Thinking outside of the (lunch) box

This fall a big change is happening for my family. My daughter starts kindergarten in September. Although she has attended day care on occasion, most of her care to this point has been at home with the help of our extended family. Having a child in school presents a couple of challenges that make me exceptionally grateful for naturopathic medicine and my awareness around the importance of wholesome food.

eat-real-food

So, I’m sure it comes as no surprise that healthy meals are always a big focus in my life.

With the first day of school around the corner I’ve had to do some outside of the box thinking as to how I can pack a kid-friendly, healthy meal that travels.

Let’s begin with a few general tips about healthy meal planning.

1) Involve the entire family in meal planning, grocery shopping, and meal prep. Kids who engage in the kitchen activities are more likely to eat the meals that are prepared and have better long-term eating habits!

2) Set time aside to prep and batch cook so there’s less to do throughout the week. I like chopping all my veggies into sticks for snacking or grating a few cups of purple cabbage, carrots, and celery to easily toss into salads, wraps, or stir fry. Things like quinoa, hummus, energy balls, salad dressing, overnight oats, yogurt bowls, soups, chilli, sauces, etc. can all be made several days in advance or even frozen for long-term storage.

3) Plan ahead. This is THE KEY to healthy eating. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Live by it. If you have time and are making a lovely, nourishing meal think about ways the leftovers could be incorporated into the next day’s lunch or supper. Make a plan for a week or at least 2-3 days in advance (and stick to it).

kids lunchbox 1

Here are some great ideas I hope will help inspire healthy, creative, and most importantly delicious lunch boxes!

Overnight chilli or pasta sauce
– Place all chilli ingredients in slow cooker overnight and in the morning, simply fill a thermos with the goodness. Send with toasted spelt pita chips.
Note: My daughter has turned against the texture of some of the veggies we put in sauce and chilli, so I do appease her by using a hand immersion blender or our Vitamix to create a consistent texture. When making chilli, I simply add the beans after blending.

Boost your Sandwich
– Add sprouts
– Use lots of veggies such as shredded cabbage, carrots, and celery
– Include “real” meat (ideally high quality, local/grass-fed/free-range) or wild fish
– Try using mashed avocado or hummus instead of mayo
– Be choosy with your bread, go for ancient grains like spelt and kamut. Many local bakeries offer options like this OR wrap it up with lettuce or a sheet of seaweed!

Super Salads
– Get creative! Anything goes when it comes to salad (aka Goddess Bowls!)
– Add lentils, chickpeas, or beans for protein
– Vary the greens (and use more than one kind at once!)
– Toss in fruit and veggies!
– Pump up the volume with seeds, sprouted grains, or sprouts
– Modify the ingredients for less sophisticated palates and wrap them up in a spelt pita or brown rice wrap

Pack a punch with pasta
– Switch up the noodles for black bean or lentil varieties for added protein and fibre
– Try a veggie noodle using a spiraler (zucchini and spaghetti squash are naturals for this!)
– Make your own sauce (we load ours with veggies and then blend it to please our daughter’s texture preference)
– Take every opportunity to add in veggies, like in this Mac and Cheese

Snacks
– Hummus and veggie sticks
– Energy seed balls (of course being mindful of no-nut policies)
– Cheese and crackers
– Smoothies to go-go
Popcorn!
– Wholegrain rice cake with pumpkin seed butter, hummus, or avocado
– Plain, full fat yogurt with chia or ground flaxseeds, topped with berries, cinnamon, and a splash of honey or maple syrup
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Water
– We’ve all heard about the dark side of fruit juice and I recommend avoiding it. In my experience, when juice is not available kids will drink water! Send them to school with a cool, stainless steel canister and encourage them to refill throughout the day!

Let’s face it, eating clean, wholesome foods takes preparation. But I think you and your kids are worth it. I hope you do too!

Happy lunchbox packing!

Happiness Begins In the Gut

The gut and the brain are connected. Maybe that sounds odd to you but in recent years the gut-brain connection has become a hot research topic. Studies like this one highlight the importance of a healthy gut flora and the benefits of probiotics on mood and brain function. There’s evidence to suggest healthy gut flora levels improves our ability to cope with stress and are an effective option to treat depression and anxiety.

