What is Functional Medicine

I am in the middle of a year-long course with functional medicine guru, Chris Kresser, and can’t tell you how excited I am to incorporate it at Original Wellness!  Conventional medicine has its place – if I broke a bone, got in an accident or had any sort of emergency at all, I would most certainly get myself to the nearest hospital.  However, if I were suffering from chronic illness, or vague symptoms of being unwell, I would use a functional approach.  So, let me tell you what functional medicine is and how it differs from conventional medicine.

Conventional Medicine

I’ll use an example of a woman complaining of brain fog and joint pain.  She starts with her primary care doctor who tells her the brain fog is just a normal symptom of aging and who recommends over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications for her joints.  She is now a victim of the side effects of NSAIDs.  They wreak havoc on her gut, leading to more systemic inflammation AND they decrease blood flow to her cartilage, which decreases her tissue’s ability to heal.  Not such good news for that joint pain!  The anti-inflammatories help her symptoms, but don’t completely resolve her pain, so she is referred to an orthopedic doctor.  She may choose which joint has the most pain and go to the corresponding doctor, or maybe even go to two doctors – one for her knees and one for her back.  Why?  Because conventional medicine is symptom-oriented.  Each doctor treats different symptoms.  X-rays are ordered and show ‘arthritic changes consistent with patient age.’  The patient has now been exposed to the radiation of an X-ray.  She then has the choice of following up with an MRI or seeing a physical therapist or both.  Meanwhile, she’s still popping her ibuprofen to control the pain and inflammation.  She gets an MRI and sees a physical therapist.  The MRI shows swelling but nothing that warrants surgery, the physical therapist works on strength and mobility.  The pain gets a little better and her strength and mobility improve, but the patient can’t seem to control the pain and inflammation in her joints and she has done nothing to address the brain fog.  Her activity levels are rapidly declining as even her typical walks cause considerable pain.  She desperately wants her life back, but she is at a dead end.

Functional Medicine

Let’s take this same patient and send them to a functional medicine practitioner.  This practitioner examines her as a whole person – her diet, her microbiome (the bacteria in her gut), her stress levels, her hormones.  It turns out, in addition to her chief complaints of brain fog and joint pain, she also isn’t sleeping well, she’s eating a Standard American Diet and she’s had painful acid-reflux for years.  Tests are run to assess her hormones, nutrient levels and gut health.  She is educated on an anti-inflammatory diet, stress management techniques, sleep hygiene and on what foods to avoid to control her reflux symptoms until test results are received.  The hormone tests show high cortisol levels (affecting her sleep-wake cycle), multiple nutrient deficiencies and SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth).  All of these things can contribute to brain fog, systemic inflammation and joint pain, though not everyone with these symptoms will have this same set of underlying causes.  See why treatment based on symptoms doesn’t work?  Functional medicine then treats the patient using lifestyle and dietary recommendations, supplements and, for the bacterial overgrowth, an herbal antimicrobial protocol.  She finds that not only has Vitamin B12 helped her brain fog and that healing her gut has improved her joint pain, but she is sleeping better at night, she no longer has acid reflux and she has more energy to enjoy her life.  By treating the root cause, many seemingly unrelated symptoms improve.

This case illustrates how the conventional model lets us down.  Of course, I have painted a picture of a total failure of conventional medicine, which is not always the case.  Conventional medicine has its strengths and its success stories.  But, you won’t find many of them involving prevention or chronic illness.  In functional medicine, the same approach used in our example would be used to address neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s and MS, childhood disorders such as autism and ADHD, skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis, and autoimmune issues such as rheumatoid arthritis and allergies.  The findings would be different for each patient and the treatment would be tailored to each finding.

The Future at Original Wellness

I hope this post has piqued your interest in functional medicine and portrayed my excitement over bringing it to Original Wellness.  I believe it is the future of medicine and there is more research being done every day.  There’s even a Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic now!  Stay tuned for more information regarding pricing and appointments and for more blog posts on what I’m learning!

Bone Broth – A Real Superfood

I posted before on the importance of eating the whole animal.  This post is related in that broth goes a long way towards that goal, even if you can’t stomach the idea of liver.  In fact, broth is so important, I decided to give it a whole post of its own!  It’s difficult to find hard science to back up its healing power, likely due to a lack of funds for research on whole food rather than pharmaceutical remedies.  However, we do have two things.  First, humans have a long history of consuming it – an important point given the ancestral approach of Original Wellness.  Second, we know the components that make up bone broth, we know their functions and we know our bodies need them.

