I don't eat much meat, maybe only a few times per month. I have developed some simple yet pretty high standards for animal products: ethical and nothing-added. And no pig. In the process, I've become quite adventurous in the kitchen and have learned some pretty amazing recipes, including my all-time fave Meatless Meatballs. Heaven.
Switching to a veggie diet can be a daunting task so starting small can help. Enter Meatless Mondays. Probably due to my veggie-loving influence, we've been meatless weekdays (Dan's idea, believe it or not) for about 6 months, but even he started out small and it grew from there. When asked how he feels from then to now, here's what I got: "Definitely better. Less logey." The latest addition is the morning smoothie (thank you, dear Vitamix) and I can't wait to tell you about that later. What a wonderful guinea pig.
Here's why a meatless day might be a good addition to your schedule.
1. Health Benefits. From reduced cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer risks to reduced all-cause mortality, there's a fair body of evidence showing the benefits of a more plant-based diet. Now, whether or not going veggie one day a week will provide drastic results is hard to say, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. It's all part of adopting healthier habits and a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, it probably won't undo the Big Mac you had yesterday.
2. Gets you exercising your culinary cleverness. Who knew you could make meatballs with walnuts or gooey nacho cheese sauce with potatoes and carrots? Tempeh is a great meaty substitute, or try seitan if you're okay with gluten. Invest in a nice and thick vegan or vegetarian cookbook to give you ideas you never new existed. There's tons of ideas out there. I even made fake ribs the other day which were meat-lover approved! What?!
3. Your children and children's children will thank you. The environmental impact of raising factory-farmed animal sources is huge. Sustainable veggie diets can reduce nitrogen footprints by a substantial amount, though dwarfed by pollution, industry, etc. But still, it's something.
4. You'll get to go on vacation sooner and more often. Beans, lentils, quinoa, millet, brown rice, barley, and chickpeas: all mainstays in our kitchen. I probably spend about $60 every 6 months at the bulk store stocking up on these staples. Yes, you read that right. Fresh veggies are, of course, stocked more frequently but you get the idea of the savings. Much cheaper than what our future medications would cost.
This is an exercise I had one of my intern groups do a while back. Everyone gets a major hormone and gets to figure out it's effect on other hormones. This is the web that results. I know, right! And this is as neat as it usually turns out...
I meet a lot of women with one or more of the following: painful periods, irregular periods, heavy periods, horrible PMS including moods, breast tenderness, and back pain, problematic weight gain, acne, or fatigue. Balancing hormones takes a bit of investigative work to find out what's going on down at the root level. There's always a few common threads: cut out exogenous hormones, effectively clear metabolites, and regulate cortisol. Oh, cortisol.
Exogenous hormones come from non-organic meat and dairy and from endocrine disrupting chemicals from plastics and our personal care products. BPA, phthalates, triclosan, parabens, etc. are all examples of known endocrine disruptors. Check your cabinets and replace with healthier stuff as you go. This is a huge task and takes time, so work over the next year to have a healthier bathroom. Check out www.ewg.org for product comparisons.
Inability to clear metabolites refers to the organs of elimination, specifically the liver and the colon. Sex hormones are fat-soluble which means they are excreted in the bile and hopefully out of the colon, unless constipation is an issue. Getting lots of fibre and moving the bowels will prevent any of the hormone metabolites (specifically estrogen) from being reabsorbed for round 2. And round 2 isn't pretty. Fresh ground flaxseed is a wonderful and safe method for both helping move the bowels and for binding up the estrogen metabolites.
Regulate cortisol. If you look closely at the picture, you'll see a bunch of red (inhibitory) lines that come from one source... that source is cortisol. Stress reduction, exercise, proper sleep, rest, vacations, and mindfulness all keep cortisol in check. If you're doing the best you can but still are trying to cope with the day-to-day stress of the big city, talk to your ND about adrenal support. It can work wonders and can lift that big inhibitory burden off of your endocrine system.
