As the autumn season rolls in with its warm golden glow and fresh fall air, one cannot help but get excited for vibrant colors on treetops and succulent seasonal flavors. At Well Balanced, we welcome the changing of seasons with open arms as they bring fresh, delicious seasonal foods. To celebrate this transition into the last few months of the year and pay homage to the diverse nutrients this season provides, we’re dedicating October to Mother Earth and focusing on all the ways we can keep her thriving.
Although there are numerous ways to help keep the planet safe and healthy, we are going to focus on what we love most: food. That’s right, food and the environment are closely related. There is even a fun term for people that eat foods close to home. According to the Oxford Languages online dictionary, a locavore is a person whose diet consists only or primarily of locally grown or produced food.
What are the benefits of being a locavore?
It fosters a healthy environment. Local foods found at farmer’s markets, produce stands, or in the local food section of your grocery store do not have to travel long distances, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and carbon footprints.
It contributes to and supports the local economy. This, in turn, helps support local farmers and agriculture. This has never been more important, as the 2022 Farm Sector Income report forecasted a $20 billion increase in farm production costs and a $15.5 billion decrease in government subsidies.
Local foods may have higher nutrient content, as local produce has a shorter time between harvest and when it is consumed. Foods that travel longer distances may lose some of their nutritional value during long periods of transportation through their aging process.
Local foods are seasonal foods. Eating seasonally benefits the environment by promoting more sustainable agriculture and consumption patterns.
In the midst of a fast paced society, there is no shortage of distractions. From the time we wake up to the moment we fall asleep, we experience the urge to check our phones, answer an email, check in with the news headlines for the day, and all the notifications and happenings in between.
With never ending to-do lists and an abundance of interruptions, it is easy to operate on autopilot, bouncing from one task to the next. But what if the key to fulfillment, productivity, and overall happiness isn’t multitasking, but rather the act of slowing down and appreciating what is happening right in front of us?
There is nothing more profound than anchoring yourself to the present moment. This idea has made the practice of mindfulness gain popularity in recent years.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is living presently in the moment and appreciating its uniqueness, knowing we will never live that moment or experience again. When we are mindful our senses are heightened, making us more aware of the way the afternoon sun feels on our skin, the sound of a summer breeze rustling the leaves of a nearby tree, or the smell of a favorite meal as it travels through the house.
Whenever we practice mindfulness, we bring a sense of awareness to what we are doing directly through our senses. However, we can also practice mindfulness by bringing attention to our state of mind via our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. As Jon Kabat Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, said “Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” And when we do so, we may be restructuring our brains through training this sense of greater awareness.
The Basics of Developing a Mindfulness Routine
Mindfulness is a personal practice and can be utilized at any moment. It offers a buffer between external experiences and internal reactions. The best part is that mindfulness is free of cost and you can begin practicing wherever, whenever. Here is how:
Set aside time (everyday). Choose a time and place where you feel comfortable and won’t be interrupted. Try and do this as consistently as possible, because the more you practice the stronger the mindfulness muscle will become. The good news is that you can do this multiple times a day as a comfortability is created.
Become an observer. The purpose of being mindful is to observe what is happening in that exact moment, without trying to judge or change anything. The goal is not to achieve nirvana, but to be more aware of what is happening via your senses or thoughts/feelings depending on the scenario.
Remember your thoughts are like clouds. An easy way to avoid distracting ourselves with our own judgments and perceptions, is to think of them as clouds in the sky. We cannot stop a cloud from passing through, but we can instead just watch without engaging with it.
Return to the observer mindset. When the mind starts taking over and you catch yourself thinking about what’s for dinner or the project that isn’t going well, remember to return to the observer’s mind. Instead of thinking too much about anything, observe what is happening, what you can feel/see/hear/smell/taste, and what emotions arise.
Give yourself grace. Remember to be free of judgment and criticism, especially when it comes to yourself. A wandering mind is to be expected, so instead of beating yourself up, gently guide yourself to the present and begin again.
