Avocado and grilled pepper, tomato salsa

Avocado, pepper and tomato salsa

This fleshy avocado salsa can be eaten for breakfast as avocados are a great source of fiber and can get your digestive tract moving in the morning. They also satiate you for longer.

In addition avocados are high in monounsaturated fats which are a ‘good fat’ that help reduce the risk of heart disease. These good fats also help the body absorb fat-soluble essential vitamins like A, D, E and K, so avocados if eaten with a variety of vegetables can enable these vitamins present in them to get efficiently absorbed by our bodies. In this recipe I have used bell peppers as they are rich in Vitamins A, E and K. And the cherry tomatoes have abundant Vitamins A and K as well. So, the good fats present in Avocados enable our bodies to absorb these vitamins optimally.

This salsa of course also goes well with Non-GMO corn tortillas for a snack or to serve at a party.

Ingredients:

4 Avocados

1/4 small onion

1 jalapeno pepper

¼ red bell pepper

6 cherry tomatoes

1 tbsp roasted sesame seeds

½ cup lime juice

½ tsp cracked black pepper

2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 heaped tsp sea salt

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

Method:

1. Scoop out the avocados in big chunks into a bowl

2. Slice the jalapeno pepper

3. Slice the onion

4. Grill a quarter cut piece of red bell pepper together with cherry tomatoes in a tbsp of olive oil for 5 – 7 mins until the skin is soft but, not burnt

5. Toast a tbsp of sesame seeds in a pan till light brown

6. Combine 1-4 when the bell pepper and cherry tomatoes have cooled

7. Pour in the lime juice

8. Drizzle 2 tbsp of cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

9. Sprinkle the sesames seeds, cayenne pepper, black pepper and salt into the bowl and combine all the ingredients and let it sit for an hour before serving.

You can also keep it in the fridge, in an airtight glass container, for 3 days.

Energising Salad – Beetroot, Carrot, Red Cabbage

Beetroot, Carrots, Red cabbage Salad

Beetroots are an excellent source of vitamin C, B6, iron, calcium, magnesium, folate and zinc. They are rich in phytonutrients which are disease preventing nutrients found in plants. They help detox the liver and are great for bowel movement.

Carrots have high amounts of beta carotene which is a precursor to Vitamin A. The body converts beta carotene to Vitamin A and the great thing is that it converts just the amount that it needs. Beta carotene is what gives carrots their orange colour and are beneficial for our vision, immune system and skin. Carrots also have Vitamin B6, and K. And have antioxidants which help fight disease causing free radicals in the blood.

Red Cabbage contain beneficial nutrients that help activate antioxidants and are able to fight cancer causing substances. Other nutrients found in red cabbage are calcium, magnesium, folic acid essential for heart health, vitamin C, B6 which is essential for healthy nervous and immune systems and A.

The recipe is easy to follow and you can double the quantities of sliced beetroot, carrots and red cabbage and store them in a glass container in the fridge so that you can eat it for lunch once more in the week.

Recipe:

Serves one.

Salad:

1 cup beetroot

1 cup carrots

1 cup red cabbage

1 cup kale

1/4 cup pomelo (optional)

1 tbsp roasted walnuts

1 tbsp roasted almonds

1 tsp roasted sesame seeds

1 tbsp cranberries or raisins (optional)

The beetroot, carrots and red cabbage should be thinly sliced and the kale should be chopped into small pieces.

Salad Dressing:

My tahini dressing (see the High Fibre salad recipe)

or

1/4 cup squeezed lemon juice

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup cold pressed extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp whole grain mustard

1 tsp english mustard

1 tsp molasses sugar or honey

1/2 tsp pepper

1/2 tsp himalayan salt

This quantity of the salad dressing is just enough for your salad – if you like it then you can double the quantities and put the salad dressing in the fridge for later use.

Now you go ahead and toss all the salad ingredients with the dressing of your choice and enjoy an energising lunch!

An Integrative Nutrition Health Coach

You most certainly have heard of Nutritionists and Health Coaches—but not of ‘Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches’. Despite it’s long, teasing title the work that an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach does is quite simple, though unique, in it’s philosophy. Our job is to cultivate in our clients habits conducive to long-term good health. In place of ‘quick fixes’, our programs substitute slow, incremental fixes, that invest our clients with the capacity to become advocates for their own health.

These programs can be from a 3 to 6 month commitment depending on the client’s needs. The uniqueness of these programs is two fold; firstly, the ideology behind this program is to work with each client as a bio-individual, whose needs are specific and to unravel the confusion that everyone should have the same generic health goals. Each individual has his/her own anatomy, metabolism, genetic makeup and hence specific nutritional needs for their bodies to function optimally. For example, to be eating super foods or going onto a carb free or a plant diet is not equally useful for every individual. It is meant to relieve people of the daunting impression that they do not have to follow the numerous trends of popular diets to achieve good health, that are introduced ever so often. Secondly, through these programs the myth that, to achieve sound health and fitness is an overwhelming task, is negated. The program is designed in a way
that enables the client to make small yet achievable changes which have a
profound effect on their health and well being.

The client’s ‘needs’ can be food or lifestyle related. In the first consultation the client rates his/ her level of satisfaction in various domains of life called the ‘Primary Foods’ such as sleep, exercise, spirituality, career, education, relationships through a tool created by the world’s largest nutrition school and pioneers of the field of ‘Integrative Nutrition’, the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in New York. This tool is called the ‘Circle of Life’. The ‘Circle of Life’ allows for a line of thoughtful questioning and discussion in which the client and the Integrative Nutrition Health Coach are together able to determine the main reason for their illness or just lack of well being. Together with the ‘Primary Foods’ or these lifestyle domains in the client’s life, their diet is also reviewed and this we refer to as the ‘Secondary Foods’. Research has shown that the ‘Primary Foods’ and ‘Secondary Foods’ work in synergy to achieve well being. That is why a health professional needs to be able to evaluate a client’s needs through both lenses. This is where the name ‘Integrative Nutrition’ comes from, the philosophy that it isn’t food alone that ensures good health but, also a person’s lifestyle habits. This is indicated well on the Integrative Nutrition Plate above.

