Save Your Health and Your Money: Stop Taking Vitamins!

About 40% of American adults are taking supplements, and spend over $25 billion doing so. And most people are taking supplements they definitely don't need (such as protein powder), and any reasonable nutrition expert would advise against supplementing any nutrients in which you are not deficient.

A lot of clients tell me that they take vitamins "just in case," and as a sort of "nutritional insurance." But getting your nutrients in a concentrated and isolated form - like a pill or spray - is taking a huge risk with your health. The biggest examples of vitamins-gone-wrong are vitamin a, vitamin e, and beta carotene; several randomized studies of over 100,000 participants demonstrated that taking these nutrients in the form of a concentrated pill actually INCREASED the risk of cancer and other imbalances in the body. However, consuming more beta carotene via whole plants has been demonstrated in multiple studies to drastically reduce cancer risk.

How can that be? A plant is a package of countless phytochemicals and nutrients, all balanced and combined together perfectly to form that plant. We are still discovering more and more compounds existing in plants that we eat that support optimal health. When we strip away the package and condense a large amount of a single nutrient into a pill or spray or powder, we overload our cells with too much of one nutrient for them to handle. This causes a nutritional imbalance in the body that is challenging to rectify.

In short: A PILL IS NOT A WHOLE FOOD.

Did you know that there is no regulation of supplements in the US? Even if we could trust the FDA, they have nothing to do with the supplement industry. The only laws "protecting" consumers are those regarding false advertising. Check out this gem of an article from earlier this year, where some of New York's biggest retailers were found to be selling mis-labeled and potentially harmful pills labeled as healthy supplements.

Most people in the United States and other affluent nations are suffering from EXCESS of nutrients, not deficiency. Most people are consuming more calories, more protein, more cholesterol, more more more....than is healthful for them. When was the last time you knew someone suffering from protein deficiency (that was not linked to calorie deficiency)? How about someone diagnosed with pellagra from lack of niacin? But I'll bet you know people suffering from obesity, diabetes, cancer, or our #1 killer - heart disease.

There are no conclusive reports that supplements promote good health. I have seen many "studies" funded by supplement companies, but those are certainly not objective. I've seen interesting treatments of some illnesses using massive doses of vitamin c; this, I'm inclined to support. However, the majority of people are not using vitamins this way.

Multivitamins MUST GO IN THE TRASH FIRST. This is an overload of nutrients that were never intended to be packaged together. Many people report digestive issues and other side effects from taking their daily multi. I promise you, I've never come across a client who needed a daily supplement of anything, especially long-term.

An overload of any nutrient in the body can cause a wide spectrum of imbalances. It will also tax your liver and kidneys significantly, and these are your "detox" organs - you don't want to exhaust them!

The only two nutrients that I hesitate with are vitamin b12 and vitamin d. The reason is because of the extreme sanitation of our food supply (in the case of b12), and our general lack of time spent in the sun (d). However, many of our foods are already fortified with b12, so most of us are "supplementing" whether intentional or not. The same goes with vitamin d.

With vitamin d, we can eliminate dairy consumption (it messes with our body's ability to produce vitamin d), and we can make an effort to expose one area of our body a day to the sun for 15-20 mins. If you live in an area with cold winters and less sun, then you might consider a plant-based vitamin d3 supplement once a week or so along with dairy elimination to keep your levels intact year-round. But that's the MOST I would recommend. Personally, I do one dose every other week in the winter, none in the spring/summer/fall, and I've never been deficient.

For b12, we can get organic (ideally local) root vegetables and just gently wash them with soap and water rather than scrubbing. But we consistently consume foods with b12 fortified, so that's about as far as I would take that effort. If you become deficient, then you can boost with a plant-based b12 sublingual or liquid supplement about once a week. Depending on how deficient you are, you may need to do daily doses for the first 7 days, then drop to every other day for 2 weeks, then once a week from there.

As a good habit, start getting your blood levels checked once a year to make sure you don't have any deficiencies. Never guess that you're deficient in something just because you read a magazine or saw something on the news. Avoid the likelihood of developing deficiencies by consuming primarily whole plant foods, mostly in raw form (some cooked is ok). As always, the solution is to eat the rainbow.

Use the money you'll save to buy more fresh, organic fruits and veggies to TRULY invest in your health!

Take care,

-Jill C.

 

Find Your Deepest Abdominal Muscle

The most frequent exercise and anatomy questions I get tend to revolve around the abdominals. Of course they do! We all want flatter, more defined abs and a trimmer waistline.

You're already obsessed with abs - now here's one of the biggest pieces of info you'll need to make the most of any abdominal workout you choose to pursue. So you can work smarter as you work hard!

Concentrate on the DEEPEST LAYER of ab muscle: the Transversus Abdominis

What is it?

Note: “transverse” and “transversus”  abdominis are both used with equal accuracy and frequency. It just depends on who you’re talking to or which book you’re reading. For the sake of this article, we will call it the transversus abdominis.

The deepest of the muscles that make up the “abdominal wall,” the transversus abdominis is often neglected and misunderstood. Yet, it is necessary to engage this muscle to help promote efficiency of movement and protect the spine.

The muscle fibers run horizontally (part of the muscle is shaded in bright red in the image to the right); when the transversus contracts, it tightens around the abdominal organs in a “corset-like” manner, cinching in the waistline. Unlike the other primary abdominal and spinal muscles, this internal corset doesn’t mobilize any joints or the spine on its own – it stabilizes the spine in any given position. The easiest way to access proper transversus abdominal engagement, however, is by stabilizing the spine in a neutral position (ideal curvature of the spine intact) such as a well-executed plank. Basically, engagement of this large and deep muscle supports the engagement of any of the other abdominal muscles. So, when the spine is mobilized, it is supported with the strength of at least two muscles instead of only one. This makes a huge difference in quality of movement as well as preventing injury of the back!

For your reference, note that the muscles of the abdominal wall are as follows: rectus abdomins (closest to the skin); the next deepest layer is made up of the external obliques; one layer deeper lie the internal obliques; deepest of all is the transversus abdominis.

In this image, the right side indicates the deepest layer and most superficial layer, while the left side indicates the intermediate layers.

