Skin issues? Here are foods good for your skin

Your skin is your largest organ and it plays a vital role in your overall health and wellness. It protects what’s inside you by keeping water and nutrients in, while keeping harmful bacteria and viruses out. Your skin helps you maintain your body temperature and makes vitamin D when exposed to the sun. It’s also full of nerve endings to help you sense the outside world and avoid damage from things that are too hot, cold, or sharp. Choose to include foods good for your skin.

Skin care isn’t only something we need to do on the outside. What we eat and drink affects all of our vital organs—including our skin. Here is a list of some of the essential nutrients you need to keep your skin nourished so it can play its many fundamental roles and look its very best.

Foods good for your skin

Your skin is a complex organ and needs a variety of different nutrients every day to stay healthy. Here are some of my top recommendations.

Water

You may not always think about water as an essential nutrient, but it is. Water plays many important roles in your body. It’s the main component in your cells and fluids. It allows you to maintain your body temperature and it provides shock absorption for your joints. It’s no wonder that adults are 60% water.

When it comes to our skin, water is just as essential. Your skin has three layers. The outermost layer—the one you see and feel—is called the epidermis. The middle layer is the dermis and underneath that is your hypodermis. When your epidermis doesn’t have enough water, your skin feels rough and loses elasticity. The water your epidermis needs comes from the inside. One clinical study found that when participants who didn’t drink a lot of water increased their intake, their skin became more hydrated and their skin’s “extensibility” improved within 2 weeks. Drinking more water can help skin hydration and may be particularly beneficial if you have dry skin or don’t drink enough water.

How much water do you need every day? According to the Mayo Clinic, women should aim for 2.7 L (11.5 cups) of fluids per day, while men should aim for 3.7 L (15.5 cups) per day. Note that these fluids can come from drinking water or other beverages, and can even come from water-rich foods like soups, fruits, and vegetables. Your personal water needs may be higher if you sweat a lot (from physical activity or living in a hot, humid environment), if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you are prone to urinary or digestive tract conditions (kidney stones, vomiting, diarrhea).

Protein

Protein is an essential macronutrient which means you need quite a bit of it every day (more than with micronutrients like vitamins where you need much smaller amounts every day). Protein makes up parts of your cells, immune system antibodies, and the enzymes needed for thousands of reactions (including digestion). Your body’s main structure is also made from proteins. This includes your bones, muscles, organs . . . and skin. Different proteins are made by combining different building blocks called amino acids.

Your skin is made up of several different proteins. For example, collagen and elastin are very plentiful and build up the structure of your skin. Over time, and with exposure to the elements, your body’s ability to produce collagen decreases. Keratin is another important protein in your skin. Keratin makes up the outer epidermis layer giving it rigidity and enhancing its barrier protection.

The recommended daily amount of protein is based on your body weight. For every 20 lbs you weigh you should try to get just over 7 grams of protein each day. This means a person who weighs 140 lbs needs about 50 g protein/day, while someone who weighs 200 lbs would need about 70 g protein/day. Protein is found in meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs. Plant-based sources of protein include soy, lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and even vegetables like corn, broccoli, and asparagus.

Essential fatty acids

There are two types of fatty acids that are essential nutrients for our health and our skin. They are linoleic acid (omega-6) and linolenic acid (omega-3). Omega-3 fatty acids in particular are antiinflammatory and have been linked to many health benefits including improvements in rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, heart disease, and psoriasis, to name a few.

A higher intake of linoleic acid is associated with lower levels of skin dryness and thinning as skin ages. On the other hand, a lack of fatty acids is linked to increased water loss from the skin, drying it out and causing weakness in the protective outer barrier.

You can get these essential fatty acids from eating fish (salmon, tuna), shellfish, nuts (walnuts), seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin, sunflower, sesame), oils (soy, canola), leafy vegetables, and avocados. Essential fatty acids are also available in fish oil supplements which may contain additional vitamins and minerals.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an essential nutrient and has several functions including making other nutrients more absorbable and available. It is a water-soluble antioxidant vitamin that plays many roles in your body, including in skin health.

A deficiency of Vitamin C (scurvy) results in skin lesions, as well as skin that is easily bruised and slow to heal. This is, in part, because of Vitamin C’s role in stabilizing the protein collagen. Another sign of Vitamin C deficiency in the skin affects hair follicles and can cause “corkscrew hairs.” These are examples of why Vitamin C is so important for skin health.

Every day you should aim for at least 75 mg of Vitamin C. Fruits and vegetables are rich sources In particular, bell peppers, citrus fruits (oranges, grapefruits), broccoli, cauliflower, strawberries, kiwis, blackcurrants, potatoes, rose hip, and parsley.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a group of essential vitamins called tocopherols. They are fat-soluble antioxidants that work synergistically with Vitamin C. When given together, vitamins C and E (and zinc) can speed up wound healing. Deficiency of Vitamin E is linked to red, dry skin.

Vitamin E is often applied directly (topically) on the skin to reduce redness and some of the effects of sun damage. Ingesting Vitamin E helps the skin from the inside by protecting collagen and fats from breaking down. One clinical study successfully improved symptoms of dermatitis (skin inflammation) in participants who took Vitamin E supplements over the course of several months.

