Archive for Nutrition Muse

Planning ahead for a healthy baby

In 2013, I had a thiamin deficiency. Not my proudest moment as a functional nutritionist, but hey, I relearned something I didn’t think would affect me. At the height of my green juicing habit, I was consuming lots of blueberries and LOTS of kale. I love kale; in my smoothie at breakfast, a kale salad at lunch, and oh heck I’ll through some in my soup/stir fry/dinner tonight, too. Well, kale and blueberries contain an anti-nutrient called anti-thiaminase. As you can surmise, anti-nutrient means it interferes with the utilization or absorption of a particular nutrient and that’s how I ended up with a thiamin deficiency. So I sadly said adieu to kale for a while, saved some blueberries for the rest of the planet and stocked my fridge with other fruit and veggies.

Now with the recent addition of our precious new niece Anna, and counseling several new mommies and mommies to be, I can’t stop reading about how nutrition affects the growing fetus. This video by Dr. Michael Gregor at, illustrates the point that what we eat tells the body how to behave.  Nutrients not only become the structure of our bodies, they are also messengers that deliver instructions on how to put together the structures in our bodies. While I am, admittedly, a whole food zealot, I have concerns about optimizing intake while not flooding the body with ‘messages’ that might in fact be harmful. The possibility that Mother Nature’s closing of a specialized opening in the heart might be adversely affected by high doses of antioxidants gets my attention. As does the research on depression, cardiovascular health, and immunity, all affected by the signaling molecules called nutrients that speak to developing DNA in utero. This ‘programmed DNA’ then dictates the health of the new human into adulthood. I always advocate a plant based diet, including plenty of vegetables and fruit during pregnancy. However, guzzling  concentrated sources of polyphenols and other antioxidants via dehydrated powders and concentrated juices on a daily basis may not be the best advice we can give. In hopes of creating the best developmental environment possible for a developing fetus, 2-3 servings of fruit and veggies at each meal, in their whole unprocessed states seem more appropriate. And yes, paternal nutrition affects the health of the fetus, too. If you are pregnant or soon to be, I hope you watch the video and check out the links above. As the wise Michael Pollan reminds us: eat real food (not powdered, processed ‘health’ food), not too much (optimize, don’t flood the system), mostly plants (yep, plants heal).



Nutrition and the brain

The more we know about the brain, our genetics and nutrition, the more nutrition becomes suspect in either the creation of or the worsening of cognitive decline. Research has some new theories about those pesky plaques in the brain called beta amyloid plaque. It appears that beta amyloid plaque may initially be a protective mechanism but when left unchecked, can lead to irreversible or, at least, damage that is difficult to reverse or slow down. This is similar to the formation of artery plaque. Plaque is laid down in an attempt to quench inflammation in the arterial wall. But over time, if the inflammation remains, this continuous building of plaque blocks off the artery from adequate blood flow, starving out the cells that depend on this blood flow to maintain their health. What causes this inflammation? A diet too high in carbohydrate that maintains higher blood sugar. This higher blood sugar may well be hovering at the upper end of the normal range, but over time sugar causes inflammation that creates a cascade of events that alert the immune system of danger, make blood cells sticky and hijack LDL cholesterol using it to form a plaque. In the brain, this creates beta amyloid plaque, which initially acts to help the cell by outsourcing energy production, keeping glucose out of the cell and reducing damage. But this shift has its cost. It limits available fuel within the cell and relies on valuable fat for fuel that would otherwise become part of the protective layer of neurons. This same inflammatory process can occur virtually anywhere in the body and can affect anyone. If you have diabetes, you are 2 to 5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Suffice it to say, you don’t want to go there!

