Balanced Health Archives - ig2go

13 Easy Ways to Get More Vegetables into Your Meals

We all know eating vegetables is essential for maintaining good health and preventing chronic diseases. But we also know that sometimes we slack a little on the veggie uptake due to busy schedules, eating out too much, or simply being in a rut with recipes at home. But incorporating more veggies into your meals doesn’t have to be time-consuming or complicated. Today we’re going to go over our favorite tips to add a little more nutritional value to your meals with whatever veggies you have on hand.

 

Buy more vegetables

Our first point may be obvious. If you have veggies available, you’re more likely to use them. Adding a bag of pre-cut carrots, a pack of spinach, or a container of cherry tomatoes to your shopping list is easy, and puts versatile veggie options within hand reach when you’re cooking throughout the week.  We’d like to think that having them and not wanting to let those veggies go to waste can help motivate you to use them, but we know that’s not always the case. Nonetheless, you can’t add veggies to your meals without having veggies to add in the first place.

Prep beforehand

If you love roasted vegetables, but don’t often have time to actually roast them, do a big batch over the weekend to have them on hand throughout the week. You can also prep veggies by pre-slicing cucumbers, chopping broccoli, rice your cauliflower, or dicing a big batch of peppers and/or onions. These veggies keep well in the fridge and doing all the prep when you have time saves you so much time when you’re in go-mode during the week.

Start with breakfast

Add vegetables to your breakfast by incorporating them into your omelets or scrambled eggs. You can also blend leafy greens, like spinach or kale, into your morning smoothies (and no this won’t make your smoothie bitter). Another option is to top your toast with sliced avocado, tomatoes, or roasted peppers.

Swap your snacks

Swap your typical snack options with vegetable-based alternatives. Instead of reaching for chips or crackers, try snacking on raw vegetables, like carrots, cucumbers, and bell peppers. You can also dip them in hummus or guacamole for added flavor.

Sneak them into sauces

Add finely chopped or pureed vegetables to your sauces and soups. For example, you can add pureed carrots or butternut squash to your tomato sauce, or blend broccoli or cauliflower into your soup. This is a great way to add nutritional density and play around with flavors as you explore and find combinations that suit your tastes best.

Try vegetable noodles

Swap traditional pasta with vegetable noodles, like zucchini or spaghetti squash noodles. You can also try making cauliflower rice or broccoli rice as a healthy substitute for regular rice.

Top your pizza

Add a variety of vegetables to your pizza toppings. You can include mushrooms, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, egglplant, or spinach, among other options.

Mix them into your meatballs

Mix finely chopped vegetables into your meatball mixture. You can use vegetables like onion, carrot, celery, or zucchini to add extra nutrients and flavor to your meatballs.

Use them as a sandwich filling

Use sliced vegetables as a sandwich filling instead of deli meat. You can add sliced cucumber, tomato, avocado, roasted peppers, or sprouts to your sandwiches for added crunch and nutritional density.

Add them to your stir-fry

Stir fries are a great way to pack in a variety of vegetables. You can add broccoli, peppers, mushrooms, carrots, and snap peas to your stir-fry for a colorful and nutritious meal.

Make vegetable-based dips

Make vegetable-based dips like guacamole, salsa, or tzatziki. You can also try making hummus using roasted red peppers or sweet potatoes for added flavor.

Get creative with salads

Get creative with your salads by adding a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. You can also add roasted vegetables or grilled vegetables to your salads for added flavor and nutrition.

Order out

Eating out is not always a healthy option, but we specifically aim to challenge that narrative by providing healthy, wholesome, and nutritionally balanced options daily in our deli case. You can find seasonal veggies, lean proteins, salads, and plenty of options for eaters on a keto, gluten-free, or vegan diet. If you don’t have time to spare, it may be worth it to pick up some prepared options to mix and match for meals throughout the week. Getting your veggies in becomes much easier when all the prep and cooking is done for you, and all you need to plate it and enjoy.

 

Incorporating more vegetables into your meals doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. With these easy tips, you can sneak more vegetables into your meals and reap the health benefits without sacrificing taste or convenience. So why not try incorporating some of these ideas into your next meal? Your body will thank you!

Common Cravings and What Your Body is Really Trying to Tell You

As humans, we all experience cravings at some point in our lives. It’s the sudden desire to indulge in a specific food or drink that we may not typically consume. Whether it’s a sudden craving for chocolate or an insatiable desire for salty snacks, cravings can be difficult to ignore.

Many people often associate cravings with a lack of willpower or self-control. However, cravings can also be a way for our bodies to communicate with us about our nutritional needs. In other words, our cravings may be a signal from our bodies telling us what nutrients we may be lacking.

We want to be clear that we do not believe in demonizing any food, and that if you want cake, you have every right to eat that cake. Cutting out foods you enjoy can lead to cravings getting worse, and an unhealthy relationship with food. At our Intelligent Gourmet, we specialize in wholesome, nutritionally dense foods, and we believe in the power of listening to our bodies and understanding what our cravings may mean.

