The Gift of Magnesium

The Gift of Magnesium

Can we talk about magnesium for a minute?  Call me crazy, but I can get quite effusive when discussing this powerhouse macro mineral. 

In the pantheon of essential minerals, magnesium, in my book, is nothing short of a superstar.  Of course, all the essential minerals are necessary for good health, and they all deserve their due, but hardworking magnesium is truly a miraculous substance — one that we would do well to focus on for the preservation of our own good health.

Every cell in our bodies needs magnesium to function.  It is essential for healthy bones, it helps with protein synthesis and energy creation, it regulates our metabolism, it supports DNA replication, and it modulates our nervous system and mood.  Magnesium is also responsible for keeping our cardiovascular system healthy, our blood sugar regulated, our immune system robust, and our muscles functioning properly.  All pretty impressive, right?  In fact, more than 300 biochemical reactions in the human body are powered by magnesium.  Yet, various studies have shown that anywhere from 50-80 percent of Americans may be magnesium deficient.

How Can This Be?

Magnesium is everywhere.  It’s found in the earth, in the sea, in plants, and in animals.  It is the fourth most prevalent mineral in the human body, where it is stored in our bones and in the cells of our tissues and organs.  Fifty years ago, magnesium deficiency was a relatively rare phenomenon, most likely because people ate more whole, unrefined foods back then – especially leafy green vegetables — and were less susceptible to the effects of environmental toxins, chronic stress, and systemic inflammation than we are today.  Today’s widespread use of prescription medications and alcohol also contributes to magnesium depletion, as does a diet high in processed foods, sugars, and saturated fats.  Regular consumption of carbonated beverages and coffee also works against us in flushing magnesium out of our systems because of their diuretic properties.  In short, our modern lifestyle effectively sets us up for magnesium depletion.

 

How Do You Know If You’re Magnesium Deficient?

Are you feeling “wired and tired”?  Do you get muscle cramps or weakness, suffer from insomnia, have nervous tics, or experience an irregular heartbeat from time to time?  Do you get dizzy when you stand up too quickly, experience numbness or tingling in your hands, face, or feet, and/or do you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks?  All of these may be signs of magnesium deficiency, as are high blood-sugar levels, weak bones, a poor complexion, and digestive disorders. 

But take heart!  Magnesium deficiency can easily be resolved, given proper attention to getting a sufficient supply of magnesium-rich foods in our daily diet, as well as possibly adding in a high-quality magnesium supplement.  If you begin incorporating some of the following foods in your normal eating regimen, you should soon feel the amazing benefits of the “magnesium boost”:  more energy, a sense of calm, better quality sleep, and fewer aches, pains, and digestive upset.  In short, having sufficient magnesium on board brings your whole body into better balance and alignment. 

 

Best Food Sources for Magnesium

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of magnesium is 400-420 mgs/day for men and 310-320 mgs/day for women, an amount that should be easily attainable.  The following foods all serve as excellent sources of magnesium:

  • Pumpkin Seeds (150 mg per oz.)
  • Leafy Green Vegetables (especially Spinach, Kale, and Chard) (156 mg per cup/cooked)
  • Cashews (82 mg per oz.)
  • Almonds (80 mg per oz.)
  • Walnuts (45 mg per oz.)
  • Dark Chocolate (70-85% Cocoa) (64 mg per oz.)
  • Black beans, Adzuki beans, and Kidney beans (avg. 120 mg per cup/cooked)
  • Whole grains (especially Quinoa) (avg. 118 mg per cup/cooked)
  • Split Peas (71 mg per cup/cooked)
  • Avocados (58 mg per avocado/medium)
  • Fish (especially Halibut, Mackerel, and Salmon) (avg. 53 mg per half fillet)
  • Tofu (53 mg per 3.5 oz. serving)
  • Flaxseeds (40 mg per tbsp.)
  • Bananas (32 mg per banana/medium)

So, take some time out from your daily grind to make self-care a priority – including getting adequate doses of magnesium! Have a cup of hot cocoa, munch on some almonds, and savor the moments.  Life IS better when we FEEL better, and magnesium provides us an excellent path for doing that.  Don’t ignore the gift of good health that magnesium offers us.  A little attention to dietary change can go a long way.  Here’s to your health!

