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!
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.
Tired of feeling tired? There are a lot of reasons why someone might be experiencing fatigue, one of which is not sleeping well! Just like you practice dental hygiene daily, making a habit of practicing good sleep hygiene might just make the difference between tossing and turning all night, and sleeping like a baby! Here are 5 ways to get a better night’s sleep.
1. Swap out Caffeine
Most people say that you should avoid caffeine after 2pm, but if you are someone who has difficulty with sleep on a regular basis, you may want to consider cutting down earlier in the day, or cutting it out completely! Some of us are more sensitive to caffeine than others, meaning that for some, even our morning coffee can hinder our ability to get a restful night’s sleep. The reason we reach for caffeine later in the day is often because we feel like we need more energy! Did you know that dehydration or wonky blood sugar levels can make you feel sleepy? If you are having trouble falling or staying asleep at night, consider swapping out your dose of caffeine for water, or a protein-rich snack.
2. Create a Routine
Creating and sticking to a routine is super important for a lot of aspects of our health, but particularly our hormones! Melatonin is our sleep hormone and it has a rhythmic rise and fall throughout the day so that we feel tired in the evening and alert in the morning. The more regular we are with a routine around the time we go to bed and get up, the easier it is for melatonin to do it’s job! As part of your bedtime routine, give your body the signals that it is almost sleep-time. Enjoy a cup of caffeine free tea, take a warm bath or shower, read a relaxing paper book, do a breathing exercise, or meditate to get you physically and mentally prepared for a solid night’s sleep.
3. Ditch the Electronics
I know this isn’t news to you… but I’m serious! Since you’ve now developed your new sleep routine, one hour (or more) before your bedtime, setup an alert or notification on your phone that signals to you that it’s time to shut off all electronics. Not only can the alerts from our email and text messages trigger anxiety, but the light produced from the screens can hinder our melatonin’s ability to work. The signal for melatonin release comes from a part of our brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), which is located at the point where our optic nerve enters our brain from our eyes. The SCN is always aware of how much light is in our environment. When it senses darkness, it signals to the pineal gland to pump out the sleep-inducing hormone which in turns helps us to feel tired, and makes for more restful sleep by the time we doze off. Not only should you put your phone away an hour before bed, it is imperative that you also keep it outside of your bedroom. The radiation that your phone is receiving and putting out into the world is disruptive to your sleep.
4. Sleep Naked
Again, I’m serious - sleeping with PJs on can also negatively affect your sleep. If your pajamas bunch up or constrict your limbs this will likely cause you to wake up, provoking you to readjust. It might feel cozier this way to get into bed, but over the course of the night you might overheat, again, causing you to wake and readjust. To get adequate melatonin production, our bodies need to be cool in temperature.
5. Take Notes
Some people use journaling as a part of their bedtime routine, which is something I encourage! If that doesn’t sound like it’s your cup of (caffeine free) tea, you may still want to take note! Almost all of my patients who report having difficulty falling asleep cite ruminating thoughts, anxiety, or worrying about forgetting to do something as the reason why. A great resource is to keep a notebook and pen at your bedside. If you are having difficulty falling asleep due to thoughts circulating in your head, you have something to jot them down on so that you can release them from your mind.
Have you tried all of these things and are still having difficulty with sleep? You might have a hormonal imbalance. Naturopathic medicine is excellent at figuring out the cause of your sleepless nights and providing safe treatment to help.
Photo Credit: Rachel Calamusa via Flickr CC
Call me weird, but I’ve always loved the word “breakfast” – a clever term for the meal where we literally break our overnight fast. It is the first and (debatably) the most important meal of the day, yet it is estimated that 50% of people skip it. While they may seem no worse for ware, having a healthy and nourishing breakfast each morning can set you on the path to health. Eating the right foods can help with your energy, hormone balance, digestive health, mood, and anxiety. You can use breakfast to your advantage to help you improve your body composition by losing fat and gaining muscle.
Trust me, I’ve been there, and I know it can be hard to fit this meal in with the rush of the morning. The issue with “convenience” options like bagels, breakfast sandwiches, or commercial cereals is that they are high in carbohydrates and low in protein, fibre and nutrients. This means we’re likely to have an energy crash within an hour or so of eating them, and they’ve given us very little health benefit. I also know what it’s like to have eaten oatmeal every single morning – B O R I N G.
Here are 5 breakfast ideas to have on rotation for each day of the work week. They are simple and quick to prepare, nourishing, and taste great. There are even options to make them fresh each morning, or prep them the night before.
