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Health and Nutrition

Human Protein Needs – What I Learned in School

Recently I attended a weekend “Science of Raw Foods” course and learned a great many things, including what our protein needs actually are, and if vegans/vegetarians/raw foodies have anything to worry about when it comes to this hot topic. The class is taught at the Living Light school by Rick and Karin Dina, who are two super-cool, very likeable educators who can make the nitty gritty of nutrition fun and engaging – that, or I’m a big nerd. 
[source: Fran of Simply Mindful]

Q: Where’s Allysia?
A: Pretending she’s some crazy Godzilla in the back.
(A: Definitely a big nerd.)

First up: if you want to catch up with my Living Light adventures up until now, just check out the links below.

Initially I was hesitant about this class, thinking it would just be a remix of stuff I already knew about nutrition.  I figured it would just be all that basic fluffy stuff, like “raw food has more enzymes, woo hoo”.  Boy was I wrong!  This course might have only been two days, but the topics were in-depth, presented in a fresh way, and by professionals instead of some enthusiastic hippie people.

Don’t get me wrong – I love enthusiastic hippie people.  But sometimes when you’re learning things like science, you want a really grounded and well-founded approach.

(Okay, I think Rick and Karin might have just a pinch of hippie in them.  I mean, they’re raw foodists.  And his hair is long.  But combined with all the science knowledge, that just makes them balanced, right?)

Though we discussed everything from B12 to longevity, I wanted to zero in on our protein discussion, since I found it rather illuminating.  I know all veggie folk have heard the “where do you get your protein” bit ad nauseum, but they really took that question to the next level, and I’d like to share what I learned.  Since the protein discussion was a good couple hours in length, this blog post will inevitably be paraphrased, and I want to encourage you to check Rick and Karin out if you can, because their class was one of the highlights of my schooling.

A Brief Tour of Protein’s History

So, protein.  Namely, our protein needs.  Let’s go back to the beginning.

Well, not to the very beginning (that’ll get too metaphysical), but to visit two dudes named Osborne and Mendel, who, way back in 1911, did a big study on amino acids and rats.  What they found is that rats got all sick and withered away when they were only fed corn or wheat protein, but survived and even grew faster when fed milk protein.  From that, they determined that wheat and corn didn’t have enough lysine or tryptophan (two amino acids) for the rats. [1]

You know the whole “complete” and “incomplete” protein thing?  That concept has origins in this study.  Animal protein was deemed “complete” since it contained the full spectrum of amino acids.

As time went on, we learned how many amino acids there are (20), and we learned from the previous research that 10 of them were essential to rats.  But what about human protein needs?  Did we require all 10 of those amino acids to live, too?
Finding the Essential Amino Acids
During wartime in the 1940’s, a huge study began, this time with humans as the subjects.  The people in the study were given a special diet which removed just one amino acid at a time, and the results were then observed.  If the subjects got irritable, weak, experienced extreme fatigue or other symptoms of deficiency, the researchers would know if a particular amino acid was essential to humans.

As it turned out, removing 8 out of 10 amino acids caused a failure to thrive in adults, while removing the other two didn’t seem to have any effect at all (arginine and histidine).  Thus it was determined that 8 amino acids were essential for humans.

Taking this even further, research was done into just how much of each amino acid we need.  Rats, for example, did not get enough lysine or tryptophan from corn, but what about humans?  
Is Vegetable Protein Sufficient?
Let’s look at lysine.  Dr. Rose, the author of the study [2], suggested we should get 1.6 grams of lysine per 3000 calories, which was almost double what he deemed sufficient to allow for a padded safety margin.  For an adult man, the USRDA only suggests we need 0.9 grams per 3000 calories.  So how much lysine does corn have?

The answer is: 4.8 grams per 3000 calories.

Okay, so we can get more than enough lysine from corn, but what about tryptophan?  Again, let’s look at how much Dr. Rose found to be adequate and then some, which is 0.5 grams per 3000 calories.  The RDA says we only need 0.2 grams.  So again, does corn deliver?

Yup – it’s got 0.8 grams of tryptophan per 3000 calories.

In fact, for all of the 8 essential amino acids, corn contains more than enough of the recommended amount.  That means that a person eating a diet of nothing but corn would meet their protein needs.  They might be missing out on some other things, but on the subject of protein, they’d get an A+.

So what about other plant foods?  Grains did very well, and eating nothing but a food like wheat, buckwheat or millet would be enough to easily meet all of our protein needs.  Legumes also performed excellent, as we might expect since they’re well-known for being high in protein.  Even vegetables (especially leafy greens) were found to contain enough protein to meet our needs.

The only plant foods that are low in protein are, not surprisingly, fruits.  Happily, I know no one who subsists solely on fruits (please don’t become a fruitarian).
Concluding Thoughts

For many years, the medical community has known that plant-based protein can meet the needs of growing children, adults, pregnant women and elderly folks.  The American Dietetic Association (and the Canadian one, among many others) have long since concurred on this, making it virtually unanimous across the board.

While cereal grains (rice, corn and wheat) might not be high in lysine, they’re high enough to meet our protein needs.  So as long as you aren’t starving or a fruitarian, getting enough of the 8 essential amino acids, and the whole debacle of “complete” and “incomplete” protein, appears to simply be a non-issue.

