Smoothies, the Breakfast of Champions

Life is busy, and sometimes it’s difficult to find the time to eat as well as we know we should. It’s recommended that we consume 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables each day. Most people consume far less. Fruits and vegetables are low in salt, high in vitamins and minerals, an excellent source of fiber, as well as being rich in nutrients, phytonutrients and antioxidants.

It’s recommended that we consume between 20 and 30 grams of fiber each day. The average person consumes less than 10 grams. Fibers are known to lower cholesterol, help prevent diverticulis, IBS and constipation, keep you full longer on fewer calories and slow down the absorption of sugar in the blood.

What if you could get almost a whole day’s worth of nutrients from breakfast alone, without cooking, at a reasonable price and in only 5 minutes? This is possible, by changing your breakfast from whatever it currently is, to a Smoothie.

There are tons of good combos to be made, but make sure your smoothies have:

  • At least 20 to 30 grams of protein (quality protein powder (ideally without sugar or fructose but can be flavored ie vanilla can be a nice touch), some plain Greek yogurt, silken tofu or liquid pasteurized egg whites are good options. There are a lot of recipes online but most lack proteins, just add a neutral tasting protein to their suggested recipe)
  • A couple of handfuls of Greens (If you are new to this, start with spinach for the first couple of days/weeks. It is the less bitter of the greens. When you find an enjoyable basic recipe you can try to mix in kale, which is super healthy. I like putting a spring of parsley too.)
  • Some fats to increase the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and nutrients, like A, E and K (I like to put some avocado, coconut oil, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and / or nuts.
  • Fruits to increase palatability (we want to keep the total sugar low. A banana is good for texture and sugar, plus 1 or 2 other fruits like a green apple, ½ cup of pineapple or mango or a cup of berries should be enough. I also add ½ peeled lemon or lime for the extra vitamin C and to prevent oxidation of my drink. If you have sugar in your protein powder and / or in your almond / soy /coconut milk, be careful, it adds up)
  • Liquid to blend (Water, chilled green tea, milk (any type), pasteurized liquid egg whites, coconut water, silken tofu are all good options. Look for unsweetened types)
  • Enough sweetness to make it taste good and feel like a treat. If the basic drink isn’t sweet enough for your taste buds, you can put a bit of raw honey, stevia, xylitol, erythriol, a splash of orange or pineapple juice or a sweetener of your choice.
  • Enough calories to keep hunger at bay until lunch. 400 to 500 calories is a good target.

A basic recipe could be:

  • 1 banana (can be frozen)
  • 1-1 ½ cup of fruits (can be frozen)
  • 1 cup of spinach/kale
  • ½ peeled lemon
  • 12 almonds
  • 1 Tbsp of flaxseed meal
  • A pinch of cinnamon
  • Protein power (pea, rice or whey)
  • 1 ½ cup of liquid

Throw everything in a blender, blend. Add some liquid to adjust consistency. Sweeten to taste, if needed.

450 calories, 15-18g of fibers, 35g of protein.

A good routine could be: get up make a nice cup of green tea, sip while getting ready.  Before leaving for work: throw everything in the blender, blend for 30-60 seconds, transfer in a big smoothie cup with a straw and slowly sip on your way to work!

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Adequate Serotonine Levels without Drugs?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter often connected to mood. While serotonin deficiency is linked to depression, it has an important role in a host of other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, sleep disturbances, migraines, fatigue, carbohydrate cravings, and obesity.

Recognizing serotonin role in brain chemistry, pharmaceutical companies have developed a class of drugs called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI). Drugs in this class include, (trade names in parentheses):

  • Citalopram (Celexa, Cipramil, Cipram, Dalsan, Recital, Emocal, Sepram, Seropram, Citox, Cital)
  • Dapoxetine (Priligy)
  • Escitalopram (Lexapro, Cipralex, Seroplex, Esertia)
  • Fluoxetine (Depex, Prozac, Fontex, Seromex, Seronil, Sarafem, Ladose, Motivest, Flutop, Fluctin (EUR), Fluox (NZ), Lovan (AUS), Prodep (IND))
  • Paroxetine (Paxil, Paxil CR, Pexeva, Seroxat, Sereupin, Aropax, Deroxat, Divarius, Rexetin, Xetanor, Paroxat, Loxamine, Deparoc)
  • Sertraline (Zoloft, Lustral, Serlain, Asentra)
  • Fluoxetine combined with the atypical antipsychotic olanzapine (Symbyax)

SSRIs were originally developed for treating depression but are now taken for treating related disorders of serotonin deficit such as insomnia, migraine, fibromyalgia, and IBS.

