Am I Getting Enough Vitamin D?

When we think of vitamins, we think of Vitamin C or that multi-vitamin we sometimes take in the morning.  But do you ever think about Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is kinda special and pretty important too. Plus, it's difficult to get enough vitamin D; vitamin D is, therefore, a very common deficiency.

So, let's talk about how much of this critical fat-soluble vitamin we need, and how you can get enough. The three ways to vitamin D are exposure to the sun, consuming vitamin D containing foods, and through supplements.

Vitamin D.jpg

So why is vitamin D important, and how much do we need?

Vitamin D helps us absorb calcium from our food and acts like a hormone to help us build strong bones. Vitamin D can also help with immune function, cellular growth, and help to prevent mood imbalances such as depression and seasonal affective disorder.

Not getting enough vitamin D can lead to bone diseases like osteomalacia. Inadequate vitamin D can also increase your risk of heart disease, autoimmune diseases, certain cancers, and even death. The official minimum amount of vitamin D to strive for each day is merely 400-600 IU. Many experts (and myself) think that this is not nearly enough for optimal health.

To ensure you get adequate amounts of vitamin D, you can implement any combination of the three vitamin D sources mentioned above on a weekly basis.

How can I get enough vitamin D from the sun?

Your skin makes vitamin D when it's exposed to the sun; that's why it's referred to as the 'Sunshine Vitamin.' But how much vitamin D your skin makes depends on many things. Location, season, clouds, clothing, all affect the amount of vitamin D your skin can produce from the sun. One standard recommendation is to get about 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. to the face, arms, legs, or back. This should be done without sunscreen, at least twice a week.

Of course, we should always avoid sunburns and of course in some locations (and seasons of the year) it's not easy to get sun exposure. (hey fellow Canadians...this is a big problem for us!) 

I used to have a big problem with seasonal affective disorder until I started taking Vitamin D in the Fall/Winter months.   I had no issues in the Spring and Summer as I spend loads of time outdoors.  But living in Canada in the winter means we don't have a lot of access to sunshine and if it is sunny, it's entirely too cold to be outside with bare skin.

How can I get enough vitamin D from food?

Vitamin D is naturally found in fatty fish, liver, and egg yolks. And some mushrooms make vitamin D when they're exposed to the sun.

Some foods are 'fortified' (which means vitamin D has been added) with vitamin D. These include milk, some orange juices, breakfast cereals, and yogurt. It will say on the label how much vitamin D has been added per serving.

Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, you can increase absorption of it from your food if you eat it with some fat (healthy fat, of course).  Between sun exposure and food, it still may be difficult to get even the minimum of 400 IU of vitamin D each day; this is why vitamin D supplements are quite popular.

How can I get enough vitamin D from supplements?

It's easy enough to just "pop a pill" or take some cod liver oil (which also contains vitamin A). Either of these can ensure that you get the minimum amount of vitamin D, plus a bit extra.

But before you take vitamin D containing supplements, make sure you check that it won't interact with other supplements or medications you may be taking. Always read your labels, and ask a healthcare professional for advice.

Do not take more than the suggested dosage on the label of any vitamin D supplement, except under medical care.  The maximum amount recommended (for the general population) is 4,000 IU/day. Too much vitamin D can raise your blood levels of calcium (to an unsafe level), and this can affect your heart and kidneys.

The best thing, if you're concerned, is to ask your healthcare professional to do a blood test and make a recommendation about how much vitamin in supplement form is right for you. Your healthcare practitioner may recommend higher amounts of vitamin D supplementation for a short time while under their care.

Conclusion:

Vitamin D is an essential fat-soluble vitamin which; many people have a hard time maintaining adequate levels of vitamin D.  There are three ways to get enough vitamin D: sun exposure, through certain foods, and in supplements.

I've given you some ideas how you can get the minimum 400-600 IU or vitamin D daily. And if you're concerned, it's best to request a blood test that tests your vitamin D levels to be sure what's right for you. Always take supplements as directed.

