Paleo Eating – Not just for Cave People

Paleo Eating – Not just for Cave People

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The Paleolithic Diet, more commonly known as the Paleo Diet, is a style of eating based on what Paleolithic humans ate more than 10,000 to 2 million years ago. This whole-foods based diet was originally proposed as an idea in the 1960s. But, the Paleo Diet has been gaining in popularity since 2002 when Dr Loren Cordain’s book The Paleo Diet was published. Devotees of this eating approach swear by it, toting better health via weight loss, healthier blood sugars, etc. Critics state we really don’t know what Paleolithic man ate, and we don’t know if they were actually healthier or not. Either way, if you’ve been curious about the Paleo Diet, here’s your chance to dive in!

What is the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo Diet includes eating more like humans before the development of farming. More specifically, it recommends eating lean meats, fish, eggs, vegetables, and fruit. Dairy, legumes (except green beans, snow peas, and sugar snap peas), potatoes, and grains are to be avoided. Refined cooking oils and alcohol are also frowned upon. In general, fruits are allowed in moderation as they are higher in sugar. Added natural sweeteners such as honey, molasses, maple syrup, raw cane sugar, etc., can be used in small amounts. Grass-fed or wild-caught meats, cold-pressed oils, and organic vegetables are preferred, but most authors of Paleo books support buying according to your budget. Processed foods, soda pop, refined sugar, and artificial sweeteners are to be avoided.

On top of that, there are also specific types of Paleo Diet recommendations for people who have chronic diseases including autoimmune diagnoses. These specific protocols can limit nightshades or nuts and seeds for example, as they can potentially cause inflammation. Some modern Paleo authors also state raw dairy, grass-fed butter, and sweet potatoes are fine as long as it is well-tolerated. Generally, a moderate amount of protein and carbohydrates (from vegetables and fruits), and adequate healthy fats are recommended.

Benefits of Eating Paleo

There can be a wide variety of health benefits following a Paleo Diet. Paleo Diets are typically higher in fiber, antioxidants, potassium, and other micronutrients. With a whole foods diet, it also limits the number of processed foods which are generally lower in nutritional value. Processed foods also tend to be higher in sugar, and too much sugar can be inflammatory, increasing the risk of chronic disease in the future.

One study evaluated people with metabolic syndrome which is estimated to affect 30% or more of American adults. It found that in cases when adults followed the Paleo Diet anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 months, there was a reduction in waist size, lowering of high blood pressure, and fasting blood sugars when compared to placebos. Another study looked at all causes of death and found that it may reduce the risk of dying for any reason. Additionally, it helps improve total cholesterol, LDL (“bad” cholesterol), and triglycerides.

Some proponents indicate that it is more than just a diet; rather, it is a way of life by regulating sleep, using more natural movement and body weight exercise such as MovNAT, having screen-free days, etc. This can further increase the potential benefits of the Paleo Diet as overall lifestyle choices are improving.

Downsides to Paleo

Some short-term research studies seem to indicate Paleo Diets provide inadequate levels of iodide and calcium. One argument states that since magnesium is higher, and calcium excretion has been found to be lower, it balances out in the end, but there is limited data on this. This diet hasn’t been well-studied to see if it is maintainable long term either. Are there enough minerals to prevent osteoporosis for instance?

Another limiting factor can be meal planning. With today’s busy lifestyles, it can be difficult to cook meals every day to put on the table. Generally, the allowed foods, especially fresh meats, tend to be more expensive. There can also be concerns with nutrient deficiencies when eliminating entire categories of food. Additionally, some people can interpret Paleo incorrectly, eating a lot of meat while not increasing their vegetable and fruit intake. Eating large amounts of red meat increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and early death. Finally, this eating style can be incredibly difficult to maintain long term as it is so far different from the standard American diet. There are also limits on study length to find out if the benefits of eating Paleo last for years.

Wrapping It All Up…

It’s important to find a whole-foods based diet that works best for you and your family’s needs. Eating minimally processed foods, drinking water, getting adequate sleep, etc, are also important lifestyle factors that can have a large impact on health whether you follow the Paleo Diet or not.

As always, you should consult with your physician before making any sweeping lifestyle changes. If you have questions about your diet or the Paleo diet, seek out professional guidance from a holistic doctor or nutritionist in your area.