References:
1. Thomas Osborne and Lafayette Mendel, the growth of rats upon diets of isolated food substances, 1916, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, U.S.A. [pdf]
2. W.C. Rose, Amino acid requirements of man, 1955, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois [pdf]
Health and Nutrition, Music

Pre-Performance Food and Wellness Tips

I’m well-aware that most of you reading this are not lead singers regularly performing in a rock band. However, I do feel like I have learned a lot about keeping a singing voice clear and healthy not only for performances, but for daily life and practice. And if you have any musician friends, feel free to forward this post to them!

Action shot!

I’ve always loved singing. My friends and I would play singing games; harmonizing on long walks, critiquing performances a la American Idol (long before the show existed!) and writing little songs after school. My diary contained more original songs than it did personal entries. Of course, at the age of 10, my lyrics left a lot to be desired (You think you’re so cool but you are not true/There’s more than a million you), but then again, my earliest influences did happen to be sticky-sweet pop bands like the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys.

Over time, the quality of my lyrics, melodies and songs improved, and I joined a band called The Criminal Kid. It was in this band, which brought me my first dose of live stage performances, that I learned the importance of taking care of your body and your voice as a singer.

The worst thing that can befall a singer on a performance day is to be sick with something that affects the sinuses and/or throat. You ever try singing with a cold? Your voice sounds like crap. And this is exactly what happened to me on my very first show. That experience did, however, teach me two things:

-Singers can’t afford to get sick during performance-heavy times of the year, and
-I needed a squeaky-clean immune system.

After some trial and error, I found a rhythm that works for me. It’s segmented based on how close the performance date is – the month leading up to a performance is slightly more strict than my average living, the week leading up to a performance is more strict than that, and the day of a performance is the most strict of all.

General Health For the Vocalist

Being vegan is awesome for the voice, since you’re already cutting out some foods that negatively affect it. Dairy’s the worst offender, making your throat super mucus-filled. It’s been too long for me to tell if meat-eating negatively affects vocal quality; I assume it wouldn’t make much of a difference. However, meat is difficult for the body to digest and it’s also full of toxic chemicals in addition to being very acid-forming. All of this leads to a weakened immune system, and who wants that?
Regular exercise is awesome for the voice in a variety of ways. First of all, it’s a great way to develop hardcore lungs – brisk walking, jogging, running, playing sports – it’s all good. By strengthening muscles associated with singing (like your core), you’re amping up how much power you can tap into. Being physically fit also allows you to expend a lot of energy on stage without worrying about being breathless while singing.
These days I’ve been alternating strength training with cardio activities. I love walking so I do a lot of that. Sports are tons of fun and a great way to stay in shape!
The Month Prior To Performance

If I’ve been slacking off, drinking more beer and eating lots of sweets, this is the time I start getting back on the (super healthy) wagon. See ya later, cookies and udon noodles! I don’t do anything drastic in this time period but I do watch that the vast majority of my food is whole and unprocessed.

Aside from making healthier dietary choices, I start paying attention to mental health – stress can lead to illness just as easily as a poor diet. Simple meditation and breathing exercises do the trick – I usually do them when I wake up and when I go to bed since it’s easiest.

Other things that keep stress levels low is making sure I get a good sleep. A couple late nights and early mornings can definitely weaken the immune system, and is almost always one of the main reasons I come down with an illness.

Since I’m a vocalist, I start training my voice more the month leading up to a performance. I do daily singing practice by going through my band’s set list as well as singing songs by other artists. I generally sing 30-60 minutes a day depending on how busy I am – often some of this singing time happens in my car as I drive to work!

The Week Prior To Performance

In the week before a performance, I step it up a little more. Instead of the vast majority of my foods being whole and unprocessed, all of them are. I eat more raw foods and often ditch the gluten. This is the point in time where I absolutely cannot afford to get the sniffles, so I take preventative measures.
I also don’t drink booze. Not a drop. Booze is harsh on the body which leaves you more prone to catching a virus. I caught a cold the night before my very first performance, which I suspect had something to do with the fact that I had drank two nights in a row prior (and didn’t sleep much!).

I have also recently adopted the habit of using a neti pot during this time period. Sure, sticking water up your nose is kind of unusual, but it helps clear out any gunk and bacteria that gets clogged in there, and I breathe so wonderfully afterward.

I continue stress-busting techniques like exercise, good sleep and meditation. I also continue singing practice because what good is keeping your immune system in good shape if you’re not even exercising your vocal cords?

Performance Day – Foods I avoid

On the big day, I restrict certain foods. The crucial ones are:

Sugar – Particularly the refined stuff, but also added sweeteners like agave. I even go easy on the fruit, especially bananas. Sugar makes your throat sticky and takes away that nice crystal-clear sound you need for a sparkling performance. Plus it mucks up your energy levels, boosting you up really quickly, and then crashing you down.

Chocolate – This one is usually associated with sugar, but even when it’s not, I find cocoa/cacao to be mucus-stimulating and so I stay away from it.

Gluten – If I haven’t already ditched gluten the week leading up to a performance, I do it on performance day. The reason is the same as the above – it’s mucus-forming.

Non-Vegan food – Obviously all of my food is going to be vegan because, well, I am. But for folks who aren’t vegan or even vegetarian, dairy is extremely mucus-forming and if you’re serious about singing, looking into ditching it. Lots of people talk about how much of a difference simply omitting dairy makes on their vocal quality. Meat is really taxing for your body to digest – your body needs tons of energy on stage, so eating easily-digestible food is a must!