For those feeling extra-nerdy -

Four points of origin: lateral inguinal ligament, iliac crest, thoracolumbar fascia, and internal surface of the lower 6 ribs.

Insertion: abdominal aponeurosis to linea alba

How do I find it?

At first, it can be difficult to feel the engagement of this abdominal muscle, and it can be even be challenging for a fitness instructor to describe it to clients. Many instructors say to “lace up your corset muscles,” or “pull your belly button to your spine,” and these can be helpful. However, some effort should also be made to “pull in” the muscle fibers two inches below the belly button. This is also part of the transversus abdominis, and the tightening of these fibers will help support the vulnerable lumbar spine while helping to prevent over-engagement of the quadratus lumborum (muscles in the lower back that are often over-used and tight). Once proper engagement is achieved, you will notice that the other abdominal muscles have engaged as a result of accessing the transversus abdominis – THIS is efficient muscle recruitment for abdominal exertion.

Be mindful that you don't simply “suck the belly in,” as this is not an action that promotes proper breath patterns or even one that triggers proper abdominal engagement at all. Instead, integrate the idea of “pulling” or “cinching” the abs in, and pulling the spot two inches below your navel “in and up” to promote the sought-after “abdominal scoop,” which demonstrates ideal transversus abdominal engagement. The belly should never "pop out" significantly during abdominal work (though skin may fold on itself when curving the spine forward, I'm referring to the muscles pouching outward). Aim for a belly that is curving inward toward the spine, and the result will be a significant flattening of the abdominal wall - which will make your body and your ego very happy!

Optional exercise to access transversus abdominis activation: to find proper transversus abdominis engagement, take a big inhale into the lungs and belly. Begin exhaling. When you think all the air has been expelled, force out a little more breath. You’ll notice how your waist cinches in and your lower abdominal fibers tighten and feel as though they are pulling slightly upward. This is your transversus abdominis. Inhale again, but this time, hold your breath for a moment. Consciously replicate that engagement now to INITIATE your exhale. Now you can choose to engage your deepest abdominal muscle fibers regardless of what movement your body is doing.

Take Care!

-Jill C.

 

Why "Moderation" is Almost Always a Cop-Out

It's a constant chant in the Wellness and Diet world:

"Everything in moderation."

Where did this come from?? My research gives me the impression that it was way to soften the impression that healthy living means deprivation. When everyone started to associate diets with depriving one's self, then "experts" started to say things like:

"A little bit of dessert, in moderation, won't derail your efforts."

This started a dangerous trend in the business of weight-loss: the trend that tells unhealthy people that what they are doing is ok.

No, it's not ok. If you keep doing what you've been doing, nothing will change!

But it sold books and diet plans and writhed it's way into every day conversation between consumers.

I'm not saying that I never eat french fries. But, at the same time, I'm not going to use a term like "moderation" to make it seem as though my choice to eat french fries is part of a healthy life! Honestly, I should NEVER consume them! There is not a single health-promoting element to the consumption of french fries. Since I have acknowledged that, I find that I eat them less often - because I KNOW that I am making a choice that does not serve my health when I eat them. To do anything less is an insult to my own intelligence.

But here's the biggest danger - yes, DANGER - to the "moderation" mantra. Moderation means different things to different people. It's too vague! If you tell a pack-a-day smoker to smoke in moderation, that can mean cutting down to 5 cigarettes a day. Whereas, if you tell me to smoke in moderation, that means NEVER. Dessert "moderation" can mean once a month to one person, and 5 times a week to another. Even the definition of "dessert" will differ: one person might have a huge slice of Junior's Cheesecake for dessert, and another person might have banana nice-cream. These are both completely different choices: one you should NEVER eat (because the human body should never consume dairy), and the other you could have twice a day as long as you keep the recipe based on whole foods!

Finally, the other version of "moderation:" Portion Control. You'll hear tricks like eating a portion of certain foods that is the size of a deck of cards. What??? THIS is just another form of deprivation! It's not sustainable or realistic. Why not instead eat an abundance of food that will nourish you?

One final take-away: if all you ever do is "cut back" or "moderate" certain foods that you KNOW you shouldn't be eating, then you'll never experience the benefits. Even just a small amount of dairy or refined sugar has a huge effect on your inflammation levels and digestive system. If you never eliminate these foods, how will you experience the vitality that comes with removing those side effects from your life?

How to make this approachable:

1) Choose one ingredient/food at a time to ELIMINATE for at least 5 days. 14 days is ideal, forever is best-case scenario.

2) Choose a health-promoting food that you love and find a new way to prepare it so that you have something exciting to distract you.

3) Top foods to look into eliminating from your diet: dairy, refined sugar, meat, caffeinated coffee (decaf coffee and teas that are caffeinated or herbal are all health-promoting), fish.

4) Top foods to eat in abundance, no portion-control necessary: veggies/greens, fruit, seeds (especially raw), raw nuts, tea.

Take Care!

-Jill C.

Your Perfect Plank

If you're a fitness junkie, you've done a lot of planks...Endless planks...Every variation of plank...You've counted the seconds passing until it's over...Then went for another round.

Why?

Because they are AWESOME!

Here's just a few reasons to love the Plank (in case you don't already):

~ Stabilizing the spine in neutral (the spine position of your Perfect Plank) is the most efficient way to activate and strengthen the Transversus Abdominis. That's the deepest layer of abdominal muscle that wraps around the body like an internal corset. It protects your back and also helps to cinch in your waistline. Win-Win!

~The Perfect Plank is an isometric contraction of some of your most neglected - and important -  shoulder muscles like the Serratus Anterior (a large hand-like muscle that helps stabilize your scapulae against your ribcage that can help prevent many common shoulder injuries), as well as all of your arm muscles.

~The Perfect Plank even engages your leg muscles with different emphasis depending on the variation; but the adductors (inner thighs) are pretty much always working to stabilize.

That's basically a full-body workout in one pose! EXCEPT that many people don't execute the Plank properly. Even more sadly, many fitness instructors don't always fully understand how to cue a client into perfect form.

What goes wrong?

