Category Archives: Health

Interpreting Information

Paying attention is huge. In everything we do, if we’re not paying attention we’re missing things, hurting others (unknowingly), forgetting where our keys are, over-eating, under-eating, driving too fast, too slow, cutting people off… on and on.

When I’m paying attention, I’m getting it done.

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Ask the Expert: What Are Probiotics and Why Do You Need Them?

The short answer:
Your gut is filled with bacteria, good and bad. Good bacteria aids digestion, boosts immunity, and combats a number of gut-related illnesses. Emerging research shows it may also impact weight loss and influence mood. Bad bacteria hampers good bacteria and can make you sick in an assortment of ways, oftentimes involving repeated trips to the bathroom.

The two fight constantly.

Probiotics contain good bacteria. You’ll find them either in supplement form or through real foods like yogurt, tempeh, kimchi, miso, and kombucha. By taking them, you’re fortifying the troops. While they’re generally an excellent idea, they’re particularly important after you’ve had an infection or you’ve taken a round of antibiotics, because these things tend to wipe out the populations in your gut.

The long answer:
The therapeutic use of probiotics is an excellent example of ancient wisdom existing long before Western science could pull its head out. There are references to curdled milk in the Bible (Genesis 18:8 and Isaiah 7:15 if you’re keeping score), but the party really got started around the start of the 20th century when Nobel Prize–winning scientist Dr. Elias Metchnikoff reported that Bulgarian shepherds tended to live almost twice as long as urban Parisians where he was living. He pinned this on the formers’ intake of fermented milk, which he felt contained “good” and “anti-putrefactive” microorganisms.

It’s unclear how Metchnikoff made the connection between these two rather disparate groups, but it gave birth to the modern investigation of probiotics, so let’s not complain. For the last hundred plus years, science continues to discover more and more good things about the bugs living in our intestines.

The 100 trillion (give or take a trillion) bacteria that live in your gut can be divided into over 500 types. Many of the important ones fall into one of two genera, Lactobacillusand Bifidobacterium. Under that, there are several species, many of which have specific benefits. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus has been shown to be especially effective in combating lactose intolerance and Montezuma’s Revenge (or “traveler’s diarrhea” if you want to be boring about it). However, unless you have a specific issue that you’re trying to address, you probably don’t need to stress about all the species.

Fun fact one: the bad bacteria you’re working to keep in check include Helicobacter pylori, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and salmonella.

Fun fact two: we’re born without bacteria in our guts, but the populating begins when we pass through the birth canal. Our first gasps of air provide yet more bacteria, as does breast milk, which is especially rich in probiotics.

It’s well-established that probiotic consumption helps with almost any intestinal issue you can think of, including constipation, lactose intolerance, GI infections, gas, diarrhea, Crohn’s disease, IBS, and IBD. It’s been shown to be effective in treating vaginal and urinary tract infections and atopic eczema. There’s also research showing probiotics may reduce the risk of colon cancer.

There are a few theories as to how this all happens. One is that good bacteria simply take up the space in the gut that the bad bacteria would take over. There’s also the fact that some good bacteria stimulate the immune system by promoting the release of various white blood cells that kill pathogens. A third idea is that many bacteria use the same fuel sources. For example, Clostridium difficile, which causes diarrhea and inflames the colon, is dependent on sugar—but so are many good bacteria. It all comes down to balance. If you have plenty of good bacteria in your gut, they’re going to dominate the monosaccharide buffet.

Look beyond GI issues, and current science on gut bacteria and probiotics gets even more amazing. A Washington University study on identical twins—one overweight and one thin—showed that they had entirely different gut microbiota, suggesting certain bacteria in your system promotes weight gain. (A separate UC Berkeley study suggests the evolutionary reason for this is that people in northern climates need more body fat, so their gut bacteria actually shifts to promote weight gain.)

But if you think popping the right probiotics will soon be the key to dropping pounds, don’t get too excited. Yet another study on mice shows that “weight loss bacteria” doesn’t seem to thrive on a high in saturated fat, low-fiber diet. However, they tend to propagate when fed a diet filled with fruits and veggies.

Researchers are also looking seriously into the gut-brain axis. In other words, those little bugs in your belly might actually have a say in your decision-making process. For instance, gut bacteria produce 95% of your serotonin, a powerful “feel-good” neurotransmitter.

And a Texas Tech University study on mice found that feeding mice the bad bacterium Campylobacter jejuni drove up their anxiety levels.