Performance Day Foods I Love


On performance day I eat simple and mostly raw. Since performances generally don’t start until 10 or 11pm (and often much later), I eat a big supper around 7pm, usually something involving lots of fresh veggies and brown rice. Since it takes so much energy to play a show (much more than you would think!), the addition of brown rice to an otherwise raw menu makes a huge difference in keeping me grounded and free from hunger.
Green Juice
Green juice is ideal for any time of the day, and it’s nice to drink before a show, too! My favorite juice is a combination of cucumber, romaine, kale and lemon juice, with a little green apple sometimes. A piece of ginger adds a nice kick. It’s the juice of champions!
Green Smoothie

Green smoothies are completely delicious. They taste just as good as regular fruit smoothies, but with the electrifying addition of spinach or kale (or any green you fancy)! Mangoes, bananas and papaya all make great bases for smoothie, though bananas and mangoes are high in sugar, which leaves your voice a little sticky. Apples, oranges, grapefruit, pears, berries and papaya are all excellent lower-sugar choices! Throw a couple of the aforementioned in a blender along with a handful of greens and nut milk (or water), and whatever flavors you like (cinnamon!), and you’ve got yourself an awesome smoothie. Adding less liquid can create a pudding which is equally awesome.
Coconut Water

Talk about nature’s sports drink! The water inside young coconuts is full of electrolyte goodness and the meat is soft and delicious. I like to sometimes make a green smoothie using the coconut water, the soft white meat inside, and any other fruit and greens my heart desires. So much better than Gatorade – no weird dyes or ingredients and no white sugar. If you’ve never tried this stuff fresh from a coconut then you must – it’s incredible!
Avocado/Big Salads

…Or in this case, a big salad with an avocado dressing. A gigantic, avocado-filled salad makes an excellent pre-show lunch – it’s fresh and light, yet keeps you going thanks to the avocado. Avocados are amazing, delicious, and incredibly nutritious. To bulk up a salad and make it meal-sized, I’ll sometimes add some steamed sweet potato.
Fresh Rice Bowl
This rice bowl contained more avocado goodness, tomatoes, red bell peppers, pineapple salsa and brown rice. A huge bowl of this makes for excellent fuel for a long night of loud music and performing.
Summary

The singer has a special responsibility in a band. As a singer, your instrument is your body, so if your body breaks down, so does your instrument. If our guitarist Vic were to get the sniffles, he might not be as energetic on stage but his guitar would still sound lovely! That’s not the case as a vocalist. Us singers have to take care of ourselves!

In case you folks were wondering, our Saturday performance went excellent! We had a great turnout, in the ballpark of 150 peeps, which ain’t bad for our humble city. The bands we played with, The Screaming Daisies and The Crystal Kid, were also lots of fun. Saturday night was a special occasion since we (finally!) released our first 3-track single, which you can purchase here for a sliding-scale price of just $0.75 per song! You can also hear a full song from the album on our ReverbNation page.

And tomorrow I’ll come back and talk about how I reward myself for being good! A hint – it starts with ‘c’ and ends in ‘ookies’… 🙂
Peace!

being awesome, Health and Nutrition

Everything In Moderation? Nah, I Prefer a Party On My Plate!

I keep hearing the statement “everything in moderation” tossed around, as though it’s the be-all, end-all practical solution to all things in life. I get it, I do. It’s a good statement, it makes perfect sense. It’s also perfectly vague, which is where my problems with it begin.

I’m going to apply this statement in regards to food and health, since it’s what I know. Generally, when someone says “moderation is the key to good health”, they really mean “I’m not a dietician and I don’t have all the answers, so everything in moderation is a safe bet.” I get that, too. Nutrition can be a confusing matter – billions of dollars are spent on confusing us.

But here’s the problem: back in the day, “everything in moderation” in my life meant moderate beer drinking, moderate cigarette and pot smoking, moderate fast food consumption, and moderate instant noodle eating. I rarely overate and never binged, didn’t ever feel the need to smoke two packs a day, and only went on the occasional booze bender (okay, semi-occasional). I was a moderate gal. But was I the picture of good health? Uh, hell no.

So that’s where me and the idea “just eat and drink in moderation, it’s all good” have issues. Anyone can hide behind that expression and have a false notion of good health. My grandpa, bless that cool guy, might eat moderate portions of steak, cheese and white bread, but come on, it’s still steak, cheese and white bread. Maybe he throws in a moderate portion of peas and calls it a day.

The truth is that my previous “moderate” diet sucked. I subsisted on sandwiches, instant noodles and cereal. Pizza and burgers were far too complex for my limited kitchen skillset, but frequently found their way in through my front door since I was also very lazy in addition to being incompetent. I wasn’t completely dull to the notion of eating my veggies – my better sandwiches included lettuce and tomatoes, and my pizzas had some in there somewhere (I think).

The long and short of it is this: if you eat a moderate diet, you’ll only enjoy moderate health.
Well, that ain’t good enough for me! I want to live a long time, stay in shape and have tons of energy even when I’m old! This is a crazy-awesome life right here, and I intend to enjoy it all the way! A moderate life is simply not the life I want to lead.

So what am I suggesting, then? Indulge with abandon in the most healthful foods on the planet!