But what if you don't eat animal products? Well, here's some great plant-based sources of Vitamin D to add into your daily routine:

  • Mushrooms - Portobello, maitake, morel, button, and shiitake mushrooms are all good sources of vitamin D. Tip:  set them out in the sun to boost their vitamin D content! Less than a minute can make a big difference.
  • Fortified Beverages - Fortified orange juice, Almond Milk or Soy Milk. Just make sure to read the labels.
  • Fortified Cereals - lots of vegan cereals are fortified with Vitamin D. Just check the label.
  • Tofu - again, check the label as some Tofu is also fortified with Vitamin D
  • Vegan Vitamin D Supplement - so not all Vitamin D supplements are vegan. Some D3 is made from animal products and some is made from lichen. Just make sure to read the label and grab a plant-based one.

http://thewellnessbusinesshub.com/yes-nutrient-deficiencies-heres-proof-can/

http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/reference/table/ref_vitam_tbl-eng.php

https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-vitamin-d

https://authoritynutrition.com/vitamin-d-101/

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/brain-food-essentials-sardines

Decadent Vegan Zucchini Brownies

So it turns out I may have planted a few too many zucchini plants this year.  For the past week or so we have been picking non-stop  small baby-sized zuccs from our garden.  And I really don't mind.  I actually quite like them, but to be honest, after eating them daily, it gets a bit boring.

That is until now.

Who doesn't love brownies? And who doesn't love super-chocolatey, rich vegan brownies that are also filled with hidden veggies? 

Vegan brownies.jpg

I was actually quite surprised how well these turned out.  And if you like chocolate, you're gonna love these.  And the veggies are totally undetectable.  I would only change one thing.  Can you actually believe I found these brownies a tad too sweet? Yeah, like I was kinda shocked too.  So I think next time I will reduce the sugar by a 1/4 or 1/2 cup.  But regardless, this recipe is a definite keeper and perfect for using up all that zucchini!

Recipe: Decadent Vegan Zucchini Brownies

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2  cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup chickpea flour (could use almond or coconut flour instead)
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar (I used 1 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup brown sugar)
  • 1/2 coconut oil (melted)
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini (don't squeeze out the liquid)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract (optional)
  • 1 1/4 cups semi-sweet vegan chocolate chips (divided)

Instructions:

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Line a 9x13 pan with parchment paper or grease well with coconut oil.
  • In a large bowl, combine sugar, oil and flour. Mix well and then use a fork to combine until the mixture looks like wet sand.
  • Add in cocoa, salt, baking soda and vanilla (if using) and continue to mix with the fork until well combined.  It will look quite dry, but don't worry, the zucchini will give it all the moisture it needs.
  • Stir in shredded zucchini until well mixed.  Add in 1 cup of chocolate chips and mix until well combined.
  • Pour batter into your pan and spread out evenly with a spatula.  Your batter will be quite dough-like, but don't worry that's the way it should be. Trust me.
  • Sprinkle the remaining chocolate chips on top of the batter.
  • Bake for 27-32 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean and the brownies are set.
  • Cool your brownies completely before cutting...if you can wait that long.
  • Serve and enjoy! And try not to eat the whole pan in one day!
vegan zucchini brownies.jpg

These brownies might just be a new favorite in my house.  I can't believe how moist and delicious they are, especially since the only real moisture comes from all the yummy zucchini.

You don't have to use chickpea flour if you don't want to.  All-purpose flour will work just fine.  I just like trying to add in additional nutrition whenever I can.  And the chickpea flour is a great way to add some protein. I mean, if you're gonna have dessert, why not make it kinda good for you too?!

Hope you enjoy them as much as we do!  I see more brownies in my future!

This recipe was adapted from a recipe found on Two Peas & Their Pod.

How Do I get off that Blood Sugar Rollercoaster?

blood sugar

Oh, blood sugar...

Does it conjure up visions of restrictive eating, diabetes medications, or insulin injections?  Blood sugar is the measure of the amount of sugar in your blood. You need the right balance of sugar in your blood to fuel your brain and muscles.

The thing is, it can fluctuate. Like A LOT.

This fluctuation is the natural balance between things that increase it; and things that decrease it. When you eat food with sugars or starches (carbs), then your digestive system absorbs sugar into your blood. When carbs are ingested and broken down into simple sugars, your body keeps blood sugar levels stable by secreting insulin. Insulin allows excess sugar to get it out of your bloodstream and into your muscle cells and other tissues for energy

So why keep my blood sugar stable?

Well, your body wants your blood sugar to be at an optimal level. It should be high enough, so you're not light-headed, fatigued, and irritable. Think 'Hangry'. But, it should be low enough that your body isn't scrambling to remove excess from the blood.