Practice in different ways. The more familiar you become with mindfulness, the more you can diversify when and where you practice. It is best to start small and simple, perhaps while sitting outside in a quiet place or somewhere you are alone and at ease. But as this muscle grows, try and do it in a new location or setting. The more mindful we can be in different situations and places, the more present we become in our daily lives.
More on Mindfulness
Mindfulness is not a destination, but a journey. Just like strengthening any skill, practice and consistency are important. But, there is nothing more profound than anchoring yourself to the present moment.
Although it is a simple exercise, our thoughts and judgments can sometimes make it feel complicated or difficult. Luckily, there are many experts and resources out there to help. Below is a list of Coach Bella’s favorite mindfulness tools:
If you like the sciency side of things, check out episode #533 of the Rich Roll Podcast where he talks to neuroscientist Dr. Huberman on how to change your brain (It can also be found on Spotify, Apple, and other podcast streaming platforms).
If you want to know more about mindfulness, check out this article which dives much deeper into its history, meaning, practices, and much more.
If you want to learn more about unlocking your mind and healing through the power of thought, listen to episode #243 of ON Purpose with Jay Shetty to hear some wonderful insight from Dr. Joe Dispenza (It can also be found on Spotify, Apple, and other podcast streaming platforms).
If you want to incorporate mindfulness into your eating, read one of our previous blogs on mindful eating.
If you want to add a mindfulness meditation into your routine, try out the Headspace app or free mindfulness meditations from Mindful.org.
If you want to learn more about mindfulness and nutrition, join us May 18 for our monthly webinar.
One of the gut’s important responsibilities is to selectively allow the foods we consume to be absorbed while keeping other unwanted particles and toxins out. But, this is only possible if the cells are working properly and physically joined together very tightly, via tight junctions.
What can we do to keep those junctions tight?
One way to approach a suspected leaky gut is to address inflammation and eat a more gut-friendly diet. This means reducing excessive alcohol and processed foods that tend to be high in fat and sugar or artificial sweeteners, adding in gut friendly foods, and focusing on fiber and plant diversity.
It’s also a good idea to avoid foods that you’re allergic or sensitive to. For example, if you have been diagnosed with celiac disease, you want to be sure to stay away from gluten to avoid an inflammatory response. Or if you are lactose intolerant, it is best to avoid dairy products with lactose.
Instead, enjoy more foods rich in gut-friendly probiotics and fiber which is a prebiotic, or food for your friendly gut microbes. These include:
yogurt or kefir
fermented foods/drinks (e.g., kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, and miso)
fruits and vegetables (e.g., berries, grapefruit, broccoli, cabbage, leafy greens)
nuts and seeds (e.g., walnuts, cashews, and chia seeds)
whole grains (e.g., oats, corn, and quinoa)
prebiotic foods such as
green bananas (or right when they turn yellow)
There are also foods with phytonutrients that have proven to help heal the gut and maintain gut health. For example, ellagic acid found in pomegranate, feeds the good bacteria that help protect the gut by maintaining the biofilm in our gut that prevents leaky gut. Sulforaphane in cruciferous veggies (cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, etc) also feeds the good bacteria that are responsible for maintaining a healthy digestive system. Green tea is packed with phytonutrients that are great for the gut.
Pro Tip: If you’re going to proactively increase your fiber intake, do it over several days or weeks because sudden increases in fiber can cause gas, bloating, and other gut discomfort. If you have IBS, talk to your doctor, or friendly Well Balanced Dietitian, to see if certain fibers may worsen your condition and which are recommended.
If you plan on making changes to your diet and lifestyle, consider keeping a journal to help see if the changes are helping your symptoms.
However, it’s not all about nutrition. Having healthy stress management tools is an important piece in keeping our guts healthy. Whether that is meditation, journaling, spending time in nature, exercise, or another activity that brings you joy. Regular exercise helps maintain the health of your digestive system. This means even a 15- or 20-minute walk after you eat to help you digest your food can have positive effects. And don’t forget the importance of sleep quality and avoiding tobacco products!
