At the Rustic Dietitian we specialize in bridging our ancestral knowledge of diet and lifestyle with current evidence based research to help people live a long, healthy, and joyful life. Run by Dionne Detraz.
This is not your standard week-night chicken. This dish takes the simple chicken and elevates it to a level you can't even imagine. I am not just saying this to hook you in. I promise, that this chicken dish will be like none you've done before.
It tastes amazing and the anti-inflammatory and immune boosting benefits from all the spices makes it an essential winter staple. Not only is this a family favorite but it never disappoints when I make it for guests. The evening always ends with at least one person asking for the recipe.
The best part though is it's not a hard dish. It takes some time to cook but once it's put together and cooking, you can kick back with a good book and glass of wine (or cup of tea, your choice).
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (it does work with bone-in thighs too)1 large Meyer lemon, cut into 8 wedges4 large red potatoes1 large yellow onion, cut into 1" cubes8 Medjool dates, pitted and halved (or 12 smaller dates)12-16 green olives (depending on the size of the olives)1 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped1 cup chicken broth or bone broth3 Tbsp olive oil4 cloves garlic, minced
Step 1: Mix the spices together with 2 Tbsp olive oil and the minced garlic. Add the chicken and coat it with the mixture. Let sit for ~15 minutes.
Step 2: While the chicken is "resting", go ahead and prepare all the remaining ingredients, except the broth, and combine in a large bowl.
Step 3: In a medium dutch oven or tagine heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Brown the chicken on both sides, scraping all of the spice mixture into the pot.
Step 4: Add everything else, including the broth.
Step 5: Turn the heat down to a simmer, cover, and let it cook for ~3 hours.
Enjoy with a green salad and a side-dish of sauteed cauliflower sprinkled with curry. That's how we like it but of course feel free to combine with whatever sides sound good to you.
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When you're craving something warm, comforting, AND healthy for dinner, look no further than Curry. Did you know that curry simply means a dish prepared in a sauce of strong spices? So although we may think of curry as a specific blend of spices, in actuality a wide variety of spice blends would all count as a curry.
Historically, whenever I had the opportunity to get a curry at a restaurant I would go for it! I was totally intimidated to make it at home, so the only time I got it was when we went out to eat. Eventually, I decided this is crazy. It can't be that hard to make, right? So I trolled the internet for some recipes and gave it a try. To my surprise and delight, it was super easy and delicious!
In the following recipe, I just used the already blended curry powder available at my local market. If, however, you're lucky enough to come across a French Vadouvan Curry Powder use that; it's amazing!! Or for the adventurous, experiment with your own blends.
Easy & Delicious Vegetable Curry
1 Tbsp coconut oil1 medium yellow onion, peeled & chopped1 head cauliflower, chopped3-4 carrots, peeled and chopped OR 1 small butternut squash, peeled & chopped1 cup coconut milk1 ½ Tbsp curry powder½ tsp sea salt¼ tsp black pepper
Step 1: Heat the coconut oil in a dutch oven on medium heat, add the curry powder, and combine with oil.
Step 2: Add the onions and cook until they become translucent; about 3-4 minutes.
Step 3: Add the cauliflower and carrots (or squash) and cook until they soften; about 10 minutes.
Step 4: Add the coconut milk, salt, and pepper
Step 5: Cook another 10 minutes or more to allow flavors to blend. The longer it cooks the more tender the vegetables and the more the flavors will meld.
Notes: Feel free to mix this up with whatever veggies you prefer. There's no one right way to make a curry. I also sometimes turn this into a Chicken Curry by adding 4-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (cubed); cook until brown between Steps 2 and 3.
Enjoy over rice, cauliflower rice, or another whole grain of your choice. Besides being delicious and comforting, the spiceblends in curry dishes are also fabulous for boosting the immune system and lowering inflammation. So, what are you waiting for? Give it a try and let me know what you think in the comments below.
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The title of today’s article is definitely intentional. Being grateful and living in gratitude takes practice. But it’s an incredibly important, beneficial, and worthwhile practice to have.
With Thanksgiving this week and more festive celebrations right around the corner, I want to take a moment to encourage you to enter this season from a space of Gratitude. Why? Well, simply put, it is probably the single most important thing you can do for your happiness, health, and relationships!
Benefits of Gratitude
Gratitude is the emotion that relates to your ability to feel and express thankfulness and appreciation. Research shows that your thoughts have the amazing power to shape your brain. The more conscious you are about perceiving an experience as being positive the more this will generalize to other parts of your brain and ultimately improve your overall sense of well-being and happiness.
In doing research for this article, I came across a postby Amit Amin at The Happier Human; don’t you just love the name of his site? He did an immense amount of research to compile all the benefits of gratitude. It's such a wonderful summary that I’ve shared his graphic below.
I think we can all agree that that is A LOT of benefits!! And honestly, who wouldn’t want all of those things, right?! I know that I do. Understanding the importance of gratitude is one thing but in order to really manifest all those benefits you need to have a practice of gratitude.
Practicing gratitude doesn’t have to take much time or effort to have a big impact in your life BUT you do need to implement strategies to actually make it a part of your life. Here are some ways you can do this.
Just 5 minutes a day can increase your long-term well-being by more than 10%. And according to researchby Dr. Emmons at UC Davis, people who kept a gratitude journal for just 3 weeks measured 25% higher on life satisfaction, which apparently lasted for several months even after the study was completed.
So how do you keep a gratitude journal? It doesn't have to be complicated. At the end of each day list 3-5 positive experiences from the day that made you feel grateful. Expand in detail on at least one of them; etching the experience into your memory. You will be surprised at how this simple act will make you more aware of positive aspects of your day and actually begin to shift things so you are seeking out more positive experiences.
