Madrona Nutrition and Fitness: Recipe and Nutrition Guide

Madrona Nutrition and Fitness:
Guide to Wellness through Holistic Diet
and Lifestyle

Rachel Fiske
Certified Holistic Nutrition Consultant,
Certified Personal Trainer

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Weight Loss Resistance

I realize that several posts as of late have pertained to weight-loss, and here is one more. My last article dealt with specific dietary myths versus real, sustainable dietary approaches to losing weight. However, sometimes there is more to consider, and your body may be dealing with weight loss resistance. Below, I have copied and pasted a hand-out I provide for my weight loss clients that I thought I would share. Of course, when dealing with weight loss resistance, it is very individual person to person, and it can get tricky, considering in many cases one is dealing with hormonal imbalances, toxicity issues, etc...and working with a nutrition professional can be very helpful in terms of figuring out what is really going on with your body, and creating a dietary, herbal and (if necessary) supplemental protocol. 

Weight Loss Resistance

Are you exercising and eating right, but your body seems resistant to weight loss? When this is the case, there may be more to consider than the simple motto: “calories in, calories out.” Consider the following:

Getting Enough Fat

Not incorporating enough good fat into our diet can equal body fat, despite popular belief. Our brain and every cell in our body need fat to function and thrive, and without it, the body will resist weight loss. Include healthy fats like olive oil, ground flax seed (or oil), organic nuts/seeds, avocados, grass-fed butter, ghee, and coconut oil (and coconut in all other forms). The medium chain fatty acids in coconut oil (in the form of lauric acid) actually promote weight loss. Try taking 1-2 tbsp. of coconut oil in tea 20 min. before meals. Remember, never heat delicate oils such as olive, flax, and vegetable oils (as a matter of fact, I’d recommend staying away from vegetable oils, period), as they oxidize at higher temperatures. Stick to cooking with coconut oil, butter, ghee, or grass-fed animal fats (bacon fat, lard, etc).


Another main culprit of weight loss resistance is toxicity. This can result from a build-up of external toxins in the body like air and water pollution, chemically derived cosmetics and hygiene products, refined/processed/packaged “foods,” and rancid oils/trans-fats. It can also result from internal toxic build-up, such as waste products of the metabolic process (protein, digestion, stress, acidity), yeasts, molds, fungi, parasites, bacteria, and viruses. All of these can slow thyroid function, therefore slowing our metabolic rate. Liver support/detox is essential.


Getting enough sleep is critical! We simply cannot lose weight if we are not sleeping. Lack of sleep affects our sugar metabolism (ever wonder why you are excessively hungry after a night of little sleep?). Our adrenal function is also affected, leading to excess cortisol production (our stress hormone), which alone leads to weight gain, particularly around the mid-section, giving us that ‘spare tire’ look. Balancing all hormones is key.


Carbs are certainly not the enemy, but they will lead to weight gain when eaten in excess, even the kinds that are healthy (whole grains, starchy veggies, etc). Carbohydrates spike our blood sugar, leaving us hungrier in a shorter amount of time and burdening our metabolism. Strive to eat starchy carbs like grains, legumes, potatoes, sweet potatoes, breads, pastas, oats, and all refined carbs (just avoid these as much as possible) within 2-3 hours after exercise. This is when our bodies can best metabolize carbohydrates. Outside of this window, focus on fibrous carbs like all other vegetables (think dark leafy greens!), and seasonal fruits (in moderation).

Working with a nutrition professional can help you figure out what your body needs!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Homemade "Lara" Bars

I've recently found myself all too often spending $2+ on Lara they are really the only healthy snack food you can buy in any close proximity to my work-place. They only have 2 or 3 ingredients, such as cashews, dates, and coconut. I thought to myself over the weekend, "I could easily make 10 of these for the price I'm paying for 1 or 2." And not only was that accomplished, but (if I may brag for a moment), they came out much better! It really is so simple to make our own snack foods, whether they be raw like this recipe, dehydrated (still raw of course, but a bit more time consuming), or something baked, such as homemade granola bars (which can also be made grain or gluten free, depending on your diet/taste/digestive status). My one problem with these is exercising self-control...while they are undoubtedly healthy, they do contain a good amount of sugar (dried fruit), so its important not to go crazy! Check out the recipe:

Homemade "Lara" Bars
Adapted from


1 cup organic dried fruit (whatever you want, I used dates, currants, and cranberries)
2/3 cup nuts and seeds (again, any kind will work, I used walnuts and almonds because thats what I had around)


As with any recipe, you can play around with this! I added cinnamon, a bit of raw cacoa powder, and shredded coconut. Experiment with your favorite spices!