5 Simple Steps to Better Health

5 Simple Steps to Better Health

For many people, eating right and getting healthy seems like such an elusive task.  I’ve heard all the excuses:  it’s too difficult, nothing works for me, I don’t know which diet to follow… the list goes on.  But I’ll let you in on a little secret — getting healthy doesn’t have to be hard!  It simply requires a willingness to make some basic lifestyle changes that will set you up for success. 

Here are my top five tips for getting, and staying, healthy:

Drink More Water. 

Yes, I know, this sounds too good to be true, but in fact, most of us are chronically dehydrated without even realizing it.  Drinking plenty of clean, preferably filtered, water daily is essential for the functioning of a healthy metabolism and the flushing of waste products and other toxins from our systems.  On average, our bodies are comprised of over 60 percent water.  We need to continually replace that water so we can effectively transport nutrients to our cells, regulate our body temperature, and keep our organs functioning properly.  Staying adequately hydrated also contributes to a feeling of fullness, which naturally results in us eating less.  How much water, you ask?  Recommendations vary, even among experts.  My customizable advice is to halve your body weight in pounds and drink that numerical result in ounces daily — no metric conversion needed.

Eliminate The Junk. 

When it comes to toxic substances in our food supply, one need look no further than the aisles of the supermarket.  All those colorful boxes and bags of pre-packaged foods and food-like products are among the most lethal substances out there for sabotaging our health.  Processed foods, sugary cereals, and snack foods are generally loaded with chemicals, preservatives, artificial dyes and flavorings, and refined carbohydrates devoid of nutritional value.  They also tend to be full of added sugar, sodium, and unhealthy saturated fats, all of which work to thwart our efforts at maintaining healthy weight and metabolic balance.  But forewarned is forearmed.  I’m here to tell you that probably the single most beneficial change you can make for your health is to “just say no” to processed food.

Eat More Vegetables. 

Yes, it’s true!  Adding a couple of vegetable servings to every meal is an incredibly powerful way to transform your health.  Just as most Americans are chronically dehydrated, so too are we undernourished.  But so many of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that our bodies need to be healthy are found right in our own back yards – or at least, at the local Farmer’s Market or produce section of our supermarkets.  Fruits and vegetables are among Nature’s most perfect foods, and our bodies are biologically programmed to thrive when we include a variety of colorful plant foods in our daily diet.  The phytonutrients they contain are essential for healthy immune function, blood sugar balance, heart and brain health, bone integrity, and warding off age-related degenerative diseases.  What’s more, when you fill up on veggies, you leave less room for the junk.  Please do yourself a favor and eat more vegetables.  Your body will thank you for it.

Build Strength. 

We all know that exercise is important, but with our busy lives, it’s not always easy to fit that in.  So, in the spirit of keeping things simple, my suggestion would be to focus on the most efficient way to achieve maximum benefit with minimal time investment:  strength training.  Believe it or not, just 20-30 minutes of slow motion, high intensity weight training once or twice a week is all you need to build lean muscle, which can reap tremendous benefits in terms of your metabolic health.  Not only does it rev your metabolism for more efficient calorie burning, but it also strengthens your bones, boosts your immunity, and elevates your mood.  Of course, adding a variety of other physical activities to your weekly lineup is helpful as well, to include some form of cardiovascular exercise as well as practices like yoga that improve balance and flexibility.  But if you must narrow it down to just one thing, I say go for the strength.   

Sleep. 

If you’re looking to improve your overall health, one of the best things you can do is catch some zzzzz’s.  Sleep plays such a vital role in our physical health and wellbeing, yet more than one third of Americans is chronically sleep-deprived.  Sadly, in today’s fast-paced world, sleep has become a precious commodity.  It’s no wonder we’re seeing rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease skyrocket, since sleep deficiency increases the risk of all these health problems, and more.  Studies have shown that people who sleep less also produce increased amounts of the appetite stimulating hormone ghrelin, meaning they usually end up eating more than they normally would during the day.  Making sleep a priority can truly be a game-changer then, for your health as well as your waistline.    

If doing all these things at once seems daunting, try implementing just one change at a time and see how it goes.  Your body works hard for you every day.  Isn’t it time that you showed it some love?

