nutrition

Inflammation: What You Need to Know and How to Reduce It

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Inflammation is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the nutrition world. Maybe you’ve heard of inflammatory diseases or an anti-inflammatory diet? I was pretty unaware of inflammation until it affected me. I first found out about my inflammation about a year ago after tests run by a functional medicine clinic. I started going there because of some problems I was having that I couldn’t figure out. My inflammatory marker, CRP, was high and I was also having insulin resistance, which goes hand-in-hand with inflammation. I was completely shocked that I was dealing with insulin resistance but it was starting to make much more sense. There were things happening in my body causing problems that I didn’t know about. That’s just my story but it also may sound a lot like your story.  

So, what exactly is inflammation and how does it work in our body? There is a lot of information when it comes to inflammation and it can be very sciency! Is that even a word? Yep, pretty sure it is. Let’s break this information down to help make sense of it. And, just the juicy tidbits instead of all the blah, blah, blah stuff. I personally like the blah, blah, blah stuff but I’m a geek.

What is Inflammation?

Inflammation is the body’s natural immune response to a stimulus, usually to protect itself from harm. Inflammation can be good and bad, also known as acute and chronic. Acute inflammation happens when we get a cut and our body sends out the defenses to heal the wound. This is good and is shorter in duration. We need inflammation to survive. Chronic inflammation happens when our immune system is consistently in the “on” switch causing a release of chemicals that cause damage leading to disease. This is bad and long term. Chronic inflammation is responsible for pain and tissue destruction in disease.

What Causes Inflammation?

In working to figure out how to calm chronic inflammation to heal, we must understand the causes of inflammation. According to integrative and functional Dr. Mark Hyman, the list of causes isn’t very long. His list of causes of inflammation:

  • Poor diet: mostly sugar, refined flours, processed foods and inflammatory fats such as trans fats.

  • Lack of exercise

  • Stress

  • Hidden or chronic infections with viruses, bacteria, yeasts or parasites

  • Hidden allergens from food or environment

  • Toxins such as mercury and pesticides

  • Mold toxins and allergens

 I would also add to this list:

  • Excessive exercise

  • Gut dysbiosis or imbalance of good and bad bacteria (often caused by diet and medications)

  • Negative thoughts and emotions

Inflammation is very individual and it can be hidden to some. It can present in different ways, even in people with the same disease. The key is for health practitioners to work with an individual to find their specific inflammatory triggers by digging into their health history and testing to get more specific information. Testing can be very helpful when we talk about food allergies or sensitivities, toxins and chronic infections. There are also a few tests that can determine inflammation in the body with C-reactive protein (CRP) being most common. This is the test I had run. Mine was 1.2 with optimal (according to my practitioner) being <0.3 so it wasn’t terrible but wasn’t awesome. If you suspect inflammation, ask your doctor for this test with your next set of labs.

What Diseases are Correlated with Chronic Inflammation

Inflammation is at the root of many common and chronic conditions. It can slowly cause problems with many systems in our body. We usually don’t know about the inflammation until major issues and symptoms show up. If it is a chronic disease, you can bet there is underlying systemic inflammation that needs to be dealt with. Here is a small list of inflammatory diseases:

  •   Metabolic disorders

    • Type 2 Diabetes, sleep apnea, heart disease, fatty liver disease

  • Cancers

  • Neurological Disorders

    • Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease, ALS

  • Autoimmune diseases

  • Bone, muscular and skeletal disorders

    • Osteoporosis, osteoarthritis

  • GI disorders

    • IBS, IBD, Chron’s, Colitis (microscopic and ulcerative)

  • Mental disorders

    • Depression, anxiety, ADD/ADHD, Autism spectrum disorders

Symptoms of inflammation include

  • Brain fog

  • Swelling

  • Headaches and migraines

  • Insulin resistance

  • Fatigue

How Can You Reduce Inflammation?

There are a number of strategies that can help to reduce inflammation in the body. Let’s talk about the heavy hitters that can give you a big bang for your efforts.

1. Eat real food. Yes, I said it. Eat real, high-quality food, lots of colors, lots of flavors and things you can pronounce. Anti-inflammatory diets can be helpful in reducing inflammation as the name would suggest. See your dietitian (or me =) ) for guidance starting an anti-inflammatory diet.

2. Decrease inflammatory fats and oils and increase anti-inflammatory fats and fatty foods. This could go with #1 but I like it on it’s own. Inflammatory oils are often found in processed packaged foods like chips, crackers, frozen meals, and shelf-stable peanut butter. Get my free guide to healthy fats here.