Grind nuts/seeds in either a Vitamix or food processor, remove and set aside.
Next, grind dried fruit 
Add ground nut/seed mixture to fruit, and grind together until it forms a paste (also, add whatever other ingredients you'd like at this point)
Last, lay out mixture and form into bars/balls/whatever you want. Wrap individually (or not, although they do stick together a bit), and refrigerate.

Its that simple...Enjoy!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Many Dangers of Energy Drinks

I've recently begun working as a Personal Trainer at a nice gym here in San Francisco, and have been inspired to address the many dangers of energy drinks. I knew people drank them, but have been somewhat shocked by just how many people, and even people who otherwise have relatively clean diets. With these drinks, perhaps more than with anything else, I hear repeatedly: "I know they're bad, but..." But WHAT?! As a Nutritionist, I strive to hold back judgment, and absolutely realize we all (including myself) have our vices, habits, etc, that may just not be worth giving up sometimes due to the joy they bring (although generally we could all benefit from at least practicing moderation), but energy drinks are another story. They are bad news, and here's why...

  • Any can or bottled soda contains a minimum of 15 grams of refined sugar
  • Soft drinks are loaded with artificial preservatives, colorings, and flavorings.
  • "Diet" drinks (regular soda and energy drinks) contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose, which have been clinically proven to lead to brain and nerve dysfunction/damage, diabetes, heart palpitations, emotional disorders, loss of/decreased vision, ringing in the ears, memory loss, shortness of breath, and many more. I will talk a bit more about artificial sweeteners later.
  • Energy drinks will give you an initial "boost," but is followed by a crash, leaving you craving more. This is called addiction, and is what producers are going for.
  • A 2009 study in Canada found that energy drinks were the worst offenders of lining their cans with the toxic chemical BPA, which is an estrogen-mimicking chemical that produces an onslaught of serious health problems, especially when mixed with other toxins found in these drinks. Perhaps chugging estrogen is slightly veering from the goals of many gym-goers...

So there are a few of the health risks, but now lets look at the specific ingredients of these drinks, to truly see what we are putting into our bodies. The first listed ingredients on a Rockstar Energy Drink are: Sucrose, glucose, taurine, citric acid, artificial flavors, sodium citrate, caffeine, caramel color, benzoic acid, sorbic acid. Yikes. So, the first 2 ingredients are straight sugar, which reek havoc on our blood sugar levels (causing severe energy dips and spikes) in the short term, and diabetes in the long term after regular consumption. Taurine is a free form amino acid associated with muscle constriction and the nervous system. However, in its' synthetic form, it has been shown to cause heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and seizures. When you are reading the label of an energy drink, it is crucial to keep in mind that all of these supplements are in their synthetic form, and therefore effect our bodies in completely different (and negative) ways. Specifically to Taurine, considering the risk it poses to our heart health, and most energy drinks contain 10 times the "acceptable" limit (particularly in children), this explains why kids have been rushed to the emergency room and even died recently after energy drink consumption. 

Citric acid is a preservative used in many soft drinks, and has been shown to lead to/trigger severe joint pain, and also is frequently found to contain MSG, a dangerous neurotoxin. Glucose and sucrose are just two different forms of sugar. Sucrose is common table sugar (one part fructose, one part glucose), and goes directly to our liver which needs to process it first before it can used by our body. This is one of the main reasons energy drinks can produce liver damage in the long term (as can other heavily processed/refined foods for this same reason).

Benzoic acid is another preservative, and has been shown to effect the nervous system and cause severe eye and skin irritation. It is most commonly used in foods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Sorbic acid is yet another preservative with similar implications. And 'artificial flavors,' don't you just love the vague-ness? Due to trade-secret laws, companies are not legally required to disclose their "secret" ingredients (because we would all rush home to make our very own toxic drinks and then sell them to children!), so this can mean anything. Key word: toxic. 

A 2008 3-year study conducted by the LA Times found that in a Chicago poison control center, 250 calls came due to energy drink-related health complications, 12% requiring hospitalization, two thirds to the intensive care unit. Symptoms reported included heart palpitations, insomnia, tremors, sweating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and chest pain. Another study done in a California poison center found that in just one year, 9 cases involving hospitalization specifically due to the energy drink Redline, which is illegal to sell to minors.