Feeling grateful is one thing but acting on that gratitude by showing appreciation is an incredibly powerful act. One of the best ways to do this is to start saying thank you more and sending little notes (even emails) of appreciation to people, thanking them for something specific or even just being in your life.
You could take this act even farther by thinking of 5 people who have had a profound impact on your life. Choose one and write a thank you letter expressing your gratitude and appreciation for all the gifts you’ve received from that person. If possible, deliver your letter in person.
We all crave appreciation and recognition. In studies of people who have practiced this form of gratitude, the recipient of the letter often had no idea what an impact he or she had had on another person and were deeply touched by the expression of such authentic gratitude.
Take A Gratitude Walk
This is one of my personal favorites and is particularly useful when you’re feeling down or filled with stress and worry. Set aside as much time as you can get away with (at least 10 minutes but the longer the better) and go for a walk; in your neighborhood, around the block at work, through a park, or somewhere in nature is ideal.
As you walk, consider all the things you are grateful for; nurturing relationships, a body that allows you to go for a walk, the fresh air that is filling your lungs, the beauty around you that you are able to see. If dark or negative thoughts pop up, simply notice them, take a deep breath, and return to the moment. Notice everything that you see, hear, feel, or smell, and take note of how many things you can be grateful for. This is a powerful tool to shift your mood and open yourself to the abundance that is right in front of you.
Add A Gratitude Meditation
If you already have a meditation practice, I encourage you to add this one into the rotation. And if you’re new to meditation, give it a try and see how it feels.
Start by getting into a comfortable position, closing your eyes, and relaxing your body. Take several deep belly breaths to help relax your body and your mind. Then ask the question “what am I truly grateful for”.
Take whatever comes to mind first and build on that thought. Expand on the story of this positive experience or memory and try to visualize it. Keep the experience in your mind as long as possible, breathing into it and allowing it to sink in and embed positivity into your brain.
With each gratitude meditation you will begin to build a repertoire of positive experiences that overtime will shape and transform your brain.
Take Home Message
If you want more happiness, joy, and energy, gratitude is clearly an essential quality to cultivate. It opens your heart (and brain) and can move you from limitation and fear to expansion and love. When you appreciate something, your ego moves out of the way allowing you to connect with your soul and flow in harmony with the universe.
The universal law of attraction says that you will attract into your life the things you think about and focus on. When you are consciously aware of your blessings, and are grateful for them, you are focusing more clearly on what you do want in your life - and, ultimately, are attracting more of those things into your life.
Even just starting your day with a thought of what you are most grateful for can set the intention and begin to transform the way you see and move through the world.
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Whether you’re cooking for one, two, four, or more if you don’t have a plan it gets really hard to stick to your healthy eating goals. On top of that when you have to juggle different food preferences and the god-forbid “picky eaters” in your family, it can be downright overwhelming.
Today I want to share with you my go-to strategies for feeding myself and my family of four. My mantra is and always has been “healthy shouldn’t be hard” and this is true for feeding your family too. Let’s dive in.
Division of Responsibility
First, before we even start to talk about the food, let’s talk about what you are actually responsible for. In some ways this can be rather freeing.
Ellyn Satter, Dietitian extraordinaire when it comes to feeding your family. Here’s how she breaks it down and what I strive to live by:
Grown-Ups, this is what you are responsible for:
Deciding When, Where, and What the family is eating.
Being a good Role Model for how to eat healthy.
Kids, this is what you are responsible for:
Deciding how much you are going to eat and if you’re going to eat at all.
Don’t you love it? We each have a role to play and if we stick to our roles then the machine runs smoothly. Stress and resistance only come up if you try to move outside of your scope. It’s really as simple as that. Stick to what you are responsible for and let your kids have their say for what they’re responsible for. Win-win!
Let me share an example with you of how I put this into practice with my family. I decide what we’re eating each week. I sit down, I think through the week, I write out my meal plan, and I get to the store. Now, I do like to loop my kids into this process because, let’s face it, they like to have a say in what they’re eating. And I believe they should! But they should have a say in the planning and shopping phase not in the actual minutes before dinner is about to be made. So I run my ideas by the family, I ask for what they’re in the mood for, and at the store I have my kids help me pick out some veggies and fruits that look good to them this week.
Same Food For Everyone
Now, when it’s actually time for dinner, this is what goes down. I make dinner, sometimes the kiddos help me out (when they’re not trying to get their homework done), they set the table, I serve dinner, and we all sit down and eat the SAME dinner. This piece is really important. I do not and I NEVER recommend that you make multiple dinners for everyone’s varying food preferences. Not only is this not sustainable, it is not giving your family the right message.
What is that message you might be asking? It’s this. We are in it together. We all eat the same nourishing, healing foods because our health is a priority and the food we eat is important. From personal experience, it does not take long before your kids will get it and then actually surprise you by telling other kids that they should be eating their vegetables too. I actually had my daughter tell me just last night what a great mama I am because I give her good food and I don’t let her eat candy all day. Can you believe she actually told me that? It put a huge smile on my face.
What happens when my kids don’t like everything that’s being served? No big deal. They get a little of everything on their plate and they decide what they want to eat and how much they want to eat. Now this isn’t to say I don’t encourage them to at least take a bite of everything on their plate but I NEVER make them finish what’s on their plate. That is under their control. The opposite though is also true. If they choose not to eat, I totally respect that and I don’t make a big deal about it BUT I also remind them that they might get hungry before the next meal and I ask again just to make sure that they really don’t want anything else to eat?
This is a really important piece to this strategy. You decide when meals are served. This includes snacks. If you decide to allow your kids to snack and graze whenever they’re hungry, they really don’t have much of an incentive to eat what’s being served. This doesn’t mean I never allow my kids to have a snack but that said I don’t allow grazing all day either. I find that when my kids allow their bodies to get hungry, they anticipate the next meal, and they’re much more likely to eat what’s being offered.