In this fast paced world increasingly our food and lifestyles have become incongruous with a healthy and balanced life. Food is also not as pure as it used to be – with the use of toxic pesticides and additives on agricultural produce, hormones and antibiotics use on livestock and depletion of nutrients from our soil. This is further complicated with ever changing food related trends. It is therefore necessary to begin to just consider your body’s needs and work on improving your health. 

The discussion so far has been indeterminate on the point of the audience for whom Integrative Nutrition programs are intended. This is because there is, in fact, no such audience—Integrative Nutrition programs affording people of all kinds a chance to focus on preventative healthcare by making headway on their nutritional and health goals. And yet, Integrative Nutrition programs might be of particular value for people who are suffering from chronic illnesses (Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, arthritis) and hormonal imbalances. The primary cause of these illnesses is poor lifestyle choices such as smoking, alcohol, poor diet, lack of physical activity and the inability to manage stress. Or even not being able to determine the foods that nourish your individual body or a primary food that maybe the root cause of their health issue. The mainstream medical practice is predisposed to treat the symptom of a disease. They are not equipped to provide lifestyle and nutritional advice to support their patients through these diseases. And in some cases to overcome them. 

In a similar vein, I believe deeply in the importance of cultivating healthy habits in young children. This entails their eating nutritionally rich foods and developing nourishing life habits early on so that they are able to set the grounds for a vibrant future. I work with Young Adults ages 12 to 18. This period can be a difficult one as their bodies are developing rapidly and with that their body’s needs are changing. This is the time to enable communication about developing healthy habits and making the right food choices that will nourish and support their growing bodies. We are noticing a detrimental trend in young teens of becoming conscious of body image, mostly influenced by peers or social media. My program helps kids develop a healthy mindset about weight and encourages them to enjoy food, eat well and to include more healthy foods into the diet rather than having to focus on eliminating foods from their diets.

These programs, it bears repeating, promise no sudden transformations—and all for the better. What they do promise, however, are lasting changes in life habits and behaviours that ensure an abiding, lifelong good health. 

Should a program of this type appeal to you, please consult my website for further information on the variety and duration of programs offered: 

https://www.humalodhi.com/

 

 

Recipe – the Frittata

Frittata with spinach, peppers, tomatoes and feta cheese

The World Health Organization recommends at least five portions of vegetables and fruit a day (a portion approximating a cup of chopped vegetables or fruit). It is necessary we have the required amount of these foods as they are rich in essential vitamins and minerals. They are also an excellent source of fibre—key for maintaining a healthy gut and stable bowel movements. Much of the nutritional pedigree of fruits and vegetables is on account of antioxidant elements, found within them, known as ‘phytonutrients’. Phytonutrients help fight so-called ‘free radicals’ (unstable atoms in blood)—liable to generate oxidative stress which, in turn, can lead to chronic diseases and premature aging.

It has been an abiding struggle of mine to ensure the inclusion of adequate vegetables in my diet. An apparently trivial but veritably transformative way to do so is to make, each morning for breakfast, an Omelette-like dish of Italian origin known as a ‘Frittata’. Not only do Frittatas vouchsafe a sufficient serving of vegetables, but they also, if made in certain ways, offer much in the way of protein and healthy fats (primarily on account of the egg base). In my own recipe, I have settled on at least 1 cup of spinach, peppers or asparagus—all of which I keep readily available, chopped and washed, in the fridge.

The following is a general recipe, adaptable to variations based on one’s own preferences.

Ingredients:

2 free range eggs

3/4 cup baby spinach leaves

Baby spinach leaves

1/3 cup chopped red and yellow peppers

1/2 tsp chopped fresh rosemary

3 cherry tomatoes sliced in half  

Peppers and rosemary

1 tsp garlic

1/2 tsp himalayan pink salt

1/4 tsp cracked black pepper

1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes

3 tbsp of olive oil or avocado oil

1 tsp roasted sesame seeds

6 small cubes of feta cheese

Procedure:

  1. Preheat oven to 180 C
  2. Sauté the garlic in olive oil
  3. Throw in the spinach leaves, peppers and tomatoes 
  4. Sprinkle rosemary
  5. Whip two eggs until you start seeing bubbles appear
  6. Add the salt, pepper and chilli flakes to the eggs
  7. Pour the eggs on top of the veggies 
  8. Crumble feta cheese on the eggs
  9. Sprinkle roasted sesame seeds
  10. Cover when half cooked and place in the oven for 5 mins until the eggs rise
Peppers, rosemary and tomatoes sautéd with garlic in olive oil
Spinach, peppers, tomatoes, rosemary and sesame seeds sautéed in olive oil and garlic
Eggs beaten till bubbles form
Frittata fluffing in the oven

Not only does the frittata ensure adequate consumption of vegetables, but also good fats in the omega 3 oils (e.g. olive oil or avocado oil) that one can use to cook them, and the seeds with which one can adorn them (e.g. sesame seeds). Finally, the frittata might also be accompanied by a slice of toasted sourdough bread with almond butter.

Frittata, sourdough bread with almond butter and avocado, banana, berry and greek yogurt smoothie

Okinawan diet/ lifestyle and longevity!

You may have heard of the ‘Blue Zones’—the regions in the world which have the highest number of centennials. In these communities there are far fewer incidences of chronic disease and in fact the centennials here are leading active and productive lives. There are five Blue Zones in the world: namely, Okinawa in Japan, Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, Loma Linda in California, Sardinia in Italy and Ikaria in Greece. These blue zones are marked by common characteristics such as the presence of close knit communities where great emphasis is given to nurturing strong social connections. The food they eat is local produce and meal times are sacred and to be enjoyed with family and friends. They exercise daily, have a strong purpose in life and are spiritual.

