Monthly Archives: August 2011

One of THE Most Important Vitamins

Did you know that when you have healthy levels of this vitamin, it’s virtually impossible to get a cold or the flu…and with even higher levels, it can potentially prevent and treat cancer and heart disease?

Can you guess what it is?

Nope, not Vitamin C.

Not Zinc either (zinc is actually a mineral, so not in the running for this contest).

It’s Vitamin D.  Surprised?

Vitamin D is vital for a healthy immune system, calcium absorption, regulating inflammation, and decreasing the risk of chronic disease.

There have been studies that link these diseases and medical issues with a Vitamin D deficiency:

  • Parkinson’s
  • High blood pressure and arterial stiffness
  • Cancer (and research has showen that cells are killed by high enough levels of Vitamin D)
  • Asthma
  • Depression
  • Ricketts
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Type 2 Diabetes (and studies show that infants who get Vitamin D supplementation reduce their risk by 80% of developing Type I diabetes over the next 20 years)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Colds and flu

The good news is that with adequate levels, many conditions will improve.  But just because this is a remarkable vitamin does NOT mean it has super-hero abilities.  If you have some of these very serious issues and think a bottle of Vitamin D will make you 100% well, remember that there are other factors that need to be addressed before optimal health is achieved.

Your diet. Clean it up!  No sugar (feeds cancer cells) or flour (turns into sugar when metabolized). Cut down on your sodium intake and eliminate artificial sweeteners. You can read more about the diet that I subscribe to here. And exercise.  Exercise affects every system in your body, helps to build muscle, manage weight, releases a “feel good” hormone.

The next step is to get your Vitamin D level checked through a blood test.  There is a specific test that you should ask your doctor for (it has become the standard test for many physicians, but always good to ask).  It is 25(OH)D.

Here are the appropriate levels of Vitamin D according to Dr. Mercola:

  • <50 ng/ml                      Deficient
  • 50-70 ng/ml                  Optimal
  • 70-100 ng/ml                Treat cancer and heart disease
  • >100 ng/ml                    Excess

Mine was 17. (No wonder I could catch a cold just by watching a Puffs Plus commercial!)  My boys’ levels were about 40.

It is estimated that about 40-70% of the population is deficient in Vitamin D.  (Even on the low end, that’s a pretty high number.)  76% of pregnant woman are Vitamin D deficient (which predisposes both mom and infant to the ailments listed above).

So now we all take Vitamin D3 supplements (here is a study about D2 verses D3) and I’m happy to report that I have gotten just one cold since starting the supplementation two years ago…and I still believe it was because my youngest sneezed so close to my face that the cold germs could literally crawl up my nose 🙂  Sorry.  Too much information?

I do also try to also use good old sunshine during the warmer months (which we know are few in Chicago).

There is so much information about Vitamin D, this only scratches the surface. But if it motivates you to get your level checked, then I’ve done what I set out to do!

Supplements and Surgery

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably familiar with some types of supplements (unless you stumbled on this site on your way to

And if you’ve developed a supplement regimen with your physician, you’re probably on the right track.

But what happens when you need surgery? Doctors often ask about prescriptions medications you are taking, but don’t always ask about the herbal supplements you may be taking.  Here are some (not an exhaustive list, by any means) that you should tell your surgeon about and discontinue at least 2 weeks prior to surgery:

  • Echinacea–can have drug interactions, could interfere with wound healing
  • Ephedra–causes hypertension, palpitations, tachycardia
  • Fish Oil–can cause bleeding problems
  • Garlic–can thin the blood, can cause hypotension
  • Gingko–thins the blood
  • Ginseng–can thin the blood, cause hypoglycemia, can have drug interactions
  • Goldenseal–can have drug interactions
  • Kava–can make waking up from anesthesia difficult, can have drug interactions
  • Licorice–can have drug interactions
  • St. John’s Wort–can make waking up from anesthesia difficult, can cause photosensitivity
  • Valerian root–can make waking up from anesthesia difficult, can have drug interactions

Each of these has been shown to help certain issues. St. John’s Wort is used for depression. Kava is used as a sleeping aid. Valerian root can help with anxiety and sleep issues.

But supplements, while often times healthy on their own, besides causing the issues listed above, can change the absorption and elimination of conventional drugs.

BUT there are supplements and vitamins that are actually ENCOURAGED prior to and following surgery:

  • CO Q-10–taken prior to surgery, CO Q-10 may improve outcomes and the likelihood of normal heart rhythm in recovery; taken post-op, CO Q-10 can strength the heart muscle and help with free radical damage
  • Vitamin A–required for cell growth, production of connective tissue and growth of new blood vessels
  • Vitamin C–aids the body in producing wound-healing collagen and elastin, boosts immune system
  • Vitamin E–helps to stop fatty acids from building up in the arteries (atherosclerosis), improvement in heart function following surgery, neutralizes free radicals
  • Zinc–helps wounds heal faster, helps in the production of collagen

So in the event that you have a scheduled surgery coming up, be sure to tell your surgeon about the prescription, over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements you are taking. It could make a significant difference in your surgery outcome and recovery. And ask about the vitamins and supplements you should be taking after your surgery. It may help you to heal even faster.  Good luck with your surgery and here’s to a speedy recovery!

