Natural Ways to Protect Your Skin This Winter

While it feels like fall just started, the temperature is already dropping. It’s getting much colder and windier and this impacts our skin. While we don’t have much skin exposured during the colder months, the dry air negatively affects our skin. You might be noticing your skin is a little dry, maybe dull. Maybe the skin on your hands is already cracking? If you’ve been moisturizing your skin and it still isn’t coping with the cold temperatures, there is more you can do to ensure your skin stays healthy and soft.

Hydrate

While it’s important to be applying moisturizer to your skin, don’t forget about moisturizing from the inside-out. That might sound a little unusual to you but hear me out. By consuming healthy fats, we’re helping our skin from the inside out. Fats like avocado, nuts and seeds, omega 3s from fish, evening primrose oil and GLA oil are excellent oils for skin. They will help keep your skin hydrated, glowing, plump and clear. You can incorporate the food based fats (avocado, nuts, seeds, fish, ghee, and coconut oil) into your diet via smoothies, salad dressings and meals. The supplemental fats (evening primrose and GLA) can be purchased at your local health food store and taken in the morning or before bed.

Water is also essential for beautiful skin. Keeping your body hydrated will keep your skin hydrated. If water is boring to you, try adding fruits and/or herbs like watermelon, lemon, strawberries, cucumber, ginger or mint to add a fresh twist.

Ditch Your Face Cream and Use an Oil

What you’re applying to your skin will also determine if it’s dry or not. Products with astringent properties typically dry out your skin* but can be very beneficial when combined with an oil. It may sound counter-intuitive to use an oil to moisturize your face (especially if you already have oily skin) but our skin naturally has an oily layer on it called sebum. This means our body naturally makes oils so it makes sense to use something we naturally produce. One cause of oily skin can actually be over-use of cleansers which dries your skin out, causing the sebaceous glands to go into overdrive and produce more oil. If the sebaceous glands remain hydrated, the oil production should level out.

When you use an oil, you can use just a little for a light application or tailor it and use several pumps for a richer, thicker application. When we use an oil, we actually hydrate around our sebaceous glands which helps naturally adjust our skins pH and gives our skin a deeper hydration than a cream. Typically, creams sit topically on the skin and are not well absorbed.

Rosehip oil is excellent for collagen regeneration and is rich in vitamins A and C as well as fatty acids that help reduce inflammation

I moisturize my skin in both the morning and evening. In addition, after a shower, I take the opportunity to moisturize the rest of my body, not just my face. At night I especially love using an oil. My choices include the antioxidant-rich and anti-aging Argan oil which I’ll add 1-2 drops of Lavender essential oil to once it’s in the palm of my hand or Blue Tansy Oil from Acure. I also love using rosehip oil which is a great oil for supporting the elasticity of your skin. When shopping for a skin oil, look for a cold-pressed, certified organic oil that is packaged in glass; ideally an amber or dark coloured glass. St. Francis Herb Farm and Skin Essence Organics make wonderful skin oils. Read my post here about how to select clean beauty products.

*there are several natural essential oils (lavender, rosemary, citrus) with astringent properties that can be every beneficial for your skin especially if combined with a hydrating oil

Supplement for a Healthy Glow

Supplements can also help make a difference. Collagen and antioxidants will keep your skin youthful and glowing. Collagen is really important if you’re over 25 as around this time, our body’s production of collagen starts to decline by 1% per year. Collagen is an important protein that supports the skins elasticity and structure. It also helps keep your skin looking plump and youthful. Aura™ Nutrition has a wonderful marine collagen. It’s sourced from Canadian waters and is made from wild caught, deep water Atlantic white fish. Mixes easily into a coffee, an elixir or your smoothie. (It’s linked above to browse and shop)

Aura™ also offers a delicious collagen creamer which combines collagen protein with MCT powder

In addition, probiotics can help support your skin health especially if acne is of a concern. Check out this post on probiotics to learn more. 

Take Care Long-Term

A final note I will make is about sunscreen. Sunscreen is necessary to protect our skin from the damaging effects of the sun and shouldn’t only be used in summer. Look for physical sunscreens with Zinc Oxide rather than chemical sunscreens as physical suncreens create a barrier on the skin and reflect the UV rays. Chemical suncreens on the other hand, absorb the rays in a chemical reaction and dissipate them as heat. The Environmental Working group has an exceptional list each year of the best natural and clean sunscreens. Here’s the link to see how clean your sunscreen really is. It also offers alternative choices for your family so only the safest products are going on your skin. Using suncreen will help protect your skin from the damaging effects of the sun which will also help your skin to continue to look healthy and youthful.