3. Exercise, but not too much. Studies have shown that exercise can protect against chronic diseases. Over-exercising can cause more stress on the body leading to increased inflammation.

4. Control blood sugar levels. Decrease or eliminate sugar and processed carbohydrates, eat at regular intervals and include protein and healthy fat with meals and snacks.

5. Address food sensitivities. This can reduce inflammation quickly. An elimination diet can help with finding food sensitivities but you can have a sensitivity to even the healthiest foods you eat. See my post on the MRT food sensitivity test and the LEAP program for more information.

6. Address nutrient deficiencies. Talk to your physician or dietitian about testing for nutrient deficiencies, and more than just vitamin D and B12. If this isn’t an option, a high-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement is never a bad idea to fill in the gaps. I also like a high-quality vitamin D with vitamin K-2 supplement for most of us.

7. Relax, de-stress and get adequate sleep. Is this a joke? No, no it’s not. Lack of sleep increases stress. Stress, as mentioned above, can cause inflammation. Find your favorite ways to relax. Maybe yoga, meditation, bubble baths, music, more time with friends, a vacation. Allow yourself this time. Get on a better sleep routine and aim for 8 hours a night. Read my post on the importance of sleep.

8. Minimize toxic burden. Decrease exposure to plastics, pesticides, oxidative fats, pollutants, and harsh chemicals. What goes on your body and on/in your food is important also.

I hope this gives you some good, useful information. I am definitely not saying that everyone is dealing with chronic inflammation that is causing problems. I am saying that if you have a chronic condition or generally don’t feel well, taking some action to reduce inflammation can make a big difference. I would also take away that your lifestyle now can play a role in your health later down the road. I know it is a lot of information to digest so feel free to leave me your questions. You can also schedule a free 15 minute discovery call with me if you would like to learn more about working with a registered dietitian.

Lin

Lettuce Eat Greens

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Hello friends! I hope this new year is finding you happy and well. I kind of feel like my new year so far has been a whirlwind and bam, it's already the 18th. We've visited more with friends, we're back to soccer and baseball practices and we've been home a lot lately due to the bitter cold temps in KC. This week we had -20° windchill and then it will be 50° this weekend. That's KC for you.

One thing holds true for me when I am out of my food routine (whatever that really is) for whatever reason, I miss eating something green! I don't discriminate (too much) when it comes to what kind of green foods I like to eat but I want them regularly! I'm going to share with you why green foods are good for you and easy ways to incorporate them into your routine, even when life gets, well, like life.

Greens are full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and carotenoids. Antioxidants help protect healthy cells from damage. They can be vitamins, minerals or carotenoids. Phytonutrients, or phytochemicals, are compounds found only in plants that help protect them. They also have health benefits. Common Phytonutrients are lutein and beta-carotene. Carotenoids are a phytonutrient that has antioxidant properties. Anyway, there is a lot of great s#!$ in green veggies, or all veggies for that matter.

My favorite greens to eat on the regular are broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, spinach, and arugula. I also like green peppers, other green lettuces, and cucumbers.

Broccoli

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This is probably my favorite veggie out of all of them, well maybe besides sweet potatoes. Broccoli is a cruciferous veggie that contains vitamin C, beta-carotene, B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, vitamin K, folate and fiber. It is a nutrient power house. Did you know that 1 cup of broccoli has as much vitamin C as an orange? Vitamin C helps build collagen and is an antioxidant. The best ways to cook broccoli are steam, roast, stir-fry or microwave to preserve nutrient content. My favorite ways to cook and eat broccoli:

  • My favorite is to roast broccoli. It gives it a bit of a charred taste and leaves it a little crunchy. I roast it at 400º for about 15 minutes with olive oil and salt.

  • I like roasted broccoli on my pizza.

  • We also like frozen broccoli for convenience. The Bird's Eye Baby Broccoli Florets are the best.

  • Steam broccoli if you don't like it roasted. Watch it carefully because it can turn mushy pretty quickly.

Kale

I know kale is kind of old school in all things nutrition, right? I don't eat it as regularly as broccoli or some other greens but I still enjoy it. Kale, also a cruciferous veggie, has a high content of the carotenoid, lutein, which supports eye health. It is high in vitamin A, vitamin K and vitamin C. It also contains manganese, copper, vitamin B 6, calcium and fiber. It is high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties. Another nutrient powerhouse! My favorite ways to eat kale:

  • In this soup.

  • I also like to sauté kale with olive oil, garlic and chopped walnuts. Add a little water and throw a lid on after it sautés for a few minutes to finish the cooking. And of course add salt and pepper.

  • Baby kale is great in salads.