The Benefits of Cinnamon

When I think of cinnamon, I can smell the cinnamon buns my great-grandmother used to make and the cinnamon toast I ate nearly every day before school (on Wonder Bread, no less).

But now my life is (nearly) wheat- and yeast-free. Do I bid a fond farewell to my jar of cinnamon?

Definitely not!  After learning that cinnamon could be beneficial with my PCOS diagnosis, I started to research this aromatic spice.  Little did I know how healthy it could be. Did you know that cinnamon:

  • Is high in calcium, iron, manganese and fiber
  • Is antifungal and inhibits growth of candida albicans
  • Is antibacterial and can get rid the intestines of germs
  • Is anti-inflammatory and can act as a muscle relaxant
  • Helps lower LDL cholesterol (the bad cholesterol)
  • Helps to regulate blood sugar by helping the body to use the insulin in a more effective way (helpful for Type 2 diabetics)
  • Is a digestive aid for indigestion, nausea, morning sickness, gas, upset stomach
  • Can help cognitive activity and memory loss (Wheeling Jesuit University study)…and the benefits can be found by just smelling cinnamon
  • Been shown to reduce the growth of leukemia and lymphoma cells (Study by the US Department of Agriculture in Maryland)
  • Can help with cramps–intestinal, menstrual and leg cramps
  • Can be a natural birth control–it can delay menstruation after childbirth if taken regularly [But do not supplement with cinnamon if you are pregnant.]
  • Removes impurities in the blood (which can help with pimples!)
  • Acts as an insect repellent–use a few drops of cinnamon oil on a paper towel or ribbon to ward off the bugs

The oil can contain elements that are harmful and/or cause irritation or allergic reactions. Some people add it to their foods, but it seems to be used more widely as aromatherapy.

The cinnamon bought in grocery stores, usually Cassia, is often too old to be medicinal and may contain higher amounts of coumarin, which is an element that thins the blood and may harm your liver.  [If you are taking Coumadin or have any type of bleeding disorder, don’t supplement with cinnamon.] Certainly safe though for eating in dishes and sprinkled over hot cereal, but not what you want to supplement with.

If you want to get the full benefit in a safe way, look for powdered bark in capsules from a health or vitamin store. Or try to find Ceylon cinnamon which is the “pure” form and grind it up yourself.

This is probably more information than you ever thought you’d get about a little jar in your spice cabinet, right??  Is your mind spinning thinking about the rest of the spices in your kitchen? Patience friends…we’ll get to those too 🙂

So with all of the health benefits, it makes sense to incorporate this spice into the daily menu.  Cook some steel-cut oats for breakfast and add some cinnamon and a little stevia to sweeten it up. Or mix some in almond butter and spread on a green apple. (A much better afternoon snack that anything you can buy out of a vending machine!) Or try an Indian recipe for chicken masala…

What’s your favorite way to enjoy cinnamon? You know I’m always looking for healthy recipes 🙂

[And before I go, I’ll state the obvious again…I am not a cinnamon farmer, doctor or scientist, or any cinnamon type expert.  (I just research A LOT and take copious notes 🙂  Foods are be medicinal, so it is important to talk to your doctor before supplementing with cinnamon.]

Why Are Almonds So Good For You?

You know the saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” I think almonds are the new apple.

I really can’t think of anything bad to say about almonds (well, one of my family members is allergic to them, so that’s a big negative!). But look at all of the health benefits:

  • High in protein, fiber and monounsaturated fat (the healthy fat that is good for your heart) so you’ll feel fuller longer
  • Contain essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6)
  • Contain magnesium, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, iron
  • One ounce of almonds contains 35% of the recommended daily dose of Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a great antioxidant that helps to neutralize free radicals in your body.
  • Are low in saturated fat and have no cholesterol, so they are good for your heart.
  • Are low on the glycemic index, which means your blood sugar won’t spike up after eating them. They can even help to lower blood sugar if eaten after a high glycemic meal.
  • Contain phytochemicals (plant chemicals) that may help in the protection of heart disease and stroke
  • Contains B-17 which has been studied to help cure cancer

You can stash some in your bag for an afternoon snack, use almond milk in smoothies, spread some almond butter on a rice cake (an easy breakfast) or green apple slices…so many possibilities! Almond butter comes in smooth, crunchy, no salt and organic. Find the combination that tastes best for you.

Do you have any recipes with almonds or almond butter? I’d love to hear them!