History of Broth

In the Stone Age, hot stones from the fire were placed in the abdominal pouches of butchered animals.  Water, herbs and wild grains were added, which resulted in a broth of meat, fat, bones and herbs.  Native Americans lined baskets with clay so they could boil bones in them.  In pre-modern kitchens, a cauldron was often kept simmering over the fire or on the stove.  Ingredients were frequently added and people ate from it regularly.  In the 9th and 10th centuries, Magyar warriors in Europe boiled beef until it fell apart, then chopped and dried it to bring with them on their travels.  With the addition of hot water, the beef turned into soup again.  And, finally, Lewis and Clark are reported to have gone over budget to supply themselves with ample ‘portable soup’ – a dried version of broth similar to what the Magyar warriors used.  The use of portable soups continues today, however, they now come in the form of bouillon, which resembles meat, but is often full of MSG and artificial flavorings, with very little resemblance to real broth. (1)

Broth Provides Balance to an Ancestral Diet

The main reason broth is so healing is the collagen content.  Collagen is what breaks down into gelatin when cooked.  It contains many amino acids, most notably glycine.  You may remember glycine from a previous post and I’ll apply the same explanation here, in a shorter version.  When we eat lean meat, we get a lot of the amino acid, methionine.  Without a balance of glycine, this may be damaging to our health.  However, if we balance our intake, we can reap the benefit of including nutrient-dense meat in our diets while avoiding any potential pitfalls of including it. (2) While our bodies do synthesize some of our own glycine, it is considered conditionally essential, meaning in times of stress or disease, we cannot make enough to meet our demands.  In our modern world, I think we can all agree these times happen more often than we would like!

Broth Improves Sleep

Collagen is good for more than just a dietary balancing act, it has also been shown to improve sleep quality in those with insomniac tendencies.  (3) This is likely due its ability to lower the body’s core temperature and increase peripheral blood flow. (4)  Interestingly, it’s been speculated that a drop in core temperature played a large role in determining our ancestor’s sleep patterns.  It is less likely that they went to bed and got up with the sun than it is that they went to bed when it was cooler and got up as it got warmer. (5)

Broth Keeps Skin Looking Younger

Collagen is also found in our skin and is vital for it to remain supple.  This is because it is actually part of the structure of our skin, and because it is necessary for the constant renewal of skin cells.   Studies have shown collagen to reduce wrinkles (6) and to increase elasticity of the skin (7).  Anecdotal evidence also supports the idea that broth could help to improve cellulite.

Broth Decreases Joint Pain

Like collagen, chondroitin sulfate is also found in the cartilage of animals.  Both collagen and chondroitin sulfate have been shown to have beneficial effects on joint health.  Chondroitin sulfate is an effective treatment for osteoarthritis (8) and collagen has been shown to decrease joint pain in athletes (9).

Broth Improves Bone Density

When we think of bone health, most of us immediately think of calcium.  But, if that were the whole story, wouldn’t we have eradicated osteoporosis through calcium supplementation?  Collagen (along with vitamin D and K2, but we’ll get to that in another post!) may be another necessary component.  We know that it is a major structural component of bone (10), and supplementation has been shown to improve bone mineral density (11).

Broth Heals the Gut

Broth is a major component of successful gut-healing protocols, such as the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) diet and the AIP (Auto-immune Paleo) diet. Collagen has been shown to cure existing gastric ulcers, as well as protect against future ones (12).  Our intestinal barrier is of utmost importance in determining our overall health and a permeable lining has been linked to a wide spectrum of disease including, but not limited to seasonal allergies, autism, ADHD, multiple sclerosis, mood disorders and skin health.

Making Your Own Bone Broth

Broth sold in stores doesn’t come close to the stuff you make at home.  And, once you’re in the habit of doing it, it’s really very easy.  The most basic of basic broths only needs to include a carcass (including skins, joints, heads or feet if you have them), water and a little bit of vinegar.  It won’t be an amazing culinary experience, but it’s easy and it’s just as full of nutrients as a fancier recipe!  I use it whenever I make soups or sauces, or when I cook rice.  If you’re looking for gourmet, or for a broth you can drink as is, you can check out online recipes (for example, here for beef broth, here for chicken and fish).

I would love to hear from you if you have your own tips or tricks to make bone broth, or if you’ve experienced health benefits from incorporating it into your diet!

Homemade, Organic Baby Formula

Why We Avoided Commercial Formula

Conventional wisdom recommends breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months, followed by a combination of breastfeeding and solid foods for at least 1 year.

