Tuesday, January 5, 2016

3 Day No-Sugar Challenge

Can you go without sugar for 3 days? I challenge you to try this and see how you feel!

The holidays have been fun this year, but also full of decadent treats and sweets. My poor acne has really taken a big hit this season! Not only have I noticed skin flare ups, but my cravings for sweets and fruits are very strong and my brain has been foggy which has made it a bit hard to remember all of the fun things from the season. 

I remember how my body used to work during the days before my time off. I did not crave sweets during the day and could easily go 5-6 hours without needing food between meals. I really enjoyed not constantly thinking about food all of the time and being able to resist that candy bowl with ease. It really let me dedicate my time to getting other things done.   

image from: http://foodtrainers.blogspot.com/

So in the spirit of New Year’s resolutions and getting yourself back on track, I’ve instituted a 3 day No-Sugar challenge! It’s tougher than you think, but will leave you feeling so powerful and in control afterwards. I hope you will read the details and consider undertaking the challenge yourself. I am looking forward to regaining my energy and mental clarity.

The Challenge:

Here is a list of restricted foods that during this 3 days cycle you will not consume:

The Sugars:
  •  Sugar 
  •  High fructose corn syrup 
  •  Artificial sweetener 
  •  All Fruits 
  •  Chocolate/Candy 
  •  Juice 
  •  Soda 
  •  Barbeque sauce 
  •  Ketchup 
  •  Salad dressings with sugar (red wine vinegar with some oil, salt, and pepper is a good dressing on its own) 
  •  Honey 
  •  Molasses 
  •  Syrup 
  •  Agave 
  •  Milk 
  •  Yogurt 
  •  Cream cheese
  • If you think a food tastes sweet, then it should be included on this list
The Sugar Producers-Carbs: (These foods are quickly broken down into sugars in the body)
  • Bread/Whole wheat/Wheat of any kind 
  •  Oats 
  •  Rye 
  •  Barley 
  •  Rice (try cauliflower rice instead)
  • Pasta noodles (try zucchini noodles instead) 
  •  Couscous 
  •  Quinoa 
  •  Potatoes 
  •  Sweet potatoes/yams 
  •  Any other starches you consume
Just because these vegetables are high in sugar, they should also be eliminated for now:
(I highly encourage you add these (also potatoes) back to your diet after the 3 days end as they are very healthy foods)
  • Beets 
  •  Carrots 
  •  Tomatoes

I challenge you to go without these foods for 3 days. It sounds like a long list, but there are many other foods you can consume instead. 

I've compiled some pointers for you challengers:

Tips for Surviving and Thriving with Low Sugar:

  • Drink lots of tasty hot or cold teas throughout the day. I love chai and peppermint! 
  •  Eat lots of vegetables, meats, and fats to keep you satiated (the best hunger satiating fats are going to be butter, coconut oil, and other animal based fats-think hamburger and bacon) 
  •  The first day is the hardest! It gets easier 
  •  Get out of the house/away from food. If you stay busy or have fun it is easy to forget about cravings 
  •  Try using some magnesium oil spray to abate cravings. It tends to work for chocoholics.
  • Drinking some seaweed (kombu/kelp) tea may also help stave off cravings.
  • Eat when you are hungry. Eat so much that you can’t eat anymore.
  • Be prepared for cravings by carrying no sugar snack alternatives. Such as: Nuts, avocados, celery, organic jerky, etc.  

What a great effort you have expended by committing to this challenge (I hope)! 
So what kind of results can you expect to see after completing this challenge? 
What is the point?

You may experience some or all of these benefits:
·       Enhanced mental capability
·        Reduced food cravings
·        Reduced headaches
·        Less dizziness
·        Less pain***I love this!
·        Less swelling
·        Reduction in skin inflammation
·        Improved stool quality
·        Improved moods/mental stability***This is very impressive too!
·        Less indigestion/stomach upset
·        Less bloating
·        Reduction in allergy symptoms
·        More energy and focus

I hope you undertake the challenge as well to see how you feel afterwards. It can easily be done over a long weekend and can increase your performance in all aspects of your life. Good luck in the New Year and stay well!

***Do be aware that after the first day or two, you may experience bacterial die off symptoms especially if you have a lot of bacterial or fungal overgrowth from sugar consumption. These may cause weakness/tiredness, headaches, and/or demanding hunger among other things. If you experience these, I recommend taking a probiotic and eating lots of vegetables. This will establish good bacteria that will decompose any toxic byproducts of die off. These good bacteria are maintained and fed off of the prebiotic substances that are primarily located in vegetables.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

To Fiber or Not to Fiber? Which One is Best for Your Bowels?

