The road to wellness isn't straight, clear, or predictable. It's a path you forge yourself.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

That's the Stuff!

Now that I've told you the bad stuff that I avoid, here is some of the good stuff.  Below, I've listed the things which everybody could benefit from.  (I'll tell you more about my specific supplements later after I get to the part of my story where I go to the holistic doctor.)  Supplements can help your body recover from and get rid of the bad stuff.  I take a handful (literally!) of supplements with my breakfast, and another handful at dinner. 

The Good Stuff:

1.  Omega 3's - Apparently, we humans are supposed to have a certain ratio of omega 6 fats to omega 3 fats.  Since most animal fat is omega 6, guess which one we have too much of?  Most of us are out of balance with our fats.  Omega 3 fat come from fish, certain seeds, and certain nuts.  Omega 3 fat is good for the brain and actually helps you burn body fat!  (For more info on the benefits of Omega 3, Dr. Hyman does a good job of explaining it in his book.)  I take a high-quality fish oil supplement twice a day.  Also, I buy omega 3 eggs (the chickens were fed on flax seeds), eat salmon and sardines regularly, eat walnuts from time to time, and put ground flax seeds on my cereal.  These are all good ways of getting more omega 3.

2.  Pro-biotics - Yes, we've all seen the Actimel commercials!  We know that the bacteria in yogurt can help "make you regular".  But did you know there are more benefits from taking a pro-biotic supplement?  Most of us have too much "bad" bacteria living in our digestive tract.  (I certainly did!)  Know why?  Because the "bad guys" thrive on sugar and carbs!  Once out of balance, the good bacteria just can't keep up and just eating some yogurt isn't nearly enough to compensate.  Combine that with the odd round of anti-biotics, and you've got a problem.  If the bad bacteria count gets too high in your digestive tract, the waste that they produce can make you feel sick all over.  It could cause things like headaches, nausea, and generally feeling "hung-over".  (All this in addition to digestive issues!)  The "good guys" keep the "bad guys" in check.  I take a pro-biotic supplement with breakfast, and one again with dinner.

3.  Multi-vitamin - It's sad to say, but these days veggies and fruit just don't have the vitamins that they used to.  Current farming techniques are depleting the minerals in the soil and therefore, things that grow in it don't live up to their potential.  Also, most of the produce we eat is tainted with pesticides and chemicals, is irradiated, and picked while green and shipped long distances.  You just cannot get the vitamins you need by eating the recommended "5-a-day".  (And let's be honest here.  How many of us actually eat our 5-a-day anyway?)  Taking a high-quality multi-vitamin can help your body run the way it should. 

4.  Fiber - Your body must eliminate all the toxins you put into it.  Fiber helps the body get rid of them quickly before they cause problems in the body.  Need I say more?  (Ground flax seeds not only have omega 3's, but they are a good way of getting fiber as well.)

So - get rid of the bad stuff, add the good stuff, and your body will thank you!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Take out the Trash

So, the first thing I did before I even tried to start figuring out what was wrong with me was to get rid of the junk I was putting into my body.  (Fast food, soft drinks, sweets, preservatives, etc.)  I read a book once that said nature could take care of itself.  In order to clean  up a polluted stream for instance, all you have to do is stop pouring toxic chemicals into it, and nature will clean it up.  I think of my body in the same way.  In his book, "The Ultramind Solution",  Dr. Hyman says to get rid of the "bad stuff" and add the "good stuff".

The Bad Stuff:
(Stuff that could be making you sick and fat.  I have not ingested any of these in the past 6 months and I avoid them at all costs!

1.  Trans fats - Any fat that is hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated is a trans fat.  It is a man-made fat that your body does not know how to process.
(Note:  Labels are misleading!  Packages are allowed to say "0 trans fats"  if there is less than 1 gram of trans fat per serving!  That's not the same as no trans fats at all.  Read the label.  If "hydrogenated" or "partially hydrogenated" oil is listed in the ingredients, do not eat it!)

2.  High-fructose corn syrup - Sweetener derived from corn.  Food manufacturer's like to say that it is "all-natural".  Yes, it is derived from corn, but the process is anything but natural.  It is just bad for your body.  It is absorbed in your body much more quickly than sugar and it makes your blood sugar spike quickly, then drop.  (This makes you have more cravings!)  The rise in obesity can be tracked from when they first started using high-fructose corn syrup in soft drinks and processed food.