In this clip the role of the gut and probiotics is discussed and it becomes pretty clear why the gastrointestinal system is commonly referred to as our second brain.

Seriously Boost Mood with Food

It may be nice to know certain foods are high in specific nutrients and have been proven to positively benefit mood. Especially if depression, anxiety, or blueness are concerns for you, nutrition is a powerful tool that can help you stay or get well.

Here are 4 nutrients you can increase in your diet to seriously boost your mood.

1) Omega 3s

There is much research proving the benefit of omega 3s in the treatment of depression and other mood disorders. Omega 3s provide necessary brain nutrients, including EPA and DHA. Examples of fish high in omega-3s include sardines, salmon, herring, trout and canned white tuna. Shellfish, including mussels and oysters, also contain omega-3s. Other sources include flaxoil, chia seeds, and walnuts.

2) B Vitamins

More accurately these vitamins should be known as Hap-B vitamins. These water soluble vitamins are mood and energy boosting and are very effective at addressing symptoms of mood imbalance, including anxiety and depression.
Food processing destroys naturally occurring B vitamins, so the best way to increase Bs in your diet is to fill your refrigerator and pantry with raw, organic fruits and vegetables. Beans and lentils, as well as whole grain are also high in B vitamins.

3) Protein

Protein is made up of amino acid building blocks. These tiny nutrients are essential for building muscle, energy, and mood. One amino acid that particularly benefits mood is tryptophan. Found in turkey, barley, and beans, tryptophan supports the mood boosting serotonin.

4) Antioxidants

Antioxidants which could help to fight anxiety and stress are found in foods that have high beta-carotene level as well as those rich with vitamins C and E. One way to ensure your diet is rich in antioxidants is to eat a rainbow everyday. Encourage variety and colour in your diet as a means of boosting your mood. To go for colour choose fruits such as pomegranate, pineapple, grapefruit, berries; vegetables like beets, peppers, kale and spinach; as well as legumes and nuts and seeds especially walnuts, pecans and sunflower seeds.

There are many fantastic recipes you can try using foods rich in the above nutrients. One of my favourite website to visit for nutritious meal ideas is http://www.nourishingmeals.com.

Isn’t it wonderful to know that you have a significant amount of control when it comes to using food to power your mood?

The Golden Child

Turmeric is by far my favourite spice and why pretty much everything I cook ends up being a shade of yellow.

With so many benefits, I’d be crazy not to cook with it!

http://www.mynewroots.org is a wonderful food blog by holistic nutritionist, Sarah Britton. Here’s what she has to say about turmeric.

“Turmeric: The Golden Child (original post from January 10, 2014)

Let’s make a New Years resolution together: eat more turmeric! Why? Because this humble little rhizome is a super food with serious superpowers.

Turmeric is a rhizome that comes from the Curcuma longa plant, with brown skin and shockingly bright orange flesh. It’s this pigment that gives curry powder its distinctive hue, and ballpark mustard that famous yellow glow. Curcumin, the primary ingredient in turmeric that is responsible for its golden colour, has important antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and healing properties. It protects the liver form toxins and congestion, lowers cholesterol, reduces menstrual pain, and even helps soothe an upset tummy by aiding digestion and ridding the system of gas and distention.

Turmeric also speeds up the healing of wounds, both on the inside and out! To make an effective pain killer and cut healer, simply mix one teaspoon of ground turmeric powder with enough ghee, olive oil or coconut oil to make a paste and spread over the cut. Adding grated ginger to the paste will help decrease pain and increase its ability to heal. Turmeric is wonderful on burns as well, which I know from my days working in a professional kitchen! Mix one teaspoon ground turmeric powder with one teaspoon fresh aloe vera gel, apply to the burnt area and keep open to the air. Reapply as needed.

The flavour of turmeric is relatively mild – warm, slightly bitter and peppery with notes of orange and ginger. I find that it is delicious in everything from savoury stews and dressings, to sweet smoothies and raw desserts! Seriously. The fresh root is much more delicious than the dried version, simply because it has more depth and character. Finding fresh turmeric may be difficult however if you do not live near an ethnic market, but the dried powder is widely available. If possible, get your hands on freshly ground turmeric that hasn’t been sitting on your grocery store’s shelf for months on end.