Foods that rapidly digest to sugar: refined grains, sweets, soda, and alcohol all contribute to unhealthy blood sugar levels. Alcohol is particularly troublesome. Here’s what happens when we imbibe. Since we can’t store ethanol, it it’s the first fuel used before the other carbs, protein, and fat we consume. That means that some of the additional calories you consumed are more likely to become fat in your fat cells. This is because alcohol turns down the metabolic rate by limiting each cell’s ability to burn fuel. That’s like putting a speed limiter on your car’s engine. Your cells simply can’t burn fuel beyond a certain rate. A diet simply too high in carbohydrate can have the same effect. Not carbs from vegetables, whole fruit, dairy and modest amounts of whole grains, but those coming from sweets, soda, refined, processed foods and alcohol.

So what’s the best fuel for your brain? While experts like Dr. David Perlmutter recommend a grain free diet, and Dr. Michael Greger recommends a vegan diet, most experts agree that reducing the amount of sugar you eat is the first step. What do I tell my patients?

  • Limit grain products like bread, cereal, and crackers, choosing more beans, legumes, and root vegetables.
  • Plan your meals around vegetables and protein:
    • Sweet potato, spinach salad with walnuts, 1/2 an artichoke
    • Minestrone Soupmade with butternut squash and beans
    • Main dish salad with roasted root vegetables and salmon
    • Falafels wrapped in lettuce, kale or chard
  • Limit sweets to fresh fruit, or in moderation, dried fruit
  • Avoid soda completely: regular and artificially sweetened (those sweeteners affect your gut bacteria and disrupt the brain)
  • Include healthy fats every day: nuts, seeds, fatty fish, avocado, coconut oil (in moderation)

It doesn’t matter where you start, as long as you start soon. Your brain will thank you with better concentration, improved sleep and less risk of Alzheimer’s.


What to do for cold and flu

The flu is running rampant but you don’t need to be a victim of it. Basic good nutrition with plenty of vegetables and fresh fruit will do wonders, but a few key supplements with anti-viral and bacteriocidal properties can keep you germ free. Tried and true: Vitamin C 300-1000 mg/day. This old favorite has been shown to shorten the duration of a cold and even significantly decreased the length of  hospital stay due to pneumonia. Newcomer:  NAC or N-acetyl cysteine 500-1000 mg/day. NAC boosts the cell’s ability to recycle glutathione, a large anti-oxidant that protects the cell. In addition, NAC reduces virus replication and can reduce the severity of symptoms, and speed recovery if you do get the flu. Take 500 mg/day throughout cold and flu season for prevention. If you opt out of a preventive strategy, begin NAC as soon as you feel symptoms. You only have 48 hours to stop a virus from replicating and running its course. Sunshine in a bottle: Vitamin D3 1000-2000 IU/day. Vitamin D3 is a big player when it comes to your immune system. Ask your doctor to check your blood levels of Vitamin D to determine your best dose. Maintain blood levels between 50-70 ng/ml for the best disease prevention. Personal favorite: Quick Defense by Gaia. 1-2 capsules every 6-8 hours, up to 48 hours. Echinacea, andrographis and elderberry pack a punch against viruses. Again, the key is beginning this supplement at the first sign of illness. I’m often asked, what supplements do you take? There are two main brands I recommend and then several others for particular supplements like calcium (Nature’s Plus) and Quick Defense above. You can use the links below to access my favorite supplements!

Designs for Health Supplements

Prothera/Klaire Supplements  Use patient code ‘H36’ to order from Prothera.

