Reduce Stress / Find Comfort

rest

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

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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…