***Thank you in advance for forgiving these un-retouched, post-workout phone pics!***

These are the most common issues I see at the gym, in class, and in my own clients before I assist them:

Starting from the head:

~I see droopy necks everywhere!! Sometimes it's because the client is trying to see their own body, and I can understand that...but take a quick look, then realign that head!! The neck is part of your spine (cervical spine), and should be in line with the rest of your torso.

~ The next issue I see is "sinking" in the shoulders. This sometimes comes from weakness, but it's usually just a lack of awareness. The shoulder blades will look disconnected from the ribs like wings, and that's NOT stable. To correct out of this, feel as though you're trying to push the floor down and away from your face; when you do this, you'll feel your shoulder blades widen and your ribs will press up against them. You're not rounding your upper back, you're simply pressing the ribs into the shoulder blades. The muscle you're activating when you do this is the Serratus Anterior (mentioned above).

~ The hardest thing to adjust for most people is the pelvis. It's also the area that many trainers have a hard time cueing into position. If you look at the image above, my hips are technically "in line" with my body, but you can see that my lower back is compressed. That's because my sitz bones (the little bones under your butt cheeks that you can feel if you're sitting on a hard bench) are aiming up and tilting my pelvis out of neutral position. Some trainers would say "lower your butt," but that's not accurate. To correct this, you'll want to engage your glutes and aim your sitz bones toward your heels. Another way to think of it: squeeze your glutes while you use your abs to scoop your pubic bone a little closer to your belly button. Try these descriptions and see if you notice that your lower back feels a lot happier!! **Note: this adjustment LOOKS very small, but it feels major!**

Some less common errors I see (but they still happen):

~Elbows locked out. You should never sink into your joints, especially if you have hyperextension (like I do). Soften the elbows slightly and feel as if you are "lifting away" or "floating above" your wrists and elbows to prevent compressing your joints this way.

~Abdominals not engaged. You'll feel a bit of tightening in your waist no matter what when you're in a plank, but you still have to consciously pull your navel in. It should feel as though you're zipping up a wet suit around your torso.

~Due to the released abdominals, the lower back is unsupported and "sinking." This is causing the hips to lower and the muscles of the lower back to clench. None of this is necessary or beneficial.

So, what's a Perfect Plank?

It will look slightly different from person to person depending on their spinal curves and the flexibility of their joints. But here's mine:

Neck is aligned (hard to see from this angle with my shoulder there, but it is!), elbows are neutral and not locked out, my shoulders are wide on my ribs and not winging, my abs are tight (shirt is a little wrinkly, but I promise they are, haha!), glutes are engaged, sitz bones are aiming for my heels to reduce any possible lower back compression.

This is your baseline Perfect Plank upon which to build endless variations!! Enjoy your improved posture and tighter waistline:-)

Take Care,

-Jill C.

Knock It Off With the Protein Powder!

Don't worry, I'm not going to repeat myself here;-) The first article I wrote in this forum was about protein consumption, and I know many of you read it. This is different.

Protein powder really freaks me out, guys. Stick with me here, I have good reasons to feel this way. However, I want to make it clear that my "feeling" about protein powders is just that: a feeling. It's a feeling based on information and science-based knowledge, but I have NOT conducted studies and cannot find anyone who really has. The only studies relating to protein powder specifically are all short-term and primarily funded by supplement companies - so I don't want to factor those results, whether positive or negative.

Here's what leads to me really being hesitant about the use of ANY protein powder at all plant-based or not:

1 - It's an isolate. Isolates of other nutrients have led to catastrophic results in the past (like vitamin A), and continue to mess with our systems in the form of iron and vitamin D supplements today. While the safety of supplements is often debated and there are valid points on both sides, there are 2 definite takeaways that most experts would agree upon: 1 - Supplements should really only be used if one is deficient in a nutrient and lifestyle changes are either taking too long or are not creating the desired result in an individual, and 2 - whether an expert thinks a supplement is safe or not, any expert with integrity will agree that it's best to get your nutrients from whole foods.

2 - If we are to supplement only when deficient, then no one in a developed nation needs protein powder, since protein deficiency basically only exists alongside calorie deficiency.

3 - Elevated protein levels are dangerous. We never hear about this, but it's absolutely true. Maintaining a protein intake that is excessive over a short or long period of time leads to kidney damage and/or kidney stones, liver problems, excess fat gain, contributes to damage of the lining of artery walls, leads to plaque build-up in arteries, diminished bone density, and many other health problems. For optimal health, the human body only requires 8-15% of daily calories to be protein in order to thrive. Most humans in developed countries are already consuming much more than that, even without powders, and even if they abstain from animal products.

4 - I'm aware that protein powder is a huge thing in the world of Body Building. This may be due to results, may be due to athletes being sponsored by supplement companies, may be a combination. However, Body Builders do NOT generally train with longevity in mind. They have a specific aesthetic goal and are pushing their bodies to meet that goal, even if that means compromising long-term health. In fact, many pro Body Builders meet an early death due to diet-related causes. One thing to remember here? MOST OF US ARE NOT BODY BUILDERS. MOST ATHLETES ARE NOT EVEN BODY BUILDERS. SO STOP TAKING CUES FROM THEIR TRAINING METHODS, AS THEY ARE LIKELY NOT RELEVANT TO YOUR GOALS.

5 - The whole "soy scare" thing came about mostly due to protein powder! Seriously, for hundreds of years, millions of humans in Asia have eaten a diet high in whole soy foods. For generations, cancer in general was practically non-existent in that part of the world. Only recently, as they've adopted more of a Western influence in their diet, have cancer rates gone up. That notorious study that suggested that hormone levels were altered by soy consumption and therefore cancer risk was increased? Remember that? They used extremely high levels of soy protein isolate, and it likely was GMO/non-organic (I have not been able to find out for certain whether it was GMO or not). So, one study outweighs generations of humans consuming soy foods safely? Ridiculous. **Yes, soy protein isolate, and likely GMO soy, is a potential problem and is present in many processed foods. It is also used as feed for the non-human animals raised for food, and can be passed on when humans eat their flesh. Soy isolate and non-organic/GMO soy should be greatly reduced/eliminated from the human diet.**

6 - Casein and whey isolates have been demonstrated, multiple times over, for several decades now, to be powerful cancer promoters. They were shown to be even more powerful cancer promoters than cigarettes. These findings initially came to light through cancer research, not specifically diet research, as isolated casein is the most common protein used for scientific studies. For more info, please check out The China Study or the documentary Forks Over Knives for additional details.