Here are some common cravings and what they may indicate about our nutritional needs:

  1. Chocolate One of the most common cravings is for chocolate. While it may be easy to dismiss this craving as a mere sweet tooth, chocolate cravings may indicate a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is an essential mineral that plays a role in many bodily functions, including muscle and nerve function, blood sugar regulation, and blood pressure control. Good sources of magnesium include leafy greens, nuts, and seeds.
  2. Salty Snacks Do you often crave chips, pretzels, or other salty snacks? This may be a sign that your body needs more sodium. Sodium is an electrolyte that helps regulate fluid balance in the body, and it’s essential for proper nerve and muscle function. However, it’s important to note that most people consume too much sodium in their diets, which can lead to high blood pressure and other health problems. Instead of reaching for processed, high-sodium snacks, try incorporating whole foods like avocados, nuts, and seeds, which are naturally rich in sodium.
  3. Red Meat If you find yourself craving red meat, it may indicate that your body needs more iron. Iron is an essential mineral that helps transport oxygen throughout the body, and it’s especially important for women who are of childbearing age, as iron deficiency can lead to anemia. Good sources of iron include leafy greens, legumes, and fortified cereals.
  4. Sweet Treats Cravings for sweet treats may indicate that your body needs more glucose, which is the primary source of energy for the body. However, it’s important to note that consuming too much added sugar can lead to a host of health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Instead of reaching for sugary snacks, try incorporating whole foods like fruits, sweet potatoes, and whole grains, which are naturally sweet and provide a host of other nutrients.

Cravings can be a way for our bodies to communicate with us about our nutritional needs. By understanding what our cravings may indicate, we can make informed choices about what foods to consume. We encourage you to reach for wholesome, nutritionally dense foods that nourish your body and satisfy your cravings in a healthy way. 

 

 

What’s in Season: 7 Spring Fruits and Vegetables and Their Nutritional Benefits

Who doesn’t love spring? Every season has its own charm, but there is something so inspiring about spring—with the fresh blooms and new life everywhere you look. One of the best ways to enjoy the season is by indulging in the fresh produce that becomes available during this time. Here are some of our favorite fruits and vegetables along with all the nutritional benefits they can add to your diet.

  1. Asparagus: Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamin K, which is essential for bone health, and folate, which is important for pregnant women. Asparagus is also a good source of vitamin C and is a particularly rich source of glutathione, which has been shown to have detoxifying properties and protect against certain kinds of cancer. Asparagus is delicious when steamed, sauteed, or grilled, and can make an easy side dish with minimal effort.
  2. Artichokes: Artichokes are a good source of fiber, which can help regulate your digestive system. Artichokes are also high in antioxidants, which can help protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals, and help improve liver function. Both the artichoke leaves and heart can be eaten and steaming or baking are the most popular ways to prepare them. You can also stuff artichokes for an extra special presentation.
  3. Strawberries: Strawberries are one of the most popular spring fruits. They are a good source of vitamin C, which we all know is great for your immune system.  Strawberries are also high in antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation in your body. Polyphenols found in strawberries can also help improve insulin sensitivity in nondiabetic adults. Strawberries are delicious on their own, but we also love to add them to smoothies, yogurt bowls, oatmeal, or even sliced and added to water for a refreshing spring beverage.
  4. Peas: Peas are really excellent for eye health and can help prevent cataracts and macular degeneration. They are also high in coumestrol, which helps prevent stomach cancer, and the high fiber content is excellent for digestive health. In addition, magnesium, potassium, and other minerals found in peas can lower your risk of high blood pressure. Peas can easily be added to pasta dishes that use light sauces, added to salads or simply steamed and lightly seasoned for a quick and healthy side dish.
  5. Radishes: Radishes are crunchy and refreshing spring vegetables that can help with liver and kidney function, and the glucosinolate and isothiocyanate can help to regulate blood sugar and reduce the risk of diabetes. Radishes are also excellent for overall blood and heart health because they are rich in antioxidants and minerals like calcium and potassium. incorporate radishes into your spring meals by adding thin slices to salads for a peppery crunch, roasting them with garlic and olive oil, or making your own pickled radishes to enjoy all year long.
  6. Apricots: We generally find apricots as dried fruit, and although those are tasty, we love to enjoy fresh apricots in spring when they are in season. Apricots are sweet and juicy spring fruit that are high in vitamin A, which is important for eye health. They are also a good source of fiber, which can help regulate your digestive system. Beta carotene, also found in apricots can help make your skin more resistant to sunburn, which is super helpful for our sunny climate. Like strawberries, apricots are delicious when eaten whole and do really well in salads and smoothies. You can also make some super tasty spring desserts like apricot tarts, and apricot crisp. 
  7. Rhubarb: Rhubarb is a unique spring vegetable that is often used in desserts. Only the stalks are edible, and you’ll see the best Rhubarb become available in early April. Rhubarb is a good source of vitamin K, which is essential for bone health, and vitamin C, which can help boost your immune system. Rhubarb is also high in antioxidants, which can help protect your cells from damage and reduce inflammation. The high fiber content is of course also excellent for overall digestive health. Get your fill of rhubarb by making pies, or your own chutney that can be whipped out and added to other dishes all year long.

Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables is essential for maintaining a healthy diet. During the spring season, there are many delicious and nutritious options to choose from. By incorporating these seasonal foods into your meals, you can take advantage of their health benefits and enjoy the flavors of the season. We encourage you to shop local and find these spring fruits and veggies from local farms if available.

Do you have a favorite on this list? Or a favorite recipe incorporating other spring fruits and veggies? Drop a comment below, or tag us on social media! We would love to hear what you enjoy this time of year.

 

 

Animal Protein -vs- Plant Protein

Protein. It can be a big topic and a key point for some people’s diets. Unlike other nutrients, our bodies don’t store protein the same way they store other macronutrients. So you need to include protein in your diet on a regular basis to have the building blocks for growing and repairing your cells. Although obvious sources of protein include animal meats, there are plenty of plants that provide their own form of protein too. Today we’re going to look at the differences between Animal and Plant proteins, the pros and cons of each, and our recommendations to make sure you’re getting enough protein in your diet.

Amino Acids

To start off, we’re going to quickly recap what protein is. All proteins are made up of amino acids, or organic compounds that make up every cell. Our bodies require 22 different amino acids to function, but they can only make 13 of those by themselves, the other 9 must be consumed through our diets.

Animal proteins contain all 9 of these missing amino acids, which is why some have believed this is the better source of protein. However, there are many sources of complete proteins derived from plants. For instance:

  • Soy/tempeh/edamame
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Buckwheat
  • Spirulina
  • Hemp Seeds
  • Chia Seeds
  • Nutritional Yeast

We’d also like to point out that your protein does not NEED to come from ‘complete’ sources. It may be convenient, but getting your protein from multiple sources may provide other benefits, like a wider variety of micronutrients among all the different protein sources.

Animal Protein

As we stated above, animal proteins give you all 9 missing amino acids and are generally higher in Iron and Vitamin B-12. The protein in animal products is also highly bioavailable, meaning the body doesn’t have to work very hard to extract the amino acids and start using them. some animal proteins such as fish contain high levels of Omega 3 fatty acids, which are excellent for cognition and brain health.

The downside? Overconsumption of animal protein can have some negative effects. Specifically, the consumption of red meat has been linked to having a shorter lifespan and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Red meats generally contain unhealthy fatty tissue, which is also not ideal in large quantities. That is not to say it should be outright avoided, studies show it may be best to consume red meats in moderation and go for lean meats like chicken or fish more often.

Plant Protein

There are many benefits to getting your protein from plants. In general, plant-based diets are linked with lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, longer life spans, lower risk of heart disease, and lower risk of strokes and cancer. These benefits come from having a wide variety of fruits and vegetables in the diet, which in turn give the body plenty of vitamins and minerals to function at its best. On top of that, plants offer a lot more fiber, which is hugely beneficial to the digestive system and overall gut health.

These benefits also come with some conditions. Although there are some complete protein sources derived from plants, the protein in those foods is less bioavailable in comparison to animal proteins. Again, eating a variety helps your body access the proteins it needs when it needs them. Plant proteins also won’t contain as much iron or B-12, so it’s important to make sure you include other foods with those vitamins in your diet as well.

We’d also like to point out that you can technically be on a plant-based diet, and still consume large amounts of processed, fried, or simply nutritionally lacking foods. Focusing more on ‘fresh’ and ‘nutritionally dense’ is better than focusing on if the foods you consume are plant-based or not.

Wrapping it up

So which one is better, animal protein or plant protein? It’s tough to say, and honestly, we don’t think there is a single answer here. We think it’s something that each person should think about while also considering any other dietary restrictions or needs. For instance, if you follow a Keto diet, it may be difficult to get all your protein needs from plant-based sources, while also staying within your carb limit for the day. In that case, we would definitely recommend including lean plant-based proteins in your diet. For others without those types of requirements, getting more of your protein from plants may be beneficial simply because of all of the other long-term benefits. The bottom line, we think it’s a personal choice, and one you should consider discussing with a nutrition expert or your doctor so you can find the best fit for you. One this is for sure though, keeping your diet balanced with a healthy mix of plant and animal proteins is generally a safe bet.

Food for Improved Cognition and Brain Health

Your command center, your noodle, your noggin, your seat of consciousness, whatever you want to call it, your brain is both a wonder of nature and a vitally important part of your ability to ‘be’. And just like every other part of our body, our brains rely on what we ingest in order to have the building blocks they need to function at their full capacity. Today we’re going to explore what key nutrients that specifically support brain health, and why they are so beneficial to our overall well-being.