The recommended daily allowance for Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) is 15 mg. You can get Vitamin E in vegetables, oils (wheat germ oil, olive oil, vegetable oil, sunflower oil), nuts (almonds, hazelnuts), spinach, broccoli, corn, kiwis, and soy.

Skin care beyond nutrition

While nutrition is essential, and I’ve covered my top 5 recommendations above, don’t forget other important skin care practices that help protect and nurture your skin.

  • Use gentle cleansers and warm (not too hot) water to keep skin clean
  • Moisturize after taking a shower or washing your hands
  • Avoid things that bother your skin such as harsh cleansers, fragrances, and irritating fabrics
  • If you have allergies or intolerances (e.g., to gluten or pollen), avoid those
  • Limit your sun exposure and use sunscreen as appropriate
  • Be physically active
  • Try to get enough quality sleep
  • Use a humidifier and wear gloves when the weather is dry and cold
  • Avoid tobacco

Try the “Anti-inflammatory Meal Plan” to get meal ideas, recipes and even shopping list.

Bottom line: Nourish Your Skin

Food good for your skin
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The nutrients you consume feed your whole body—including your skin. As your largest organ with many critical roles, your skin needs a variety of different nutrients every single day. Water, protein and essential fatty acids are important macronutrients. While the antioxidant vitamins C and E are among some of the micronutrients your skin needs to heal and stay healthy.

In addition to nutrition, caring for the outside of your skin is also important. Using gentle cleansers, warm water, and moisturizers, and avoiding irritants and allergens will help. If you have any medical concerns with your skin, see your healthcare professional.

For a nutritious approach to skin health, consult a licensed registered dietitian nutritionist who can work with your concerns and dietary restrictions. I can help. Connect with me to chat about making sure to meet your dietary needs.

Is your skin suffering from a lack of nutrition? Need help to identify what foods your skin needs? Looking for ways to implement delicious skin-boosting foods into your day-to-day life? Book an appointment with me to see if my service can help you.

References

Cleveland Clinic. (2016, March 17). Skin. Retrieved from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/10978-skin

Harvard Health. (2018, May). Getting rid of the itch of eczema. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/getting-rid-of-the-itch-of-eczema

Harvard Health. (2018, November). Can a gluten-free diet help my skin? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/can-a-gluten-free-diet-help-my-skin

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (n.d.). Protein. Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/

Hodges, A. L., & Walker, D. K. (2017). Skin Care for Women. Nursing for women’s health, 20(6), 609–613. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nwh.2016.10.001

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27938801/

Huang, T. H., Wang, P. W., Yang, S. C., Chou, W. L., & Fang, J. Y. (2018). Cosmetic and Therapeutic Applications of Fish Oil’s Fatty Acids on the Skin. Marine drugs, 16(8), 256. https://doi.org/10.3390/md16080256

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6117694/

Keen, M. A., & Hassan, I. (2016). Vitamin E in dermatology. Indian dermatology online journal, 7(4), 311–315. https://doi.org/10.4103/2229-5178.185494

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4976416/

Mayo Clinic. (2020, October 14). Water: How much should you drink every day? Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256

Mayo Clinic. (2020, November 21). Does drinking water cause hydrated skin? Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/expert-answers/hydrated-skin/faq-20058067

NIH National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (2019, July).  Healthy Skin Matters. Retrieved from https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/kids/healthy-skin#tab-id-2

NIH News in Health. (2015, November). Keep your skin healthy. Retrieved from https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2015/11/keep-your-skin-healthy

NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. (2020, February 27). Vitamin C. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminC-HealthProfessional/

NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. (2020, July 31). Vitamin E. Retrieved from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminE-HealthProfessional/

Palma, L., Marques, L. T., Bujan, J., & Rodrigues, L. M. (2015). Dietary water affects human skin hydration and biomechanics. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 8, 413–421. https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S86822

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4529263/

Schagen, S. K., Zampeli, V. A., Makrantonaki, E., & Zouboulis, C. C. (2012). Discovering the link between nutrition and skin aging. Dermato-endocrinology, 4(3), 298–307. https://doi.org/10.4161/derm.22876

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583891/ University of Michigan Medicine. (2019, August 21). High protein foods for wound healing. Retrieved from https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/abs1199

How to heal the Leaky Gut?

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Harvard Health calls it a “medical mystery” and “mysterious ailment.” It’s been linked to everything from gut troubles, autoimmune diseases, and even mental health concerns. I’m talking about “leaky gut” or “intestinal permeability”—have you heard of it?

Many doctors and the established medical community may not recognize it, but there is growing research to suggest it is associated with many health conditions. What exactly is “leaky gut?” Do you have it? How does it happen? What can you do about it?

What is “leaky gut?”

Your gut (gastrointestinal system) is not just a 30-foot-long muscular tube (tract) that starts at your mouth and ends with you going to the bathroom. It’s, in fact, It’s a vast and complex system with many functions. It breaks down food into smaller digestible bits, keeps it moving through the gastrointestinal tract, and skillfully absorbs water and nutrients while keeping out harmful substances. More and more research shows that these essential gut functions are interconnected throughout your body—to everything from your heart to your brain.

