3 FREE Things You Should Start Improving Today

After speaking with hundreds of people at Bassetts Health Food Store every week about their health concerns, I've come up with 3 things everyone could work on.

The most common concerns/questions from people...

  • I need more energy, what can I do?
  • I need help with sleep, what can I take? 
  • I need to improve my digestion, maybe I should take some enzymes?
  • I want something for weight loss.
  • I want something for my immune system.

No quick fixes here! These are all issues that need to be addressed at the core. Here is where I suggest you start...

1. Drink water.

Sip on it ALL day. Add lemon, lime or some fresh herbs...but no sugar/sweetener/artificial flavoring. DO NOT try to play "catch up" at meals, drinking too much fluid with food can impair digestion. Don't like water? Too bad, you're a grown up...you  have to learn to like water.

2. Sleep.

It's important, not just to help you feel more energized, but to help with healthy hormone production, cardiovascular health and eating habits. Just 4 nights of inadequate sleep can impact the hormones that tell you that your "full" and impact insulin resistance. Your goal should be 7-9 hours in a DARK room! Try decreasing evening screen time (phone, television, tablets) if you're having trouble falling asleep. 

3. Be a MINDFUL eater more often than not.

Calm down when you're eating. Don't think about stressful situations/tasks, I know its easier said then done. Do not eat in your car, when you're running around or while you're watching television. Thinking about the food you eat helps the digestive process, stimulating certain enzymes and hormones. It also helps prevent over eating and improves nutrient absorption. I know this isn't possible all the time, BUT aim for "most of the time." When you're in a stressful situation you're activating your flight or fight response and decreasing the attention that needs to go to your digestive system. 

These are things that all of us need to work on! 

Elderberry Syrup. A winter staple.

What are some of your winter staples? Things you keep around the house in anticipation of colds, runny noses and sore throats?

One of mine is Elderberry syrup. You can easily purchase this at your local health food store, or make your own. Making your own is MUCH more beneficial and super cost effective. You will have the added benefits of medicinal spices and local honey when you make this yourself!

Elderberry syrup is high in vitamin C and other immune supporting nutrients. Depending on what you add to yours, it could become a nutrient powerhouse. I tend to load mine up!

I use turmeric, the yellow spice that gives curry its yellow color. This yellow root is loaded with nutrients and anti-inflammatory capabilities. I also add ginger, which is another nutrient dense root that is forgotten sometimes.

I've worked at a health food store for over 15 years and elderberry syrup has ALWAYS been a best seller. Making my own is IDEAL. I get to add the spices I mentioned above, in addition to local honey. Local honey contains local pollen properties that can also support your immune system.

I use it as a preventative at my house, but you could also just break it out when you felt you were coming down with something.


Here's what I do...

Prep time ~10 minutes

Cook time ~1 hour

Ingredients:

4 cups water

1 cup dried elderberries (Can be found in bulk at health food stores)

1 cup raw, local honey

1 teaspoon dried/fresh ginger or a little more...

1 teaspoon dried/fresh turmeric or a little more...

1 teaspoon cinnamon

  1. Bring water, elderberries and spices (ginger, turmeric, cinnamon) to a boil in a large pan. Turn heat down and simmer for ~45 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced to half of what it was.

 

2. Once the mixture has reduced (or about 45 minutes), turn heat off and let set until mixture has reached room temperature.

3. Once it has reached room temperature you can strain out the elderberries. I like to use a cheesecloth and glass bowl. I squeeze all the good stuff out of the berries and then throw them into my compost container.

4. Mix the raw, local honey into the elderberry liquid. Its important that you don't do this when the liquid is hot. Heat kills some of the good stuff in the honey!

5. After you've mixed them together you can store in the refrigerator for a several months. This will last you all winter long!


You can use daily for overall immune system support, I use 1/2-1 Tablespoon a day for adults or 1/2-1 teaspoon a day for children. Remember children under 1 year cannot have honey.

Let me know what you think!