Whenever possible (aka as much as possible), load up on green food! Green foods (kale, spinach, romaine, green bell peppers, broccoli, etc) are full of chlorophyll which is like plant blood, pretty similar in composition to our own human blood. Greens also tend to be high in calcium, protein, iron, vitamin C, folate, and other important nutrients. Our cells love that green goodness, and their way of saying “thanks for the grub” is to give you super-awesome energy and vitality!

Of course, other veggies are totally worthy of being superstars on your plate. Calorie for calorie, they pack the most nutritional punch (especially the greenery) and are just completely awesome. There are so many different veggies, and so many different methods of preparation that I wager it would be extremely difficult to get bored with ‘em. Move over, cholesterol-laden meat! Veggies are taking over your star place on the plate!

So on my plate, instead of having moderate (piddly!) portions of meat, veggies and ‘tatoes, you might see a gigantic jewel-green salad with carrots, tomatoes and avocado, tossed in a creamy nut dressing, served with a piece of garlicy toast on the side. Or you might see a black bean burger topped with salsa and guacamole sitting alongside a baked sweet potato and fresh veggies. Or, if I’m pressed for time, you might see heaps of raw and/or steamed veggies and tofu cubes piled on top of warm brown rice smothered in a delicious Asian sauce.

I love to eat, and I’m not about to settle for small portions of glorified junk food when I could be eating big, hearty meals full of healthful greens and veggies! Moderation be damned! 🙂

Here are some of the awesome parties at my table:

Mmm. So much better than instant noodles. 🙂

Happy long weekend!
Health and Nutrition, Uncategorized

Easy, Natural Mosquito Bite Remedy

image source: bareoaks.ca

One thing that really gets in the way of enjoying summer is these ugly guys. If you’re anything like me, you get your blood sucked and then suddenly you’ve got a big, swollen, itchy red welt. If not, then you have mosquito superpowers and I’m infinitely envious of you. For those of you that get terrible welts, I’ve discovered a really easy solution that works for me every time, way better than any after-bite ever did, and it’s pretty much the easiest, cost-friendly choice.

It’s this simple – take an ice cube and press it against the swollen area for a couple of minutes. If you’re still itchy, do it a bit longer. That’s it! If you don’t like ice water dripping all over you, you can seal the ice in a baggy, but come on, it’s summer time. Ice water is amazing.
So before you go reaching for the chemicals, give this a try, and hopefully it works as well for you as it does for me! 🙂
Health and Nutrition, Menus

Variation in Vegan Food

Recently I was asked if I found enough variation in my daily eats by being vegan. This question caught me off-guard, and I’m sorry to say I didn’t do a very good job answering it – I tend to only find an answer I’m happy with long after the question has been asked. However, now that I’ve had time to ponder the question, there’s quite a bit I want to say about this. I definitely understand where the question is coming from – when one is used to eating animals and their fluids on a daily basis, it’s hard to perceive anything aside from perpetual hunger. The part that gets me is that I eat a more varied diet than most omnivores I know.

For many people, you’ll find the same 10 meals appear over and over again, on a daily basis. It’s possible to make a top 10 list and cover 95% of what people eat on a regular basis. Back in my vegetarian days, I had my very own list of foods perpetually rotated:

1. Veggie burgers
2. Pasta with tomato sauce and veggies (sometimes with veggie sausage or ground round)
3. Instant noodles
4. Grilled cheese sandwiches
5. Veggie sandwich (with mayo and mustard, sometimes hummus, and sometimes veggie ‘meat’)

6. Veggie dogs

7. Canned soups (usually beany ones)
8. Cereal (the sugar-laden kind) with soy milk

9. Pizza – mostly take-out, sometimes with cheese, sometimes without

10. Perogies

By the end of that list, I was really exhausting my memory, stretching to come up with ideas. I really didn’t eat many foods. Back in Logan’s omnivore days, he would mainly eat PB & J sandwiches, broccoli, pizza (he worked at a pizza place), perogies, chicken fingers, apples, bananas, noodles, cereal and boiled sausages. My roommate subsists on a diet consisting of fried eggs, instant granola, deli meat sandwiches, subs, boiled sausages, fried hash browns, veggies and ranch dip, canned soup, fruit smoothies with yogurt, and gluten-free pasta with cream alfredo sauce. Do you think you could sum up 95% of your daily food intake with 10 foods?

I am NOT saying that eating the same foods over and over is bad, though when I look at my list, I can easily see ways in which I could have improved my choices. What I’m saying is that MOST people do not eat a varied diet. I think what this person was really wondering is simply, ‘what the heck do I eat?’

If you’re the kind of person who orders take-out and eats in restaurants a lot, you’ve likely noticed there are usually slim-to-none vegan options on a menu. Your average restaurant tends to focus on meat and cheese, with vegetables often an afterthought. From this perspective, of course a vegan diet seems limiting. As an omnivore, you can choose anything off the entire menu, having sometimes more than forty choices. As a vegan, you’re lucky if you can find one option without ordering ‘off’ the menu.

Being vegan can also seem limiting if you like to grab snacks at the convenience store or vending machine. I can safely assure you that none of those chocolate bars are vegan (there are rare exceptions), and lots of the candy contains things like gelatin (made from ground horse and cow hooves). You have the most selection with potato chips, though ‘cheddar and onion’ or ‘sour cream and onion’ are out. Incidentally, Logan was eating some chips with friends that were bacon-flavoured, yet they were vegan.