Most do not know that about 90% of the serotonin produced in the body is made in the gastrointestinal tract and some is even produced by our heart. It is now known to influence bowel function. A deficiency increases vulnerability to digestive stress, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Low serotonin levels are often seen in chronic pain syndromes and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Serotonin is known to affect appetite, especially for carbohydrates. Low levels of the amino acid tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin in the body, have been linked to binge eating and carbohydrate cravings. When carbohydrates are consumed, insulin is released and shuttles competing amino acids from the blood into muscle. This allows tryptophan to enter the brain more easily and increase brain serotonin levels. As a result, people frequently consume carbohydrates over other foods to overcome low tryptophan into the brain and get that “carb high” or a feeling of well-being and calmness.

Exercise, by increasing uptake of competing amino acids by the muscles, has a similar action and helps elevate mood temporarily.

Our diet (caffeine, alcohol and artificial sweeteners), stress, lack of natural light and lack of exercise compromise our production and levels of serotonin.

Elevating Serotonin Levels

Serotonin cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and must be synthesized in the brain itself from the amino acids tryptophan. Here how it works:

Tryptophan => 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) => Serotonin //=> Melatonin

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid found in protein containing foods. Modern-day diets, with fast foods and carbohydrates and even a “healthy” diet often does not provide the quantities of tryptophan required since it is the least abundant amino acid found in food.

Good sources like: chicken, soybeans, tuna, turkey, venison, salmon, cheese, lamb, halibut, shrimp and cod, should be purposefully added to our diet.

Extra Help

Exposure to bright light (with adequate level of vitamin D) is an effective approach that increases serotonin significantly without drugs. Bright light (Light-box therapy) is a standard treatment for seasonal depression, but evidences suggest that it is also effective for nonseasonal depression.

In order for tryptophan to be transformed into serotonin, the following co-factors are necessary; magnesium, zinc, vitamin B-6 and vitamin C. An anti-inflammatory diet, with a balance of Omega-3 and Omega-6 is also good for overall health and particularly good for the brain.

In some cases, when additional support is needed, the intake of serotonin direct precursor 5-HTP, could help. Unlike tryptophan, 5-HTP absorption is less affected by other amino acids. 5-HTP synthesizes new serotonin to refill depleted levels in the central nervous system.

Serotonin deficiency seems to be epidemic, if the numbers of prescribed SSRI are any indication. Serotonin is our primary defense against anxiety and depression but is now link with seemingly unrelated conditions like panic, irritability, IBS, PMS, OCD/perfectionism and general pain. Some small tweaks in our routine in order to make sure we get an adequate tryptophan intake and serotonin levels, can have a huge impact on our (our friends and family too!) quality of life.

Acne troubleshooting: An Holistic view

Not many things pains me as much as seeing a person who is suffering from severe acne. Even if it is consider a benign condition by the medical establishment, only someone afflicted with it can understand the deep social and psychological impact it can have on someone’s life. I am one of them. I have used every product, tried every program but I only saw dramatic and lasting results once I gave up on the quest to find the miracle cream or pill and realized that there was no quick fix. The skin is a window into our overall health, and acne is a sign that something isn’t working as well as it should.

While a complete program designed by a holistic professional might be required in order to get completely clear (especially if the root of the problem is hormonal, like most cases of cystic acne), nearly everyone can benefit from the following basics:

  1. Cut out the worst offenders: sugar containing beverages like soft drinks, sport drinks, energy drinks, fruit punch, etc. are all inflammatory and put a burden on your elimination system. For someone who is predispose to skin problems, it makes things worst, period. Drinking enough water and maybe some green tea, is a must to make sure you stay hydrated and that you flush out toxins efficiently. The juice of half a lemon (freshly squeeze is best), in a cup of warm water, perhaps with a pinch of salt, first thing in the morning is a great and gentle way to encourage liver and digestive system detoxification, among other things.
  2. Eat an adequate protein diet, with a low-glycemic load and plenty of good fats with a proper Omega-3 : Omega-6 ratio. Once again, we want to quell inflammation. Roller coaster of insulin wreak havoc on our system and makes skin problems worst. In many cases, the stabilization of blood sugar, leads to a major improvement in skin’s feel and appearance. We want most of our meals to be composed of: a quality protein, some non-starch veggies, some lower glycemic starches and good fat like olive oil, flax meal, avocado (guacamole), ghee / grass-fed butter, some nuts etc. The protein and fats will provide what we need to build, heal and repair. The fats, veggies and starches will help us with elimination (proper bowel function is extremely important) and hormonal balance.
  3. Consider implementing a basic supplement regiment composed of: a Complete Multi-vitamin and Mineral and Fish oil (for skin health, I like cod liver oil with its naturally occurring extra Vitamin A and D, 10:1 ratio).  Some extra Vitamin C, probiotic and especially Zinc (25-50g/day of citrate or picolinate), can also help, if you wish to add them.
  4. Stress, cortisol and poor adrenal functions affect your skin, be mindful of it. Sufficient good quality sleep, lowering our caffeine consumption and the implementation of stress coping strategies, can have a surprising effect on the level of inflammation in our skin.
  5. Do not use harsh products on already inflamed skin, it makes it worst. Take an Epsom salt / baking soda bath, 2-3 times a week to help your skin and body detox and use gentle cleaner only.
  6. Give yourself time. It takes about 4 to 6 weeks for the new cells to reach the surface of the skin. Don’t give up too soon! Implement the changes slowly, but make them permanent. Not only will you have better skin, but your overall health will benefit.
  7. If you are still struggling after a couple of months, consider that you might have a food allergy or sensitivity. An Elimination Diet would be worth trying. Once most sugar is eliminated, the most common offenders are dairies and gluten/grains (also oranges and grapefruits to a lesser extent).

