Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Take a Breath

I’m at a conference at the moment.  Actually, it’s Fabienne Fredrickson’s Mindset Retreat where 300 of us are learning how to find clarity, remove the “gunk and sludge” (as she puts it), and rise into the level of spirit and faith necessary to achieve our dreams of growing as successful entrepreneurs.

There’s a lot of heavy information to internalize and process over the three-day event and I believe much of it will take much longer to process.  Something that she has us do often, especially after delivering information that may have hit a nerve is to take a deep breath.  Why?  Because for some of us, the information may stop our breathing, send us into shock or a state of anxiety, or cause something profound to bubble up to the surface.  When we focus on our breathing we take our attention away from something that may have caused us distress and brings us back to the present moment. 

I’ve written this before but I believe it’s worth repeating:  Breathing is one of the primary ways that the body detoxes.  Not only are we supplying oxygen to our brain, organs, and tissues like muscle when we inhale but when we exhale, CO2 and additional toxins are expelled from the body, helping to regulate pH levels. 

Most of us, however, hardly use the full capacity of our lungs.  We barely skim the air off the tops while allowing stale air to accumulate.  We don’t realize we’re doing this simply because we’re not thinking about our breath.  So although breathing is something inherent to us, real cleansing, therapeutic BREATHING is a process that requires conscious effort.

If you practice yoga, then you understand that deep belly breathing, the kind that accesses all 4 lobes of the lungs energizes, promotes clarity, stimulates circulation, uplifts the mood, and relieve stress–organically.  And this is exactly what our periodic deep breaths are accomplishing during the conference. 

So if you find that you’re feeling sluggish or foggy or anxious, simply by taking several slow, deep breaths in and out­–as you focus your attention on them–you’ll almost immediately feel uplifted and centered.  And if you do this exercise outdoors in the fresh air, that’s even better.  In a way, breathing really is the perfect stimulant that can be practiced anywhere, anytime.   Deep breath in…deep breath out…

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

How to Boost Your Immunity this Season

At a conference over the weekend, Dr. Joel Fuhrman explained that the death rate from infections has doubled since 1980 and that the reason for this is that the Standard American Diet (SAD) has resulted in immune systems that are incompetent to fight off bugs.  In addition our nutritional inadequacies make it easier for viruses and bacteria in our bodies to mutate into more dangerous forms, which is why it is so important to eat a healthy diet that is high in minerals and phytonutrients.

Since Autumn is almost upon us and cold and flu season is on its way too, I wanted to offer some ways to keep your immune system strong so that you can stay healthy through the cold months ahead:

Drink Water - I write about drinking water all the time for managing hunger and for increasing your energy, but another of its many benefits is to flush out toxins in the body, which is so important for staying healthy.  Do you find it difficult to drink water this time of year?  Drink it warm or hot.  I like to boil water just as if I’m having tea and sip it throughout the day.  According to John Douillard, it’s a great way to open up and clear out the lymphatic system. 

Consume Probiotic-rich Foods - Foods like kefir, yogurt, and fermented vegetables will help to keep your healthy gut bacteria strong and discourage the overgrowth of harmful bacteria.  They will also keep the walls of your intestines healthy and better able to absorb nutrients.  Try to eat organic wherever possible and avoid brands with lots of added sugar.

Drink Green or Black Tea - Both help to increase the production of virus-fighting, interferon in the body, so sip them regularly.  If you do, drink naturally decaffeinated brands so that they do not keep you up at night.

Eat Mushrooms - Varieties like shitake and even white button mushrooms help to increase the production of white blood cells.  Sautee them and add them to stir-fries, eggs, and salads, and soups.

Get Enough Vitamin D3 - Vitamin D is a potent immune system modulator and unless you’re spending hours per day in the sun, it is likely you’re not getting enough.  Eat vitamin D3 fortified foods like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, and cod liver oil or take a vitamin D3 supplement.  Recently, the recommended daily allowance was set at 600-800 IU; however, most people are deficient and could benefit from more.  Dr. Andrew Weil explains why here.

Include Fat - If you’re eating a gorgeous, colorful salad full of carotenoids that act as antioxidants, and eating it with a fat-free dressing, you’re missing out on the benefits.  The health-promoting compounds need fat to be absorbed, so use a dressing with olive oil, or add avocado or some nuts to the mix.

Manage stress - High stress levels lower our immune defenses and while you can’t always control what stressful situations arise in your life, you can minimize the effects.  Regular exercise, relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation, or taking time to have fun all help to relieve the anxiety associated with stress-filled days.

Get Enough Sleep - Not getting enough sleep is a sure fire way to depress the immune system.  However many hours you do best on, whether it’s six or eight, try to keep a regular sleep schedule and get the best sleep possible by removing or unplugging all electronic equipment in the room to prevent it from interfering with your normal sleep patterns.

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Conundrum of Habits

I would bet that there isn’t a person on this planet that does not have some combination of habits.  After all, we are creatures of habit for lots of reasons.  For example, earlier this year, I made the switch from drinking coffee in the morning to Teeccino.  After trying it a few times and discovering how seamlessly it could replace my morning ritual, it stuck like glue, and now coffee is more of a treat that I have occasionally.  For me, this was a good switch and is a good habit. But, of course, there are habits that are downright bad to get into, and some that on the surface may seem harmless, but that may be doing us a disservice.  This is the conundrum.  For example, with regard to health and wellness, good habits:

  • Save us time - It’s much easier to get into a groove when we have a routine.  Have you ever noticed that when your routine is disrupted, such as when you go on vacation or move that it takes days or even weeks to get into a rhythm?  Once we establish our habits, though, things move more smoothly and in a timely manner.
  •  Keep us focused - Are you in the habit of planning out your day either first thing in the morning or the night before?  When you have a plan and stick to it, you’re far more productive.  You’ll save time and are more likely to reach your destination, since it’s always easier to get somewhere with a roadmap or GPS.   The obvious flip side of this is never having a plan and living each day without a purpose.  
  • Help us stay healthy or in a positive frame of mind - For example, do you begin your day with some form of exercise or meditation to help manage stress?  Once you get into this habit, it’s very easy to see and feel the benefits and it’s more likely that it will become a lifelong practice.