It’s not you, it’s your gut
When it comes to leaky gut, a few simple shifts toward a gut-friendly diet can help you tighten those junctions, reduce inflammation, and get rid of unwanted symptoms.
A leaky gut is associated with gut and non-gut symptoms. It’s an inflammatory condition that has been linked to metabolic disorders, autoimmune conditions, and even mental health. There are certain laboratory markers, stool sample tests, and the Cyrex 2 array test to help diagnose leaky gut. And remember, this is still a rather new area of research, so more information emerges all the time.
In the meantime, if you have symptoms that suggest a leaky gut, you can move toward a more gut-friendly diet. Try cutting down on alcohol, processed foods, and anything that you may be allergic or sensitive to. Replace these foods and drinks with ones higher in gut-friendly probiotics and fiber. And remember that regular exercise, stress management, and quality sleep are great lifestyle strategies for your gut and the rest of your body.
And of course, your Well Balanced coaches are here to help you! Click here to book a complementary call today!
Harvard Health calls it a “medical mystery” and “mysterious ailment.” It’s been linked to everything from gut troubles, autoimmune diseases, and even mental health concerns.
I’m talking about “leaky gut” or “intestinal permeability”—have you heard of it?
Many doctors and the established medical community may not recognize it, but there is growing research to suggest it is associated with many health conditions.
What exactly is “leaky gut?” Do you have it? How does it happen? What can you do about it? Hold on to your seats, because this leaky gut train is about to leave the station!
What is “leaky gut?”
Your gut (gastrointestinal system) is not just a 30-foot-long muscular tube that starts at your mouth and ends with you using the restroom. It’s a vast and complex system with many functions. It breaks down food into smaller digestible bits, keeps it moving through the gastrointestinal tract, and skillfully absorbs water and nutrients while keeping out harmful substances. More and more research has revealed that these essential gut functions are interconnected throughout your body—to everything from your heart to your brain. This means that the foods and drinks you consume can directly affect your health and mood. So maybe it isn’t you after all, maybe it’s your gut.
Your gastrointestinal tract is lined with millions of cells, all side-by-side in a single layer so thin it’s less than the width of a human hair. Those intestinal cells help the body to absorb what we need from foods and drinks while acting as a gatekeeper, allowing in what your body uses and keeping out what it doesn’t, which ultimately ends up as waste. This ability to selectively allow some things in our gut to be absorbed while keeping others out is only possible if the cells are working properly and physically joined together very tightly. The bonds that keep the cells tightly together are called “tight junctions.”
Leaky gut happens when the tight junctions aren’t so tight anymore. The cellular barrier is inflamed, irritated or otherwise weakened, allowing tiny holes to appear. These tiny holes or gaps allow things that would normally stay out of the bloodstream into the bloodstream causing a number of issues. When things like food particles, waste products, and bacteria get into the bloodstream your immune system is altered and triggered, responding by attacking the foreign bodies similar to how your immune system would fight the cold virus and cause inflammation.
Do you have a leaky gut?
The symptoms of leaky gut are similar to those of other digestive conditions like inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, and Crohn’s disease. Symptoms can include diarrhea, constipation, cramps, bloating, food sensitivities, or nutrient deficiencies.
But, because the food particles, toxins, and bacteria have been absorbed into the bloodstream which travels throughout your body, symptoms can appear anywhere. Studies show that leaky gut may feel like fatigue, headaches, confusion, difficulty concentrating, joint pain, or skin problems (e.g., acne, rashes, eczema). Leaky gut is also linked with diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, liver disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autoimmune diseases such as lupus and multiple sclerosis. There may even be links to anxiety and depression.
Many of these gut and non-gut symptoms and conditions are linked to chronic inflammation, but more research is needed to understand how they are connected.