Your gastrointestinal tract is lined with millions of cells, all side-by-side in a single layer. In fact, this layer, if spread out flat, covers 400m2 of surface area! Those intestinal cells help the body to absorb what we need from foods and drinks, while keeping out what needs to stay out. It acts as a gatekeeper allowing in what your body uses, and keeping out the rest which ends up as waste. This ability to selectively allow some things in our gut to be absorbed while keeping others out is only possible if the cells are working properly and physically joined together very tightly. The bonds that keep the cells tightly together are called “tight junctions.”

Leaky gut happens when the tight junctions aren’t so tight anymore. The cellular barrier is irritated and weakened, allowing tiny holes to appear. These perforations allow things that normally would stay out of the bloodstream get into the bloodstream. Things like food particles, waste products, and bacteria.

When these get into the bloodstream your immune system is triggered to start fighting them. Similarly to how your immune system starts fighting the cold virus and causes inflammation. This immune reaction is normal and helps keep you healthy.

Do you have a leaky gut?

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The symptoms of leaky gut are similar to those of other digestive conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease. Symptoms can include diarrhea, constipation, cramps, bloating, food sensitivities, or nutrient deficiencies.

But, because the food particles, toxins, and bacteria have been absorbed into the bloodstream which travels throughout your body, symptoms can appear anywhere. Studies show that leaky gut may feel like fatigue, headaches, confusion, difficulty concentrating, joint pain, or skin problems (e.g., acne, rashes, eczema). Leaky gut is also linked with diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, liver disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis. There may even be links to anxiety and depression.

Many of these gut and non-gut symptoms and conditions are linked to chronic inflammation, but more research is needed to understand how they are connected.

Even if you have some of these symptoms, the fact is, it’s very difficult to diagnose a leaky gut, nor how leaky it is. This means that, while there are some biomarker tests, there isn’t a reliable diagnostic test available just yet. So, it’s difficult to say whether your symptoms are from leaky gut, or whether leaky gut is a symptom of another issue.

What causes leaky gut?

It’s not 100 percent clear what causes those bonds to loosen and result in tiny perforations in the gut barrier. In fact, we’re just starting to understand how the gut barrier functions and there is a lot of ongoing research.

Part of leaky gut may be due to the genes you inherit from your parents. It can also be from medications or gut infections. Leaky gut is also linked to eating a diet that is low in gut-friendly fiber (adults should aim for 25-30 g of fiber per day). It can also be from consuming too much added sugar and saturated fat. Leaky gut may even result from stress or an imbalance in the diversity and numbers of your friendly gut microbes.

Also, as you age your cells can get damaged more easily and heal slowly, including the cells that line your gut. This can leave you more susceptible to loosening of the gut barrier.

What can you do about leaky gut?

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One way to approach a suspected leaky gut is to address inflammation and eat a more gut-friendly diet. This means reducing excessive alcohol and processed foods that tend to be high in fat and sugar or artificial sweeteners. It’s also a good idea to avoid foods that your allergic or sensitive to. For example, if you have diagnosed celiac disease, you want to be sure to stay away from gluten, as exposing your gut to it can cause a large inflammatory response.

Instead, enjoy more foods rich in gut-friendly probiotics (try the anti-inflammatory meal plan) and fiber (or the Plant-based meal plan) which is a prebiotic, or food for your friendy gut microbes. These include

  • yogurt or kefir
  • fermented foods (e.g., kimchi, sauerkraut, and miso)
  • fruits and vegetables (e.g., berries, oranges, broccoli, carrots, and zucchini)
  • nuts and seeds (e.g., walnuts, cashews, and chia seeds)
  • Whole grains (e.g., oats, corn, and quinoa)

Pro Tip: If you’re going to proactively increase your fiber intake, do it over several days or weeks because sudden increases in fiber can cause gas, bloating, and other gut discomfort. If you have IBS, talk to your doctor, or me to see if certain fibers may worsen your condition and which are recommended.

Also, regular exercise can help your digestive system. This means taking even a 15- or 20-minute walk after you eat to help you digest your food. And don’t forget the importance of stress management, quality sleep, and not smoking.

If you plan on making changes to your diet and lifestyle, consider keeping a journal to help see if the changes are helping your symptoms.

In Conclusion:

When it comes to leaky gut, a few simple shifts toward a gut-friendly diet can help you navigate the leaky gut treatment.

A leaky gut is associated with gut and non-gut symptoms. It’s an inflammatory condition that has been linked to metabolic disorders, autoimmune conditions, and even mental health. There is no good diagnostic test at this time to know for sure if you have it or not. And remember, this is still a rather new area of research, so more information emerges all the time.

In the meantime, if you have symptoms that suggest a leaky gut, you can move toward a more gut-friendly diet. Try cutting down on alcohol, processed foods, and any that you may be allergic or sensitive to. Replace these foods and drinks with ones higher in gut-friendy probiotics and fiber. And remember that regular exercise, stress management, and quality sleep are great lifestyle strategies for your gut and the rest of your body.

