Thickeners – What You Need to Know

Thickeners are one of many ingredients added to processed foods. And they do just that: thicken. They absorb water and form a gel-like consistency. They’re often used to make foods thick and creamy, without having to add a lot of fat.

Thickeners also tend to emulsify and stabilize foods they’re added to. Emulsification allows fats and water to mix better and prevents them from separating (i.e., oil/vinegar salad dressing versus a thicker or creamier emulsified dressing). And “stabilizing” helps the product have a longer shelf-life before the “best before” date.

Thickeners are often found in canned dairy-free milk and any milk that comes in a carton, baked goods, soups/sauces/gravies, puddings/ice cream, etc. Some are even added to dietary supplements!

These thickeners are polysaccharides, which means they’re long chains of many (poly) saccharides (sugars). They are typically difficult to digest, which makes them similar to dietary fiber. And this also means they can help you feel fuller longer without providing many calories or any nutrients.

They’re naturally-derived but are heavily processed to extract the compound. (Did I say “heavily?”)

NOTE: food additives are considered anti-nutrients because they reduce the absorption of dietary minerals like calcium. (more…)

What to Eat if You Get Constipation

Let’s just get this out of the way right away. No one likes talking about this topic but it can be a problem for a lot of people.

Constipation is the opposite of diarrhea – it’s when stool tends to stick around longer than necessary. Often, it’s drier, lumpier, and harder than normal, and may be difficult to pass.

Constipation often comes along with abdominal pain and bloating. And can be common in people with certain gut issues, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

About 14-24% of adults experience constipation. Constipation becomes chronic when it happens at least three times per week for three months.

Constipation can be caused by diet or stress, and even changes to our daily routine. Sometimes the culprit is a medical condition or medications. And sometimes there can be a structural problem with the gut. Many times, the cause is unknown.

Whether you know why or not, there are some things you can do if you get constipated. (more…)

What Makes a Food Processed?

The world of food can be so confusing at times, right?. There was a time when it was clear what food was – it came directly from nature – whether scavenging, hunting, or farming. Now there are so many things we eat that don’t resemble a natural food.

Michael Pollan has a famous quote, he said: “Eat Food – Not too much – Mostly Plants.” And in his famous book, In Defense of Food, he defines what food should be. He says, “Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”

And, we can all agree that some things are obviously not recognizable by our great-great-grandmothers. You know like candy bars, fast food, and energy drinks.

We can also say that many of the common health issues we face today: heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, cavities, obesity, etc. didn’t exist at anywhere near the rates before industrially processed foods became available.

But, where do we draw the line? How do we define processed? How processed is processed? And what the heck is ultra-processed?

Allow me to let you in on the internationally recognized classification system. And we’re going to go through it step-by-step with an apple. (more…)

Intermittent fasting: What is it and will it help me lose weight?

In a nutshell, intermittent fasting is just that: fasting intermittently.

It’s limiting calorie intake during certain hours/day or days/week. It’s more of an eating pattern than a diet. It limits when to eat, and not so much what to eat. And that’s part of its appeal to people who don’t want to count calories or use their food log to track everything.

Some would say that it’s a more natural way to eat because humans evolved without refrigerators, drive-throughs, or 24-hour convenience stores. We now have access to food (including junk food) all day long, so eating several meals per day plus snacks may be less natural than fasting from time to time.

There are lots of variations on this theme. They include:

  • 16/8 which is 16 hours of fasting and eating only within the other 8 hours (often 1:00 pm. – 9:00 p.m.)
  • 5:2 days of fasting, where you eat regularly for five days of the week, then take in just 500-600 calories/day for the other two (non-consecutive) days.

Is intermittent fasting effective for weight loss?

Intermittent fasting can help to lose weight because it can help you to eat fewer calories and burn more calories too.

Lots of people say they have success with it. But what do the studies say? (more…)

Low Carb Diet 101

Low carb diets have been popular on and off since the dawn of the Atkins fame, maybe even longer.

But what exactly defines low carb? Does eating this way actually help with weight loss? Are there any other health benefits (or risks) to eating fewer carbs?

Let’s see.

What is a carb?

A carb, or carbohydrate, is one of our three main macronutrients. Carbs, along with protein and fat that are needed for optimal health in quantities larger than vitamins and minerals which are micronutrients.

Carbohydrates come in three main types:

  • Sugars
  • Starches
  • Fiber

Sugars are the smallest (molecule) carb. There are many different kinds of sugars, beyond the well-known table sugar (sucrose) or fruit sugar (fructose).

Starches are longer chains of many sugars bound together. Starches are broken down by our digestive enzymes into sugars. These sugars are then absorbed and metabolized in much the same way as if we ate sugar itself.