Much love and support,

Good Luck!

The Role of Proteins in our Diet

Proteins are the building blocks of life. Actually, the word protein is derived from the Greek word proteios, meaning “primary”, “in the lead”, or “standing in front”. Proteins are so important for our overall health and well-being, that we should think of including them first in setting up our meals and overall diet.  Proteins are what we are made of at 45%. That’s what we need. Besides some fat and essential fatty acids; the rest of our diet is fuel for energy.

In fact one of the most drastic weight-loss diet protocol, used on morbidly obese individuals, is called a Protein Sparing Modified Fast (PSMF). The patient must consume enough protein, which depends on lean mass, quality essential fatty acids, along with multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplements. (Please do not do this. It’s not a healthy and/or efficient way to lose weight for most people).

What are proteins?

Proteins are made up of amino acids. Think of amino acids as the bricks in a brick wall. Of the 22 standard amino acids, 9 are called essential amino acids. They are considered essential, because it’s indispensable that our diet provides them in sufficient quantity. Protein sources are also qualified according to how many of the essential amino acids they provide:

A complete protein source is one that provides all of the essential amino acids. Animal-based foods; such as, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and cheese are considered complete protein sources.

An incomplete protein source is one that is low in one or more of the essential amino acids. Complementary proteins are two or more incomplete protein sources that will provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids when they are combined. This is very important for vegetarians. Sources of incomplete proteins are vegetable-based foods; grains, nuts, beans, and seeds.

Proteins have many important functions in the human body, without them we would be unable to repair, regulate, or protect ourselves:

  • Building and repair of body tissues, including muscles
  • Enzymes, hormones, and many immune molecules are proteins
  • Processes such as water balancing, nutrient transport, and muscle contractions need protein.
  • Our hair, nails, skin, collagen, cartilage, and eyes are made of protein
  • Most neurotransmitters are made from amino acids
  • Amino acids are the building blocks of our brain’s network.
  • Amino acids can stimulate or calm our brain as well as nourish it.

What makes us feel satiated? The other benefit of protein.

Some foods can more easily contribute to the feeling of satiety than others. The calorie-counting tables do not reflect this, so studies examining the effects of foods on hunger can be interesting.

Highest satiating power was found in foods with high levels of protein and fiber content. What is means is that if hunger is an issue for us, a breakfast of composed of a vegetable omelet with a bit of cheese would sustain us better until lunch, than a bowls of cereal with skim milk and some fruits of equal calories.

So how much protein should we get in our diet each day?

There in no lack of opinions on this topic on the internet and numbers are all over the places.

My short answer is: it depends. It depends on you sex, age, height, lean mass, health condition, level of activity, if you are in calorie balance or not, if you take anabolic substances, etc. We should never calculate our protein needs as a percentage of our diet. Our body needs a set number of grams of protein per day and it will not vary greatly even if we modify our activity level. Our fuel intake, fat and carbohydrate, will.

Let’s start with the “sufficient” U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) per age groups.

Recommended Dietary Allowance for Protein

  Grams of protein/day

Children ages 1 – 3

13

Children ages 4 – 8

19

Children ages 9 – 13

34

Girls ages 14 – 18

46

Boys ages 14 – 18

52

Women ages 19 – 70+

46

Men ages 19 – 70+

56

Sufficient does not mean optimal and vibrant health for most people. Actually the RDA was developed during World War II by a committee established by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences to investigate issues of nutrition that might “affect national defense”. The allowances were meant to provide nutrition for civilians and military personnel. Because of food rationing during the war, the food guidelines took food availability into account.