Now it seems unrealistic to even try to replicate a blue zone lifestyle as these places are remote, people lead slow-paced lives, grow their own produce and breathe in fresh unpolluted air. This is unlike our own hectic city lives where any peace and harmony is interrupted by pervasive technology and the demands of modern day life, making it tough to lead healthy lifestyles. However, as I will show, Blue Zone communities offer much in the way of practicable, easily-adoptable advice (e.g. regular low-impact exercise, mindful eating, incorporating local produce into one’s diet). And yet this does not exhaust what we might learn from the Blue Zone communities.

Okinawa, Japan

While the Okinawan diet is very similar to the rest of Japan, the distinct differences are, however, important to note. They eat significantly less white rice than does the rest of Japan, though they do eat a lot of carbohydrates. The white rice is substituted by brown rice, millet and buckwheat soba noodles. Their diet is replete with myriad vegetables sourced from both land and sea. They eat a lot of root vegetables rich in anti-inflammatory properties. Sweet potatoes and Squash are a family of such vegetables, comprising, most prominently, Japanese pumpkin, high in vitamin A and toxin-removing properties. Their staple foods are ‘goya’ or bitter melons (high in antioxidants and regulate blood sugar levels), seaweed like kombu and wakame, Tofu, and shiitake mushrooms.

The Okinawan, like the Japanese, plate consists of many small bowls of food, which help control the portions they eat. These bowls contain fermented vegetables and are rich in phytonutrients. Some of these are lotus roots, burdock root, wasabi mustard greens, cucumber, daikon radish, eggplant, and ginger, all of which enhance digestion and gut health. There are varied sea vegetables such as seaweeds like wakame, kombu and nori which have high levels of health boosting minerals and may aid in reducing blood pressure. As an example of an unfermented vegetable, the ‘Shiso leaf’ (otherwise, ‘Oba’), normally used decoratively or in salads, is an intestine stimulant, high in calcium, iron and abundant in anti-inflammatory properties.

LAKE KAWAGUCHIKO, JAPAN 2019
BREAKFAST
TOFU, WASABI GREENS, BURDOCK ROOT, KOMBU, NORI, RADISH

The most foundational ingredient in their cuisine are fermented soybeans, used to make soy sauce, miso, tofu, tempeh and natto. As an instance of the benefit of fermented soybeans, consider Natto. Eaten at breakfast, Natto can help reduce IBS symptoms and may help blood clotting. More generally, Soybeans, other than being a good source of protein, are known also to aid in enhancing heart health.

TOFU with Sea Salt

Another source of protein in the Okinawan diet is a variety of so-called ‘fatty’ fish—Mackerel, Tuna and Salmon—which are high in omega 3 oils. These are accompanied with small amounts of ground wasabi root which has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Radishes like daikon are also served with fish which are great digestives, boost immunity, fight coughs and colds and regulate blood pressure. Their meals are usually served with potent green teas like Gyokuro, Sencha, Matcha which are high in antioxidant compounds called ‘catechins’, which may help fight cancer, viruses and heart disease. The also have anti-inflammatory tea like Turmeric and Jasmine tea as well.

HOTO NOODLE SOUP SIMILAR TO OKINAWAN NOODLES
JAPANESE PUMPKIN, SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS, CABBAGE, TEMPEH

SARDINIA, ITALY

The Sardinian centenarians eat plenty of sugar-regulating foods like Fava beans, chickpeas and whole grains like barley. They also eat a lot of grass-fed goat’s milk known to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and sheep’s cheese which is high in Omega 3’s and have anti-inflammatory properties. Nuts and olive oil are also a large part of their diet which are also great for heart health. Their diet is predominantly vegetarian.

LOMA LINDA, CALIFORNIA

The Loma Linda centenarians’ diet includes foods high in omega-3s like avocados, salmon and good fats like nuts, which help lower the risk of heart disease. Their main source of protein is legumes, and their main source of grains are whole grains like oats. Finally, they substitute dairy with soy milk. Their diet is, again, mostly vegetarian, with very little fish.

NICOYA, COSTA RICA

The staples in the Nicoyan centenarians’ diet are the ‘three sisters’ referring to corn, beans and squash which are grown together and eaten in the same meal. The corn provides the carbohydrate, the beans protein and fiber, and squash beta carotene and vitamin A. Yams, papayas, bananas and peached palms (a local orange fruit high in Vitamins A and C) are also eaten in abundance. They too have a predominantly vegetarian diet.

IKARIA, GREECE

The Ikarians in Greece have a mediterranean diet with legumes (garbanzo beans, black-eyed peas and lentils), olive oil and fish—all high in omega 3s, great for heart health, garlic, grass fed goats milk, feta cheese, honey, seasonal and locally sourced vegetables including Squash, high in beta carotene and Vitamin A, the pumpkin or butternut kind of squash and fruits, lemons and herbs. They seldom eat meat.

COMMON BLUE ZONE CHARACTERISTICS

The blue zone diets all seem to lean towards a vegetarian diet with small amounts of fish and very limited meat. Their meals have substantial amounts of anti-inflammatory foods which are good for heart health, like green leafy vegetables, fatty fish, olive oil, tomatoes, fruits and nuts. They all seem to eat some form of legumes and have whole grains, which help regulate blood sugar levels. Their diets are rich in antioxidant foods that help fight free radicals and slow down the aging process.

The vegetables and fruit are locally sourced, seasonal and rich in nutrients unlike those available in big cities that are harvested before they are ripe and optimally nutritious. Their diets have no processed or refined foods, only fresh whole foods. This is really the bottom line. The Blue Zone diets are not tough to incorporate in your daily meals – just keep to whole foods like locally sourced vegetables and fruit and eat less meat. Let your protein intake be predominantly from legumes and fish.

Sense of Community and Mindful eating

The longevity of Blue Zone communities, however, is not entirely determined by their diets. It is there strong sense of community and emphasis on maintaining close relationships that allow them to remain happy and stress free. Blue Zone communities tend to focus on eating small quantities of food; in fact, there is a common Japanese saying “Hara Huchi Bu” which means eat till you are 80 percent full. Eating with others can be an effective means of eating in this fashion, for when one is eating with others, one’s own eating is, inevitably, slowed down and more opportunity is afforded to eat mindfully.