If you don’t do a lot of home cookin’, you’ll sometimes encounter trouble in the grocery isles. Many packaged dips and dressing contain cream or egg (and lots of other unpleasant stuff). Even the ‘soy cheese’ most mainstream stores sell contains casein. Many loaves of bread contain egg or honey, and a seemingly endless amount of products contain the ever-ambiguous ‘milk ingredients’, even in the things you would never suspect, like Aunt Jemima syrup (only one variation). The entire dessert isle is out, unless you want Oreos or Fudgeos, though there are definitely debates about even those.

Being vegan DOES seem limiting when you look at it in this way. Some may say it seems like a downright pain in the ass. However, there is a very, very MASSIVE plus side to this that many people do not realize.

That vending machine at my work? I don’t go near it anymore. Being vegan means being a label-reader, especially in the early days, so aside from the fact that most of the snacks contain animal products, I’ve also been well-acquainted with the mile-long ingredient lists and the oodles of fat, salt and sugar in these products. I used to mindlessly purchase chocolate bars, usually several a week. Now I no longer do, except when I splurge on a bar of dark chocolate, which is not as easily accessible as all the other junk food I’m surrounded by. I do not view that as a bad thing – I’m sure my health is better for it.

One of the real gifts that veganism granted me is a love of cooking, and a reason to explore a wide variety of foods. I wanted to help the animals and the planet, but I didn’t ever want to be deprived of delicious food. So I had to learn how to cook delicious food without using animal products. I started small, and still ate the foods in my top-10 list on a regular basis, but slowly I was able to phase out some things and alter others. Over time, I developed competency in the kitchen and good health as a result. When there are donuts in the staff room, I pass. I make all my own desserts, so I don’t make them too often. Since many restaurant menus are far too animal-centric, I cook 99% of my meals at home, where I get to control things like oil and salt. This is something I am really proud of, and makes me feel great! So while some might consider my choices to be limited, I view it as a blessing.
So no, I don’t feel my diet lacks variation. My diet is wonderfully varied! I couldn’t even dream of writing you a top-10 list anymore. I love soups, and have recently made ‘roasted broccotato soup with chickpea croutons‘ and ‘creamless cream of asparagus soup‘. When I’m not enjoying a smoothie for breakfast, there are many options like ‘banana soft-serve overnight oats‘, a ‘banana pancake sandwich‘, and scrambled tofu, alongside baked potatoes, of course. And don’t even get me started on the life-altering burritos that we eat about once a week. Then there’s pizza, veggie burgers and pasta, remakes of old favourites with endless variations. Rice bowls (or quinoa bowls, or any other grain) make a regular appearance in our house, with different sauces, like salsa or teriyaki. This is where tofu usually gets to star, marinated in soy sauce and baked in the oven until browned. Perfection! And, oh, sandwiches, usually with homemade brown bread – so many choices! And that doesn’t even include dessert. Oh, dessert, with all your pies and cupcakes and cakes and cookies

If you’re still not convinced that being vegan can have lots of variation and excitement, I urge you to check out these recipes, or these. Here you’ll find everything you already enjoy eating and then some, only veganified. All it takes is a little initiative to make your own food, which might seem like a big time investment, but is rewarding on so many levels.

Until next time 🙂

being awesome, Health and Nutrition

Spirulina

picture from ifood.tv


In my quest to try many different health and food-related things, my curiosity has taken me to spirulina, a funky sea algae. Sound appetizing? 🙂

Spirulina can be purchased in powder or tablet form, but I opted for powder, because I just knew I needed to add some to my smoothie. So why spirulina?

First of all, let’s start with protein. I am unconcerned about protein, because it’s so abundant in plant foods, but I know many people would be interested to note that it’s a complete protein, containing all of the essential amino acids. Of course, we don’t need to have complete proteins at every meal as was once thought (remember ‘Diet For A Small Planet’?) but it’s interesting to note nonetheless. On average, 65% of spirulina’s calories are protein, which is a really high – compare that with lentils, which is 30% protein, or an animal food like beef, which is 33% protein.

Spirulina has ten times more beta-carotene (which converts into vitamin A) than carrots. It’s also high in B-vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E. It’s a good source of minerals such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and phosphorous, as well as others.

What I find important is it’s high iron content. While iron needs can easily be met on a vegan diet containing lots of leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards, chard, etc), legumes, whole grains and/or tofu, it’s nice to know that a couple teaspoons of spirulina equates to roughly half of your total iron intake for a day.

Probably the most exciting thing about spirulina, in my opinion, is it’s outstanding chlorophyll content. All green foods are high in chlorophyll, but spirulina is off the charts. Chlorophyll is very alkaline, which is ideal for our bodies and helps us cleanse and detoxify – it even assists us in releasing heavy metals from our bodies, which we accumulate from consuming seafood (think mercury) and other animal products, as well as non-organic crops to a certain degree.

Here’s a smoothie recipe that serves as a good introduction to spirulina. Remember, with spirulina it’s important to start small, or your smoothie will smell like swamp! 🙂 Which isn’t a bad thing, but it’s quite shocking if you’re not used to it.


