Happy New Year! Its that joyful time of year when we have finally gotten through November and December when the hectic life of the holidays forced us to diverge from our usually well controlled routines of eating and exercise, and now we can refocus to our normal routine. Often clients ask me about revamping their diet or completing a ‘cleanse’ in an effort to get back on track from eating less healthy and/or more than usual during the holidays. Generally a ‘cleanse’ means people either literally feel they need to clean out their intestines, and/or want to rebalance their food intake by replacing unhealthy (defined by most as, processed and /or high sugar) foods with healthier versions. This is a positive step since how we feel is greatly dictated by what we think of our food choices: if we mentally think we are toxic, we will feel toxic.
Everyone wants to feel well and eating the right foods is part 1 of a holistic nutrition plan. Part 2 is how well we absorb and assimilate those nutrients. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know how well we assimilate and utilize nutrients until we begin to feel unwell. When people want to cleanse, the easiest way to increase their intake of veggies is to juice or blend them. This reduces the burden of knowing how to cook, and the time needed to cook them. Juicing and blending also reduces the work required of our digestive system by making the nutrients more available to be absorbed. Though most people instinctively want to go on a juice fast when they are not feeling well, be sure to listen to hunger cues. A liquid fast sometimes leads to under eating which can add more stress to the body. Try the potent immune boosting recipe below, “Green Elixir.”
Eating raw is another recommendation made to ‘cleanse’ the intestines and attain more energy. There are specific guidelines as to how packaged foods qualify as ‘raw’ but the premise is to eat foods as close to their raw state as possible. This is a great idea in theory but most people whose diets consist primarily of packaged, processed foods, lack the digestive ability to handle a raw food diet. Changing to a raw food diet should be done gradually; and most people will feel worse before feeling better while their bodies adapt. Adding digestive enzymes for starch and fiber may make it easier.
With the gut in mind, I have compiled a list of recommendations that anyone can use to tweak or enhance their health to jumpstart any New Year resolution.
- Use a probiotic: A probiotic is a supplement that supplies healthy bacteria to the intestines. The philosophy of functional medicine notes most health issues are related to the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract. Normally, several species of bacteria and virus’s coexist in our intestines without causing any problems. However, when these outnumber our normal “healthy” defense bacteria, we may develop weaknesses in our immune system that over time may lead to illness or allergies.
- What to buy: A) Number of strains: Purchase a bottle that has more than 10 strains of bacteria which will provide a broad spectrum of coverage. B) Concentration of cells: If you haven’t used probiotics before, start with a small concentration (e.g. 5 million) and gradually build up to more than 1 billion. Its important to increase the concentration gradually to prevent gas and bloating. C) Include FOS (fructooligosaccharide), a prebiotic typically found in inulin and chicory root, and will promote growth of healthy bacteria.
Try Fermented Foods: Traditional lacto-fermented foods (using salt brine) contain enzymes, aid in digestion and boost immunity. The taste of fermented foods takes some getting used to so I recommend using fermented condiments to get started.
- What to buy: Bragg’s Liquid Amino’s and Apple Cider Vinegar. The next step would be to add fermented side dishes to your diet. Whether it is Kimchi or Red Cabbage & Beet Sauerkraut by Wildbrine, these foods offer new fresh flavors on old time favorites. They can be costly, so buy and share with a friend, or make your own!
- Go Green: You hear it all the time – eat your greens. This time of year when the temps drop, use soups and stews to increase green veggie intake.
- What to make: Taking advantage of seasonal root veggies, steam apple and sweet potato for a great side dish spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, and coriander. Use the leftover juice from steaming as the starter fluid for a veggie juice in a VitaMix, NutriBullet or Juicer. Juicing or blending your vegetables in combination with apple, lemon or ginger is a way to make greens more palatable and drinkable. Since the taste of veggie drinks takes getting used to, start off with 1 – 2 per week and increase. The biggest hurdle is getting the ingredients together and making one. Schedule the time in the evening to wash and slice the ingredients; create several servings at once in individual containers so that when you want to blend one, its as simple as opening the fridge and grabbing the container.
- Green to Go: Carry pre-made green drink packets with you while traveling to increase your nutrition on the road.
- What to buy: Amazing Grass & Garden for Life sell green super food single serving packets. Simply pour one into a glass of juice or water to get your daily serving of greens.
- Digestive Enzymes: There are many combinations to choose from depending on the foods you have difficulty digesting. There are full spectrum combinations for fat, proteins and starch; combinations specific to protein and fat breakdown that contain a variety of proteases and lipases; and others specific to the various starches and fibers found in fruit, vegetables, and legumes (cellulase, xylinase, pectinase and amylase).
- What to buy: If you aren’t sure which combination of enzymes you need, purchase a broad spectrum (amylase, protease, lipase, ox bile, plus additional enzymes for non-digestible fibers) that is produced by a manufacturer that follows General Manufacturing Practices (GMP) guidelines to ensure production and manufacturing quality. In addition, look for the NSF certification which certifies the dietary supplement does not contain undeclared ingredients or unacceptable levels of contaminants. Examples of brands that abide by these voluntary audits on quality: Kirkland, NOW, Solaray, Jarrow, Garden of Life, Designs for Health, Rainbow Light, and Nature Made.
Green Elixir: A potent immune boosting, detoxifying blend full of antioxidants
Amounts used will vary based upon a) size of container used (NutriBullet makes much smaller servings than a VitaMix) and b) taste preferences. If you are new to veggie drinks, keep the consistency ‘thin’ to drink easily.
Otherwise, nuts and seeds can be added for a thicker shake. (Note: if you are on medications for liver or kidney disorder you should consult a dietitian or physician first. Beets should be consumed in very small amounts or completely avoided and celery can interfere with diuretics).
|1 cup raw spinach||Chlorophyll, cartenoids, flavonoids (antioxidants)|
|1 cup raw kale||Chlorophyll, cartenoids, flavonoids (antioxidants)|
|2 small apples with skin (w/o seeds)||Fiber, polyphenols (chlorogenic acid), & flavonoids (quercetin)|
|½ cup raw beet (tastes best when steamed or roasted)||Detoxifies liver, kidneys & lymphatic system; phosphorous, sulfur and potassium|
|½ cup beet greens||Detoxifies liver & kidney|
|4 medium celery stalks||Nourishes liver & kidney|
|4 medium carrots||Beta-carotene, antioxidant, eye health|
|Ginger root (size of fingernail)||Aids in digestion, anti-inflammatory|
|1 Tbsp organic lemon juice, or ½ lemon without rind||Detoxifies liver|