The easy peasy way to know if your intake is sufficient, is to make sure you eat at least a palm-of-your-hand-size portion of cooked animal protein three times a day.

For those who want something more precise, I suggest this easy calculation as a starting point:

  1. Height in centimeters.  Ex:  5’8 = 173 cm   http://www.metric-conversions.org/length/feet-to-centimeters.htm
  2. Subtract 100.  Ex:  173-100 = 73
  3. 73 rounded to 75 grams +/- 10 grams = (65-85), should be a daily target for a 5ft 8in or 173 cm woman. If you are a 5ft 8in or 173 cm man, add 10 grams to the calculated range (75-95).
  4. Never go under the RDA recommended amount for your age group.

If you are dieting, are lifting weights, are sick or are recovering from an injury, aim for at least the top of the range.

If you are recovering from an addiction or are recovering from an eating disorder, aim for a minimum or 90 grams of protein per day, independently of your height.

One ounce of lean-ish cooked meat, poultry or fish, contains roughly 7 grams of protein. An egg contain 7 grams. Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, mozzarella and  protein powder are a great sources too, look on the label of your particular brand for their protein content.

If you find you have trouble digesting proteins, you could look into Hydrochloric Acid supplementation.

Hope it help!

Relaxing and detoxing at home, for less than a dollar!

The skin is not an impenetrable barrier; it will absorb what comes in contact with it. This absorbent capacity can be used to promote health and detoxification, and can be taken advantage of in the form of baths.

Bathing with Epsom salts (MgSO4·7H2O) is an easy and effective way to supply your body with more magnesium and sulfate. Both minerals are easily absorbed through the skin.

The ingredients!

The ingredients!

Epsom salt is traditionally known to relive aches and pains. It is commonly used by athletes and sport enthusiasts to enhance recovery and remove lactic acid from muscles. It also decreases swelling and inflammation in injured tissues. A warm bath with the addition of Epsom salts it is also known to increase circulation, lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Magnesium is a mineral which is crucial to many important functions. It regulates hundreds of enzymes and plays an important role in muscle control, energy production and the elimination of harmful toxins. It also has a sedative and relaxing effect upon the nervous system and the muscles.

Sulfates are an important component for the formation of joint proteins, brain cells, and the lining wall of the intestine. It also plays a crucial role in liver detoxification.

Epsom bath are beneficial for children with autism. Some autistic children have trouble with their PST (phenol-sulfotransferase) system and the processing of phenols and salicylates. Epsom salt, will provide them with the extra sulfates they need in order for the liver to eliminate those compounds. Also the magnesium will help with sleep.

Another useful addition to the bath is baking soda, which also has detoxifying properties. Baking soda has an alkalizing effect on the skin and the body. It soothe rashes, dry itchy wintery skin and can help chronic problems like eczema and psoriasis. It is also good for diaper rash.

Add 2 parts of Epsom salts to 1 part of baking soda, and a couple of drops of essential oil, if you wish, to the bath (as an example: 2 cups of Epsom salts and 1 cup of baking soda).

Oils of lavender, rose or sandalwood are good all around choices. They are gentle to the skin and are very relaxing. I also like Eucalyptus, Cedarwood or Peppermint in the winter, for the immune system and if a have a bite of a stuffy nose.

Take a 20-40 minute bath ideally, just before bed or after training.

Should we pass on Nuts?

Tasty, tasty macadamia nuts

Macadamia nuts

Nuts are fairly high in Linoleic Acid, an Omega-6 inflammatory precursor, with a few exceptions like macadamia nuts which are lower. A diet high in nuts, would presumably skew the Omega-3 : Omega-6 ratio toward pro-inflammatory processes.

But nuts should not make up the bulk of our diet. On the spectrum of inflammation and Omega-6, a small handful of raw or lightly roasted nuts is nothing compare to stir-frying or baking with corn, grapeseed, margarine or soybean oil.

Nuts are much more than Linoleic Acid. In fact, they are pretty complete nutritional source. They have a good balance of fat/carbohydrate + fiber/protein, have a low impact on blood sugar, are a great source of antioxidants like Vitamin E and important minerals like selenium and magnesium.  Actually, one of my favorite snack or dessert is a dozen of macadamia nuts, a square of dark chocolate and a green tea with a squeeze of lemon or coffee with a dash of cinnamon.

Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Voltaire.

There are definitely better choices in every food categories, but over-analyzing our food intake is a good way to stress ourselves and make every little dietary decision an internal struggle. We have to stay informed and vigilant, but we have to pick our battles. Using healthier options like good quality olive or coconut oil preparing our food or passing on the box of donuts at the office is worth the effort; stressing over the Omega-6 content of 10 almonds is not.

