No BS Supplement Essentials

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Recently, I was asked what were the top five supplements that I would recommend to everyone. Generally, I shy away from such blanket recommendations but I had already given this some thought and have a few ideas. Let’s talk about what I think are the absolute, no BS essential supplements for everyone (& why!), PLUS some honorable mentions.

Here’s a quick glance at the top 5, in no particular order:

>Creatine

>Probiotics

>Fish Oil

>Vitamin D

>Vitamin B-12

 

Creatine

Creatine is highly effective and one of the most researched supplements in the industry. It’s benefits include better energy production, increased muscle performance & muscle strength and improved muscle recovery. In addition, these benefits are more pronounced in those following a vegetarian and vegan diet, since their levels are naturally lower.  Supplementation is generally safe for most people and there is no scientific evidence of any long-term risks. ***It’s popular to think that creatine supplementation is “bad” for your kidneys. The truth is, if you have normal functioning kidneys, supplementing with creatine is safe. ***

Probiotics

Gut health is one of the cornerstones for overall health. The gut microbiome is an umbrella term used to describe the various bacteria, viruses, fungi and other organisms in our digestive system. Having a diverse microbiome helps with digestive health, brain health, immune health, even mood. Of course, I strongly recommend relying foods for your probiotics. Fermented foods, like kimchi, kefir and sauerkraut (just to name a few) are good sources. In supplement form, choose a probiotic with a diverse blend of bacteria (or be sure to cycle those with different types). Different probiotics are effective at different doses, but generally speaking, the more CFUs (colony forming units) a supplement contains, the better.  

Fish Oil

Fish Oil is an excellent source of Omega-3s. Omega-3s, like probiotics, have far reaching benefits. These include enhancing overall heart health, reducing joint pain and arthritis, even  improving skin and mood. While a high quality fish oil is the best source for this, strict vegans can opt for algae oil instead.

Vitamin D

Also known as the sunshine vitamin, can be synthesized from the sun’s UV rays.  However, this process is much less efficient in individuals with deeper skin tones. Normal weather patterns and current lifestyle habits ( ie. we generally are spending less time outdoors) have also made deficiencies much more common. Fatigue and mood disturbances can be a sign but this should be verified by a blood test by your doctor. Vitamin D is not something we can reliably get from our diet, therefore, we should either spend more time exposing our bare skin to the sun or supplement. If you’re buying your own, choose a Vitamin D3 supplement OR if you are working with your doctor and a deficiency is found, you may have it prescribed instead.

 

~FOR MOMS~ Babies who are breastfed are also commonly prescribed vitamin D drops to supplement. This is because breastmilk does not contain an adequate amount of vitamin D. While these drops are perfectly safe, some have found that it can make the baby gassy and uncomfortable. Instead, mothers can supplement and it will be passed on the baby that way. The current recommendation is 6400ui daily.

 

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VItamin B12

The energy vitamin. Helps with the formation of DNA, red blood cells and the function of the nervous system. Vitamin B12 is naturally found in poultry, fish, eggs and diary; if you are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, supplementation is your best option. This is commonly seen in the two forms: cyanocobalamin and methylcobalamin. The latter, methylated form is what is found in our bloodstream and more readily accepted by the body when presented in supplement form. It’s preferable to cyanocobalamin and it’s one of the ways I gauge the quality of the supplement. You can also get vitamin B12 shots (make sure they are from a reputable source of course!). I should mention that these shots are often marketed as a weight-loss aid; that’s simply not true. These shots, while safe for everyone, are best for individuals with known B12 deficiencies (such as those following a vegan diet), mostly due to accessibility and the expense. Otherwise, if you think you can benefit from an energy boost, make sure you’re consuming food rich in B12 and perhaps try a high quality supplement from a brand you trust.

 

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That’s it! Supplements are designed to “supplement” your foundational routine, so there’s no need to go overboard and buy everything the GNC employee offers you. With that being said, here’s some honorable mentions. These are valuable additions to any supplement routine but not completely necessary, for reasons we’ll discuss:

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Whey Protein Isolate (or protein of choice)

Whey Protein Isolate is the protein supplement I recommend the most but this applies to be any protein. ~To learn more about different forms of protein supplements, check out my 12-week personal nutrition e-course IDEAL Nutrition~

Ideally, the majority of your protein should be coming from your diet, however, a high quality protein supplement can help you meet your protein requirements.

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Multi-Vitamin/Multi-Mineral Supplement

 

Initially, I thought this was something that most people could benefit from. But the truth is, your typical, run-of-the-mill multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement probably is not addressing any nutrient deficiency you may have. Instead of looking for the alphabet soup on the back of the label, try a more focused approach. Look for supplements with ONLY those vitamin and minerals you are looking for. Not sure what you need? Skip it and eat a well balanced, whole-food, plant-based diet. If you have specific concerns, work with a health professional you trust and consider getting lab work done, so you can know exactly what you need.  