A Quick Summary

  • Hydrate by drinking water and consuming healthy fats
  • Swap your cream for an oil
  • Supplement with collagen for beautiful skin
  • Take long term care by using sunscreen

#livevibrantly

Don’t Force It…Natural Constipation Relief

Let’s face it, everybody poops…hopefully. Constipation is no joke as it’s actually a common problem for many of us. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it’s also not good for your health. In the Western Medicine model, constipation is less than 3 bowel movements a week. In the natural health/holistic model, if you’re not pooping a minimum of one good poop a day, you’re constipated. **Real Talk** A good poop would be defined as a well formed (not pellets, not watery) and wipes with little tissue and effort.

Elimination is important because that’s how we rid our body of toxins. When your bowels are stuck, or sluggish, you actually “re-tox” and reabsorb the toxins sitting in the stool you cannot eliminate. This includes excess hormones like estrogen (from birth control pills) or xenoestrogens (chemical compounds similar to estrogen typically found in our environment from plastics) and everything else that was filtered through your liver (like medications).

There are many different reasons for constipation. A few include:

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome C (c is for constipation)
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Food intolerances
  • Lack of water and fibre (poor diet)
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Some medications
  • Travel or changes to routine (another form of stress on the bowels)
  • Over use of laxatives

For many, a change in diet can help resolve constipation and should be the first step. This would include removing any potential allergenic and inflammatory foods from your diet such as:

  • Dairy
  • Gluten
  • Sugar
  • Coffee*

*A special note on coffee. You might actually expereinece a bowel movement (BM) after having a coffee and may even rely on it to have a BM each morning but did you know a BM produced by coffee is a chemically induced bowel movement? It just stimulates the bowels to move rather than allowing them to move on their own. If you’re dehydrated, coffee can make your constipation worse since it’s a diuretic and further depletes water from the body. If you can’t give up the coffee, try Dandy Blend or Four Sigmatic mushroom coffee. Each are coffee alternatives with beneficial properties. Dandy Blend is made with dandelion and chicory and actually supports the liver. Four Sigmatic is a mushroom blend full of antioxidants. Both are caffiene free.

Adding more water and fibre to your diet will help relieve constipation. The natural movement of our intestines is called peristalsis. Drinking warm water in the morning naturally encourages peristalsis which pushes along the stool. You can add fresh ginger or lemon to the water if you don’t want it to be plain.

Chia Seeds are an excellent source of fibre for natural constipation relief

Fibre rich foods like vegetables (and fruits!) are a simple way to increase fibre intake and a much better option than the fibre supplements at your pharmacy. The below are excellent additions for fibre.

  • Chia seeds
  • Ground flax seeds
  • Squash
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cauliflower (also supports the liver and detoxification)
  • Broccoli (also supports the liver and detoxification)
  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Plums/prunes

If you’re concerned about the additional fibre causing further issues (especially if you’re not used to eating lots of fibre) you can consider a digestive enzyme. Cellulose is the indigestible fibre of plants so purchasing a digestive enzyme that contains cellulase will help. I love Enzymedica digestive enzymes. I’ve used them before with great results.

In addition to diet changes, there are natural supplements that help relieve constipation if things still aren’t moving.

  • Probiotics
  • Prebiotics (provided you know you don’t have an overgrowth of bad bacteria as this can actually fuel them)
  • Magnesium (bisgycinate or citrate if it’s really bad)
  • Salus Manna-Fig syrup (excellent for children due to it’s natural sweetness)
  • Cleanse More by Renew Life (personal experience says this is great while travelling)

There are also many supplements available at your pharmacy but those I would avoid and here’s why:

  • Restoralax: while this might be your over-the-counter go-to, it’s a petroleum derived product. Derived from ethylene glycol (which is also found in anti-freeze) it works to draw water into the colon to soften stool. The other thing that does this? Drinking more water (especially warm water) and magnesium.
  • Metamucil: I linked it above but this blog post sheds lights on why this is not a great choice
  • Senna: should be used with caution. You can find this at a natural health food store as a tincture, capsule or tea. Senna is a flowering plant in the legume family that works by stimulating peristalsis. One issue here is anything that stimulates, can become harmful over time. The bowels can become lazy and depend upon the stimulant to work. The other concern is when Senna is purchased as Senokot. Senokot has additives (no longer just the pure herb) and comes with a list of side effects that include vomitting and stomach pain.
  • Cascara: should be used with caution. Cascara is from the fruit of the coffee plant and acts as a stimulant the same way Senna (or coffee) would. The same information as Senna would apply here.
Exercise is a great way not only to relieve constipatin, but to bond as a family

Another way to help encourage your bowels to move is physical activity. Exercise is beneficial for so many reasons one of which, is naturally encouraging peristalsis. Another way to help encourage your bowels to move is the way you actually sit when you eliminate. Your knees need to be at navel level or higher to actually push the stool up, across and down the colon. Toilets don’t allow for this position so keeping a small stool in the bathroom to put your feet on can help**. You can also stack a few towels under your feet. It might sound weird but before we had modern plumbing, and taking a look at Indigenous populations, squatting is a very natural position for elimination. Using a stool or towels somewhat replicates this position while you are seated.

