Turmeric - A Miracle Spice?

Turmeric grows under the ground like ginger. It has a rich, bright orange color and is used in many foods. Originally used in Southeast Asia, it’s a vital component for traditional curries. You can find dried powdered turmeric in the spice aisle of just about any grocery store. Sometimes they carry the fresh variety too (it looks like ginger root, but smaller).

Turmeric contains an amazing anti-inflammatory, antioxidant compound called "curcumin.” The amount of this bioactive compound is around 3-7% by weight of turmeric. Curcumin has been studied extensively for its health benefits. It’s important to note that many of these studies test curcumin at up to 100x more than that of a traditional diet that includes turmeric.

Health benefits of curcumin

There are dozens of clinical studies using curcumin extract (which is way more concentrated than ground turmeric).

Curcumin is an anti-inflammatory compound. It fights inflammation at the molecular level. Some studies even show it can work as well as certain anti-inflammatory medications (but without the side effects).

Curcumin is an antioxidant compound. It can neutralize free radicals before they wreak havoc on our biomolecules. Curcumin also boosts our natural antioxidant enzymes.

These two functions of reducing inflammation and oxidation have amazing health benefits. Chronic inflammation plays a major role in so many conditions. Including heart disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, dementia, mood disorders, arthritis, chronic pain, etc.

Curcumin has other amazing functions too:

  • Boosts our levels of "Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor" (best described as a natural growth hormone for your brain) which is great for brain health.
  • Improves “endothelial function” (the inner lining of our blood vessels) which is great for heart health.
  • Reduces growth of cancer cells by reducing angiogenesis (growth of new blood vessels in tumors), metastasis ( the spread of cancer), and even contributes to the death of cancer cells.

Do you think these make turmeric deserve the “miracle spice” title?

How to get the most out of your turmeric

Curcumin is not easily absorbed by your gut. For one thing, it’s fat soluble. So, as with fat-soluble nutrients (like vitamins A, D, E, and K), you can increase absorption by eating it with a fat-containing meal.

The second trick to get the most out of your turmeric is eating it with pepper. Interestingly, a compound in black pepper (piperine) enhances absorption of curcumin, by a whopping 2,000%!

If you want the health benefits of curcumin, you need to get a larger dose of than just eating some turmeric; this is where supplements come in.

Before you take a curcumin supplement, take caution if you:

  • Are pregnant
  • Are taking anti-platelet medications or blood thinners
  • Have gallstones or a bile duct obstruction
  • Have stomach ulcers or excess stomach acid

Always read the label before taking a new supplement.

Conclusion

Turmeric is a delicious spice, and it’s “active ingredient” curcumin is a great health-booster.

Curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which are great to bust chronic inflammation. It also has other amazing health benefits, like brain- and heart-boosting properties, and even cancer-fighting properties.

Curcumin supplements can be great for your health, but they're not for everyone. Check the label or reach out to speak with me before taking it.

I want to know: What’s your favorite recipe with turmeric? Try my version of “golden milk,” and let me know in the comments below.

Recipe (turmeric): Golden Milk

Serves 2

1 cup canned coconut milk (full fat)
1 cup hot water
1 ½ tsp turmeric, ground
¼ tsp cinnamon, ground
¼ tsp ginger, ground
1 sprinkle black pepper, ground
½ tsp honey

Instructions

Add all ingredients to a small saucepan. Whisk to combine.

Warm over medium heat, whisking frequently. Heat until hot, but not boiling.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can substitute 2 cups of almond milk instead of the 1 cup coconut milk and 1 cup water. If you make the recipe with the whole can of coconut milk, store the remaining amount in a jar in the fridge.

References:

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/encyclopedia/food/turmeric/

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

https://examine.com/supplements/turmeric/

https://leesaklich.com/foods-vs-supps/foods-vs-supplements-the-turmeric-edition/

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/turmeric-curcumin-plants-vs-pills/

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/who-shouldnt-consume-curcumin-or-turmeric/

Protein - How Much is Enough?

Protein is not just for great skin, hair, and nails; it's critical for health. Without it, you wouldn't be able to repair damaged tissues, digest food, fight infections, build muscle and bone, create hormones, or even think and have a good mood.

Eating enough protein during the day allows you to maintain stable blood sugar so you can be focused and mentally sharp throughout the day.