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Final Thoughts

Throughout this blog post, I’ve put an emphasis on “high quality”. But what exactly is “high-quality”? I know this can be difficult, as the FDA does NOT regulate the supplement industry and they statements they make. If any supplement is going to be a regular staple in your supplementation routine, I strongly encourage you to become familiar with the company and understand the ingredients they use and their quality standards, so you can make an informed decision about your purchase.

 

DIY Wheatgrass Powder (Wheatgrass for the Rest of Us)

I’m feeling pretty proud of myself.

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Earlier this week, I juiced some wheatgrass we picked up from the store. I shared you with the benefits of juicing the wheatgrass and even suggested that it’s preferable to consuming it in powdered form. And what did I do less than 48 hours later? Create my own wheatgrass powder. Before you side-eye me, let me explain:

 

First of all, I didn’t feel like assembling and cleaning my juicer. Not that it takes much effort, but I just didn’t feel like doing it… sue me.

I also noticed, as I always do when I juice, all of the leftover pulp that either will go unused or end up in my dog’s food bowl. Considering the expense of fresh wheatgrass, I had a hard time “wasting” so much of the plant. In addition, I wanted to use a primary component lost during the juicing process: fiber.  Most people do not eat enough fiber and wheatgrass is an excellent source of dietary fiber. Unfortunately, juicing removes this fiber.  There are times when I want the fiber removed but in this case, I wanted the digestive benefits of fiber.

Alas, I came to the conclusion that making my own wheatgrass powder was an economical way to maximize the benefits of wheatgrass. Here’s what I did to make it:

Basically, you will be using your oven to dry out the wheatgrass, then grind it into a powder using a food processor or coffee grinder. Set your oven between 150 and 175 degrees F and spread the wheatgrass evenly into a single layer onto a baking sheet. Place the wheatgrass into the oven and allow it to dry out for a couple hours. If you you have one available, you can also use a dehydrator for the process. Once the wheatgrass is completely dried out and brittle to the touch, remove it from the oven and grind into a fine powder. I used a food processor I had for this, but I would recommend using a coffee grinder instead to have better control of the consistency of the end product. Transfer your freshly made wheatgrass powder into a storage container and either keep in the fridge or another cool, dry place. Exposure to sunlight can reduce the nutritional benefit of your powder.

Try adding this powder to smoothies, which is a great option for those who find wheatgrass juice unappetizing.  Depending on the consistency of your powder you may decide that simply mixing it in a glass of warm water with a squeeze of lemon will suffice. You can also sprinkle the powder atop vegetable dishes or even make your own skincare products and remedies from it.

 

Enjoy!

 

 

Wheatgrass: Are You Gonna Drink That?

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What Is It

Wheatgrass, as the name implies, is the young grass that sprouts from the wheat plant. Typically it is juiced or milled into a fine powder.

Although it can be found in many forms, it’s almost always best to consume foods closest to how they are found in nature, with as minimal processing and manipulation as possible and practical. In the case of wheat grass, this would mean fresh juice. However, powder is the next best option.

Nutritional Benefits

The primary benefit of wheatgrass is chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is usually described as a “liver cleanser” or “detoxifier”. Let’s put those claims into some desperately needed perspective---

The human body is designed to “cleanse and detoxify” itself on it own, without the aid of superfoods and herbal supplements. However, there are some that are known to help SUPPORT those functions. Wheatgrass is one of them. In other words, this simply aids in a process that is already occurring in your body. It should be understood that, despite its lofty claims, wheatgrass is not a “miracle detoxifier” and will only work as part of holistic and balanced lifestyle and diet.  Another interesting note, chlorophyll's chemical composition is nearly identical to that of hemoglobin found in our blood.

Other nutrients found in wheatgrass include:

- Vitamin A

- Vitamin C

- VItamin E

- Selenium

- Calcium & Magnesium

- Iron

Wheatgrass can also [potentially] help to:

- lower high cholesterol and blood pressure

- act as an antioxidant and lower free radical damage

- act as an anti-cancer agent, by facilitating apoptosis (or "cell death") of cancerous cells

Admittedly, there is not a lot scientific evidence available to support some of the claims however, there are some clinical and animal trials that have demonstrated the potential of wheatgrass.

What are the Potential Risks?