So what do we do about the “picky eaters”? I know this can be a real challenge and source of stress for a lot of families. I totally get it. It’s in our DNA as parents to feed our kids. And when they’re not eating, we lose sleep at night. I’ve been there. I know how you feel. But it’s also our responsibility to feed our kids a healthy balanced diet that’s going to help them grow and think and be strong. We have to teach our kids how to do this, especially when they’re not excited about a lot of different foods.
Here’s what I suggest you try:
-- Make sure every meal includes at least one item that you know they will eat.
-- Get them involved in helping you plan, shop for, and cook the meals. They’ll have a vested interest in wanting to eat what they’ve had a hand in making.
-- Plant a garden. Have them pick out some plants (veggies or herbs) they want to grow and let them care for and cultivate those plants.
-- Teach your kids that they actually have to develop their taste buds. It’s totally normal for kids to prefer carbs and dairy (they ALL do). But they also need to know that unless they’re trying different foods and different flavors they’re never going to develop a taste for other foods. Our job is to help them develop a more complex palate.
-- Along those lines you may even want to offer incentives for trying new foods. Perhaps they could earn a movie or a fun outing or maybe it’s even part of their chore chart. You can decide what method your child will respond to best. But please don’t make it a dessert. Bribing kids to eat their veggies with the promise of a dessert will only back-fire in the long run. We want to teach our kids to appreciate a variety of different foods not that treats and sweets are our reward every time we do something that’s hard.
-- Be mindful of the fact that for some kids it can take up to 20 or more exposures to a new food before they'll start to accept it. So stick with it. Keep offering the healthy foods and try preparing them in different ways until you find some options that your picky eater will like.
Take Home Message
Throughout this month I’m going to share with you recipes and meal ideas of some of my family’s favorite meals, kids included. But the truth is you’re going to have to work with what you and your family enjoy. Start with the foods everyone likes and gradually bring in new and different foods. Make it an experiment for the whole family. Loop everyone in so they know what’s coming and can be part of the process. I can’t tell you all the crazy things I’ve gotten both my husband and kids to agree to eat because I looped them in and made it a family experiment.
The expectation is not that everyone will like everything they try but rather the process of actually being open to trying new things and exploring new foods. Food is a pleasure. It’s meant to be enjoyed. And there’s such a symphony of flavors waiting for you out there, so don’t get sucked into the same old favorites when there’s so much more to explore. Ultimately that’s what you want to teach your kids. That food should be enjoyed and explored. For me, that’s the foundation of a healthy relationship with food and it sets the framework for me to be able to build healthy meals.
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As a parent, grandparent, or caregiver one of our primary jobs is to do what we can to keep our kids healthy. What does this actually mean though and what is within your control?
As an Integrative Dietitian I believe wholeheartedly that it starts with what they are eating. And this begins right from the beginning. Starting your baby on breast milk lays the foundation for a strong immune system and healthy gut; the foundation of what keeps them healthy. Gradually transitioning them to organic, whole foods and keeping high sugar, processed foods to a minimum.
In today’s post I want to break down the steps you can take to maximize your child’s health. Using real food, a healthy lifestyle, and natural boosters.
Start With Diet
As with everything, it all starts with what we are nourishing our bodies with. When we give the body what it needs, it does a really good job (on it’s own) of keeping us healthy.
As I alluded to above, whenever possible the goal for all babies is to consume breast milk; ideally for the first year. Between 6-12 months we start to introduce solid foods. There are many different ways to approach this. Actually even for me, I ended up choosing 2 different introduction paths for my girls based on their varying needs. In general though this is what I recommend to new parents:
Start with healthy fats: avocado & soft egg yolk, ideally from organic pastured eggs, are good first choices.
Then add veggies: starchy, crunchy, leafy (all are great); puree with bone broth(link) or water. I also recommend adding grass-fed butter and mixing it in before serving it to your baby. Not only is the extra fat good for a growing baby but it helps in the absorption of the fat-soluble nutrients in the veggies.
Next comes protein: chicken, turkey, lamb, beef, wild fish; buy the highest quality you can afford and again puree with bone broth or water.
Then some fruit: I usually recommend cooked and pureed fruit at first, except for mashed up banana, and then gradually letting them take a go at raw fruit.
Finally we bring in grains & legumes -- as I learned with my 2nd daughter her little tummy was not ready to handle the fibers in grains and legumes until she was almost 12 months old. Although whole grains and legumes are incredibly healthy most of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients a growing baby needs comes from all the foods listed before, so there really isn’t any rush. I suggest using the whole grain (not processed or refined cereals), grind it into a flour yourself using a food processor or high-powered blender and then cook with bone broth or water.
Continue with the introduction of different foods after 12 months. Most food preferences are established by the age of 2. So the more variety, both in texture and flavor, you expose your children to, the more likely they are to accept a wide range of foods going forward.
Once your toddler is no longer drinking breast milk, I suggest replacing their fluid intake with plain water. If they’re eating a varied whole food diet you don’t have to replace with milk. Assuming your child does not have a sensitivity to dairy you can include whole milk if you want but it’s not necessary. With both of my girls I waited to introduce dairy until after they were 12 months old. I started with plain goat-milk yogurt first to see how they did. Once I was certain they were digesting it well, we tried plain cow’s milk yogurt. Only after that did we try cheese and then whole milk. If you see any change in their digestion or notice more congestion or skin rashes, remove the dairy. I really believe that too many children are consuming dairy when their bodies are not properly digesting it and unfortunately that lays the groundwork for ear infections, allergies, and colds.
School Age Kids
As kids get older talk to them about their health and how nutrition plays a role in helping them grow, think, learn, and play. This will help build intrinisic motivation to choose healthy foods. I use two primary learning tools when talking to kids and parents about healthy eating.
