Reduce Stress / Find Comfort


Stress is a constant in most of our lives.  It’s sometimes subtle and sometimes overt, but it always takes a toll on our health. In fact, most Americans suffer from a condition known as “Chronic Stress.” I make this distinction because stress itself is neither positive or negative. There is even a term—“eustress”—which refers to positive stressors in our lives—factors that provide motivation, inspiration and drive. However, over time, even eustress can result in the development of Chronic Stress. Chronic Stress is the condition in which the body’s natural coping mechanism can no longer effectively respond to one’s total stress burden.

When our evolutionary development is considered, this makes a lot of sense. Our bodily stress response was developed to deal with acute stress, i.e. being chased by a saber-toothed tiger. As a result, the body’s response to stress is to divert energy away from cellular repair, digestion and hormone regulation (not much point regenerating those organs, assimilating that meal or prepping to have a baby if you’re dead), and instead puts energy toward muscle contraction and adrenal stimulation to run away—very quickly.

The adrenal glands are our bodies’ chemical energy reserves. They are there just in case that saber-toothed tiger jumps out from behind a bush when you havn’t had a meal in a while. The adrenals kick in, giving you a jolt of adrenaline that allows your body to perform physically, even without proper fuel from food. You may have heard to the term “adrenal fatigue.” When the adrenals are constantly being activated due to stress they burn out, not only inhibiting this response to acute stress but also throwing many other systems in our body out of whack.

The following are the most common signs and symptoms of Chronic Stress and the resulting adrenal fatigue:

  • Blood sugar imbalances (craving sugary or starchy foods and/or dramatic changes in energy throughout the day)
  • Low thyroid function (identified through medical testing)
  • Decreased fertility (could manifest as irregular menstrual cycles)
  • Depression
  • Poor cognitive performance (poor memory or fuzzy thinking)
  • Poor wound healing
  • Decreased bone density (identified through medical tests or frequent fractures)
  • Fatigue (especially the pattern of not feeling awake until late morning, feeling tired late-afternoon but then better in the evening and getting a late-evening spike in energy)
  • Lowered immune function (getting sick often, slow recovery from illness or irregular WBC count)
  • Dysbiosis (poor digestion or gas/bloating after meals)
  • Cold intolerance
  • Salt cravings
  • Low blood pressure (for some people)

Sound like you? Not surprising. The typically American lifestyle and diet is practically tailor-made to put people on this track. Here are some suggestions to manage and correct Chronic Stress: Continue reading

You Say Tomato/ I say Panzanella

newsletter-photoLast weekend, O and I dragged ourselves out of bed early and drove out east of town to pick tomatoes on our CSA farm. For three hours we stooped in the dirt, grasping for the bright, plump fruits hiding within their rows and rows of tangled vines. Row by row, our senses became more honed: Was this one ripe enough? Diseased? Too soft? Begging to be sampled on the spot? It was hot and hard work—I have so much respect for all of the people who are out there harvesting our food every day. But even though we came out of it scorched and thirsty with aching thighs and backs, it was the best time I’d had in a while. There was something so intensely satisfying about being truly connected to the food that would end up on our plates and in our bodies. The heat and the dirt seemed to somehow intensify the scent and flavor of those tomatoes. When we were sent home with several pounds, we swooned over every bite.

For the last hour I’ve been trying to write something insightful about the importance of personally connecting with our food, but it’s just not coming out. Let’s just leave it at this: putting some energy into what you eat makes it taste better. So before tomato season is up, I urge you to try the following recipe using the most luscious, perfectly ripe, warm from the sun tomatoes you can get your hands on—it makes all the difference.

Panzanella (serves 2–3)

  • 6-8 slices of stale bread
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 1 cup losely-packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1-2 cloves garlic
  • Flavorful Olive oil
  • Vinegar (your choice)
  • Sugar
  • Sea Salt
  1. Cut the bread into 1-inch chunks. If the bread is fresh (not stale), toast it in the oven until crisp and dry.
  2. Chop the tomatoes in half and squeeze out most of their seeds. Then into 1-inch chunks and place in a large bowl.
  3. Tear the basil leaves into pieces and add to the tomatoes.
  4. Chop or grate the garlic into the bowl with the tomatoes.
  5. Add the bread and toss everything together.
  6. Dress with olive oil (be liberal) and vinegar to taste (I like using the vinegar from pickled jalapenos for a little kick).
  7. Add salt and sugar to taste (even just a dusting of sugar really brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes).
  8. Serve!