References:

  • Agoulnik, Dorothy MS, RD; Lalonde, Mathieu Pascal PhD; Ellmore, George S. PhD; McKeown, Nicola M. PhD. 2021. “Part 1: The Origin and Evolution of the Paleo Diet.” Nutrition Today; 56(3): 94-104. doi: 10.1097/NT.0000000000000482
  • Challa HJ, Bandlamudi M, Uppaluri KR. 2023. “Paleolithic Diet”. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482457
  • Harvard T.H. Chan – School of Public Health. N.D. “Diet Review: Paleo Diet for Weight Loss.” Retrieved Nov. 28, 2023. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/diet-reviews/paleo-diet
  • Manheimer, Eric W et al. 2015. “Paleolithic Nutrition for Metabolic Syndrome: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 102(4): 922-32. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.113613
  • Moore JX, Chaudhary N, Akinyemiju T. 2017. “Metabolic Syndrome Prevalence by Race/Ethnicity and Sex in the United States, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-2012.” Prev Chronic Dis; 14: 160287. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd14.160287
  • Whalen, Kristine A et al. 2017. “Paleolithic and Mediterranean Diet Pattern Scores Are Inversely Associated with All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality in Adults.” The Journal of Nutrition; 147(4): 612-620. doi:10.3945/jn.116.241919

Image attribution: vecstock/freepik.com

Quality Over Quantity

Quality Over Quantity

By Ava Wentzel, LMT, Ayurvedic Yoga Educator

It’s November and we are nearing the many feast days of the cold months! So, let’s get right into it.

Food is a sensitive topic for most of us because we all ultimately want to “do it right.” It’s very easy to fall into a spiral and become overwhelmed with emotions like shame, guilt, and regret due to our relationship or engagement with food. So, let’s take a moment to consider Ayurveda’s general perspective on food.

EXIT: Counting calories.

ENTER: Prioritizing quality.

It may very well be uncomfortable to imagine ignoring the calories in something we consume, but ancient Ayurvedic wisdom teaches us that the only true concerns we need have when it comes to what we eat are:

1.   Is my body sensitive to or intolerant of this food?

2.   Will this food balance me?

3.   Is there Prana in this food?

What we want to do is assess the quality of our food. We want to know where our food is coming from, how it was cultivated, how much energy it will give us, and how it will impact our body and mind.

FOOD SENSITIVITIES

If we are eating foods that our body is telling us we can’t handle (and it will tell us, we just need to practice listening and learning its messages) what we are essentially doing is throwing our homeostasis off. When we force our body systems into overdrive just so it can try to break down, process, and assimilate a food we are intolerant of, we might notice anything from acne to IBS. Whatever the messages your body gives you, however loud or quiet, remain attentive to them — these are indicators of how you can show up for your body in a more supportive way in the future, by avoiding or lessening your consumption of these foods.

EATING TO MAINTAIN BALANCE

In Ayurveda, everything we do either brings us closer to or pulls us away from our true nature; We use the Gunas or “qualities” to determine which impact our food will have on our body. The Twenty Gunas (which are ten pairs of opposite qualities) are: heavy/light, sharp/dull, hot/cold, oily/dry, slimy/rough, dense/liquid, soft/hard, mobile/stable, gross*/subtle, cloudy/clear. *The word “gross,” in this context, refers to something immediately obvious and visible without difficulty, large in size.

For example, if we are congested we are probably experiencing qualities like heavy, dull, and cold. So what we need are foods that introduce the light, sharp, and hot qualities.

Some Heavy/Dull/Cold Foods — cheeses, wheat, dairy, cashews, yogurt, milk, ice cream, meats, avocados, dates, sweet potatoes, eggs, cucumbers, okra, potatoes.

Some Light/Sharp/Hot Foods — Onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, chilis, lettuce, turnips, lemons, kiwis, ginger, cloves, cayenne, mustard greens.

Like increases like & opposites balance.

Drinking an iced latte in the middle of winter when you have a cold will only increase the qualities that perpetuate congestion and sluggishness. Alternatively, drinking a hot tea of ginger, lemon, and honey will counteract the qualities already present in your body.

PRIORITIZING PRANA

You might be familiar with the quote from Michael Pollan, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This quote illustrates an approach to food that is incredibly Ayurvedic, but specifically the last part, “mostly plants,” is what deserves our attention when talking about Prana.

Prana is life-force. It is the energy of our food, obtained from the Sun (our one true celestial power source). Suffice it to say, if we want to experience a life full of energy and potency, we need to consume Prana. The way I ensure that I’m consuming Prana is by asking myself if what I am about to eat was grown/cultivated in nature under the Sun? As the Sun is our great sustainer, our eternal flame, our OG AA Battery, we want to fuel our bodies with foods that have inherited as much of its power as possible. This will enable us to show up for our lives fully and enthusiastically.

Canned and frozen foods have some Prana, but much has been lost in the process of canning/freezing. Most processed and packaged foods do not have Prana. Leftovers have less Prana than food that is freshly cooked. The less time it takes for food to get from the field to your plate, the more Prana you will end up eating.