Conclusion?? If you're a Body Builder, I can't really comment since I'm not of that world...but I hope that you will keep an eye toward living a long and vibrant life while training toward your short-term goals. For us Functional Strength Athletes (like myself), for Endurance Athletes, and for those simply seeking a life of health, I hope that you'll stay away from the protein powders...just to err on the side of safety (again, this is my OPINION, not a study). If you really feel you need a boost, try hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, dark leafy greens (kale and spinach are 45% protein), lentils, nuts, and beans so that you not only get an abundance of protein, but also an abundance of fiber (a nutrient in which most humans are deficient), antioxidants, complex carbs, healthy fat, and a broad spectrum of vitamins and minerals. Oh, and they taste way better, too!

Take Care!

-Jill C.

Getting More From Your Cardio Workout

It seems to be one way or the other with most fitness enthusiasts:

You either love cardio so much that you neglect strength training, or you despise it and angrily punch your time card at 20 minutes, twice a week.

Depending on your health and fitness goals, varying degrees of cardio endurance and training are necessary for optimal health. Regardless of whether you're training for a marathon or simply making sure that your workout is well-rounded, most of us do some sort of cardio training.

But most of us could get so much more out of it!

For the sake of simplicity, we're going to use running as the activity for this example. It's the most common, measurable, and accessible form of cardio training that I can think of; it's also where a lot can go wrong. However, many of these tips can be applied to other forms of cardio. If you have questions about this, feel free to ask me.

Pre-Workout

-Do some ab work in your warm up! Waking up your ab muscles, even just for 5-10 minutes, will help you maintaining better form throughout your workout. You'll reduce the impact overall from your stride, and keeping your abs a bit engaged while running can help protect your spine from the compression it receives whenever your foot lands on the ground. Plus, if you keep your abs tighter during the run, that means that you're ALSO getting more from the ab routine you did: win-win! I recommend to do at least 3 of your favorite abdominal exercises, and make sure you definitely come into forward spine flexion (as in a half roll-up or "crunch"-type movement, for example), twisting (Oblique "crunches" or sitting spine twist, for example), and stabilized neutral spine (as in a plank). In an ideal world, you would also do some sort of lateral flexion (side bending), and spine extension supported by the abs (spine arching back).

-Make sure your spine is not stiff. This can be as simple as lying on your back for a spine twist, or you can do hip-rolls (a Pilates movement - feel free to check out YouTube).

-If you carry lots of tension in your hip flexors and/or IT band** (and many people do), getting on the roller for a bit prior to running can help prevent over-gripping these muscles. Don't over-do it, though - only roll every other day MAX, no more than 3 times a week is ideal. Prior to a workout, all you need to do is roll over the area 8-10 times, and avoid putting weight directly on a protruding bone (such as the greater trochanter, that bulb-y bone on the side of the hip) or a joint (such as the knee). Tight hip flexors can lead to lower-back compression and pain during a run, and tension in the IT band can tug the knee slightly out of alignment which can lead to knee pain very quickly.

-DO NOT STRETCH PRIOR TO CARDIO. The one exception is if you have tight calves - this muscle group can be gently stretched before and after. Do not stretch your quads or hamstrings unless instructed by a medical professional (like a Physical Therapist) to do so as it can make these muscles more prone to injury during your workout.

-If you're prone to hamstring injuries or pain, do a few reps of a simple exercise to "wake them up" prior to your workout. You might do a bit of a wall-sit, or a few squats, or lie on your belly and do some leg lifts to get the glutes and hamstrings ready to fire.

During the Workout

-Keep your abs gently braced throughout. I think of it as 20-30% of the engagement you experience during one of your tough ab routines.

-An activity like running puts about 4x your body weight into your joints every time your foot lands. Do a mental check of your hip-to-knee-to-ankle alignment every now and then throughout your workout. Your knees should be landing under your hip bones, your kneecaps should be aimed past your second/third toes, and your ankles should be neutral, not rolling in or out or "flopping" while in space.

-Try to land lightly on your feel rather than "pounding down." Keeping your abs braced helps with this, and I find that aiming to keep my head level also helps my trajectory moving more forward rather than downward.

-If your heart rate gets too high, this stresses the body unnecessarily. Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth can help lower heart rate. If needed, slow your pace slightly and try to make your exhales take twice as long as your inhales to keep your heart rate under control. Your ideal heart rate depends on your goals, however, so please seek the advice of a well-trained professional if you're not sure what your range should be.

Post-Workout

-Take the time to properly slow- and cool-down. Slow your pace, and removing motion from your arms (I just place my hands on my hips or hold the rails) while bringing attention to your breath (see above) are effective ways to slow your heart rate.

-Do not drop your head below your heart until your heart rate has dropped significantly. To do so puts unnecessary strain on the heart that can be dangerous for some people.

-Hydrating with elecrolytes is optimal, but try to avoid refined-sugar and chemical-filled drinks like gatorade. www.ThriveForward.com provides some free recipes for excellent health-promoting hydration tonics.

-THIS IS WHEN YOU STRETCH. If you choose to do a more intense stretch conditioning session, then get yourself dried off and comfortable first. If you are really only focusing on the cardio, then just a handful of stretches can make a huge difference in your recovery. Gently target: calves (again), hamstrings, quads/hip flexors, piriformis.

-Take care of your back. Whether it's a few more hip rolls or a lying spine twist (like in your pre-workout), or even simply lying on your back and hugging your knees toward your armpits, take a moment to create space in your lower back to alleviate the compression and relax the tension-carrying muscles above the pelvis.

-Go grab a shower, 'cause you smell! ;-)

I hope you've picked up some helpful tips to get a lot more out of your cardio!

Take Care,

-Jill C.