When blood sugar is too low, this is referred to as hypoglycemia. And when blood sugar is too high, it is referred to as hyperglycemia.  Prolonged periods of elevated blood sugar levels (chronic hyperglycemia) can lead to insulin resistance.

Ok, so what's insulin resistance? Insulin resistance is when your cells get so used to the excess insulin that they start ignoring (resisting) it, and that keeps your blood sugar levels too high. Therefore, insulin resistance and chronic hyperglycemia can eventually lead to diabetes.

So let’s look at how you can optimize your food and lifestyle to keep your blood sugar stable.

Foods for stable blood sugar

The simplest thing to do to balance your blood sugar is to reduce the number of refined sugars and starches you eat.  To do this, you can start by dumping sweet drinks and having smaller portions of dessert.

Eating more fiber is helpful too. Fiber helps to slow down the amount of sugar absorbed from your meal; it reduces the "spike" in your blood sugar level.  Fiber is found in plant-based foods (as long as they are eaten in their natural state, processing foods removed fiber). Eating nuts, seeds, and whole fruits and veggies (not juiced) is a great way to increase your fiber intake.

Hot Tip: Cinnamon has been shown to help cells increase insulin sensitivity. Not to mention it’s a delicious spice that can be used in place of sugar. (HINT: It’s in the recipe below)

Lifestyle for stable blood sugar

Exercise also helps to improve your insulin sensitivity; this means that your cells don't ignore insulin's call to get excess sugar out of the blood.  Not to mention, when you exercise, your muscles are using up that sugar they absorbed from your blood. But you already knew that exercise is healthy, didn't you?

Would you believe that stress affects your blood sugar levels too? Yup! Stress hormones increase your blood sugar levels. If you think about the "fight or flight" stress response, what fuel do your brain and muscles need to "fight" or "flee"? Sugar! When you are stressed signals are sent to release stored forms of sugar back into the bloodstream, increasing blood sugar levels.  So, try to reduce the stress you're under and manage it more effectively. Simple tips are meditation, deep breathing, or gentle movement.

Sleep goes hand-in-hand with stress. When you don't get enough quality sleep, you tend to release stress hormones, have a higher appetite, and even get sugar cravings. Sleep is crucial, often overlooked, factor when it comes to keeping your blood sugar stable. Make sleep more of a priority - it will do your blood sugar (and the rest of your physical and mental health) good.

Conclusion:

Your body is on a constant 24-hour quest to keep your blood sugar stable. The body has mechanisms in place to do this, but those mechanisms can get tired (resistant).  Long-term blood sugar issues can spell trouble.

There are many nutrition and lifestyle approaches you can take to help keep your blood sugar stable. Minimizing excessive carbs, and eating more fiber, exercising, reducing stress, and improving sleep are all key to having stable blood sugar (and overall good health).

Recipe (blood sugar balancing): Cinnamon Apples

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 apples, chopped
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ⅛ tsp sea salt
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:

  1. Place chopped apples into a small saucepan with 2 tbsp water. Cover and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally. After about 5 minutes the apples will become slightly soft, and water will be absorbed.
  2. Add 1 tbsp coconut oil. Stir apples and oil together.
  3. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring every minute or so.
  4. Add cinnamon, salt, and vanilla. Stir well.
  5. Cook for another few minutes, stirring until the apples reach your desired softness!

Serve and enjoy!

Tip: Keeping the peel on increases the fiber, which is even better for stabilizing your blood sugar.

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/15-ways-to-lower-blood-sugar/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/research-review-blood-sugar

Adrenal Fatigue: What Is It?

Adrenal Fatigue.jpg

Stressed? Tired? Craving sugar? Can’t sleep?

All of these can be related to the constant stress we feel in our lives. We know that stress can have a huge impact on our health and wellness. And, since your adrenal glands produce stress hormones, adrenal fatigue (or “HPA Axis Dysregulation,”) is a popular theme lately.

Your adrenal glands look like walnuts that live on top of both of your kidneys. These important glands produce many hormones, including stress hormones.  But what happens when they become “overworked?”

You’ve heard of “adrenaline junkies,” right?

Well, Adrenaline and Cortisol are the stress hormones that give you the commonly known adrenaline rush; when you're totally alert and living in the moment. This feeling is known as your body's "fight or flight" response.  Some people (maybe you?) just love that intense feeling.