3.  Nitrates - A preservative used in meat.  I never eat deli meat anymore unless I know it is nitrate free.  (Groceries are starting to carry nitrate-free deli meat and bacon these days.)  If I slip up and eat meat with nitrates, I get a terrible migraine.  (If the label says "sodium nitrate" I do not eat it!)

4.  MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) - Again, people like to say it's natural since it is derived from seaweed, but the processing condenses it to levels that our bodies were never meant to handle.  Most fast food and most restaurant food has MSG in it.  Chain restaurants are the main offenders.  I have better luck at local restaurants because they don't rely on pre-packaged food as much and therefore don't have as much MSG in their food.  These days, I can tell which places used MSG by the way my body reacts to the food.  MSG will cause me to feel insanely thirsty, tired, and usually will give me a migraine the next day.   Here is a site that will help  you know how to avoid MSG.

I went through my cabinets and threw out anything that had "bad stuff" in it and vowed never to eat it again.  Luckily, it wasn't that hard for me because fresh, real food tastes so much better!

I understand if you think this is an unrealistic thing to do.  I never thought I could live without ever eating Cheetos and Twinkies again.  However, there are more and more natural "junk" foods becoming available all the time.  I found Whole Foods to be a life saver!  If you find yourself in the throes of a super craving, you can go and get healthier versions of your fix.  It's not the best thing for you, but it's certainly better than eating chemicals.

Cutting out all of the bad stuff also means you'll have to start cooking your own meals more.  It seems daunting, but once you do it you'll find that it's really not that hard or time consuming.  You'll figure things out.  Just use fresh, all natural ingredients and throw something together like pasta or an omlet or even a sandwich.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tuna-Style Salmon Salad

Since there seems to be a problem with high mercury levels in tuna these days, I like to make salad with canned salmon instead of tuna.  It makes a nice lunch, served with brown rice crackers.  Yum!

1 small can of wild-caught Sockeye salmon
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
1 apple, chopped (I like golden delicious)
3 or 4 small vinegar-free dill pickles, chopped
(I use Bubbies Pure Kosher Dills)
a couple of dollops of either homemade yogurt or homemade mayonnaise
salt to taste

Mix all of the above together in a bowl.  Serve on a bed of salad greens or just on a plate with some rice crackers.  (I like Edward and Sons Brown Rice Snaps - the Tamari Sesame flavor.)
Serves 2

substitute a cup of halved, seedless red grapes for the apple
substitute a chopped stalk of celery for the pickles
add a handful of chopped walnuts
(either way is delicious)

Note: The fruit can be left out if you're avoiding sugars (like I am at the moment).

Creamed Spinach

One of a my favorite things is the creamed spinach my mom used to make when I was a kid.  Here is a lactose-free version which uses homemade yogurt instead of cream cheese.  It's super simple, but delicious!

1 package of frozen, chopped spinach (preferably organic)
a few dollops of homemade yogurt
salt to taste (I use Celtic Sea Salt)

Heat the spinach in a pot with a little bit of water.  When thawed and warm, stir in the yogurt.  Salt to taste.  Serve immediately.

I like to serve this with fish or chicken as a side dish.

Make Your Own Yogurt

I used to think making yogurt was hard.  It's really not!  (...and you don't even have to buy a yogurt maker if you are creative.)  If you let the yogurt "do its thing" for at least 24 hours, the bacteria eats all of the lactose.  Therefore, homemade yogurt is the only kind of yogurt that is safe for lactose-intolerant people.  I like to have it on hand to eat with nuts as a snack, or use it to make creamed spinach.  Also, I use it as a substitute for mayonnaise or sour cream.  Here's how I do it:

1.  Heat 2 cups of milk (2% fat content or higher.  Skim milk does NOT work well.) in a sauce pan until it is just about to boil.  (You have to kill any bacteria that might be in there.  You don't want to culture the bad bacteria!)
2.  Cover, and allow it to cool to room temperature.  (Important!  If it's too hot, it will kill the bacteria in the yogurt starter.) 
3.  Stir in a heaping soup-spoonful of plain, store bought yogurt (about half of a 5.3 oz container).
I like to use Greek yogurt because you get a nicer, thicker consistency.  Oikos seems to work better for me.
4.  Pour into a container with a tight-fitting lid.  Place on a heating pad, on the medium setting.  Cover with a towel and let sit for at least 24 hours.   (It needs to stay at around 100 degrees farenheit.)

