome

Leaky gut syndrome is considered a “grey area” within the medical system because we do not know enough about the gut yet. In fact, some debate remains as to whether or not this condition is real. Regardless of the politics in the various medical fields, if you feel that you may be experiencing symptoms of leaky gut syndrome, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider who can assess your particular condition and recommend appropriate tests and treatments.

The naturopathic approach to treating leaky gut syndrome is the 4 R’s:

  • Remove irritants
    • This is perhaps the most important step of the entire protocol as it decreases the amount of irritating substances that further damage your intestinal lining. Keep in mind that it can take upwards of six months to fully heal the gut.
      • Avoid all grains, legumes, and dairy products as they inhibit the healing process
      • Remove highly oxidative and processed foods; additives found in processed foods tend to be irritating to the gut lining

      • Eliminate caffeine, hot spices, black pepper, and alcohol which can be irritating to the gut lining

      • Decrease refined sugar intake as it increases inflammation
         

  • Replace insufficient digestion

    • Stick to primarily cooked foods, avoiding all raw meat, fish, vegetables, and fruit

    • Increase the amount of bitter vegetables (e.g. bitter melon and dandelion leaves) that you eat to stimulate the liver (an important detoxifying organ)
       

  • Reintroduce normal flora
    • It can be easily assumed that if your gut lining is suffering, then your gut flora (good bacteria) have taken a hit as well. Your health care provider may prescribe a probiotic supplement for you to take temporarily to help restore normal flora.
    • In addition to taking a supplement, you can add probiotic-rich foods to your diet. Examples are: sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi
       
  • Repair the intestinal lining
    • If you are working with a healthcare practitioner who is well-versed in intestinal permeability, you may have some supplements recommended to you. Common lining-healing supplements include glutamine, turmeric, N-acetylglucosamine, and zinc.
       

  •   Bonus: RELAX!

    • Set time aside to relax and enjoy your meals, and ensure that you chew your food thoroughly to give your digestive organs a head start

    • Prioritize stress reduction, a regular exercise regimen, and quality sleep

 

 

Resources
·       Leaky gut as a danger signal for autoimmune diseases. Frontiers in Immunology, May 2017.
·       Diseases related to intestinal permeability. BMC Gastroenterology, 2014
·       The intestinal epithelial barrier: a therapeutic target? Nature Review Gastroenterology and Hepatology, November 2017.
·       Alterations in intestinal permeability. GUT, 2006.
 
 

Disclaimer: Information can be empowering, but we all have unique health profiles and needs. Any health-related information contained in this post is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for a visit with your primary care physician. For more information or individualized treatment, feel free to contact me

Supercharge Your Morning in 30-minutes or Less

 
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You are a busy professional. While an hour of hot yoga might be what your body craves, with a 50-hour work week and a to-do list long enough to span the Lions Gate Bridge, it is a miracle that you can get even more than a few winks of sleep per nght. Although it might not be realistic to run a half-marathon before the 9 am-grind, a few tweaks to your morning routine cough yield major health benefits. Try a couple (or all) of the suggestions below, and feel supercharged. 

If you have an extra 30 minutes: 

  • Rise and (get) shine
    • Since so much of our day is spent confined indoors, take some time at the start of the day to reconnect with nature. Whether you live next to a forest or an urban green space, the outdoors offers a boost to your mental and physical wellbeing. Countless studies have shown that being out in nature leads to many positive results. A few game-changing benefits of being in nature includes: 
      • Improved short-term memory
      • Restored mental energy
      • Decreased stress levels
      • Improved concentration 
      • Sharper thinking and creativity 
      • A boost in vitamin D production 

If you have an extra 15 minutes

  • Contrast shower
    • If you are going to have a shower, why not get the most health bang for your buck? Contrast showers are an incredibly simple, yet effective method of increasing your metabolism, boosting your immune system, speeding up recovery times, and elevating your vitality. When you are immersed in hot water, your blood vessels dilate and increase blood circulation. Cold water, on the other hand, constricts your blood vessels and decreases blood flow. The net result is a pump-like effect that flushes your body of lactic acid and toxins.
      • How to take a contrast shower
        • Hot Phase: Start out with a hot shower (as hot as you can tolerate, but not burn) for 2-3 minutes
        • Cold Phase: Switch the water temperature to as cold as you can tolerate; shower for 1 minute
        • Repeat for as many cycles you have time for, ending with a cold phase 

If you have an extra 5 minutes

  • Do two sets...
    • That's right! Do two sets, of anything! Moving first thing in the morning is an effective way of increasing blood flow throughout the body and to your brain. Rather than reaching for that extra cup of coffee, jumpstart your metabolism and energy with some quick, full-body movements. Some of my favourite moves include push-ups, planks, and mountain climbers. Not only will you be crushing your fitness goals, with all the endorphins (happy chemicals) that you release, you'll be grinning all day. 

If you have an extra minute

  • Drink a glass of warm lemon water
    • I know that you've heard this one before. Turns out, your Aunt Susan was right all along. Drinking a glass of warm lemon water on an empty stomach is an easy, yet powerful addition to your morning routine. It flushes the digestive system of toxins and rehydrates the body (something that is necessary after 8 hours sans H2O). On a more superficial note, a single lemon contains more than 50 mg of vitamin C, a key ingredient collagen production, leading to healthier, more youthful skin.

Busy schedules have an annoying tendency of taking over 'personal care' time, but with a few small changes to your morning routine, you can take back control of your life and of your health. And of course, remember to floss!