Thursday, February 16, 2017

Friday Five

Hello, hello! Happy FriYAY!!

So, I had a bunch of (random) life updates that I wanted to shareboth good and badso I figured I’d put them all together in a blog post. Sound okay to you? Well, here we go!

1. I saw an osteopath about my hip, and I have ZERO plans to see her again. Some doctors… I swear, they don’t think before they speak. Or maybe they’re just jerks deep down? Ok, so I have an appointment with the osteopath. We start talking about my health history… Ulcerative Colitis… yada yada. We eventually chat about diets, and she asks me why I stopped trying different ones. I told her they never really worked for me, and I eventually got so sick, I didn’t have any other choice besides IV drugs (first Remicade, now Entyvio), which eventually put me into remission. Her response: “An infusion sounds like the easy way out.” Um, yea. It was an “EASY” five years of bleeding my guts out with no relief. I’m sure you can imagine what I wanted to say to her, but I’m too nice and just kind of smiled. What an a-hole.

Ok, well, onto more positive news…

2. We hired—not one—but TWO new coaches to join our team at Designed to Fit Nutrition, so now we’re a team of five. The meal plans keep rolling in, and we’re excited to continue to grow our business. Local readers: If you’re interested in learning more about DTFN, we’ll be at Whole Foods Hingham on Wednesday night!

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3. My Bang Bang Buffalo Cauliflower was recently included in this round-up on SHAPE.com: 18 Healthy Ways to Spice Up Your Cooking with Sriracha. Just wanted to share the link in case you’re looking to add a little kick to your meals!

4. Oh, so I actually have some more bad news. Marylou’s has turned into the worst iced coffee ever. It’s literally THE WORST. It’s basically coffee-flavored water now. I have no idea what happened, but the last few times I bought iced coffee from there—even their cold brew—I was disappointed. After my most recent experience, I’m officially done with Marylous. I apologize to anyone who was hoping to try it someday because of my reviews. Things have definitely changed over the years. Trust me, save your money.

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And, ok, let’s finish on some happy news!

5. Brooks has created the most amazing crops ever. Like EVER. Their Ghost Crops are phenomenal. They’re a totally different fabric from anything I’ve ever worn. They’re super lightweight with tons of stretch, but they hug you in all the right places. They’re so darn comfortable, it almost feels like you aren’t wearing crops at all! The best part about the Ghost Crops though is that they DON’T SHOW SWEAT. That’s right, people. And you guys know how sweaty I get during workouts. I’m disgusting and these crops don’t show a single drop of sweat. They are the best everrrrrrrr!

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Question of the Day

Your turn! Share something that’s bugging you and then something AWESOME in your life right now! 

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How To Create The Safest, Organic and Natural Nursery For Your Child

When I first became pregnant, I knew right away I wanted to create a safe environment and nursery for my baby. There was so much to research and it all was very overwhelming. Cribs, mattresses, clothes, diapers, toys, strollers, car … Continued

The post How To Create The Safest, Organic and Natural Nursery For Your Child appeared first on Food Babe.



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What Is the Vagus Nerve? (and How Does It Impact Health, Mood and Performance?)

3D illustration male nervous system, medical concept.In recent years, I’ve regularly vouched for the gut as our long-abused secondary brain. Given what most of us grew up learning in school, it can feel like a mammoth shift. Science and philosophy have long revered the brain as seat of consciousness, even the seat of humanity itself. But when it comes down to it, everything is interconnected. Our consciousness extends well beyond the brain. How we feel and who we are encompasses a much more expansive and intricate system than any of us learned in high school biology. At the center of this paradigm revision is something called the vagus nerve.

Vagus…as a word it sounds a little off-putting. If someone called me a vagus, I’d probably be mildly offended. But the literary origins of this word are actually kind of mystical: “vagus” in Latin translates to “wandering.” And I’d struggle to find a more apt definition.

The vagus nerve runs from the base of the brain, through the neck, and into the chest and stomach, reaching all the way to the gut. It’s regularly likened to a highway, whereby vast multitudes of nerves are constantly “driving” to almost every organ in the body, delivering vital messages and returning to the brain with their own little snippets of info. Around 80% of these nerve fibers are directed outwards from the brain, while the remaining 20% or so work in reverse to send commands back to the brain from the various corners of the body.

Unsurprisingly, the role of this wandering nerve highway is far-reaching. Regulation of breathing. Control of digestion and satiety. Taste response. Hearing. Vocalization. Relaxation response. Even blood circulation. It’s the quiet overachiever of your parasympathetic nervous system.

And it’s stirring some rather fascinating conversations within the medical community (conventional and otherwise).