Ever been to the doctor for bowel irregularity? Constipation or diarrhea? If so, you've probably heard a lot about fiber. Fiber is obtained primarily from foods such as grains, beans, and corn. However, most of these foods are viewed as unhealthy among the paleo community. So what's the deal here? Do we need fiber? Is it healthy to avoid fiber?

Let's take a look at some of these questions...

image from betterbreadmaker.com



The Role of Fiber in the Body.


Fiber is an important part of a balanced diet. Fiber in the body serves as a complement to bile. It binds it and removes it from being reabsorbed and transferred back to the liver. So why is this elimination process important? It is important because bile is what allows hydrophobic components of our food to be absorbed by the body. Among these hydrophobic components are fats and fat soluble vitamins and toxins. Unfortunately, things like pesticides, artificial hormones, and certain polymers are fat soluble, not to mention many of the fats we cook with such as vegetable oils contain chemical contaminants from processing. If this contaminated bile is not bound with fiber and eliminated in the feces, then it will be reabsorbed by the body and eventually compound as more and more toxins are not eliminated with fiber.

So in short, yes! Fiber is very important in our diet.

This is why many nutritionists say that grains are a part of a healthy balanced diet. However, the problem arises when many doctors prescribe increased fiber for those that have constipation. For diarrhea, this is a good strategy, but for constipation, fiber does not help reverse the condition. Babies do not consume much fiber because things like bread, corn, and beans are too hard to digest for their new stomachs. However, they still have regular bowel movements! Fiber increases the bulk of stools, but does not help it move out of the body more regularly. To the best of my knowledge, constipation is not due to lack of fiber. 

The Problem with Most Fiber.

The issue with fiber is that most people are sensitive to the foods in which fiber is concentrated. Many are sensitive to gluten (probably from heavy pesticide contamination), corn, and beans. I don't necessarily mean that most people are allergic to these foods, but sensitive. For example, these foods don't cause allergic reactions like hives or closing of the throat, but general inflammation in the body might occur which results in side effects from eating these foods such as: headaches, mood changes, brain fog, aggravation of skin conditions (such as acne and eczema), and bowel irregularity. Sound familiar? The center for food allergies has a great deal of information linking medical symptoms to food sensitivities: http://www.centerforfoodallergies.com/index.htm

This causes many opposing views on fiber consumption.

Many doctors emphasize that extra fiber helps those with irregular bowel movements even in cases of constipation. Sources for this information usually come from older textbooks (e.g.: Dietary Reference Intakes)

On the other hand, we see the alternative health community and some papers in the scientific community pushing back with the idea that fiber is terrible for your bowels and should be avoided. e.g.: Gutsense.org, and  Scientific literature

And sometimes, it is not even the fiber that is causing the problem, but other types of food allergies! For a list of common food allergies (some, you will be surprised by) see the PaleoMom website. Eliminating foods you are sensitive to can help resolve lots of health issues in addition to bowel irregularity.

So What Fiber is Safe to Eat?

The short answer is that any fiber that doesn't cause inflammation (due to sensitivity) is a good fiber to consume. Some foods that are high in fiber and less inflammatory that you can try, include: brown rice, teff, coconut flesh, Einkorn flour, glucomannan, and most seeds. However, you need to make sure that you are not allergic to these sources. If you are allergic, this will cause inflammation in the intestines to result in constipation, diarrhea, or other non-bowel related symptoms. However, if you have been consuming a food you are sensitive to for a long time, your gut may be damaged and not tolerate any of these. Since fiber is essentially roughage in the intestines, the best way to recover from this damage is to avoid (I really mean lower here, do keep eating potato skins, veggies, and leafy greens) fiber for a couple of weeks to let the intestinal lining heal before reintroducing such rough food.

This is my fiber of choice, Teff. About 3-5 Tbsp a day is all of the fiber I need to normalize my stools.
*On a side note: This is where I think the paleo community has it both wrong and right. It is true that most people feel better on a paleo diet. This is due to the reduction of inflammation in the gut (which is great!). Unfortunately, after a healing paleo protocol, many people do not work to reintroduce fiber heavy foods. This is really important for maintaining health to prevent the accumulation of toxins. So, yes, I recommend the paleo diet for those with bowel irregularity, however, fiber is essential to a healthy diet and lifestyle and should be reincorporated when appropriate.

How Much Fiber Should We Consume? 