A 2011 article in the Journal of Pediatrics asserts that "... because energy drinks are categorized as nutritional supplements, they avoid the limit of 71 mg caffeine per 12 fluid ounces that the US Food and Drug Administration has set for soda, as well as the safety testing and labeling that is required of pharmaceuticals. As a consequence, energy drinks can contain as much as 75 to 400 mg caffeine per container, with additional caffeine not included in the listed total often coming from additives such as guarana, kola nut, yerba mate, and cocoa." The article goes on to say, "Although US poison centers have only recently begun tracking toxicity of energy drinks, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand have reported numerous adverse outcomes associated with energy drink consumption. These include liver damage, kidney failure, respiratory disorders, agitation, confusion, seizures, psychotic conditions, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, rhabdomyolysis, tachycardia, cardiac dysrhythmias, hypertension, myocardial infarction, heart failure, and death." 


Here are some natural energy drinks and other approaches you can choose, as well:
  • Coconut water is a great source of electrolytes, potassium, and other minerals, and is much better than sports drinks like Gatorade which  is loaded with sugar, preservatives, and flavorings. 
  • Here is a natural sport drink mix (courtesy of herb'

1 cup rejuvelac (probiotics, enzymes, electrolytes)
1 cup lemon juice (antibacterial, antioxidant, bioflavinoids, simulates digestion, cleansing)
1/4 cup ginger juice (Cleansing, reduces nausia and indigestion common to endurance athletes, antibacterial. antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, etc...) 
1 cup aloe juice (sooths digestion, simulates immune functions, nutrients, etc...)
1/2 cup Raw & organic honey (anti-bacterial, high glucose content=quick energy)
1/2 t cinnamon (slows glucose absorption, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory) 
1/2 T sea salt (electrolytes, trace minerals) 

  • Here is another idea for a home-made energy smoothie:
1 banana
4 Medium strawberries
1 small handful goji berries
1 handful of kale (you can use collards, chard, spinach etc)
1 tbsp Raw Cacao Powder
1 tsp. Raw Maca Powder
1 scoop Protien Powder (try organic, cold pressed whey or rice. Avoid soy)
1 tbsp green powder blend 
1 cup unsweetened Almond Milk.
Water to consistency

  • Perhaps most importantly: pure water!! So many of us are dehydrated, and simply consuming enough water throughout the day will be of great benefit.

Hopefully you are convinced to consider giving up your energy drinks, or at least cutting back. I promise you will be able to "party like a rock star" for many more years to come.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Homemade Almond Butter Recipe

Almond butter, sooooooo delicious, yet soooooo expensive. I was introduced to this recipe last year by fellow Nutrition Educator Ruby Germono. After making it last night and being reminded how delicious it was, I thought I'd share! First, lets look briefly at the health benefits reaped from the main ingredients of this recipe: almonds and coconut oil.

Almonds are an excellent source of monounsaturated fat, which have shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. They are also high in vitamin E, potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc. Almonds have been shown to lower our "bad" cholesterol (LDL), and are also high in fiber.

Coconut Oil is amazing. Enough said. By now, you all know how I feel about coconut oil, but here's a quick reminder of its myriad of health promoting properties. Coconut oil is a medium chain fatty acid, which has been shown to boost metabolism and actually help with weight loss (despite what conventional nutrition would warn against all saturated fats being evil). Additionally, coconut oil is an anti-microbial, and can help with gut (and other) inflammation, it has many antioxidant properties that protect against cancer and degenerative disease, and is a great immune booster. Read my previous blog on coconut oil for more info.



2 cups almonds
3/4 cup coconut oil
1-2 tablespoons raw honey (I'd start with one and then add to taste)
1/2-1 teaspoon sea salt (again, start with just a pinch)

For this recipe, you will need either a powerful blender (I have a VitaMix), or a food processor. If using a VitaMix, put all ingredients in the blender and just go for it. If using a food processor, first grind the nuts and sea salt, then add honey and coconut oil and process until smooth.

You can also use any other kind of nuts! I recommend soaking the nuts first, as nuts, seeds, and grains all
have enzyme inhibitors (designed by nature to protect), however it makes these foods partially indigestible. By soaking (with almonds, soak for 8-12 hours), it allows us to digest more of the vitamin and mineral content and is less likely to cause digestive distress. This is not absolutely necessary, but a good idea!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Addressing Depression

Hello all! As I've been trying to do over these last month, I'd like to share part of a recent assignment I completed for my nutrition course. Recently, we have been learning all about mental health and its relation to nutritional status, and it's fascinating! Below are some tid-bits I've written about depression, specifically.