  • Kale, however, is NOT a green that I enjoy in a smoothie. Just being real!

Brussels Sprouts

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So I just started eating brussels sprouts over a year ago. Some really good brussels with all kinds of bacon and stuff at a restaurant converted me! Brussels sprouts are another cruciferous vegetable and have a lot of the same nutrient qualities. They are also studied frequently for their cancer preventative substances called glucosinolates. How to cook:

  • I like to roast my brussels sprouts and get all of the little crunchy pieces! I halve them and roast them with olive oil and salt at 400º for about 20 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven. Flip them over 1/2 way through cooking. Super quick, super easy!

  • You can also cook them with bacon and apple and/or add a little drizzle of balsamic glaze at the end.

  • I have also had them in a cheesy gratin for a holiday and YUM!

Spinach

I kind of have a love-hate relationship with spinach. Obviously it has health benefits and is probably one of the more commonly eaten greens. It is high in antioxidants. It contains fiber, iron, calcium, zinc, niacin, folate and lots of other vitamins and minerals. It contains beta-carotene, which we normally think of in orange-colored foods. Spinach is one of the dirty dozen foods meaning it can have a lot of pesticides so buying organic spinach is recommended over conventional if possible. I have yet to find a way that I like cooked spinach but if that's your thing then do it. Here are easy ways to use spinach:

Banana pancakes with spinach

Banana pancakes with spinach

  • As a salad green. If you prefer a "crunchier" type of lettuce you can always add spinach in to whatever you are using.

  • In a smoothie. It is so easy to add a handful of spinach to your smoothie mix and it doesn't change the flavor but will add some different nutrients. I keep a bag of TJs organic spinach in my fridge weekly for smoothies. The organic is only like 20 cents more than regular.

  • Puree spinach with a small amount of liquid and add in to baked goods. I do this with pancakes mostly. I make banana pancakes in my magic bullet and just add it right in. For a pancake mix that you make in a bowl, just mix the pureed spinach in with the other liquid. Again it won't change the flavor but adds nutrients and it's kid friendly!

  • Chopped up and add to scrambled eggs. Add in at the very end of cooking.

  • On pizza.

Arugula

Arugula, or rocket, is by far my favorite salad green. I love it's pepperiness. Is that a word? It also lasts a little longer in the fridge than a lot of other salad greens. Arugula is another cruciferous vegetable, so obviously I really like those. Arugula contains vitamin K, which can help with bone health. It also contains folate, B vitamins, carotenoids and other antioxidants. It is low in oxalates, which can inhibit the absorption of some nutrients. Here is how to use arugula:

  • As a salad green. It's especially good with parmesan, EVOO and lemon juice. It also mixes with with other greens like spinach. If you are in the KC area, you must try the rocket salad at The Mixx (with salmon, duh). It's so good!

  • On pizza. Put on top after cooking.

  • On a sandwich.

Maybe you now know a little more about green foods and easy ways to use them. Do you have to? No. Should you? That is totally up to you. Are you capable? Absolutely! It doesn't have to be complicated or take a lot of time but greens can offer you a lot of nutrients and health benefits. So, lettuce eat greens!

Lin

 

 

Healthy Travels

We have been little traveling peeps this year, at least more so than usual. My husband traveled a lot last year for his previous job and we were fortunate enough to earn a companion pass on Southwest with points. That means wherever he flies, I fly for free (same days and flights only). We are trying to take as much advantage as our bank account and calendar will allow.

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah

Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest in Utah

We've done Mexico, New Orleans, Austin and Park City, UT. We have hopes for a few more trips before the end of the year, including somewhere fantastic for our 10th anniversary in November. Any recommendations? We are thinking Belize.

Truth be told, I have a harder time traveling than I'd like to admit. First confession, plane turbulence freaks me the eff out! I mean death grip on my husband's hand, eyes closed, butt cheeks clenched, all while my 8 y/o says "this is fun". Second confession, I don't like to be out of my routine. I'm a total control freak, which I'm working on a little more this year, but it's a real problem. What I really have a hard time with is coming back from a trip feeling really gross from 1. lack of sleep, 2. lack of exercise, 3. lack of healthy eats and 4. lack of water as my beverage choice. I am learning to prepare ahead and work with what I have available to stay somewhat on track and make it worth some vacation indulgences! If you are going away for a vacation, you want to come back feeling refreshed and recharged!

How to feel great for the travel portion of your trip.

You frequent fliers may have perfected this and have more tips, but here are my tips to make it through, ready to conquer the world when you step off the plane.