Even if you have some of these symptoms, the fact is, it’s very difficult to diagnose a leaky gut, or how leaky it is. However, many functional and integrative doctors are using the Cyrex Array 2 testing to help determine gut permeability. This means science is heading in the direction of developing tests to diagnose leaky gut. But, in some instances it is difficult to say whether your symptoms are from leaky gut, or whether leaky gut is a symptom of another issue.
What causes leaky gut?
It’s not 100 percent clear what causes those bonds to loosen and result in tiny perforations in the gut barrier. In fact, we’re just starting to understand how the gut barrier functions and there is a lot of ongoing research.
Part of leaky gut may be due to the genes you inherit from your parents. It can also be from medications or gut infections. Leaky gut is also linked to eating a diet that is low in gut-friendly fiber (adults should aim for 25-30 g of fiber per day). It can also be from consuming too much added sugar and saturated fat. Leaky gut may even result from stress or an imbalance in the diversity and numbers of your friendly gut microbes. As you age your cells can get damaged more easily and heal slowly, including the cells that line your gut. This can leave you more susceptible to loosening of the gut barrier.
The bottom line
More and more research suggests that your gut is deeply interconnected throughout your body—from the brain, to your heart, to your immune system, and even to your mood. This means that the foods and drinks you consume can directly affect your health and mood. The gut’s ability to selectively allow the foods we consume to be absorbed while keeping others out is only possible if the cells are working properly and physically joined together very tightly, via tight junctions. When the cellular barrier lining your gut is inflamed, irritated or otherwise weakened, the tight junctions loosen, allowing tiny gaps for unwanted entities to enter your bloodstream and thus cause leaky gut. This then translates into a slew of symptoms and conditions. However, leaky gut is preventable and treatable. That’s why next week, we’ll discuss strategies for reducing gut inflammation, ways you can keep those tight junctions tight, and how to mitigate the onset of leaky gut (hint: it has a lot to do with nutrition).
What does science say about sugar? Is it really that bad?
Sugar. It’s famous for its sweetness and shamed for its health effects. But why is that? Most of us know sugar can be “bad” without really knowing why.
Over the course of this series of blog posts, we will cover:
how the body processes sugar and if sugar causes weight gain
insulin and insulin resistance
what excess sugar does to the body
ways to optimize your blood sugar and insulin levels
different types of carbs and natural vs. processed sugars
Let’s start with the basics.
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. There are different sugars present in our foods. When we refer to sugar in this series, we are talking about:
Fructose and Glucose – the sugar found in fruits, vegetables, honey, but also in food products like syrups made with a combination of fructose and glucose
Sucrose (aka table sugar) – occurs naturally in sugar beet, sugar cane, and fruits
Lactose – a sugar found in milk and dairy products
These sugars are made up of only one or two sugar units (compared to 10 or more units in other carbohydrates). This is why they are sometimes called simple sugars or simple carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are made of many sugar units and take longer to digest than simple sugars.
What happens in your body when you eat sugar?
When we eat simple sugars, our body breaks the sugar units apart fairly quickly and they can get used immediately upon digestion.
Your body will notice the influx of sugar in your blood and produce a hormone called insulin. Insulin acts as a key unlocking the door to our cells allowing the sugar in. Cells will use the sugar for energy. Once your cells have enough fuel any excess sugar will be stored in your muscles, liver, or tissues.
Do we need sugar?
Our bodies need glucose (blood sugar) for fuel, but it doesn’t have to come from simple sugars. We can turn other carbohydrates into glucose. We need about 130 grams of carbohydrates a day to support brain health and give our bodies enough glucose for fuel.
What happens in your body when you eat too much sugar?
Too much (or too little) sugar in the bloodstream will trigger reactions in the body that will help restore a healthy blood sugar level. When sugar is over-abundant in the blood and your cells no longer need it for energy, your body will allow more sugar to be used up by muscles, send some to the liver for storage, and will temporarily prevent any breakdown of previously stored energy. If there is still extra sugar in the blood after that happens, our bodies can store the sugar as fat.
Will eating sugar cause weight gain?
