Here is the link to the intro post from last week, in case you missed it!
"Eat more vegetables," they say!
"They are good for you! I swear!"
"But you have to have kale, it's a superfood."
But you hate kale... and tomatoes make you cringe. Or maybe you detest how celery always gets stuck in your teeth, or the fact that spaghetti squash just doesn't taste like spaghetti.
I get it, veggies can be tough. At the recommended 8-10 servings per day, it might feel like getting all of that in means you're chomping on veg all day. But - fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, vegetables are actually really (really!) good for you. Chalked full of vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and fibre - regardless of the type, there is not a single one that I would tell you to avoid. The same cannot be said of our other 3 food groups - protein, carbs and fat, where there are more rules to follow (coming up on the blog over the next 3 weeks!) All of the research concretely tells us that the people who eat the most vegetables as a proportion of their overall diet have the lowest rates of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, cholesterol and all of those other awful chronic diseases. Not to mention a diet rich in vegetables is going to provide you energy, help to keep anxiety levels down, support a healthy mood and keep those hormones in check. Hook this girl up with a salad, ASAP.
But how do we make this practical? I have two great lists in this post, but first, I want to set some ground rules.
Yup - I mean it. No more calorie counting! The old notion that to maintain your weight you need to ensure that calories in = calories out might not make sense anymore. What might even be more detrimental is that if you are trying to LOSE weight, it's not as simple as making sure that you're burning more than you're putting in - turns out that the balance of your meal matters, in a big big way!
With March being Nutrition Month, I want to take you back to basics to understand why the balance in your meals matters. We're going to talk about creating a balanced meal, which in my opinion can be divided into 4 main groups - Vegetables, Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat.
In addition to maintaining or losing weight, following these simple guidelines is going to help with many other health conditions or help you achieve other health goals. Specifically, eating a meal that contains each of these 4 food groups is going to be helpful if you are:
Meet the Healthy Plate!
Looks simple right? And guess what? It actually is. There is no catch, there is no surprise - this is it. I'm not going to tell you that you also need to be consuming 4 cups per day of some random superfood, there is no juicing or cleansing or fasting involved - it really can be this simple.
Over the next month I want to clarify for you what foods fall into each of these 4 categories so that you will be empowered to make the right decisions whether you are at home cooking for yourself, getting take out for lunch, or going out for dinner with friends - with these guidelines in mind I'm confident you can always make an informed choice about what to eat that is going to help you feel GOOD and stay aligned with your goals.
I'll be back next week for our 1st lesson on vegetables!
Happy Nutrition Month!
It’s that time of year again – the weather is warm and the sun is shining! The UV index seems to be getting a little bit higher each day, which means that we need to keep in mind a bit of safety when enjoying the outdoors. I love the sun just as much as the next person, but unfortunately my skin does not. I have childhood memories of spending lots of time outside where my sister and I (both red heads with fair skin) were slathered in sunscreen and donning our hats. My parents did a good job, but once I was responsible for my own sun protection, I’ll admit I didn’t always do enough. I’ve had my fair share of sunburns unfortunately, and spending all my teenage summers working as lifeguard at an outdoor pool likely didn’t help. Now that I’m a bit older, and I like to think a bit wiser, I take sun safety much more seriously. We know that excessive sun exposure has both esthetic and health consequences ranging from premature wrinkles to skin cancer. The reality is that we can’t always avoid the sun (nor should we, the sun has health benefits too!) As a naturopathic doctor, my job isn’t just to treat symptoms or disease once they occur, but to prevent disease from occurring at all. So - how can we prevent skin damage due to the sun?
1. Choose your sun exposure wisely
The sun is at it’s strongest mid-day, so try to plan your outdoor activities for earlier in the morning or later in the afternoon. Don’t be fooled by cloudy days either, you are still getting exposed to damaging UV rays which can cause your skin to burn.
2. Cover Up
When outside, protect your skin using a hat and appropriate clothing. Don’t forget about your eyes, which are also susceptible to damage from the sun – so sunglasses are a must too! The shade works too - seek out protection from an umbrella or a generous tree.
3. Check your sunscreen label
Sunscreen can be a saviour when you are outdoors for a long period of time, but know that they are not all made equal. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases an annual sunscreen guide with the low-down on the year’s best and worst sunscreens. You want to avoid the ones that have oxybenzone or vitamin A based compounds like retinyl palmitate/acetate/linoleate or retinol in them, as these two chemicals are thought to be carcinogenic (contribute to cancer). Additionally, avoid any that are labelled higher than SPF 50 (no additional benefit, but might mislead you to think you are more protected). Finally, those spray on sunscreens, while convenient, are bad for your lungs as a lot of the product is inhaled, so opt for lotions instead. I’ve just discovered a new brand called Goddess Garden that I am really excited about – no harsh chemicals, SPF 30 and lotion based means it meets all of the EWG’s criteria – and it actually rubs into your skin and doesn’t leave you pasty and white! (p.s. I’m not affiliated with them, just a red head who knows a good sunscreen when she sees one!)