Every meal should include at least one food from each of the following three categories. To help kids be involved in what these foods are, sit down and make a list with them outlining all the foods that fit into each of these categories; starting with the ones you know they like and adding in new foods as they try them.
Go Foods: these are the foods that give you energy; whole grains, starchy veggies
Grow Foods: these include all your protein foods; poultry, meat, fish, legumes, dairy, nuts
Glow Foods: these are your produce; fruits, veggies
Eat A Rainbow
The second tool I use to encourage a colorful variety of foods each day is to eat a rainbow of colors. Again, you can sit down with your child and make a list of all the foods that fall into each color group. Make it a goal that every day they eat at least one food from each color. My girls really like this one and will often go through their rainbow to see what colors are left by the time we get to dinner.
There is a fabulous children's book exactly about this called “I Can Eat A Rainbow” by Annabel Karmel. I’ve used it with my own kids, the families that I've worked with and even at reading time both at my kids preschool and kindergarten. It's universally loved.
A Balanced Lifestyle
Of course we can’t only look at diet. Although incredibly important, the rest of the picture is equally important. Getting outside every day and hopefully getting some sunshine (natural vitamin D). Playing and being active for at least an hour every day; doesn’t have to be all at the same time. Keeping screen time (TV and/or electronics) to a minimum. Plus getting enough sleep each night. All of these pieces play an important role in the overall health picture.
There are times of course when the gut and/or immune system is going to need some extra support to keep everything humming optimally. Here are some of my favorite go-to boosters for my kids.
Probiotics can be an incredibly helpful adjunct to all of us, from infancy to old age. Whenever there is anything off digestively (constipation, loose stools, gas, bloating, etc) I turn to probiotics. Also if I’m noticing more allergies (sneezing or runny nose), skin rashes, or ear pain/infections, the probiotics get brought in.
Healthy fat is probably the #1 most important food for the developing brain and nervous system. Besides including lots of good fat in the diet I also started both of my girls on fish oil during infancy and still continue to use it today; albeit with some supplement holidays here and there. Fish Oil is also one of my go-to boosters for kids dealing with mood disorders, behavior challenges, or neurodevelopmental concerns.
During the summer months we try to get as much of this naturally-occurring vitamin as possible by spending lots of time outside. But during the winter months, even with time outside, it’s hard to get enough, so I add it in supplementally (400 IU/day). Vitamin D(link) also works to keep the immune system going strong, which of course is even more important during cold and flu season.
This is another vitamin that we mostly get from the food we eat; berries, citrus, tomatoes, bell peppers, etc. I make a point to make sure the girls are getting at least several sources of vitamin C every day; especially during the winter. However when I see the start of a cold or flu brewing I’ll up the intake with supplemental C (500 mg/day).
This is another booster I like to use during the winter as both a cold and flu preventative and remedy. Elderberry is an excellent immune system booster and has been shown to reduce the duration of a cold or flu.
Last but not least I’m a big fan of homeopathics; especially for kids. I’ve been using them since my girls were babies and I find that they respond really well to them. I usually use pre-formulated remedies as opposed to individual ones. I always have the following on hand and use as needed:
Cold & FluAllergyBumps & Bruises (as well as individual arnica tablets and arnica cream)
This is obviously only a sampling of the boosters you can add to your child’s regimen. These are the ones that I turn to first both with my own girls and the kids I work with.
I can’t talk about keeping your kids healthy without also mentioning the rising tide of childhood inflammatory conditions like Allergies (both food & environmental), Autism, ADHD, Depression, or Anxiety. Even learning difficulties and behavioral challenges can often have a connection to inflammation.
Although there are many possible causes to these conditions, as I’ve discussed in other posts on Inflammation, there is a lot we can do with diet and supplements to help ease the inflammation and therefore remedy much of the symptoms.
In the coming weeks I will be speaking more to this topic and will outline how you can start to manipulate the diet to address these exact conditions. If you’re not already a member, Join The Rustic Tribe, so you’ll be the first to know when these posts become available.
Take Home Message
Keeping your child healthy starts from the very beginning. Laying the foundation of a strong immune system with breast milk and a whole food, nutrient-dense diet. Encouraging a healthy lifestyle with lots of time for activity and play coupled with plenty of good sleep. Keeping their hydration mostly from water, herbal teas, or fresh veggie juices. And then pulling in boosters when needed.
For those of you struggling with picky eaters or even just trying to get into a routine of family meal times read Feeding Your Family for more inspiration and ideas.
Throughout my blog I’ve spoken at length as to why I’m concerned about the rising tide of chronic inflammation and how our modern-day lifestyle is perpetuating this condition. Unfortunately it is not just adults who fall victim to this issue.
During my years working for UCSF I have seen firsthand how inflammation can create havoc in tiny little bodies. As with many things our children are vulnerable and I saw this come up in different ways; chronic pain, chronic digestive issues, behavioral or developmental challenges, chronic skin rashes, etc. I believe it is something we all need to be on the look-out for and to do what we can to help regulate these inflammatory pathways.
Time and again I was able to see the “miracle” of an anti-inflammatory diet at work. When children began to nourish their bodies with real food and remove inflammatory triggers the improvement in their symptoms was immediate. I even had one very grateful parent, the day before Thanksgiving, call and tearfully thank me for giving her child back!
Can food really do this?! If you haven’t figured out the answer to this yet…..YES!!
What Conditions Are We Talking About
Although I might argue that most conditions or diseases have an inflammatory component, these are the ones I more commonly see that have a direct connection to inflammation. As we lower the inflammation in the body, symptoms diminish or even completely resolve, the body begins to heal and re-balance, and our children start to feel better and more comfortable in their bodies.