If leaky gut or other inflammatory symptoms are bothering you, book an appointment with me to see if my program/service can help you.

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References

Harvard Health. (2018). Putting a stop to leaky gut. Retrieved from

Harvard Health. (2018). Putting a stop to leaky gut: What can you do about this mysterious ailment? Retrieved from

https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/putting-a-stop-to-leaky-gut

Leech, B., Schloss, J. & Steel, J. (2019). Association between increased intestinal permeability and disease: A systematic review. Advances in Integrative Medicine. 6(1), 23-34. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aimed.2018.08.003

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S221295881730160X

Mayo Clinic. (2016). Food sensitivities may affect gut barrier function. Retrieved from

https://www.mayoclinic.org/medical-professionals/digestive-diseases/news/food-sensitivities-may-affect-gut-barrier-function/mac-20429973

Medical News Today. (2019). What to know about leaky gut syndrome. Retrieved from

https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326117.php

Medical News Today. (2019). What is the best diet for leaky gut syndrome? Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326102.php

Medscape. (2019). Is ‘Leaky Gut’ the Root of All Ills? Retrieved from

https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/913237

Mu, Q., Kirby, J., Reilly, C. M., & Luo, X. M. (2017). Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Frontiers in immunology, 8, 598. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00598

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440529/

National Institutes of Health News in Health. (2017, May). Keeping Your Gut in Check. Retrieved from https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2017/05/keeping-your-gut-check

Obrenovich M. (2018). Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain? Microorganisms, 6(4), 107. doi:10.3390/microorganisms6040107

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6313445/

US Department of Health and Human Services and US Department of Agriculture. (2015). Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, eighth edition. Appendix 7. Nutritional Goals for Age-Sex Groups Based on Dietary Reference Intakes and Dietary Guidelines Recommendations. Retrieved from

https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/appendix-7/

Holiday Hacks: 3 Time-Saving Kitchen Tips

The holidays look a lot different for most of us this year: holiday parties, school concerts, family gatherings, shopping, and vacations may not be happening quite the same way – yet somehow we will all still be VERY busy. Give yourself the gift of taking some shortcuts and holiday hacks  to take some of the pressure off so you can relax and be merry (because nobody wants a scrooge in the kitchen).

Go Semi-Homemade

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Clearly, we are very pro-cooking around here, but sometimes taking shortcuts can turn a potential take-out night into a total kitchen win. For example:

  • Grab a rotisserie chicken and incorporate it into soups or chilis so you can reap the benefits of high-quality protein without spending extra time cooking it. Shred the chicken and stuff lettuce leaves with a squeeze of lime for lunch.
  • Start with your favorite frozen pizza dough, then add your favorite jarred sauce and vegetable toppings plus a sprinkle of flavorful cheese to make it a meal!
  • Buy pre-chopped produce, especially those hard-to-manage vegetables (ahem, squash) that are more time-intensive to prepare. Toss with a tablespoon of olive oil and roast for a side dish or added to salads during the week.

Cook Once, Eat Twice

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Batch cooking is an efficient way to keep up with your healthy eating goals no matter what time of year. It essentially means cooking more than what you need in the moment so you can take advantage of having all of your cooking tools and gadgets out (read: it’s way more efficient!). Not to be confused with leftovers, batch cooking usually refers to one component so you can repurpose it later. For instance:

  • Need rice or quinoa for your Monday night meal? Make a large batch so you can easily incorporate it in salads and grain bowls all week long.
  • Making hard-boiled eggs? It takes the same amount of time to make six as it does to make two. Enjoy as a snack, crumble into salads, or mash with some avocado.
  • Baking sweet potatoes? Make a few more than you need and you’ll have the base for an easy, customizable lunch ready to go. You can also purée or mash the flesh for baked goods and use in place of pumpkin in a recipe.

Sheet Pan and One Pot Meals

Raise your hand if your least favorite part of cooking is the clean up. We feel you! Make it easier on yourself by searching for one-dish meals to seriously cut down on time spent doing the dishes. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Create baking pockets by lining foil with parchment then crimping for perfectly roasted fish that stays juicy, never dry.
  • Roasting your favorite protein with seasonal produce is a tasty no-fuss way to incorporate a few servings of vegetables into a meal
  • Still haven’t learned how to use your Instant Pot? Now would be a good time! You can  get frozen proteins to the table fast with this safe and simple pressure cooker. A simple 12-minute recipe: frozen protein (like chicken thighs) + favorite jarred tomato sauce + a jar of olives = yummy cacciatore that will have everyone running to the table for dinner. If you use plant-based protein, like dried chickpeas, just soak the dried beans overnight and be sure they are covered with fluid [jarred sauce + some broth] before cooking in Instant Pot.
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Foods that reduce inflammation

You may remember having a cut, sprain, or a sore throat. The area feels painful and hot, and looks red and swollen. These are telltale signs of inflammation. Inflammation is a natural and essential process that your body uses to defend itself from infections and heal injured cells and tissues. And yes, there are foods that enhance your body’s ability to fight/reduce inflammation.

Inflammation is sometimes compared to a fire. It produces specific biochemicals that can destroy invaders like bacteria and viruses, increase blood flow to areas that need it, and clean up debris. It can be a good thing. But, sometimes it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.