Low-impact Exercise

The Blue Zone centenarians maintain a regimen of low-impact exercise through old age. They tend to exercise all their muscles with very little impact on their joints – as most of their exercise is due to their physically active daily lives. This can be achieved by moving more and trying to do more physically demanding work around the house and not just leaving exercise to the time allotted at the gym.

Strong Sense of Purpose

They also feel that they must wake up every morning with a strong sense of purpose, referred to as ‘Ikigai’ in Okinawa, and ‘Plan de vida’ in Nicoya—to feel needed and to contribute positively to their communities. Everyone is productive and they continue to be so till they are in their 90s. Apart from your daily work routine, getting involved in helping out your local community can be very healing and can give you a great sense of belonging and identity.

Spirituality

The Blue Zone communities are also very spiritual, whether through religious practice, meditative exercise, or through their connection with nature. Spirituality is great for alleviating stress and for mental well being. Yoga practice or any other interest that allows your mind to destress would be great to incorporate in your daily life.

As you have seen, there are ways to make certain adjustments in one’s life to be able to reap the benefits of the Blue Zone lifestyles. These minor changes can help reduce stress and enhance a sense of happiness and well being. These are all factors that enable longevity!

Include ‘good fats’ in your daily diet!

It seems strange to associate fats with the word ‘good’ and ‘diet’. However, let’s not forget that ‘Fat’ is a macronutrient and it has numerous health benefits. It is a major source of energy, it helps manage our cholesterol levels, it is needed in building cell membranes and sheaths around nerve cells and it is important for muscle movement. Fat can stimulate the production of brain cells and improve memory and it can also help produce and balance reproductive hormones in women and men. Some vitamins like A, D, E and K require fat to get efficiently absorbed in the body. We can ensure that we obtain all these benefits from fat if we are clear about which fats to introduce in our daily diets, as all fats are not equal.

Fat has received bad press in the past in order to begin the ‘low fat’ diet movement, in which we were advised to buy low fat foods pumped with refined sugar to lose weight. We related the macronutrient fat with weight gain. This could not be further from the truth. Weight gain occurs when we eat in excess of our body’s needs. And we can gain weight eating too much of any macronutrient; protein, carbohydrates or fat. In fact if you include fats in your diet you will tend to decrease the quantities of food you eat. However, it is important to note that all fats are not beneficial for our bodies. There are ‘good fats’ and ‘bad fats’.

Homemade energy balls and trail mix

Trans Fats

Fats are made of carbon chains attached to hydrogen atoms. The length of the carbon chains and the number of hydrogen atoms attached determines the type of fat and it’s function. The most detrimental fat or ‘bad fat’ is ‘trans fat’. This is a by product of a process called hydrogenation in which more hydrogen atoms are added to the chain of carbons, to convert the liquid form of oils to solid forms like vegetable shortening and solid margarines. Trans fats were introduced by food companies to increase the shelf life of their products like baked goods, to prevent them from going rancid. They were also used in fast food french fries. Trans fats have no benefits; in fact, they increase the level of LDL or bad cholesterol and decrease the amount of good cholesterol or HDL. This can lead to plaque build up in arteries and cause strokes and heart disease. Trans fat can also trigger insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.

Saturated Fats

As the name implies the chain of carbon atoms in this fat has the maximum number of hydrogen atoms it can hold. This kind of fat comes from animal sources like red meat, poultry and full fat dairy products. Also, coconut oil contains saturated fats. Too much of this kind of fat in your diet can raise both HDL and LDL, which can lead to heart disease (to be sure, however, these fats still have their benefits, and so the matter isn’t one of eliminating, but rather, reducing one’s consumption of, them).

Monounsaturated Fats

These are the ‘good fats’ which have fewer hydrogen atoms bonded to their carbon chains and a single carbon to carbon double bond. Some sources of monounsaturated fats are avocados, most nuts, olive oil, peanut oil, sesame oil and canola oil. In the 1960s a Seven Countries Study found that in Mediterranean countries the incidence of heart disease was very low despite a high fat diet. The fat in their diet though was not saturated fat but mostly monounsaturated fat like olive oil! That is what gave the ‘Mediterranean diet’ such popularity amongst health professionals. Though there is no daily requirement of monounsaturated fats, it is advisable to eliminate trans fats and replace saturated fats by monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats as much as possible.

Polyunsaturated Fats

These ‘good fats’ also have fewer hydrogen atoms but they have two or more double bonds in their carbon chains. Polyunsaturated fats are essential fats but our bodies cannot make them so we have to get them through our diet. There are two main types of polyunsaturated fats which have profound health benefits. These are Omega-3 fatty acids and Omega-6 fatty acids. They are necessary for building our cell membranes, sheaths of nerves, blood clotting, muscle movement and managing inflammation in the body. Good sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, and various seeds such as flax seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, walnuts and canola oil. Omega-3 fatty acids lower blood pressure, increase good cholesterol, lowering triglycerides and help prevent heart disease and strokes. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in foods rich in linoleic acid and vegetable oils like cold pressed safflower, sunflower, corn and walnut. Omega-6 fatty acids are also known to reduce the risk of heart disease.

It is wise to always determine the source of your oils and their extraction and treatment methods. For example, consider the variants of Olive Oil: extra virgin, refined, olive oil and pomace. The finest quality of olive oil is the ‘Extra virgin’ kind as it is extracted mechanically and directly from the olives themselves, without the use of chemicals or excessive heat. It is therefore able to retain it’s high antioxidant content. The more bitter the extra virgin olive oil the higher the antioxidant content. It should not be used for cooking but instead used as a condiment and drizzled over breads and salads, used in salad dressings, mayonnaise and uncooked sauces. ‘Refined olive oil’ is obtained by taking low quality olive oil and treating it with chemicals and filters. When the bottle says just ‘Olive oil’ it means that it is a blend of refined and extra virgin olive oil. ‘Pomace olive oil’ is made from ground flesh and pits and it is extracted using solvents and other physical treatments. It is a low grade olive oil with no nutrients.