If we consistently eat foods or meals that cause excess sugar to circulate in our blood, we increase our fat stores. However, this does NOT mean that eating sugar guarantees you will increase your fat stores. It does mean that eating and drinking an overabundance of foods high in simple sugars (donuts, white bread, candy, sugary cereal, sodas) can lead to a flood of sugar, causing our bodies to store the glucose in muscles, liver, or as fat.
It is only when we consume too much sugar too often that we can begin to gain weight and start to experience negative effects. However, there are ways to optimize your blood sugar levels that prevent weight gain (more on this later).
Over the next few posts we will cover more effects of excess sugar in the blood, insulin and insulin resistance, tips for optimizing your blood sugar, and breakdown the different types of carbs. Stay tuned for more sweet stuff!
It helps perform chemical reactions and maintain important structures in our cells. Water in the body helps regulate temperature, keep joints lubricated, nourish the brain and spinal cord, and is an integral part of our metabolism.
Why is water so important?
Since the body relies on water for many vital processes, without enough to go around all systems must work a bit harder to do their normal job.
If the human body is made up of 55-65% water, why do we need to drink water every day?
We lose 60-100 ounces of water every day through normal processes like sweating, urinating, and even breathing. If we don’t replace these losses we can see negative consequences like decreased focus or cognitive function, mood fluctuations, headaches, dry skin, and constipation.
What are the benefits of drinking water?
Just like a car runs better with adequate oil and gas, your body runs best with adequate water and calories. Drinking water is not a magic bullet for health, but it is an important and often overlooked requirement for a high functioning mind and body. Drinking enough water promotes healthy digestion, supports mental focus, can aid in weight loss, prevents headaches, lubricates joints, and keeps skin moist.
How much water do I need to drink?
It depends on many factors such as your age, gender, activity level, and overall health. Adequate intake levels for water have been determined for generally, healthy people and are based on age and gender.
For women, the amount of total water is about 11.5 cups per day.
For men about 15.5 cups.
These estimates, however, include fluids consumed from both foods and beverages, including water. If eating a healthy diet you typically get about 20% of the water you need from the food you eat. Taking that into account, in order to help replenish normal water loss:
women need to drink about 9 cups of FLUIDS per day
men need to drink about 12.5 cups of FLUIDS per day
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you’ll require more water. Individuals with certain health conditions, such as congestive heart failure or renal disease, also have different fluid needs. The same is true for those with serious infections or diarrhea.
How do I know I’m getting enough water?
A quick and easy way to check if you are getting enough water overall is to take a peek at the color of your urine. If you are consuming enough, the urine color will be a pale yellow color. If it is a dark yellow or amber color, you may need to increase the amount you consume.
What else counts toward fluid/water intake?
It was once thought that coffee and tea shouldn’t count toward hydration goals. Coffee and other caffeinated drinks do make you urinate more, but overall, they’re hydrating because of their water content. Milk is a very hydrating drink. Juices, sodas, and other sweetened drinks are also hydrating but contribute sugar and calories you may not want. Water is usually the best choice for hydration because it doesn’t have extra calories.
Does bubbly water count toward water intake?
Bubbly water is mostly a healthy way to shake up the monotony of plain water. It shouldn’t completely replace plain water so don’t drink it exclusively. Try alternating it with regular water. Keep in mind, not all sparkling waters are created equal. Club soda, tonic water, and some flavored varieties can contain added sodium, sugar, and artificial sweeteners. For this reason, be sure to know what’s in your favorite sparkling water. Read the labels.
What foods are high in water?
Foods with a 90-100% water content, include:
Drinks – water, sparkling water and fat-free milk.
Fruits – cantaloupe, strawberries and watermelon.
Vegetables – lettuce, cabbage, celery, spinach and cooked squash.
Foods with a 70-89% water content, include:
Fruits – bananas, grapes, oranges, pears and pineapples.
Vegetables – such as carrots, cooked broccoli and avocados.
Dairy products – yogurt, cottage cheese and ricotta cheese.