Before we talk about the power that certain dietary and lifestyle habits can have on inflammation, let’s sort out the two different types of inflammation.

Types of inflammation (acute vs. chronic)

There are two kinds of inflammation: acute and chronic. Acute inflammation is short-lived. It’s like a flaming fire that produces the painful, red, hot, swollen symptoms described above. When inflammation is acute it’s usually at high levels in a small localized area in response to an infection or some kind of damage to the body. It’s necessary for proper healing and injury repair.

When your cells detect an infection or damage they send out warning signals to call over your immune system to help out. Your immune system sends over many types of white blood cells to help fight off invading germs [bacteria/viruses/pathogens] and clean up damage so you can heal.

Symptoms of acute inflammation may need short-term treatment such as pain relievers or cold compresses. More serious symptoms like fever, severe pain, or shortness of breath may need medical attention. In general, acute inflammation goes away after the damage is healed, often within days or even hours. Acute inflammation is the “good” kind of inflammation because it does an essential job and then quiets itself down.

Chronic inflammation is different. It’s more of the slow-burning and smoldering type of fire. This type of inflammation can exist throughout your whole body at lower levels. This means that the symptoms aren’t localized to one particular area that needs it. Instead, they can appear gradually, and can last much longer—months or even years. This is the “bad” kind of inflammation.

Chronic inflammation is often invisible without immediate or serious symptoms, but over the long-term it’s been linked to many chronic diseases such as:

  • Acne, eczema, and psoriasis
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Autoimmune diseases (arthritis, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic pain
  • Gastrointestinal disorders (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • Lung diseases (emphysema)
  • Mental illnesses (anxiety, depression)
  • Metabolic diseases (type 2 diabetes)
  • Neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s)

How does chronic inflammation begin? It may start acutely—from an infection or injury—and then instead of shutting off, it becomes persistent. Chronic low-grade inflammation can also occur with exposure to chemicals (e.g., tobacco) or radiation, consuming an unhealthy diet or too much alcohol, not being very physically active, feeling stressed or socially isolated, and having excess weight.

Now that we see that inflammation underlies so many of our medical conditions, here’s what to do to put out those slow-burning, smoldering fires.

Foods that help reduce chronic inflammation and other lifestyle tips

Studies show that reducing inflammation can reduce the risk of several of these conditions, including heart disease and cancer. There are medications used to help lower inflammation to treat some of these diseases such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, and biologics. However, there are also several lifestyle changes—including a healthy diet—that can be very helpful to prevent and scale down inflammation to reduce its many damaging effects on the body.

“For chronic low-grade inflammation not caused by a defined illness, lifestyle changes are the mainstay of both prevention and treatment,” says Harvard Health. The good news is that anti-inflammatory foods help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of many diseases. In fact, it’s estimated that 60 percent of chronic diseases could be prevented with a healthy diet. Here’s how.

Enjoy an anti-inflammatory diet, eat foods that reduce inflammation.

  • Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables, whole grains (brown rice, oats, bran), nuts (almonds), seeds, fish, poultry, legumes (beans, lentils), and healthy oils (olive oil)
  • Pay particular attention to foods high in antioxidant polyphenols, including colorful plants such as berries, cherries, plums, red grapes, avocados, onions, carrots, beets, turmeric, green tea, and dark green leafy vegetables like spinach and kale
  • Omega-3 fats can help to reduce pain and clear up inflammation and are found in salmon, trout, mackerel, soy, walnuts, and flax
  • High fiber foods (whole grains, vegetables, fruits, legumes) encourage friendly gut microbes to help reduce inflammation
  • Avoid charring foods when cooking at high temperatures
  • Limit inflammatory foods such as red and processed meats (lunch meats, hot dogs, hamburgers), fried foods (fries), unhealthy fats (shortening, lard), sugary foods and drinks (sodas, candy, sports drinks), refined carbohydrates (white bread, cookies, pie), and ultra-processed foods (microwaveable dinners, dehydrated soups)

Be physically active

  • Regular exercise reduces inflammation over the long-term, so try to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (brisk walking) per week; about 20-30 minutes per day
  • To this add two or more strength training sessions (using weights or resistance bands) each week

Get enough restful sleep

  • Disrupted sleep has recently been linked to increased inflammation and atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque in the vessels that’s linked with heart disease), so aim for 7-9 hours of restful sleep every night to help the body heal and repair
  • Tips for better sleep: try to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule every day, get exposure to natural daylight earlier in the day, avoid caffeine later in the day, cut out screens an hour before bedtime, and create a relaxing nighttime routine

Quit smoking and limit alcohol

  • Quitting smoking can help reduce inflammation and several other health concerns by reducing exposure to toxins that are directly linked to inflammation
  • Limit your alcohol intake to no more than one or two drinks per day

Manage your stress

  • Engage in relaxing stress-reducing activities such as mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or tai chi

Be social

  • New research suggests that feeling socially isolated is linked with higher levels of inflammation, so reach out to family and friends (or make new ones)

See your doctor or dentist

  • Get your cholesterol and blood lipids tested because high amounts of “bad” LDL cholesterol is linked to inflammation and negatively affects your vessels
  • You can request a blood test to measure levels of CRP (C-reactive protein) which is a marker of inflammation (this test is also used to check your risk of developing heart disease)
  • If your gums bleed when you brush or floss, this may be a sign of gum inflammation (gingivitis), so ramp up your oral hygiene and see your dentist

Bottom line: nutrition and lifestyle impact your immunity

Chronic, long-term, low-level inflammation is linked with many health issues. The first approach to preventing and improving this is through food and lifestyle changes. Start by focusing on adding colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fish to your diet. Then layer in lifestyle upgrades like physical activity, restful sleep, and stress management.