Recognizing and Managing Depression
Key Nutrients to Incorporate

Depression can be scary, and is something that most of us have dealt with at some point in our lives, to varying degrees. It can encompass a wide array of symptoms, including fatigue, insomnia (most often inability to stay asleep versus inability to fall asleep, which is more categorized by anxiety), agitation, change in weight or appetite, feelings of worthlessness, inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia), difficulty concentrating or making decisions, decreased sex drive, hostility, anxiety, withdrawal, and suicidal thoughts (Bauman College slides, 2011). Depression is theorized to be caused by various factors, including reacting to a life event, endogenous (genetic) depression, post-partum, menopause and/or PMS related, various pharmaceutical drugs, neurotransmitter depletion, and low cholesterol, to name a few (Bauman College slides, 2011).

Instead of getting to the root cause of an individual’s depression, conventional medicine (as per the usual), aims to cover up symptoms, failing to address the actual problem. I am not saying that anti-depressants/other medications are never helpful to an individual in the short term, but they are extremely over-prescribed and in many cases worsen the problem in the long-term. For example, look at the following medications commonly used in the treatment of depression, and their side effects (

  • MAOIs (ex: nardile, parnate): can be fatal in overdose
  • Tricyclics: (ex: adapin, elavil, norpramin): deplete CoQ10 and B2, which protect our heart, and deficiencies have been shown to cause heart attacks.
  • SSRI’s (ex: celexa, lexepro, zoloft, paxil): suppresses dopamine, lowers libido

Since depression may come hand in hand with feelings of hopelessness/helplessness, it can be difficult to realize that there are chemical dysfunctions happening in the brain to cause the depression, and these deficiencies can be greatly helped by our nutritional status and possible supplementation. Below, I list several key nutrients to consider when managing and supporting depression.

Macronutrient: Protein

It is absolutely essential when addressing depression that amino acid levels are adequate, and we acquire amino acids from quality protein intake. For an average adult, we want to aim at eating about 20 grams of protein per meal (Julia Ross, The Diet Cure). According to Dr. Ed Bauman, amino acids that are of particular importance are L-tryptophan to build serotonin, and L-phenylalanine or L-tyrosine to build catecholamines (fight or flight hormones released by the adrenal glands in response to stress). Good sources of protein include grass fed, organic beef and lamb, poultry, organ meats, eggs, whole dairy products (raw if possible), nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes. The best sources of L-tryptophan include dairy, fish, poultry, sesame seeds, and eggs. Eggs, butter, and fermented soy are also excellent sources of choline, an important nutrient in the B-vitamin complex that builds acetycholine, a neurotransmitter necessary when managing depression (Bauman College slides, 2011).

Micronutrient: Vitamin D3

Deficiencies of Vitamin D is linked to poor brain function, along with bipolar, schizophrenia, and depression. Adequate levels have been shown to relieve depression, and is widely used with the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder, aka, SAD (and if you are from Portland, Oregon like me…you know what I’m talking about!). Vitamin D3 increases levels of serotonin in the brain,  increasing our happiness and general well-being. It is also used in the prevention of cancer, arthritis, MS, and insulin resistance (

Phytonutrient: St. Johns Wort

According to Michael Murray, N.D. in his book Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements, St. Johns Wort extract (0.3% hypericin content) at a dosage of 300 milligrams three times per day can be just as effective as conventional antidepressant drugs, without side effects. He goes on to say that if you are on a prescription drug for depression, you must consult with your doctor before discontinuing the drug. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “studies suggest that St. John's wort might work by preventing nerve cells in the brain from reabsorbing the chemical messenger serotonin, or by reducing levels of a protein involved in the body's immune system functioning.”

Other Nutrients to Consider

  • Increase intake of fiber-rich plant foods (veggies, fruits)
  • AVOID caffeine, nicotine and other stimulants, alcohol (which increases depression the next day)
  • Work with a nutrition professional to identify food allergies/sensitivities that can lead to depression (our brain and our gut are intricately connected!)
  • It is essential to have balanced Essential Fatty Acid (EFA) levels, and Omega 3 supplementation is likely appropriate. Again, work with a professional to determine correct dosage and quality brands.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weight Loss Myths and Real Strategies for Long Term Success

I am surely not alone in despising the mainstream meaning of the word "diet." It implies subjecting our bodies and minds to some sort of short-term deprivation in order to reach a desired goal. It is typically thought of with disdain, but something that can be endured because we know it will be over at some point. You can obviously sense my opinion on the matter! This "diet" model simply does not work!! I say this not only having read tons of research and undergone formal education, but through personal experience, too! Sure, maybe we will lose some weight in the short term if we vastly restrict our calories, cut out major food groups, do a drastic detox/cleanse, etc...but afterwards we almost always gain the weight back, and then some. Why? For multiple reasons, including slowing down and doing permanent damage to our metabolism, depriving our bodies of nutrients so we physically and mentally crave foods and then go crazy (binge), and never learn how to change our way of eating for the long term that will permanently sustain weight loss.