Turmeric

You may already know that Turmeric can help with inflammation, but new studies show that this bright-colored spice may also benefit people with anxiety and depression by boosting serotonin and dopamine, and it’s linked to new brain cell growth, which may help delay age-related declines in mental functionality. Specifically, it is the compound Curcumin found in Turmeric that is responsible for these effects. Interestingly, this compound can cross the blood-brain barrier which means it can be easily absorbed into the brain to directly impact our brain cells.

Fatty Fish

Of course, fatty fish was bound to show up on this list due to its high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, which are used by the brain to build brain and nerve cells. Omega-3s are essential for learning, memory, and our capacity to control decision-making and emotions. Fatty fishes include Salmon, Trout, Tuna, and Sardines.

Coffee/Tea

There are so many complex compounds in both coffee and tea, and ongoing studies have shed more light on the long-term health benefits when consumed in moderation. Obviously, too much of a good thing can still have negative effects, but a cup of coffee or tea daily can contribute to better focus, improved mood, and increased alertness. There are also a lot of antioxidants found in both drinks that are also linked to overall improved health and reduced risk of neurological diseases.

Berries

Also very high in antioxidants, berries (specifically dark berries like blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries) provide many benefits to overall brain health. specifically, they are linked to increased communication between cells, reduced inflammation, delayed aging and reduced risk of disease, and better learning and adaptation capacity.

Oranges

We are mentioning oranges here because they are fantastic sources of Vitamin C, which is a key nutrient in preventing mental decline from aging. Vitamin C is also a natural antioxidant, which as we’ve already mentioned, can help prevent inflammation and the development of neurological diseases. You can also find high levels of vitamin C in bell peppers, kiwi, and guava.

Leafy greens

Hearty greens like kale, brussels sprouts, and broccoli have all been shown to benefit brain health. These ‘superfoods’ have earned their name from the high levels of glucosinolates, which have an antibiotic-like effect that can help prevent infection and disease. These greens also tend to be high in antioxidants that further prevent inflammation and age-related degeneration.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds are another great sources of healthy fats such as Omega-3 fatty acids, which as we mentioned before contribute to brain growth and new cell development. But on top of that, nuts and seeds are also a great source of Vitamin E, another powerful antioxidant that specifically helps prevent the development of Alzheimer’s.

Eggs

Last on our list, eggs are great for brain health specifically because of the high concentration of Choline in the yolks. Choline is a building block your body uses to develop neurotransmitters that regulate mood and memory. Eggs are also high in B6, B12, and folate, which have all been linked to a reduced risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

 

Summary

The foods on this list are good for you in more ways than one, and always we encourage you to fill your diet with variety to ensure you’re getting a well-balanced mix of nutrients from many different sources. Always consult your doctor or a nutrition professional if you have questions about a specific health concern or diet change. There is no better way to support your whole body’s health that to listen to what your body is telling you and do your best to give it what it needs to function the way it was meant to.

 

 

Our Favorite Dishes and Dips for Entertaining – Great Taste and Great for You

We all love a great get-together, spending time with friends and family, and enjoying good company. And nothing warms people’s hearts and brings us together better than good food. And when we say “good” food, we mean food that tastes great and is also great FOR you. We’ve gathered a list of our favorite dishes to serve that will be a hit at your next gathering.

1. Buffalo Cauliflower

Buffalo anything is always a welcome addition to most gameday spreads. We love going for buffalo cauliflower not only for the added veggie benefits, but also to make sure our spread feels inclusive for our vegetarian/vegan guests. Can’t give up the standard buffalo chicken? Serve both, and let your guest enjoy choosing for themselves.

2. Plantain Chips

A wonderful crunchy alternative to your standard potato chip, and plantains are naturally higher in Vitamin A and C. Great served with any dips or even just on their own.

3. Sweet Potato Wedges

If you’re going to do potatoes, we say opt for sweet potatoes. Although potatoes themselves are not a bad food (honestly we don’t believe any vegetable or whole food is ‘bad’), sweet potatoes do have a lower glycemic index, which means the wont cause a sugar spike and crash like other potatoes might.

4. Black Bean Dip

This dip is packed with protein and flavor, and contains zero fat. Great as a spread, or a dip, and the creamy black velvet texture can be a unique eye-catching addition to any table.

5. Babaganoush

Another fantastic and flavorful dip, and because it’s primary ingredient is eggplant, you get the nutritional benefits being high in fiber, and relatively low in calories. Babaganoush is also full of healthy fats from the olive oil and Tahini.

6. Layered Hummus Dip

Who doesn’t love hummus? Take this classic dip to the next level by layering on crumbled feta, chopped cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and olives for a fresh crunchy bite that is sure to satisfy. Start with our classic hummus and add the toppings fresh before your guests arrive.

7. Tomato Bruschetta

Another classic, we love bruschetta for the bright color and flavor of the heirloom tomatoes. Paired with some fresh arugula, balsamic reduction, and crusty bread, you’ve got a combination that won’t disappoint.

8. Spring Rolls W/Prawns

Packed with fresh veggies and protein, with a satisfying crunch, and paired with a perfectly savory Ponzu dipping sauce, these spring rolls are a great way to as flavor and color to your evenings selection.