What happens when inflammation targets the gut? This is often the root cause of many inflammatory conditions. As the gut becomes increasingly irritated and inflamed we may see symptoms such as chronic diarrhea or constipation, irritable bowel, cramping, and generalized abdominal pain. The tight junctions within the gut become increasingly weak and “leaky”. Once this happens the gut is no longer a strong barrier to the rest of the body. Undigested food particles, pathogens, or other “antigens” can cross over the barrier into the bloodstream and begin triggering an immune response elsewhere in the body.
Once these inflammatory chemicals start circulating through the bloodstream they can set up shop in a variety of locations. In the skin this may be seen as eczema, hives, or other chronic rashes.
Within the respiratory system we may see more allergies or asthma.
When the inflammatory chemicals target the musculoskeletal system this most often shows up as pain in the muscles or joints.
And when inflammation targets the brain or nervous system, we can see a variety of symptoms from chronic headaches to depression, anxiety, behavioral challenges, or even symptoms of ADD/ADHD and Autism. As the neurons become inflamed and irritated of course this is going to present itself as a more irritable and easily agitated child.
What Are The Causes
A leaky gut is definitely a common cause of chronic inflammation but there are other pieces too that need to be considered. Lingering infections (GI or otherwise) will keep inflammation high in the body. A pro-inflammatory diet (high sugar, refined carbs, processed foods), high stress or emotional trauma, chronic poor sleep, or inactivity. All of these factors play a role in keeping inflammation high within the body.
Another interesting piece to this equation is what happens in utero that may be contributing to a pre-disposition to inflammatory conditions. An interesting study published in February 2014 followed 1.2 million women in Finland. Researchers measured the women's levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a well-established measure of inflammation. They found that the risk of autism in the children of women with the highest levels of CRP was 43 percent higher than in those of the women with the lowest levels.
Other studieshave begun to show that mothers who have certain pro-inflammatory conditions are at greater risk of having children with autism—these conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, celiac disease, diabetes, and obesity. Some studieseven suggest that women who develop a serious infection during pregnancy may also be at increased risk of having children with autism.
All of this to say that clearly inflammation is playing a role both during pregnancy and after birth.
It Takes A Team
I do want to take a moment to reiterate that although your diet and lifestyle play a direct role in the level of inflammation in your body, it may not be the sole cause of the condition you’re dealing with. This is why a team approach is always the best approach. That way you can work on the diet and uncover inflammatory triggers while also evaluating other contributors. Either way, as the diet improves so will the condition and its symptoms.
While I was working in the clinic at UCSF I was fortunate enough to be a member of two amazing teams, both at the Osher Center and with a team in the hospital where we were working with kids dealing with chronic pain (from a variety of reasons). Nutrition was always an integral piece but only in conjunction with other modalities; acupuncture, massage, biofeedback, psychology, integrative pediatrics, and other specialists when needed.
Always Start With Diet
If your child is dealing with any of the above listed conditions, the first place to start is to bring in an anti-inflammatory diet. There are some basic principles to healthy eating for kids and the best part is most of those principles are also anti-inflammatory -- real food, colorful plants, healthy fats, in conjunction with less processed and refined foods. This will definitely get things moving in the right direction although it may not be enough. In my next post we will dive deeper into the diet, exploring how to uncover inflammatory triggers while optimizing the quality of foods being chosen.
Take Home Message
We are all at risk for chronic inflammation, both adults and children alike. It has become our modern-day epidemic. And when you consider the poor quality of food pushed on our children by the food industry, it’s easy to see how diet plays a big role. The first step is to recognize the signs and take action.
Start by nourishing your children with a whole foods diet full of colorful plants and healthy fats. Their food choices really do matter. Next, evaluate other potential contributors to the inflammation and pull in a team of experts when needed.
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When should you consider a therapeutic diet for your child? In my last post we discussed how sensitive kids are to triggers of inflammation and how chronic inflammation can present itself. If your child has any of the conditions described in that post or if you are at all suspicious that inflammation is looming its ugly head, then it's time to consider a therapeutic diet.
I’ve used the following diets with good success in kids with Autism, ADHD, Developmental Delay, Behavioral Challenges, Chronic Digestive Complaints, Allergies, Skin Rashes, and Ear Infections.
In addition, there are some general signs of food sensitivities, such as chronic congestion, black circles under the eyes, or getting sick often.
The goal is to flood the body with nutrients while removing foods that could be causing irritation and inflammation. This allows the inflammation to subside and healing to occur, thus producing an improvement in symptoms.
Let's take a look at the actual steps for moving through a therapeutic diet.
Step 1: Apply an Anti-Inflammatory Diet
The first step, if it’s not already in place, is to bring in more of the good foods. The foods which will nourish and heal the body while lowering inflammation and irritation; an anti-inflammatory diet. Use some of the tricks outlined here to help your child be more accepting of these new foods.
Step 2: Remove Possible Suspects
The next step is to remove potential offenders. This can be tricky, of course, because basically any food could be causing a problem. Usually foods eaten on a daily basis are the most likely or unfortunately the foods your child craves the most. And of course processed foods are generally problematic. Avoiding added sugar, artificial colors, and preservatives is a good place to start. Here are some of the eliminations I’ve had the most success with.
Gluten, Casein, Soy Free DietGluten, Casein, Soy, Corn, Egg, Peanut Free DietPaleo Diet - free of all grains, legumes (including soy & peanuts), and dairyGlutamate Free Diet - I’ve had some success with this diet for children with autism (usually in addition to the Paleo Diet)Low Phenol Diet - I sometimes have to bring this one in for kids with ADHD
The natural question is how do you know which one to try? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. Only after a thorough interview with the family can I determine where I think we should start. Any of them would be worth exploring though. Start with the one that either feels the most doable or trust your gut and go with the one your intuition is telling you to do.