SEASONAL SYNCHRONICITY

SEASONAL SYNCHRONICITY

There is a certain symmetry and sense of alignment that comes with eating with the seasons. 

Before our modern age of industrial farming and high-speed transportation gave us the capacity to import foods and goods from all over the world, human beings were reliant on their local fields and farms to sustain them – or simply on what could be hunted and gathered from their environment.  Over tens of thousands of years, our bodies adapted to be in tune with the cycles of the harvests, with each season’s foods seeming to provide us with exactly what we need.

When we eat in synchronization with the seasons, we promote a natural balance and harmony in the body that works to optimize our health.  Let’s break it down:

FALL/WINTER

In the fall and winter, as the weather turns cold and dry, our bodies naturally seek warming and insulating foods.  We gravitate to foods like hearty soups and stews, loaded up with seasonal vegetables.  We tend to crave more carbohydrates, fats, and animal protein, as our bodies seek to store energy and prepare us for “hibernation”.  As the days shorten, our activity levels drop and our access to sunlight becomes more limited. This may trigger a decline in our stores of Vitamin D, which can negatively impact our blood pressure, cholesterol, and mood.  But nature has a solution for all that. 

Nuts and seeds, which are readily available and can be stored during the winter months, provide us the healthy fats we need to help insulate us from the cold and strengthen our nervous systems. Heavy warming vegetables such as winter squash, potatoes, and root vegetables are in abundance, providing readily available carbohydrates as well as the vitamins and minerals necessary to help boost our serotonin levels and regulate our blood pressure and cholesterol.  The antidote to most of the season’s negative effects can therefore be found right in the food that is naturally available.

SPRING

In the spring, the weather turns milder and wetter, as we begin to thaw out from winter’s grip.  Melting ice and rainy days bring a new dampness to the air, along with plenty of mud on the ground.  It is similar with our bodies.  Our sinuses tend to congest and our noses start to run.  We welcome spring flowers, but the release of all that pollen into the air can trigger seasonal allergies, inflammation, and colds.  But, again, nature has provided us with the perfect solutions.

Lighter vegetables like sprouts, leafy greens, and asparagus appear in the spring, and have properties that serve to counteract mucus production and boost our metabolisms, helping us shed any excess fat that may have accumulated over the sedentary winter months.  Bitter roots and greens such as echinacea, chicory, dandelion, and burdock root also help to break up mucus and detoxify the liver in a natural “spring cleaning” effect of sorts.  The bitter roots, along with spring vegetables like asparagus, celery, and watercress, also serve as natural diuretics, which help us let go of any excess water we may be collecting in our tissues.  In addition, the chlorophyll contained in the green seedlings and sprouts that appear in spring can help detoxify our blood and promote good gut bacteria, all of which works to strengthen our immune system.  Add to that the antiviral and antibacterial properties found in garlic, onions, and chives, which contain the immune-boosting compound allicin, and you should be well defended from seasonal colds and flu.  Last, but not least, spring vegetables serve to stimulate our metabolisms for efficient fat burning throughout the spring and summer months, naturally setting us up for a more active lifestyle. 

SUMMER

In the summer, the weather heats up, the days are longer, and the air gets heavy.  Our bodies naturally crave lighter, cooling foods to help us regulate our body temperature and maintain good hydration.  And because we tend to be more active in summer, we also need foods that give us energy. 

In summer, there is a bounty of fresh fruits available that deliver energy in the form of fructose.  Cooling summer vegetables with energizing properties are also in abundance, such as cucumbers, celery, broccoli, and bell peppers.  Many summer fruits and vegetables, such as cucumbers, peaches, and melons, have excellent hydrating properties as well, along with an abundance of Vitamins C and E, which help to protect our skin from sun damage.  As usual, nature has it all figured out for us.  And as the summer months advance, heavier, more nutritionally dense vegetables begin to appear, preparing our bodies for the impending cold and the cycle beginning again.

When we choose to tune in to what nature has provided, eating in sync with the seasons, we are choosing health — pure and simple.  It really is a perfect system. 

SEASON IT UP!

SEASON IT UP!

Ahh, Spring.  After this long, cold winter, I’m sure that many of us are now happily turning our thoughts to Spring. 