To store fresh turmeric, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and keep for one week in the refrigerator. To store dried turmeric, keep powder in a tightly sealed glass container away from heat and light – not right next to the stove for example. This will preserve the flavour and medicinal qualities, which I know you’re interested in now!”

Fitting in Fermented Foods

Jarsoffermentedfood

We’ve heard it before, the importance of good bugs in a healthy digestive tract. Much of our immune system resides in the digestive tract and a balanced level of beneficial bacteria has been linked to reduce allergies and fewer colds, along with overall reduced digestive distress (such as gas, bloating, constipation, etc). More recent research is connecting positive gut environment with improvements in mental health, such as reduced levels of anxiety as in this study. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/04/gut-bacteria-mental-healt_n_6391014.html
For more detailed information on the benefits of balanced gut bacteria, check out a past post: “Let Them Eat Dirt”

Incorporating fermented and cultured foods in your diet is one of the best ways to promote good bacteria.

What exactly are fermented foods and how do they contribute to healthy gut flora? According to Sandor Katz, author of The Art of Fermentation, fermented foods are “the flavourful space between fresh and rotten.” Nice, eh? During the fermentation process, beneficial bacteria digest sugars and starches in the food and release lactic acid. It’s the lactic acid that prevents any unwanted organisms from growing. Just a few days of fermenting, et voila! A bacteria rich, health promoting food that also tastes great!

Common examples of fermented or cultured foods include sauerkraut, miso (soybean paste), Kombucha tea, natural yogurt, aged cheeses, and kefir.

Another wonderful thing about fermented foods is that it doesn’t take much to reap the benefits. As little as a few tablespoons of sauerkraut, 1/2-1 cup of kefir, or 2 cups of kombucha tea provide therapeutic benefits.

There are many resources on how you can make your own fermented foods, but if you’re not into fermenting food at home, many quality products are available for purchase online or at local health food stores.

Not all fermented foods are created equal. When purchasing fermented foods, be sure to follow these guidelines offered by Dr. Frank Lipman, MD:

Be a Smart Shopper – In Five Steps
To get the most active cultures be on the look-out for:
KEEP COOL: Fermented foods are full of live organisms that must be kept cool to survive, so buy only fermented items in the refrigerated section of the store

IT IS WHAT IT IS: Fermented foods will, not surprisingly, have the phrase “fermented” printed somewhere on the label, so make sure it says so.

PUT IT OUT TO PASTURE: Be sure the label does not say “pasteurized” – because the pasteurization process wipes out the cultures you need to help fortify your gut.

FERMENTED AND PICKLED ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS: …So don’t confuse the two – they’re not interchangeable. Pickled foods are exactly that – they’re pickled in liquids like vinegar or brine, but not fermented (unless it says otherwise on the label).

BUY ORGANIC: Look for fermented foods that are made from the best raw materials possible, namely those made from organic, non-GM or locally farmed produce. (Dr. Blake’s note: especially SOY products such as Tempeh and Miso)

Aside from promoting a healthy environment in the digestive tract, fermented foods are rich in antioxidants like vitamin C, have anti-cancer benefits, and support healthy blood sugar levels. This article details the benefits of sauerkraut. http://vitalitymagazine.com/article/ten-reasons-to-eat-fresh-unpasteurized-sauerkraut/

Adding a dose of fermented foods to your daily routine will go a long way in promoting a flourishing life.

A few of my favourite resources:

Fermented Veggie Recipes & Websites:
http://www.culturesforhealth.com/how-to-naturally-culture-ferment-vegetables
http://www.nourishingmeals.com/2012/02/how-to-make-lacto-fermented-vegetables.html
http://phickle.com (an entire site about fermenting!)

Yogurts and Cream (can be non-dairy)
http://www.nourishingmeals.com/2014/01/homemade-dairy-free-sour-cream-nut-free.html

Books:
Fermented foods For Health by Deirdre Rawlings
Delicious Probiotic Drinks by Julia Mueller
The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook (features an entire chapter on cultured foods) by Tom Malterre & Alissa Segersten

Products:
Kartheins Unpasteurized Kimchi and Sauerkraut
Yogi Kombucha Green Tea

Not to be a party-pooper but….

My not-totally-sugar-free tiger!
My not-totally-sugar-free tiger!