Eating Beyond the Numbers

Photograph By Richard Burbridge
 What with all the news stories on pink slime, antibotic resistant bacteria in our meat, GMOS, the obesity epidemic and all that other fun stuff, it seems like there is more and more interest in what we ought to be putting in our bodies. On the whole, I think this is totally awesome. After all, all change must start with education. But (and it’s a big but), almost all the pop-culture nutritional information I’m seeing is grossly over-simplified. And it’s not that proper nutrition is even particularly complicated, per se.

The most common fallacy I see over and over again is the assertion that weight loss (or gain) is all a simple equation of calories in versus calories out. The simplicity of this concept is certainly tempting, but this is simply not true. Our body is far more complex than this teeter-totter equation.

Consider this: each second around 400 billion chemical reactions are occurring in your body. Each of those processes requires co-factors, chemicals that assist with these reactions. Some of these co-factors are made internally but many of them must be acquired from outside of ourselves, generally through our diet. Co-factors in our diet are the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients we consume in our food. The food we ingest acts as a message to our body. When we eat nutrient-dense foods, our bodies are providing with all the necessary cofactors to break down that food and turn it into energy. When we eat food that lacks micronutrients (vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients), our body turns it into glucose but then lacks the co-factors necessary to complete the chemical reactions required to process that glucose into energy. Continue reading

The Heart/Liver Link

My head feels so stuffed with information, I’m surprised it’s not coming out my ears. The pace at school has really picked up over the last couple of months and it’s all so fascinating. I feel as though I could write hundreds of blog posts on everything we’ve been learning—but alas, I barely find the time to do my homework. One of the most fascinating subjects we’ve delved into recently has been fat, and the link (or lack thereof) to heart disease. I’ve personally seen so many people in my life grappling with heart disease, I feel it’s important to get this information out there – please share it!

As a culture, we’ve been grossly mislead as to the causes of heart disease. Ansel Keys, who in the 1950s published a “definitive” study showing a correlation between diets high in fat and cardio-vascular disease worldwide, has been continually disproven and is now aknowledged to have used questionable evidence and statistical methods (at best) to support his findings. Despite this fallacy, the “low fat myth” persists.

In actuality, heart disease stems from inflammation in the body (as does all other disease). Inflammation can be caused by poor quality foods (overabundance of omega-6 oils , trans-fats, sugar, GMOs, etc.), food allergies, exposure to toxins, poor digestion/ leaky gut, drugs (perscription or otherwise, including alcohol, nicotine and caffeine) and, perhaps most widespread, stress. Inflammation is a natural and important reaction in the body, but is intended to be an acute reaction when we hurt ourselves or are fighting off a viris. Systemic inflammation or chronic inflammation from repetative lifestyle choices that encourage inflammatory reactions are what cause many of the so-called “chronic” diseases of our day, from heart disease to diabetes to cancer.

When the body is inflammed, including the arteries in the heart, the body responds by sending out “bandaids,” in the form of cholesterol, to the infected area. The heart gets a heavy dose since it is absolutely vital to human survival. In a healthy body, cholesterol is an extremely important and healthful substance. The body essentially coats inflammed areas with a layer of waxy cholesterol to allow it to heal and, in the case of an acute inflammatory response, this is just what we need. The tissue heals and the cholesterol is recyled and all is well. Of course, when we don’t treat the cause of the inflammation, the same tissue simply becomes inflamed over and over again and layer after layer of cholesterol is futily deposited in an attempt to heal the area. Continue reading

Digesting Information

It’s been a whirlwind of work and school recently, with much less time than I’d like devoted to baking, cooking and reading things not related to gastrointestinal processes (not the most appetizing subject). But our unit on digestion is coming to an end and I realize that by some miracle of osmosis I have learned a lot about how to sustain, repair and maintain proper digestion.