Higher protein diets can help fight high blood pressure, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Not to mention protein's great benefits for metabolism boosting, satiety (feeling full after a meal), and weight management.

Protein is important, that’s a given.

There are a few factors to consider when calculating how much protein we need. In this post, I’ll go through those calculations with you. You’ll also find a list of the amount of protein in some common foods.

How much protein is enough

Every body is different, so there isn’t a rule that applies equally to everyone. There are a few factors to consider when figuring out how much protein you need.

Start with the minimum recommendation of 0.8 g/kg (0.36 g/lb) per day.

So, for a 68 kg (150 lb) healthy non-athlete adult, this is about 55 g protein/day.

Mind you, this is a minimum to prevent protein deficiency. It's not optimal for good repair, digestion, immune function, muscle/bone building, hormones, thinking and great moods. It's not enough for athletes, seniors or those recovering from an injury, either. If you fall into one of these categories, you may need to increase the minimum protein intake to a higher amount within the recommended range. Aim closer to 1.3 g/kg (0.6 g/lb) per day.

More than likely your protein needs will fall between 0.8 g/kg and 1.3 g/kg per day. Which you can judge based on your activity level.

Athletes need more protein for their energy and muscle mass. Seniors need more to help ward off muscle and bone loss that's common in old age. And injured people need more for recovery and healing.

How much protein is too much?

As with fat and carbohydrates, eating too much protein can cause weight gain. Extra protein can be converted into sugar or fat in the body.

The interesting thing about protein is that it isn’t as easily or quickly converted as carbohydrates or fat; this is because of its thermic effect. The thermic effect is the amount of energy required to digest, absorb, transport and store a nutrient. To digest protein, your body needs to spend energy (i.e., burn calories). More calories than when metabolizing fats or carbohydrates.

A good rule of thumb is to eat a maximum of 25g of protein at one time (the equivalent of 3-4 oz of cooked meat). This is the amount of protein that your body can digest and assimilate at one time. It’s a good idea to space your protein intake throughout the day.

If you’re concerned that high protein intake harms healthy kidneys, don’t be. If your kidneys are healthy, they are more than capable of filtering out excess amino acids from the blood. The problem only occurs in people who already have kidney issues.

Note: Plant proteins are especially safe for kidney health.

How much protein is in food?

  • A 3.5 oz chicken breast has 31 g
  • A 3.5 oz can of salmon has 20 g
  • ½ cup cooked beans contain 6-9 g
  • A large egg contains 6 g
  • ¼ cup nuts contains 4-7 g
  • 1 medium baked potato contains 3 g

Conclusion

Protein is an essential nutrient we should all get enough of. “Enough” is about 0.8 - 1.3 g/kg (0.36 - 0.6 g/lb) per day. If you're a healthy non-athlete adult, you can aim for the lower level. If you're an athlete, senior, or injured person, aim for the higher level.

Too much protein can cause weight gain, so it's best to have just enough.

I’d love to know: Are you one of those people who needs more protein? Let me know in the comments.

Recipe (high-protein): Baked Chicken Breasts

Serves 4

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp paprika
¼ tsp turmeric
½ tsp dried Italian seasoning

Instructions

Preheat oven to 450°F. Place a layer of parchment paper on a baking dish.

Place the chicken breasts in the prepared dish. Brush on both sides with grapeseed oil.

In a small bowl, mix spices until combined. Sprinkle the spice mixture evenly over the chicken on both sides.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through to at least 165°F at the thickest part.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Serve with a variety of coloured vegetables, or a salad!

References:

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

http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/do-you-eat-enough-protein

https://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-protein-per-day/

Salt: Delicious, but is it Healthy?

Yes, there are lots of different kinds of salt: pink, iodized, kosher, sea, etc. They come from salt mines in the ground, or from evaporating the water out of salt water. What they all have in common is that infamous mineral that I’m going to talk about below: sodium.

In food, salt is used for both flavour, and as a preservative. Salt helps to preserve food by drawing out the water that bacteria and mold need to grow. Hence, preserving the food from spoiling as quickly.

Would you be surprised to know that 75% of our salt intake comes from sources other than the salt shaker? It comes from processed foods. Snacks like chips, pretzels and salted nuts are included here. But so are canned foods, pickled foods, boxed foods, deli meats, restaurant food, and fast food.

Salt vs. Sodium

Salt is actually "sodium chloride." It's about 40% sodium and 60% chloride; this means that one teaspoon of salt (5,000 mg) contains about 2,000 mg of sodium.