9. Farro salad

Yes, we’ve included a salad on this list. But this isn’t just any salad. We take Italian pearled farro and mix it with sautéed mushroom and onions, roasted bell peppers, broccoli, and arugula. toss everything in a simple red wine vinaigrette, and you have a salad that’s full of good nutrients and wont leave your guests hungry ten minutes later.

10. Chicken Montanara

We think this one already starts off strong with out organic free range chicken, but it really starts to shine with the addition of bright sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and artichokes.

11. Ahi Tuna Tartar

If we had to pick a favorite on this list, this might be it. The perfect combination of marinated Ahi tuna with the fresh cucumber and green onion relish is a great way to add a touch of elegance and uniqueness to your gathering. Not to mention this dish is full of good nutrients.

12. Flank Steak Skewers

These skewers are honestly so simple, but so perfect at the same time. Beautifully marinated with fresh herbs, and paired with roasted peppers for a flavor that is full and well rounded. They key is the fresh high quality ingredients that help keep this dish flavorful and wholesome.

13. Juice Shots

Whats a celebration without a few shots? We love these for gatherings as a fun creative way to mix things up and give guest the chance to try a concentrated boost of wellness in an easy sip. Serve them on a platter in tiny shot glasses, garnishes with some edible flowers or tiny fruit skewers!

14. Peanut Butter Honey Squares

Sweet and nutty, our peanut butter honey squares are good for more than a quick afternoon snack. These hunks of goodness can provide a satisfying bite to any appetizer spread, are go well with just about anything

15. Dark Chocolate almond Stars

The dark chocolate makes these sweets balanced, and they are perfect for sharing as each bite is already individually portioned

There are many excellent ways to host a gathering and plan a menu that is as nutritious as it is delicious. We love being able to offer these options to make it easy, so no matter if you’re planning a special celebration or a casual get-together, everyone can enjoy the moment while enjoying healthy, wholesome foods.

 

 

A New Definition of “Healthy”

We are used to seeing health claims on food packaging, and there are a lot of products that use these claims to mislead or bend the truth about the nutritional benefits of their products. Despite these claims often having a significant impact on consumer choices, regulation of these health claims is relatively new. Turns out that our evolving understanding of nutritional science is making waves and on Sept 28th, 2022, The FDA published a statement that may redefine what “Healthy” means when used on food packaging. Today we’re going to quickly review the new proposed definition, and help clarify what it means for our diets and habits moving forward.

Old Definition

The previous criteria for what is considered healthy was established in 1994 and set a maximum for fat content and minimum for daily vitamin content. This started the popularity of ‘low-fat’ foods that were somehow deemed to be “Healthy” despite high levels of sugar or sodium (for example, low-fat yogurts, or overly processed breakfast cereals). This also meant that healthy fats like Olive Oil couldn’t use the “Healthy” label because the fat content was too high.

What Changed?

According to the FDA statement, the proposed change means that any food with the claim “healthy” on the package needs to:

  • Contain a certain meaningful amount of food from at least one of the food groups or subgroups (e.g., fruit, vegetable, dairy, etc.) recommended by the Dietary Guidelines.
  • Adhere to specific limits for certain nutrients, such as saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. The threshold for the limits is based on a percent of the Daily Value (DV) for the nutrient and varies depending on the food and food group. The limit for sodium is 10% of the DV per serving (230 milligrams per serving).

What This Means

  • Under the new definition, the FDA recognizes that not all fats are created equal and that foods with high levels of beneficial fats, such as Omega 3, can now use the “Healthy” label. This means that foods such as salmon and whole nuts can be labeled as “Healthy”.
  • The new definition would also force manufacturers to modify their products so they contain more whole ingredients in order to meet the new standards for “Healthy.”
    • “For example, a cereal would need to contain ¾ ounces of whole grains and contain no more than 1 gram of saturated fat, 230 milligrams of sodium, and 2.5 grams of added sugars.”
  • Different food groups would also be held to different nutrient density ratios, creating a more complete picture of what “Healthy” means for different categories of food. This means that Grain-based products have a higher sugar allowance than vegetable-based products. (For more examples you can view a chart made by the FDA here: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/use-term-healthy-food-labeling)

Ultimately, this new proposal is in alignment with more modern ideas of balanced health and nutrition. For years, nutrition recommendations have focused on whole foods, nutrient-dense meals, and minimizing processed prepackaged goods that contain high levels of stabilized, preservatives, or artificial ingredients.

If you’ve been following us for any amount of time, you already know we are huge supporters of fresh, high-quality, whole ingredients. We think this proposed change for what can be labeled “Healthy” is a positive step forward for consumer awareness, but ultimately it is still up to consumers to make healthy choices for themselves. Focusing on fresh whole ingredients, and knowing what works for your body and lifestyle is always going to be the most effective way to get the nutrients your body needs.