My twins never really nursed.  My son would projectile vomit everything back up if it weren’t thickened with avocado.  My daughter had a more silent version of reflux and she would just pass out (a condition that eventually led to the placement of a pacemaker).  I pumped religiously for 9 months, but that was all I managed.  We were preparing to use commercial formula when our avocado smoothies came to the rescue once again.  (For background on the avocado smoothies, click here).  In this case, the smoothies didn’t just help solve a problem, they provided a clear comparison of commercial formula vs breast milk.  And, the formula certainly didn’t come away from that one looking good!  When the smoothie was made with avocado and breast milk, the edges of the drink, where it came in contact with the air turned slightly brown from the oxidation of the avocado.  The rest of the smoothie, however, remained green all day long.  In fact, it was still a mild color even when it came back up (yes, my son did still vomit frequently, even after the introduction of avocado to his milk)!  Our first smoothie we made with commercial formula wasn’t nearly so pretty.  The whole smoothie turned brown before the day was through.  When it came back up, it was black and stained everything it touched.  My interpretation – the breast milk is full of anti-oxidants that keep the avocado from oxidizing and turning brown.  The formula, on the other hand, seemed to offer no protection at best and acted as a pro-oxidant at worst.  I really couldn’t feed my babies the black sludge.  Had it not been for our avocado smoothies, I may not have been quite so motivated to seek alternative nourishment.

I consider ourselves lucky to have had such a dramatic visual representation of the quality of infant formula, but there is also research showing less desirable outcomes for infants fed commercial formula.  Formula fed infants may have a higher risk of obesity later in life (1),  lower cognitive ability than breastfed infants (2), increased risk of infection (3 and 4), and demonstrate altered metabolic and gut microbiome development compared to breastfed infants (5).

Support for a New Approach to Formula

Pumping enough milk for both twins was no longer an option.  Feeding them formula-turned-black-sludge was also not an option.  So, what next?  We turned to homemade baby formula.  The studies referenced above compare formula fed infants to breastfed infants so they don’t offer direct support for homemade formula.  So, we turn to what we do have.  It has been shown that infant formulas containing prebiotics improve levels of bifidobacteria (bacteria found in healthy infant’s guts) (6).  Early supplementation with pre- and pro-biotics may improve infant symptoms such as excessive fussing and crying (7).  And, supplementing infant formula with long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids may improve visual acuity at 1 year, as well as increase cognitive processing speed (8 and 9).

So, there is precedent for adding to the commercial infant formula and research supporting benefits of this practice.

Before I go further, I want to stress that, whenever possible, breastfeeding is best.  The recipe linked to in the following paragraph should never be used in place of breast milk.  However, I do believe it can be a wonderful alternative to processed formula.

Homemade Baby Formula

The Weston A. Price Foundation is a non-profit organization focused on nutrition education.  Its recommendations are based on Dr. Weston A. Price’s findings in the early 1900’s.  He was a dentist who traveled the world examining the health and diets of traditional peoples.  He found that those following traditional diets enjoyed the greatest health.  The foundation has published multiple recipes for homemade infant formula, including versions based on raw cow’s milk, raw goat’s milk, as well as a liver-based recipe.  We used the liver-based formula.  If you are unable to prepare the entire formula, the foundation also provides a recipe for Fortified Commercial Formula to be used in a pinch.

I would love to hear from anyone who has used one of the WAPF formula recipes for their babies!

DISCLAIMER: I am a licensed nutritionist, not an MD.  I do not diagnose or treat disease.  My recommendations are based on my best clinical judgement and you should always consult a physician before making dietary or supplement changes with your infant.

Naturally Treating Infant Acid Reflux

WHAT IS ACID-REFLUX?

Acid reflux is a condition in which food comes back up the esophagus.  It can progress to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is often painful because our esophagus is not protected from acid the way our stomach is. It can happen when the valve between the stomach and esophagus relaxes or when the pressure below the valve increases. Symptoms are reported in 67% of infants aged 4 months. They often resolve by 1 year of age, but they can be severe while they last (1). Reflux in babies may have immediate consequences such as poor appetite, failure to thrive and just an overall miserable feeding experience for parent and child. It may also have long-term effects such as chronic respiratory disease and recurrent pneumonia. (2) It’s no wonder so many parents seek help from doctors!