Step 3: Test & Track
The elimination phase of the diet goes for 2-4 weeks and then you gradually bring back one food at a time. I follow a similar re-introduction as what I outlined here. The most important thing is to track any changes or reactions. If you’re not actively trying to measure your results it gets difficult to tell which foods are problematic and which are not.
I suggest scaling each of your child’s symptoms between 0 to 5 before you start the diet. Then during the elimination phase re-scale each symptom at the end of each week to see if anything is starting to shift. Sometimes it does but sometimes it doesn’t until you start bringing foods back in.
During the testing phase re-scale each symptom at the end of each day. Keep in mind that the elimination is only providing you with a window as to what foods are problematic. If a food is making the symptom(s) worse it will likely have to be taken out of the diet for 6 or more months before you see a full resolution and healing of the symptoms.
The most reassuring piece to all of this is that kids change quickly. And it doesn’t mean that your child will always be sensitive to that food, unless of course it’s a true allergy. I always suggest re-testing any problem foods every 6-12 months to see if it still causes symptoms or not.
Step 4: Added Nutritional Support
During the healing phase supplements can prove quite helpful. In general, digestive supporting (ie. probiotics, enzymes) and anti-inflammatory supplements (ie. fish oil) are the ones that I turn to first.
In Autism and ADHD it can also be helpful to bring in certain vitamins and minerals. Completing lab work for a general nutrition panel can be helpful to make sure there aren’t specific deficiencies that should be supplemented, such as iron, vitamin D, zinc, etc.
Take Home Message
The bottom line is that an Anti-Inflammatory Diet really is an optimal diet for thewhole family. Whether you’re dealing with hard-to-treat health challenges or simply want to prevent those conditions, it really is the best approach.
This means that the whole family can follow the same diet. This is especially important for kids who have to take out certain foods because of sensitivities. Ideally the whole family would follow the same diet so your child doesn’t feel separate or different. You will likely see better compliance if you follow this recommendation.
If your child is dealing with any of the above conditions or even if you suspect that there might be some food sensitivities, it’s worth working through a therapeutic diet. If this is what you’ve been looking for, then please reach out to me. I would be happy to speak with you further and determine if it would be beneficial for us to work together.
As a Certified Specialist in Oncology Nutrition I have a passion for empowering people to put control back into their own hands when it comes to cancer prevention. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR), 1 in 3 cancers can be prevented by diet and exercise. When we add smoking cessation to the equation this number jumps to 2 in 3 cancers. Although the causes of cancer are multi-factorial and still somewhat misunderstood we definitely know that there are aspects we have control over.
All of us create cancer cells in our body every day. Did you know that? It’s true. It’s not just a random act that afflicts some people and not others. If we accept this as true, then why is it that some of us seem to properly manage these cells while others have cells that continue to grow uncontrollably eventually creating a tumor? Of course, genetics play a role but definitely not the only role. We have more power to influence our genes than was ever thought before. We can actually turn genes on or off based on our lifestyle choices. This is a topic of medicine known as epigenetics, which I personally think is quite interesting and exciting.
There are 2 other body systems that are arguably even more important than our genetics. First, our immune system. Our first line of defense. If the immune system is working in an optimal way it should easily recognize cancer cells and properly destroy them. Second, our detoxification pathways. We are exposed to more toxins now than ever before in our history. They come from a plethora of sources; air, water, food, cleaning products, body care products, medications, etc. If our detoxification pathways become impaired we no longer process toxins properly, which allows for build-up in the body. So what can we do about this? How do we support both our immune system and our detoxification pathways?
In order to support the immune system we need to lower inflammation and fill our bodies with nourishing foods. Chronic inflammation is a constant distraction and drain on our immunity. You can refer to my Anti-Inflammatory Diet post for strategies on lowering inflammation. We also need to maximize the nutritional quality of our diet while we identify and eradicate both internal and external stressors. This is accomplished by a combination of eating a high quality immune boosting diet, supporting microbial health and diversity in the gut, getting good quality sleep, managing stress, getting regular exercise, and being a part of a supportive community.
What about detoxification? How do we maximize these pathways in the body? Of course, all the above points that support immunity will also support detoxification with a few add-ons. First and foremost, reducing your exposure to toxins is key. We can't control everything we're exposed to but there are quite a few places of exposure that we have control over. Here's a list of some actions you can take today to start reducing your toxic burden:
Buy organic whenever possible.Drink filtered water.Use glass, ceramic, or stainless steel for containers -- stay away from plastics.Buy BPA-free cans and bottles.
Use natural cleaning and body care products -- the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a fantastic resource for helping you identify which products are safe.
You can also support detoxification by staying properly hydrated, sweating regularly, and eating foods that nourish the liver, one of our primary detoxification organs. Here are my top liver-supporting foods:
The best Anti-Cancer Diet includes ALL the above. An immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory diet while supporting detoxification. A lifestyle that keep us moving, limits exposure to toxins, and keeps stress in check. These goals might feel a bit utopian but I would argue that they're not. They are absolutely within your grasp. Start with baby steps, put one foot in front of the other, and gradually add on each of the supporting factors. Every step you take moves you closer to a cancer-free life.
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So what's the deal with sugar? Is it true that sugar feeds cancer? Can it cause cancer to grow and multiply? But I thought sugar feeds healthy cells too? Does that mean I shouldn't eat fruit? What am I supposed to do? I hear these questions almost every day in my work with cancer patients. In this blog post I want to get to the heart of why sugar is a problem when it comes to cancer and what that means for you.
While researchers continue to investigate the connection between sugar and cancer, there is accumulating evidence that sugar consumption is associated with increased cancer risk, recurrence, and mortality.
