Thursday, January 20, 2011

Foods for Fertility

Question of the Day: "My husband and I have been trying to conceive for about 7 months. We have improved our diets by adding more whole grains and leafy greens. Are there any specific foods that can boost fertility?"

While fertility is a complex thing, studies do show a positive link between good nutrition and successful conception. However, each of these recommendations are aimed at achieving overall balance and harmony in the body. Optimal fertility is achieved when hormones are in balance, and functioning well. As the hormonal system is complex, it is important to understand that things like sleep, stress and sugar intake are all very key components.

So the biggest lifestyle and diet factors to address for both the man and the woman are:
  • Try to get enough sleep
  • Reduce stress in your life, and practice breathing on a daily basis
  • Exercise regularly
  • Reduce intake of refined sugars and refined carbohydrates to balance blood sugar

There are several specific foods which are thought to boost fertility, and others which studies show may negatively effect chances of becoming pregnant, particularly in the woman's diet.

Oysters are a well known aphrodisiac, and for the same reason they top the list for fertility enhancing foods! Oysters are extremely high in zinc, a nutrient which is essential in testosterone production and transportation in men, and also aids the ovulation process in women. Zinc can also be obtained in chicken, crab, beef and turkey. Just remember - quality meats, raised on organic pastures have more nutrients.

Omega 3s
We live in a time where omega 3 fatty acids are touted to be the miracle nutrient for just about every ailment. Much of this is due to the resources that have been put into studying this healthful fat in the last 5 years. At any rate, it is thought that omega 3s, found in oily fish like salmon and sardines, nuts and seeds, increases fertility. The science behind this makes sense. Hormones travel on fats in the body, therefore quality fats are needed for hormone transportation and communication. So increase your intake with quality fish oil supplements, or by eating more salmon and flax seeds.

Full- Fat Dairy
This Newsweek article details the importance of full-fat diary for fertility, based on a Harvard study. Check it out, its very interesting. I always recommend organic, full-fat dairy in any case, as it is the least processed and the most healthful option.

It is also likely helpful for both of you to be taking a quality multi-vitamin supplement. This will help make up for any vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and help get the body in better working order. I recommend brands which use whole-food bases, rather than synthetic vitamins created in a lab. You get more bang for your buck as the nutrients are more likely to be absorbed, and do their job.

Foods to avoid:

Caffeine & sugar
Foods containing caffeine and refined sugars will destabilize your hormonal system, at a time where you want to be working towards a healthy, balanced, functioning system. Sugar and caffeine create chemical stress in the body, which negatively impacts fertility hormones in both men and women.

Particularly in women, studies show that alcohol consumption (even in small amounts) can reduce fertility by up to 50%. So, its best not to drink much, or often.

Good luck, and remember - stress is not your friend, so try to kick back, relax, and enjoy the process.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Daily Detox

Question of the day: "Would you recommend that I go on a cleanse? Would this be a good way to clear out my system, and get more energy?"

Just about every magazine on the shelf advertises the latest 'cleanse', especially around the new year. And while most of us could use a little internal house keeping, I do not generally recommend clients go on a full blown cleanse. These cleanses, many of which involve just juice or water for a few days, can be a real shock to the system, and not everyone is in a state of health where this would be recommended. If your immune system is already taxed, you are lacking energy, and you are generally depleted, a cleanse is not a good idea as it will further deplete you.

As most diets are lacking in essential nutrients, I would be more likely to recommend that we 'build', instead of 'cleanse'. At this time of year, particularly, most people will not benefit from a full blown cleanse.

That said, almost everyone can benefit from these mild daily detoxifying practices:

The daily detox involves two things:
1) Lemon Water
2) Dry Skin Brushing

Drinking the lemon water helps the body to eliminate waste efficiently, and acts as a mild detoxifier. Lemon water acts as a liver tonic and helps you to digest food by stimulating the production of bile. Clients who incorporate this daily practice find that it wakes up their digestive system and keeps things moving, gently cleansing the system on a daily basis.

Enjoy a glass of warm water with ¼ to ½ a lemon squeezed in it every morning when you wake up. This should be the first thing you do, and breakfast should follow, with at least a 15 - 30 minute wait before eating. It is important to use a real lemon, not lemon juice from a bottle. Alternatively you can use 1 teaspoon of unpasteurized, unrefined apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water. Both will have the same effect, so whatever is easier/ preferred is what you should do. If you experience heart burn or a burning sensation, drink milk and discontinue this practice. This is very unlikely to occur.

Dry Skin Brushing
 Stimulates blood and lymph flow
 Helps eliminate toxins from the body
 Removes dead skin cells
 Encourages cells to regenerate
 Stimulates production of sebum
 Helps combat cellulite
 Results in smooth glowing skin

The Skin is an organ of elimination, just like the kidneys, the liver and the colon, and more than one pound of waste products are discharged through the skin every day! If the Skin becomes inactive with the pores choked by millions of dead cells, then impurities will remain within the body. In such cases, other eliminative organs, mainly the kidneys and liver, will have to increase their labour and will eventually become overworked. Therefore, by dry skin brushing you can actually alleviate some stress from the liver and kidneys, and support your body's natural detoxification cycles.

Brush the dry skin starting at the soles of your feet and working your way up your legs, your front (belly & breasts) and your back. Brush gently, and always work towards the heart. Then do your hands and up your arms. Focus the brush strokes towards the heart, again. Skip your face but give the back of your neck and your scalp (hair permitting) a good go! For hygiene reasons use a separate brush for each member of the family and of course wash the brush every couple of weeks.