In short, our digestive system is sort of like a second skin: it controls the entry of substances from the outside world into our bodies. Digestion begins in the brain when we are excitied by food-related stimuli. In response, the brain sends hormonal signals down to the stomach, liver, pancreas and intestine, alerting them to prepare for an influx of food. Then, as soon as food enters you mouth it begins to be broken down by the enzymes in your saliva. Carbohydrates in particular, are significantly broken down in the mouth, which is part of why they affect your blook sugar and energy level so much more quickly that proteins and fats.
Next the food passes through the esophogus and into the stomach, where hydrochloric acid and pepsinogen are secreted to continue the process of breaking down the food. Pepsinogen is a precursor to pepsin, an enzyme that breaks down protein. Of course our muscle cells, including our stomach, are made largely of protein, so releasing enzymes that break down protein into an organ made of protein doesn’t really seem like the best idea. But, here’s where it get’s cool—pepsinogen is an inactive form of pepsin. It only turns into pepsin when it comes into contact with HCl, and the stomach only releases HCl when it’s mucosal layer is sufficient to protect itself – part of the whole hormonal signal response! If you do not currently have a oozing hole in place of your stomach, give it a pat and a “thank you” for the good work.
After passing through the stomach, the partially digested food passes into the small intestine. Bile (from the liver) and pancreatic enzymes (from—you guessed it—the pancreas) are mixed in, as is bicoarbonate (also from the pancreas) to alkalize all the stomach acid. It is really in the small intestine where the nutrients from your food are absorbed into your body. If your small intestine isn’t functioning properly, it doesn’t matter how healthfully you eat—you won’t fullyabsorb the nutrients. Continue reading

Cooking with Unrefined Oils

I’ve completed my first round of homework for school! This consisted of keeping a diet and activity log for a week (sooooo painfully tedious) but also creating a handout related to any nutrition related topic we chose. We’ll make these handouts as a part of each module’s homeowrk assignment, with the idea of having a variety of handouts already prepared to hand out to clients at any given time. I chose to focus this first handout on unrefined oils. As I touched on in my recent post, I never realized how highly processed and poor for one’s health refined oils are. As I began to research unrefined oils, I was surprised by the true health benefits many of them provide—it’s not something you generally think of with oil. I was also pleasantly surprised by the variety of unrefined oils that are available. I’m excited to experiment with using avocado oil, red plam fruit oil and nut oils in my cooking. 

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I have made O’s chcolate-chip cookies with a mixture of coconut and macadamia nut oil with steller results. Buh-bye refined sunflower oil! So long!

Below is the information included on my handout. If you’d like to print a copy to keep in your kitchen, click here to download the PDF. Continue reading

Symbiotic Health (+ Power Brownies)

Yesterday, in class, our teacher introduced a section of the lecture covering several different popular diets and food philosophies by saying, in essence, people can get very stuck in their beliefs around food. That the heart of healthy sustainable eating is to tune into our own bodies, what they need and what they, individually, feel best eating. So simple, but profound too. A similar sentiment is echoed by the author of one of my favorite food blogs:

A lot of people want to know “what I am” – vegetarian, vegan, raw foodist, fruitarian, macrobiotic…guess what? I am a person who eats! 

My food philosophy is this: I hate labels. They stink. They force a person to define themselves in very rigid terms, beat themselves up if they suddenly eat something that doesn’t fit that definition, and I know I never want to have to label what “kind” of diet I subscribe to. Being dogmatic about anything, for me, just doesn’t work. Being flexible does. 

I like this idea. And, in reality, I don’t know a single person who subscribes to any specific way of eating 100% of the time. I often identify myself as a vegan, but that doesn’t stop me from having a slice of birthday cake, on occasion, or even a little fish from time to time. And yet, by using this term, which is defined objectively, I expose myself to feeling of guilt or inadequacy when I do diverge from the party line… and somehow I know that’s not part of achieving an optimal, healthy relationship with food and nutrition.

In class, we dismissed one diet after another on the basis of not accounting for bio-individuality. By nature, any diet or food philosophy simple enough to write a book on is going to be pretty basic and is formulated to be applied universally. While it is probably inarguable that everyone these days needs to eat more whole, unprocessed foods and especially vegetables, just about anything else in diet is up for grabs. Some people need far more protein that others, some people have trouble digesting grains, others have problems with dairy or soy. Some people thrive on higher fat diets than others, or higher in raw foods or greater concentration of certain vitamins or minerals. It’s mind boggling the set of conditions that influence each of us: our ancestry, lifestyle, routine, metabolism, food we grew up with, food we like or dislike, and so on. There is no one answer and no one prescription that will lead us to health, happiness and nourishment. Continue reading

The Oily Truth

First day of school is under my belt and I am feeling good about it so far. I’d almost forgotten how painful all the administrative details of the First Day can be—but they’re over with now and our instructor even managed to squeeze in about 45 minutes of lecture (to make sure we’d come back next week, no doubt).