Consider this . . .

How does your body react to foods you are intolerant of?

When you notice that you are feeling unbalanced, do you choose foods that make you feel better or worse?

Does the food you eat make you feel energized and nourished from within?

Life is for the living, and we should absolutely enjoy the tasty pleasures that bring us joy. Ayurvedic wisdom shows us the way, but it doesn’t demand we live a life of rigidity. It merely suggests moderation and awareness.

I am very much looking forward to plates and plates (and plates) of stuffing, pumpkin pie, Malley’s chocolate-covered pretzels, green bean casserole, chocolate chip cookies, cheese platters, coffee for dessert, and much much more. And I will be eating many holiday meal leftovers! Try and stop me!

The beautiful thing is, Ayurveda would never.

Let us remain present, mindful, and affectionately understanding.

And let us FEAST!

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

(Om, Peace, Peace, Peace)

For more Ayurvedic insights, follow me on Instagram @Avaleben

Sugar, Sugar Everywhere…

Sugar, Sugar Everywhere…

In the United States, sugar is everywhere and in everything. Oftentimes sugar is an added ingredient that just doesn’t make sense. The daily recommendation for sugar intake over 2 years of age is less than 10% of your daily calories. But, it can be found in your breakfast cereal, in your crackers, in your flavored water, and your cup of soup. Sugar has taken over in food production and is a double-edged sword. It may worsen health, but it tastes really good, and sugary foods fly off grocery store shelves. So, this means the average adult American who consumes 2,000 calories a day should be eating less than 200 calories of sugar a day. Children under the age of two should not consume any processed sugar.

To put that into better perspective, a 12 oz can of soda pop can have 8 teaspoons or more of sugar. This translates into 128 calories of sugar or more in one sitting from one product. The average American is estimated to consume 270 calories of sugar (17 teaspoons) daily. As Americans, we know sugar is everywhere. With sugar so readily available and easily consumed, it can’t possibly be that bad. Or can it?

What Counts as Sugar?

Sugar is any sort of sweetener including cane sugar, beet sugar, molasses, honey, maple syrup, etc. Simple carbohydrates (carbs) can also be considered sugar as the body easily converts those carbs into glucose in the bloodstream, otherwise known as blood sugar. Glucose is what your cells need to function. Now, there are more complexities and nuances on this topic, but for the scope of this article, the goal is to keep things simple.

When food shopping, many of the packaged foods on the shelf have added sugars which is where people can get into trouble. Processed foods can have added sugars like brown sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, inverted sugar, lactose, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, trehalose, and turbinado sugar. There are also artificial sweeteners that can be added to packaged foods to make them taste better and be produced more cheaply.

Many processed foods, or foods that don’t occur “as is” in nature, have added sugars. This helps the products taste better which means the manufacturer can sell more and profit goes up. The following are commonly consumed items that tend to be higher in sugar:

  • Soda pop, energy drinks, and sports drinks
  • Candy/chocolate bars
  • Fruit drinks
  • Ice cream and other dairy desserts
  • Baked goods such as cakes, cookies, brownies, donuts, pies, cobblers, etc.
  • reakfast items like toaster pastries, breakfast cereal, and yogurt

Why is Sugar Bad

It’s important to realize humans developed through times when food wasn’t as plentiful as it is now. The body is geared towards sugar because in natural environments, it is a harder commodity to come by. Modern technology and international trade have changed this, making sugar readily and easily available whenever you want it. Sugar in human physiology naturally goes up in times of stress due to hormone release. The problem is when blood sugar remains high long term. Having a high-sugar diet increases the risk of being overweight or obese and having diabetes, cardiovascular disease, gout, dental cavities, ectopic fat accumulation, and even some cancers.

Sugar is inflammatory by its very nature. Normally, this is no problem as the body produces insulin which helps the sugar get to where it needs to go in the body. Insulin is also anti-inflammatory. When you eat too much sugar at once, or too much sugar on a daily basis over a long period of time, the pancreas can have a hard time keeping up which can lead to symptoms of hyperglycemia.

Early symptoms of high blood sugar include increased thirst and/or hunger, blurred vision, headache, or frequent peeing. If high blood sugar has been going on for a while (weeks to months), someone might experience fatigue, weight loss, yeast infections, slow-healing cuts/sores, or even skin changes or infections. If blood sugar levels are high/uncontrolled for a long time (months to years), this can lead to complications such as eye disease, kidney disease, nervous system disorders, gastroparesis, heart disease, and even stroke.