Apart from the source it is important to note the smoking point of the oil you are going to cook with. The smoking point is the temperature at which the oil breaks down and ceases to be nutritious. The oils that have high smoke points can be used in high heat cooking like deep frying and stir frying. Oils such as peanut, sesame and soybean can be used for this kind of high heat cooking. Oils with moderately high smoke points can be used to saute’ vegetables over medium-high heat. These oils are canola, olive, avocado and corn. Oils extracted from flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnut and extra virgin olive oils have low smoking points and are best not heated.

How do you ensure your daily intake of good fats?

Raw Cacao, roasted almonds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, dates and desiccated coconut
Roasted walnuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and dates
Homemade trail mix with roasted almonds, walnuts and sunflower seeds

Snack on them: You can eat nuts and seeds in their whole form or ground up in ‘Energy balls’. A nutritious trail mix with roasted nuts and seeds can be an excellent source of good fats and a great snack in the day to keep you going. It also helps you reduce your food cravings and portions at meals. The energy balls are roasted nuts and seeds ground up and often sweetened with dates and sometimes packed in with raw cacao and desiccated coconut flakes to give you that incredible energy boost! These are easy to make and can make healthy snacking accessible.

Sprinkle them: Roasted seeds and nuts can be sprinkled on salads, on cooked vegetables and on your breakfast granola!

Spread them: Replace animal fat butter with nut and seed butters. However, be cautious to get ones that have no added salt and sugar.

These can be incredible ways to include good fats in your daily diet, however, ensure that, like with anything else, you do not over do it. You are required to average 1.5 ounces of good fats a day. So do keep that in mind when you begin to reduce animal fats like butter for instance with nut or seed butter. That would be a part of your daily intake. Also, it’s best to eat nuts with their skins which have the antioxidants and phytonutrients. So, either have them raw or roasted. It is easier to digest roasted nuts and seeds and they may taste better! It is recommended to make the trail mix or energy balls at home by dry roasting seeds or nuts at 180 C for 5-10 minutes. If you are not inclined to roasting them at home you can find them in the market, however, just read the label and ensure that they do not have salt, sugar or other preservatives added to them.

Homemade energy balls packed with roasted seeds and nuts

A High Protein – High Fiber salad/ meal !

A close look at the warm salad sprinkled with feta cheese

The recipe I will be sharing with you in this post is packed with healthy protein and fiber. ‘Protein’ as we know is a macronutrient which is made up of amino acids. These amino acids are the building blocks of cells and tissues and are essential for the regulation and maintenance of the human body. The body can make its own amino acids but, we need to get some 9 essential ones from food. In the recipe below I have used beans as a source of protein. Beans contain a comprehensive amount of amino acids, more so than other vegetables. Beans are also high in ‘Fiber’, which is a kind of carbohydrate that does not get broken down into sugar molecules easily. Fiber helps regulate sugar levels, can aid in lowering cholesteral, keeps hunger at bay, feeds our gut microbiome, enables regularity and prevents constipation. It is also a sustainable source of protein!

The beans in this salad are chickpeas, kidney beans, white lima beans and pinto beans. I soaked them overnight, as this allows the ‘Phytic acid’ found in beans to breakdown and allow easier digestibility. Phytic acid is considered an ‘anti-nutrient’ and can interfere in mineral absorption. So, I would highly recommend you soak them in water for at least 12 hours before you cook them!

Also added in this salad is the delicious cruciferous vegetable kale, which is an incredible anti-inflammatory food! Asparagus has been chosen as it is a fantastic prebiotic food that helps feed the good bacteria in our gut!

Ingredients for the salad :

  1. 200 grams of mixed beans
  2. 2 cups chopped kale
  3. 13 stalks of thin asparagus
  4. 8 sliced cherry tomatoes
  5. 2 cloves of garlic chopped
  6. 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  7. 1/2 tsp pink himalayan salt on asparagus
  8. 1/2 tsp pink himalayan salt on the beans
  9. 1/2 tsp pepper
  10. 2 tbsp lemon juice
  11. Feta cheese
Asparagus and cherry tomatoes, cooked beans, chopped kale and salad dressing in a bottle

Ingredients for the salad dressing :

The salad dressing is in itself most nutritious and can be stored in a glass bottle in the fridge for 2 – 3 weeks. It is thick in texture and has an intense taste, therefore it can be used in small quantities. The salad dressing’s main ingredient is ‘Tahini’ paste which is made from crushed sesame seeds and water. You can buy prepared tahini from the supermarket. Sesame seeds are a good source of protein and fiber and are packed with essential vitamins and minerals. They are known to help reduce inflammation in the body. The dressing also contains ‘Unrefined dark Molasses sugar’ instead of refined sugar. Molasses is rich in vitamin B6, calcium, iron, magnesium and zinc. ‘Blackstrap molasses’ is a thick liquid and it is a bit more bitter than molasses sugar, so that is why I have suggested you try molasses sugar first and then gradually replace it with blackstrap as it has concentrated amounts of the nutrients mentioned above. You will see an ingredient called ‘Coconut aminos’. This is a liquid extracted from coconut sap and it tastes like soy sauce or tamari. It is available in supermarkets or organic grocery shops. Mix all the ingredients below in a glass bottle before you begin with the salad preparation:

  1. 2 tbsp tahini paste
  2. 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  3. 2 tbsp coconut aminos
  4. 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  5. 2 tbsp sesame oil
  6. 1 tsp pink himalayan salt
  7. 1/2 tsp black pepper
  8. 1/2 tsp chopped garlic
  9. 2 tbsp molasses sugar (or blackstrap molasses)
  10. 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Preparation for the salad :