  1. Drink water and lots of it. When you are on an airplane, the air is very dry with low humidity. This can cause dehydration, especially on a long flight. You know they don't bring the drink cart around often enough to make a difference so bring your own water. I like to bring a reusable water bottle on my trip. I drink water on my way to the airport, dump it when I get there then refill it once I'm through security. I can then take it on the plane and pour the rest of the ice from my tiny ice water in the bottle. I can also use the water bottle my whole vacation.
  2. Bring food. You never know if you are going to run into a crazy long security line and be short on time, find a lack of healthy options at the airport, have a major flight delay or you are snoozing when they come around with the peanuts. Prepare ahead of time, like the night before, and bring your food and/or snacks with you. Some of my favorite options are:
    • trail mix with your favorite mix-ins
    • fruit - I like to cut up apple slices and put them in a baggie because it is something we can all agree on.  Bring along some to-go packs of peanut butter to dip your apples in. Grapes or any other fruit you can prepare ahead of time are great options.
    • RX-bars or Larabars.  These are great if you are short on space and time.
    • veggies and to-go hummus cups
    • string cheese

Tips for your time away.

  1. If you will be gone more than a weekend and have the option, try a VRBO or AIRBNB instead of a hotel. This will usually allow you a kitchen where you can prepare some of your meals or store some healthy snacks. Stop at a grocery store and pick up a few things you know you will use during your stay. When we were in NOLA we made our breakfast every morning, except the last, at our rental. It was a way for us to get some healthy foods in and start our day off well. We made eggs, baked sweet potato, cheese and fruit. It was also cheaper than eating out 3 meals a day.
  2. Get in some activity. Whether that is included in your itinerary or you need to make some extra effort to get it in, you will feel better because of it. It will give you more energy, clear your head and encourage you to drink more water post sweat sesh. Here are some ideas:
    • Go for a brisk jog or walk to a local coffee shop. This is a great way to see different parts of the city, get some local coffee and get your sweat on. Be sure you are in a safe area or take a buddy.
    • Download an online workout video to do where you are staying. Check out Sweat Lab Fitness for some great options. You will be sure to get a sweat in before vacationing (or working) the day away.
    • Head to the hotel fitness center for a quick workout. This is especially a great option if you are traveling alone or need to get it done before the sun comes up.
    • Check out the local fitness scene and try a class at a new studio or center. Sometimes you can get your 1st class free.
  3. Eat your fruits and veggies. Make healthy(er) choices when out to eat, assuming you will be eating out for most meals. Just because you are eating out doesn't mean you have to eat what you wouldn't normally eat on the regular. Eating a lot of heavy, high fat, fried foods can leave you feeling weighed down and sluggish. It is also no bueno for your digestion and that needs to be working in tip top shape when away. Here are some things to look for:
    • Look for veggies as a side or a salad with veggies.
    • Is fruit an option at lunch? Choose that over french fries or chips.
    • Share your meal.
    • Don't be afraid to ask how something is prepared or if they can prepare it the way you like.
    • Check out menus ahead of time to know what options you will have and reduce anxiety.
    • Definitely splurge on something you know you will absolutely love and can't say no to.
  4. Drink lots of water. It is easy to treat ourselves when away because, well, it's vacation damnit. Umbrella drinks by the pool, beer at the lake starting at noon, wine every night with dinner and bottomless mimosas for brunch. I mean if the pool bar opens at 10:00, you are there at 9:55 (am), right? No? Maybe that's just me. Or if you are working maybe you think you need that frou frou coffee drink to make it through a boring conference agenda. Just make sure you don't skip the water and you may need more than usual due to traveling, altitude, or extra activity. If you are having adult drinks, water will help you decrease your intake and decrease your side effects the next day. Win, win!

Hopefully this summer has brought you some fun and exciting travel adventures. The last thing we want is to feel out of sorts after returning from an awesome trip. Don't sweat it, or do! With some preparation and good choices, you'll be feeling great when you get home. Back to work, back to the gym, back to the kids, back in your skinny jeans in no time!

"Adventure is worthwhile." - Amelia Earhart

Have a great week!

-Lin

Kombucha, Yay or Nay?

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I jumped on the Kombucha bandwagon a while back and am still hanging on.  I really like it because 1. it isn't very sweet 2. gives me a little pick me up in the afternoon and 3. it helps curb my sweets craving.  It is a tea meets juice meets cider meets vinegar drink. Sounds weird and a little hippy, right?  It is kind of weird and hippy since it starts from a mushroom kind of thingy and turns into fizzy yumminess with flavors galore.  I drink a few ounces occasionally or use it to make cocktails that are really good and not too sweet. I will share a little more about kombucha and some of my favorites.