Asthma Medication and Food Interactions

Ignorance is bliss. But it can also be dangerous!

I was watching an episode of Know the Cause and there was a segment on asthma medications and how certain foods can interact with them.

Did you know that a high carb meal (think a big bowl of pasta with a side of garlic bread), will reduce the amount of the theophylline (bronchodilator) in your body, so your inhaler won’t work as well.

Hmmm. Would have been helpful to know that in high school when I carb-loaded every day after sports practice and took an inhaler at bedtime….and then had trouble sleeping because my pesky lungs wouldn’t cooperate.

Grilled/barbecued meat was also an offender. When meat is grilled at high temperatures, a dangerous reaction can occur that will release chemicals into your body that keep your liver from eliminating the medication.  With repeated doses, the medication can build up in your blood stream and eventually stimulate your heart.  That is never a good thing.

As I mentioned before, I got myself off of all of my asthma medications and I follow the Phase 1 diet  most of the time.  So I’m not eating high carb anymore. But I am still aware of the carcinogens that are produced with grilling meat.

These carcinogens fall into two categories: Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs). HCAs are produced when the muscle protein in meat is cooked at high temperatures. PAHs are produced when the fat from the meat drips down into the fire and produces smoke which coats the meat and also when the flame touches the meat.

BUT, there are some ways to reduce your exposure to these carcinogens:

  • Grill meat at lower temperatures
  • Pre-cook meat in the oven (or on the stove) to decrease grilling time
  • Choose smaller cuts of meat to decrease grilling time
  • Choose leaner cuts of meat to reduce the amount of fat that will drip into the flames
  • Don’t char your meat (or vegetables)
  • Choose fish instead of beef or chicken on the grill (less fat and shorter grilling time
  • Don’t grill every night

So there you have it.  If you’re on any asthma medication, this is definitely food for thought.  And be wise when you grill.  That’s a no brainer!

I’m Going On a Picnic…

It’s Date Night. YAY!

We’re headed to Ravinia, which is an outdoor concert park just north of Chicago, where you can sit on the lawn with a picnic and relax under the stars, listening to the Chicago Symphony, Lyle Lovett or anything in between.

Tonight it’s a classical night, which is fine by me. It’s been a rather stressful week so far (and it’s only Tuesday, I know).

This is also the first time I’ve packed a picnic all summer and I am reminded how much more challenging it is without the obligatory sandwich and other standard picnic fare that revolves around carbs and sugar.

So far, I’ve made veggies with my sour cream dip, guacamole (and rice crackers? I don’t eat tortilla chips anymore, so I’ll have to think about an appropriate pairing), a fruit salad with four different kinds of berries and green apples, and a spinach salad with tomatoes and grilled chicken.  I also made some homemade chocolate covered almonds with just a drizzle of chocolate, so I’m sure those will be coming along as well.

Had we not just decided to go out, I may have planned a more interesting menu (maybe a chicken or steak lettuce wrap? barbecue shrimp salad?) but for a last-minute picnic, I think this one will do just fine.

Do you have any favorite low-carb picnic favorites? I’d love to hear them!

The Secret of Quinoa

No, the secret isn’t how you pronounce quinoa. (It’s actually keen-wah.)

But here it is…Did you know that quinoa is a seed, not a grain?  Until I started following the Phase 1 diet, I just figured it was a carb so it must be a grain. Not so, my friends!  This is the one food on the Phase 1 diet that really made me feel full, like a good old carb would.

Here are some interesting facts about one of my favorite side dishes. Quinoa:

  • Is gluten-free
  • Contains many of the B Vitamins, Vitamin E, potassium, riboflavin, iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, and folic acid
  • Is rich in all nine essential amino acids, particularly lysine which helps your body build protein and repair tissue, and is considered a complete protein
  • Is cholesterol-free and low sodium
  • Is a good source of fiber
  • Can be substituted in most recipes for rice or other grains
  • Is a relative of spinach and Swiss chard
  • Will grow in less than optimal soil conditions…another food that could be farmed in third world countries to help with malnutrition

I buy a box of organic quinoa…

And I’ll cook up a big batch (2 cups of quinoa to 4 cups of liquid…usually 2 cups of water and 2 cups of low-sodium chicken broth) and keep it in the frig to add to recipes or use as an easy side dish.  It’s great with a little butter.  Or you can add vegetables in–saute some onion, shallots and garlic in olive oil– and make it a little heartier.

But whatever you do, don’t forget to RINSE the quinoa before you cook it. It has a very bitter coating (saponins) that will turn you off to this spectacular food if you forget to wash it off the first time…Just rinse the quinoa, put it in a pot with the liquid, bring to a boil, and turn down to simmer for 15-20 minutes until all of the liquid is absorbed. Easy.

Do you have any favorite quinoa recipes? I’d love to hear them!