These changes can be integrated into your day-to-day practices. First try adding one additional fruit or vegetable to your day. Then, several times a day at each snack or meal. For inspiration, try recipes from my Anti-inflammatory Meal Plan.

If you’d like a plan designed to help you enjoy more of these anti-inflammatory foods, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist who can provide personalized research-based nutrition advice for your health, lifestyle, and goals.

Want to learn how you can beat inflammation with simple and delicious foods? Need a plan and delicious recipes to get more antioxidants into your diet? Are you looking for ways to incorporate more anti-inflammatory foods into your day? Book an appointment with me to see if my program/service can help you.

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References

Harvard Health. (2018, November 7). Foods that fight inflammation. Retrieved from

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation

Harvard Magazine. (2019 May-June). Could inflammation be the cause of myriad chronic conditions? Retrieved from https://harvardmagazine.com/2019/05/inflammation-disease-diet

Harvard Health. (2020, April). Understanding acute and chronic inflammation. Retrieved from

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-acute-and-chronic-inflammation

Harvard Health. (2020, May). Quick-start guide to an anti-inflammation diet. Retrieved from

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/quick-start-guide-to-an-antiinflammation-diet

Harvard Health. (2020, June). All about inflammation. Retrieved from

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/all-about-inflammation

Mayo Clinic. (2017, November 21). C-reactive protein test. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/c-reactive-protein-test/about/pac-20385228

Mayo Clinic. (2018, May 25). Home remedies: How a healthy diet can help manage pain. Retrieved from https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/home-remedies-how-a-healthy-diet-can-help-manage-pain/

Mayo Clinic. (2019, August 13). How to use food to help your body fight inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/how-to-use-food-to-help-your-body-fight-inflammation/art-20457586

Medscape. (n.d.). Inflammation, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer. Retrieved from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/923743

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. (2020, April 4). Inflammation. Retrieved from https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/conditions/inflammation/index.cfm

Neuroscience News. (2020, March 5). Social isolation could cause physical inflammation. Retrieved from https://neurosciencenews.com/social-isolation-inflammation-15864/

University of California Berkeley News. (2020, June 4). Fitful nightly sleep linked to chronic inflammation, hardened arteries. Retrieved from https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/06/04/fitful-nightly-sleep-linked-to-chronic-inflammation-hardened-arteries/

University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health. (2018). The anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Retrieved from https://www.fammed.wisc.edu/files/webfm-uploads/documents/outreach/im/handout_ai_diet_patient.pdf

Balanced Meals: simple and easy

Keep it simple and make it easy. Weeknights can be busy and challenge us to make wholesome meals. Keep the “My Plate” picture in mind when putting together meals to ensure nutritional balance.MyPlateDetail By incorporating at least three food groups in each meal and focusing on variety of foods from each food group will make your meals healthy and interesting. Here are some simple combinations to make it easy for you to put together balanced meals.

 

Breakfast:

  • Add blueberries to your oatmeal and drink milk on the side
  • Make an omelette with 2 eggs, some spinach, mushrooms and cheese, add a piece of whole grain toast with fruit spread
  • Make pancakes using whole grain flour, eggs and berries, drizzle pure maple syrup on top with dollop of whipped greek yogurt
  • whole grain toast with peanut butter and banana makes for a quick and delicious breakfast.

IMG_0321Lunch:

  • Put canned tuna or canned salmon on salad greens, add sliced mushrooms, grape tomatoes, drizzle with a vinegar based salad dressing and pack a fresh, juicy apple
  • Wrap the leftover grilled veggies in a whole grain tortilla with some goat cheese and baby arugula, take 1/4 cup nuts and 3 dried apricots for dessert
  • Turn leftover chicken into chicken salad by adding some chopped celery, greek yogurt, lemon juice, apples or grapes. Serve 1/2 cup of chicken salad with whole grain crackers such as Triscuit.
  • Make an enchilada with canned black beans mixed with diced onion, diced peppers, cilantro, cumin, lemon juice and shredded low-fat cheese. Add some salsa and fresh pineapple to complete the meal.

Dinner:IMG_0753

  • Add chopped zucchini and onions to chunky tomato sauce and serve over whole grain pasta. Add a side salad and you have complete meal.
  • Rotisserie chicken (even store bought) can serve up dinner paired with steamed broccoli or green beans and quinoa.
  • Salad mixes make it easy to put together a main dish salad. Use the pre-washed, pre-cut greens, add tomatoes, sliced cucumber, sliced mushrooms, sliced cooked beets and top it with a filet of Rainbow Trout. Rainbow Trout cooks in literally minutes.
  • Don’t forget the eggs. Breakfast for dinner is always popular. Boiled eggs can top a salad, you can make an omelette or scramble them with some diced veggies and serve with fresh waffles.