#1 Weight Loss Myth

If you follow my blog, you already know this: sources of dietary fat do not make us fat. Well, trans-fats (hydrogenated) will certainly make us fat, but real, good sources of fats will actually help us lose weight. We are a culture obsessed with low/no fat foods, yet according to the Journal of the American Medical Association in an October 2002 study, 64% of Americans are overweight. Healthy fats (see previous blog for more details) like olive oil, coconut in all forms, nuts, seeds, and avocados are essential to weight loss. Medium chain fatty acids (like those found in coconut oil) increase our metabolism according to Mary Enig and Sally Fallon in their book Eat Fat Lose Fat. They go on to say:

"Instead of resulting in weight loss as promised, eating a low-fat diet can spark food cravings that lead to overeating. Instead of making you healthy, avoiding healthy fats can actually undermine your health because you need fats for countless bodily, delicious foods are nature's gift to us, in contract to processed foods, the creations of the food industry."

The Law of Thermodynamics

Thermodynamics is the study of the inter-relation between heat, work, and the internal energy of a system. What this boils down to for weight loss, is that you have to burn more calories than you take in, plain and simple. However, many people (including conventionally trained nutrition professionals) stand by the theory that a calorie, is a calorie, is a calorie. As long as you're burning it, you'll lose weight (hey just look at the genius who did the twinkie diet! Hmm...I'd like to check back with him in a year, if he's still alive and able to talk).

Yes, of course scientifically this holds true that we cannot eat more calories than we burn and expect to lose weight. But eating certain foods will increase our metabolic rate and our level of satiety (we will feel full), therefore promoting further weight loss. Enig and Fallon give some examples of symptoms you may be experiencing that are indicators of nutrient deficiencies in your body that lead to over-eating and sluggish metabolism:

  • Weight slowly creeping up
  • Can't lose that last 5-10 pounds no matter what
  • Low energy
  • Feeling hungry even after a meal
  • Craving fried, sweet foods
  • Experiencing an energy crash mid-afternoon
  • Feeling too fatigued to exercise

These are most likely signs that your diet is not only deficient in fat, but therefore deficient in essential nutrients. Your body, via these symptoms, is trying to tell you something, but because we have come to fear eating real foods, we ignore it and blame ourselves for not having the will-power to stick to a diet.

Blood Sugar Regulation

One of the most essential parts to successful weight loss is blood sugar regulation. When our blood sugar drops, we become ravenously hungry and are much less likely to discern between healthy and non-healthy foods. If we eat at regular intervals throughout the day, and include healthy proteins and fats in each of these meals/snacks, our bodies are able to sustain energy throughout the day never getting to that famished point. Foods that will cause more dramatic crashes in blood sugar include starchy, high carb foods (even whole grains, to a certain extent), but particularly refined carbs and sugar. That is why eating a breakfast high in protein and good fat (eggs and organic bacon/sausage, for example), will set you off on the right foot for the day to come.

Tips and Tricks

While there is no secret trick to magically lose weight, here are some pointers:

  • Getting enough good quality protein (20 grams of protein/meal for an average, healthy adult)
  • Avoiding inflammatory foods like: soy, refined carbs (including processed "whole wheat" bread), sugary foods
  • Supplementing with 2-3 tbsp/day of coconut oil (however you want to take it, I like melting it throughout the day in herbal tea, about 20 minutes before a meal). 
  • Lowering stress! Stress produces excess cortisol, which increases insulin resistance. Cortisol is the hormone that gives us that "spare time" layer of fat around our abdomen. This includes getting adequate sleep.
  • Exercise is key, but not too much. Excess exercise, especially cardio, can actually increase your cortisol levels, leading to weight gain.
  • Examine toxicity. If you suspect weight loss resistance, it might be a toxic load issue (think environmental toxins like mercury, lead, arsenic, etc). There is a great hair analysis that can test for heavy metal toxicity, which certainly works against weight loss.
  • Making sure your Omega 3:6 ratios are in line. Most Americans are deficient in Omega 3 fatty acids (the kind found in cold water fish), and too high in inflammatory Omega 6's (found in vegetable oils like canola). Omega 3's boost the bodies fat burning capacity, so consider including more wild fish in your diet (see the environmental defense fund's guide to safe fish choices:, or if you will not/cannot eat 3 servings of fish/wk, supplementing with a fermented cod liver oil may be a good choice for you. Green Pastures is a great brand and can be purchased online.