CONVENTIONAL TREATMENT

Conservative treatment is often recommended first – frequent small meals, holding the baby upright for 30 minutes following a meal, and thickening the formula or breastmilk. If this doesn’t work, drugs may be prescribed. Acid-suppressing drugs (PPIs) haven’t been approved by the FDA for use in infants AND randomized controlled trials have not demonstrated that they work in infants with GERD. Still, the use of these drugs increased 11-fold from 2002 and 2009. Prescriptions were given to 145,000 children nationwide in 2009. (3) And this, despite known side effects such as poor nutrient absorption and increased risk of bone fractures.

So, infant reflux often resolves on its own AND drugs that don’t work come with some pretty serious side effects. Parents need other options.

OUR STORY WITH INFANT ACID REFLUX

Let me share a bit of our story. My son had terrible reflux when he came home from the hospital. He projectile vomited EVERYTHING. We fed him tiny meals of just a few ml and he still vomited. We tried eliminating potential triggers in my diet (soy and dairy) and we even tried acid suppressing medications (gasp!!).   But, he still wasn’t gaining weight and he continued to resist the bottle. The GI doctor suggested a feeding tube as the next step. Lucky for us, our pediatrician recommended one more thing first – avocado!

D green bottle

My son with his (very small bottle of) green milk. He has already put some weight on in this pic!

Here’s what we did. I had already been pumping rather than nursing, and this actually made our next step easier. We turned the pumped milk into an avocado smoothie. For every 100mL of breast milk, we blended in 16g of avocado. We then strained it to make it extra-smooth. We switched to a larger nipple on the bottle (we used Dr. Brown’s level 2) to allow the thicker liquid through. Almost immediately, our son stopped refusing the bottle, started gaining weight and didn’t throw up (as much). We didn’t have to feed him as often and he was more comfortable. This meant he got to sleep more. You can easily adjust the thickness of the smoothie and the nipple you use to make it just right for your baby. Not only did the avocado provide healthy fats for my son’s developing brain, but it thickened the milk, making it less likely to come back up.

A note on the use of avocado – fat has been targeted as a trigger for GERD because it slows the emptying of the stomach, potentially leading to increased pressure and resultant regurgitation. However, while many people control their GERD symptoms with a low-fat diet, many also experience long-lasting relief from low-carbohydrate diets.   So why do people get relief from the low-carb approach? The most likely explanation is that the increased pressure pushing food back up the esophagus is actually caused by an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut. These bacteria ferment the carbs in our diet and produce gas, leading to increased pressure and acid reflux. So, while the conventional advice to avoid fatty foods may help to control acute symptoms, it does nothing to address the underlying causes.

With this in mind, consider adding a probiotic such as Klaire Labs Ther-Biotic Infant Formula to the bottle.

SUMMARY – HOW TO TREAT INFANT REFLUX NATURALLY

My son was an infant over 4 years ago now and, since then, I’ve learned a lot! If I had a baby today suffering from acid-reflux, I would still use the avocado smoothies if needed, but I would try these things too:

  1. Feed small meals and hold baby upright for at least 30 minutes following a meal.
  2. Add a probiotic. If the infant is bottle feeding, add it directly to the bottle. If the infant is exclusively breastfeeding, put some probiotic powder around the nipple before the infant nurses.
  3. Eliminate foods from mom’s diet: dairy, eggs and nightshades, citrus, FODMAPs. The way you do this is up to you. You can eliminate all of them at once, then, if it helps, add them back in one by one to determine the culprit. Or, you can start with the dairy and, if that doesn’t help, move down the list, with FODMAPs being the last elimination.
  4. Once the baby is older and eating solid food, focus on gut health by continuing with pre- and pro-biotics and eating fermented foods, such as real sauerkraut and pickles.

Has anyone else come across an unconventional natural treatment for infant reflux? Let me know in the comments section!

DISCLAIMER: I am a licensed nutritionist, not an MD. I do not diagnose or treat disease. These recommendations are generalized and meant to be used as a guide.  You should always consult a physician before making dietary or supplement changes with your infant.

Struggling to Find Quick Healthy Meals to Feed Your Family? Try These Tips

Two major obstacles to overcome when following a nutrient dense diet are time and money.  In fact, we could go as far as to say these are major obstacles in most facets of life!  I don’t claim that it won’t be more expensive and take more time to eat a healthy diet than it does to eat a poor one, but there are a lot of helpful tips that will help narrow the margin.  Here’s my best advice on the topic!

RULE #1 – PLAN

Meal plans seem like a chore at first, but they do get easier.  You may even find a few that you like and just rotate through them each month.  If you know what you’re cooking ahead of time, you will waste fewer ingredients, you’ll know when to defrost what and you’ll get dinner on the table faster each night.  Always do a quick check in your freezer and pantry before choosing the week’s meals.