 

 

The Link Between Anxiety & Your Food Choices

Have you heard the news? A panel of medical experts recently announced that all adults under the age of 65 should consider getting screened for anxiety. The statement stems from concern that Americans as a whole have been experiencing stressors from all angles over the past few years, resulting in a growing number of mental health concerns. Despite some lingering stigma, new studies continue to show how important mental health is, and how it affects our lives on a day-to-day basis. The good news is, there are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make to help. Today, we are going to talk about changes you can make to your diet, and the science between nutrition, and your mental state.

 

Explaining Anxiety

Anxiety comes in MANY flavors. From Agoraphobia and specific Phobia’s to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, there are many different conditions that can fall under the umbrella of anxiety. Some forms are more obstructive to everyday life than others, and each person may experience different intensities of these disorders depending on a number of factors. The most common form of anxiety is Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which is what we will primarily focus on in this article.

Generalized Anxiety disorder happens when there is an imbalance between your brains Prefrontal Cortex (the part of your brain responsible for cognitive control functions and decision making) and the Amygdala (the part of your brain linked to processing emotions and memories associated with fear or threats). Under normal circumstances, your Prefrontal Cortex regulates your Amygdala and is able to manage any threat responses that may be stimulated. However, the Amygdala of a person with Anxiety often goes unchecked, and the Amygdala may generate stress or fear signals even without an obvious physical threat.

Essentially what this leads to is a consistent feeling of fear or unease. Symptoms of this kind of Anxiety can include elevated heart rate, flushed skin, tense muscles, inability to concentrate or focus, irritability, insomnia, and general fatigue.

 

Anxiety, Neurotransmitters, and Your Second Brain

Second brain? Yes, you read that right. Believe it or not, your gut is embedded with some 100 million neurons (more than what makes up your spinal cord or peripheral nervous system) and is technically called the Enteric nervous system. Although this ‘second brain’ plays zero part in any cognitive functions, it does play a vital role in our mental state and combatting a number of diseases throughout the body (no surprise there).

This system sends and receives signals from the brain, and secretes neurotransmitters identical to those found in the central nervous system (eg, acetylcholine, dopamine, and serotonin). These neurotransmitters are the key connection between your diet, your gut, and your mental health. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between your gut’s microbiome, and it’s secretion of these neurotransmitters.

Low levels of serotonin specifically have been linked to higher levels of anxiety and depression. For example, many anxiety and depression prescriptions work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin so more of it remains in circulation throughout your body. Going back to what we said about the Brain, higher serotonin levels help the prefrontal cortex communicate and regulate the threat responses of the amygdala.

So to sum it up, a healthy gut = a healthy gut microbiome = healthy levels of important neurotransmitters = healthy communication in the brain = reduced chances of unnecessary or unregulated fear responses = reduced anxiety and anxiety symptoms.

 

That’s great, but how does our diet help?

So we’ve determined that our gut health is really important, and the best way to keep our guts healthy is to eat a wide variety of nutrient-dense whole foods. Specifically, look for food with the following:

  • Fiber – Helps the body slow down the absorption of glucose, which prevents spikes in blood sugar levels and avoids sugar crashes.
  • Antioxidants – Helps to prevent inflammation in the gut and throughout the body.
  • Folate – Promotes production of the neurotransmitter Dopamine.
  • Vitamin D – Promotes production of the neurotransmitter Serotonin.
  • Magnesium – Promotes healthy protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation.
  • Fermented foods – The superfood of gut health, fermented foods are packed with probiotics, or healthy gut bacteria, that are essential to a healthy gut microbiome.

 

Foods that make Anxiety worse.

Although these foods don’t CAUSE anxiety, the effect they have on our bodies may mimic symptoms and make your existing anxiety feel even worse.

  • Processed food, and sugary drinks – an obvious culprit, as processed foods are usually lacking good fiber and nutrient density, while also being high in sugar, bad fats, and sodium. This leads to spikes in blood sugar levels and crashes where you feel fatigued more easily. They also provide very little, if any, nutritional benefits to your gut.
  • Caffeine – Often used as a stimulant to help people feel more awake, alert, or energetic, caffeine’s effects can quickly get out of hand and cause you to feel jittery, and irritable, and can increase your heart rate to uncomfortable levels.
  • Alcohol – Sometimes used as a way to cope with anxiety, alcohol’s long-term negative effects on the body can be serious, and often cause imbalances in bodily systems and sleep patterns.

 

Quick disclaimer:

As we stated at the beginning of this post, anxiety comes in MANY different shapes and sizes. And although we’ve explored how your food choices can help, it’s important to recognize that these lifestyle changes may not be enough in some circumstances, and we encourage you to talk to your doctor if your anxiety is disrupting your everyday life. Mental health is important, and we believe it should always be taken seriously.

 

 

What are ‘Macros’ and why should you care?

We all know nutrients and nutrient density is important. But are some nutrients more important than others? And how do you look at nutrients while keeping your long-term health goals in mind? We’re going to answer those questions today by looking at Macronutrient Tracking.

What are Macronutrients?