Sodium itself is not that bad! In fact, it’s an essential mineral and an important electrolyte in the body. It helps with fluid balance, and proper nerve and muscle function.

Too much sodium though, is not great for your health. Regularly getting too much sodium can increase your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, stomach cancer, and kidney stones.

That one teaspoon with about 2,000 mg of sodium is pretty much your entire day’s worth of sodium. People who eat a lot of pre-made, packaged foods tend to eat way too much sodium. In fact, 90% of American adults consume more than 2,300 mg per day. The average intake is closer to 3,400 mg of sodium per day!

If you're at high risk for those conditions, then you probably shouldn't have more than just 1,500 mg of sodium each day.

You might be wondering how table salt stacks up against, say pink Himalayan sea salt for example. It should be noted that regular white table salt has been bleached (with chemicals) and stripped of all minerals except for sodium and chloride. While, Himalayan salt has other minerals intact (like magnesium, and potassium) which help your body maintain proper electrolyte balance. As such, pink Himalayan salt contains less sodium per teaspoon than table salt, and also contains more health-promoting minerals (and fewer chemicals).

Sodium and high blood pressure

How does salt increase blood pressure?  And what does that have to do with it making you thirsty?

Well, there actually is something called "salt-sensitive high blood pressure."  Here's how it works:

The salt you eat gets absorbed quickly and goes into the blood.

Your body recognizes that the blood is too salty, so more water is added to the blood to dilute it (i.e. with thirst signals to make you drink more fluid). More water in the blood means more fluid your heart needs to pump and more fluid pushing against the walls of your vessels. It also sends more blood to the kidneys so the sodium can be filtered out into the urine.

This is how too much sodium increases your blood pressure. Increased blood pressure also puts a strain on your kidneys and other sensitive vessels, including critical vessels in your brain and heart.

You can counteract this effect by reducing the amount of salt you eat (from both processed foods and the salt shaker). In fact, limiting salt intake has been shown to slightly reduce blood pressure.

Pro Tip: You can reduce high blood pressure by eating more whole foods, and more mineral-rich plant foods.

Conclusion

If you are healthy and eat mostly whole, unprocessed foods, then you probably don’t need to worry about your salt intake. Feel free to add a bit of salt during cooking or at the table for flavour.

If your doctor has told you to reduce your salt or sodium intake, then you can do this by reducing your intake of processed foods, adding less salt to the food you make, and eating more plant-based foods.

Recipe (Low-Sodium): Italian Spice Mix

1 Tbsp. dried oregano
1 ½ Tbsp. dried basil
1 Tbsp. dried parsley
1 Tbsp. dried thyme
½ Tbsp. onion powder
½ Tbsp. garlic powder

Mix all ingredients and place in a sealed container. Sprinkle where you would normally use salt. This is especially good with Italian-style dishes.

Serve & enjoy!

Tip: Feel free to play around with the ingredients. If you dislike a spice, leave it out. If you love one, add more.

References:

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

https://authoritynutrition.com/salt-good-or-bad/

Water - How Much Do I Really Need to Drink?

Water is essential for life. You can only survive a few days without it. Being hydrated is so essential for health, I could argue that water is the most essential nutrient, period. After all, water is needed for every cell and function in your body.

Water is a huge part of your blood; it cushions your joints and aids digestion. It helps stabilize your blood pressure and heart beat. It helps to regulate your body temperature and helps maintain electrolyte (mineral) balance. And those are just a few of its roles.

Dehydration can impair mood and concentration, and contribute to headaches and dizziness. It can reduce your physical endurance, and increase the risk for kidney stones and create constipation. Extreme dehydration can cause heat stroke, especially in hot weather.

So, water is critical for life and health.

When you’re focused on your work, or zipping between tasks with little down time, you might forget to drink water. It’s true that even though you might not feel thirsty, your body still needs water for proper hydration. In fact, water will help keep your mind sharp so you can focus on your tasks.

But, just as way too little water is life-threatening, so is way too much. As with most things in health and wellness, there is a healthy balance to be reached.

However, there are conflicting opinions as to how much water to drink. Is there a right amount for everyone? What counts toward water intake?

Let’s dive right in.

How much water do I need?

One guideline that no doubt you’ve heard is the "8x8 rule." This is the recommendation to drink eight, 8 oz glasses of water every day; that's about 2 liters of water.

