Getting enough quality time with your pillow is more important than you might think. People who are chronically sleep deprived suffer from more than just baggy, bloodshot eyes. Research is showing that people getting less than the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep are more likely to be overweight and have diabetes.
Have you ever noticed that when you don’t sleep well you tend to crave carbs or sweets? It’s not just you! What we now know is having regular sleep cycles keeps a bunch of hormones in check. Have you heard of the hormones Leptin, Ghrelin and Cortisol? Leptin tells us that we are full and satisfied, and do not need more food. Ghrelin tells us to eat! It’s part of what makes our stomachs grumble. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is released when we are full of anxiety, sleep deprived or running away from danger. Having increased levels or Cortisol is linked to chronic fatigue, weight gain and elevated blood sugar levels.
When you don’t get enough sleep all of these hormones (and others) get out of whack. Leptin doesn’t get released like it should, and Ghrelin is increased. This means you are hungry! Not only that, but you are definitely not craving broccoli at this point.
New research out of UC Berkley showed that depriving people of sleep for one night created pronounced changes in the way a person’s brain responded to high calorie junk foods. On days when individuals had not had proper sleep, fattening foods like potato chips and sweets stimulated stronger responses in a part of the brain that helps govern the motivation to eat. But at the same time, the subjects experienced a sharp reduction in activity in the frontal cortex, a higher-level part of the brain where consequences are weighed and rational decisions are made.
Basically what this means is when you lose sleep your brain gets a double hit. A sleepy brain appears to not only respond more strongly to junk food, but also has less ability to rein that impulse in.
In addition to all of that “good” news, being in a sleep deprived state also increases your blood sugar levels. This is due to that other hormone, cortisol. Cortisol is released when we’re under stress and part of its job is to make sure our muscles have energy to run away from danger. Cortisol doesn’t know that we’re stressed because your significant other kept you up all night snoring. It just knows your body is stressed out and that means danger! To ensure your muscles have the energy they need to flee this danger (snoring partners excluded) cortisol provides you with increased blood sugar. Unfortunately, cortisol can also make it difficult to sleep at night creating a loop of stress for you.
To break the cycle of stress and poor sleep it’s important to have a good evening time ritual. Follow these tips for more restful sleep:
A meal map is just that. It’s a template that will guide you to make the best food choices for your health. If you are following healthy advice such as, “eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily,” or “eat fish twice a week,” then you are sort of following a meal map already. Sometimes it nice to know how to boil all the health information down into a user friendly version of what a day should look like. In a perfect world we would all be eating 10 servings of fruits/vegetables every day to prevent disease. We would all be reducing our intake of red meat and increasing our intake of fatty cold water fish to support our brains.
On top of all the foods we should be eating there are many that we should be avoiding. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything new when I say to avoid sugar. It’s one of the biggest causes of weight gain and chronic disease. That of course is sitting right next to processed foods on the shelf of food evils. When I say processed foods, I’m talking about foods that have never occurred in nature at any point in their lives. Or, they contain a mega list of ingredients that are man-made as well. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never seen a twinkie tree. Why would you eat food that isn’t food?! No other species on the planet would do that. We cannot continue to eat these things and expect to get healthier or not develop some sort of chronic disease or illness.
Maybe you were brought up on sugar sweetened cereals, neon colored mac and cheese and ramen noodles. Maybe these types of foods are all you’ve known and you feel just fine. Why change now? Because now you have choice and knowledge, that’s why. If you have never attempted to revamp your diet or just aren’t sure where to start, a solid meal planning map will be super helpful.
Try out this pattern and see how it works for you. If you are diabetic or have blood sugar issues you will need to balance your carbs accordingly and possibly reach out to a healthcare provider for medication management.
Every meal has:
3-5 oz protein+1 serving of healthy fat+ 1-2 servings of plant foods (at least). 1 serving of whole grain per meal is optional. The combination of protein and fat at meal time is a great way to stay full for hours while having consistent energy levels.
Alright great! So what does that look like in terms of food? Well, let’s look at breakfast since that tends to be the most imbalanced meal of the day for most of us. Protein can be traditional breakfast foods like eggs and dairy or non-traditional as well. Many countries have chicken and fish for breakfast! Protein keeps you full and satisfied so you won’t be reaching for a snack mid-morning. So maybe you end up eating two eggs (protein) that you made sunny side up using 1 Tbs of olive oil (healthy fat). Then you had a cup of berries (1 plant food) and a slice of whole wheat toast (1 whole grain). Another option might be a smoothie. Blend together 1 small frozen banana (1 plant food), 2 TBS peanut or almond butter (protein), 1 Tbs of chia or flaxseeds (1 healthy fat) and 1 Tbs of cocoa powder.
How about a serving of oatmeal (1 grain) topped with blueberries (1 fruit) and walnuts (1 fat) and 1-2 hardboiled eggs (protein) on the side?
You can be as creative as you want, as long as you follow the map. If you are having one pot meals just make sure they follow the same guidelines. For example a chili recipe can include chicken (protein), beans (1 plant food), tomatoes and onions (1 plant food), and avocado (healthy fat). You can also serve it with a ½ cup of rice or quinoa for the optional grain serving.
Healthy fats include olive oil/canola oil, avocado and nuts. Use 1-2 Tbs of oils, ¼- ½ of an avocado or an ounce of nuts. Beans are a protein and a plant food! Double dip there! Your protein portion should be about the size of the palm of your hand. You can absolutely eat more fruits and vegetables; the recommended 1-2 servings is a minimum not a goal!
So there you have it. When you are thinking about your meals think: where’s my protein? What is my fat? Do I have any plants? If you can do that then you’re on your way to sustainable change. Give it a try for a few days and see how you feel. What do you have to lose?