**if you’re experiencing constipation or forceful bowel movements

As always, this information is my opinion based on my knowledge. You should discuss your concerns with your primary care provider (Doctor, Naturopath, Functional Medicine Doctor etc).

#livevibrantly

Easy Chia Pudding

Chia seeds are a powerhouse of nutrition. They are rich in plant based omega 3’s, iron, magnesium, calicum, thiamin (B vitamin), manganese and a great source of fibre.

The fibre chia seeds contain is very gentle on the digestive tract and actually helps promote healing. This fibre is mucilaginous which helps soothe an inflamed digestive system the same way alo would soothe a burn. The other ingredients in this pudding are also beneficial for your health.

Collagen powder: amino acids in this powder help heal and repair body tissues including the digestive tract. It is also beneficial for hair, skin, nails and connective tissues. This is a great powdered collagen to add.

Cacao powder: raw, unprocessed cacaco is rich in magnesium and fibre as well as antioxidants.

The Recipe:

  • 1/2 cup whole chia seeds
  • 1 1/2 cups non dairy milk (I like using coconut or oat)
  • 1 tsp of real vanilla extract (I use Simply Organic)
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp collagen powder
  • For a chocolate version, add 1/4 cup raw cacao powder and an additional 1/4 cup of milk

You can top this pudding with berries, seeds, nuts, granola, coconut, hemp, more chia seeds, coconut cream, whatever you’d like! Makes a great option for breakfast or snacktime. It keeps for several days in the fridge.

This pudding also travels well so packing it for yourself or your child(ren’s) lunches is easy. Just make sure your container has a lid that seals well. Small mason jars work best for this as the lids screw on and there’s no risk of spilling. Bonus, they’re glass and you don’t have the nasty chemicals found in plastics.

Oatmeal Breakfast Cookies

Who doesn’t love cookies for breakfast? The reason these cookies are great for breakfast is that they are full of nutrient dense ingredients and free of refined sugars. They can be enjoyed as an afternoon or after day-care snack as they are great for kids too. Since they are also nut free, they are school safe.

As an adult, I’ve never really enjoyed very sweet things. This goes for cookies as well. I will always prefer an oatmeal-seedy-chunky cookie over something very sweet.

When I was making these cookies I wanted to keep them egg-free so that the recipe could be vegan. The cookies overall are very allergen friendly as they are:

  • Egg free
  • Gluten free
  • Nut free
  • Dairy free* (if strictly coconut oil is used)
  • Sesame free
  • Peanut free
  • Soy free

They remain soft and chewy after baking and will keep this texture once they are refrigerated. They can also be frozen and thawed out the day prior to eating.

Not the prettiest picture but this is what the dough will look like once everything is mixed

Some of the nutrient dense ingredients used in these cookies include:

Chia seeds: very good source of omega 3s, iron and fibre

Pumpkin seeds: source of magnesium, protein and other trace minerals

Oats: oats are a source of fibre called beta-glucans that can help support healthy cholesterol levels

Banana: rich in potassium, fibre and a source of vitamins and minerals. The banana also helps naturally sweeten the cookies while boosting the nutrition

OK, let’s make them!

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp ground flax seeds (also known as flaxmeal)
  • 1/2 cup ghee (ghee is lactose free but not vegan as it is derived from butter. You can use coconut oil in place of this to keep it dairy free)
  • 1/2 cup cococnut sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups gluten free oats (I used One Degree as they are rountinely free from glyphosate a.k.a roundup)
  • 1 banana
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1/2 cup dairy free chocolate chips (I use this brand so they remain dairy and refined sugar free)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. 
  • Combine water and ground flax. Set aside for 5 minutes. This will create a flax egg. 
  • In a larger bowl mash the banana (using a fork is fine). Add the ghee (or coconut oil) coconut sugar and vanilla. Whisk together. Add in the flax egg. Whisk until combined.
  • Combine oats, cinnamon, salt, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds. Stir. Add to wet ingredients. Fold everything together. Add in chocolate chips. Fold again just until combined.
  • Use a 1/8 cup measuring cup to scoop cookies. Alternatively you can use a small ice cream scoop or place 2 tbsp of dough at a time into your hands and manually form the cookies. Place on lined baking sheets and flatten slightly. 
  • Cookies will not expand or spread out so don’t worry too much if they are close together.
  • Bake 12 mins. Allow to cool on pans and refrigerate after they are cool. 
  • Yields 16-17 cookies. 
The cookies wil look very similar to this after baking as their shape will not change