What is kombucha?

Kombucha, pronouned kom-BOO-cha, is a fermented drink made from tea, sugar, and a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). The SCOBY looks like a rubbery pancake. The mixture ferments to produce enzymes, acids, microflora, B vitamins and a tiny bit of alcohol. The fermentation process can sometimes cause a sour flavor as well as some carbonation. Most of them don't have sugar added after the fermentation process so are pretty low in sugar content.

Are there benefits of drinking kombucha?

There are a lot of health claims made about kombucha but not a lot of research done to back the claims. Some of the health claims include improved digestion, increased energy, immune support, decreased joint pain, and detoxification. There are also potential side effects including upset stomach, infections and allergic reactions. The risk increases when making kombucha at home due to potential contamination that can grow harmful bacteria.

How much kombucha should/could I drink?

For starters, test out a few ounces on the stomach to make sure you don't have any problems. There is really no scientific answer to this question but 4 to 8 ounces a day should be enough, you decide =)  FYI, it is't calorie free but does not have nearly the amount of calories in soda or sweet tea.

My favorite types of kombucha and pairings for a cocktail

If you are a sweet mixed cocktail kind of drinker, substituting your mixer for kombucha can save you on the sugar and calories. You could also add it in to a sangria.

  1. My favorite is local Tea-Biotics in Lenexa, KS.  Check them out here. They fill bottles and growlers of Kombucha at the Overland Park farmers market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. None of the varieties I've tried have a sour taste to them. Types to try: watermelon, mule mixer and blueberry. The mule mixer is great with vodka and lime in a copper mug!
  2. Humm coconut lime kombucha (from Target). Follow them here.  It is a little sweeter than others and not a strong coconut flavor. They also have a strawberry lemonade that is good.  I like to mix gin with the coconut lime. It reminds me of a cocktail I had in Mexico with fresh coconut water. I've also tried it with spiced rum and that is also delish!
  3. Brew Dr. Kombucha citrus hops (in KC I can find it at Sprouts and some Price Choppers). Follow them here. It is light and has a little bit of a hoppy beer taste. I also like their spiced apple flavor. I have not made cocktails with these yet but the spiced apple sounds amazing with whiskey!

So benefits or not, I say YAY to kombucha and double YAY to kombucha cocktails. If it's wrong then I don't want to be right =) You can find a variety of kombucha at almost all grocery and health stores. Comment with any of your favorite flavors or kombucha cocktails.

Happy weekend friends!

Lin

What's in your freezer?

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Hey friends!  Back at you today with the next installment of what's in your (insert food storage unit)? It's all about the freezer staples today.  Who doesn't love to keep easy foods in their freezer for a last-minute meal? I am not one that keeps the freezer ridiculously full because I really don't have tons of frozen foods I love to buy.  Pizza rolls? Nope. Taquitos? Nope. Toaster strudels? Nope. Ice cream? Maybe.

I love to keep frozen fruit handy for snacks and to use in shakes or smoothies. When my bananas get too ripe, I peel them, cut them in half and keep them frozen in a ziplock to use in smoothies or as banana ice cream (bananas pureed in a food processor). Frozen mango (Best Choice) and pineapple (TJs) are one of my favorite snacks at night if I'm craving something sweet. I really love mango but am terrible at picking out a fresh one so this is a good way to get it.

A few quick, easy dinner options are also usually in my freezer. I keep frozen turkey meatballs (TJs), which are great with spaghetti squash or pasta or with some brown rice and a veggie. I also really like frozen burgers of different types to throw under the broiler or on a grill pan for a super easy and fast lunch or dinner. Right now I have salmon (Costco), black bean (Costco) and chicken burgers (TJs).

Everyone has frozen veggies in the freezer, right?  If not to eat at least to use as an ice pack! Seriously though, I always keep frozen broccoli stocked up. I use Bird's Eye baby broccoli florets. They are ready in about 5 minutes and good quality that my family really likes. I also found a package of fire roasted peppers and onions (TJs) that I can saute quickly and use with Mexican dishes or on top of homemade pizzas.

Here are some other things I like to keep in my freezer:

  • homemade waffles - I make a big batch and freeze what we don't eat, then pop a few in the toaster for breakfast throughout the week.
  • Our favorite TJs brown rice - poke a few holes in the bag, 3 minutes in the microwave and voila.
  • frozen Gogurt- fun kids snack or put in their school lunch and it stays cold longer.
  • Beer glasses - because that tasty brew needs to be ice-cold!

Your freezer can be a great way to keep quick, easy and healthy meal and snack options. What are your healthy freezer staples?

Lin