4. Love your skin from the inside out
It’s more than likely at some point you are not going to be able to follow all of the guidelines listed above to protect your skin from the outside, so it’s additionally helpful to know what you can do to help protect your skin from the inside. We know that the sun can damage your cells, and thankfully there are compounds (hooray for antioxidants) that can help prevent and manage this damage. Lucky for us, some of the most delicious foods contain high levels of antioxidants, and other skin-loving compounds – feel free to share this picture with your family and friends so that they know what to eat to protect their skin too!
We’ve all been there. 2pm rolls around and you start to feel yourself dragging mentally and physically. Your eyelids might feel heavy, your vision isn’t clear, even the thought of your next meeting is exhausting. You feel like taking a quick nap at your desk (please, just 10 minutes!) Since this isn’t acceptable in most work places (though debateably it should be), most of us reach for something to give us a boost. The usual suspects? Coffee and carbs. While it’s true that they are going to work in the short term, they perpetuate the problem in the long term. I know that you need your energy to get your work done and perform at your best. My job as a Naturopathic Doctor is to try and figure out the cause of your afternoon fatigue. If we can make positive change to the underlying cause, we can see resolution of the fatigue all together. So let’s explore some common reasons for this slump and what to do about them.
Slump Cause 1 - You’ve been inside, sitting and staring at your computer screen - All. Day. Long.
They say that “sitting is the new smoking” – it’s bad for your health! If your body has been stagnant all day, how can we expect our mind to be any different? Depending on where your desk is in your office, you may not have seen the sunlight since you arrived at work. And that computer screen? It’s contributing to eye strain and muscle tension.
The Fix - Get up and move! I’m not even suggesting a full workout, just try to get up out of your seat at least once per hour. Get a drink or go to the washroom if you don’t have another reason to leave. Instead of emailing a co-worker, get up and go talk to them in person. Suggest a walking meeting with a collegue. Stand when you are talking on the phone. Go outside on your lunch break, even if it’s just for 5 or 10 minutes. When on your comptuer, remember to take breaks and look into the distance every few minutes. All of these little things add up.
Slump Cause 2 - All you’ve had to drink today was your morning coffee, or nothing at all.
You’re dehydrated. Every single cell in your body needs to be properly hydrated to function at it’s best. Even mild dehydration can contribute to fatigue, low mood, and difficulty concentrating. The more exercise you do, the more water you need to replace what you’ve lost via sweat.
The Fix - Drink more water. Try to have a glass before you leave for work (try it first thing in the morning with lemon to give your digestive system a kick start). Keep a glass bottle or pitcher at your desk and try to get through at least 500mL before lunch, and another 500mL after lunch. Another 500mL towards the end of the day will get you to a good average daily water consumption of 1.5-2L. And if you have to go to the washroom more because of this increased intake, that will get you moving too. Two birds…
Slump Cause 3 - You had carbs at breakfast and lunch.
Cereal, muffin, toast, croissant, or bagel for breakfast? Sandwich, pasta, or rice for lunch? Your blood sugar levels might be to blame here for your afternoon slump. Whenever we eat carbohydrates (even the good kind), our body breaks them down into sugar or glucose. This causes our blood sugar levels to spike, and eventually crash a few hours later. The crash is what you’re feeling mid-afternoon.
The Fix - Think about what you are eating for breakfast and lunch (and any snacks in between). Swap out some of the carbs for some vegetables and protein. Vegetables have fibre (amongst other important health benefits) which along with protein help to stabilize your blood sugar levels preventing the spike and crash. If you’re eating well at these two meals and still feeling low, you might want to add in a protein-rich snack mid-morning and mid-afternoon to tie you over between meals.
Slump Cause 4 - You are busy or stressed.
When we think of the circadian rhythm we often think of sleep and the sleep hormone called melatonin. There is another part of our circadian rhythm that is equally as important, and it is related to our stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol rises and falls rhythmically thoughtout the day, just like melatonin does. It is normal for our cortisol to be higher in the morning (helps us to feel alert and awake) and lower in the evening (which helps us to feel calm and relaxed). However, mental and physical stress from the hustle and bustle of our daily activities can cause this smooth rhythm to be disrupted leading to symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, difficulty concentrating, irritability, depressed mood, or anxiety.
The Fix - There are lots of ways to help manage stress in our lives such as exercise, meditation, mindfulness, reading, or spending time with family or friends. Whatever you find works best for you is the tool you should use. It is important to carve out time in your day for relaxation. A healthy mindset is key, and sometimes we need help in getting ourselves there. Your Naturopathic Doctor will be able to assess any hormonal imbalances and make recommendations to help your body and mind become more resilient to stress, in addition to helping you develop healthy relaxation and stress management tools.
Still feeling tired? There might be another underlying cause – it’s important to recognize that just because fatigue is common doesn’t mean it’s normal! Your ND can help you understand what is going on and help you on the path towards resolving afternoon fatigue.