Kombucha. Why I drink it and how to make it.

omeone recently asked me if they should drink "the silt-like sh*t" in the bottom of their kombucha.

My answer was YES.

I thought I would take a moment to talk about why that funky stuff floating in your kombucha is so great for you, and where it came from.

Let's start with fermented foods.

The human race has been eating fermented foods forever. Seriously, forever.

Unfortunately as convenience foods filled our pantries, fermented foods slowly have taken up less space on our plates. In fact, a lot of people may not consume any at all. Our ancestors would consume these foods several times a day, not just for the taste but for the health benefits. It's not like we have replaced these fermented gems with something better, most of us have replaced them with a bunch of carbohydrate rich garbage (carbage) loaded with preservatives and sugar.

What are fermented foods?

Raw sauerkraut, raw pickles, kefir, yogurt (with live cultures), miso, kimchi, lots of other vegetable ferments and kombucha. More about these later.

So why should you be eating (or drinking) at least one (or more) of these foods a day?

They contain probiotics, the good bacteria that lives in your intestinal tract. These friendly bugs have been in the spotlight of research for years. We are learning more about them then we ever imagined, there are SO many! They actually outnumber your cells 10 to 1 and weigh almost as much as your brain. Here are a few highlights...

  • They are our first line of defense. When you hear that 70% of your immune system is in your gut, its because of the probiotics there. Supporting this community of good bacteria also supports your immune system.
  • They are linked to a large number number of health issues, including weight management, cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and more.  We know that having a healthy microbiome (your population of good bacteria) has a positive impact on most organ systems.
  • One of my favorite things to learn about is the impact that our gut bacteria has on our brain. Yes, your gut has a large impact on cognitive health. There is a neurologist who has an entire site about this topic, check it out HERE.

Fermented foods contain a large variety of microflora (those good guys), more than most supplements. We only know how to manufacturer or create some strains of good bacteria, the magic that happens through the natural fermentation process is going to give you a much larger variety on a regular basis.

Fermented foods also contain "predigested" nutrients that are easy for your body to use, improving digestion and nutrient absorption.

That was a quick summary of why you need ferments in your life!

Basically, supporting your digestive system through consuming fermented foods (rich in probiotics) means you're also supporting brain health, your cardiovascular system, a healthy inflammatory response and your immune system. Who doesn't want that?

Now to the fun stuff.

You can find fermented foods at a grocery store or most health food stores.

Back to the list...

RAW pickles or RAW sauerkraut- they must be refrigerated ALL the time. If you're buying them off the grocery store shelf then they have been heated (pasteurization) and have no more good bacteria for you. Unfortunately heating the probiotics kills them, so you have to be careful! Bubbies is a fantastic brand that makes raw ferments!

Kefir and/or Yogurt- must be labeled that it has "active cultures," or they may be listed. Kefir is my go to. If you don't have kefir in your life you need to get some. Yogurt typically has 2-4 strains of good bacteria, Kefir has 12. Yes 12. Make the change.

Miso is a fermented soybean product that makes some delicious soup. Boil your water and make your soup, then add the miso to the warm water (not boiling). Remember, heating up that good bacteria can kill it.

Kimchi and other raw ferments. This list could go on forever. I've seen fermented beets, carrots, ginger, etc. If you're a DIY person, start fermenting at home. Its SO cost effective and you can create some delicious things!

Kombucha- my favorite. You can buy it just about anywhere now, its in the refrigerator. If you love it and find yourself buying it on a regular basis it can get costly! Prices range $3-6 a bottle!

This is what led me to making my own, I actually enjoy the taste more than the store bought.

Here it goes. Making some bouch...Im keeping it simple.

There are a lot of ways to do this, but I have found what works for me. As always, make sure to wash your hands and prepare in a clean area.