Vagus Influence over Satiety

Feeling hungry or full? It’s that mysterious vagus nerve at work. During a meal, the volume of food in the stomach stimulates the vagus nerve to message your call center operator (brain), which then flips the switch that says “full.” Seems pretty straightforward.

Further down, in the depths of your gastrointestinal tract, the vagus is also operating. As I discussed in this post, the gut contains a range of receptors that recognize whether you’ve received enough of certain nutrients. These include serotonin, ghrelin, and gustducin (aka glucose) receptors. The food you eat may or may not fire up these receptors, depending on whether it contains those nutrients. And the means by which your brain receives the nutrient satiety all-clear? Why, none other than the vagus. This is the quality to your stomach’s bulk-food quantity sensors.

So, the vagus and your stomach: an unlikely romance. But where things can turn sour are with regards to a compromised vagus nerve. When the vagus is underperforming, those all-important satiety signals from both the stomach and the intestines don’t always make their way back to the brain. You choose the metaphor: nerve traffic jams, road work, giant nerve-eating potholes…that kind of thing.

For this reason, when the vagus is performing at less than 100 percent, you’re more likely to overeat or get insatiable cravings for the wrong kinds of foods. A classic example of this is those glucose taste receptors in your gut I talked about earlier. Vagus dysfunction can prevent those receptors from signaling to the brain that sufficient sugars and carbs have been consumed, essentially leading to a glucose overdose and impaired insulin secretion.

We all know where this is going: obesity. But vagus nerve dysfunction is by no means limited to battles with excessive weight gain.

The Vagus-Inflammation Connection

As a key component of your parasympathetic nervous system, the vagus is a nerve associated with times of plenty rather than hardship or trauma. In other words, it’s more of a “rest and digest” kind of guy rather than a mechanism of “fight or flight.”

For this reason, stimulating the vagus nerve is associated with an anti-inflammatory response in the brain. By activating, the vagus is telling the brain that all is well with the world, and to ease off on stress response and the production of inflammatory cytokines. The science behind it is somewhat mind-exploding, but here’s my layman’s summary.

Some sort of external catalyst triggers an immune response in the body. Example: gluten. In this scenario, your gut issues a plea for help via the vagus. Vagus communicates SOS to immune cells via the brain, which then release “pro-inflammatory cytokines” to give the invader in your gut (gluten) a good walloping. Walloping complete, the efferent (aka outgoing) part of the vagus regulates this immune activation and suppresses the inflammatory cytokines. Inflammation over and out.

As you can guess, the health of the vagus nerve may have a lot to tell us about autoimmune function/dysfunction—as well as a host of other physical conditions.

The Advent of Vagus Nerve Stimulation

Researchers have caught on to that notion in recent years. Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) first appeared on medical shelves in 1997, designed to provide a viable alternative to anti-seizure drugs. A small device is surgically implanted into a patient’s chest in order to emit electrical pulses into the vagus nerve for 30 seconds every five minutes. Of those epileptics who receive VNS, apparently half of them see a 50 percent drop in seizures. Kind of a Matrix-esque therapy that undoubtedly feels like a miracle to those who live with frequent seizures.

From there, medical curiosity regarding the vagus nerve intensified considerably. Those patients receiving VNS for their epilepsy started to report improved mood and less propensity for depression. That would likely be the serotonin receptors in their gut finally getting through to the brain via an electrically-boosted vagus. The logical next step was to begin using VNS for treatment of chronic depression, which was approved by our friends at the FDA in 2005. The results of this treatment have been mixed, with certain patients responding well and others showing no improvements. Unfortunately, 55 percent of patients also appear to exhibit “voice alteration and hoarseness” as a side effect.

But the vagus correlations didn’t stop there. Depressed patients also reported a notable reduction in appetite while undergoing the VNS treatment. And so VNS for obesity treatment was born, with a significant degree of success.

You see where this is going: scientists continue to discover more about the vagus nerve and how it controls a wide array of vital functions in the body. Mark S. George, director of the brain stimulation lab at the Medical University of South Carolina, notes that “[VNS] affects our brain circuitry in a profoundly powerful way…Not only can you select which fibers you want to target with VNS, you can also control which way you want the information to go and your effect.”

In the next several years, it will be interesting to follow the application of VNS and its progress in the fields of Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, tinnitus, and even stroke recovery. Results are looking promising.

The Vagus and a Primal Lifestyle (or What’s in It for Us?)

Of course, most of this is just conventional, symptom-centric medical stabs in the dark. The research on the vagus nerve is still relatively new, but we’re learning.