So, yes, you should consume probiotics. How many depends on your situation. Antibiotics wipe out the microbes in your gut, so a supplement is an excellent idea after a round of those. Beyond that, if you have a gut-related issue, it’s worth researching which probiotic might help and supplement thusly.

Quality probiotic supplements can be pricey though. For most people, a solid diet filled with probiotic foods should do the trick. (For the record, Shakeology contains Bacillus coagulans, an especially hearty probiotic that can survive at room temperature when many probiotics require refrigeration.)

Yogurt is also a great source. However, it’s important to read the label. The bacteria that make the flavor and texture that Western society considers yogurt can’t survive the voyage through our GI tract, so manufacturers enhance the stuff with other strains, including Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum.

Kombucha, or fermented tea, is another great probiotic food that’s especially trendy right now. It may take a while to learn to appreciate its tangy taste, but it’s worth it. Another benefit of kombucha is that it’s incredibly simple to make.

Beyond that, there are tons of other foods out there that are technically probiotic, including tempeh, sauerkraut, pickles, miso, and various cheeses. Unfortunately, these foods are often heated or pasteurized in such a way that kills the bacteria, so check on the label to verify if the probiotics are still active. Another option is to seek out a boutique producer who deliberately maintains the bacteria in their foods. Or you might want to make them yourself. Sandor Ellix Katz’s The Art of Fermentation is an excellent resource for your bacterial DIY needs.

On a final note, remember that fruit and veggie thing a few paragraphs up? Well, it applies to all the benefits of probiotics. Gut bacteria thrives on certain foods called prebiotics, so it’s crucial to make them part of your diet. Foods especially high in prebiotics include asparagus, onion, leek, garlic, artichokes, oats, and bananas. Yacon root, which you’ll find in Shakeology, also contains prebiotics.

So make prebiotics and probiotics a cornerstone of your diet because if you’re good to all those little bugs in your gut, they’ll return the favor tenfold.

Do you have a question for our experts? Post it below and we’ll try and get to it in a future post. For fast answers to questions only our experts can answer, please post them in our Expert Advice forum here.

*Originally posted HERE, by Denis Faye, M.S.

Is Our Food Becoming Less Nutritious?

–Reposted From NYR Natural News

It’s a sad fact that the nutritional quality of our food is declining.

nutritional food

The main reason for this is the depletion of essential minerals in our soil. Modern intensive agricultural methods have left our soil mineral poor and this, in turn, impacts the food we grows and eat.

This is not new information and yet, it seems, every time we are confronted with it we treat it as if it were.

In 1940, British chemists Robert McCance and Elsie Widdowson published the first of what would be their periodical examinations of the nutrient content of food: The Composition of Food.

When the fifth edition of this impressive tome – which has over the years become a standard reference work on the subject – was published in 1991, a British geologist-turned-nutritionist David Thomas undertook the work of comparing the values as published in the first and last editions of the book.

Evaluating fruit and veg

He examined the data for 28 raw vegetables and 44 cooked vegetables, 17 fruits and 10 types of meat, poultry and game, and his findings make frightening reading. What he found was that, amongst today’s foods:

  • Potatoes have 30% less magnesium, 35% less calcium, 45% less iron and 47% less copper
  • Carrots have 75% less magnesium, 48% less calcium, 46% less iron and 75% less copper
  • Broccoli (boiled) has 75% less calcium
  • Spinach (boiled) has 60% less iron and 96% less copper
  • Swedes have 71% less iron
  • Spring onion has 74% less calcium
  • Watercress has 93% less copper
  • All fruits contained 27% less zinc
  • Apples and oranges had 67% less iron

Among the other worrying findings was that seeding the soil with only certain minerals (sodium, phosphorus and potassium) has greatly altered the natural mineral profile of our foods. Thus, swedes now contain 110% of the phosphorus they once did. Humans who eat this nutritionally altered food cannot help but experience an alteration in the natural mineral profiles of their body tissues and bones as well.

Not just veggies – animal products too

In 2002 when the 6th edition of the Composition of foods was published it incorporated new information on meat and milk which, according to Thomas showed that:

  • Beef contained 38% less iron and 84% less copper
  • Chicken contained 15% less potassium 26% less phosphorous and 69% less iron
  • Turkey 71% less calcium and 79% less iron
  • Cheddar cheese 38% less magnesium 35% less potassium and 47% less iron and Parmesan cheese 70% less calcium and iron
  • Whole milk had 21% les magnesium and 63% less iron

A similar exercise was carried out in the US in 1999 when nutritionist Alex Jack compared nutrient values in the current US Department of Agriculture (USDA) handbook with those published in 1975. He discovered a number of mineral deficits as well as the fact that cauliflower had 40% less vitamin C than it did in 1975.