The release of hormones in the fight or flight response is your body's normal reaction to stress.  Stress can sometimes be positive, like when it helps you swerve and prevent a crash.After a short time, the flight or flight response dissipates, your body goes back to normal, and all is good.

But what would happen if you felt constant stress?

Like all day, every day? Like “chronic” stress?

It wouldn't feel like an awesome (once-in-a-while) "rush," anymore would it?  And what do you think happens to your poor adrenal glands when they’re constantly workingThey’d get fatigued, right?

Do I have adrenal fatigue?

When your adrenal glands start getting tired of secreting stress hormones day in and out, you can start getting other symptoms.  Symptoms like fatigue, difficulty sleeping, mood swings, weight loss or gain, joint pain, sugar cravings, even frequent infections like colds and the flu are signs that your adrenals are overworked.

First off, I have to tell you that there aren't medically accepted blood tests for adrenal fatigue. In fact, it's not recognized by most medical professionals until the point when your adrenals are so fatigued they almost stop working. At that point, the official diagnoses of Adrenal Insufficiency or Addison's Disease may apply.

However, if you do have symptoms, you should see your doctor to rule out other conditions. He or she may even be open to discussing adrenal fatigue, or at the very least, wellness strategies that can help to reduce your stress (and symptoms).

What to do if I have these symptoms?

There are many actions you can take to reduce your stress and improve your health and energy levels.  Ideally, if you think stress is starting to burn you out, stress reduction is key. There are tons of ideas how you can reduce your stress. My favourites are meditation, walking in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or taking a bath.

Of course, I also recommend reducing sugar and processed food intake and eating more fruits and vegetables. Better nutrition can only help your body. So go ahead and do it.

Conclusion:

Your adrenal glands produce hormones in response to stress. After long-term daily stress, they may get tired.  Adrenal fatigue is a controversial disease that doesn’t have a true diagnostic test, nor specific telltale symptoms.

The most important thing you can do is to get tested to rule out other potential conditions. You can also try stress reduction techniques like meditation, walks in nature, light exercise, more sleep, or even a lovely bath.

Recipe (Stress-reducing bath salt): Lavender Bath Salts

For 1 bath

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups epsom salts
  • 10 drops lavender essential oil

Instructions:

  • As you're running your warm bath water, add ingredients to the tub.
  • Mix until dissolved.

Enjoy your stress-reducing bath!

Tip: You can add a tablespoon of dried lavender flowers.

References:

https://www.thepaleomom.com/adrenal-fatigue-pt-1/

https://www.dietvsdisease.org/adrenal-fatigue-real/

I Got 99 Problems & Coconut Oil Fixes Like 97 of Them

coconut oil

The Coconut Oil Craze - Should I jump on the bandwagon too? Yes you should (end of post).

But what exactly is it about coconut oil that makes it so healthy? And which type is best? Let’s dive into some of the fascinating research and find out.

Coconut oil is a special kind of fat

Coconut oil is fat and contains the same 9 calories per gram as other fats.  It is extracted from the "meat" of the coconut. Coconut oil is a white solid at room temperature and easily melts into a clear liquid on a hot day.

The idea of adding coconut oil to your diet is NOT to add on to what you already eat but to substitute it for some of the (possibly) less healthy fats you may be eating now.  And here’s why - Because not all calories or fats are created equal.

Coconut oil contains a unique type of fat known as “Medium Chain Triglycerides” (MCTs). In fact, 65% of the fat in coconut oil are these MCTs.  What makes MCTs unique is how your body metabolizes them;  they're easily absorbed into the bloodstream by your gut, where they go straight to the liver, and they're burned for fuel or converted into "ketones."  This metabolic process, unique to MCTs, is what sets coconut oil apart from other fats.

Coconut oil MCTs may help with fat loss

Coconut oil’s MCTs have been shown to have a few different fat loss benefits.  First, it can help to increase feelings of fullness, which can lead to a natural reduction in the amount of food you eat. 

Second, because of their unique metabolic route, MCTs can also increase the number of calories you burn;  this happens when you compare the calories burned after eating the same amount of other fats.  In fact, a few studies show that coconut oil may increase the number of calories you burn by as much as 5%.

Third, some studies show that eating coconut oil can help reduce belly fat (a.k.a. “waist circumference”).  Just remember not to add coconut oil to your diet without reducing other fats and oils!