  1. Rinse the beans and cover them with water in a glass bowl overnight
  2. Drain the water and place them in fresh water in a pot to boil – about 2 inches above the beans
  3. Add 1/2 tsp pink himalayan salt
  4. Boil them until cooked – approximately 20 – 30 minutes
  5. Place the asparagus stalks on a baking tray and drizzle them with extra virgin olive oil, 1/2 tsp pink himalayan salt and minced garlic
  6. Slice the cherry tomatoes and place them along with the asparagus on the tray
  7. Grill the asparagus and cherry tomatoes for 20 minutes on low temp of 180 C
  8. Once grilled chop the asparagus into 2 inch pieces
  9. Mix the beans, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, kale in a bowl
  10. Drizzle extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice on the ingredients in the bowl and sprinkle some pepper then turn the ingredients gently to coat them
  11. Crumble feta cheese on top and serve!
Asparagus stalks with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and himalayan salt
Grilled asparagus and tomatoes
Warm salad without feta cheese
Warm salad feta cheese and homemade salad dressing

This can be served as a salad for lunch or dinner or as a warm meal with garlic bread, made with whole wheat sourdough. The photos above are from the dinner I had with my kids the other night and they absolutely loved it! I was thrilled to give them a sustainable meal packed with these nutritious ingredients! Hope you can enjoy this with your family too. This recipe serves 3.

The incredible synergy between Thyroid health and Gut health

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The ways in which hormones function in our bodies is a complex and fascinating topic! They work like an orchestra where the skill of all the musicians, or the optimal functioning of the hormones in this case, is vital for an excellent performance or sound health! Hormones are secreted by a network of glands in the endocrine system to regulate many bodily functions. The endocrine gland that I will focus on in this article is the thyroid gland and it’s hormones as it has a unique cause-effect relationship with the health of the gut. I will also touch upon how other hormones affect gut health and in turn thyroid health! What do you say about this most intriguing lattice of relationships! As always I will give you a list of foods that help in maintaining a happy balance between all these complex relationships.

Let’s begin by understanding the importance of having a healthy functioning thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is butterfly-shaped and it is situated low in the neck in the front of the windpipe and below the Adam’s apple. The thyroid is a part of the endocrine system and it is made up of glands that produce, release and store thyroid hormones T3 and T4 which primarily regulate :

  1. Heart rate
  2. Blood pressure
  3. Body temperature

However, they also play a vital role in optimum:

  1. Weight control
  2. Digestion
  3. Energy levels
  4. Fertility
  5. Menstruation
  6. Memory
  7. Sleep
  8. Skin tone

The receptor sites for the thyroid hormone are everywhere in the body and they influence numerous cells and tissues telling them how much energy to use. You will be surprised to find out that the commonly occurring TSH on your blood reports isn’t produced in the Thyroid gland but, in the Pituitary gland in the skull below the brain. This is the thyroid stimulating hormone which informs the body to produce more T3 and T4. In fact when you see that the TSH levels in your blood are too high it indicates that the thyroid hormone in the body is low. This condition is called Hypothyroidism. On the other hand if the TSH levels are too low then there is probably too much thyroid hormone in the body leading to a disease called Hyperthyroidism.

Now, at this point I thought about going into the symptoms of these two diseases and then decided against it, as the aim of these articles isn’t one of making you nervous about your health. Instead the goal is to help you understand the synergy between your life habits and the food you eat and how they work together to enhance better health like hormonal balance.

Research has shown how gut health and thyroid health are closely linked. As I had mentioned in my previous article, around 70 percent of our immune system is found in the gut. When there are perforations in your intestinal lining or a ‘Leaky gut’, large protein molecules escape from the gut into the bloodstream where they are attacked by the immune system. And it is these attacks that can play a critical role in the development of some autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s a Hypothyroid condition.

You will be intrigued to know that the good gut bacteria or microbiome is responsible for converting T4 to T3, the active form of the thyroid hormone. In fact 20 percent of this conversion is assisted by the gut microbiome. The imbalance between pathogenic and beneficial bacteria in the gut can significantly reduce the conversion of T4 to T3. So, keeping our good gut bacteria happy and well nourished will facilitate the conversion of T4 to T3 and will enable the thyroid hormone to function effectively in the body.

Another most interesting thyroid – gut relationship is seen in the case of chronic constipation, which impairs the clearing of hormones from our body causing an elevation of the hormone ‘Estrogen’ in our blood. This in turn raises the levels of the thyroid binding globulin or TBG in the bloodstream. The TBG decreases the amount of free thyroid hormones readily available to the body. On the other hand low thyroid levels can slow down the transit time for our food to travel in the intestine leading to constipation. This is a prime example of how the gut and thyroid have a reversible cause and effect relationship. So, the bottom line is that you can’t have a healthy gut without a healthy thyroid and vice versa.

A reversible relationship is seen between the hormone ‘Insulin’ and thyroid function. Insulin metabolizes sugar and helps to store it away in our cells for energy. However, if our sugar intake is high, overtime the insulin stops functioning optimally taking our bodies into ‘Insulin resistance’. This results in thyroid malfunction. There is a strong indication that by managing our sugar levels we can improve thyroid health. And reversely managing thyroid disease can help regulate blood sugar levels in our bloodstream.

‘Cortisol’, the stress hormone, when in high levels can cause inflammation in the gut adversely effecting the functioning of thyroid hormones. We all experience some level of stress in our lives. Whether the cause of stress is due to a big event or small our body physiologically responds the same way. It goes into the fright-or-flight response mode producing high levels of cortisol. If we don’t instil beneficial life habits or Primary Foods like ‘Mindful practice’ or other spiritual practices that help us cope better when faced with stressful events in our lives, our bodies begin to secrete excessive amounts of cortisol. High levels of cortisol cause inflammation in the gut which reduces active T3 and increases inactive T4 causing the thyroid gland to dysfunction.