RULE #2 – BATCH COOK

This one isn’t so much a rule, but an option when you know your week is extra busy or you just prefer to do all your cooking ahead of time.  When you’re going to batch cook, there are a couple rules to follow that will make it go more smoothly.  First, choose meals based on preparation method.  If every meal you plan on making needs to be cooked in the oven, the amount of time you spend in the kitchen that day will increase dramatically.  Instead, choose one crock pot meal, one oven meal and two stovetop meals.  You will also want at least one or two meals to be freeze-able so that they are fresh by the end of the week when you plan on eating them.  For example, here are four meals that, as a group, meet these criteria:

  • STOVETOP: Ground Beef with Peas and Carrots
    • I usually serve this over sweet potato or rice and add extra vegetables such as spinach
  • STOVETOP: Paleo Pad Thai
    • You’ll need a Spiralizer for this one,but don’t worry, I think you’ll use it often and it’s under $30
    • When including this recipe as part of a batch cook, either eat it for dinner that night, or just make the sauce.  The ‘noodles’ should be prepared fresh.
  • CROCK POT: Slow Cooker Chicken
    • This is a good one to go in the freezer
  • OVEN (and a little time on the stove top): Shepherd’s Pie
    • This is also a good one to freeze

RULE #3 DON’T WASTE LEFTOVERS

Don’t let leftovers go bad in the refrigerator!  Plan a day into your meal plan where you clear out the fridge, eating all the leftovers.
(A secret in my house: most leftovers become a delicious new meal if you top them with a fried egg, over easy)  Still have leftovers?  Freeze them while you can and pull them out another week when you’re short on time.

RULE #4 BUY INGREDIENTS, NOT PRODUCTS

When you’re buying ingredients, you’re also stocking your pantry for the next week.  This is especially true for recipes that you like and decide to repeat – you’ll already have most of what you need in the pantry and will only have to buy the fresh ingredients.

RULE #5 USE CHEAPER CUTS OF MEAT

Slow cooking a bottom round roast will make it soft enough to use in recipes that call for more expensive cuts.  Not to mention, the fattier cuts of meat offer nutritional benefits that the lean ones don’t (see previous post here).

RULE #6 ADAPT RECIPES

You don’t always have to follow a recipe exactly.  For example, if a recipe calls for sage, you can often use marjoram or rosemary instead.  One of our recipes calls for Creole seasoning.  Rather than buying a jar of it, I google a recipe to make my own and choose a few of the main spices that I already have.  I use this as a guide and typically use a blend of garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, basil, salt and pepper.

RULE #7 USE THE DIRTY DOZEN AND CLEAN FIFTEEN LISTS

Every year, the Environmental Working Group publishes its Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists.  If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, get the conventional version of foods on the Clean Fifteen list, but always go organic for ones on the Dirty Dozen list.

RULE #8 EAT COPIOUS AMOUNTS OF VEGETABLES

There’s no getting around it – high quality meat is expensive!  Keep your bills down by including more veggies in your meals.  You can make many meat-containing recipes cheaper simply by using a little less meat and a little more plant.

RULE #9 CHECK OUT THRIVE MARKET

Thrive Market is an online grocery store (for non-perishables) that describes itself as ‘Costco meets Whole Foods online.’  You pay $60/year for a membership, but shipping is free when you spend over $49 and I have yet to find a product that’s cheaper at Whole Foods than Thrive.  Not only that, but for every paid membership, Thrive donates one to a low income American Family.

Have any tips that I haven’t mentioned here?  I would love to hear them in the comments section!

Meat, Cancer and Why You Should Eat the Whole Animal

I’m sure many of you have seen the recent headlines such as ‘WHO: Processed meat causes cancer; red meat probably can’. I will start with a couple of the most obvious problems with this report and finish with a valid criticism of red meat and how to combat it in your diet.

The authors of this report seem to have a ‘grouping’ problem. First, processed meat was defined as ‘meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermenting, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.’ It’s a major error to group meat preserved by natural methods with all processed meat. Traditional cultures had to preserve their meat somehow or they would have starved between kills. Don’t get me wrong – I agree that processed meat should be avoided, but when I say processed, I mean meat that’s had chemicals added to it. I even mean meat that’s been ‘processed’ since the day it was born – meat from animals raised in Concentrated Animal Feeding Organizations (CAFO’s) where the they are crammed into spaces so small they can barely move, where they are fed pesticide ridden grains instead of their own traditional diets, where they are injected with antibiotics to control the inevitable infections that arise under these conditions. That kind of meat (not to mention the human behavior allowing CAFO’s to exist in the first place!) should be avoided. However, meat that’s ‘processed’ through salting or fermenting contributes to a healthy, nutrient-dense diet.