Again, the scientific evidence on wheatgrass is lacking, so any potential long-term effects are not known at this time. As with anything for human consumption, one should seek to obtain and use the highest quality possible and available. Basically, if you are unable or unwilling to grow your own, be sure you verify and trust where you are getting your wheatgrass from. In addition, steps to reduce the potential for allergic reaction and risk for contamination should be taken. Wheatgrass that is not grown and/or stored properly may develop mold, so be mindful of this if you decide to grow your own. Harvested wheatgrass remains fresh for about a week and should be kept dry, in an airtight container until ready to be used. Otherwise, the consumption of wheatgrass is generally regarded as safe and carries little risk.

 

Stevia: The ONLY "artificial" sweetener I recommend

The past couple posts, I’ve gone over a few natural sweeteners I like. While most of us can benefit from reducing our sugar intake, to eliminate completely is unrealistic. So, I’ve offered a few happy mediums: First maple syrup and last post was raw honey. This week, I’m offering another solution: STEVIA.

With countless other sugar substitutes on the market, it can be hard to distinguish the difference between them all. Stevia is a sugar substitute growing popularity. Accepted for use in the United States in 2008, it’s derived from a plant, unlike other popular sweeteners that are made from chemicals (i.e. Aspartame, Saccharin and Sucralose aka Splenda). Stevia is also about 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.

Research on stevia is still limited however, what IS available seems to be promising. Studies have shown that stevia is not carcinogenetic (or cancer- causing) and has even been shown to lower blood sugar.  Additionally, despite concerns of contraceptive effects and risks of toxicity, studies have proven these concerns to be unfounded.  For now, it seems that stevia can do no wrong. I will caution you and encourage you to seek out new information. Aside from the occasional side effects a small minority have reported (allergic reactions, dizziness, nausea, upset stomach, etc.), there is currently nothing to indicate that Stevia is UNSAFE.

You can begin to incorporate sugar into your diet just by sprinkling some you’re your morning coffee. There are also plenty of sugar- stevia conversion tables online that will help you to substitute Stevia in your favorite recipes.  Here’s a link to one: http://authenticsimplicity.net/2012/11/substitute-stevia-for-sugar/

THINGS TO REMEMBER:

The goal is to reduce the amount of sugar in our diets.  Keep in mind that sugar substitutes tend to be much sweeter than the real thing. This is nice because you use less however, because it is much sweeter than real sugar, you may become more accustomed to sweeter tasting foods. It’s been suggested that Stevia can have positive effects on satiety, however that has yet to be proven. In the meantime, try your best to reduce your overall sugar intake and consumption of all things sweet.  When you DO want or need to use a sweetener consider Stevia or the other two options. 

Ingredient Spotlight: Honey

Raw organic honey is another natural sweetener that great to keep on hand.  First it’s important to recognize there is a HUGE difference between ‘regular’ honey and raw honey. As the name implies, raw honey has not undergone the processing that conventional honey has gone through.  As a result, all of the nutrients and positive properties of honey remain intact. Conventional honey offers none of these.

 

Raw honey by definition is pure, unheated, unpasteurized and unprocessed.  It can be found in solid or liquid form. (Beware that raw honey will crystallize over time if purchased in the liquid form.) Perhaps one of the most important and distinguishing characteristics of raw honey is the presence of bee pollen.  Bee pollen contains vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, lipids and protein.  Another constituent of raw honey is bee propolis. This is a substance that bees collect as they travel from tree to tree and use to line the hive to it and the colony healthy. This has proven antibiotic and antiseptic properties.  It may also have antiviral and anti-inflammatory effects.

 

In addition to vitamins and minerals and antiviral, antiseptic and antibiotic properties, there is also a growing belief that raw honey can provide relief for seasonal allergies.  Try to use raw honey from your local area for maximum benefit.

 

While raw honey has all these great benefits, it’s important to remember that it is nothing more than another source of SUGAR. The goal is to MINIMIZE sugar intake and to use the best quality of sugar we can when you DO decide to consume it.  There are some other drawbacks you may want to keep in mind; Here’s a list that sums it up nicely:

  • Extra Calories – Honey is a fast way to add calories to a meal. 1 tablespoon on average yields 60 calories. Thus, if you are interested in losing weight, or not gaining excess pounds, you have to be careful how much honey you use, and how often. Normally, due to honey’s intensely sweet flavor, it is hard to consume a lot of it at once.
  • High Sugar Content – Honey is about 40% fructose and 30% glucose, with the remaining carbohydrates including maltose, sucrose, and other complex carbohydrates. Even though raw honey has been studied in actually aiding insulin regulation, regular or high consumption of any sugar can cause various imbalances.
  • Bacterial Contamination – Due to the fact that honey is very low in water content and very high in sugar content, this makes it undesirable for microbial growth. However, in rare cases endospores of Clostridium botulinum (the bacteria that can cause botulism) have been found. This is normally never a problem for an adult digestive system, but the reason why honey should not be given to infants.
  • Animal Welfare – Depending on how the honey bees are housed and maintained, beekeeping can become a controversial animal welfare issue. Some beekeepers have been known to burn or starve the colonies at the end of the season to avoid costs of maintenance out of season. Hence, buying honey from local beekeepers whom you know or companies who practice humane treatment is key when purchasing raw honey.
  • Disappearing Bees – Scientific reports show that bee numbers are on a sharp decline and this is naturally troublesome for our future food forecasts. We must remember that bees are responsible for the pollination of most of our plant food crops and without them, we face serious problems. Thus lowering a demand for honey has been proposed as a way to let bees thrive in their own natural habitat. Various chemicals, climate change and electromagnetic radiation are also being investigated in the issue of declining bee numbers.