These are just a few of many tips that can help you achieve your weight loss goals. Really the most important step is developing an individualized plan that will work for your lifestyle, including both diet and exercise. If you have further questions, or wish to work with me one on one to talk more about how to do this, please contact me directly!

Suggested Readings

Eat Fat Lose Fat, Sally Fallon and Mary Enig
The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, David Kessler, M.D.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Stress and Digestion

After weeks of preparing for my personal trainer exam, and recently being in the midst of major job and life transitions, I feel as if my body has been on high alert. So I figured since stress has been something effecting me as of late more than usual, what better time to examine how stress really effects not only our mood, emotions, relationships, etc, but also the profound impact it has on how we digest and assimilate our food.

I have always been the kind of person who does not stress easily. In fact, at my last job as a case manager in a child abuse prevention program (a job many people would consider high stress), I won the Zen Buddha Award 2 years in a row. For better or worse, sometimes even I wonder how I am not more stressed in certain situations. With that being said, lately this has absolutely not been the case, and I know I've been taking on entirely too much (and if I feel this way, an average person's head may have actually blown off their body by now). So, lets begin by taking a look at the bodies' nervous system...

Sympathetic Nervous System

This part of the nervous system's main objective is to mobilize the body's reaction under stress, particularly the "fight or flight" response. In addition, it controls most of our major organs. For example, it increases the rate and contraction of the heart, dilates our pupils, inhibits peristalsis (wave-like muscle contractions that allow food to move through the digestive tract), and increases renin secretion (an enzyme produced by the kidneys that raises blood pressure). The sympathetic nervous system is always activated at some level in order to keep our bodies in a state of homeostatis.

Parasympathetic Nervous System

This part of the nervous system is in control of regulating our organs and glands unconsciously, or when we are in a relaxed state. Examples are urination, tears, sexual arousal, salivation, defecation, and digestion. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is often described as our bodies mode of "rest and digest." So, you see where I'm going with this?


Point is...if we are always in a sympathetic nervous system dominated state, we physically cannot (among other things) digest our food. Our bodies have to be in a relaxed state for the digestive processes to function, and for us to assimilate the nutrients of food. Elizabeth Lipski, Ph.D. in her book Digestive Wellness, asserts that "The mind-body connection plays an important role in digestive wellness. Stress plays a large role in ulcerative colitis, skin conditions, and autoimmune problems. In fact, nearly all health problems are due to stress: physical, emotional, or environmental." The study of the mind-body connection, particularly the stress-disease connection, is utterly mind blowing and I will address this broader topic in a future article. For now though, lets just stick to digestion.

As mentioned above, being in a state of high stress literally stops our digestion. This can lead to partially digested food particles passing through our intestinal tract, causing leaky gut (intestinal permeability), candida overgrowth, and disease. If we are in a sympathetic nervous dominate mode, our bodies are producing excess cortisol, the "stress hormone." Cortisol is a good and necessary hormone, as it allows our bodies to react quickly in times of stress, supplies us with short bursts of energy when needed, lowers sensitivity to pain, and a temporary increases our immunity (ever notice that you can maintain when preparing for a big exam/presentation/event/etc, but immediately afterwards your body crashes?). However, according to Elizabeth Scott, M.S., longer term raised cortisol levels lead to an array of problems, including:

  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Lowered thyroid function
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Decreased bone density
  • Decreased muscle tissue
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Lowered immunity, more inflammation and slower wound healing
  • Increased abdominal fat (cortisol is released by the adrenal glands and gives us that "spare tire" that we know and love

Now that we know we don't want to be in a sympathetic dominated mode more often than we should, lets look at some ways to be a bit more relaxed.