This is a good question and, I believe, a highly individual one. The right amount of fiber is one that keeps us healthy. We need fiber to remove toxins from our bodies, but we also shouldn't be consuming so much, or the wrong kind so that it induces inflammation. My bowel tolerance is somewhere around 1/4-1/2 cup of  whole wheat products a day ( I think this is a bit low for most people) so find what suits you. A good way to judge this is based on your stools.

So what do healthy stools look like? 


Healthy stools are smooth without cracks or lumps. They have well formed edges and are not fluffy or loose. On the bristol stool scale, healthy stool is considered to be a type 4. Additionally, on a daily basis a person should pass about TWO FEET of stool. This does not mean 2 feet in volume, but 2 feet in length. Last, healthy bowel movements should occur 2-3 times a day. This usually occurs after ingesting meals. If your GI tract is healthy you should be pooping EVERYDAY. If this doesn't describe your bowel movements, you probably have some inflammation down there.

image from: https://twitter.com/bschart

Other Things That Affect Your Stool Quality.

Besides fiber, there are other things that can affect your stool quality. These are important to utilize when recovering GI health.

1).    Healthy and balanced bacterial colonies. 

This is a big one. Even if you have the perfect diet, bacterial imbalance will still cause you to have bowel irregularity. The best way to do this is by introducing many types of fermented food into your diet. Some commercial products you can try are: kombucha, water kefir, cultured yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, and tempeh. Double check that the products you are buying are unpasteurized. You need those live bacteria to get in your stomach and wriggle around to digest your food for you. Home fermented products are great too! This is a cheap way to get more bacteria in your body. It can be a bit tricky to learn how to do, but once you get started, fermenting foods is so worth it and is very safe.

You might be wondering why I didn't mention probiotic pills here... I believe that the pill forms of probiotics are not nearly as effective as liquid cultures. It might be a difference in the amount of bacteria in the liquids versus the pills, but I don't actually know. However, I personally experienced no effects from many types and brands of probiotic pills, whereas with cultured foods, I witnessed an immediate (within 5 minutes!) difference. For some reason my body was not properly digesting pills. I believe this is not an uncommon occurrence as many people with bowel issues have low stomach acid. To each their own source of probiotics, but fermented foods are immensely cheaper and seem to work better in my opinion. If you don't notice a change in your health from taking a probiotic, try another source, because you should definitely feel a difference!

To keep your stomach health and happy, it is good to consume many types of probiotic foods. From what I understand, it is not so much important the amount of bacteria that inhabit your stomach, but the types and the variety of organisms present. Consuming different types of fermented foods at different stages of growth will also contribute to the introduction of different types of bacteria.

2).    Healthy Fats

Healthy fats play a large role in intestinal health. Don't take it from me but listen to this guy instead. Healthy fats can be hard to find. Unadulterated oils include: coconut oil, some brands of olive oil (please do your research well), and healthy animal fats. The method through which standard vegetable oils and even seed oils (sold as health supplements) are pressed and stored oxidizes them so that they are no longer healing fats. For healthy oils, check out the Panaseeda oils sold by activation products for properly pressed and stored oil supplements. There is also a podcast covering the story behind the oils here.

Oxidized and unhealthy oils cause unwanted inflammation in the body.

3).    Mineral Balance

image from:http://thingsthatmakepeoplegoaww.com/bath-path-sea-salt-sok-dead-sea-mud-masque/

Lastly, certain imbalances of minerals can lead to bowel problems. Most notably is Magnesium. Other macrominerals in which people are typically low include: calcium, zinc, and potassium. Many people have deficiencies in these because our soils have been depleted of nutrients and/or their ratio of mineral intake is skewed. Every mineral in the body has other antagonistic minerals that balance its availability to the body. Magnesium's antagonist is calcium, zinc's antagonist is copper, and potassium's antagonist is sodium.

Good sources of magnesium include: leafy greens or epsom salts.
Good sources of calcium include: dairy, leafy greens, sardines, and bone broth
Good sources of zinc include: meats and bone broth (I don't consider seeds high in zinc as they are also high in copper, it is the ratio of the two to each other that are important)
Good sources of potassium include: fruits and most other foods honestly, we just consume way too much salt today. By reducing salt intake we can increase our potassium stores.

This list is by no means extensive of the mineral rich foods, but is just a few suggestions to get started.

For a nice balance of minerals, I usually just recommend drinking about a cup of unsalted bone broth a day. Bone broth is super rich in all types of minerals.

For more information on mineral balance Dr. Wilson has a nice website with many in depth descriptions.

Learning What Works for You.