One of the most interesting topics she touched upon was refined oils, and how decided boorish they really are. I’d heard plenty of stuff about how canola oil was not so good as it is highly processed and so on, but I never really spend much time looking into what “processed” meant. Apparently, canola oil goes through 80 (!) steps to turn it from rapeseeds to oil. And, alas, while canola is a particularly extreme example, all refined oils go through a similar process:

  1. Oil is pressed, using extreme force, creating friction and heat (*Expeller pressed oils are heated to a somewhat lower temperature, but only olive, sesame, coconut and nut oils can be truly “cold pressed”).
  2. Often treated with hexane solvent (a petroluem biproduct known to be carcinogenic) to extract more oil
  3. Injected with phosphate and put through a centrifuge to separate the oil and plant solids
  4. Degummed to remove the natural lethicin content (important for memory and cognitive function, cardiovascular health and liver function)
  5. Neutralized by treating the oil with sodium hydroxide (sound familiar? It’s in Drano) to remove even smaller bits of residue, such as pigments (and vitamins)
  6. Bleached using heat and carbon or clay to filter out still more of the “impurities”, including nearly all of the natural antioxidants and nutrients.
  7. Deodorized using pressurized steam (at over 500 °F) to make the oil seem like something you might be willing to ingest.

Ick. Our instructor mentioned the deodorizing step in particular, explaining that oils oxidize and go rancid from the heat and time to perform all of the steps above (and more). This really struck me. If I picked up a bottle of oil from the shelf and it had gone rancid, no way would I use it or even be tempted to, but it would seem that most of the oils we use regularly in our kitchens are rancid, just in disguise. Blech. When we ingest these oxidized oils, the antioxidants in our bodies are pulled away from performing their duties to instead try to “anti-oxidize” the ingested oil.

So, what’s a girl (whose famous chocolate chip cookie recipe depends on refined sunflower oil) to do?! Well, there is good news. As I mentioned above, certain oil producing plants can be cold pressed to produce shelf stable, nutrient (and flavor) rich oils for all sorts of applications. Olive oil is the most familiar, and arguably the most versatile, but certainly not the only option. For higher heat, coconut oil (makes sure it’s unrefined) works like a charm or macadamia nut oil (a new one for me). For medium to low heat, (untoasted) sesame oil, nut oils (walnut, hazelnut, etc.) and avocado oil are tasty options. And for raw applications, flax seed oil is an exceptionally healthy choice. And, my vegan conscience wrestles with this one, but fresh, local, humanely produced butter and ghee are good choices as well, in moderation.

Of course, it’s healthiest of all to ingest most the fat in our diets through whole foods themselves. Instead of using a heavy hand with the cooking oil, go nuts with nuts, seeds, coconut, avocados, flax meal, chia seeds—even oats are 10% fat. And, if you regularly eat a diet high in colorful fruits, veggies and spices (and bonus points for sea vegetables!), the antioxidants in your body will be numerous enough that diverting some to deal with the doughnut that just came down the pipes will not kill you…


Tomorrow I start school again. Astoundingly, it’s been nearly five years (!) since I last sat in a classroom, listened to a lecture or did homework. I’m equipped with a stack of slightly intimidating textbooks, a brand-new notebook and a handful of my favorite pens and feel just a touch of those first-day butterflies that have been hanging around since grade school. It’s all so familiar and yet, what I am about to begin is in fact very different that any of my education up to this point.

In the morning, I’ll be beginning Bauman College’s 18-month Nutritional Consultant program. At the end of it I will be a certified Nutritional Consultant and will be able to take the Holistic Nutrition Boards in Colorado. Unlike dietetics, which maintains a very strictly regulated USDA-compliant curriculum, these certifications will allow me to offer unique, personalized nutritional advice to individuals, based on their own personal histories, health goals and dietary philosophies. I plan on combining this knowledge with my already well-developed skills in the kitchen to guide clients through the whole process of changing their diet: from meal planning to shopping for, storing, preparing and preserving their new dietary staples.

I am so excited to be learning something so relevant and applicable that also happens to be something I’m naturally passionate about. Throughout my college education, I’ve always felt something of a disconnect between these two desires. I studied anthropology and classics, both of which I found to be fascinating, but I knew that neither would exactly set me up for a career outside of academia. After realizing I was more attracted to an academic career for the argyle than its actuality, I’ve toyed with the idea of attending culinary school to further develop my love of cooking. But, with some careful reflection, I realized that life behind a stove all day, every day would likely destroy that love rather than bolster it. I felt at a loss for how to proceed for several years, until I stumbled upon an ad for the Natural Culinary Institute in NYC in a magazine. I was blown away that such a program existed, focusing on both health and cooking. I researched the school further and even dropped in for a visit, but ultimately realized that it wasn’t a great fit for me – they seemed mostly to turn out students as personal and professional chefs, albeit enlightened ones, but it still wasn’t exactly what I wanted… I just wasn’t sure what it was that I did want.