Where do you get your Iodine from?

Iodine is critical to healthy thyroid functions. Its deficiency can cause weight gain, low energy, cognitive decline, and is link to a variety of cancers.  75% of adult may not be consuming enough iodine.

Our thyroid gland is located in the front of our neck, just below the Adam’s apple. Thyroid hormones, derived from the amino acid tyrosine and iodine, control our metabolism; regulating everything from body temperature and heart rate to glucose consumption and blood lipid levels.

An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) results in a set of symptoms: a slower than normal heart rate, feeling of being cold, inexplicable weight gain, dry skin, hair loss or dry hair, weakness, muscle aches and fatigue. Iodine deficiency can produce symptoms of low thyroid function even without abnormalities in measured thyroid hormone levels.

The most visible symptom of iodine deficiency is goiter, which is the enlargement of the thyroid gland that can cause swelling around the larynx. While goiter was fairly common a few generations ago, most don’t know what it is. The practice of salt iodization, implemented in the 1920s, resolved the problem. By lowering our salt intake for health reasons and/or using non-iodized salt we are also cutting our iodine intake.

In nature, iodine is a relatively rare element. It’s found mainly in the oceans, but its presence in our depleted soil, is very low.

Micrograms (mcg)
per serving
Seaweed, whole or sheet, 1 g 16 to 2,984
Cod, baked, 3 ounces 99
Yogurt, plain, low-fat, 1 cup 75
Iodized salt, 1.5 g (approx. 1/4 teaspoon) 71
Milk, reduced fat, 1 cup 56
Fish sticks, 3 ounces 54
Bread, white, enriched, 2 slices 45
Fruit cocktail in heavy syrup, canned, 1/2 cup 42
Shrimp, 3 ounces 35
Ice cream, chocolate, 1/2 cup 30
Macaroni, enriched, boiled, 1 cup 27
Egg, 1 large 24
Tuna, canned in oil, drained, 3 ounces 17
Corn, cream style, canned, 1/2 cup 14
Prunes, dried, 5 prunes 13
Cheese, cheddar, 1 ounce 12
Raisin bran cereal, 1 cup 11
Lima beans, mature, boiled, 1/2 cup 8
Apple juice, 1 cup 7
Green peas, frozen, boiled, 1/2 cup 3
Banana, 1 medium 3

The United States recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iodine is 150-300 micrograms (mcg) for adults. They were first established as a minimum requirement to prevent goiter. These guidelines may be inadequate to address certain health conditions.

By comparison, the estimate of the Japanese iodine intake (largely from seaweeds), averages 1,000-3,000 mcg/day (1-3 mg/day). The Japanese illustrate the importance of iodine, not only for thyroid health, but on other body functions as well. When you compare the Japanese and Western diets against cancer incidence, Japanese women have a third of the breast cancer rates of American women, a difference that disappears in women who immigrate to the US, where they consume less seaweed.

Scientific evidences are emerging about the role of iodine in preventing breast and reproductive system disorders (like menstrual irregularities, infertility, early menopause, and ovarian diseases), a major concern for millions of women. It has been shown to have a powerful antioxidant effect equal to vitamin C. Human breast contain higher concentrations of iodine than the thyroid gland; the evolutionary reasons for this are understandable: iodine is indispensable for the developing brain, so the mother must supply iodine to the nursing baby.

Daily doses of 3,000-6,000 mcg have been used, in short and medium term studies, to help women with iodine deficiency linked to endocrine health conditions such as fibrocystic breast disease.

Iodine is known to play an essential role in prostate health and immune function.  It is a potent anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic and anti-viral agent.

Iodine is part of a class of chemical elements called halogens. Once reduced, they become halides: iodide, bromide, fluoride, and chloride.  We may not be aware of it, but we encounter them all the time; bromated flour, fluoridated tooth paste, fluoridated and chlorinated tap water, as well as some medications and pesticides. The problem is the amount we find in our environment. Because of our low intake of iodine/iodide and the unnatural high intake of other halides, they will bind to iodine receptors and block the action of iodide. Making sure we have enough iodine/iodide in our system to compete with other halides is very important, as well as having an adequate intake of vitamin C and taking Epsom salts baths to help eliminate the surplus in our system.

Also important to note that selenium is an essential co-factor of the enzymes used in thyroid, breast and reproductive system tissues. It is important to make sure we get between 200-400 mcg/day in order for our body to make optimal use of dietary iodine. 2 medium-sized Brazil nut (10g) will do the trick.