The promise of milder temperatures, longer days, flowers coming into bloom, and of course, seasonal produce, gives us much to look forward to.  For me, there is nothing quite like the taste of the season’s first tender asparagus and leafy greens, or the sweet berries and peaches that appear at the Farmer’s Market soon thereafter.  The flavors and freshness of the fruits and vegetables that are locally grown and in season are unlike anything else that we find in our supermarkets all year round.  One has only to think of the contrast between the tasteless tomatoes we find at our grocery stores in winter and the flavorful, vine-ripe tomatoes that come from our summer gardens to make the point.  Seasonal eating is the way to go.

When we eat with the seasons, we are making a choice that reaps multiple benefits:

First, to our Health:  Fruits and vegetables that are picked at the peak of freshness and are locally grown not only taste better, but they have higher nutritional value than produce that is shipped to us from across the country or from other parts of the world.  The concentration of antioxidants is higher, the vitamin and mineral content is more potent, and our bodies seem to assimilate them better.  Eating the variety of foods that are available each season also affords us the opportunity to diversify our diets and experiment with produce that we might not otherwise try.  And diversity in our diets adds significant health benefits.  According to Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, one study that looked at the health benefits accruing to women who routinely ate a diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables from 18 different plant families showed that they had “significantly less damage to their genetic material than women who limited themselves to five plant families.” Variety, therefore, does more than just make food more interesting.  It actually protects our health. 

Second, to the Local Farmer:  When you buy seasonal, locally grown foods, you are helping to support the regional farmers who depend on these crops for their livelihoods.  In so doing, you are helping to keep your farmers in business while boosting your local economy.  Locally grown foods also tend to be less expensive than the foods you purchase elsewhere, so they are often a more economical choice.  And if you choose to take the extra step and buy organic, you are helping to support that important agricultural sector as well.  It’s important to remember that as consumers, we have the power to “vote with our wallets” to support healthier farming trends.  Supporting the organic farming community is money well spent in terms of the quality and purity of the food available to us.  Last, but not least, I would argue that getting to know your local farmers helps better connect you with the food on your plates by recognizing who grew it for you and appreciating what they have provided. 

Third, to the Environment:  There are many environmental benefits that come from eating seasonal and local.  Most obvious is that we reduce the number of miles that our food must travel before it reaches our plates, thereby reducing the fossil fuel expenditures and attendant greenhouse gas emissions involved in its transport.  But locally grown organic foods have other environmental benefits as well, most notably avoiding the use of toxic chemicals and pesticides that can leach into our soil and poison our ground water. Buying local also helps promote our soil sustainability, since farmers must regularly rotate their crops to improve soil fertility and crop yields, which naturally enriches the soil and amplifies the nutrient density of the foods that they grow.  And since most conventionally grown foods produced on industrial farms come from depleted soil, this is a huge plus, both for our health and for the planet. 

So, what’s in season, and when?  Here is a general guide for the Mid-Atlantic:

  • Winter:  From December – February, look for apples, carrots, cauliflower, celery root, chard, chicory, collard greens, herbs, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, spinach, sweet potatoes, turnips, and winter squash.
  • Spring:  From March – May, look for apples, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, chard, cherries, collard greens, fennel, garlic, herbs, kale, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, nettles, onions, radishes, scallions, spinach, strawberries, sweet potatoes, and turnips.
  • Summer:  From June – August, look for apples, arugula, beets, blackberries, blueberries, broccoli, beans, cabbage, carrots, chard, cherries, collard greens, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, garlic, grapes, herbs, kale, leeks, lettuce, melons, mushrooms, nectarines, onions, peaches, peas, peppers, potatoes, radishes, raspberries, scallions, shallots, spinach, strawberries, summer squash, sweet potatoes, and tomatoes.
  • Fall:  From September – November, look for apples, arugula, beets, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, chicory, collard greens, cucumbers, escarole, fennel, grapes, green beans, herbs, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce, mushrooms, nectarines, okra, onions, parsnips, peaches, pears, potatoes, pumpkins, radicchio, radishes, raspberries, scallions, shallots, spinach, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, turnips, winter squash, and zucchini.