How much coconut oil should I eat?

Many of the studies that showed increased fullness, increased metabolism, and reduced belly fat only used about 2 tablespoons per day. And you probably don’t need any more than that.

What kind of coconut oil is the best?

There are so many coconut oil options available in grocery stores these days that it can make it difficult to know which is best.

I recommend you stay away from "refined" ones, and opt for "virgin" coconut oil. That is because it is processed at lower temperatures and avoids some of the chemical solvents used in the refining process;  this helps to preserve more of the oil's natural health-promoting antioxidants.

Pro Tip: Always (and I mean ALWAYS) avoid "hydrogenated" coconut oil. Or any hydrogenated oil for that matter! It can be a health nightmare because it contains the infamous "trans fats."

One thing you should also consider is that each oil has a specific high temperature that you should avoid surpassing (e.g. its "smoke point"). For virgin coconut oil, that temperature is 350F. That means you can safely use it on the stovetop on a low-medium setting, as well as in most baking.

Conclusion:

Substitute some of the fat you eat with virgin coconut oil;  this may help you to lose weight and belly fat by naturally helping you to eat less, as well as slightly increasing your metabolism.

Oh, and it tastes great too! Plus, you can use it for a whole tonne of homemade beauty products.  I especially like to use it for after-sun moisturizer, quick lip balm and even as shaving cream!

Recipe: Homemade Healthy Chocolate

Serves 12

Ingredients:

  • ⅓ cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1 cup cocoa/cacao powder
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup
  • 2 dashes salt
  • 4 tablespoons slivered almonds

Instructions:

  1. Melt coconut oil, and whisk in maple syrup, salt, and cocoa/cacao powder until smooth.
  2. Stir in slivered almonds until evenly distributed.
  3. Pour into an ice cube tray and freeze.
  4. Store in fridge or freezer to avoid melting.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Substitute other seeds, chopped nuts, or dried fruit instead of the almonds if you wish.

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/top-10-evidence-based-health-benefits-of-coconut-oil/

https://authoritynutrition.com/coconut-oil-and-weight-loss/

https://authoritynutrition.com/20-most-weight-loss-friendly-foods/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/encyclopedia/food/coconut-oil/

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-brain-coconut-oil

The Gut-Brain Connection: How To Feed Your Brain

Gut brain.jpg

If there was ever a call for digestive health, this is it!  Yes, it's true. Your gut is considered your "second brain." And there is no denying it anymore.

And because of the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it's no wonder what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.  How crazy is that?!

What exactly is the "Gut-Brain Connection."

Well, it’s very complex, and to be honest, we’re still learning lots about it! There seems to be multiple things working together.  Things like:

  • The vagus nerve that links the gut directly to the brain;
  • The “enteric nervous system” (A.K.A. “second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain
  • The massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut;
  • The huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body;
  •  The interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes.

Yep, that's complex. And amazing, if you ask me. So, let's briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe (of course!)

Vagus nerve

There is a nerve that runs directly from the gut to the brain.  And after reading this so far, you’ll probably get a sense of which direction 90% of the transmission is…

Not from your brain to your gut (which is what we used to think), but from your gut up to your brain!

The Enteric Nervous System and Neurotransmitters

Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord? True story.  And that's why it's referred to as the "second brain."

And, if you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty "smartly"...don't you think?

And guess how these nerves speak to each other, and to other cells? By chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.  In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in the gut! e.g. a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your gut, not in your brain!

The Immune System of the Gut

Because eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body, it makes total sense that much of our defense system would be located there too, right? Seventy-five percent of our immune system is in our gut!

And you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere, right?  Well, if they’re “activated” by something in the gut, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body. Including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.

Gut Microbes

Your friendly neighbourhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your gut. And they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation!

But more and more evidence is showing that changes in your gut microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.

How do these all work together for brain health?

The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don't know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more.  But one thing is becoming clear. A healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain!

So, how do you feed your brain?  Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone.

But two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed your awesome gut microbes. And omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.

Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats (Gut food:fibre, Brain food: Omega-3)

Serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup oats (gluten-free)
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts

Instructions:

  • Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
  • Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
  • Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Your gut microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.

References:

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_aging/healthy_body/the-brain-gut-connection

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-probiotics

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/fix-gut-fix-health

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/your-gut-bugs-what-they-eat-and-7-ways-feed-them