Many cancer cells do selectively depend on glucose for energy. Some estimates suggest they use 50 to 100 times the amount of glucose as healthy cells!! That said, all macro-nutrients can be used as fuel for both healthy and cancer cells. So although we want to be mindful of our total sugar intake, we can't ignore other sources of calories as well.
There are many possible ways in which sugar can increase cancer risk. High blood sugar levels in the body have been shown to:
Increase DNA mutationsIncrease tumor survivalIncrease proliferation, invasion, and migration of cancer cellsIncrease insulin and insulin-like growth factors
Insulin is an especially interesting factor in the growth of cancer. It is thought to be a powerful growth stimulant especially for breast, prostate, and colon cancers. This may be because some cancer cells, like breast cancer cells, have more insulin receptors on their surface allowing them to respond more than normal cells to insulin's ability to promote growth.
Research suggests that the higher the glycemic load of a person's diet, the more at risk that person is for cancer; especially cancers of the breast, endometrium, colon, prostate, liver, and pancreas. This probably explains why Diabetics are more prone to these exact cancers.
For those folks who have already been diagnosed with the above cancers, a higher glycemic load diet increases risk for recurrence and decreases survival rates. This is true for brain cancer as well. To review the research in more detail you can read this articleI wrote for the Osher Center Cancer Nutrition website.
A high glycemic load diet also increases one's risk for obesity and we now understand that obesity is a risk factor for cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, colon, rectum, post-menopausal breast, endometrium, kidney, thyroid, gallbladder, and stomach. Before you start feeling worse about being overweight keep in mind that weight is only part of the picture when looking at cancer. The causes of cancer are complex and multi-factorial. Despite what the number says on the scale, the actions you take to improve your diet and lifestyle will have far-reaching positive effects on decreasing your risk.
What is Glycemic Load
Glycemic load is calculated as the Glycemic Index of a food multiplied by the grams of carbohydrate per serving size. Glycemic index basically tells us how quickly a food digests into glucose and raises your blood glucose levels. The higher the glycemic index, the faster it raises blood sugar. Added sugars increase the total glycemic load of your diet but this actually extends to refined and processed carbohydrate intake as well as total carbohydrate intake. We will explore total carbohydrate intake and cancer further in an upcoming blog post.
What Should You Do
So where does all this leave you? You definitely need to be mindful of your total sugar intake. The research is supporting this. But how can you continue to live your life, enjoy food, and still participate in celebrations and holidays while taking into account this information? Here's my list of where I think you should start.
Balance Meals - Balance your carbohydrate intake with protein and healthy fat. Avoid eating carbohydrate by itself. Follow this rule even for snacks. This will keep your blood sugar steady and prevent surges of insulin through your blood stream.
Be Mindful of Portions - Keep your intake of carbohydrates to 1/4 of your plate. Avoid the large bowl of pasta or rice as the center of the meal.
Choose Low Glycemic Foods - Choose carbohydrates that are full of fiber and low in glycemic load. Whole fruit, even bananas, are actually low in glycemic load because of their fiber content, so don't feel like you need to avoid fruit. Examples: most vegetables and fruits, beans, lentils, steel cut oats, barley, bulgur, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa, other whole and sprouted grains
Limit High Glycemic Foods - Limit your intake of high glycemic carbohydrates and when you do consume something on this list make sure it's in a moderate portion and balanced with proteins and fats. Examples: russet potatoes, fruit juice, flaked or puffed cereals, instant oatmeal, rice cakes, pretzels, crackers, graham crackers, tortilla chips, french bread, white bread, bagels, english muffins
Limit Added Sugar - Avoid sugary drinks and choose whole fruit over fruit juice. Keep sweets (cookies, candy, ice cream, pastries, etc) to an occasional treat rather than a regular occurrence. Choose fresh seasonal fruit or a square of 70% dark chocolate for dessert. Also be careful of hidden sources of sugars: corn syrup (especially high fructose corn syrup), barley malt, dextrose, maltose, fruit juice concentrate, maltodextrin, dextrin, brown rice syrup, sorbitol, mannitol, evaporate cane juice, honey, maple syrup, beet sugar, agave nectar..
Move More - Exercise and activity can use up glucose in the blood stream and help increase insulin sensitivity. Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity every day.
Add Spice - Some herbs and spices may help lower blood sugar levels in your body. Try to include the following as often as possible in your diet: cinnamon (ceylon), fenugreek, onions, garlic, chives, leeks, bay leaf, cloves
Take Home Message
You don't have to completely avoid sugar to keep your risks for cancer low BUT you definitely need to be mindful of your choices. Keeping your meals balanced and choosing mostly high fiber complex carbohydrates is essential. Limiting added sugars and moving your body more will also help keep blood sugar balanced and insulin in check.
And remember sugar is really only one piece of the equation. An important one but only one. Do what you can to apply other principles of an anti-cancer diet and if you feel like you could use more support and guidance please reach out to me.
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In my last post on diet and cancer we talked about the concerns with Sugar. We discussed the importance of choosing low glycemic carbohydrates and always balancing carbohydrates with good quality protein and healthy fat. We also discussed a bit about why fruit is still healthy for you even though too much sugar is not.
In this post I want to take the question even further and rather than just focus on sugar, look at all sources of carbohydrates. Although researchers continue to investigate the benefits of a low carbohydrate diet on cancer prevention, there is accumulating evidence that restricting carbohydrates could enhance cancer treatment, inhibit tumor growth, extend survival, and reduce the risk of cancer development.
What Does Low Carbohydrate Mean
First, let's make sure everyone knows what foods contain the most carbohydrates. Many are displayed in the picture above.
--bread, pasta, tortillas, crackers, cakes, cookies, etc.
--potatoes, corn, yams, butternut squash, pumpkin, etc.