Macronutrients are the primary essential nutrients that we need in order to survive. They are called “Macro” because these should make up the majority of the nutrients that you are consuming. Micronutrients, by contrast, are substances that are needed in far smaller amounts, like vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes.

There are three macronutrients; carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Contrary to what many diets will tell you, you do need all three for your body to function properly. Luckily, there are endless ways to include all three within your daily diet, as every food falls into one of these categories.

CARBS

Carbs, as we’ve discussed on the blog before, are your body’s primary source of energy. When you eat carbohydrates, your body converts them into glucose (sugar) and uses this sugar either right away or stores it to be used later. Carbs can be simple and easily digestible, or complex with dietary fiber that helps promote digestive health.

PROTEIN

Protein acts as a building block for your body, helping you to heal injuries and grow new tissues throughout every system in your body. Proteins come from a huge variety of sources, both animal-based and plant-based. Every protein is composed of amino acids. When we ingest proteins, our bodies break the proteins down into amino acids in order to use them to construct whatever protein structure our body requires internally. Human bodies require 20 different types of amino acids, 9 of which we have to get externally through our diets as the body cannot produce them itself.

FATS

Despite being shunned by diets for decades, fat plays a vital role in vitamin absorption, protecting your organs, assisting with cell growth, and hormone regulation. Of course, some fats are better than others, and it’s important to still limit ‘bad fats’ such as trans fats, as they can quickly contribute to a number of health issues is over-consumed.

All three of these macronutrients should be included on nutrition labels, and macros for whole foods, such as fruit and vegetables, are easily accessible with a quick google search.

What’s the benefit of counting Macros?

To begin with, tracking macronutrients provides people with a more detailed and structured option over simply tracking calories. A slice of cake and a poke bowl may have similar calorie counts, but the nutrients making up those calories are way different. If your aim is to reach 143.75g of protein, that cake slice is unlikely to help you hit that target.

By tracking your macros, you’re more likely to make healthier decisions overall. But as we’ve already mentioned, it can help if you have specific health conditions as well. For instance, if you need to follow a low-carb diet to help with epilepsy, or a low-fat diet to manage cholesterol levels. Athletes often adopt a high-protein diet so they can give their body the necessary amino acids to repair and grow muscles while following a demanding workout plan.

How to count macros, and how much do you need of each?

Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all answer for this. As with most nutrition advice, everybody is different, and the macros you need may be heavily dependent on your health goals. A good starting place may be to look at the Federal Dietary Recommendations:

45 – 65% of your calories from carbohydrates

10 – 35% of your calories from protein

20 – 35% of your calories from fat

These recommendations are based on the idea that Carbs provide our body with the quickest source of energy, but that may not be what’s best for everybody.

In order to start tracking your macros, you’ll need to convert these percentages into grams, based on your daily target caloric intake. For instance, for a target of 2,300 calories, your daily intake may look like this:

50% Carbs = 287.5g

25% Protein = 143.75g

25% Fat = 63.8g

You can easily find calculators online that will do the math for you. HOWEVER, If you’re interested in finding your ideal Macro targets, we HIGHLY suggest you work with a certified nutritionist to go over your goals, your lifestyle, and any underlying health concerns that need to be considered when it comes to your dietary needs. An online calculator simply will not compare to talking to someone who is able to look at all the factors that come into play. If you’re local to the Tampa area, we recommend reaching out to Pulse Personal Training and talking to one of their trainers to get started.

One last thing

Of course, you do not NEED to count macronutrients to follow a healthy balanced diet. Counting macros is simply another tool you can use on your health journey. We believe it can be beneficial to anyone who’s looking for a more structured plan, but for many people, it can simply be a stepping stone to help them break unhealthy habits. You may even find you get comfortable enough to eyeball portion sizes, or you get familiar enough with the dishes you eat most often that you don’t have meticulously log every meal. the best nutrition plan is one you can actually follow, and hopefully, one that brings you joy, because food should be something we celebrate. It’s important to cultivate and maintain a healthy relationship with food, and always remember that paying attention to what we eat is important because it fuels our bodies to perform at their best. When we eat better, we feel better!

 

 

The Nutrition of our Favorite Fall Flavors

Although the Fall Equinox is not until Sept 22nd, we are already seeing the early excitement for all of our favorite fall necessities. Whether it’s the seasonal return of the PSL, pumpkin-themed craft brews, or bountiful fall harvests arriving at your market of choice, there is an undeniable shift happening. Today we’re taking a different approach. Rather than sharing our favorite fall recipes (that one’s coming later, don’t worry), today we’re going to dive into fall flavors. What are fall flavors? Where do they come from, and what are the health benefits? In doing so, perhaps we can harness these seasonal trends for the benefit of our health and overall wellbeing.