  ©Vibrancy Health Solutions, 2019

How YOU CAN reduce waste

There is a huge movement right now to reduce the amount of waste we produce. You might be familiar with the #zerowaste movement where people strive to live a completely waste free life. I respect and admire those who do live a zero waste life as it takes a lot of planning especially in the early stages. I think any efforts to curb waste production should be celebrated whether you swap plastic wrap for beeswax wrap or trade your plastic straw for a metal one, you are doing your part to help the planet and our future generations.

In the city I live, as of October 1st 2019, each household will be allowed just one bag of garbage. We can have unlimited compost and recyclable products but just one bag of household waste. To some, this might seem like an unattainable feat. “How will I ever reduce my household garbage to one bag”. I’m here to tell you it is possible. It needs to be approached in steps, to make it manageable. One easy swap that will save you plenty of plastic/packaged waste is composting. If you are throwing produce waste/scraps into your regular garbage, STOP NOW.

To reduce waste, start composting…

Compost bins are readily available from your municipality or a local hardware store. Compostable and paper liners are also available for these bins. Any and all food waste can be thrown into these bins. Vegetable peelings, onion skins, strawberry tops etc. What I do, which actually even reduces my compost waste is save those veggie scraps for soup broths. Saving carrot peelings, ceelry tops, garlic skin, onion skin and putting them into the freezer. I then use these frozen scraps to make soup broths with. I get a meal out of the otherwise scraps.

Another easy way to reduce plastic waste is to buy your dry goods from a bulk food store.

To reduce waste on pakcaged items, buy from bulk food stores.

Bulk Barn Canada offers a reusable jar program at all their locations across the country. Bring in clean jars (can be a leftover salsa jar or pickle jar) or cloth bags and have the cashier weigh them for you once you arrive. The weight of the jar will be deducted from the final weight of the filled jar. That’s it! Once they are weighed, you are free to shop, filling the jars with any dried goods you would normally purchase in a package and check out as usual.

  • Pasta
  • Cereal and granola
  • Beans and legumes
  • Rice and other grains
  • Spices
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Flours
  • Nuts
  • Dried fruits
  • Popcorn
  • Baking needs
  • Chips
  • Chocolates
  • Candy
  • Etc, etc, etc

To reduce waste when storing foods, use plastic alternatives.

Another easy swap is using beeswax wrap (cloth) to cover foods instead of plastic wrap and aluminum foil. There are many varieties of beeswax wraps available. You can also find local producers of the product at your local farmers market or downtown shops. I have been using this brand and find it works excellent. I’ve used it to wrap cheese, watermelons, sandwiches, vegetables and bowls and plates of leftover food.

Silicone zip bags are another alternative to replace buying plastic bags to pack kids lunches. They are washable and reusable and available in multiple sizes. This is one option available. In addition you can also find reusable and non-plastic versions of the below.

  • Straws
  • Drink boxes
  • Water bottles
  • Coffee travel mugs
  • Produce bags (for grocery shopping)
  • Lunch containers
  • Lunch bags

Well.ca actually has a section called “Kids Litterless Lunch Products” for shopping back-to-school waste free.

To reduce waste when buying groceries, bring reuseable bags.

Shopping at a big-box grocery store might appear challenging if you’re trying to reduce waste but it’s amount small actions having a big impact. First, bring your re-usable shopping bags with you. It’s handy to always keep a couple in the trunk of your vehicle in case you find yourself forgetting or making an unexpected trip. The second is to purchase mesh produce bags to take your fruits and veggies home in. There is no reason the plastic bags at the grocery store need to be used. Those are typically single use plastic meaning the sole job is to get your produce from the store to your fridge and then it is thrown away. Plastic doesn’t break down I might add. I have just been leaving my produce loose and so far so good. It makes no difference to the cashier when the produce is weighed (unless you have a dozen of something; harder to wrangle). I usually keep a separate reusable bag for my fruits and veggies to they don’t get squished but each time I do that, saves me at LEAST 5 plastic bags.

So, you’re composting, have your dried goods from your trip to bulk barn, you have all your produce and now the trickier part, your meat and dairy. Shopping waste reduced versions of meat and dairy can be tricky but can be done if you’re willing to try. First, lots of milk comes in glass especially when you shop at a health food store. This glass can typically be returned for a deposit or you can keep it and reuse it yourself for storage. Otherwise, be sure to check if the carton is recycable. Some have plastic coatings that make them waste.