Brushing your whole body in this way should take you between three and five minutes, depending on how many strokes you give to each area. Try to keep a rhythm going and brush for up to five minutes every day and preferably immediately before you have a bath or shower so that the dead cells are washed away.

Finally, moving to a diet which is centred around whole foods - fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, unrefined grains and quality meat and dairy products is essentially cleansing. By focusing your diet on unprocessed foods, you will be cleansing out all of the additives, chemicals and artificial products in your diet.

This, combined with what I call the daily detox would benefit most people looking to improve their overall health.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Top Tips & Strategies for Getting it Right


QUESTION OF THE DAY: What are your top tips and strategies for eating well, even though you have a million other things to do?

GREAT question. This is where most people get hung up, but the good news is that with these strategies put into place, it runs like clock work after a few weeks! Here is my Top Ten!

  1. Plan, plan, plan. Every Saturday my husband and I take 10 minutes to sit down and plan out our meals for the week. We do this before we go shopping, so that we only buy food that we know we will use - saves money too! While planning we always take into consideration nights we have other things going on, and try to plan to only cook 3-4 times in a week, although we will eat dinner at home every night. I also try to plan out my lunches if possible - because I find with the baby at home its hard to figure out what to have, and make time to make it and eat it all within a 45 minute nap time!
  2. Avoid the grocery store. Its full of junk! Try to do most of your shopping at smaller produce shops or at the Farmer's Market. This way you don't even see all of the packaged, processed foods, so they won't make their way to your cupboard. Hit the grocery store once a month for essentials that you can't find elsewhere.
  3. Aim for the 80/20 rule. This means you don't have the be a martar. You are more likely to be successful if you don't deny yourself things you love. So aim to eat really well 80% of the time, and allow for the occasional slip ups.
  4. Double Up. I almost never cook dinner for one night. If I am going to take the time to cook, I will always make double the amount so that we have dinner another night in the week (or lunches for a few days) already made. We also do this with breakfast - make a big pot of steel cut oats on Sunday night and re-heat throughout the week. Time savers are key.
  5. Big up on Breakfast! A bowl of cereal doesn't do it. Not to mention cereal is just refined corn or wheat and no matter what the brand, or what the box claims - it is not a health food. Go for whole grains like steel cut oats or quinoa porridge, or cook up eggs whatever way you like 'em. With breakfast, aim to really fill yourself up with healthy food. It makes the rest of the day easier.
  6. Keep healthy snacks on hand. Fruit is an easy one, as is veggies and hummus, or a handful of nuts. Make sure you have these things at all times. And in a pinch, keep a Larabar in your bag/ desk. They are made with dates and nuts...that's it! So they make a good on- the-go choice.
  7. Chuck in some GREEN. Anything you can find that is green...chuck it in to your dinner. In all likelihood you will barely taste it, but it will up your vitamin and mineral intake for the day!
  8. Make soups and stews. Once a week try to make a soup or stew. They freeze well for later dinners, or can be eaten throughout the week for a quick, filling lunch.
  9. Find a good bakery. We go to Artisan bakery on Lonsdale. If you find a high quality baker you can feel good about getting quality, whole grain breads. Also, if you do want to indulge in a treat, cookies and cakes from the bakery are the way to go. These are made with real ingredients - like butter, eggs, milk etc. If you pick up a banana bread at starbucks instead, the ingredient list is at least 35 items try to splurge wisely.
  10. Take it in turns. Share cooking and shopping responsibilities with your partner, roomate or even just a friend. Taking turns will make things feel like less of a burden, plus - you will be surprised with new meals a few times a week!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mental Health and Nutrition - Can Food Help Your Mood?


QUESTION OF THE DAY: Can Food Have an Impact on Mental Health?

Just like most other physical aspects of health and wellbeing, mental health is significanly effected by diet.

Balancing blood sugar is something that I talk to almost ever client about. This is because while most of us struggle to maintain balanced blood sugar due to a large amount of refined carbohydrates, sugars and processed foods, it is absolutely vital for health and wellness. Some of my articles have talked about the importance of balanced blood sugar for weight loss, hormone regulation and even headaches, but did you know its also a key component to mental health?

Balanced blood sugar will help regulate mood swings, ease anxiety and help to ward off depression.

So how do we work towards improving your mood?
  • Add more whole grains to your diet - experiment with quinoa, millet, wild rice and others
  • Reduce processed foods, especially breads, pastas, wraps, candy, crackers, desserts and pastries
  • When you do have these refined foods, pair carbohydrates with protein to slow the assimilation. Example: Hummus with your crackers, or nuts in a dessert
  • Eat small amounts frequently throughout the day, and ALWAYS have breakfast

Many of us are also severely deficient in B vitamins. B vitamins are particularly important in mental health, and studies have shown that people with depression and anxiety are more likely to be low in this nutrient.

B Vitamins are particularly important for new mothers as these vitamins help to ward off and regulate fatigue, stress, depression, anxiety and insomnia. B vitamins do a lot of other important work in the body as well, including regulating metabolism, digestion and elimination, and healthy skin and hair. While B vitamins are relatively easily absorbed through food, they are not well stored by the body, therefore they must be consumed daily.

B vitamins are found in the following foods:

  • Brewer's or nutritional yeast (can be added to food, or - think marmite, or vegemite)
  • Whole grains - the bran of cereal grains in particular
  • Leafy green vegetables, peas and some nuts
  • Liver meats

Many of my clients have seen a marked improvement in their mental health after switching to a whole foods based diet for just a few weeks. If you are lacking energy, managing depression, or could simply use boost, try adding these foods to your diet.