The real message I am trying to pass on here, I guess, is to eat in a way that works for you. Everyone responds differently to different types of foods. Learn whether or not certain foods or chemicals cause you headaches, mood swings, bowel dysfunctions, or etc. Foods can make you feel better or worse and I think we all can sense this if we pay attention. Diet is something you should decide for yourself instead of following the advice of  people who don't know or inquire about how your body is responding. Healing diets such as GAPS, SCD, Paleo, and etc. should be viewed as templates.
Food is medicine and works in different ways for everyone! The forms of fiber that work best for your body are highly individualized (especially for sensitive individuals).  I hope I have been able to provide some useful information to help guide you on your healing journey.

As always, let me know if you have any comments, questions, or suggestions! My aim here is to provide information and knowledge so that others might be able to better fit pieces together in their personal health puzzle.

Work with Me.

If you would like to work with me to regain your gastrointestinal health, I offer herbal and nutrition consultation via phone and email at WisteriaHerbs@gmail.com. I also maintain a facebook page with weekly posts on local plants and their medicinal properties: https://www.facebook.com/foragingnaturewalk

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Wild Food Recipes: Yellow Dock Bread

Yellow Dock is a wonderful wild plant that has many uses. It serves as both medicine and food, and is one of my favorite herbs for many ailments. In the heat of the summer it goes to seed to spread new plants for the next season. These seeds make a decent grain and can be used to make bread easily. Yellow Dock is a very nutritious plant as it has a tap root that picks up minerals deep in the soil.

Making bread from Dock seeds is very simple. You will need a spice grinder or grain mill and the following...


  • 1/2 cup dock seeds (~1/8 cup ground)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  •  1 egg

  • optional spices: vanilla extract, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, etc.
This recipe makes single serving of bread (~4 oz), or if you add more sugar, a cake.

To start, I grind my seeds for about one minute in my spice grinder until they make an acceptable powder. I can never grind all of the seeds entirely since they are too small. So expect to see some remaining in your flour. Also be careful to not inhale dust from the freshly ground flour when you open your grinder.

Secondly, mix all of the ingredients together into a microwavable mug. Stir well and microwave for 60-80 seconds at full power. Make sure to pay attention to your bread as it may swell above the rim of the cup. I just stop and start the microwave as needed until the bread feels cooked enough.

 uncooked bread mixture

cooked bread (it will remain spongy due to the egg)

The resulting bread has a very fine texture and is spongy. Dock might make a decent cake flour. However the bread is pretty dense and can be a little bitter tasting, similar to rye. The sugar tends to lighten the flavor. If you don't like the taste of this dock bread, you can make your own version where you substitute in another type of flour to make it more palatable. I've grown a bit fond of its taste and like it well enough with the vanilla and warming spices added. I have yet to try baking this in the oven (like a normal person...) however I think it would work fine as well. 

Some other ways you can use dock flour are to substitute it in any gluten free baking recipe, or just add some to regular bread when you cook. I don't think it sticks together like wheat flour, and is better treated like a gluten free flour such as almond or coconut.

Happy Foraging!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

1 minute Sunbutter in the Spice Grinder

I wanted to post a recipe showing off my what a simple spice/coffee grinder can do in the kitchen. Its been a miracle worker for me and I use it all of the time now. So I thought I would post a simple recipe for homemade roasted sunbutter to show you what it can do.

When I got my first high tech blender a couple of years ago, I was really excited to use it in the kitchen for projects. I made juices, smoothies, pastes, butters, sauces, you name it. However, I quickly learned that cleaning and storing the blender was a hassle in my tiny kitchen. So the frequency with which I used it dropped off pretty fast after I got it. I found myself pulling out my cheap $15 blender more often because it took up a lot less counter space even though it couldn't chop things up as finely. I also found out that I desired something that could make small batches of nutbutters and pastes since I didn't go through them very fast. So enter the spice grinder. 

Boy was I surprised.

Those cashew butters that took 15 minutes or more of blending could be made in less than one. I could make nutbutters by the spoonful, so the oils stayed fresh and didn't go rancid. I could grind up a cinnamon stick before adding the nuts and seeds for a fun new twist. Not to mention it is tiny and hardly requires any counter space or clean up. I really love it. 

I almost regret having my big fancy blender, because I manage to do most things with my 30$ coffee grinder and 15$ blender now. You don't need much money to eat well!

5 Minute Sunbutter

  • 1/2 cup Sun flower seeds (my spice grinder can only fill up to 1/4 cup, but making 1/2 cup means you don't have to go through this step next time you want fresh sunbutter!)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • refined coconut oil (optional)
  • whole spices (optional)
makes approximately 4 tbsp.

To begin, brown the sunflower seeds in a sauce pan (don't add oil!) over low-med heat. Stir frequently until they are brown to your liking. They usually start to smell really nutty and delicious when they are done browning (~5 minutes).