Healthy Gut, Healthy Body, Healthy Brain

Healthy Intestinal Structure


Healthy Intestinal Structure

Healthy Intestinal Structure

Considering the intestinal tract is a major port of entry to the body, it makes sense that our intestines control a vast majority of our health. Food, water, medicines, germs, herbicides, pesticides, and anything else we chance to swallow is assessed, and either allowed entry or denied. That’s because about 70% of our immune function is directed from the gastrointestinal lining where specialized immune cells lie. If the immune cells deem something unhealthy for us, it can create stress on the intestinal tissue and result in inflammation. This inflammation can range from mild irritation to full-blown destruction of the intestinal lining as happens with ulcers and in celiac disease. This inflammation can impair our immune function and can even affect our moods and ability to deal with stress. That’s because the intestines make more serotonin than our brains. Hence, the gut is often referred to as the second brain. Inflammation in the intestines can be caused by disruption of gut serotonin, a food or food additives, bacteria, viruses, stress, or the myriad of chemicals we ingest as medication, supplements, herbicide, pesticide, food colorings, well, you get the picture. So to protect this vital system responsible for absorbing all the good stuff while keeping out the bad stuff, we need beneficial bacteria. Beneficial bacteria or probiotics, protect the intestinal lining by creating a film or barrier, thereby helping to support our immune system and maintain good serotonin levels, too. Probiotics help reduce inflammation by neutralizing toxic substances, bad bacteria and viruses so our immune systems don’t bear the entire burden. Think of probiotics as your local law enforcement and border patrol and the immune cells as Navy Seals. You wouldn’t activate your Seal Team on a daily basis because they are too specialized and cost the system too much. You want local law enforcement,with the broader set of skills to handle the lower level security issues and save your Seal Team for big stuff like fighting cancer cells.  By doing this you also spare the intestinal lining from using up too much serotonin. Probiotics seem to protect the intestinal storage of this vital hormone that allows us to feel happy and well. Research has shown that women given a probiotic were less effected by stressful stimuli. Children with autism and ADHD often have improvements in behavior when they are supported with probiotics. Simple ways to improve gut health is to get more fiber and reduce the amount of sugar you eat. Fiber helps keep our intestinal tract moving and is also food for beneficial bacteria. And as often happens in nature, the byproducts created by bacterial digestion of fiber, provides vital nutrients for our intestinal cells. Overindulging in sugar can overstimulate growth of bad bacteria and yeast that may then crowd out healthy bacteria. Sugars also feed cancer cells, making kicking the sugar habit one of the most powerful ways to fight cancer. It’s important to include good sources of healthy bacteria in your diet such as yogurt, kefir, kombucha, kim chee, or a probiotic supplement. Fermented foods have been prepared by having beneficial bacteria added to them and eating these foods can help maintain good levels of healthy bacteria in your intestines. However, a course of antibiotics, stress or gastrointestinal disease can make it more difficult to restore or maintain healthy amounts of the good bacteria. In this case a probiotic supplement may be the best choice. Your gut depends on you to provide what it needs to keep your body and brain healthy. So don’t delay in taking the first steps to better gut health. Both of your brains will thank you!



Lower the salt, increase potassium to lower blood pressure

Less salt equals lower blood pressure. Not news to most of you. But by focusing on increasing potassium in the diet you can offset some of the effects of sodium, the real culprit in salt. Sodium and potassium work together to create balance and promote metabolic processes in the body. Most people don’t get enough potassium and by simply eating more fresh fruit and veggies, you can dramatically increase the amount of potassium in your diet. Choose sweet potatoes, peaches, bananas, spinach, cantaloupe, avocado, red potatoes, berries, oranges for some of the most concentrated sources of potassium. Meats also contain potassium, but lack the antioxidants that fruits and vegetables contain. Remember, antioxidants are the disease fighters, scavenging free radicals that damage our DNA making the body more susceptible to cancers, heart disease, and other inflammatory diseases. Not sure how much salt you are eating? Try this 24 hour experiment to give you a good idea of how much sodium you typically add to food: Measure out 1 tsp of salt and place in a small cup. This is about 1500 mg of sodium which is considered a safe amount to include each day. Use this salt in preparing your food for one day. Avoid packaged and restaurant food and measure how much salt is left at the end of the day. Hopefully, there is a little bit left! If you prepared mostly whole, unprocessed food which is naturally low in sodium, you can feel confidant that you ate a healthy amount of sodium. Conversely, if you needed additional salt or added in several canned, packaged or prepared food items, you are probably exceeding the recommended 1500-2000 mg thought to be best for the body. Take a peek at the packaged foods you eat and try to choose those that have the least amount of salt in them, replacing salty choices with low and no salt options. Adding your own salt in preparation can save 1000’s of milligrams of sodium. And don’t forget to choose more fruits and veggies, striving for 3 servings of fruit each day and 5-7 servings of veggies.