1. Steel Cut Oatmeal
Despite my earlier comment, I do love oats. Warm, gooey and nutritious, if done right! Steel cut oats are less processed than regular oats, which is why I opt for them. Cook the oats according to the directions on the package, and top with any variety of toppings you wish, such as berries or apple for fibre, vitamins and minerals, and a touch maple syrup or honey for sweetness. Make sure to include a source of protein, such as hemp seeds, almonds, pecans, walnuts or almond butter. You can also add a nut/seed milk of your choice to make the whole bowl creamier. Try swapping out steel cut oats for quinoa for an extra protein-packed porridge.
Night Before Prep: If cooking a hot pot of oats in the AM is too much, mix 1/3 cup oats and 1 cup of nut/seed milk of your choice in a mason jar. Cover and place in the fridge overnight. In the morning, stir well and add your choice of toppings for an awesome instant breakfast that you can take on the go.
2. Eggs any way you like ‘em with toast & avocado
Cooking an egg takes mere minutes. If I’m in a real rush, I’ll go with hard boiled eggs, and start boiling water as soon as I get up. After my shower, I go back to the kitchen and toss one or two eggs in the boiling water, turn on the timer for 7 minutes, which gives me enough time to get dressed and back to the kitchen to run them under cold water. I’ll put a slice of whole grain bread (GF if you wish) into the toaster while I cut an avocado. Toast pops, mash ½ the avocado over the toast, peel my eggs, add a dash of salt and pepper over everything, and done - Quick & Easy.
Night Before Prep: You can boil eggs in batches in advance, and keep them in the fridge in their shell for up to one week. The night before, you can pre-cut and remove the pit from your avocado, keeping the halves in their shell and face down in a sealed container to prevent oxidation (why avocado turns brown after a little while).
This is my favourite way to include veggies with breakfast. I don’t fuss too much about making an omelette perfect, and sometimes it ends up more as an egg and vegetable scramble. Chop up all of your vegetables into small pieces, you can sauté them first in some butter or just leave them raw. Crack 2 eggs into a bowl and whisk. Add the eggs into the pan with the sautéed vegetables and let them cook through, fold and serve. I love to use bell peppers, tomatos, mushrooms, olives, onion, and spinach or kale. If you can tolerate dairy, add some cheese if you wish. For an extra treat, add bacon or sausage (chorizo is delicious).
Night Before Prep: You can make mini omelettes, or egg muffins for a few days in advance by using all of the same ingredients above (approximately 1 egg per muffin cup, give or take). Mix everything together in a bowl, grease your muffin tin, and distribute the egg mixture evenly amongst each cup of the tin. Bake at 350°F for 18-20 minutes or until set in the middle.
I’ve wrote previously about how to make a healthy smoothie here, but here is a quick run down:
Night Before Prep: Put all of the ingredients in your blender container the night before and keep it in the fridge, add some ice cubes in the morning and blend. Alternatively, you can blend everything the night before and keep the smoothie in the fridge overnight. Things may separate but just give it a good shake and it will be ready to drink! (Note: for early smoothie prep, omit chia and flax seeds, when they are left to soak overnight they become mucilaginous or gel-like, which solidifies your smoothie).
5. Chia Seed Pudding
Yes, chia - the same seed you use to grow yourself a plant-haired pet. But for this breakfast option, no growth is required. This is probably the simplest recipe of the list, and is super healthy. Chia seeds are full of fibre which helps to keep you full and regulates blood sugar. They are also gluten free, and contain omega-3 fatty acids and lots of minerals. In a bowl, mix 3 tbsp chia seeds with ¾ cup unsweetened nut/seed milk of your choice. You can add cinnamon or nutmeg, honey or maple syrup, or a splash of vanilla. Let sit for 5-15 minutes or until the chia seeds have absorbed enough milk to make the pudding your desired consistency. Top with your choice of fruit and nuts.
Night Before Prep: In a mason jar (or other container with a lid), mix the chia seeds, milk, vanilla, sweetener, and spices of choice, cover and place in the fridge overnight. In the morning, add fruit, nuts, or seeds on top and you have yourself a quick and healthy, fibre-filled breakfast.
Do you have a go-to breakfast that is quick and healthy? Comment below, I would love to add it to my list!
Photo Credit: Collective Nouns via Flickr
Concussions are an injury that we hear a lot about due to their prevalence amongst NHL and NFL stars. Despite the fact that it is one of the most common neurological disorders in athletes and non-athletes alike, little research has been done in the field of non-sport concussions, and this is why physicians often have difficulty treating people with these injuries. The good news is that we can take sport related concussion research and “return-to-play” protocols and adapt it for proper management of non-sport related concussions.
Maybe you fell off your bike, slipped on some ice, tripped when you were walking, were playing a sport with your friends or kids, or even fainted – if you hit your head, you might have had a concussion. And if you’ve had a concussion, it’s likely that you will experience some undesirable symptoms, and perhaps you’ll need a “return-to-life” protocol before you can start to feel better.