Cheeses and meats would need to be purchased from a delicatessen as they are typically not packaged. Yes, they wrap the products in plastic once you make your purchase but if you have a relationship with you local deli, they may let you use your own container to bring the food home in. Now, if you don’t, don’t worry. Most deli counters use a paper that can actually be composted. If it has been waxed or oiled, it can be composted. Yes, I know the above are not waste free but they are waste reduced and remember, it’s about making small steps to reduce your overall production of garbage.

We don’t need a handful of people doing zero waste perfectly. We need millions people doing it imperfectly.

Anne-Marie Bonneau, Zero Waste Chef

When you start actively reduicng your waste, you might notice you begin to eat healthier. The reason for this is just about all processed foods come in lots of plastic and excess packaging. When you reduce waste, you naturally begin to buy more whole foods to replace these (or buy wate-free versions from Bulk Barn).

A quick summary to reducing your waste…

Reduce food waste by:

  • composting
  • juicing (produce that might be on it’s way to the garbage in a day or two)
  • baking
  • making soups and broths
  • not making more than you need
  • not purchasing more than you will consume
  • using produce storage bags to keep produce fresher longer

Reduce plastic waste by:

  • using a reuseable waster bottle
  • using a bamboo toothbrush
  • using silicone storage bags
  • using glass storage containers
  • using glass or metal straws
  • buying dry goods from bulk food stores
  • avoding single use plastics

Reduce other waste by:

  • using dryer balls instead of dryer sheets
  • use fabric cloth to remove makeup instead of wipes
  • continue rethinking your choices
  • refuse single use plastics
  • reuse everything you can
  • refurbish and repair everything you can before buying new
  • repurpose (fabrics, furniture etc)

Follow me on Instagram (@vibrancyhealthsolutions) and share how you reduce waste

#livevibrantly

Count your chemicals

I have noticed a particular “keto” snack food popping up on Instagram lately. Not in an ad, but rather my local stores are promoting the fact that they have brought this keto snack to their shelves. I will preface this by saying I live in Northern Ontario where it seems everyone is on some version of a “keto” diet. I hear others talking about their latest keto recipes quite often while I’m grocery shopping. My thoughts on keto are very similar to these. As with any new food product, keto or not, I always read the labels.

My earlier posts on food labels shed light on how important actually reading labels can be. We are presented with health-washed information on a regular basis and can easily fall prey to it. The producer of this keto snack does not claim keto on their packaging but does use the keto hashtag on all their Instagram posts. During my search it appears the stores that bring the product in are either keto focused or have a large keto customer base.

So what is this keto snack food? It contains 6-7g of fat, 0-1g of carbohydrate and 11g of protein per 20g serving and the company has listed on their website (verbatim) “we use the freshest ingredients with no preservatives” which I found interesting as the snack food is pork rinds. Yes, pork rinds. Pig skin, deep fried in lard and covered with salt and spices. Keto, sure. Nutritious, no.

While its true animal hides are rich in collagen, ones that have been deep fried are no longer beneficial to consuming. The fact that they are claiming not to use any preservatives really intrigued me so I read over their ingredient labels. They offer a variety of flavours and you better bet I found not only preservatives but flavour enhancers and artificial colours too.

Some of their “fresh” ingredients include:

  • Dextrose (sugar, likely from GMO corn)
  • Toasted soya flour
  • Maltodextrin (likely from GMO corn, can negatively impact gut bacteria)
  • Hydrolyzed soy protein
  • Torula yeast (another name for MSG)
  • FD&C Yellow #6
  • FD&C Red #40
  • Modified food starch
  • Sodium diacetate (controls mold and bacteria in foods a.k.a a preservative)
  • Mono sodium glutamate
  • Disodium inosinate (similar to MSG)
  • Disodium guanylate (simialr to MSG)
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable oil
  • Caramel colour E150 (not in the same category as food dyes but can cause stomach upset)

The crazy thing to me is, people are going wild over these. One look through the Instagrams of the producer and the stores that carry it and you’ll see tons of excited comments and emojis. Clearly, those interested in this product do not care about the lack of micro-nutrients and the artificial, processed ingredients. The simplest offering is a plain flavour which contains none of the above ingredients, just pork, lard and salt.

Now, I did come across one flavour (ketchup) that had a special note beside it informing consumers that as of April 2019, they removed the Red dye #40 from their seasoning to replace it with more natural ingredients (beet powder). There is mention of them chaning their formulas as time permits. I can only hope this is coming from a place of education on their part and if not, hopefully consumers pressured them to clean up their product. As consumers become more educated, producers will be forced to shift with the demands and change their products.