--beans, peas, lentils (also a good source of protein, which helps balance the carb content)
There is no standard definition for low carbohydrate. It's rather subjective depending on who you are talking to. I’ve categorized it into 3 different levels; moderate, low, and very low. A standard recommendation from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is to consume between 50-60% of total calories per day from carbohydrates. For a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet, 50-60% of carbohydrates is equivalent to 250-300 grams of carbohydrates per day. If we accept this as standard, then I would consider an intake between 40%-20% carbohydrates per day (200-100 grams) to be moderate. I actually find this level to be appropriate for many of the clients I work with, whether we are working on weight management, blood sugar management, or disease prevention.
Once your intake drops to 20% carbohydrates per day (100 grams) or less this would be considered low. Most Paleo diets hover around 100 grams of carb per day. In my experience, at this level, weight loss will occur more rapidly and blood sugars will drop even lower. Some research suggests that you would start to receive cancer risk reduction at this point. This could be a very realistic and safe level to aim for.
However, most of the research around carbohydrates and cancer is actually looking at very low carbohydrate diets. These are diets that cause nutritional ketosis. Nutritional ketosis is a controlled, insulin regulated process which results in a mild release of fatty acids and ketone body production in response to either a fast from food, or a reduction in carbohydrate intake. This differs from Diabetic Ketoacidosis, which is driven by a lack of insulin in the body. Without insulin, blood sugar rises to high levels and stored fat streams from fat cells. This excess amount of fat metabolism results in the production of abnormal quantities of ketones. The combination of high blood sugar and high ketone levels can upset the normal acid/base balance in the blood and become dangerous.
Very low carbohydrate diets are also known as ketogenic diets. Probably the most well known ketogenic diet is the Atkins Diet. In order for someone to enter and stay in ketosis the carbohydrates usually have to stay at or below 25 grams per day; that would be equivalent to only 5% of total caloric intake per day. If you notice, in the table below, as carbohydrates drop, calories are replaced with fat, and protein intake ideally stays the same. As more of your calories come from fat, the types of fat you choose become even more important.
Most of the studies thus far have been based on animal research. However, there are many clinical trials currently underway looking at the benefit in humans of following a very low carbohydrate, or ketogenic, diet. The results have been promising both in animals and humans. The way research goes though there is going to need to be quite a bit more human evidence before you start seeing ketogenic diets being recommended in the hospital. For now, though, the safety evidence is good and for many people it could be a helpful adjunct to their cancer treatment. If you are interested in reading more about the research I would encourage you to look through the articleI helped produce for the UCSF Osher Center on this exact topic. If you are currently undergoing cancer treatment or recently completed treatment and are looking at ways to reduce your risk for progression or recurrence I would seriously consider adopting this type of diet under the guidance of an Integrative Dietitian with experience in this area. Contact me if you'd like to explore this diet further.
Weight Loss & Other Benefits:
There have also been many studies looking at Low Carbohydrate Diets for weight loss. Studies have shown that under conditions of carbohydrate restriction, fuel sources shift from glucose and fatty acids to fatty acids and ketones. This shift leads to appetite reduction, weight loss, and improvement in markers of cardiovascular disease. (source) Another studyshowed that even when carbohydrates are replaced with fat, participants still lost intra-abdominal fat and improved insulin sensitivity. There are many more studies out there showing similar results. Science Daily has a nice list of additional studies you can peruse if interested in reading more on this topic.
Besides weight loss, improving cardiovascular and blood sugar markers, and cancer prevention, low carbohydrate diets have also been used extensively to treat epilepsy; especially in children who are unresponsive to medications. Researchers are also looking more closely at the benefit of low carbohydrate diets and the treatment of other neurological conditions such as Autism, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and Multiple Sclerosis. So far the research does look promising. I'm sure we will be seeing more and more recommendations emerge in this area as time goes on.
How To Transition Your Diet
If you are interested in pursuing a lower carbohydrate diet, whether for cancer prevention, weight loss, or other reasons I would suggest the following steps to help you get there. Even if it proves impossible for you to stick with a very low carb (ketogenic) diet, every step you take to lower your carbohydrates will improve your health, help you lose weight, and reduce your risks for cancer.
Step 1: Track your current intake to get a sense of how many carbohydrates you normally eat. A tracker like MyFitnessPal can be very helpful in assessing your current intake. This is your starting point.
Step 2: Refer to my blog post on Sugar and Cancer and work on reducing your intake of added sugars and high glycemic carbohydrates while focusing more on good quality protein, healthy fats, and lots of veggies at each meal.
Step 3: Using your daily tracker gradually reduce your carbohydrate intake to a goal of 100 grams per day. If you’re usual intake is closer to 300 grams per day, then you may want to make your first goal be 200 grams per day. Sustain this level for at least 2 weeks before you try reducing further. 100 grams per day could be a very appropriate and healthy long-term level for many people.
Step 4: If it’s not as challenging as you thought it would be to stay around 100 grams per day, next try reducing your intake between 50-100 grams and see if you can sustain this amount for at least 2 weeks. Keep in mind that at this level your source of carbohydrates will be limited to non-starchy vegetables with minimal amounts of fruit.
Step 5: If you really want to try to reduce your intake below 50 grams, which would be consistent with a ketogenic diet, I strongly encourage you to only do this under the supervision of an Integrative Dietitian or other qualified medical practitioner.
Take Home Message
Low glycemic carbohydrates (vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes) are an important part of a healthy diet. As we’ve discussed in previous posts on the Rustic Diet a variety of colorful carbohydrates are health promoting, anti-inflammatory, and disease preventing.
It may not be appropriate for everyone to limit their carbohydrates beyond that of a moderate intake (100-200 grams per day). If however you are battling cancer or are obese and struggling to lose weight, then following a low carbohydrate diet could be very helpful.
You can safely transition your diet to lower carb by following the steps I outlined above. For additional contact me for a FREE Discovery Call.