**Disclaimer on the IT band: some people do not have a tight IT band and mis-diagnose themselves as such. Under-trained personal trainers often mis-diagnose this, as well. Instead, one may have a weak gluteus medius, and this may be what is causing the knee issues. It can be damaging to do too much rolling on the IT band if it's NOT carrying tension, so please seek the advice of a Physical Therapist or a VERY well-trained fitness pro who truly understands anatomy and how to assess proper muscle-firing if you are not certain that your IT band is the issue.

 

The Most Common Nutrient Deficiency

It's fascinating to me that, upon hearing that I consume and promote a plant-based diet, people ask about protein and calcium - as though I and my clients might not be consuming enough. But no one living in an affluent population has ever suffered from protein deficiency. There are individuals with eating disorders who may suffer from food deficiency, but it's pretty impossible to suffer from protein deficiency specifically. In other words, anyone not consuming adequate protein is not eating enough food at all, and would therefore be suffering from multiple deficiencies.

Calcium can be a concern, but it's mainly due to issues surrounding absorption. Most people in affluent populations actually consume enough calcium, but their bodies are so acidic that the calcium is not properly absorbed (such as when a human consumes dairy - it generally leaves the body with a little less calcium than it had prior to consumption because of the inflammation that it causes).

But what never occurs to anyone, it seems, is to ask themselves:

Am I getting enough fiber?

The truth is, the average American adult is consuming only about 16 grams of fiber per day, when they should be getting at least 30 grams!! This is an epidemic!!

Almost every adult in America is deficient in fiber. Really.

And what can this lead to?

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Diabetes (fiber helps regulate blood sugar)

Cardiovascular disease (Studies show that by increasing average daily fiber intake from 10 to 20 grams per day, the risk of dying from heart disease can be lowered by 19-27 percent)

Higher cholesterol

Obesity (fiber slows fat absorption and promotes feelings of satiety)

Colon cancer

General feelings of nausea and tiredness (which is a symptom of a high-protein, low-fiber diet)

Not fun stuff. And fiber is amazing!! Not only because it prevents the above, but it also helps you feel full without absorbing any calories. That's right: fiber is a calorie-free way to feel full and promote health. That's because the human body doesn't actually absorb fiber; fiber simply helps foods travel optimally through our intestines.

Guess what has no fiber at all, ever? Animal products.

And refined foods generally have very little, if any, fiber.

And THAT'S why we're deficient. Too many animal products (meat, fish, dairy, eggs), and not enough fruits, veggies, nuts/seeds, legumes, and whole grain. Sprouted grain is even better. So, make the switch! Think you need obscene amounts of protein to feel full? Well, you don't - see here - and you may be damaging your health by consuming too much of that macro. Try high-fiber instead!! Just know that, at first, you may experience some discomfort as your digestive system adjusts. Give it two weeks to normalize, and consume plenty of fluids. And remember: it's optimal to pass stool at least once a day, twice is better. So, don't freak out if that starts happening for the first time:-)

Take Care,

-Jill C.

The Best Way to Detox: Daily!

The intention behind a detox or cleanse is a worthy one:

~~ I'll do this 5-day cleanse to re-set my system so that I can start eating healthier and drinking less alcohol. And, hey, maybe I'll lose a couple of pounds in the process super quickly. Win-win! ~~

There’s one HUGE and overarching flaw with the current detox craze – it sparks a cycle of detox-retox. We have a weekend where we binge on terrible food and lots of drinking, then we think that a 3-day bottled juice cleanse will take care of it.

And then we do it again the following weekend.

Or, even worse, we do the cleanse for 3 days, then splurge on Day 4 because we feel like we “earned it.”

This is not a health-promoting cycle! It’s essentially like a short-term yo-yo dieting pattern which can really mess with your metabolism, your energy levels, your weight, and your digestive system. It can also cause a great deal of stress on the body, which creates an even more toxic internal environment. And isn't that what a detox is supposed to help clear out?

This is not to say that detoxing is bad. When done properly and incorporated into a diet that is consistently healthy, detoxing can really help optimize your digestive system. The reason that it can be beneficial is because humans were not structured to eat as often as we do, or even to eat the foods that we do. That’s part of the reason that some people really benefit from intermittent fasting (but that’s beyond the scope of today’s installment). The healthiest detoxes happen about twice a year, are usually about 5 days, and include fresh (not bottled) vegetable-based juices, and are a part of a continuously plant-based way of eating so as not to spark the detox-retox pattern.

Detoxification is crucial to health and energy. If we’re not doing a detox, then how can we boost our body’s natural cellular turnover and cleansing mechanisms? With daily habits to support these functions! In fact, daily detox support is the optimal way to keep everything functioning like a well-oiled machine.

Look over the tips below, and make a promise to yourself to incorporate at least 3 of these into your daily routine as soon as possible. I know you’ll feel a difference after only a couple of days, but a substantial difference after about a week!

-       First thing in the morning, before you brush your teeth or consume anything else, have a large glass of water (at least 10 oz) with a bit of fresh lemon squeezed in it. Ideally, the water would be room temperature. This habit has been shown to flush out toxins and boost the production of bile for digestion (this is a good thing). It also strengthens the liver and promotes hydration; both are crucial for helping your blood carry out unnecessary junk from your system.

-       This is more nuanced and based on energy channels, but many professionals I know who work with energy (acupuncturists, reiki practitioners) have recommended foot soaks in the evening with epsom salt to help clear toxins from the day through the feet. I noticed a huge difference when I implemented this advice at least 3 times per week.

-       The kidneys are essential in your body’s cleansing functions; I suggest finding a nourishing kidney tea (organic, ideally) that you enjoy and drinking 2 glasses a day. This can be hot, warm, or iced.

-       Sour foods stimulate peristalsis, the contractions within the digestive tract that moves waste through the colon for removal. Make sure to pair ingestion of these foods with a good amount of fiber and water to promote optimal waste elimination. Foods can be citrus (like the lemon mentioned above), green apples, and apple cider vinegar (consider drinking a large glass of warm water with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar mixed in about 15 minutes prior to meals).