Secondary foods or nutrition plays a significant role in maintaining a healthy thyroid. Let’s begin with these Gut nourishing foods:

  • Bone broth – gelatin present in broth will help heal the intestinal lining
  • Fermented Probiotic foods – such as sauerkruat, kimchi, kefir, organic greek yogurt are rich in good bacteria
  • Prebiotic foods – resistant starches like potatoes cooled in a salad, artichokes, asparagus, onions, garlic, green bananas, legumes are essential to feed good gut bacteria
  • Reduce sugar intake as sugar feeds pathogens causing an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in our guts

Then there are the Thyroid boosting foods such as:

  • Iodine – vital in converting the inactive thyroid hormone T4 to the active hormone T3. Best sources of dietary iodine are: eggs, ocean fish, raw dairy, sea vegetables like kombu, wakame and kelp, organic strawberries
  • Iron – an iron deficiency in the body can signal the thyroid that there is need to conserve energy and the thyroid in turn lowers it’s hormone production. So it is important to maintain optimum levels of iron in the body. It should be had in it’s heme form to be most effective and this is best available from animal sources like lamb, grassfed beef and liver
  • Magnesium – magnesium deficiency can lead to an enlarged thyroid gland. Best sources of magnesium are dark leafy vegetables, seeds, nuts and whole grains
  • Selenium – is required to convert T4 to T3. Organic Brazil Nuts are a great source for this. Eating one or two a day is sufficient
  • Vitamin D – helps protect the body from autoimmune diseases. It is found in fatty fish like mackeral, tuna and salmon
  • Zinc – aids in thyroid hormone production. Foods rich in zinc are grass fed beef, shrimp, kidney beans, spinach, flax seeds
  • Avoid environmental toxins – eat organic fruit and vegetables, grass fed beef, sustainable caught wild fish
  • Crowd out soy and estrogen mimicking products like BPA
  • Limit alcohol consumption as it inhibits the liver to deal with estrogen effectively

So to summarise….

If we nourish our guts with healthy food we can ensure the optimal functioning of the thyroid gland. However, often we forget to focus on the health of the gut and if neglected for too long we develop conditions like a leaky gut, which can cause an autoimmune response and a hypothyroid condition. The imbalance of pathogenic bacteria and healthy gut bacteria can diminish the availability of the active thyroid hormone. Gut issues like constipation have also known to effect the thyroid hormones. Excessive levels of sugar intake can lead to insulin resistance which can trigger thyroid dysfunction. The health of our gut, as seen in this article, can have a huge impact on the healthy working of thyroid hormones so it is imperative that we feed our bodies well with all the gut healing and thyroid boosting foods mentioned above, increasing fibre intake and reducing the consumption of sugar. One of the primary foods we can work on is ‘Spirituality’ as it enables us to deal with stressful situations, preventing our bodies from a chronic fright-or-flight response to stress, as that can lead to destabilizing our thyroid health. We are complexed beings that function well when all aspects of our lives are in sync. Like the orchestra and it’s musicians!

Be kind to your gut – it’s your powerhouse!

The gut is a dynamic organ which plays a variety of roles in our body. Not only is it that organ which nourishes us with essential nutrients, but it is also our primary buffer to external pathogens and autoimmune diseases. In addition, it stands in crucial relationship with the brain, as it supports the production of vitamins, hormones and neurotransmitters—all of which enable optimal mood and brain function.

Gut and Pathogens

In the absence of the physiological role of the gut, our body would be rendered susceptible to the litany of external toxins, bacteria and pathogens that accompany the food we ingest. The gut structurally consists of the mouth, oesophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine and the rectum. The first line of defence is the stomach which due to it’s highly acidic environment does not allow parasites and bacteria entering it to survive, thus protecting us from gastrointestinal infections and illnesses. The small and large intestine have an extensive layer of tightly connected epithelial cells called the ‘Intestinal lining’ which acts as a barrier and prevents foreign parasites from entering the bloodstream.

A Leaky Gut!

Since the past decade we are seeing an increase in digestive issues such as allergies and intolerances to certain foods. It has been indicated that perforations in the intestinal lining is the cause behind our body’s rejection of these foods. These perforations occur overtime due to toxins like the pesticides we ingest with our fruits and vegetables and the additives, colourings and preservatives present in processed foods. The low fiber and high sugar content of most processed foods also affect the health of the intestinal lining. With time these harmful toxins break the tight bonds in the lining and cause what we call a ‘Leaky gut’. This leads to undigested food particles escaping through the walls of the intestine into the bloodstream, where the body’s defences see them as imposters and attack them causing inflammation in the gut. This phenomenon is called the ‘Leaky gut syndrome’.

It has now been determined that the cause of autoimmune diseases of the gastrointestinal tract such as Celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and Irritable bowel disease is a combination of genetic predisposition and increased permeability of the intestinal lining or a leaky gut. One of the common irritants is ‘Gluten’ the protein found in wheat, spelt, rye and barley. In people who suffer from ‘Celiac Disease’ gluten is seen as one of those supposed imposters. Wheat which has been an age old grain with it’s own health benefits is beginning to get bad press due to the gluten it contains. However, it has not been verified if the gluten content has increased in wheat overtime though it has been proposed that the cause of this increased intolerance to gluten is due to the overload of processed wheat products in our diets. The undigested gluten trickles from the intestine into the bloodstream posing like an adversary to the immune system and triggering an attack. A leaky gut can also potentially play a role in instigating other autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis and also mental illness such as autism.

Immune system and our gut microbes

The gut microbes or friendly bacteria present in our digestive system are ten times more than the cells in our body and they have multiple functions. Their foremost function is to communicate with the immune system, about three quarters of which resides in our gut, helping it discriminate between foreign bodies and our own healthy cells. However, in the case of a leaky gut the friendly bacteria signal to the immune cells that the protein or gluten that has leaked into the bloodstream is an enemy. In attacking gluten the immune cells end up attacking healthy cells as well. This causes inflammation in our body and the autoimmune response leads to symptoms like bloating, constipation, chronic diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, and chronic fatigue. These are common symptoms in autoimmune diseases like Celiac, Crohn’s and Irritable bowel diseases.

These friendly gut bacteria also help absorb nutrients from food. They have the ability to break down indigestible carbohydrates or resistant starches like oats, potatoes, certain legumes, green bananas that the body has no other mechanism to digest. In breaking down these foods the microbes ferment them and it is in this fermentation process that they release useful chemicals called SCFAs or short chain fatty acids which help synthesize hormones and vitamins B and K. These short chain fatty acids also protect neurons in our nervous system, support optimal brain function and can reduce our susceptibility to mental diseases like dementia.