Remember, if something comes in a package, you have to read the labels to find out what you might actually be consuming. Count your chemicals.

#livevibrantly

The Benefits of Rhodiola

Rhodiola is a powerful adaptogen. Adaptogens are herbs that help balance our bodies especially during times of stress. There are many many herbs that can be used to balance the body’s stress repsonse, one of them (and my favourite) is Rhodiola.

Rhodiola use dates back thousands of years. The Vikings, for example, used it for endurance and strength during their voyages. Russian olympians used it to improve their performance and the Greeks used it to increase strength for battle. The common theme among all these uses is enhancing energy and stamina, endurance, mental performance and over-all well being.

Rhodiola grows in cold climates. It can be found in Eastern North America, Northern Europe and Asia. It grows on mountains and at high altitude.

Using Rhodiola for energy

Due to Rhodiola’s ability to balance the body, it is excellent for energy support especially during times of stress. Rhodiola promotes over-all well being and helps to increase mental accuracy. You might find rhodiola in some adrenal support supplements .

Using Rhodiola for stress

Rhodiola has been found to increases levels of certain neurotransmitters that help improve mood. These include serotonin, dopmaine and norepinephrine. An improvement in mood is beneficial when we are dealing with stress. Because rhodiola also helps enhance over-all well being and mental performance, it is used during times of stress either on it’s own or in an adrenal support formula.

Using Rhodiola for performance

Rhodiola is effective for physical performance. I loved using Rhodiola when I was running long distance. I found it helped with my energy and stamina and gave me the mental focus I needed to continue. Rhodiola helps to improve how our muscles use oxygen (increases the rate) and helps to reduce cortisol levels. Exercise is a form of physical stress on our body and cortisol levels naturally rise when we exercise. Rhodiola helps keep it balanced to improve your performance and recovery.

Could you be iron deficient?

Are you constantly tired? Do you feel weak? Do you have brittle nails and hair? What about shortness of breath or weak concentration? If you answered yes to any of these, you might be iron deficient (or anemic, just keep reading) and not even know it. Did you know iron deficiency is one of the most common nutrient deficiencies in the world? Iron is a vital mineral and here’s a few reasons why.

Carries oxygen in our blood…

Two thirds of our bodies iron is found in red blood cells and is referred to as hemoglobin. In muscle cells, it’s referred to as myoglobin. (Naka Herbs, Web. 2008). Hemoglobin is a protein that transports oxygen throughout the body, delivering it to our tissues, and in order to do this effectively, requires iron.

Required for enzymes…

Iron is a building block for many enzymes including those required for our metabolism. Iron is also important for the creation of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that send signals from one neuron to another.

Important for the growth of babies and children…

Iron is needed for proper metabolism and blood supply as children grow. Iron is needed to deliver oxygen to their growing bodies. Demands of school, sports and clubs pushes their mental and physical limits, requiring more iron.

Lost in athletes and menstruating women…

The need for oxygen is higher in athletes and those who are physically active. Because iron is needed for hemoglobin to carry oxygen, those who are physically active need more iron. Myoglobin, in our muscles, also requires iron. Iron can be lost during physical performance in sweat and hemolysis (the breakdown of red blood cells) cited here. Women loose blood monthly during menstruation and so, have higher iron needs than men. This is especially true for female athletes.

Vegetarians and vegans needs more iron…

Iron found in plant foods is referred to as non-heme iron. Animal iron is called heme iron and has a higher absorption rate than non-heme. Non-heme iron has a very low absorption rate and is further impacted by certain substances in these plant foods. Phytates, oxalates, polyphenols and phosphates all inhibit iron absorption. Phytates are found in nuts, legumes and soy. Oxalates are found in spinach, rhubarb and beets. Polyphenols are compounds found in tea, red wine and coffee. Phosphates are found in sodas, which should be avoided anyway, due to their lack of nutritional value and high sugar content.

More is needed during pregnancy…

During pregnancy, the need for iron increases to help build the blood supply needed for the placenta and growing fetus. Blood work is done early in pregnancy to check iron levels and then again after 24 weeks to re-check. The iron is checked again as typically women have enough stored iron (ferritin) to last about 6 months. For this reason, it is not only important to take an iron supplement during pregnancy but also before pregnancy to ensure adequate iron stores and hemoglobin levels. Typically, the range for hemoglobin levels during pregnancy (and women in general) is 120-160 g/L. Around 6 months (24 weeks) typically a drop is seen to below 120g/L.

During this first pregnancy, I chose to take New Chapter’s Perfect Prenatal™ both before, and during. My hemoglobin levels were measured somewhere around 13-16 weeks (can’t really remember) and they were 140g/L. Right within the normal range. They were measured again at 26 weeks and my levels were 135g/L. Hardly even dropped! I will also mention, I follow a plant-based diet so the iron I am typically consuming is non-heme.