For many, this is a serious concern and if hormones are too crazy, it can be a sign that something else is going on. Always ask your doctor or ND and get some hormone testing and investigatory work done.
It's that wonderful time of the year when I get to figure out what to plant in the garden. I have a fully potted garden but manage to grow just about everything I can think of... or at least try to! Given that many will be out at the nurseries over the next couple of weeks, I thought I'd share some of my favourite medicinal garden plants that make wonderful teas.
1. German Chamomile (Matricaria recutita specifically). Pick off the flowers and use for digestive upset or to relax. It's an antispasmodic and nervine (meaning it works on the nervous system) so it's particularly effective for abdominal cramping such as with IBS. Add a slice of fresh ginger if there's nausea involved.
2. Peppermint. Not just for mojitos! Pick the leaves for a stomach-calming tea. Helps with most aspects of digestion but be careful if you're prone to heartburn as it may worsen it. Wonderful with chamomile after over-doing it at that BBQ!
3. Catnip. You may have to share this one if you have a furry friend. Catnip is a nervine which means it helps to calm down anxiety. This is great to blend with chamomile for your own sleepytime tea.
4. Lemon balm. Another one to add to your nighttime tea as this is also a nervine. If you have thyroid issues, skip this one or consult with your ND before using it.
5. Thyme and oregano. Excellent antimicrobials for if you're fighting a cold or flu. When the season changes and the sniffles start, make a nice tea with some lemon or add into soups.
6. Rosemary. The active constituent here helps to increase blood flow to the brain and can help with memory and cognitive function. These effects are also delivered via olfactory glands, so even smelling the essential oil from the plant can help.
Your epidermis is showing... and it's taking in quite a toxic load!
When we think of overall health, cleansing, detoxifying, etc, often we think of eating organic to decrease our pesticide intake, cutting out alcohol to give our livers a break, and grab lots of veggies and some lemon water. We carefully consider everything that we put in us, but what about what we put on us?
Think about your morning routine for a minute. Toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, moisturizer, shaving cream, soap, hair gel, mascara, eyeliner, eyeshadow, foundation or powder, lipgloss/stick/balm... any others to add? All of your products are likely within the limit deemed as "safe" and most have likely maxed out the limit. What happens when you're using 10-20 products that have maxed out the limit deemed as "safe"? I'm no mathematician, but I'd say that's definitely over the daily limit.
Take a peek at the ingredients list and see how many you can pronounce. Be aware of green-washing: making them sound natural and healthy for you when really there's a lot of added chemicals. Also, a product that contains organic ingredients can also contain harmful chemicals. With parabens (a common preservative) and phthalates (a gelling-agent or plasticizer) being slowly phased out of north american products, they're being replaced with other shady characters. I'm sure I'll have to blog about their health effects in a few years.
The main concern with skin products is endocrine disruption and carcinogenicity. Endocrine disruption occurs with xenoestrogens, or synthetic chemicals that mimic estrogen activity. These molecules can bind to estrogen receptors but exert effects much stronger than our natural estrogens. This is when we see increased breast cancer rates and parabens (a common preservative) found directly in excised tumours. Certain types of breast cancers are fed by increased levels of estrogen and so, fed by many of these chemicals that we put on our skin everyday.
There's also a concern with heavy metals such as aluminum in anti-perspirants or lead in lipsticks. Deodorants and antiperspirants are applied directly over our axillary lymph nodes - or the centres of immune function in our armpits that directly drain the breast tissue - and often contain breast-cancer-causing chemicals. Huh. Not to mention aluminum found in high concentrations in the brains of Alzheimers patients. Finding a good alternative to the traditional antiperspirants takes time and a lot of trial and error. The patience is worth it.
Learn more. The Environmental Working Group developed their Skin Deep website devoted to rating the toxicity of skin products and to provide an amazing resource to educate consumers. You can also learn more about the most harmful chemicals and how to swap out for cleaner products. If you're in Toronto, I'll plug a great pop-up store on King Street called The Detox Market. It's a one-stop shop for organic, toxin-free cosmetics, skin care, and hair care.