Heal your gut

Integrative nutrition health coaches and integrative medical professionals will advise you to work on maintaining a healthy gut as it is a powerful organ that has a huge impact on your health and well being. One way to do that would be to repair or maintain the permeability of the intestinal lining. We can easily do this by periodically giving our guts a rest from gluten, soy, dairy, additives, preservatives, processed foods, sugar and refined carbohydrates. This can heal the gut by enabling the gaps between epithelial cells in the intestinal lining to close.

The other way to keep our digestive system healthy would be by ensuring that our gut bacteria are well nourished and happy. In order to support a healthy and diverse army of microbes or microbiome in our gut we have to feed them with high fiber vegetables like oligosaccharides, which are plant carbohydrates comprising of short chain glucose molecules. Some oligosaccharides are legumes, onions, garlic, asparagus, jerusalem artichoke, leek and jicama. These are also termed as prebiotic foods. You can also add probiotic rich foods or foods enriched with good bacteria to your diet like fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and tempeh. These additional bacteria will help the the community of friendly bacteria in your gut to flourish.

With an impermeable intestinal lining and a diverse and robust microbiome in our gut we can avoid our susceptibility to digestive illnesses, autoimmune diseases and ensure a healthy functioning brain. The aim is to work toward keeping our gut healthy ensuring optimum well being and vitality!

To diet or not to diet?

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We all know the syndrome! Between our busy routines and the stresses of daily life we all too often find our bodies reeling from the frequent snacking and unhealthy eating. Time does simply not permit for more habitual, sustained regimens—and so we get stuck within a vicious cycle of excess and starvation. A search for a “Diet” begins that will help us expediently lose the excess weight. These diets help us deal with the frustration of not being able to keep those recurring extra pounds at bay and direct our attention towards caloric intake. We search for the trending diet and take our bodies through a shock wave of depravation. After shedding a few pounds life takes over again and we digress to the same old eating patterns. It is a never ending cycle.

So what should we do? Integrative Nutrition is a holistic approach to nutrition and well being, including weight loss. Integrative Nutrition Health Coaches run programs specific to each client as we strongly believe that every individual is a bio-individual and that one diet cannot be equally beneficial for all. We help our clients develop an understanding about which foods best suit their bodies. But, prior to that, we have them turn their focus away from the food on their plate and towards assessing their level of satisfaction in their Relationships, Sleep, Exercise and other such domains. These we term as the ‘Primary Foods’, key aspects of our lives which we believe influence our eating habits and food choices.

Often we don’t see the synergy between Primary Foods and our eating patterns. For example, insufficient sleep, which could even be a couple of consecutive nights of less than five hours, can lead to an increase in ghrelin, the hunger hormone, and a decrease in leptin, the satiety hormone. With increased ghrelin we tend to feel more hungry, and with insufficient leptin we are unable to tell when to stop eating, and so, ultimately, we overeat.

In addition lack of sleep leaves us feeling consistently fatigued. We tend then to veer towards foods with a high glycemic index, such as simple carbohydrates like white bread or sugar laden health bars, which, because they get broken down fast, cause sugar spikes, giving us the energy boost our bodies are craving. If these foods are eaten frequently, blood sugar levels increase as the body is rendered unable to break down sugar and store it in our cells for energy. This excess sugar in our bloodstream, finally, with time, converts to fat. And so we end up with excess weight, but—and this is the key point—the cause is not to be found in the domain of diet itself, but, rather, in the initial lack of sleep.

But the relation also goes the other way: that is, food determines, to a considerable extent, our wellbeing in the other Primary Foods. To support a balanced life and optimum health we must eat the foods and food combinations that are most nourishing, given each of our unique physiological compositions. Such nutritional issues we encapsulate under the heading ‘Secondary Foods’, because, in keeping with our ethos of holism, food is always to be considered after addressing the Primary Foods outlined above. But what should be the specific approach to diet in its own right, once the Primary Foods have been addressed? The focus, importantly, is not to eliminate food, but simply introduce into one’s diet sufficient quantities of the following ‘Whole Foods’:

  1. Fruits – berries, apple, grapefruit, orange
  2. Vegetables – colourful variety
  3. Whole Grains  – NON GMO whole wheat, brown rice, rolled oats, quinoa
  4.  Protein – sustainably raised fish, grass fed beef, free range chickens and eggs, lamb, lentils and beans (soaked the night before)
  5. Good Fats – Cold Pressed Olive oil, Nuts (brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts) and Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds)
  6. Water – filtered
  7. Your beautifully thought out plate!

More generally, any health plate is constituted as:

1/2 plate colorful vegetables

1/4 plate healthy grains

1/4 plate protein of your choice

And yet what of those unanticipated cravings in between meals? To be prepared for such urgings, it is imperative to keep ready-at-hand healthy snacks of the following kind:

Hummous and veggie sticks

Guacamole with Non GMO corn tortillas

Roasted Organic Nuts – Variety (Almonds, Walnuts, Brazil Nuts)

Roasted Organic Seeds – (Pumpkin, Sunflower)

Fresh fruit – a variety (Organic Berries, Organic Apples, Orange, Rock Melon, Grapefruit)

Once you have composed a plate comprising the types of foods outlined above, your attention should turn to the process of eating itself. Trivial though it may sound, such attention can have dramatic impact on wellbeing. Prior to beginning a meal, take a few seconds to look at your plate and appreciate what you are going to eat. Then begin chewing your food slowly, sensing the tastes and textures, as opposed to mindlessly devouring. This helps one reach satiety sooner, without a nagging urge to eat something more. Listen carefully to your body and, as soon as it feels just about satiated, don’t feed it further. This type of mindful practice embodies the Integrative Nutrition approach to weight loss.

In coming weeks, I will continue to write on a number of topics related to the Primary Foods, but my focus, in particular, will be on a certain issue within the Secondary Foods, namely nutritional regimens to redress hormonal imbalances and gut issues. Please feel free to share this blog with whomever you know who might have interest.