Lack of iron leads to deficiency…

When not enough iron is consumed, we don’t have enough in our hemoglobin and begin to experience iron deficiency symptoms. The first stage of iron deficiency is called “iron depletion” followed by “iron- deficiency without anemia” and the final stage is “iron-deficiency anemia”. The below symptoms can be seen in iron-deficiency anemia but also might be seen in earlier stages of iron deficiency.

  • Shortness of breath
  • Brittle nails
  • Brittle hair
  • Extensive hair loss
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Easily bruised
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Pale skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Poor concentration
  • Heavy menstruation

Iron deficiency can also occur with sub-optimal intake of certain vitamins such as B12 and folate. When this occurs, the shape of hemoglobin is altered and its ability to carry oxygen is impaired. This is referred to as vitamin-deficiency anemia. Anemia can also be a results of genetic conditions.

If you suspect you might be iron deficient, speak with your primary care provider and have your blood work done. Not only should you have your hemoglobin tested (the primary go-to) but your ferritin levels (which measure the amount of iron your body has stored) should be tested as well. The reason is, as our hemoglobin levels drop, our body pulls from our back-up supply; what has been stored in our body. So in theory, you could have normal hemoglobin levels but your stores could be close to depleted meaning in a few short months (or weeks depending on your activity level), you’ll likely experience more symptoms and they will be more severe.

To correct an iron-deficiency anemia, you can supplement with iron. When choosing an iron supplement, be sure to select one that is non-constipating as this is an unfortunate side-effect of many irons on the market. Some of my favourites that I have used personally include Floradix/Floravit, Blood Builder and Vital F. It’s also best to use this under your primary care providers supervision as you can in fact, consume too much iron. They might suggest a protocol that includes cycling off the iron every few months, have you take as the bottle directs, or change your dose entirely. This is why it’s best to know your numbers before you begin supplementing.

As with any other health concerns you might have, always do your research and speak to your most trusted health care provider to determine what is best for your individual needs.

#livevibrantly

Why Are We Consuming Food Dyes?

Everyday we have to make food decisions for ourselves and for our families. Products marketed to children (typically convenience foods) are always highly processed and full of sugar and artificial ingredients. This morning, I was scheduled for my routine Glucose Tolerance Test to screen for gestational diabetes as I’m almost 27 weeks pregnant as I write this. I had educated myself ahead of time and knew the “orange drink” would contain artificial colours a.k.a food dyes. I didn’t want to consume it as I avoid food dyes and typically experience a reaction to them. I knew a lemon-lime version existed which is almost colourless and so, should be free of the dyes. It turned out the lab only had orange.

As I was handed the beverage, I read the ingredients. Sure enough, it contained Red #40 and Yellow #6 to make it appear orange. I quickly became frustrated that a product given to expectant moms would contain food dyes. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) published a report in 2010 entitled Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks. This report concludes that 9 artificial food dyes used in the US (and can be found in Canadian products) are carcinogenic, cause hyperactivity in children, cause hypersensitivity reactions and/or are inadequately tested for safety.

Where do these dyes comes from and why are they in our foods?

Artificial food dyes come from petroleum which is derived from crude oil. This is the product we refine to make gasoline. These dyes are used to give colour to foods and food products that would otherwise have no colour or a dull appearance. Making juices red, yellow, orange and so on. Making candies bright and colourful. Even colouring the skin of oranges (yes, the fruit!) so they are more appealing. The worst part is, this can be done using natural products. We don’t have to use the toxic ones. For example, in the UK Fanta is coloured orange with pumpkin and carrot extract while in the US, it’s coloured with Red #40 and Yellow #6; two of the most common food dyes. In Britain, a McDonald’s strawberry sundae is coloured with Strawberries. In the US, they use Red #40. As of 2010, in Europe. most foods that contain artificial dyes need to carry a warning label that states the dyes could cause hyperactivity in children (cited here) You would think twice when picking up that pack of licorice if it came with a warning label, right? So why are we not thinking critically when making these choices now?

The most common dyes seen on food packages are Red #40, Yellow #5 and Yellow #6. You might also see them as FD&C Red No.40, FD&C Yellow No.6, FD&C Yellow No.5. Yellow #5 can also be named tartrazine (helps make Doritos bright orange and Mountain Dew bright green). These three dyes contain benzidene, a human and animal carcinogen permitted in low, presumably safe, levels in dyes (CSPI, A Rainbow of Risks)

Red #40 is probably the most common, colouring everything from cereals, candies, juices, vitamins, yogurts, condiments, prenatal screening drinks and more. Because it’s in so much, our children are consistently consuming low doses of this chemical which in small amounts might seem okay but when it’s cumulative, we should be concerned. Personally, I am concerned when any amount is involved.