Other analyses have found the same declines in the nutrient quality of fresh fruits and vegetables. For instance, a similar study of British nutrient data from 1930 to 1980, published in the British Food Journal found that in 20 vegetables the average calcium content had declined 19%; iron 22%; and potassium 14%.

Breeding nutrients out

A major study on the topic by Donald Davis and his team of researchers from the University of Texas (UT) at Austin’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry was published in December 2004 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

They studied USDA nutritional data from both 1950 and 1999 for 43 different vegetables and fruits, finding “reliable declines” in the amount of protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin (vitamin B2) and vitamin C over the past half century.

Davis and his colleagues chalk up this declining nutritional content to the preponderance of agricultural practices designed to improve traits (size, growth rate, pest resistance) other than nutrition.

“Efforts to breed new varieties of crops that provide greater yield, pest resistance and climate adaptability have allowed crops to grow bigger and more rapidly,” they reported, “but their ability to manufacture or uptake nutrients has not kept pace with their rapid growth.”

There have likely been declines in other nutrients such as magnesium, zinc and vitamins B-6 and E, but they were not studied in 1950 and more research is needed to find out how much less we are getting of these key vitamins and minerals.

In 2011, Davis and his team again compared the nutrients in US crops from 1950 and 2009, and found notable declines in five nutrients in various fruits, including tomatoes, eggplants and squash.

Most recently the magazine New Scientist published a special report also suggesting that food is getting less nutritious, and highlighting reasons why this might be.

It points out that intensive farming methods, which were introduced in order to solve malnutrition, may have affected the vitamins and mineral contents of foods: a 43% decrease in iron and a 12% decrease in calcium in US foods in 2009, compared with 1950; and a 15% decrease in vitamin C and 38% decrease in vitamin B2 between 1950 and 1999.

Data for fruits and vegetables grown in the UK were found to have 19% less calcium and 22% less iron in the 1980s, compared with the 1930s.

So what can we do?

The New Scientist article suggests that today there is a wider range of foods available today, which could make up for deficiencies in individual foods. The way we store and process foods can also make them more or less nutritious. For instance, during processing, some foods can lose nutrients, whereas peas retain their vitamin C if frozen soon after harvesting, and tomatoes increase their lycopene (an antioxidant with potential anticancer properties) during processing.

While true it is very much tinkering at the edges of the nutrient question.

The key to healthier produce is healthier soil. Alternating fields between growing seasons to give land time to restore would be one important step. Another key is to reduce our use of pesticides.

Many classes of herbicide can alter plant metabolism and, thus, nutrient composition. For example, herbicides that inhibit photosynthesis (such as triazine or phenoyacetics) produce effects similar to growing a plant in low-light conditions. Under such conditions, the carbohydrate, alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E) and beta-carotene (a precursor of vitamin A) content of a plant is reduced, and protein, free amino acid and nitrate levels are increased.

Equally, bleaching herbicides can reduce beta-carotene levels, and sulphonylurea herbicides are known to reduce levels of branched-chain amino acids (which humans need to maintain muscle tissue).

Not a quick fix

Fruits and vegetables are still great sources of nutrients and beneficial phytochemicals which you can’t get in other foods and we certainly should not be avoiding them or simply trying to replace them with supplements.

As consumers we can choose to buy foods from producers who take care of their soils and pay attention to producing nutrient dense foods. We can, for example, buy regularly from organic farmers and/pr from local producers who shorten the food supply chain and thereby help to deliver fresh foods with more nutrients.

But we do need to recognise that nutrient declines are symptomatic of other problems within our farming and food systems. And these will only get bigger if we don’t demand that they are urgently addressed in a much broader way at government, policy and farm level.

  • 2015 was declared the International Year of Soils by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. You can read more about the importance of soil here.

Two Weeks to Better Health?

Reposted from NYR Natural News

We hear it all the time – we are what we eat.


But two recent studies have brought home just how true that is – and how quickly we can change our lives if we change our diets.

In the first study Coop, Sweden’s largest grocery store cooperative, commissioned the Swedish Environmental Research Institute (IVL) to find out whether switching to an all-organic diet could reduce the level of pesticides found in people’s bodies

Over a two week period, the Palmberg family – parents Anette and Mats and their children Vendela, Evelina and Charlie – swapped their conventional diet for an organic one. Daily urine tests revealed that at the end of that period almost all traces of pesticides were out of their bodies.