Remember, it’s in season for a reason.  Here’s to your health!

Feed Your Gut

Feed Your Gut

We’ve heard a lot about gut health lately, and with good reason. 

Good gut health translates to a strong immune system, a balanced metabolism, the effective breakdown and assimilation of our food, and, according to recent studies, good brain health as well.

But good gut health is wholly dependent on the maintenance of a strong and healthy microbiome, that colony of “good” or friendly bacteria that lives in our gastrointestinal tract, comprising some 300-500 different bacterial species.  Keeping that population healthy and viable is the key to making it all work.  And in this world of highly processed food, refined carbohydrates, heavy antibiotic use, and environmental toxins, keeping our microbiomes healthy is no easy feat.  Now, I know what you’re thinking — you’ve heard all this before and you know what to do.  Just make sure to stock up on yogurt, pop a daily probiotic supplement, and you’re good to go, right?  Well, not so fast…

It’s true that we need to consume a regular supply of probiotic and fermented foods to keep our gut microbiome well populated with friendly bacteria, especially since our lifestyle and eating habits often work to their detriment.  Eating a variety of probiotic-rich foods daily should therefore be part of a healthy diet.  Good examples of such foods include:  yogurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut, raw pickles, and raw vinegars.  And just for good measure, taking a high quality probiotic supplement is often recommended as well.  But we need to continually nourish that good gut bacteria if they are to survive and thrive.  Just as with any living organism, our good bacteria will die off if they are not properly fed.  That is where prebiotics come in

Prebiotics are a category of foods that actually feed our good gut bacteria.  They are non-digestible, high fiber compounds that are found in certain fruits and vegetables, as well as other plant-based sources.  These prebiotic starches, while non-digestible to humans, are highly digestible to our beneficial bacteria, and are essential to maintaining their health.  An added plus is that they are resistant to our gastric acid, which allows them to pass through to the intestinal tract intact, where they are then fermented and readily consumed by our hungry microbial population. 

The regular consumption of prebiotic foods is important for us all, but particularly so for individuals who suffer from conditions of the digestive tract, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, colitis, and Crohn’s disease.  But studies have shown that prebiotics offer other health benefits as well.  They help to reduce our risk for cardiovascular disease and Type II diabetes by lowering cholesterol levels and regulating our blood sugar; they promote satiety, thereby keeping our weight at a healthy level; and they help to prevent certain types of cancers, most notably colon cancer.  They are a fundamental component of a healthy diet.    

WHAT FOODS ARE CONSIDERED PREBIOTIC?

Chances are you are already consuming a number of foods that are prebiotic without even realizing it, especially if you eat a high fiber diet.  But not all fibers are created equal.  The foods that deliver the greatest prebiotic benefit are those that contain fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), inulin, and resistant starch (RS).  So, incorporating those elements into our diet is where our focus should be. 

Prebiotic-rich foods include:

  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Chicory Root
  • Asparagus
  • Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes)
  • Soybeans
  • Legumes
  • Eggplant
  • Dandelion Greens
  • Burdock Root
  • Jicama
  • Chinese Chives
  • Wheat Bran
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Bananas
  • Honey

SO, HOW MUCH SHOULD I EAT?

It is recommended that we consume at least 5 grams of prebiotic fiber a day to maintain optimal gut health.  Much of that should be in raw form, to the extent possible, since cooking any fruit or vegetable acts to break down its fibers.  But a combination of raw salads and lightly sautéed or steamed prebiotic vegetables should be more than adequate to meet our daily needs.

In terms of “bang for the buck,” chicory root delivers the highest percentage of prebiotic fiber by weight, at nearly 65 percent, while bananas deliver the lowest, with only 1 percent of fiber by weight.  The rest of the foods listed above fall somewhere in between those ranges.  It doesn’t take much to reach the desired 5-gram goal, but as with any dietary regime, variety is the spice of life.  Experiment with including a wide assortment of prebiotic foods in your daily recipes, and you should be well covered. 

So, the next time you’re at the Farmer’s Market, be sure to pick up some leeks, asparagus, garlic, and onions, thinking of the prebiotic benefits that will ensue!  And while you’re at it, you just might want to throw in some dandelion greens as well.  Your gut will thank you for it.

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