Fiber, on the other hand, is also a long chain of sugars, but these are not broken down by our digestive enzymes. Fiber passes through our system, feeds our friendly gut bacteria, and then takes food waste out the other end.

Because fiber isn’t digested like sugars and starches, it’s often excluded from the carb calculation.

How we metabolize carbs

When we eat carbs, our body absorbs the broken-down sugar into our blood, thus raising our blood sugar. Depending on how high and fast our blood sugar rises, our body may release insulin to tell our cells to absorb that sugar out of our blood and use it as energy now or store it for later.

This is part of the theory as to why eating low carb diets may help with weight loss – by preventing the release of insulin, thus preventing the storage of excess calories.

But our bodies are a bit more complicated than that! (more…)

Can’t Meditate? Here are 9 Other Ways to Break Free From Stress

Meditation it’s the secret sauce to take your wellness to the next level. You know, the status of the elite gurus. It’s the “end all, be all” for the health of your entire mind-body-spirit. It’s the absolute must do that’s the only path to beating the infamous health buster called “stress.”

Hold up! Don’t get me wrong; practicing meditation is an outstanding method to optimizing your health and overall well-being. Meditation is great for relieving and dealing with stress, and all of the issues, including weight gain, that come along with it. But it’s not the only way to get there.

The whole purpose of meditating is to calm the mind and emotions and relax our physical body too. And there is always more than one way to get there.

So, let’s talk about some of the other things you can try if meditation is not exactly your thing.

Journaling

Spending some time every day writing out your thoughts can help to relieve stress. You can use journaling to list the things you’re grateful for, this is known as gratitude journaling. You can use it as a brain dump to get all of your thoughts and ideas out of your head to soothe your mind. You can use bullet journaling if you like to make lists. The ways to journal is endless, you can pick one that suits you.

Reading

It’s one thing to read to learn something that you have to learn, or to advance your knowledge. You know you can also read for pure pleasure. Getting caught up in a story so it takes us away for even a small amount of time can be so relaxing. (more…)

Prebiotics 101

“Pre”biotics?

Yes! They’re the food that we feed our probiotics, the friendly gut microbes that are oh so important for good health.

Our gut microbes are alive and they need to eat too. Their favorite foods are called “prebiotics” and include dietary fiber and resistant starch. The same fiber that keeps us feeling full slows down digestion and provides roughage that keeps us regular. Resistant starch helps promote healthy blood lipids. Both of types of prebiotics (fiber and resistant starch) are linked with many health benefits.

Technically-speaking, a prebiotic has three qualities:

  • It needs to be undigested and reach the colon intact;
  • It needs to be digested by our gut microbes; and,
  • It needs to stimulate our health-promoting good gut microbes.

Now that we know what prebiotics are let’s dive into their health benefits.

Health benefits of prebiotics

Listen, I know no one likes talking about poop but here we go anyway. Prebiotic fiber helps keep us regular by bulking up our poop. It gives it substance and form, so it’s not too runny or liquid. In fact, more fiber is often recommended to help with symptoms of diarrhea. Prebiotic fiber used to be thought of like a broom that sweeps food through our guts, but we’re learning more about its health benefits beyond this role. For example, prebiotics can also help to maintain normal bowel structure and function, and even enhance blood flow to the cells of the colon.

Those are some of the health benefits of prebiotics themselves. But we get even more health benefits when our friendly gut microbes eat and digest them. (more…)

What to Eat for Healthy Skin

There are so many things that can go wrong with the skin: dryness, redness, blemishes, etc.

There are many creams and cosmetics to put on top of your skin. But there are also lots of things you can do to nurture and nourish your skin to better health from the inside. Healthy skin is a reflection of internal health.

How better to do this than with food?

Your skin needs many nutrients: water, essential fats, vitamins, and amino acids. Here are five foods (and drinks and lifestyle tips) I highly recommend if your goal is healthier-looking skin. As a bonus, I have included a short list of some key foods to consider avoiding.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

Skin Food #1 – Water

No doubt hydration is key for healthy-looking skin! Water and other hydrating fluids are great to help your skin stay moist and supple. And for a bit of an extra anti-inflammatory hydrating boost, try boosting your water with anti-inflammatory green tea (sugar-free if possible). (more…)

Vitamin K: The Amazing Nutrient You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Vitamin what? K?

Yep!

Why’d they skip vitamins F, G, H, I & J?

Great question!

That’s because the “K” stands for “koagulation” which is the Danish spelling for “coagulation.” Vitamin K is the vitamin that helps the blood to clot or coagulate. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what this amazing, underappreciated vitamin does for our bodies.

It’s one of the four fat-soluble vitamins: Vitamins A, D, E & K.

Let me tell you about all those functions this little powerhouse does for us. Then I’ll list out some vitamin-K rich foods.

Once you read this post, you can consider yourself officially in the know about this little-known vitamin. (more…)