-       Bitter foods can help boost the liver’s ability to cleanse – it has over 500 functions as a detoxifying organ! Try dandelion greens/root (dandelion tea is a great replacement for coffee), radishes, mustard, and artichokes.

-       Add ginger, cayenne, cinnamon, or chilies to your diet 60-90 minutes prior to exercise to promote detoxifying sweat – just shower immediately after so that your skin doesn’t re-absorb!

-       Fiber, both soluble and insoluble, is invaluable to optimal health and proper digestion. It is also believed to be the single nutrient that the most people in affluent regions are deficient in! Along with fresh produce, consider adding figs, legumes, and chia into your daily diet.

-       Blend chlorohyll with iron-rich plant foods to support red blood cell formation. Aim for three servings daily of green foods, raw and cooked. Some of the top iron-rich foods are legumes, seeds, dark leafy greens, and blackstrap molasses. Top chlorophyll-rich foods include: microalgaes (chlorella), seaweeds such as kelp, nori, and armae, wheat- and barley grass, and herbs/seasonings such as oregano, basil, parsley, and cilantro.

Happy eating, happy cleansing!!

Take Care,

-Jill C.

What is the One Thing Missing from Your Calendar?

What is one thing that we don’t make time for in our calendar that can increase productivity, reduce symptoms or onset of depression, help regulate our appetite and boost metabolism, allow us to be more creative, and reduce blood pressure and anxiety while boosting energy all day?

Sleep!

Look at your calendar right now. Do you have “Sleep” on your schedule? Or do you just have a chunk of empty boxes over night where, you know, hopefully sleep will happen?

We’ve heard the 4-minute segments stories on the morning news shows, we’ve seen the articles in magazines…sleep is important. Great.

No, really.

Here are some findings for you:

Going on 6 hours of sleep can reduce our functioning to the level of someone legally drunk. Not the fun kind of drunk; the kind that frustrates you when you’re trying to put together a coherent email. The kind that will make you go, “Eh, I’ll do a longer workout tomorrow and skip today.”

Sleep reduces stress chemicals in the brain and dials back the part of the brain that processes emotions. This is why we can feel irritable when we haven’t had a good night’s rest.

Lack of sleep causes ghrelin levels to increase and leptin levels to decrease. These are hormones that, when balanced, create a healthy appetite and allow you to feel full. So, when you haven’t slept enough, you’re not only angry (see above) – you’re hangry, too. Very unpleasant.

A Carnegie Mellon study found that people who slept less than 7 hours a night were almost 3 times more likely to catch a cold than those who got at least 8 hours. There are few things that can zap your energy like a cold!

So, now I’ve scared you. And you’re reading this in bed when you’re supposed to be falling asleep.

I’m sorry.

Listen, solid sleep patterns have been an issue for me my entire life. I still really have to work at it. Bedtime procrastination is a hard habit to break - I am with you on this.

So, what do you do?

You’ve probably heard the tips like, “Go to bed and wake up at the same time, even on weekends,” and “Have an hour-long routine every night that you follow so that your body knows it’s time to sleep.”

This is awesome and science-based advice, but…

Who has time for that?? And who is going to wake up early every single day? If you can do that, and if you’re happy with that, fabulous. I want to BE you.

For many of us, these tips simply don’t play out well in day-to-day life.

Here are some real tips that I think most people may actually be able to use. If you can implement, say, three of these things starting right away, I’ll bet you’ll sleep better!

1)   Schedule your sleep. Now. For the next 2 weeks. In your calendar. Think about how long it normally takes you to fall asleep, add at least 8 hours onto that, then add on how long it takes for you to get ready in the morning. Do whatever you can right now to make sure you have space for 8 hours every night.

If 8 hours isn’t happening every night right away, that’s fine. Not optimal, but fine. If that’s the case (it is with me), find one night, every week, where you can dedicate 10 hours to being in bed. Honestly. When I started to do this, I found that it helped me start falling asleep faster the rest of the week, and I felt better all the way around having a chance to “catch up” a little.

Remember, 8-9 hours each night is optimal; the once-a-week catch-up night is your back-up plan.

2)   Try to keep your exercise in the morning or afternoon as opposed to evening. This is supposed to help support a healthy circadian rhythm (the mental, physical, and behavioral changes that a body goes through in approximately 24 hours).

However, I need you to move your body regularly. If evening really is the only time you can get it in, then this is the tip that you skip. Get in your sweat-time.

3)   A hot bath or shower can help, since melatonin production (a hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the center of our brain that helps regulate circadian rhythm) rises as you cool off.

4)   Turn off unnecessary lights and dim electronic screens 2 hours before bedtime. If at all possible, don’t look at a screen in the hour before bed. If you must, make sure it’s as dim as you can handle. I personally started leaving on only one lamp and set my screen to 30% of its brightness level, and it made a difference really quickly (even though I totally still work on my computer right up until bedtime). If you have to, set an alarm so that you remember to start lowering the lights. You can even install an application such as f.lux to adjust the blue tones on your screen, which is beneficial as bedtime approaches.

5)   Try to stay off of social media and email in the hour before bed as well. You can’t control what might come in and set your brain off in a million different directions. Remember, if it is really urgent, you will receive a text message or phone call. It’s only one hour. The world, and your work, will survive.

6)   Avoid caffeine as much as humanly possible at least 6 hours before bedtime. If you know that you’re sensitive to it, or have tendencies toward insomnia, make it at least 8 hours. Remember that caffeine can sneak into some unexpected places, such as chocolate and headache medicine.

7)   Melatonin can be found in food. See if you can add a few of these into your diet to help boost your body’s levels: Goji berries are the super stars, followed by almonds and raspberries. Other food sources include orange bell peppers, walnuts, tomatoes, or even a tablespoon of flaxseeds (ground) or a teaspoon of mustard seeds.

There you go. 7 tips. Can you implement at least 3? I know you can! And I’ll bet you’ll notice a better night’s sleep and greater energy as a result.

Sweet dreams!!

-Jill C.

Paleo: The Good, The Bad, And The Nonsensical

What is The Paleo Diet?