Ways to de-stress

Obviously, simply ridding ourselves of stress is much easier said than done, and some of you might even be laughing at the prospect. Our modern day, high stress world does seem to make it nearly impossible. However, once learning about the deadly effects stress has on our health (I have only scratched the surface here), we must create space in our lives for relaxation. This is a lesson I am very much learning, as well. Here are a few ways to incorporate simple de-stressing techniques every day:

  • Meditation: check out these great resources for various meditation techniques and find one that works for you: has a free download for a meditation technique, and I have heard very good reviews.
  • Yoga or other stretching
  • Exercise, but not too much! When we are in periods of high stress, intense exercise can raise our cortisol levels. Stick to light cardio and strength training. Be outside if possible!
  • Deep breathing!! This is the most important and can obviously be achieved by meditation, yoga, and exercise. If you don't have time for anything else, though, taking 10 deep belly breaths will automatically engage the parasympathetic nervous system. Breathe slowly in through your nose, hold for a second, then slowly out through your mouth. Try taking a few of these deep breaths while sitting down to a meal, before you start eating. This alone will help digestion.
  • Don't eat while engaging in other activities. This includes TV, computer, reading, standing, driving, etc. Just sit, be grateful for your food, enjoy every bite, notice the flavor and texture, eat slowly and chew thoroughly. Put your silverware down in between bites, allowing yourself to chew for longer and your brain to register fullness over the course of the meal.
  • Laughter has been shown in studies to relieve pain, increase immunity, and bring greater happiness.

Additional Resources:

There are many great books, articles, and movies about this very topic. Here are a few I recommend:

  1. When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection, Gabor Mate, M.D.
  2. "Stress, Portrait of a Killer," a great National Geographic documentary that you can find on
  3. Lastly, check out this short article on foods that are not only good for us, but also help us de-stress:

Nine Foods that Help You De-Stress Quickly

One of the most soothing things to do after a tough day is come home and collapse on the couch with your favorite comfort foods: mac & cheese, pizza, ice cream, meat loaf, a casserole of some sort -- really anything rich, creamy, sugary, salty or mushy usually fits the bill.

And really it's not your fault that your body automatically craves such indulgent treats when you're under fire.

A study by University of California, San Francisco researchers found that when rats are chronically stressed, the release of glucocorticoid steroid hormone (cortisol in humans) leads them to engage in pleasure-seeking behaviors, including eating high-energy foods.

High-energy foods, of course, are always made of sugar and fat.

True, you are not a rat, but you can certainly relate to the cravings. The problem with eating such foods, of course, is that afterward high-sugar foods lead to a crash that makes you feel worse ... and greasy high-fat foods leave you feeling guilty for other reasons.

To get the best of both worlds -- reduced stress and comfort in the knowledge that you're eating something good for you -- you need to indulge in healthy comfort foods.

And yes, these do exist.

Foods That Relieve Stress ... and are Healthy Too

1. Dark Leafy Greens

Dark green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale and Swiss chard are good for so many things, there's really no excuse not to eat them. Calming your nerves just happens to be one of them, as these veggies contain lots of the B-complex vitamins. These vitamins are crucial for preventing stress because they're needed to make serotonin, a chemical that helps boost your mood.

2. Asparagus

Asparagus is rich in folic acid, a B vitamin that is necessary to prevent irritability, fatigue, depression and even confusion.

3. Whole Grains

Whole grains also help to soothe your mood because they're rich in B vitamins. Make sure you're really eating something with whole grains, though, and not just "whole wheat" bread that's actually mostly refined flour.

4. Beef

Yes, red meat CAN be good for you! Beef is a great source of B vitamins and mood-stabilizing zinc and iron. To get the most health benefits, stick to organic, grass-fed beef.

5. Berries

Berries are rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, which is known to help keep the stress hormone cortisol steady.

6. Nuts

Almonds are rich in vitamin E, which helps to fight some of the damage caused by stress. Brazil nuts, meanwhile, contain lots of zinc and selenium, which also fights free radicals.

7. Salmon

The omega-3 fats found in salmon may help to reduce feelings of stress.

8. Chicken Breast

Chicken is a great source of tryptophan, which can help you sleep better and elevate your mood (as a bonus, it can even help to regulate your appetite!). Contrary to popular belief, chicken breast actually contains slightly more tryptophan than turkey.

9. Avocados

Add some avocado slices to your sandwich or salad or whip up a batch of guacamole for a quick boost in your B vitamins (plus, avocados can help prevent cancer and they're great for your heart!).

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Truth About Soy

In recent years, many Americans have jumped on the soy bandwagon. Many "health conscious" eaters have a diet nowadays focusing on soy everything: soy milk, soy "meats" (made from TVP, the worst form of soy on the market), soy protein powder, tofu, soy baby name it, there is probably a soy product that imitates it. Hand in hand with the myths surrounding fat and cholesterol being bad (see my past blogs addressing these topics), people are now convinced that butter, dairy, and meats are going to send them to an early grave, therefore replacing these diet staples with soy. A popular booklet from the mid 90's touts the wonders of soy as follows:

" . . . uniformly high in protein but low in calories, carbohydrates and fats, entirely devoid of cholesterol, high in vitamins, easy to digest, tasty and wonderfully versatile in the kitchen, [which] positions them as irresistible new food staples for the evolving American diet...with each mouth watering soy food dish," says the author, "comes a balanced, adequate and sustainable nutritional package." (

I would argue that soy is generally not all that tasty, but thats beside the point. The point is, processed soy is actually a dangerous food filled with harmful substances that disturb digestion and hormonal production/pathways. Seem like a strong statement to make? Well, let me give you some references and explain...