What qualifies as a ‘Fall Flavor’

The Fall season is harvest season, as many crops and products reach their peak in late August – October. So it’s safe to say that many of the flavors we associate with fall originate from the seasonal availability of these fruits and veggies. Some common fall crops include:

  • Apples
  • Winter Squash (butternut, pumpkin, acorn, etc)
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Persimmons
  • Grapes
  • Cranberries

But this is just half the story, as we also associate a lot of spices with fall. In fact, the flavor we call ‘pumpkin spice’ doesn’t actually include any pumpkin at all. Pumpkin spice is generally a mixture of cinnamon, allspice, clove, nutmeg, and ginger. But you’ll also find spices like cardamom and anise used in various fall recipes as well.

The are a few reasons these spices are associated with fall. To start, spices used to be a luxury item, used only for celebrations and significant events. Despite the modern accessibility of spices, the tradition of spiced holiday foods remains, and two of the biggest US holidays occur in the fall/early winter time frame. In addition, these spices in particular are considered “warming spices”, meaning they offer a sensation of warmth when added to food or drinks. You can find a lot of references to this in Ayurvedic traditions as well. This brings us to our next point:

What are the nutritional values of these foods

Let’s start again with the produce.

  • Apples:
    • High in fiber, excellent for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, diabetes-friendly from the low glycemic index, and can contribute to overall gut and digestion health.
  • Winter Squash (butternut, pumpkin, acorn, etc)
    • High in beta-carotene, lutein, and antioxidants. Can reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce inflammation, and lower blood pressure. Have also been shown to help regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Carrots
    • Excellent for healthy eyes can help to support your immune system, can help regulate blood pressure and blood sugar, and can lower the risk of cancer. The abundance of calcium and vitamin K can also strengthen bones.
  • Potatoes
    • High in fiber which can help balance cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Can also aid in digestion by providing prebiotic benefits to the gut. Also high in potassium which helps decrease blood pressure.
  • Persimmons
    • Rich in vitamin C and vitamin A, which help with immune health and vision respectively. Also been shown to be beneficial for diabetes prevention, and reduced the risk of heart disease and Atherosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries).
  • Grapes
    • Extremely high in many antioxidants, which means they are great for brain health, and aging, and reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Also great for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure.
  • Cranberries
    • Also extremely high in antioxidants, and can reduce the risk of cancer and liver disease, while also boosting immune health and urinary tract and gut health. They can also be great for Oral health, as they reduce the amount of acid in your saliva, and keep it from sticking to your teeth.

    Just like all fruits and vegetables, these fall favorites are packed with plenty of vitamins and minerals. Many of these are specifically rich in dietary fiber and antioxidants, which means the fall season should be a great opportunity for us to manage our blood levels and our digestive health.

What about the spices? How do those benefit us?

  • Cinnamon
    • Extremely high in antioxidants, and can reduce the risk of heart disease and inflammation. Also excellent for managing blood sugar levels. Potentially help to reduce the risk or effect of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Also had ani fungal and antibacterial properties, and can help prevent tooth decay.
  • Allspice
    • Technically derived from a dried berry, allspice has been used to reduce inflammation, and treat nausea. It’s also beneficial for infection prevention, pain relief, and reduction of menopause symptoms.
  • Clove
    • Can help balance blood sugar levels, prevent bacteria growth, reduce inflammation and reduce the chances of developing ulcers. May also be linked to liver health and reduced risk of fatty liver disease.
  • Nutmeg
    • Also high in antioxidants, and surprisingly found in several dental products, nutmeg has been shown to protect against oral pathogens that cause disease and bad breath. Nutmeg has also been used to improve or balance moods, and can possibly help improve sleep quality.
  • Ginger
    • Ginger’s main bioactive compound is Gingerol, which is a strong antioxidant with inflammatory properties. Excellent for treating nausea and motion sickness, and has been shown to help with indigestion and menstrual pains. Also great for balancing blood levels, cancer prevention, and protection against Alzheimer’s.

We’d like to mention that although the above spices do have health benefits, it’s important to not overdo it. Specifically with nutmeg, as consuming 2+ teaspoons in one sitting can be toxic.

We’d also like to come back to a point we mentioned earlier, that all these spices as considered “Warming spices” This means that they literally have the ability to raise your body’s internal temperature, which makes them perfect for cooler weather. The science behind this is slightly different for every spice, but the knowledge and use of these properties are far from new. Ayurvedic tenets hold that our metabolism needs to work harder in winter to fuel the inner digestive fire and that warming foods and spices are needed to stay healthy, with balanced energy systems. In Chinese medicine, these are referred to as yang foods, which are responsible for the activation and warming of bodily functions that keep us healthy and facilitate the flow of qi, our personal energy.

This is far from an exhaustive list, and we encourage you to explore more information on each item if it interests you. We hope if nothing else this has encouraged you to appreciate the flavors of fall with a new lens, one that shows the rich history, tradition, and nutritional science of why these flavors are so popular as the weather starts to cool down.

If you’re interested in indulging in some fall flavors, follow us on social media to see what we’ve got cooking, and watch for our seasonal specials, like mini apple cobblers, and cranberry pistachio muffins (all gluten and sugar-free, as always).

 

 

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