The next grouping problem is within the epidemiological studies cited in the report.  These studies grouped all meat eaters together. Surely, those who eat a paleo-type diet, full of grass-fed meat with sides of greens and starchy vegetables would give different results from those who eat fast-food burgers served with french fries and a milk shake.  And, since we’re talking about epidemiological studies, I’ll sneak in one more major problem with this report – it was based on epidemiological (aka observational) studies. While such studies can be important tools in identifying associations that may warrant further research, they simply cannot be used to determine causation. Even this report by WHO admits that ‘chance, bias, and confounding could not be ruled out…for the data on red meat consumption, since no clear association was seen in several of the high quality studies and residual confounding from other diet and lifestyle risk is difficult to exclude.’ Interestingly, they weren’t so prudent when interpreting the results for ‘processed’ meat.

You can read more detailed responses to the WHO report here and here, so I’ll stop there and move on to more important things – how should red meat be incorporated into your healthy diet? The answer is to eat the whole animal, not just the lean muscle meat. I’ll explain why, but let’s begin with why red meat is beneficial in the first place.

Red meat is high in nutrients. It contains a variety of B Vitamins, including B12 which, despite what you may have heard, you will not find in plant foods. It contains a highly absorbable form of iron (another nutrient lacking in plant foods), as well as minerals such as zinc, selenium and copper.   Red meat also has a healthy fatty acid profile. It contains high amounts of saturated and monounsaturated fats (these are both good) and low amounts of polyunsaturated fats (these are good when they come from whole foods and as a small percentage of our total calories, but present a major problem the way we consume them in the Standard American Diet).

But here’s the potential problem with including meat in your diet – even in the paleo community, the advice to eat the whole animal is often overlooked. Lean muscle meat and eggs are high in methionine, an essential amino acid involved in metabolism, growth and antioxidant production.  When methionine levels are too high, homocysteine levels in our blood will increase, as will our need for nutrients such as B6, B12, choline, betaine and folate.  Elevated homocysteine levels are associated with heart attack and stroke.  So far, this doesn’t sound good for omnivorous humans!  But, what about traditional cultures who consumed a majority of their calories from animal products, yet avoided chronic disease?  The Masai of Kenya and the Inuit of the Arctic are examples of these cultures.

A major difference between those tribes and today’s omnivores is that, traditionally, animals were eaten in their entirety.  Today, we throw out major parts of the animal in the form of skin, cartilage and organs.  In doing so, we throw out all the things that balance the methionine intake and protect us from the high levels!

Glycine is another amino acid.  It is not considered essential because our bodies are capable of making it, however, the efficiency of this production is questionable, particularly in those who are not in good health.  Glycine is important for digestion and detoxification, and it’s needed to make glutathione (glutathione is a big deal so you’ll probably be hearing more about it if you continue to follow my posts, but for now, know that it is THE major antioxidant in our bodies).  Glycine also aids the liver in the clearance of excess methionine so you don’t want to be consuming high amounts of methionine without balancing it out with glycine.

Here is a really interesting progression of research on the importance of glycine:  Older studies have shown calorie restriction to reduce the risk for cancer and to prolong life. It was then discovered that general calorie restriction was not necessary, but that restricting protein alone would have the same effects. From there, researchers identified methionine as the culprit in protein and showed that methionine restriction alone would also have the same effects. The most recent evidence, however, shows the same results from supplementing with glycine! No calorie, protein or methionine restriction necessary! It’s simply a matter of balancing our intake of methionine and glycine, and this is done by eating ‘nose-to-tail’. (See Chris Kresser’s article here for more details, including links to the studies).

So, how do you incorporate glycine and organ meats into your diet?

You can add glycine into your diet by adding real bone broth (click here for an article on benefits of broth and recipes for making your own). You can also add grass fed gelatin powder to smoothies and other drinks, or create your own homemade gummy snacks with it. (If you clicked on the gelatin link – use the green one to dissolve in your smoothies or drinks and the red one for homemade gummies).