A concussion, or a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), is defined as a complex pathophysiological process that affects the brain due to some type of biomechanical force (either a direct blow to the head, face, or neck, or to another part of the body with an “impulsive” force that gets transmitted to the head). In more simple terms, a concussion is an injury that causes the brain to shake in the skull and results in symptoms that are related to the disruption of normal brain function, and are not necessarily due to any structural injury of the brain.
Once your medical doctor has ruled out any complications, such as bleeding or fracture, you may be wondering what the next steps are in terms of managing your injury. It is estimated that 80-90% of patients who get a concussion recover in 7-10 days. However, that means 10-20% of these people will have persistent post-concussion symptoms for weeks or even months.
After a concussion there may be many physiological processes and reactions that are not functioning normally. This can be due to inflammation, disruptions to our neurotransmitters that are responsible for how we think and react, oxidative stress that may lead to cellular damage, “excitotoxicity” or excessive neuron stimulation, and mitochondrial dysfunction leading to decreased energy produced for brain cells. Additionally, there may be post-traumatic deficiency of certain vitamins, minerals and nutrients due to their increased use by the body after the injury. Ultimately, all of these factors can contribute to any number of symptoms that are associated with concussions, including:
I’m still not feeling right, what should I do?
Naturopathic medicine focuses on treating the cause of your symptoms. Though nothing can reverse your head injury, figuring out what physiological processes are contributing to your symptoms is critical. With this knowledge, an evidence-based treatment plan can be developed that will help you to return-to-life symptom free.
Think of your brain injury like a broken bone. In order to heal, it needs rest. Immediately after a concussion you need complete physical and cognitive rest. If you are still having symptoms after a few days, it is likely a sign that you are doing too much too soon. You need a step-by-step protocol in place where you don’t move on to the next step until you are symptom free. You may require strategies to help you get back to work or school, manage stress or anxiety, get adequate sleep, and modify your exercise plan to promote optimal brain health and recovery. An important habit to adopt if experiencing symptoms is to limit your screen time to an absolute minimum (TV, cell phone, tablets, and computers). Not only are screens incredibly stimulating to our brain, they can contribute to headaches, visual disturbances, light sensitivity and sleep issues that result from concussions.
Changing our diet is one of the best ways to mitigate inflammation. It is helpful to adopt a diet where you avoid foods that promote inflammation like red meat, sugar and dairy, and add foods that decrease inflammation such as herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables. Additionally, if you have any food sensitivities, consuming those foods may result in additional inflammation for you. This may include eggs, gluten, or certain fruits and vegetables.
Did you know that your brain is surrounded by fluid? So remember to also stay hydrated, drinking at least 1.5-2L of water per day to keep the environment around your brain as healthy as possible.
Though diet and lifestyle changes are often profound in their effect, supplementation is also important to correct for any deficiencies and address some of the dysfunctional processes that are occurring in our brain. Fish oil has been show to be very important for brain health and recovery after a concussion. Antioxidants like curcumin and resveratrol can be supplemented in concentrated doses to help counteract oxidative stress. Certain vitamins and minerals may also help to correct any faulty physiological reactions. Vitamin D and magnesium have been shown to help decrease inflammation and decrease neuron excitability respectively.
Acupuncture is incredibly effective at treating the nervous system, and helping to calm down any neurological “excitability” that may be present. It is helpful for sleep disturbances, headaches and anxiety. Furthermore, certain acupuncture points increase blood flow to specific areas of the brain. When the brain gets adequate blood flow, there is proper delivery of nutrients for repair and removal of waste products that will help to decrease inflammation.
After any injury our soft tissue structures like muscles, tendons and ligaments may react by tightening up or by under-performing. If you are experiencing headaches, neck or shoulder pain and stiffness, seeking out additional physical therapy from a chiropractor, registered massage therapist or osteopath may help to correct any soft-tissue dysfunction.
Suffering from a concussion can be very difficult both physically and emotionally. It is important for your long term brain health that you manage this correctly! Your naturopathic doctor can make specific and individualized recommendations along with monitoring your progress so that you can feel better and return-to-life symptom free.
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McCrory P, et al. Consensus Statement on Concussion in Sport – the 4th International Conference on Concussion in Sport. Clin J Sport Med 2013;23:89–117.
Maroon JC, Blaylock R, Bost J, LePere D. Post Concussion Syndrome – Pathophysiology and Non-Pharmacological Approaches to Treatment. 2011;1-23.
Cernkovich Barrett E, McBurney MI, Ciappio ED. Omega 3 Fatty Acid Supplementation as a Potential Therapeutic Aid for the Recovery from Mild Traumatic Brain Injury/Concussion. Adv. Nutr. S 2014;5:268-277.
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