Now you have some ideas on easy, simple and balanced meals. Start planning your week’s menu and make that list for the grocery store trip.

 

 

Planning meals for your busy week

I got so busy last week that besides planning my own family’s meals I did not get around to writing about it. Well, the family calendar dictates how much time you will have to prepare meals at home, or when you will need to be ready to pull something out of the refrigerator or freezer. Eating together has many benefits and if you can plan ahead of times for those busy weekdays, you can make it happen.

MealPlanningConsult your calendar and determine which days will you have time to prepare a fresh meal vs the days when you can pull together some leftovers. Yes, you can plan for leftovers. Planning some re-heatable foods also makes packing lunches easy.

  • You can make a pasta dish once and serve it on multiple evenings or pack for lunches.
  • Sauté or roast vegetables in season. Serve as a side one night and turn leftovers into soup or add to a tomato sauce with some lean meat or use it as a topping for pizza.

Wednesdays are good in most areas to look at what is on sale in your grocery store. Taking advantage of items on sale will keep your food budget in check and possibly increase your intake of seasonal produce. The stores will have better prices on the produce that is in season and available in plenty.

  • Use your day off to not only shop for but also prep for the week. You can even use the online ordering offered by many stores to save time. Just pick up the groceries.BfatLunchDinnerApple
  • Plan to use up the berries, and other ripe fruit delicate greens and fresh seafood first. Some of the heady greens such as collards and kale will withstand the refrigeration for 3-5 days. Melons, mangoes, apples, oranges, pineapple can fill your fruit bowl and grace your table and don’t have to be eaten right away.
  • Buy pre-chopped items such as sweet potatoes or butternut squash, precooked beets, salad greens in oyster packs to reduce your prep time.
  • Use your  slow-cooker: prep all the ingredients the night before, add to the slow-cooker in the morning, let it cook all day and come home to a hot meal. This is especially helpful on the days when you come home from an athletic event and everyone is hungry (or my family calls it “hangry”).
  • Make extra servings for soups, chili or casserole which can be then frozen into single servings and used later for lunches or dinners.

Need some inspiration to try some new recipes? Give My Happy Plates a try. You can even get the groceries you need for the recipes delivered to your door. Start by planning at least 3 meals per week. Once you get the hang of it, you can make it a full week.

 

Which date do you go by?

Last week I wrote about cleaning out your pantry and refrigerator of any unwanted ingredients to help you clean up your diet. Ingredients are one thing to look for and the date on the label is another. There are several different ways a “date” appears on the label. What do they all mean? Do the products beyond the date become unhealthy or unsafe to consume?

According US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) the dates on products are all about the quality of the product and not necessarily about the safety, except for baby food and baby formula. Plus these dates are not regulated by the federal government. They only tell us how long the product will be at its best.

BestIfUsedByBest if Used by:  It is important to store the foods appropriately for the best quality. Most packages will guide you to “refrigerate after opening” or “store in a cool dry place” etc. The “best of used by” date tells us that the best quality of the food can be expected until that date. It does not mean the product will be unsafe to consume after that date. SellBy


Use by:
This is also an indication to use the product by the date to get the best quality.  If the product is stored properly, you may be able to consume the product without any safety concerns. For baby foods and baby formula don’t even buy the product after the “use by” date.

SellByChickenSell by: Again this is about how long the store has to get the product off the shelf. It does not mean that the product has to be consumed by that date. For budget-friendly buys products close to their sell by date are often marked down by the store.

No matter what type of date appears on the products in your pantry or refrigerator, use your senses. If there are obvious signs of color change, growth, and foul smell discard the product no matter what the date says. Do not allow your taste buds to guide you. When in doubt throw it out. You can also use the products safely after the dates on the labels, when stored properly, to reduce the food waste. If you buy in bulk store it appropriately and make plans to use it up. More on meal planning next week.

Spring clean up for your pantry

It is officially Spring! The days are longer, the trees and shrubs are blooming and putting out new growth and the farmer’s markets are beginning to pop up. Most grocery and home goods stores are overflowing with herbs and seeds to plant and begin your gardening projects. While all this is great outdoors don’t forget to clean up your pantry this spring.CherryBlossom

Spring is a good time to go through all your staples in the pantry and plan to use up or discard some of the items. In case you need a boost for the resolutions you made around new year’s this is a good time. Clean up your meals!

Start by going through the expiration or sell by dates on the products in your pantry. If they are past any of these dates on the labels discard them. Don’t forget that the pantry is not the only place to look for staples. The refrigerator will have some products (such as mayonnaise, salad dressings, marinades, or sauces) that deserve a second look. Use your senses of smell and sight. If it doesn’t smell right or has obvious signs of growth (white or colorful), throw it out.