Happy Holidays to you! My wish for you is that you make it to the end of this month with both your wallet and waistline intact. The holiday season brings with it a myriad of emotions; everything from joy and nostalgia to anxiety and depression. These feelings can (and do) play a large part in what you choose to eat. We know that how you feel will affect what you eat, but did you know that what you eat can affect how you feel? A new and fascinating area of research is focused on the bacteria that live in our intestinal tract, and how they interact with us. These little buggers make up what is referred to as the “gut microbiome.” Big word that basically means belly bugs!
Deep within our intestines there is a community of bacteria that has been with us since the dawn of man. They have coexisted with us for generations, but only recently have we started to discover how important they are for our health. There are more bacteria in your microbiome than you have cells in your body! Having the right mix of bacteria has been shown to impact an astounding number of conditions including but not limited to: Obesity, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression/anxiety, Crohn’s disease, and most auto-immune diseases. In fact some conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, are being reversed with the introduction of proper bacteria!
Research shows that the bacteria in our guts can communicate with our brains to control what we want to eat. An article in Scientific American recently reported there is strong evidence to indicate the byproducts from our intestinal bacteria carry information from the gut to the brain. Thereby telling you whether you need a particular kind of food or not.
Isn’t that a powerful thought? The cravings you experience may be driven by the trillion of bacteria inside you! We think this happens because what you eat feeds the bacteria within. If you consume a standard western diet that high in sugar, processed food and meat, then you are feeding the bacteria that love these foods. As those bacteria grow, they push aside and overpower the microbes that want broccoli and almonds. As a result you crave sugary processed foods more than healthy ones.
The good news is you have a LOT of control over what specific types of bacteria live within you! When you change your diet in a way that feeds the good guys and starves the bad guys, you will start to see changes in the makeup of your microbiome in about 24-36 hours. It’s that quick! This is because bacteria live and diet in a short amount of time, so we see results in days.
The foods you should eat to rebalance your gut bacteria are not going to shock you. FIBER is the number one food for the healthy bugs. Fiber from plants such as fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. The recommended daily amount of fiber for Americans is 25-30gm daily, but on average we only get about 12gm. Cultures that have the most robust and healthy gut microbiomes have been recorded eating around 100gm of fiber daily! Wow! I would not recommend aiming for that much because you can definitely get too much of a good thing. But, trying your best to get the 25-30gms is an important goal.
Adding fiber to your diet is a great step to support the beneficial bacteria within. If you really want to rebalance your inner workings, taking steps to reduce sugar, processed foods and meat is important. These are regrettably the hallmark of the standard American diet and promote the type of bacteria linked to increased levels of inflammation and autoimmune diseases, among others.
There is a great saying that can help you judge whether or not it’s a healthy food or a processed food. “If it came from a plant, eat it. If it was made IN a plant, don’t.”
The addition of probiotic foods is a good idea too. When you eat cultured and fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha tea, kimchi or miso, you are essentially inviting more friends to the party. These should be eaten several times throughout the week.
At the end of the day it really does seem that we are what we eat. If we eat processed nutrient poor foods, than that’s what we’ll crave. It’s an endless cycle that leads nowhere good. Just another reason to eat more fruits and veggies.
By pure chance I've come across several articles and webinars today that are all talking about zinc. I tend to believe that we should pay attention to what is put before us by the powers that be, so I spent most of my Sunday elbows deep in the reading (nerd alert). So zinc isn't really something I often think about too awful much, I'll be honest. Maybe that's why my inbox was assaulted with it. I want to break down what I learned today for you so you don't need to spend your Sundays buried in the literature like me.
You might not think about zinc all that often but it's essential for many metabolic activities. Zinc turns on hundreds different enzymes that help to facilitate reactions that drive metabolism and gene activity. Zinc serves to improve immunity, help with hormone production and is anti-inflammatory among many other things. It also has a pretty therapeutic effect when fighting cancer, which is what I'll focus on here today.
Zinc deficiency has been shown to promote a wide variety of cancers including esophageal, bladder, skin, digestive tract cancers as well as cancers of the head and neck. This is because zinc helps to regulate of the big inflammation pathways called NF-kB. So when zinc is low, inflammation goes up! Inflammation is the root of all evil, and most cancer... so you can see why this is important. Zinc is also known to inhibit a function known as angiogenesis (Big word that means blood vessel formation). Part of the reason cancer thrives as it does is because it forms its own blood supply, stealing all the nutrients it needs from the blood to grow while leaving you malnourished. If that weren't enough to get you on the zinc bandwagon, zinc has ALSO been shown to activate a function called apoptosis (death) in abnormal cells.
So zinc seems pretty cool, huh? Fighting inflammation, preventing new cancer blood supplies and initiating the death of cancer cells before they can become a true cancer. You might think it's time to run out and buy a top of the line supplement but please hold up on that. As with most nutrients, just because a little is good doesn't mean a lot is better. Zinc and copper compete for the same sites of absorption in your body. Meaning if you have too much zinc you won't be able to absorb copper and visa versa. If you take a supplement without the supervision of a trained provider you run the risk of developing a copper deficiency. That's no fun. So unless you have someone around that knows how to dose you properly it's best to stick with food sources.
The best sources of zinc in the diet are beef, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, lamb, chickpeas, beans, coca powder, cashews, mushrooms, spinach and chicken. Most of us are zinc deficient so please start eating these foods daily. If you're looking for more, there is a great chart here that will give you a ton of info on zinc and where to find it.
The topic of zinc and cancer is a huge one and I really could go on for a while but I'll leave it here for now. Time to go make a spinach salad with chicken and chickpeas!