Multiple pesticides in the body

Before the dietary intervention the family all had traces of multiple pesticides in their urine including:

  • MPCA – or 2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid an herbicide commonly found on citrus fruits that has been declared a possible human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
  • Ethylenebisdithiocarbamates – fungicides used on grapes and raisins (and found in wine) that is toxic to the thyroid and liver and is a potential carcinogen.
  • Atrazine – a hormone-disrupting herbicide widely found in groundwater and associated with growth and developmental delays and sexual abnormalities.
  • Chlorpyrifos – an organophosphorous insecticide known for its damaging effects on the human nervous system
  • 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) – a chlorophenoxy-herbicide is a hormone disrupter and has been classified as possibly carcinogenic to humans.
  • Pyrethroids, such as cypermethrin and esfenvalerate – insecticides that have a damaging effect on the nervous system.
  • Chlormequat chloride (CCC) and mepequat– growth inhibitors used on a variety of grain products and even coffee linked in animal studies to developmental toxicity and neurological and organ damage, respectively.

Several toxic fungicides used on fruits and vegetables and associated with a variety of effects from skin rashes/sensitivity to liver and kidney damage were also detected.

A fast ‘clearout’

Before the experiment, eldest child Evelina’s urine was showing around 460 nanograms of chlormequat chloride per millilitre of urine (the ‘average’ that most of us carry is around 19 nanograms). Levels in children can be high because their diets can be higher in grain products –such as porridge, bread, and pasta –compared with the adult family members.  After eating only organic foods for two weeks, the chemical could not be detected in her urine.

The most profound effects were found in toddler Charlie’s samples. His chlormequat chloride levels were 675 nanograms but became undetectable by the end of the experiment. Despite his urine before the experiment showing particularly high levels of three other of the chemicals, after the experiment none of these were detected.

The way that an organic diet quickly cleared pesticides from the body is especially important for children, since children carry a higher proportion of these substances in their bodies and because their bodies are growing and changing may feel the toxic effects more profoundly.

The scientists at IVL notes in their report that this might be a good reason for following the precautionary principle, and finding safer agricultural methods for growing our food.

“Given how little we currently know about the combination effects of all the different chemical substances that people are exposed to in their day-to-day lives, it may be wise to apply a principle of caution in this regard,” they note.

Modern versus traditional diets

In a second study, also over a two week period, African-Americans were asked to swap their Westernized diets to a traditional African high-fibre, low-fat diet dramatically lowered their risk of colon cancer.  The key, according to the data published in published in Nature Communications is that the traditional diet has significant beneficial effects on gut flora.

Colon cancer is the fourth commonest cause of death from cancer worldwide, accounting for over 600 000 deaths per year. Colon cancer rates are much higher in the western world than in Africa or the Far East, yet in the United States, African Americans shoulder the greatest burden of the disease.

The study involved 20 African American volunteers and another group of 20 participants from rural South Africa. The two groups swapped diets under tightly controlled conditions for two weeks.

The volunteers had colonoscopy examinations before and after the diet swap. The researchers also measured biological markers that indicate colon cancer risk and studied samples of bacteria taken from the colon.

At the start, when the groups had been eating their normal diets, almost half of the American subjects had polyps – abnormal growths in the bowel lining that may be harmless but can progress to cancer.  None in the African group had these abnormalities.

After two weeks on the African diet, the American group had significantly less inflammation in the colon and reduced biomarkers of cancer risk. In the African group, measurements indicating cancer risk dramatically increased after two weeks on the Western diet.

Feeding a healthy gut

In switching to a traditional African diet, which was higher in wholefoods, the 40 people who took part (20 in the US and 20 in South Africa) increased the amount of soluble fibre in the diet – from approximately 10 grams to more than 50g per day. Although eating less animal fat and proteins was also seen as helpful, this was perhaps the most beneficial change in terms of reducing cancer risk

The study found that bacteria in the gut – known as the microbiome – altered their metabolism to adapt to the new diet. In the American group, the researchers found that the African diet led to an increase in the production of butyrate, a by-product of fibre metabolism that has important anti-cancer effects.