According to Solomon Katz in a 1987 article in the Journal of Nutritional Anthropology, soy originated in China where it was used as a rotational crop to assist with nitrogen production, and was not used as a consumed food (until fermentation was discovered, and I'll touch on this later). The reason soy was not intended to be eaten is due to various reasons. First of all, soy contains enzyme inhibitors that block the production of trypsin and other important enzymes necessary for protein digestion ( This can lead to digestive/gastric distress and disease, and inadequate protein consumption, which means your body is not getting the amino acids it needs (which are the building blocks of our cells). Soy also contains a substance called hemaglutinin, which has been shown to promote blood clotting. According to Katz, both trypsin inhibitors and hemaglutinin are deactivated by the fermentation process (making fermented soy products much safer).

In a 1983 article in the Journal of Nutr-Cancer, Van Rensberg notes that multiple studies have been done on the effects of eating a diet high in phytate-containing legumes (of which soy has many) in third world countries, consistently led to deficiencies of the nutrients magnesium, calcium, iron, and zinc in the intestinal tract. Phytates (aka phytic acid) blocks the uptake of these minerals.

Why is soy so popular??

Keep in mind that most every large scale agricultural crop that becomes vastly popular in American "food" products (think corn and soy), is not based on industry's concern with our health and well-being, it is based on turning a profit. Soy is cheap to produce. The majority of soy manufactured in the United States is turned into animal feed. The rest is turned into an endless list of products, such as soy oil for use in hydrogenated fats (margarine), soy lecithin made from oil sludge, and soy protein isolate made from defatted soy flakes. Yum! Basically, once soy manufacturers realized they could easily sell the benefits of soy as being a healthy alternative to oh-so-scary saturated fats (foods that have been nourishing people for generations like butter, ghee, coconut oil and meats), it was all over. So even our babies drink soy formula out of the bottle, causing severe zinc deficiencies and aluminum toxicity (a heavy metal resulting from the processing of soy) in infants. Now thats scary.

Soy and Hormone Imbalance

As if that isn't enough, soy is high in phytoestrogens and other hormone mimickers, which essentially enter our body and act like hormones. According to writer and Holistic Health teacher Victoria Anisman-Reiner, these compounds effect both women and men in the following way:

"In women, these compounds trigger estrogen receptors but do not completely fulfill estrogen’s roles in the body. In the process, they block real estrogen from having access to its receptors. The result is as though there is not enough estrogen in the body. These phytoestrogens trigger the same hormone receptors in men – with the same partial effect - but men have far less estrogen in their bodies normally than do women. A man who consumes a lot of soy may appear to have too much estrogen in his system.
Many women report more severe menstrual pain, bloating, or a more irregular cycle when they consume soy. For these women, eating less or no soy during and just before their period usually lessens their symptoms."

Fermented Soy

As mentioned above, the fermentation process of soy deactivates the trypsin inhibitors and hemaglutinin, making it much safer, and beneficial if eaten in moderation. Fermented soy includes tempeh, miso, tamari, and natto. These foods are health promoting when combined with other foods typically found in the Asian diet, such as seaweed, organ meats, seafood, and fermented vegetables. Without the combination of these other foods, even fermented soy should not be the protein focal point of any diet (sorry, vegetarians!)


I've said it before and I'll say it again...EAT REAL FOOD!! This should come as a relief. I'm asking you...begging you to eat butter, coconut oil, olive oil, meats (organic and from pasture raised/grass fed animals whenever possible), whole, organic dairy (raw milk and cheese if possible) and eggs. Our ancestors certainly did not make fake meat and dairy products out of cheap commercial crops. And they were much, much healthier.

For some further reading, check out
The Whole Soy Story: the Dark Side of America's Favorite Health Food by Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD. Also, visit to read about the benefits of raw milk and where to find it in your community.

This is just a quick peak into the dangers of eating a diet high in processed soy. As always, please be in touch with further questions, and when it comes to "health" foods, I implore you to always remember not to believe everything you read.