Super Strawberry-Spirulina Smoothie

2 bananas, separated into chunks (just do this with your hands)
7 large strawberries (I used frozen)
1/2 a lemon, juiced
1 tsp spirulina
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c soy or nut milk (or more, depending on desired consistency)
1-2 tbsp nut butter (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend.

This is a delicious drink that I’ve been enjoying lately. I find that citrus really brings out strawberry’s flavour, so definitely use the lemon. The cinnamon might seem like a weird addition, but I assure you it multiplies the goodness of this smoothie by at LEAST 3. As far as the nut butter goes, since this smoothie functions as my breakfast, the addition of this fat helps keep me satiated throughout the morning. ground flax seeds, chia seeds or hemp seeds also work really well.

By incorporating a little spirulina into my morning smoothie, I haven’t noticed any changes in my energy level, but I HAVE noticed that it tends to raise my body’s alkalinity higher than it would with just fruit (more on that later). So I’ll keep on having this algae in a few of my smoothies a week, but definitely not every day as I desire variation with my breakfast. Logan, on the other hand, keeps his morning ‘pudding’ (he eats it with a spoon) fairly consistent – some banana, berry, avocado, flax and spirulina. Sometimes he’s been known to add sprouts to the mix, which I’m not too keen on. I prefer leafy greens in my smoothie because they don’t have a strong taste.