Then, last summer, I heard about Bauman College, which conveniently had a branch in Boulder. I was initially attracted to their Natural Chef program and attended an open house to find out more. I left feeling similar to how I had after the visit to the New York school – like it was close to what I wanted but not quite there. Along with hearing about the chef program, several students spoke about the school’s nutrition program. They were knowledgeable and engaged, but at that point studying nutrition hadn’t crossed my mind. I mulled it all over for several more months, but Bauman kept popping back up in my mind. It was in Boulder, not too expensive and philosophically totally on the same page as me… why wasn’t it what I wanted? I did a little more research into the school and decided to look into their Nutrition Consultant program—why not? It was amazing. Something just clicked for me. I already knew and loved cooking, I was committed to healthy eating and I wanted a career that would allow me to share this with others, not keep me in a kitchen, separated from those with which I was sharing. This made total sense. I met with an advisor and sat in on a class and the more I learned about the program the more excited I became. The approach was very comprehensive—something I demand from my education. I don’t care if broccoli is “good for you” if you can’t explain to me exactly why that is. This program effectively combines in-depth physiology and biochemistry with their broader holistic curriculum to ensure students really grasp how food, medicine and supplements act on the body. The whole thing was just totally “me”!

I know that this program has the ability to be truly transformative —in a way that none of my other education experiences have been. My biggest goals are too maintain my inspiration and focus throughout the program. I know it will be hard to have homework again, but I really want to continually remember why I am doing it—not for the teacher, but to build my own knowledge and confidence with the subject matter. I also want to reach out and network as much as possible with the instructors, other students and anyone else in the field that crosses my path. Putting myself out there can be difficult for me, but I am committed to working on it. Also, I am going to strive to maintain balance in my life. I will still be working full–time at my job, so I will be busy, for sure. But I am also committed to making sure I find time to rest, relax and have fun.

Wish me luck as I embark on this new adventure!

The Fermented Dairy Product of the Gods

Mmmm… cheese. Turns out human’s love of cheese goes beyond its tangy creaminess. Cheese actually contains casomorphin, an opiate released during the digestion of casein, the protein in milk. Biologically, this makes total sense. All breast-milk contains these chemicals to encourage bonding between mother and child, and cows are no exception. In fact, cow’s milk contains significantly more casein than human’s milk. What’s more, during the production of cheese these proteins are highly concentrated. So yes, your cheese “addiction” may be just that – heroin in the form of a nice block of chedder.**

There a several vegan cheese options available in stores these days, most notably the tapioca-based Daiya. While it does make a mean pizza, I find something slightly off-putting about faux-cheese—it’s just so unidentifiable. I have attempted to make my own cheese sauces a few times before, culminating in a delicious butternut-squash based macaroni and cheese, but actually producing a homemade block of sliceable vegan cheese always seemed  a little out of my league…. until now. My dad’s compulsive used bookstore browsing (talk about an addiction :-p) recently turned up The Real Food Daily Cookbook. This lovely book just so happens to contain a recipe for “Cashew Cheddar Cheese” and, owing to the large amount of agar (a flavorless seaweed that acts very much like jello) called-for, it sets firm, very much like a soft block of dairy cheese. While the flavor isn’t likely to fool any die-hard cheese addicts, its tang, fattiness and texture provide a very satisfying cheese alternative, made entirely from wholesome, identifiable ingredients.

To access the recipe, just click the link to the cookbook above, or better yet buy it at your local booksellers—it’s worth it! I’ve played around with the seasoning a bit. The best version yet omitted the onion powder and instead added an equal amount of powdered horseradish and a couple of tablespoons of Chalula hotsauce—delicious! To make up for the lack of addictive opiates in this cheese, I brilliantly thought that a little ground up coedine with make a handsome addition, but alas my wise boyfriend shot me down on this one. Still, couldn’t it be like a training-wheel cheese replacement for those trying to get off dairy cheese? I still think it’s brilliant, just don’t tell anyone you’ve added it. ;-p.

Happy Cheese-making!

** If you are interested in learning more about the opiate effects of non-human dairy on our health, check out Chapter 4: Opiates on a Cracker: The Cheese Seduction in Dr. Neal Barnard’s book Breaking the Food Seduction (available to read online here). Chapter 3 of Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet also provides a good overview (read here). For more in depth information on the effect of casein on human health, T. Colin Campell’s The China Study is well worth a read. Heck, it’s worth a read if you’re human and eat food. Just read it!