Several variations of The Paleo Diet have been around since the 1970s with terms like “primal” “stone age” and “evolutionary” attached to them. Depending on which book you read, there can be some variations as far as what The Paleo Diet means. However, for the sake of this article, let’s operate with some of the most commonly shared principles:

1)   The proposed goal is to eat, as closely as possible, the diet that early humans in the Paleolithic area would have eaten. The claim is that this is the diet that the human body was “made” to eat, and that it played a pivotal role in our evolution up to this point.

2)   The Paleo Diet avoids foods that supposedly would not have been available at the time, such as: dairy, grains, legumes (including beans and peanuts), processed oils, refined sugar, salt, alcohol, or coffee.

3)   The modern Paleo Diet calls for eating more meat and seafood, fewer carbohydrates (only from non-starchy vegetables), and high fiber intake through consumption of non-starchy vegetables and fruit. 

Disclaimer: I want to remind readers that there are variations on The Paleo Diet out there, depending on which article or book you read or who you speak with and their interpretations. It’s beyond the scope of this article to incorporate every variation! The above is what I have personally seen most often and heard most often within the industries of popular nutrition, nutritional science, and wellness/fitness.

The Good

There is something to be said for some of the principles at the foundation of The Paleo Diet.

The primary component that makes sense is the consumption of whole and more local foods. According to our most recent research, humans evolved to eat foods in a “whole package” including the indigestible components of food. Fiber, for example, slows down the speed at which food travels through our digestive system; this keeps our metabolism in check and allows the lining of our intestines to absorb more nutrients.

Fresh produce allows us to consume adequate nutrients without over-consuming calories. Local produce is inherently more fresh than imported because it was harvested closer to the time of purchase and consumption.

The elimination of dairy makes sense on many levels. There are many ethical implications at play, but we’re going to stick to the health aspects for the sake of this article. Firstly, there is simply nothing natural about consuming the breast milk of another species after one is weaned and consuming solid foods. Logic tells us this. Secondly, the breast milk of a cow or goat are perfectly formulated for the digestive system of that species; when humans consume this breast milk, the body becomes “acidic” and requires neutralization. This neutralization comes in the form of minerals, namely calcium, which is pulled from our bones. It has been demonstrated time and time again that consumption of dairy leaves the body with, at best, no positive nutritional gain and, at worst, causes a loss of nutrients in order to digest. (please visit www.pcrm.org and www.nutritionfacts.org for many informational articles and videos that explore these findings in more depth).

The elimination of refined sugar is crucial for the human body to operate optimally. While fructose is necessary for proper nutrient absorption, fruit contains more than enough for the human body to thrive. Refined sugar behaves differently in the body, and we also tend to consume far more than we need for the proper digestion of whole foods.

The Bad

The Paleo Diet calls for the consumption of much more meat than is optimal by any modern scientific standard. Hundreds of studies (especially over the course of the last 40 years) have demonstrated the link between high meat consumption and obesity, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and many other of the chronic disorders affecting the majority of affluent populations in the world.

The elimination of whole grains and legumes poses two huge problems, as I see it.

1)   Legumes are whole foods that offer some of the most efficiently assimilated protein, complex carbohydrate, fiber, and phytochemicals compared with many other foods. They are especially beneficial for building lean muscle mass, and it has been demonstrated that consumption of beans/legumes lowers LDL cholesterol in the human body.

2)   Whole grains and legumes are some of the most cost effective and accessible sources of nutrients available to most populations. Removing these foods as an option makes this diet especially difficult to sustain over the long-term.

Many individuals on The Paleo Diet end up consuming too little fiber and are deficient in antioxidants because their meals are dominated by animal products (which contain zero fiber or antioxidants).

There are no long-term or epidemiological studies indicating that there are long-term health benefits eating this way. If anything, the evidence that exists indicates that consuming more animal protein and fewer grains and legumes have a negative impact on long-term human health.

The Nonsensical

Here’s where The Paleo Diet is, frankly, quite silly. As mentioned above, there are some good points to the diet. But the foundational concept that this way of eating mimics the diet of our Paleolithic ancestors – and that that is even a good thing – is way off-course.

First and foremost – THERE IS NO SINGLE PALEOLITHIC DIET. Early humans ate what was available to them, and so there is no chance that humans living in the Arctic were eating the same way as humans living in the same time period near the Equator.  Right away, it is evident that the human body can manage to adapt and develop on a wide range of foods.

There is no solid evidence that Paleolithic peoples consumed large amounts of meat. In fact, in the majority of inhabited regions, they would have eaten primarily plants. The concept that their diet was built around animal foods is largely based on nitrogen stable isotope analysis. The conclusions reached through this type of study, however, are erroneous because we would need to consider factors such as water access and regional isotopic ecology. We really don’t know enough about Paleolithic eco systems to be able to fill in these gaps; most of what we “know” is simply speculation and scientists specializing in this area of study readily admit that. In addition to this, we have the long intestinal tracts of herbivores (not the short ones of carnivores), we must consume vitamin c (carnivores produce their own), and we do not have carnassials (the specialized teeth that carnivores have in order to shred).

It turns out that there is abundant evidence that peoples in the Paleolithic era DID consume grains and legumes. Stone tools, used for grinding, have been found dating back 50,000 years – which is 20,000 years PRIOR to the invention of agriculture. In addition, a new method in the field of ancient dietary study is showing that the dental plaque of early humans contains microfossils and proteins of barley, legumes, and tubers. This method is called “dental calculus,” and is still expanding.

Many of the foods we eat today don’t at all resemble the crops and animals of the Paleolithic era. Bananas and lettuce currently available are incredibly different from those naturally occurring in the wild. Foods like broccoli, almonds, and apricots didn’t even exist at that time. And olive oil (an approved food in The Paleo Diet) requires at least rudimentary presses to be extracted; this is a tool that no Paleolithic human would have invented or had access to. The animal food used in most Paleo recipes are from farmed and domestic animals, not wild game, and contain none of the bone marrow and organs that would have been consumed at that time. No number of “organic” “grass-fed” or “free-range” labels changes the fact that these are not animals that existed in the wild.