This Halloween was the first that I’ve had where my daughter was actually able to participate with awareness and, it’s official, I’m not a fan. In truth, I’ve never been a big fan of the event and my involvement has been minimal. Other than attending a costume party with friends, we were the house with the lights off. As a Naturopathic Doctor it just didn’t feel right to hand out sugar loaded treats to young children during the peak of cold and flu season and my interest level wasn’t high enough to put an effort into healthier alternatives (and risk the egg throwing that may come afterwards).

I didn’t see any costume this Halloween season that is scarier than a concerning health trend: diabetes. It bugs me that we as a society continue to promote trick or treating while kids (and our health care system) are suffering because of it.

Normally, when we consume food, our bodies digest the food items into their most simple forms. In the case of carbohydrates the end result is glucose. Once glucose is absorbed into the blood stream, the pancreas produces a hormone known as insulin. Insulin is the signal for cells in the body to open their doors to glucose. Our cells use glucose as energy.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce insulin. This causes a build up of glucose in the blood. High levels of glucose in the blood stream can damage a number of body tissues, especially brain, kidney, and eyes. Type 1 diabetics require diet/lifestyle modifications as well as medication to treat their disease. The specific cause of Type 1 diabetes is unclear, however, it is not linked to lifestyle and diet factors in the same way as Type 2.

In Type 2 diabetes, the same process happens – glucose is not getting in to the cells like it should. However, the reasons are different. Type 2 diabetes is progressive and preventable. In the beginning, it is usually the result of too high blood sugar too often. The pancreas “burns out” and slows its production of insulin. The cells also become immune to the insulin message and begin to ignore the signal. The pancreas becomes overstressed and eventually stops working.

Type 2 diabetes was once considered an adult disease, hardly ever occurring in children. Today however, the number of adolescent and childhood cases of Type 2 diabetes is growing. Recent research suggests that one in every three children born in North America after 2000 will be diagnosed with diabetes in their lifetime. Even more alarming is that in the next 15 years, it is anticipated that the global incidence of type 2 diabetes in children will increase by up to 50 percent! For a disease that was once only seen in adults, these statistics are scary.

The development of type 2 diabetes is closely related to obesity; about 95 per cent of children with type 2 diabetes are overweight at diagnosis. Given that the proportion of Canadian children who are overweight has tripled in the last 30 years (now approx. 1 in 4 kids under 17 are overweight), it is not surprising that incidence of type 2 diabetes among youth is rising. The exciting news is that Type 2 diabetes is preventable! With basic lifestyle and diet modifications, we have the ability to change these statistics.

Follow the steps below to reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes:
1) Get moving. Exercise prevents obesity and helps lower blood sugar levels. Kids need exercise as much as (and maybe more than) adults. Ensure 1 hour of activity every day.

2) Get adequate Vitamin D. Low vitamin D levels are linked to Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. If it’s not possible to get your dose from sunshine, ask your Naturopathic Doctor on how best to supplement this essential vitamin.

3) Reduce sugar intake. Try to avoid all refined sugar (candy, pop, chocolate bars). Sweeten with applesauce and other fruits or use honey in moderation.

4) Add blood sugar regulating foods to your diet. Cinnamon sprinkled in yogurt or added to a smoothie, apple cider vinegar used in salad dressing, and blueberries on your oatmeal are helpful at reduce blood sugar levels.

5) Choose whole foods and refer to the glycemic index (a tool used to identify how quickly foods turns to sugar in your body). http://www.glycemicindex.com

I’m not saying that Halloween can’t be fun or that the occasional candy is going to cause diabetes. I just think we need to come together and make some changes – give your children and trick-or-treaters healthier options (www.nourishingmeals.com is a great resource) OR plan a fun activity (bobbing for apples, pumpkin carving, costume party) that is unrelated to food. Treats don’t always have to come in packages.
Dr. Melissa Blake is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor with a family practice at The Pear Tree Naturopathic Clinic in Dieppe, NB. She is passionate about educating her patients so they are able to make informed decisions about their health and wellness. She is a member of the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors and Vice President of the New Brunswick Association of Naturopathic Doctors. She can be reached at 506-857-1300 or by email: thepeartreenaturopathicclinic@gmail.com . She also maintains a wellness blog: http://drmblake-nd.blogspot.ca