Ingredient Spotlight: Maple Syrup

Most people, including myself,  struggle with sugar cravings, it’s important to choose your sweets wisely. One natural sweetner I’m partial to is maple syrup. First, I’ll tell you why and then I’ll share a few recipes you can use to integrate it into your own diet.

 

Maple syrup can go much further than your morning pancakes. For starters, maple syrup contains zinc, which supports healthy immune function and manganese, which supports bone health. In addition it’s packed with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories.

 

Maple syrup is also lower on the glycemic than sugar. This means it’s more likely to keep your blood glucose level from skyrocketing.

 

Finally, labeling for maple syrup is strictly regulated. This means you can be sure that the words, “ pure maple syrup” really means it’s pure. Avoid “pancake syrup” and “maple flavored” substances.  The label will also indicate the syrup’s grade. In the U.S., there are 2: Grade A and Grade B.

 

Grade A syrup is generally lighter in color, smoother in flavor and more sweet; this is usually the top choose for pancake syrup. This grade is divided by color; light amber, produced early in the maple season and the most delicate in flavor (perfect for breakfast); medium amber, with a slightly more concentrated maple flavor (great for cocktails); and dark amber, which has the most intense flavor.

 

Grade B is typically darker in color and deeper in flavor with notes of bourbon, smoke and caramel.  Traditionally a baking syrup, it’ snow appreciated for it’s deep, smoky notes by food lovers alike.

 

Recipes!! Here’s 3 recipes featuring maple syrup:

 

Breakfast: MAPLE MILLET CEREAL In a bowl, combine 3 cups cooked, well-drained millet, 1 tablespoon chia seeds, 3 tablespoons maple syrup, 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed and ¼ teaspoon salt.  Spread mixture ¼ inch thick onto rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees until crisp, 45-50 minutes. Cool, and then break into bite-sized pieces. Divide cereal among 4 bowls and top each with ¼ cup mixed fresh berries, 1 tsp. chopped crystallized ginger and ½ cup of low-fat OR unsweetened vanilla almond milk. **Makes 4 servings: per serving (cereal only) 200 calories, 1.5 gram fat (0 g saturated fat), 42 grams carbohydrates, 150 mg sodium, 2g fiber, 5g protein.

 

Happy Hour/ Brunch: MAPLE CHAMPAGNE COCKTAIL Pour 2 teaspoons maple syrup into the bottom of a champagne flute. Fill with 5 ounces of dry champagne and float 1 teaspoon pomegranate seeds or 2 raspberries. **Makes 1 drink: per drink (with raspberries) 90 calories, 0 g fat, 24 g carbs, 10 mg sodium, 0 g fiber, 0 g protein. 

 

Dinner: MAPLE GLAZED BRUSSEL SPROUTS In large bowl, toss 1 pound brussel sprouts (trimmed and halved), 2 tablespoons each maple syrup and olive oil. 10 small garlic cloves (peeled and halved), 1/2 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Roast at 400 degrees on a baking sheet until garlic cloves are slightly browned  and tender crisped, 18-20 minutes. **Makes 4 servings; per serving 150 calories, 7 g fat (1 g sat), 29 g carbs, 320 g sodium, 5 g fiber, 4 g protein

Why You STILL Aren't Losing Weight | Calories In

A deeper look as to why you STILL aren't losing weight (2-part series)

Here's a  simple way to portion out your food effectively if you are just getting started. I learned this techinique while earning my Precision Nutrition Level One certification: 

For women, aim to have
1 palm-sized amount of lean protein, at each meal
1 fist sized amount of veggies, at each meal
1 handful-sized amount of  complex, nutrient-rich carbs, at some meals
1 thumb sized amount of f healthy fats, at some meals

For men, simply double these amounts. 

 This is a great method to use to start out with because  your hands are your measuring tool! Why? Because smaller people need less food and vice versa- using your hands is a simple and easy way to get a portionate amount of food. Keep in mind, however, that these are just starting points and recommendations. Optimal amounts will vary by individual.