Principle investigator professor Stephen O’Keefe at the University of Pittsburgh commented:

“Studies on Japanese migrants to Hawaii have shown that it takes one generation of westernization to change their low incidence of colon cancer to the high rates observed in native Hawaiians. Our study suggests that westernization of the diet induces changes in biomarkers of colon cancer risk in the colonic mucosa within two weeks. Perhaps even more importantly, a change in diet from a westernized composition to a ‘traditional African’ high fibre low fat diet reduced these biomarkers of cancer risk within two weeks, indicating that it is likely never too late to change your diet to change your risk of colon cancer.”

And that really is the significant finding of these two studies. Whatever your age you can make significant beneficial changes in your life from changing your diet. So why not get started?

Year END Resolution

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

This time of year I’m usually convincing myself I’ll be alright through the holidays; that I won’t over-do it and put on any extra weight- at least not THAT much that it won’t come off easily. Thanksgiving isn’t quite here, so the reality of how powerful the sugar laden food-pull is, is easily pushed off as not-so-bad.


Than the second week in December hits, and all bets are off. Every weekend there’s some Christmas Party, and everyone is bringing yummy treats to every place you go- work, class, etc. It’s unavoidable. At first I pretend to play damage control, but that goes right out the window too quickly.

A Better Place

This year is different. I’m 20 pounds lighter than I was last year. I’ve been working out all year, so it’s become part of a routine I don’t like to miss. This lighter me will be able to combat the peer pressure a bit, because when you feel good, your will-power increases (it does for me anyway). Plus, my metabolism is naturally higher because my lean mass is greater, AND if I do decide to indulge, the actual workouts help burn this off. Definitely a better place than last year! The will-power to say NO, the body chemistry that naturally burns more, AND the schedule to help combat the questionable decisions I may make. I’m definitely in a better place. 

Let’s face it- we need to live a little. This holiday weight fiasco shouldn’t send us completely into stress mode, but neither should we just throw in the towel and succumb to every sugar impulse, especially if that’s already part of your yearly routine (be honest with yourself). 

The holiday festivities are so enjoyable for me BECAUSE I don’t eat like this all the time. I EARN it. Not that I don’t indulge here and there (those of you who know me, know that I’m known to EAT! -but only because I take my days of restraint seriously so all the days balance. I’m often doing doubles to balance my diet decisions. I know. I know. You can’t out-train a bad diet, but I’m getting better).


I told myself for years I’d start getting back into shape. That I would stop eating so much crap. That I could invest 30 minutes a day to improving my life. Years later, tomorrow had still not arrived, so I decided TODAY would be the day. That day, I started a fitness schedule, started tracking what I was eating, changed the way I grocery shopped…

…then I forgot. Time passed. Today came again.

I stopped, again.

Today came back around. This time I lasted a little longer, but I still fell off the wagon.

Life can legitimately get crazy, and I’m not good with maintaining things when my schedule gets all switched around, which seems to happen way too often, but every time TODAY comes back around, it’s easier and easier to find, and we dance just a little bit longer.

2015 progression

In August I moved from FL to NY and my schedule got totally whacked out… then the stress of opening a new business… But I’m back to it and going strong into the most dangerous time of year for weight gain!

Demand Better

You get the picture. This has not been a smooth journey for me. I’m up and down, back and forth, but learning to stop being frustrated by this. Not feeling guilty because of these falls was the biggest thing I learned that helped me REALLY be stronger each time I came back around to TODAY. It’s the first thing I tell people when they engage me in any kind of I need to be better talk regarding food, fitness, health, etc. The guilt needs to be put aside. The stress about yesterdays failures need to be viewed as learning curves for today. The victim mantras that are our excuses need to be seen as such, forgotten, and simple steps that solve the problem need to be executed. There’s no reason that if 60 minutes can’t be put in, than no time should be put in. Some of the hardest workouts I’ve ever done were only 15 minutes. Even with screaming kids running around, a 15 minute workout can be completed (just ask my niece and nephews).

Demand from the people around you that you be allowed to make yourself better. Demand it from yourself. When I’ve mis-calculated my day, so it’s midnight and I still haven’t gotten my workout in, I get my workout in. I’ve found that this doesn’t actually bite into my sleep or rest time, since I’d never go right to bed anyway. Being too tired is not an excuse I allow for missing a workout. 10 minutes in and the movement has woken me up. Being tired should be a reason we work out. Look up the studies that show how non-activity breeds non-activity. Your relaxing time isn’t helping you recover from being un-relaxed.  

Make It Happen

Bottom-line: Make it happen today, whatever it is. Tomorrow will never come. When you forget, like I’ve done over and over, just pick up and continue on when you remember again.