Other than the obvious spoiled foods you may want to consider getting rid of foods that may have a long shelf life but are not good for you. Those chips and crackers may not look or smell bad but are made from refined grains and may contain preservatives. Do you really want to consume those? If the packages are unopened, take them to a food pantry.  DangersofFoodDyesCheck the labels of everything in your pantry (and refrigerator). Here are some ingredients you want to look for: hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil(s), fructose or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), any artificial colors, flavors and any ingredients you cannot pronounce. If the label has any of the above mentioned ingredients, removing those products from your pantry will clean up your diet.

Hydrogenation of oil(s) makes it saturated and thus a naturally unsaturated oil can become unhealthy. Fructose syrup or HFCS has been shown to have impact on several conditions such as risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, increasing your “bad” cholesterol, causing weight gain and even liver damage. Artificial colors and flavors can cause inflammation (the root of many chronic illnesses).NoHCFSColorsFlavors

Next, when you go to the store, examine the nutrition facts label for these ingredients before replacing any supplies you want to have on hand. Don’t forget to check those dates either. Next week, we can explore all the different types of dates we see on labels. For now focus on the ingredients and keep your food supply clean.

Health Benefits of Spices

Last week I wrote about using a variety of herbs and spices to create ethnic flavors. Many of those herbs and spices not only provide great flavor and taste but also health benefits.

Turmeric, black pepper and ginger all have anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric and black pepper especially work better when ingested together. They are common in many east asian cuisines. Ginger also has anti-nausea capacity and you can find ginger lozenges in the grocery store check out aisles. Ginger adds a wonderful flavor and taste to our smoothies, try it.

herbsandspicesBasil, cilantro, oregano, cayenne pepper are all have antioxidant power and help with digestion. Although they lend the best flavor and color when used fresh, dried basil and oregano are just as effective. Cilantro seeds also known as coriander seeds are one of the main ingredients in any Indian Masala. While the cilantro leaves are cooling, the coriander seeds have a warming effect. Combine coriander seeds, cumin seeds and cayenne pepper to make an aromatic and antioxidant spice rub.

Cinnamon is well known and used around the world in almost all cuisines. It has been shown to help regulate blood glucose levels. Fenugreek seeds (commonly used in Indian cooking) also have similar effect. Sprinkle some cinnamon on your cereal, fruits or coffee. Add fenugreek seeds to your spice mixture, grind together and use as rub or marinade.

Let’s not forget the most common and versatile lemons. Lemons are high in vitamin C. Their anti-bacterial property makes them a great for cleaning surfaces. Lemon slices or juice add a fresh taste and a dose of vitamin C to help prevent common colds. The astringent quality of lemons also makes it a great additive for a facial mask.

Go ahead and experiment. Make your meals flavorful and healthy! Enjoy the color, flavor and taste. Love your food.

Spice it Up!

National Nutrition Month is almost coming to an end. During this month if you made a commitment to add more fruits and vegetables to your meals, increase intake of lean heart healthy protein sources or switch at least half your grains to whole you are on the right track. Keep it up. When experimenting with new foods don’t hesitate to try some some spice combinations too.

Whether it is same old chicken or a combination of veggies or a plain white filet of fish spices can add flavor and variety to make your meals more appetizing and palatable. There are some basic spices combinations that go with particular cuisines. Give it a try.

  1. Italian: Fresh or dried, basil and oregano make any food become Italian. During Spring and Summer fresh basil adds incredible flavor, color and texture to your pizza, tomato salad or even spaghetti and marinara sauce. Combining basil and oregano adds the peculiar Italian flavor. Add it to sautéed zucchini and summer squash or mix with some olive oil and vinegar and drizzle over the chicken breast/fish filet as a marinade.HerbBasket
  2. Mexican: Cilantro (or Coriander), Cumin and Jalapeño are the essential flavors to turn a dish into Mexican. Add ground cumin and a sliced (seeded if you don’t want it to be too spicy) jalapeño to heated oil and sauté onions, peppers, mushrooms to make a great side dish. Adding ground cumin, lime juice and fresh chopped cilantro will make any of your salsas instantly flavorful.
  3. Oriental: Ginger, garlic, red chili peppers and soy sauce of course. Adding sliced garlic  and dried red chili peppers to your hot oil for sautéing vegetables or chicken or tofu adds flavor as well as taste. Choose low sodium soy sauce to keep the sodium content in check. Grated fresh ginger in your dish will also brighten the flavors.
  4. Indian: Cumin powder, chili powder, curry powder, turmeric as well as whole spices such as cloves, cinnamon sticks and cumin and mustard seeds are the hallmark of everything Indian. IndianSpicesAlmost all Indian dishes start with popping cumin or mustard seeds in heated oil. The popping disperses their flavor through the oil. Turmeric adds the yellow coloring and many health benefits. Try using curry powder to coat your seafood before grilling or pan frying. Add whole cloves and cinnamon sticks to a little heated oil and sauté your brown rice before adding the water. It will flavor the rice aromatically. You can take the whole spices out before serving. Adding fresh cilantro as a garnish is also an Indian tradition.

Give it a try. What cuisine would you like to try tonight? Make dinner international and spice things up. There are many health benefits to using a variety of these herbs and spices too. More on that next week.

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