Easy peasy!

You could double the recipe to make more, but I like to make it in small batches like this because it goes bad after a week.  Sunday evenings are my yogurt-making evenings.  Then, I have yogurt to use in recipes and snacks throughout the week.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When Yoga Isn't Hot Anymore

In addition to my 5 sun salutations every morning (see my Yoga Pete post on my other blog for the full story), I have been attending "hot yoga" classes one night per week in order to help my body flush out toxins.  (It's actually called "Bikram Yoga", but I'm sure my yoga school didn't pay for the franchise and that's why they call it "hot yoga".)  They heat up the room to encourage sweating as you do the moves.  I normally love hot yoga!  I am one of these people who is always cold, so it feels good to me to be in a heated room while exercizing.

The other night however, it was dissappointing.  Yoga classes are not all created equal, apparently.  The lady who normally teaches my class was not there so we had a substitute.  She looked like a college student and she seemed to be trying to outdo us with her difficult moves.  We did too many knee-on-the-floor exercizes so my knees were killing me!  Then, she had us do some painful moves up against the wall.  Normally, I do not have strong feelings towards inanimate objects but I started to absolutely hate that wall!  Also, this girl had music playing the whole time.  (The other lady only puts it on at the end when we are resting after the work-out.)  I found the music distracting and annoying.  Also, we usually have a cold rag, soaked in lavendar water put on our heads at the end.  After a hot yoga workout, this is totally refreshing and I love it.  Well, this girl didn't do that.  Boooo! 

The result was that instead of feeling relaxed at the end, I felt more stressed than I did before the class.  Usually, yoga makes me feel great!  After a good yoga class, I find I breathe a little easier, walk a little taller, and have more room for joy.  It makes my life feel easier.  Not this class though!  Next time, I'll call ahead and see who's teaching the class before I go.

Monday, February 22, 2010

On the Road to Health

About 6 months ago, I decided to take responsibility for my own health.  I had gotten to a point where I felt terrible ALL the time!  I had migraine headaches, nausea, chronic sinus problems, and digestive issues.  My sleep was not restful.  When I awoke in the mornings, I was already tired.  I could not wait until the day was over until I could come back home and sleep.  What kind of a way to live is that??  It wasn't until I started getting these weird pains in all of my joints that I decided to do something about it.

I had been to several conventional doctors over the years.  Neurologists, ENT specialists (I even had sinus surgery!), etc. and none of them could really come up with a good solution for me.  My general practitioner even suggested that my problems were all in my head and I probably needed to take anti-depressants!  Instead of calling the shrink, I decided to try the alternative approach.

Now, I'm not one of these kooky new-agey people, but I do accept that conventional medicine may not have all the answers.  I once heard a doctor say that conventional medicine is very effective for emergency treatments, structural repairs (like setting a broken leg), and treating bacteria with anti-biotics; but it is NOT good at treating chronic ailments.  You'd better believe that I want to go to a conventional hospital if I'm ever in a car accident and blood is gushing all over the place! Absolutely!  However, for chronic sinus problems, migraines, and the general blahs, it just didn't have the answers for me.

The first thing I did was start reading every health book I could get my hands on.  Health books interest me so I read a lot of them anyway.  One day, my aunt gave me a book that really changed my outlook on eating healthily and taking care of my body.  My cousin had read it and said "this book will change your life."  ....and it absolutely did!  The book is called "The Ultramind Solution" by Dr. Mark Hyman.  The title is a bit misleading because it's not just about the mind and brain.  It's about the whole body.  His premise is that if the brain can affect the body, then taking care of your body will help the brain as well.  There is a lot of information in this book, and some of it we already know (like sugar and trans-fats are bad) but Dr. Hyman presents it in a way that makes you want to actually do the things we already know we should do.  He has written other books too (which I have read), but I find that this book has the most comprehensive information about general health and well-being.  This is the book that started me on my quest for health!