What you need to get started-

  • 1 SCOBY (Symbiotic 'Colony' of Bacteria and Yeast) with it's "starter fluid"
    • I got mine from a friend, you can find someone who makes kombucha (walk into a health food store and ask the staff) or you can order one online. It's a one time purchase, it will keep reproducing once you get going.
  • 1 Cup Sugar (it needs to be a granulated sugar)
    • I use beet sugar from the health food store, most sugars will work. You cannot use honey, you have to have a specific SCOBY for this (Ill show you that at the end) or maple syrup. Sugar substitutes will NOT work, the fermentation process requires actual sugar.
  • ~1 Gallon of filtered/purified water (not tap water, chlorine in tap is bad news for your SCOBY)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons bulk tea or 7-10 tea bags (could be green, black, yerba mate- your choice)
  • 1 Gallon Glass container to store

What you will need 7-10 days after starting...

  • Flavors of your choice (juice, juice concentrate, frozen or fresh fruit)
  • Small jars to disperse your kombucha for flavoring and storage

Please read through ALL the steps before getting started!

STEP 1.

Bring 4-6 cups water almost to a boil in a large pot (if it boils thats okay, but technically it works best if the water hasn't been boiled to death). Remove from heat and add tea. I use bulk green tea because its super cost effective, I place in a muslin tea bag and reuse the bag when Im finished brewing.

Let steep for ~ 10 minutes.

STEP 2.

Add the sugar, stir and dissolve. Then add the remaining water. I usually end up using a little less than a gallon. This should make the sugary tea room temperature. You never want to add hot water to the SCOBY and its original fluid.

STEP 3. 

Place your SCOBY and its starter fluid (usually about 2 cups) in your fermenting vessel (your 1 gallon glass container). Then add your sweet tea. Cover with a towel and rubber band, you don't want to use a totally air tight cover. I use a coffee filter...

Step 4. 

Place in a cool, dark spot. Wait 7-10 days and "taste" to see if its ready. I place a clean spoon in and get a sample, some people use a straw. You just want to be very careful not to contaminate your booch.

When it's ready you want to get your smaller bottles ready and your flavor out! You should have them ready by the time the 7-10 day period is up.

I save some store bought kombucha bottles and also have some that I have purchased separately. The tighter the lid, the more fizz in your end product.

This is my stash of empty boocha bottles...

My favorite flavor is this grape concentrate, but I also use frozen berries a lot. You don't have to flavor, but the sugar from the flavors can create additional fermentation, creating a more "fizzy" drink. Ginger is also a great option!

STEP 5. AFTER your first fermentation process of 7-10 days. This is considered your "second ferment."

Wash your hands well and remove your SCOBY from your gallon vessel. Place it in a clean bowl. Take ~2 cups of the tea from the gallon vessel and add that to your SCOBY. This is your next starting batch! You will notice that your SCOBY will get bigger and eventfully create more baby SCOBYs. Cover the bowel with a towel and set aside.

After flavoring and dispersing my kombucha (NEXT STEP) I usually start my next batch with this SCOBY and starter liquid. If you want to wait you can cover and keep aside in a cool, dark place until you were ready to use it. Do not refrigerate it. If you were going to "share" your SCOBY because it had "babies" then you would want to separate out more starter fluid for that person to get started. This is your viscous kombucha cycle.

STEP 6. 

Place your smaller bottles on counter or in sink, a funnel works well for this part. Add your flavors, I typically use 1-3teaspoons in the smaller bottles or 1-2Tablespoons in the larger ones. If I'm using fresh/frozen fruit I just throw enough in to cover the bottom of the bottle. Add your flavor, then add your kombucha. I usually leave ~1-2 inches on the top.

STEP 7. 

Seal them all tightly and place back in your dark, cool spot for another 1-3 days. I usually leave mine for 3, I like the fizz! If you use the flip top bottles you will need to "burp" them once day. They just weren't meant to handle pressure the way the store bought kombucha bottles were. Just quickly open them and close them again to relieve a little pressure. I keep mine in a box with a towel on top just incase one were to explode.

STEP 8. 

After 1-3 days...