While we're taking our deep breaths inside, let's let our skin take a breath as well.
In a follow-up to my previous post on Spring Cleaning, I thought I'd go a bit more in-depth to explore the Detox. This is a hot topic these days, with many products on the market claiming to be rapid ‘cleanses’. Are these useful? How useful are they? Are they even needed? Let’s explore.
Our bodies do, indeed, have ‘self-cleaning’ mechanisms. As we go through our busy days in the city toxins can store up in the body. The powerhouse organ of detoxification is the liver, but the routes of elimination (large intestine, kidneys, and skin) are equally as important. You must get the garbage to the curb and not let it pile up under the sink!
What does detox mean
The basic principle is this: toxins in must be less than toxins out. Adding in a supplement will not decrease the amount of toxins in, hence there must be a dietary component.
If we can get a bit technical for a moment, the purpose of a detox is to aid the body in clearing toxins. Now, the extent to which we need to help the body out depends on the person. Those with histories of long-term toxic burden (environmental exposure, oral contraceptives or other liver-taxing medications, for example) may need some help, but for most of us still carrying around the weight of winter hibernation, our bodies are quite capable on their own.
Many supplements or cleanses provide liver support to increase the efficacy of liver function, that is, to speed up the liver to clear toxins faster. They often contain many of the required nutrients as well as liver boosting herbs such as Milk Thistle and Dandelion. The rendered non-toxic metabolites are excreted either through the kidneys as urine, through the skin as sweat, or through the bowel as, well, poop. If these organs don’t have a chance to do their jobs effectively, all the liver’s hard work won’t pay off and the trash piles up under the sink.
Many of the products on the market have similar formulations, though some are better than others in terms of therapeutic dosing of liver supporting herbs and required nutrients. Many, especially rapid cleanses, are simply laxatives.
Do I need to detox?
That depends. Refer to the previous entry on Spring Cleaning and then decide. If you think a detox is right for you, speak to your ND. These protocols are not without side effects, are not right for everyone, and should not be taken lightly.
People often experience headaches, fatigue, lethargy, and dizziness, particularly during the first few days of the protocol. This is common as the stored toxins begin to mobilize and make their way to the curb. It’s important that you drink plenty of water during the process.
Ideally the detox should last about 2-3 weeks. These should always include dietary modifications similar to the Spring Cleaning post. Remember, toxins in must be less than toxins out.
The bigger picture
There’s no easy way to categorize who are candidates for a detox vs who could just use a dietary clean-up. I always suggest starting simple and gentle. If that does the trick, great. If you’re still not feeling quite right, it may be time for the big guns. Until then, eat as healthy as you can, laugh as often as you can, and aim for at least one bowel movement per day.
Many people associate healthy eating with eating organic. This all depends on what you hope to achieve with your diet. Eating organic is regarded as being healthier for the planet, which will surely thank us all later. But is it actually worth the extra cost to benefit our health? In theory, you could have an organic burger and fries. Once in a while? Sure. All the time? Not so much.
There are a few guidelines that I recommend for which foods are best to buy organic. The Environmental Working Group has published it's Dirty Dozen alongside its Clean Fifteen. An easy guideline is this: pesticides are sprayed on the outside of the food. If you eat the skin or peel, or anything which would come in direct contact with the chemicals, it's likely better to buy organic. Fruits such as bananas, avocado, and mango always have their skin removed and so can be still safe to consume non-organic. This still does not ease the environmental burden, but for those of us who need to pick-and-choose our battles, this is an easy guideline.
I also always recommend buying dairy and meat products that are organic. Simple tips for meat-eaters include choosing certified organic and humane products, buying from local farmers wherever possible, and overall eating less meat by experimenting with various vegetarian dishes (note: this does not mean tofu and granola!).
Cheers to the Clean Fifteen!