Finally, let’s look at logic alone. When it comes to consuming large amounts of meat, let’s consider reasonable access and use of resources. It would have taken more time and energy to make the tools and go hunt for meat than it took to gather crops (not to mention that it could be more dangerous to hunt!). This alone is enough to figure that, at least in areas with access to plant foods, meat was likely something consumed rarely and in small amounts. Nothing like what the Paleo Diet calls for today.

And evolution. Oh, evolution! What does evolution want from any species? It wants us to grow to a reproductive age, raise young until they can survive on their own, and then it wants us to die because we are no longer of any evolutionary use. Even if we could conclude for certain what different Paleolithic people in different locations consumed, I still would rather eat food that is shown to promote longevity, prevent the diseases affecting the current human population, and to help me thrive despite my location.

What do we know for sure?

Across all ways of eating that have any scientific basis whatsoever, we know that:

1)   Whole foods are optimal

2)   Processed foods are detrimental, especially refined sugar

3)   It is virtually impossible to eat too many vegetables

4)   Dairy does not contribute positively to any human body

5)   Local produce is best when available

6)   Consumption of even modest amounts of meat from domesticated and farmed animals is detrimental to human vitality, and we have access to all the nutrients we need to thrive in plant foods.

7)   Variety is key – eat the rainbow!

If we stick to what we currently know to be true, and not jump from fad to fad, we’ll be much healthier, happier, and we can be more confident that we are making our best effort to nourish the body we were given.

Take Care!

-Jill C.

You Can Relax About Protein. Even Athletes!

Ah, protein. The holy grail of nutrition for the last 30+ years. Why?

Because retail doesn’t want you to know that we know better now.

Yes, protein is important. You do know what protein is, yes?

Just in case: it’s any class of nitrogenous organic compounds that consist of large molecules composed of one or more long chains of amino acids.

Protein is essential, especially when it comes to muscle and hair and as an antibody. But carbohydrates are essential, too, for different reasons. So is fat.

Why has protein been held up on such a pedestal? Basically, we used to think that if someone was malnourished, it was primarily the protein in food that would help bring them rapidly back to health. There were good reasons to believe this at the time, and we also believed that if some was good, more had to be better.

The “more is better” mentality in much of the nutrition community was borne of a time when nutrients were studied in isolation. While we learned a lot about the components of food, it was only more recently that we really started digging deep. A more modern approach to food takes into account the way that different nutrients work together; this makes sense, since whole foods contain a broad spectrum of nutrients. We are also analyzing what happens in the body when certain foods and combinations of nutrients are digested – what is actually being absorbed, what assists in digestion, what stresses the human body.

The current science of nutrition demonstrates that we got it wrong. It turns out that more protein is absolutely not better when it comes to longevity and optimal health. The digestive organs are strained terribly when we consume large amounts of protein, especially when it’s been isolated (like protein powder). This strain causes digestive stress, which then causes the adrenal glands to switch into high gear and sets off a domino effect that wears out the body. The fact is, the majority of those eating a Standard American Diet are consuming an excess of protein while being deficient in fiber, antioxidants, and many other important nutrients.

 Mac Danzig, MMA Champion. Proudly eats a 100% Plant-Based Diet.

Mac Danzig, MMA Champion. Proudly eats a 100% Plant-Based Diet.

What of athletes? Don’t they need large amounts of “complete protein” to build muscle mass?

First, let’s get past the idea of “complete” vs. “incomplete” protein. There is no such thing. In fact, the concept was completely debunked about 15 years ago.  All whole foods contain the 10 essential amino acids: Histadine, Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine+Cysteine, Phenylalinine+Tyrosine, Threonine, Tryptophan, and Valine. Each whole food contains varying amounts of each amino acid, so it’s important to eat a variety of colorful foods each day.

Colorful foods? For protein?

Yes. All whole foods contain protein. In fact, spinach and kale are 45% protein. Broccoli contains almost double the amount of protein that beef does per 100 calories. Beans are also a very effective food “package” for delivering protein into the body with less digestive stress than animal protein. Digestive stress is a huge reason why so many top athletes have transitioned to a plant-based diet to optimize performance!

The top two foods that are most easily assimilated by human muscle tissue? According to my research: raw hemp seeds and lentils. This is not based on the protein itself in these foods, but the combination of other nutrients in the “food package” that seems to optimize assimilation.

Back to athletes. There are some reasons why certain athletes might increase their protein intake. For example, Endurance Athletes degrade muscle tissue during excessively long training periods (like a marathon), and may need to increase their protein intake slightly. Body Builders may opt for more protein because they are interested in pure muscle mass; but that doesn’t mean that all athletes would benefit (and that also doesn’t mean that what Body Builders do for results is in their best interest when it comes to long-term and optimal health). In fact, Functional Strength Athletes and many Strength Athletes do not need more protein, and the goal of building pure muscle mass doesn’t make sense. Why would a Functional Strength Athlete want to add more body weight to carry just for the aesthetic of larger muscle? This is an amateur approach. The goal of a true Functional Strength Athlete is to train incredible power into fewer pounds of body weight while building their endurance so that the heart rate can drop after quick bursts of movement. Think of soccer players, some forms of martial arts, and dance.

There have been many instances of body builders causing extensive damage to their kidneys by consuming large amounts of protein powders for long periods of time, and many athletes suffer from extended recovery periods and chronic inflammation due to the stress on their digestive systems.

So, how much protein do we need? Here’s a simple formula that will work for most humans and most athletes:

(body weight in pounds) /3 = grams per day of protein

Example: a 120-pound person should consume 40 grams of protein per day

I promise that the above formula is MORE than enough for most people reading this.

Is protein important? Absolutely. But so are many other nutrients, so don’t get distracted by the old-fashioned holy grail of nutrition. Especially since you most certainly are not deficient in protein. Relax and eat a colorful variety of whole foods for vibrant health! No protein powders or dead animal flesh required;-) Maybe just three tablespoons of hemp seeds.

Take care,

-Jill C.

***I'll have a pretty and downloadable list of plant-based proteins available for you by April 4th. Just check the Downloads! Of course, if you're subscribed to my bi-monthly newsletter, it will come right to your inbox as soon as it's ready:-) Not subscribed? Just fill out the form at the bottom of this page and it will be taken care of!