Like any nutrition “rule,” a one size fits all approach is not going to work for all cases. The 8x8 works better as a guideline, than a hard and fast rule. If you’re drinking way less than 8 glasses of water per day, it might be a good idea to get as close to the 8 glasses as you can (especially if you’re drinking coffee and alcohol daily as well).

Now, many health professionals recommend drinking according to thirst.

The danger with gauging your hydration based on thirst, is that in order to tell whether you’re thirsty you need to be paying close attention to your body. You also need to have water on hand.

It’s true that humans have complex hormonal and neurological processes that are constantly monitoring how hydrated we are. And for healthy adults, this system is very reliable, and shows up as thirst. But what happens for many of us when we’re immersed in our day-to-day activities, is that we stop listening for our body’s cues. Or sometimes we know we’re thirsty/hungry, but aren’t prepared with water or food on hand so we put our needs on the back burner.

There is another way to tell how hydrated you are…

Pay attention to how dark and concentrated your urine is. The darker your urine, the more effort your body is making to hold on to the water it has. Urine is still getting rid of the waste, but in a smaller volume of water, so it looks darker.

A well-hydrated body produces urine that is very faint yellow, almost completely clear and colourless. Keep in mind that if you’re taking B vitamins, this could alter the colour of your urine.

There are a few other things to consider when evaluating your hydration status. If you’re sweating a lot, or are in a hot/humid climate, you’ll need to drink more.

Breastfeeding moms, elderly people, and people at risk of kidney stones need to drink more water too. So do people who experience vomiting and/or diarrhea, as both can quickly dehydrate our bodies.

So use the one size fits all 8x8 rule as a guideline, and pay more attention to your body’s subtle cues for water.

What counts toward my water intake?

All fluids and foods containing water contribute to your daily needs.

Water is the best choice, but if you're not drinking pure water, consider the effects that the other ingredients have on your body. Drinks containing sugar, alcohol, and caffeine will have effects on the body besides hydration. Sugar can mess with your blood sugar balance. Alcohol can make you feel "buzzed." And caffeine can keep you awake. Let's talk a bit more about caffeine for a second.

Caffeine is the infamous "dehydrator," right? Well, new research is saying otherwise. While caffeine may make you have to go to the bathroom more, that effect isn't strong enough to negate the hydrating effects of its water. So, you don’t need to counteract your daily cup(s) of coffee and/or tea…but you do need to know that water is a better choice for a hydrating beverage that has better overall health effects.

Think of it this way, if you’re hungry are you going to nourish your body by drinking a chocolate bar, or vegetables and lean protein? The coffee vs water debate is similar.

Also, many foods contain significant amounts of water. Especially fruits and vegetables like cabbage, cantaloupe, watermelon, strawberries, celery, spinach, lettuce, apples, pears, oranges, grapes, carrots, and pineapple. These foods are over 80% water, so they are good sources of hydration.

So, you don’t need to count your plain water intake as your only source of hydration. All fluids and foods with water count.

Conclusion

There is no magic number of the amount of water you need. Everyone is different. Children, pregnant women, elderly people need more.  Episodes of vomiting or diarrhea will also increase your short-term need for more water.  The most important thing is to pay attention to your thirst. Other signs you need more water are dark urine, sweating, constipation, and kidney stones.

Water is your best source of fluids. But other liquids help too. Just consider the effects the other ingredients have on your health as well. And many fruits and vegetables are over 80% water so don't forget about them.

Let me know in the comments: What’s your favourite way to hydrate?

Recipe (Hydration): Tasty hydrating teas

You may not love the taste (or lack thereof) of plain water. One thing you can do is add some sliced or frozen fruit to your water. Since we learned that you could hydrate just as well with other water-containing beverages, here are some of my favorite herbal teas you can drink hot or cold.

  • Hibiscus
  • Lemon
  • Peppermint
  • Rooibos
  • Chamomile
  • Lavender
  • Ginger
  • Lemon Balm
  • Rose Hips
  • Lemon Verbena

Instructions

Hot tea - Place tea bags in a pot (1 per cup) and add boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and add a touch of honey and slice of lemon, if desired. Serve.

Iced tea - Place tea bags in a pot (2 per cup) and add boiling water. Steep for 5 minutes and add a touch of honey, if desired. Chill. Add ice to a glass and fill with cold tea.