Taste and put in the fridge! This stops the fermentation process and makes them cold and delicious. The odd floaty things (or as my friend called it- "the silt like sh*t") are little pieces and scrapes of the original SCOBY. They are loaded with good bacteria for your gut!

Let me know how it goes! I LOVE experimenting with different flavors and combinations. Sharing your kombucha with family and friends is a great way to introduce people to fermented foods (eventually they may even want a SCOBY to make their own)!

On a different note...Ive also starting making JUN kombucha, which uses a SCOBY that prefers raw honey. It tastes a little different, not necessarily better, just different. It will only ferment with raw honey, no granulated sugar. I like the concept, raw honey has some beneficial properties, but it is more costly in the long run.

Here's a pic of my JUN supplies....

Honey + JUN SCOBY + tea

Either way I've got a crazy circle of kombucha brewing all the time and my gut LOVES it! Thanks for reading!

It's Fall! Time for Chili!

The start of fall food prep!

Chili is a pretty popular dish in my house; when I make it I have to make a lot of it. We basically eat from a large batch for days; while Im prepping to cook such a large amount I always think, "we are going to be so sick of chili by the time this is gone." But we never are. In fact usually it's requested just a couple weeks later.

When there is an item that everyone likes I think of two things-

1. Is it healthy?

To meet my requirements there cannot be any added sugar (bonus for no sugar at all), artificial colors, flavorings or things I cannot pronounce. There cannot be any "unstable" or oxidized fats (see blog post on fats- search fats), or empty carbohydrates (carbs that don't have the nutrients to obtain the energy from them, also known as "carbage").  Major bonus points for the item/meal containing high quality protein, vegetables and healthy fats.

If the answer to question 1 is YES, then I move on to question 2 (see below).

If the answer to question 1 is NO, then I have to "reformulate" the menu item/meal to meet the above requirements.

2. Can I make it healthier? Usually yes. Can I make it healthier without anyone noticing or without altering the taste in a "bad" way? Mmmmm thats a different story.

This is the tricky part. Sometimes I think something taste good and my husband informs me that it may taste good to me, but probably not to the general population. My goal for this question is to make a healthy, nutrient dense, delicious dish even more nutrient dense...all while keeping its taste scores up!

I did it with the chili.

Let's just take a moment to review the "requirements" of question 1 in regards to my chili-

  • No added sugar
  • Only natural sugar from the tomatoes
  • Nothing artificial
  • No oxidized fats
  • Rich in naturally occurring healthy fat
  • No empty carbohydrates
  • Nutrient dense carbs in full force
  • High quality protein WITH vegetables all in ONE meal

Changes made to make it even better...

  • Add butternut squash. Boom.
    • More healthy carbs, phytonutrients and soluble fiber.

 

I made this knowing that we would eat it daily for a couple days, with the option to freeze some (always think about meal prep).

Hidden Butternut Chili

Prep time- 30-40 minutes

Cook time- Varies (~30 minutes, but some people let it simmer all day in a crock pot), its up to you. This time I cooked it and immediately removed from heat to cool for storage, it was just as delicious.

Serves- 5-7? (Im guessing because chili portions vary greatly)

Ingredients-

1 large butternut squash

2-3 Tablespoons coconut oil (or butter)

2 leeks

1 onion

1 large garlic clove

2-3 bell peppers

~3lbs ground turkey (I used 85/15) or protein of your choice

3 cans diced tomatoes (yes I used canned tomatoes, I need convenience sometimes)

6oz can tomato sauce (splurge and get organic, it tastes better- trust me)

2 cans beans (I used 1 can kidney and 1 can black beans)

salt & pepper

~2 ounces chili powder

*you will also need a food processor of some sort

  1. Preheat oven to 375'F
  2. Slice butternut squash lengthwise and clean seeds out. Place flat side down on a cookie sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes to until tender. While this is cooking you will continue making your chili!
  3. Slice and dice your leeks, onion and garlic clove.    Add coconut oil to a large pan (what you plan on making your chili in) and heat over med-high heat until melted. Add leeks, onion and garlic, stir until cooked almost through.      