Because methionine also increases our need for certain nutrients (B6, B12, choline, betaine and folate), you will want to include these nutrients in your diet by consuming organ meats. Liver, in particular, contains not only glycine, but also B6, B12, folate, betaine and choline. If you’re lucky, you actually enjoy eating liver. But, if you’re like many of us (myself included!), you’ll need to find other ways to add it and other organ meats to your diet. Heart, for example, practically disappears when ground and mixed into dishes such as meat loaf. Liver can be added this way too, but I won’t make quite the same claim – its much harder to disguise than heart. Still, a small amount can go a long way in terms of adding nutrients. You can buy a whole liver, cut it up into ice cube-sized pieces and freeze it. When making a (very flavorful) recipe with ground beef, grab a cube, chop it up and throw it in. Or, you can also buy liver in pill form here.

Please leave comments if anyone has other ways to incorporate gelatin or organ meats into a nutrient-dense diet!

Eating on the Wild Side (a book review)

I just finished reading Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health, by Jo Robinson and some of the information in it blew me away so I had to share!

image

Taking trips to ‘you-pick’ farms is a great way to get produce that’s fresher and more nutrient-dense than supermarket options.

Jo Robinson is an investigative journalist specializing in science and health.  Her information is well-referenced and really just makes sense, especially when looked at from an ancestral point of view.  Here’s the basic idea – when we began planting our own food about 10,000 years ago, we naturally selected the varieties that grew the best and tasted the best.  Large size, sweet taste and ease of harvesting were of utmost importance, while nutrient content was rarely considered a factor at all.  And, unfortunately, many of the key nutrients in plants have a bitter flavor so we unwittingly bred these nutrients out of them. Not only that, but once our modern produce is planted, it is frequently sprayed with pesticides.  It is harvested when it’s convenient (often before it is ripe), then shipped thousands of miles, force-ripened when necessary and sometimes stored in warehouses.  It is often weeks between harvest and table, during which time, nutrients are rapidly being depleted.

Some quick background information before I go on – beneficial compounds in plants are called phytonutrients.  Plants produce these phytonutrients to protect themselves – from the sun, from predators, and from other threats such as mold or fungus.  It turns out these substances meant to protect the plants are actually good for us and, when we eat them, we reap their benefits.  Some of the more commonly known phytonutrients include lycopene in tomatoes, resveratrol in wine, carotenoids in carrots and glucosinolates in cruciferous vegetables.  They are typically powerful antioxidants and cancer-fighters.

Now, on to the book.  Inside, you will find research-backed information on ancient and modern day fruits and vegetables.  There are many helpful charts on how to choose the most nutrient dense varieties – at the grocery store, at the farmer’s market and in your own garden.   At the end of each chapter, there’s a summary of the best methods for storing and preparing each type of fruit or vegetable.

For example, buy lettuce with loosely packed leaves (as in, the lettuce actually grows that way, not necessarily lettuce that’s sold that way).  Plants produce phytonutrients to protect themselves from the sun.  When the leaves are bunched tightly, most of them have little sun exposure so don’t produce the nutrients.  This is true for other plants too – when buying red apples, for example, look for those that are entirely red.  It’s a sign that these apples were near the top of the tree where sun exposure was most abundant.  ‘Red’ apples with a green side were at least partially hidden from the sun.

To continue with the lettuce example, lettuce also produces phytonutrients to protect itself from predators.  When the leaves are torn, the lettuce ‘thinks’ its being attacked by a predator and will produce these nutrients.  This will happen even once the lettuce has been picked from the ground.  So, tear your lettuce before you store it and the antioxidant value will double.  Put the torn leaves in a resealable bag, squeeze out the air and poke 10-20 tiny holes in the bag with a pin.  Place the bag in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.  This procedure allows the right amount of oxygen in and carbon dioxide out not only to keep the leaves fresh longer, but also to preserve nutrients and flavor.  Still, once they are torn, they will only last a few days so don’t wait long to eat them!

There’s also a quick tip to get the most out of your garlic.  The most active ingredient in garlic, allicin, is made only after the garlic is chopped/minced/pressed.  But, heat will stop the reaction and no allicin will be made.  To avoid this pitfall, mince your garlic, then allow it to sit for 10 minutes before heating it.  In those 10 minutes, most of the allicin will have been created and heat will not destroy it at that point.

Carrots should be cooked whole, then sliced to preserve 25% more falcarinol, a cancer-fighting compound.  Always buy whole carrots rather than baby carrots.  The baby carrots are simply odd bits off of larger carrots that have been shaped into sticks by removing the outer layer.  That outer layer contains 1/3 of the carrot’s phytonutrients!  And grab colorful carrots when you see them – purple ones contain more anthocyanins (powerful anti-oxidants) and beta-carotene than the orange ones.

Finally, broccoli begins to lose major cancer-fighting properties within 24 hours after harvest.   So buy broccoli locally and eat it as quickly as possible!