So until next time,
Have lots of fun and enjoy this lovely spring weather! 🙂

being awesome, Health and Nutrition

Finding the Optimal Breakfast

Through my readings, as well as trial and error, I have discovered that my body runs most effectively when I consume fruit for breakfast. Even better are the green smoothies, providing minerals along with the vitamins in fruit.
We have been given many different messages about breakfast. Some people say that it’s necessary to eat a full, hearty meal in the morning to get your metabolism going and to give you energy for the day. Others say they don’t eat much at all, but prefer drinks and maybe little snacks. Both sides have valid points, which I want to explore further.
The meaning of the word ‘breakfast’ is discovered when you cut the word in half – break fast. The morning meal literally breaks the fast of the evening, the fast that occurs every night while you sleep. This fast is extremely important. When your body doesn’t have to focus on digestion, it can spend its energy toward healing and detoxification. This is one reason it’s not recommended to eat within a few hours of going to sleep, because your body has to do all of that extra work in the middle of the night, leaving you feeling tired and groggy in the morning. In fact, it’s recommended that you don’t eat past 8pm, as our digestive system slows down around this time.
Breakfast goes by many different names around the world, and is treated in different ways. In Japan, their version of breakfast is called asa-gohan, which means ‘morning rice’, traditionally consisting of miso soup and/or rice. In France, petit dejeuner means ‘little meal’, and generally consists of coffee and breads. Italy’s prima colazione is very similar to the French breakfast. The Dutch ontbijt is a word for breakfast, but also the word used for ‘snack’. In places such as these, breakfast is not treated as a large, significant meal, and is generally kept quite light until lunch time.
In other areas of the world, breakfast is treated like an event. Meats and breads are common in Ireland, and in the UK we see lavish, fat-laden meals of eggs, sausages, bacon, and breads. Germany and surrounding areas also like to have heavier breakfasts, with an emphasis on dairy products and breads. And let’s not forget the United States and Canada, where a traditional breakfast is likely to be buttered pancakes, waffles, bacon and fried eggs with toast.
Growing up in Canada as I have, I’ve been influenced to believe that a big, heavy breakfast starts the day off right. As time passed, though, I began to question if this was optimal for my body. I have never been able to eat large portions of food in the morning, and my stomach seems to be especially sensitive and prone to feeling sick at this time. Simple toast is what I began to eat most days, as it was heavy enough to stave off hunger, and didn’t make my stomach ache. Cereal, which I have had many love affairs with, does make my stomach ache, and in retrospect it’s easy to see why. It’s composed of nutritionally devoid, sugar-laden refined grains, artificially fortified with vitamins to simulate actual health. Hmm. I knew it was too good to be true when I was told Cinnamon Toast Crunch was healthy.
As I learned more about digestive health, the concept of a light breakfast started making more sense to me. In the morning, after our bodies have just awakened from their nightly cleanse, why assault it with grease, fat, and starches? Why not allow it to gently ease into it’s routines, instead of stressing it right from the get-go? I decided to experiment with this to see where it would lead.
Fruit is by far the easiest of all foods to digest. Our bodies love fruit, and begin utilizing the energy in them almost immediately. It takes an hour or less for our bodies to digest fruit – most vegetables take 1-2 hours to digest, fatty plant foods take 2-3 hours, and grains take 3-4 hours. Fruits are simple carbohydrates, which means the energy (sugars) in them are readily available, unlike complex carbohydrates (grains and starchy vegetables), which provide a slow but constant stream of energy.
Originally, I thought that complex carbohydrates in the morning would be ideal, as they provide you with fuel while also keeping you full. I tried eating breakfasts of bread or oatmeal, and while I noticed that I stayed full and I didn’t feel bad, I didn’t feel great, either. So I decided to try eating fruit for breakfast, something I was quite skeptical about at first, because I didn’t believe fruit was capable of keeping me full and satisfied.
One of the reasons that people complain of not being satiated by fruit is because they are fairly low in calories. Bananas average around 100 calories, and an apple is about 50 calories. By contrast, two slices of whole wheat bread with peanut butter equal 400 calories. In order to eat fruit for breakfast and feel fulfilled, I needed to first bend my mind around the idea of eating more fruit.
In reading about the body’s detoxification process, I discovered the importance of drinking lots of water upon rising. You aid your body greatly by helping flush out all the toxins released overnight. So I decided to try drinking water until hunger struck, which was quite different from my morning routine of eating almost immediately upon waking. What I noticed is that I often awoke with a sense of hunger, but it vanished after a couple of glasses of water. It seemed that what my body was really craving was water, and I interpreted the signals to be hunger. From the time that I wake up, which right now is between 7 and 8, I generally don’t start to get hungry until 9 or 10. And how do I feel during this two-hour period before I eat? I feel fine. I don’t feel tired, draggy, or lethargic. I feel completely fine.
When it comes time to eat, depending on what I’m doing and how hungry I’m feeling, I’ll either eat some fruit, or blend everything up in a big smoothie. Now, I’m not just talking about one little banana, which you remember only clocks in at around 100 calories. I’m talking about a banana, mango, and a couple apples. Or a big navel orange, apple, and banana. Or maybe a nice smoothie of two bananas and a handful of berries. In other words, lots of fruit. I found that some mornings, I could eat a large feast of fruit, and other mornings, a banana and apple was more than enough until lunch. I think it’s really one of those things where it’s important to listen to your body and pay attention to it’s cues.
The results of eating fruit for breakfast were very significant for me. When I ate fruit, I didn’t get that heavy-stomach feeling I had when I ate breads and starchy foods. I ended up feeling full in a way that still felt light. The result of this was increased energy and clarity, which are excellent things to have in the morning! You’re essentially consuming energy, but not putting a strain on your digestive system, as fruit is so easy on the body, and so effortless to use. I can’t believe how peppy I’m feeling these mornings, especially because I kicked my caffeine habit a few weeks ago!
Recently I’ve been finding that adding greens to my smoothies adds an even bigger benefit, especially for my brain. In learning how various foods affect my body and moods, I’ve found that fruit intake helps create joyful energy and vitality, while greens seem to sharpen the senses and allow for stronger thinking and deeper concentration. Combining the two in the morning has a very positive effect on me. The greens provide alkalinity, chlorophyll, and minerals, while fruit provides carbohydrates and vitamins. Greens are like the yang to fruit’s yin.
When you add greens to your smoothies, I suggest starting small, increasing the quantities of greens depending on your taste buds. Fruit definitely overshadows the flavour of greens, and ideally you want to strive toward a ratio of 60% greens to 40% fruit, but when you’re starting out, invert that figure. Also keep in mind that the power of your blender determines how pleasant of a smoothie you’ll be drinking. A cheap blender creates a chunky smoothie, and you want the greens to be nice and emulsified, so your drink is all the same colour. You might want to try pre-blending the greens in water before you add the fruit, depending on the power of your machine. It also depends on how tough the greens are. Kale and collards are quite tough and don’t disintegrate easily, while spinach and romaine are more easily blended.
For fruit, try combinations of bananas, apples, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, mangoes, pineapples, peaches, nectarines, papaya, or pears, to name a few.
Standard greens include spinach, kale, romaine, collard greens, beet greens and swiss chard. Don’t forget about herbs, like mint, basil and parsley.
Remember to add water when you’re blending, anywhere between 1/2 cup to 1 cup, depending on the desired consistency.
Try creating interesting flavour combinations, like apple-banana-cinnamon, or banana-cherry-cacao (Check out Kristen’s recipe). Fresh ginger is delicious, great for your digestive system, and tastes awesome with fruit.
Freeze bananas and berries to create milkshakes. Blending frozen bananas with a little bit of nut milk and vanilla tastes absolutely divine. It’s amazing how ice cream-like bananas become when frozen and blended. If you have a hankering for chocolate, make a chocolate shake out of bananas, nut milk, cacao and some agave or dates for sweetness.
Pump up the nutrition of your smoothie by adding ground flax seeds, chia seeds or hemp seeds. All of these are rich sources of Omega-3, and a tablespoon or two goes a long way.
When it comes to creating delicious smoothies, your imagination is the limit. Every day can be a brand new, unique creation, depending on the contents of your fridge and your mood. Who doesn’t like the idea of a (milk-free) milkshake for breakfast? What about a strawberry shake? Or a tropical fruit partay? Or a mysterious, delicious neon-green drink? 🙂
being awesome, Health and Nutrition

Colonics, Part 2

Cleaning your colon is an extremely useful thing to do when you transition to a healthier diet. When you eliminate junk from your diet, your body finally has a chance to breathe, and heal itself. Your body is able to let go of waste it’s been hanging on to for months, years. Sometimes, though, this detoxification happens so fast that you aren’t able to excrete all of the toxins that are released, and they get re-absorbed into your bloodstream, causing you to feel ill, tired, headachey, etc. This is generally a temporary condition and is usually followed by significantly better health. However, it is very useful to give your body some extra help in the detoxification process, so you don’t have to re-absorb all of that junk.