That leads us to the question of the day: what does it have to do with me, with you, with the general population? What does the “wandering” nerve have to offer us?

For starters, it’s apparent from early research that the vagus nerve can be damaged by a poor diet. Lab tests, while small, have drawn links between diabetes and vagal degeneration, the cause of which we know to be a chronic glucose and fructose overload. Diabetic damage to the vagus nerve can lead to a condition called gastroparesis, in which the muscles of the stomach and intestines are unable to effectively move food through the GI tract. Other research suggests that alcohol abuse can also lead to vagal damage, due to the toxic influence alcohol has on the autonomic nervous system, of which the vagus is a part.

All right, so you need to avoid sugar, eat a balanced diet, and minimize alcohol consumption. Check, check and check. Even a casual Primal type shouldn’t have too much difficulty on those fronts. But beyond simply avoiding vagal damage, how can you supercharge your vagus? Surely, improving the health of the vagal nerve must have benefits?

Yes, indeed. A Swiss study a couple of years back found that healthy vagus communication between your gut and brain helps you to slow down and unwind after a stressful situation. Lab tests showed that the vagus nerve releases neurotransmitters following a traumatic event to lower heart rate, lower blood pressure, and enable your organs to take it easy after genuinely distressing or simply trying events. The take-away here is that supporting a healthy vagus increases your ability to live resiliently, deal with stress, and recover faster. That’s a very valuable thing indeed.

And rest assured there’s likely no need for a lab assistant to zap you either. A study from early last year used a new non-invasive vagus nerve stimulator to reduce symptoms of major depressive disorder. Other studies have shown significant stress reduction and increased feelings of happiness by temporarily stimulating the vagus nerve. There’s ample reason to believe that these benefits can also be achieved by practicing mindfulness meditation (or your version thereof).

Finally, supporting a healthy vagus can help you to improve performance under pressure. Endurance athlete and coach Christopher Bergland, who has written at length on the vagus, offers some perspective on supporting and improving the vagal functioning: “healthy vagal tone is indicated by a slight increase of heart rate when you inhale, and a decrease of heart rate when you exhale. Deep diaphragmatic breathing—with a long, slow exhale—is key to stimulating the vagus nerve and slowing heart rate and blood pressure, especially in times of performance anxiety. A higher vagal tone index is linked to physical and psychological well-being. A low vagal tone index is linked to inflammation, negative moods, loneliness, and heart attacks.”

So how do you get your hands on some of this healthy vagal tone action when the going gets tough? Bergland has a few mostly anecdotal answers:

  • Visualize the vagus nerve, and even consider talking to it (non-verbally, that is!). Picture the very part of the body that is physiologically designed to relax you. The literal representation doesn’t matter so much as the intent.
  • Get plenty of exercise on a daily basis. Physical activity, including cardiovascular training, strength training and even yoga can all stimulate vagal tone and harmonize relevant hormonal output.
  • Consciously generate positive thoughts and optimism. The positive feedback loop keeps you emotionally elevated.

Admittedly, there’s plenty for research to fill in in the coming years. That being said, a few other studies on the vagus nerve appear to confirm the application of Primal living for vagal tone. This study, for instance, found that rats fed a high-fat diet experienced a significant lowering of inflammatory response by way of the vagus nerve. A more recent study showed that a certain probiotic strain of Lactobacillus activated the vagus nerve and halted the release of cortisol during a stressful situation. And of course there’s always slow, controlled breathing.

Not too hard or revolutionary for the Primal mind. Incidentally, actions that support neuroplasticity may by extension support vagal health as well.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Have you read/heard much about the vagus nerve? How do you think of this addition to the brain-gut axis picture? Take care.

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Basil-Ginger Pork from Weeknight Paleo

We had the tremendous opportunity to be on Robb’s podcast this last week to discuss our farming enterprise and some of the lessons learned at this early stage of production. Happily, we can announce that our third cookbook is out of production and set to hit book shelves next week. Weeknight Paleo is our best effort to bring the reader into our kitchen amidst the craziness of raising two kids, moving, starting a farm and putting a book together.

Life is about managing the curveballs on top of career, family and finding time for leisure. This is one of our favorite recipes from the new book and one that we often double or triple to prepare for a busy week. Until our pigs are ready for a trip to the butcher, we’ve been getting our pork from the wonderful folks down at White Oak Pastures. Will Harris and his family are a Savory Institute hub in the US and doing amazingly regenerative things on a huge scale.