Eating on the Wild Side has changed the way I shop for my fruits and vegetables and I had thought I was doing a pretty great job already!  While I gave a few helpful tips here, there are many more in the book, along with the nice cheat sheets and summaries of each chapter.  You can find the book here: Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health.

Paleo is Just a Beginning – My Approach to Diet and Lifestyle

First, I want to say that, if I could call this approach by another name, I would.  Calling it ‘paleo’ opens it up to many criticisms – no, of course we can’t eat exactly as our paleolithic ancestors ate and we can’t live exactly as they lived.  We don’t even know exactly how that was.  And, although we don’t have the details, does anyone really believe our ancestors were baking muffins with coconut flour?  But, the term ‘paleo’ has stuck and my own efforts to change it would likely be fruitless.  And, I do believe in its basic principles.  So, when I refer to a paleo-diet, I am referring to its use as a starting point, not as a strict diet to follow for the rest of our lives.  There is real science backing this approach, and it’s much more than a romantic idea of returning to our roots.

When humans adopted agriculture about 10,000 years ago, we replaced nutrient dense foods such as meat, fruits, vegetables and starchy plants with nutrient-scant foods such as wheat, rice and corn.  As a result, we lost 4 inches from our average height, prevalence of iron deficient anemia increased, our bones weakened and infectious diseases became more rampant. (1)  Extant hunter-gatherer populations exhibit far superior health than other modern day humans.  This is evident in lower blood pressure, improved insulin sensitivity, fewer bone fractures and improved physical fitness. (2)  Finally, early explorers consistently report on the superb health of traditional populations, seemingly free of chronic disease. (3)  And, no, this isn’t because they all died by age 30!  These people were living lifespans similar to our own, but remained healthy for the majority of their lives.

A common perception of the paleo approach is that it’s a meat and potatoes kind of diet.  While meat is valued for its nutrient density, abundant consumption is not necessary.  Diets of traditional populations vary greatly. The Inuit in the Arctic and the Kitavans in the Pacific Islands represent two of these extremes, as the types of available food were drastically different.  Due to the harsh climate, the Inuit hunted for most of their food and around 90% of a their traditional diet consisted of animal products.  The Kitavans subsisted almost entirely on root vegetables, non-starchy vegetables, fruit, fish and coconuts, resulting in 70% of their calories coming from carbohydrates.  Both of these groups enjoyed long healthy lives, free of chronic disease.  So, despite popular opinion, meat-eaters and vegetarians alike can thrive on a paleo approach.

The research is clear that our ancestors enjoyed paramount health.  And, today’s statistics are clear too – we do not.  There are many differences between their lives and ours and we aren’t able to replicate all of their ancient practices.  While emulating their dietary practices is an important piece of the puzzle, we can also mimic their activity levels, sleep habits and valuable social interactions.

As for how I apply this approach – the resulting food plan and lifestyle will be individualized.  While following a paleo diet is typically an excellent starting point, there is no need for everyone to stay on this diet forever.  Many people thrive on dairy, or on properly prepaired grains and legumes – foods that are entirely avoided on a strict paleo-diet.  The trick is figuring out which foods make you feel the best and sticking to those.  By customizing your diet, I believe you can regain your health.

Watch for more posts on dietary specifics and other lifestyle changes to incorporate!  This one was meant to introduce some major concepts, while I hope to go into more detail in the future.

 

 

  1. http://discovermagazine.com/1987/may/02-the-worst-mistake-in-the-history-of-the-human-race
  2. https://www.dovepress.com/the-western-diet-and-lifestyle-and-diseases-of-civilization-peer-reviewed-article-RRCC-MVP
  3. Price, Weston A. “Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.” The Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, Jan. 2008.

Introduction – Jon Renaut

You won’t find me in the contact page. Liz is my little sister, and I’m mostly just tech support. But she’s also my health adviser. When I have a question about food, she’s one of the first people I ask. When I had a stubborn pain in the ball of my foot that threatened to keep me off my bike, she fixed it in under five minutes.

It can be intimidating to talk to Liz about food. She puts all of herself into everything she does, and feeding her family is no exception. But two things make it a lot easier. First, she understands that you can’t change everything all at once. Sometimes you don’t have time to prepare a perfect meal. But with some good fundamentals, you can know how to choose the right shortcuts so you can deal with real life without sacrificing your health. And second, I know that the things she tells me to do aren’t just things she’s read about somewhere, but are things she does in her own kitchen, for her own family.

So I’ll be here, keeping the website running and helping her with the software side of the business, and taking advantage of all her health knowledge.