4. Add the ground turkey along with some salt and pepper. Stir well and continue to cook on med-high heat until turkey is cooked.

5. When the turkey mixture is cooked through you are going to add the bell peppers, 2 cans of tomatoes (set the 3rd can aside), 2 cans of beans (drained) and chili pepper.

6. Check on squash. Get food processor set up.

7. Keep chili mixture over medium heat and stir once in a while.

8. Squash should be done, remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Carefully (its still super hot) take out the insides and place into the food processor, add the last can of tomatoes and the can of tomato paste. Blend until smooth.    Do not let your typically chili eaters see this step, it may detour them from trying the chili (they won't be able to tell that you added this gem).

 

9. Add squash mixture to chili mixture and stir well. Add additional salt, pepper, cayenne and/or chili powder to your taste.

DONE. You have a healthy, nutrient dense meal to serve your family and friends. 

Or you have lunch for the week!


You could transfer this to a crockpot if you were serving over the course of several hours, or serve immediately. Let cool to room temperature before refrigerating or freezing.

Enjoy! Let me know what you think!

Sugar, is it dangerous? Part 2 of 4 (so I don't overwhelm anyone)

Sugar...we know that's it hiding everywhere (see previous blog post about sugar, search "sugar"), but does it matter?

Yes. It really does.

In fact it drives ME CRAZY when people try to shove sugar down others.

Do I want a piece of birthday cake? No. "You should really just have one piece..." Should I?

If someone is trying to reduce their sugar intake you should support that person in any and everyway possible- because it's SO difficult to cut back on sugar and SO beneficial. The peer pressure we put on others to consume CRAPPY food shocks me. In 50 years we could be looking at it the same way as pressuring people to smoke cigarettes. When someone tells me that they are cutting out sugar I give them the same support and encouragement as someone telling me they have quit smoking. So don't pay attention to food pushers if you know you're making the right decision. AND IF YOU'RE A "FOOD PUSHER" YOU NEED TO LAY OFF.

So whats wrong with sugar? In a little bit I'll address the sugar from whole fruits (which are absolutely okay with me, but juice is on my NO list).  We are going to go over 8 reasons why you may want to rethink that sweetened latte, but this post only has 4. I think fewer shorter reads is better than 1 extremely long one!

4 (of 8) Reasons why your morning latte, donut, whole grain cereal, or sweetened yogurt could be affecting your health

1. It's robbing your savings account.

  • Your nutrient savings account to be exact. Tired all the time? Looking for something to get rid of that "dragging" feeling? When people ask me what they can do differently because they're tired all the time, my first response is- stop eating added sugar. When you drink a sweetened beverage, a flavored yogurt or pasta with sauce (that has added sugar)...what happens? Your body wants to use that sugar as "fuel" to produce energy...but it takes A LOT of tools (nutrients) to break down that sugar as fuel. If the sugar doesn't come "prepackaged" with those tools (nutrients) then it has to find them somewhere (your nutrient savings account),  depleting your stores. That is one of the differences between the doughnut and the apple. The (WHOLE FRUIT) APPLE comes with everything it needs. It's naturally packed with B-vitamins and minerals for your body to use the sugar from it as FUEL. The donut does NOT. It only provides sugar...and that sugar wants to be used as fuel. So what does it do? It "robs" your B vitamin and mineral storage tanks...resulting in fatigue. The juice from that apple also DOES NOT provide all the materials to access that fuel from the apples- robbing your tanks. Whole, natural fruits are great...processed foods from fruits are NOT (juice, packaged items advertising "sweetened with fruit juice"). This is where the term "empty calories" come from. These sugars provide calories, but nothing to help them break down and be used as fuel.

 

  • Take away...
    • A lot of B-vitamins are required for carbohydrate and sugar metabolism. The more sugar you eat, the more B vitamins you need. Mother nature is SO great, she packaged whole foods with the B vitamins they need to metabolize and break down. If you eat whole foods (not in a package, bag, box) you don't have to worry about this. When you eat carnage (carbohydrate rich garbage) or foods with added sugar you do need to worry (cereals, granola bars, juice, soda, sweets). Tired? Stop eating so much sugar and carbage.