Basil-Ginger Pork

Ingredients:
1 pound ground pork
1/4 cup coconut aminos
2 tablespoons chili paste
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
2 cups riced cauliflower
2 green onions, sliced on an angle
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh mint, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed Thai basil, coarsely chopped
1 head Bibb lettuce or cabbage

Instructions:
1. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the pork and cook until somewhat browned, 3-5 minutes.
2. Add the aminos, chili paste, sesame oil, rice vinegar, fish sauce, ginger and cauliflower, stir to combine well.
3. Reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking for 7 to 8 minutes to allow the flavors to meld and cauliflower to soften, stirring as needed.
4. Mix in the green onions, mint and basil and cook for 2 minutes longer. Serve atop lettuce leaves and garnish with additional chili paste/sauce to taste.

The making of this cookbook has gotten us through many busy weeks feeding our family. If you’re feeling spunky, we certainly would love for you to grab a copy today. Whether you’re a busy family of four like us or just trying to manage your workweek and make better choices in the kitchen, Weeknight Paleo will deliver time saving and tasty ideas for you kitchen.



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Manly Burgers, Feminine Salads: Does Gender Affect Our Diets?

We all know the stereotypes: Men like red meat and hefty portions. Women like salads and eat modestly, picking delicately at their meals. Men like it spicy. Women like it sweet.

Fries or fruit on the side? Men, we imagine, may be more likely to choose the former, women the latter. Ditto when choosing between, say, wine or beer.

Whether or not there is intrinsic truth in these cultural preconceptions about gender and food, societal reinforcement of them may influence the decisions we make about what we eat, the Washington Post suggests. What’s more, the paper recently posited, given the body of research indicating that eating plant, rather than animal, proteins, is better for your health and longevity, that may not be great news for men.

One key issue may be the way different foods are marketed to men and women, the messages sent out via advertising and packaging, says Kerri-Ann Jennings, a registered dietitian and nutritionist who writes about food and health trends.

“For both younger men and women, the messages about food relate to appearance. For women, that usual translates more into ‘how do you eat to be lean and have healthy, glowing skin?’” Jennings tells Healthy Eats. “For guys, it might be ‘how do you bulk up?’”

Take for instance, yogurt. Commercials aiming to reach a female audience often create “this sense that women crave sweets and need to ‘indulge,’” Jennings observes, targeting them with yogurts that sound both decadent and healthy, a la “sugar-free cheesecake yogurt.” Men, meanwhile, may be fed a message about strength and power and eat-it-with-a-fork thickness: Male-targeted yogurt brands may have packaging that is black and squared-off (think: razor-blade ads), bespeaking masculinity.

“Men are ‘supposed to’ have hearty appetites. Women are often expected not to,” Jennings notes. “People think it’s worth commenting on when a woman has a hearty appetite.”

Awareness of how these gender expectations can influence our choices and impact our lives, however, may be the first step in taking control of our diets and our health. For men, especially, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

In other words, scuttle the stereotype and hold the fries, guys. And would a salad kill you? In fact, it may do precisely the opposite.

Amy Reiter is a writer and editor based in New York. A regular contributor to The Los Angeles Times, she has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire, The Daily Beast and Wine Spectator, among others, as well as for Salon, where she was a longtime editor and senior writer. In addition to contributing to Healthy Eats, she blogs for Food Network’s FN Dish.



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Mommy Date To The Library

This post is sponsored by Mini Babybel®

Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and with Mazen in school for the good part of the day and with Matt several times a week, I try to make the afternoons we spend together extra special. I have set hours to work and set hours to play, so I am trying to focus on him when we’re together. Recently we had a really nice, sort-of-warm day, and I decided to pack up some snacks and take a trip to the library. I picked Mazen up from school and surprised him with an adventure.

Knowing he’d be hungry after school, I packed a bento box of snacks for us to share. Mini Babybel, today’s sponsor, is one of my favorite lunchbox staples. Whether I’m packing snacks or a lunch, I try to include a protein, a fruit, a veggie, and a whole grain. The Mini Babybel varieties are a good source of calcium and protein, and what I love most about them is they are so easy to toss in. A great addition to any lunch or snack box! 

Here we are!

We went inside for reading first. Mazen chose a fairy tale to start.

Then we decided to look on the shelves for Grammie’s book, Purple Mountain Majesty, which is the story of Katharine Lee Bates and the trip up Pike’s Peak that inspired her to write the poem “America The Beautiful”. It took a little hunting down, using the library’s computer search categorization system and refreshing my alphabetizing memory, but we found it!

Mazey was very proud!

After a few more books, we went outside for our picnic.

He went right for the cheese!! Unwrapping the cool red wax is a four-year-old’s dream job.

And we were all fueled up for the bike ride / walk home : )

Thanks to Mini Babybel for sponsoring this post!

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