Always read the ingredient labels and look for these artificial colours when making food choices for you and your family. It’s important to be educated. You can always cook for yourself. This is a major way to keep food dyes out of your diet and a great way to get children involved in the kitchen. Also remember, you vote with your dollar. Every dollar spent on food items with dyes means more will be produced and put back onto the shelves.

Below are several brands that do not use food dyes (or artificial flavours) but are making some alternatives to the food dye laden products.

#livevibrantly

Don’t Be Fooled by Food Labels (Part 2)

I’ve discussed the labels vegan and non-dairy already but now I want to shed some light on the labels “cholesterol free” and “gluten free”. Let’s start with “cholesterol free”

When a food is labelled cholesterol free…

Cholesterol is confusing to a lot of people. The reality is, to the average person there is little understanding about the role cholesterol has in our bodies.

We need cholesterol for the health of every cell membrane, for your brain cells, your sex hormones and more.

Dr. Mark Hyman

Cholesterol plays an essential role in our bodies as it makes up our cell membranes. In other words, we have to have cholesterol. The cool thing is, our liver makes cholesterol. We also consume cholesterol in our food. For a very comprehensive look at cholesterol read this article by Dr. Josh Axe as for now, we’re just discussing the purpose of the label.

To put it simply, if it didn’t have a liver, it doesn’t have cholesterol. What does this mean? Well, you’ll typically see “cholesterol free” on vegetable oil packaging. This is to encourage the consumer to purchase the product as typically, cholesterol containing foods are seen negatively. What if I told you all plant oils are naturally cholesterol-free? And the label is just there for marketing. In addition, these oils that are labelled cholesterol free could actually (in theory) increase your risk of atherosclerosis by increasing plaque build up in your arteries (plaque is hardened cholesterol and fats that stick to the walls of arteries) because they are often high-omega 6 inflammatory oils.

The next time you see “cholesterol-free” on a label, think critically about it. Did the food come from, or is it made with animal products? If so, it should naturally contain cholesterol. If it contains animal products yet is claiming to be cholesterol-free, I’d put it back on the shelf as a) the company is using false advertising or b) they have some how processed it even further to remove the cholesterol* (I can’t say I am certain this can even be done) Is the food totally plant based such as applesauce or orange juice? Well then of course it’s cholesterol free and you know the label is just there to try and encourage your purchase.

When a food is labelled gluten free…

This one is a little trickier. Those with Celiac Disease or an intolerance to gluten must consume gluten free foods so of course they will be reading labels. For those who cannot consume gluten, or choose not to, the label reading might stop after the words “gluten-free”. The problem with this is, the ingredients have to be looked at. Typically, gluten-free foods are made with starches rather than fibre containing flours. Potato starch, tapicoa starch, rice starch, corn starch, the list goes on. These starches are refined versions of their original food and have had the fibre removed. When the fibre is removed, the impact on blood sugar levels is much higher meaning gluten-free foods made mostly from starches could raise blood sugar levels rapidly. Now, you might be thinking “but I’m not diabetic so why worry” well, when our blood sugar levels rapidly rise they rapidly fall, leaving us hungrier. When this happens we eat more of (typically) the same food as before meaning more gluten-free starches. The process happens again.

You can absolutely enjoy gluten-free foods, even those made with starches. For those almost entirely starch based, enjoy with moderation. When shopping, read ingredient labels and look for gluten-free ingredients such as:

  • Buckwheat (not related to wheat)
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth
  • Millet
  • Teff
  • Oatmeal (certified gluten free)
  • Flax meal
  • Chickpea flour
  • Lentil Flour
  • Black Bean Flour
  • Almond flour

These ingredients will have much more fibre. You can also read the nutrition facts panel to see how much fibre is contained in each serving. Look for 3-5g minimum. The fibre (and not to mention protein from these food ingredients) will keep your blood sugar balanced which will keep you fuller for longer and prevent you from reaching for a second and third helping of gluten-free sugar cookies.

To summarize, just because a food says it’s gluten-free or cholesterol-free does not mean it’s the most nutrient dense choice available. Always read the ingredients and if you have to second-guess your choice, put it back and choose more whole foods in it’s place. If you’re good in the kitchen, you could even make your own by purchasing fibre-rich flours at your local bulk food or health food store.

I want to leave you with this article by Meghan Telpner about “healthwashing” and labeling foods in a certain way to make them appear healthy. It is very comprehensive and provides a step-by-step approach to determine if the food has been healthwashed.

#livevibrantly