2. It's affecting your immune system.

  • Sick all the time? Want to give you and your families immune systems a boost? You guessed it, CUT BACK ON SUGAR. Why is this? For several reasons...
    • Eating or drinking too much sugar can limit your immune system cells that attack bacteria. YES, consuming too much sugar can potentially not allow your immune system to work the way it wants (1).
    • 1 teaspoon of sugar could potentially impact your immune for up to 5 hours!
  • The FIRST thing I talk to people about when they ask me to "help them not get sick this winter" is their diet. You can't eat sugar all the time and expect to be well. I don't just mean cookies and ice cream- there is sugar hiding in everything that comes in a bag/package/box.
    • Zesty low fat italian dressing (1 teaspoon per 2 Tablespoons)
    • Organic, low sodium tomato soup (6 teaspoons per can)
    • Whole grain "protein" cheerios (4 teaspoons per 1 1/4 cup)
  • Side note- there is NO way you can eat cold cereal everyday and stay under the recommended sugar intake

 

3. It has a large impact on your cardiovascular system.

  • Remember the original visual from PART 1 that talked about limiting sugar? That's from The American Heart Association (AHA). Yup. The people who are making nutrition recommendations to reduce cardiovascular disease have pretty strict guidelines when it comes to sugar intake. That's because it's now widely noted that excess sugar can increase your overall risk for heart disease.  In fact they recommend that you limit added sugar to <5% of your total calories, that's MORE restrictive than their recommendations for saturated fat.
  • Their recommendations include:
    • No more than 6 teaspoons/day for females and no more than 9teaspoons/day for males

How does sugar effect your heart? For several reasons, but we don't even know all of them yet. Here are a few:

  • It may affect the pumping mechanism of the heart, increasing your risk for heart failure (2)
  • Are you skinny? Doesn't matter. One study showed that consuming excess sugar can increase your risk for cardiac issues EVEN IF YOU ARE NOT OVERWEIGHT (3)

The AHA came out with these sugar recommendations because of a large study that showed an increased risk of death from cardiovascular issues with excess sugar consumption (4).

4. Its promoting your addiction to sugar.

  • Sugar cravings? They are NO JOKE. Sugar can cause a surge in dopamine in the "reward" center of your brain. This can cause a viscous circle of cravings. Find someone who loves their sweets and/or soda and ask them to give it all up cold turkey. I bet they only last a couple days, it really is difficult.

When you eat sugar (even when its hidden) several times a day, everyday, it creates a steady flow of pleasure hormones being released and a constant increase in blood glucose. This is an addictive feeling. The amount of sugar that our body was naturally meant to handle should be coming from a piece of fruit, NOT a piece of pie or cup of soda. This is why it's difficult for people to "get off" sugar, it's a huge adjustment for their body. This is one of the reasons why I offer a sugar support group, where we complete the 21 Day Sugar Detox together with daily support. Check out more information HERE.

 

Even if you think you don't "eat any sugar," you probably do. Buy anything in a package, box or bag and there's probably some hidden sugar. Most items that advertise "low-fat" or "low-sodium" are fixed up with some hidden sugar to make them taste better.

For example, Amys Kitchen makes an Organic, Low in Sodium, Tomato Soup.

Turn it around and check out the nutrition facts label...

There are 13g of sugar per serving, with 2 servings per can.

I think most people can eat the entire can, so 26g of sugar PER CAN! That's 6 teaspoons of sugar per can of Organic Low Sodium Tomato soup.

How much does the AHA recommend to limit our intake before increasing our risk of cardiovascular disease?

6 teaspoons.

One can of tomato soup and you're at your limit.

Stay tuned for part 3 of 4 of the sugar series! In the mean time cut back on your packaged/processed goods and reduce your sugar intake!