Practicing good habits also creates a ripple effect since they can build upon themselves.  As we see and feel the positive benefits, we’re more likely to adopt more habits that will impact us in a good way.  Then there are the habits that are simply keeping us from moving forward which can either be bad, or that appear innocent.  For example:

  • Keep us in our comfort zones - this is not always the best reason to maintain a habit, since it may be keeping you stuck in a situation.  For example, if you’re used to going to bed late at night, it may be keeping you from waking up early and giving yourself time to exercise or prepare a healthy lunch for work.  As Goethe once said, “Habit is a man’s sole comfort.  We dislike doing without, even unpleasant things to which we have become accustomed.”
  • Prevent us from making positive changes - For example, maybe you like to come home from work at night and spend several hours in front of the television.  Or like me, you spend long hours in front of the computer which can be just as bad.  The other day, I sat down for the first time in a long time to watch a movie and I was literally shocked by the advertisements for ‘delicious’ fast food meals, ‘healthy’ processed foods, weight loss pills and techniques and drugs.  

Not only is sitting in front of the TV detrimental because of the lack of physical activity, but the messages are confusing and are being delivered with one thing in mind, and it's not your health.   And maybe because you’re in the habit of watching TV often, you simply don’t realize the messages you’re receiving and how they may be preventing you from making better choices for your health (for example). But coming from a perspective of experiencing something with fresh eyes and ears (sort of in my case) makes a big difference.

Habits become habits because we don’t have to think about them too much.  This makes it all the more important to be mindful about the habits that we do adopt.   Think about the habits you’ve taken on in your daily life and whether they’re helping to keep you healthy, happy, and balanced in your life.  If they are, then that’s great and hurray for you.  I bet you understand their value, which is why you began them in the first place and continue with them.  If they’re not, then maybe it’s time to find ways to eliminate or replace them, since it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.   In my case, Teecino was a perfect daily substitute for coffee.   What about you?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How to Scan a Food Label

Call me a geek, but I used to love to hang out in the grocery store reading labels.  And although it takes time (and good eyesight!), there are some guidelines you can follow that will make the process quick and painless and will help you choose the best foods for your family.  

For much of what’s listed below, rather than go into the details about the number of grams/day of nutrients in the item or what we need per day, I’ve focused more on the relative amounts along with the ingredients.   I will usually do a quick scan of foods to look at them this way first.  If they make it through the first round, then I will give them a more thorough scrutiny…

To preface what is listed here, by far, the best food choices are those that don’t have labels.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and organic animal products that are bought fresh and combined into simple meals free from many of the ingredients listed on boxes, bags, cans, and jars is the best way to go for maintaining health…

Ignore what the front of the package says and look at the nutrition data on the back.  Many products promise to be all-natural or whole-grain or low fat, etc., but that doesn’t tell the whole story.   For example, if the first ingredient listed in a loaf of wheat bread is enriched wheat flour, it is not a true whole-grain product. 

Notice the serving size when looking at calories.   A pint of Haagen Dazs ice cream may seem small to you, but with four servings at ~250-300 calories per serving, there’s over 1000 calories that can easily be consumed in a sitting.  In addition, since a food labeled “low calorie” has to have a maximum of 40 calories per serving, this makes the serving size relevant.

Check the Sodium.  We should all be restricting our sodium to 2300 mg per day - that’s less than one teaspoon of salt; therefore, check the sodium content per serving to ensure you’re not getting too much.  Many canned foods like soups, pastas, and vegetables will often have very high levels of sodium.  The best way to avoid this is to not eat them. 

Where’s the Fat Coming From?  Look at the total fat per serving as well as the breakdown of types of fats.  Then, scan the ingredients list to see exactly what fats are included.  If the fat content comes from all polyunsaturated fats like corn and vegetable or soybean oil, avoid these products.   Avoid products with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils/fats as well.   Getting back to our pint of Haagen Dazs, which will contain a very high amount of saturated fat and cholesterol per serving.  These are the foods that are meant as occasional treats.

Carbohydrates Take Many Forms.  The label should have this category broken down into dietary fiber and sugars and some have a value for other carbohydrates that include starches. Does the breakdown of carbohydrates list them mostly as sugar? Then it’s probably best to leave this on the shelf.   You can also check the ingredients list for what types and where in the list the sugars fall.   There are dozens of names for sugar, including high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and dextrose, to name only a few.

% RDA.  This is per serving based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet and is not a complete list.  Ironically, my guess would be that this list would be infinitely longer in a serving of whole food, since we know that there are far more “nutrients” in real, whole foods–many that have still not been identified and many of them work in concert with one another when consumed in the context of whole food.   This is one of the primary reasons to eat a whole-foods diet.  It’s far better for us than we even yet understand.  As I’ve moved more into a whole foods diet, I’ve also noticed that I largely ignore this section of the food label.

Ingredients list.  As I mentioned above, the best foods for your body don’t come with labels.  If a food has a laundry list of ingredients that you can barely pronounce, it’s best to walk away from it.   However, the ingredients are listed by weight in order of highest to lowest, therefore, the most prominent ingredients will appear at the beginning of the list.  So, for example, if you see enriched wheat (white) flour or some form of sugar as the first ingredients, you can be certain that that is what you’re mainly feeding your body.