Next, add (optional: grind spices before the seeds and leave them in the blender) the sunflower seeds into the spice grinder and grind (I fill to the max line which is about 1/4 cup). The nuts will get roughly chopped up, then form a dry paste, and then a wet paste. It usually takes my grinder about 1 full minute to make a good texture.

 Add sugar as desired and blend to incorporate. If the paste is not as thin as you wanted it to be, you can add some coconut oil to make it more smooth. Enjoy on fresh fruit or by the spoonful!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Chillblains: it is NOT an INFECTION

So I was walking the other day and realized I had an itchy/burning/stiff toe. I didn't really pay it much mind because, well, it was below freezing outside. Once I warmed up inside the house however, I realized my toe was still itchy. So I removed my socks to find:

Whoops. Swollen itchy stiff red bumps on the second toe.  

That's not normal.

Also that black toenail has nothing to do with the problem, I put activated charcoal on it and it got stained. Stuff is hard to remove...

So due to the panicked family (they were convinced I was going to LOOSE MY TOE if I didn't go to the doctor RIGHT NOW) I rushed to an after hours clinic to get it check out 24 hours after I noticed the symptom.

The doctor at the clinic told me I had an infection in my toes and that if it didn't get better with a course of antibiotics that they would need to remove my toe nail. This was because there was no lesion (no cut, bruise, etc) and it looked like the infection was just below my cuticle. The doctor told me to soak it in vinegar and keep it wrapped in addition to the oral antibiotics.

Suffice to say afterwards I was really upset. I was terrified to have my toenail removed since I had just started walking after dealing with plantar faciitis. I couldn't afford to take time off of work due to injury. Also my family was now convinced that if I had my toenail removed that it would NEVER GROW BACK. Thanks family for calming me down.

I proceeded to visit my primary care physician the following week because I wanted a different diagnosis frankly. Luckily he told me that the toenail won't need to be removed. Antibiotics should clear it right up. I felt very relieved, but still upset nonetheless since I already have sluggish digestion and I didn't want to screw it up any worse.

Whatever. I took the meds, I was in danger of loosing a toe.

In between all of the doctor's visits I was trying my best to self-treat. I wanted to get off of those meds as fast as possible. Herbal treatments can be very efficient at treating infections, so I proceeded to use these in tandem with the antibiotics.

I tried the vinegar soak, in commercial vinegar and homemade sauerkraut (sounds gross I know, but I was terrified). I tried epsom salt soaks twice a day. Warm soaks were painful and made the itching worse, so I kept them cold. I applied oregano tincture since there was a possibility it could be fungal. I tried applying activated charcoal to pull out toxins. I applied local raw honey every 3 hours in a poultice. I tried fresh oregano poultices, fresh sage poultices.

The only thing with which I saw any improvement with was a butternut tincture I made last summer. It got rid of the swelling/itching/heat. So I religiously applied the stuff. It was never not soaked in the tincture. ( I have further learned that butternut tincture is great to apply on any skin condition that feels hot. I applied it on a burn yesterday and the heat was instantly gone. )

After 2 courses of antibiotics and weeks of frustration my rash thing had only gotten worse. My primary doctor referred me to a dermatologist because he was worried it was an allergic reaction.

Unconvinced, (I think I eat a very good diet, and I know what foods I am allergic to. I have noticeable symptoms, so I avoid those things.) I followed through with the referral.

Upon visiting the dermatologist, she promptly told me she knew what I had. She left the office and returned with a textbook. She pointed to a page with a picture and said "see here, this is called chillblains". She proceeded to describe how this condition is just due to poor circulation in the toes so they get too cold and turn swollen and itchy (and they get a bit purple too). The cure she said was to warm them up.

 So all I needed to do in the end was keep my feet warm.

I don't know if I should be angry with my doctor for not knowing a textbook symptom or not. Maybe it is only in dermatology textbooks. I still left him a message with my diagnosis so he will know next time.

Sigh... I want to trust doctors I really do. This kind of thing just happens so frequently, it is hard for me to not get angry with them. I want a primary care physician that will listen to my descriptions without jumping to conclusions. But we have to learn to accept this way of treatment and its limitations, because it is not the doctor's fault, but the medical education system's faulty teaching methods.

Anyways... If you live somewhere cold and you usually have cold limbs, don't panic if you see red itchy and stiff bumps appear out of nowhere on your extremities. Just check for chillblains.

Our bodies have an amazing ability to heal themselves and if you eat a good diet and get good rest, odds are that you can recover from most conditions without additional medical intervention.