Enemas, colonics, dry skin brushing and saunas are a few methods of aiding detoxification. Enemas can be useful, though not as effective as the colonic. With an enema, you are only able to take in several quarts of whater, whereas colonics will flush your system with around 50 litres of water. The plus side of enemas is that they’re cheaper and you can do them at home. You have to do a lot of them to equal the effectiveness of one colonic, though.
Dry skin brushing (looks like this) is useful because your skin is one of your major detox organs. We constantly detoxify through our skin. Dry skin brushes rub all the garbage away, allowing your pores to breathe easier. I’ve personally never used one, but have heard very good things about them. Saunas operate under the same concept – it allows your body to sweat out garbage.
Now, what prompted us to get colonics was NOT detox symptoms. Though Logan and I eat quite healthy, there are still many improvements that could be made to experience optimal health. For example, we still eat quite a bit of bread. Yeast is extremely gunky and glues itself to your colon, a lot like dairy products (though dairy products are worse). Until I stumble across literature that has a convincing argument otherwise, passing up on yeasty bread and wheat flour seems like the best idea. However, improvements are to be made one small step at a time. It is in my future to explore the world of gluten-free grains and baking, but not at this point.
Mostly what inspired us to seek out a colon hydrotherapist was curiosity. We read a lot of positive information about them, and we’re attracted to the idea of living more healthfully and vibrantly. Good health is absolutely the foundation for a good life. With good health comes increased energy and vitality, alertness and mental clarity, and experiencing a deeper reverence and joy toward life. What’s NOT attractive about that? 🙂
And after two sessions, I’m inclined to recommend them. It certainly isn’t the most comfortable experience, but it does make a difference. You will feel lighter and clearer. Some people even lose a significant amount of weight, just by flushing out the junk in their colon! Our hydrotherapist was telling us that John Wayne had 70lbs of junk inside of him when he died. 70lbs, can you believe that?
One more note I’d like to make is that while I think colonics could benefit absolutely everyone, I think it’s important to maintain a healthy diet before and after cleansing. What’s the point of cleaning out lots of old garbage, just to put a new, fresh batch of garbage in our body? While I think it would make a short term difference, it won’t give you good health in the long run. Plus, everyone could benefit from more greens! Romaine, spinach, broccoli, broccolini, collard greens, swiss chard, kale, beet greens, bok choy, yu choy, choy sum, and that’s just off the top of my head! There’s so many varieties of greens that there’s bound to be some you like. Try preparing them in different ways! A raw green tastes way different than a steamed green! Play! Experiment! Eat your greens! 🙂
being awesome, Health and Nutrition

On Colonics

This post is:

1) not food-related (well, directly, anyway)
2) possibly under the category of ‘too much information’, depending on your perspective
3) about poo.
After doing some research for the last few months, I looked around and found a colon hydrotherapist. For those of you who know nothing about this, it’s a safe and gentle procedure that basically cleans your colon. See, our colons get all sad and disfigured after years of food abuse, and store many toxins and waste – it gets stuck in the walls, in ‘pockets’. Some of these pockets can be ancient, depending on your age. If you’re really old and start getting colonics, you could do it all the time and never really flush everything out, there’s that much waste built up inside of you.
Colon health effects entire health. Apparently colon cleaning has been pretty standard procedure up until about 50 years ago, when the pharmaceutical companies emerged on the scene and offered something cheaper, the laxative. The laxative wreaks havoc on your body, especially your kidneys, not to mention anyone who’s ever used them knows that they kinda hurt. But hospitals used to have devices for colonics, or at the very least, some sort of enema equipment. It’s an ancient practice, as well, not some newfangled concept. One of the best things about the colonic, too, is that it helps strengthen your colon, unlike the laxative, which your body can become addicted to.
There’s a lot more I could get into, but I really just suggest you research it further if you’re interested. I just did a google search and came up with this, which seems to cover the basics.
Anyway, on with my personal experience.
We barely made it to our appointment in time, because of the the deep snow-ruts in the road. That was okay, though, because immediately upon arriving I realized these were easy-going people who didn’t seem to rush anything. An old Ukrainian lady greeted us, as well as that familiar Ukrainian food smell, and she was the head honcho of this whole business, having done it for many, many years. However, the colonics were performed by her daughter, a lady of around 40, who has followed in her mother’s footsteps and had also been doing this for quite some time.
The entire procedure took around an hour, and you end up taking 40 gallons of water into your body – not all at once, of course. The flow of the water was very leisurely, like everyone else, and administered at the rate of gravity – no pressure. The water filters in your colon through a tube, and the waste comes out another tube connected directly to the sewage. The best part about it is that there’s a clear section of tubing, so you can actually watch old toxic crap exit your body. I must say, I was very happy to see it go!
Generally, you get a series of colonics. For us, based on how our sessions go, we’ll do 2 or 3 sessions in a cluster, depending on how deep our colons cleanse. Then, once it’s been given a good clean, every 3-6 months is common for a tune-up. Again, it takes years to collect this waste, so it’s going to take more than a session to reverse that.
I’m not going to lie, it’s a strange experience. Every time the water released a waste pocket, it pretty much felt like you had diarrhea and had to go NOW. So you kind of go through these cycles of feeling normal to HOLY-CRAP-I-HAVE-TO-GO to normal again. And, of course, you get to see everything. Our practitioner was able to identify foods in our diet based on what came out. Dairy products and yeasty bread are especially mucus-forming and gummy and tend not to flush out of our bodies too easily.
I felt pretty good afterward, and I’ve just been eating really light and mild food, because even lentils felt a little heavy in my stomach. It’s nice to know I’ve shed some toxins, though! I’ll be sure to update our second experience, which will be about two weeks from now.
That’s all for now!
Allysia