Tip: Freeze berries in your ice cubes to make your iced tea more beautiful and nutritious.

Serve & enjoy!

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-water-should-you-drink-per-day/

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/water-water-everywhere-2016110310577

http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-much-water-should-you-drink

http://neurotrition.ca/blog/why-you-should-raise-your-glass-water

Need a Mood Boost? Eat this

It’s no question that what you eat can affect how you feel, right?

Mental health and brain health are complex. So are the foods we eat, and the ways our bodies interact with those foods. While, we don't know the exact mechanisms for how food and nutrition help, we know a few ways food impacts our moods.

First, what we eat becomes the raw materials for our neurotransmitters. “Neurotransmitters” are biochemical messengers that allow our nerve cells to communicate. Ever heard of serotonin? It’s one of the more well-known neurotransmitters that’s responsible for boosting mood. They are important not just for thinking and memory, but also for mental health.

Second, what we eat affects our blood sugar. When you have unstable blood sugar levels, it can greatly contribute to mood swings.

Let’s talk about mood-boosting and mood-busting foods.

Mood-boosting foods

Some nutrient deficiencies look like mental health problems; this includes deficiencies in B-vitamins, vitamin D, and the mineral selenium. So, getting enough vitamins, minerals, (and other things like antioxidants) are key. These nutrients not only reduce inflammation but also fuel the biochemical reactions in our bodies. Including those that create neurotransmitters. So make sure you're eating a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact, studies show that people who eat the most fruits and vegetables are the happiest.

Also pay special attention to vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin), as it’s not naturally occurring in too many foods. Selenium is an essential mineral found in Brazil nuts, walnuts, cod, and poultry. Try to add some of those to your weekly diet.

Second, make sure you get enough protein. Protein is your body's main supply of amino acids. Amino acids are very important for mood issues because they are the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Protein also helps to regulate blood sugar. I recommend eating protein with every meal; this includes dark green leafy vegetables, eggs, poultry, and meat.

Third, complex carbohydrates like sweet potato and quinoa are great too. They allow better absorption of key amino acids like tryptophan. Tryptophan is used by your body to make serotonin (your “happy hormone”) and melatonin (your “sleepy” hormone). So, if you want to relax, try these in the evening.

Fourth, fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids (nuts, seeds, and algae) are also mood-boosting. Omega-3s are definitely “brain food” and may help to ease some symptoms.

Here’s a fun fact: One study showed that giving one multi-vitamin and one omega-3  fish oil tablet per day to prison inmates reduced the incidence of violent behavior by 50%!

Last but not least, make sure you’re hydrated. Mild dehydration can cause mood issues as well.

Mood-busting foods

You won’t be surprised to hear me say processed foods are mood-busters, right? One study suggests that eating a lot of processed foods devoid of nutrients can increase your chances of depression by as much as 60 percent! This is on top of the research that shows nutrient deficiencies can look like mental health problems.

“But it makes me feel good!”

Yes, some of these mood busters can make you feel better temporarily. Some big food companies study how to maximize the "pleasure" centers with the perfect amount of sugar, salt, and fat. Not to mention the color, texture, and taste; they can light up our taste buds and make us feel good… for now.

A few other things to avoid are:

  • Alcohol (nervous system depressant)
  • Caffeine (may worsen anxious feelings and ability to sleep)
  • Sugar (messes with your blood sugar levels and can worsen inflammation).

Conclusion

Bad moods can lead to bad eating habits; and, bad eating habits can lead to bad moods. (I call this the cycle of eating poorly. You can read about it in my book). If you need a mood boost, stick to minimally processed nutrient-dense whole foods. Things like fresh fruit and vegetables (including leafy greens), nuts and seeds, eggs, fish, poultry, and meat. Avoid common mood-busting foods like alcohol, caffeine, and sugar.

And remember, sometimes “feel good” junk foods, only make you feel good temporarily. So, try my newest recipe for fruit salad, below.

Recipe (mood boosting): Berry Salad

Serves 4

1-2 cups blueberries, fresh
1-2 cups strawberries, fresh
1-2 cups raspberries, fresh
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp fresh mint leaves, chopped

Instructions

Place all fruit in a large bowl and gently toss.

Serve & enjoy!

References:

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/food-and-mood

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/how-to-fight-depression-naturally-with-nutrition

https://nutritionfacts.org/video/foods-increase-happiness/