Best Ways to Track Your Sugar Intake

With as much sugar as is typical in the standard American diet, you might not be surprised to know blood sugar-related disease is on the rise. If your blood sugar is too high, it’s called hyperglycemia, and if it’s too low, it’s called hypoglycemia. This is something you can roughly track by using a calorie-tracking app. But, you should consider having a discussion about sugar intake with your doctor. Once you do, they may recommend getting a hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) which is a lab test that evaluates how much sugar you’ve had in your bloodstream over the last three months.

When your overall diet is high in sugar, and your pancreas has a hard time keeping up with the sugar over time, this makes your blood more “sugary.” Your red blood cells will pick up some of that sugar and become glycosylated. Glycosylation essentially turns red blood cells into “sugar donuts.” The HbA1c measures what percentage of your red blood cells have become “sugared donuts”. A normal percentage is 5.6% or lower. If you are at 5.7% or higher, you are trending towards metabolic disease and potentially diabetes. At this point, it’s even more important to have a discussion with your doctor or nutritionist to help find some changes that can help support a healthier lifestyle. For information on government guidelines for the American diet, you can view and download the Dietary Guidelines by clicking here.

How to Lower Blood Sugar Naturally Through Diet

It’s important to know how to help lower your sugar intake via the foods you eat. Eliminating a lot of processed foods in your diet can help support a healthy lifestyle as well as limit sugar intake. As noted above, a lot of sources of sugar are used in processed foods. By reducing/eliminating these in your diet, your overall health and blood sugar can improve. Also, eating foods such as vegetables and fruits are loaded with fiber and natural sugars which can help slow the delivery of sugar intake. A more whole food-based diet includes buying fresh or frozen produce, fruits, proteins, and fats from the store and preparing them at home. If you are a busy person with little time to cook, there are premade meal programs you can have delivered straight to your home. Alternatively, you can use cooking tools like an instant pot or air fryer to reduce cooking time. A tool that may be helpful is to consider the Glycemic Index, which lists how much sugar is in foods. It can help you choose more low-sugar options for your diet and can be found by clicking here.

Other Natural Methods to Consider

Additionally, it’s important to have a few ways you can support your body if you are dealing with or have already worked through sugar addiction/cravings. Below is a list of changes you can consider to support a healthy diet. If you have already had this conversation with your nutritionist or doctor, the content of these suggestions may already be familiar to you.

Use Natural Sugar Sources. Although sugar is sugar, natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, coconut sugar, or date sugar are better options. Natural sugars tend to be digested more slowly, thus not creating as sudden of a spike in blood sugar. Artificial sweeteners are relatively new to the market and not well researched. While generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), artificial sweeteners have been linked to obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.

Note: Honey should only be used as a sweetener in infants over 12 months of age due to the risk of botulism.

Supplement Support. A variety of herbs can help your body rebalance and maintain a healthy blood sugar. They can work by improving insulin sensitivity, increasing insulin output, lowering inflammation, and protect cells from damage due to their antioxidant quality. Bitter melon (Momordica charantia), hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa), ginger (Zingiber officinale), and onion (Allium sativum) are just a few options. You can just add some of these into your daily cooking or make a herbal cup of tea to enjoy. Additionally, nutrients such as chromium and vitamin D can also help support healthy blood sugar, especially in those who are deficient in these nutrients.

Exercise After Meals. Research has found getting some light movement such as walking 30-60 minutes after a meal can improve your blood sugar. Light exercise gets the blood flowing and the muscles working, meaning your muscles can uptake more sugar from the bloodstream. This eases the work your pancreas has to do.

What Should You Do?

If you are considering a healthier approach to life, reducing or cutting out sugar is one way you might do this. Though challenging, lowering inflammation and eating less processed foods can help you reach your wellness goals. As always, your first critical step should be to seek out a holistic doctor for medical information if you suspect you have sugar problems. As diabetes is a serious, life-threatening illness, getting a professional on board early on can help you change your lifestyle and habits to improve blood sugar and overall health.

References:

  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention. N.D. “Get the Facts: Added Sugars.” Retrieved Oct. 26, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/data-statistics/added-sugars.html
  • Cleveland Clinic. N.D. “Hyperglycemia (High Blood Sugar).” Revised Mar. 2, 2023. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/9815-hyperglycemia-high-blood-sugar
  • Cleveland Clinic. N.D. “This Is Why Artificial Sweeteners Are Bad for You.” Retrieved Oct. 29, 2023. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/whats-worse-sugar-or-artificial-sweetener/
  • Huang Y, Chen Z, Chen B, Li J, Yuan X, Li J et al. 2023. “Dietary Sugar Consumption and Health: Umbrella Review.” BMJ; 381: e071609. doi:10.1136/bmj-2022-071609
  • Nakrani MN, Wineland RH, Anjum F. Physiology, Glucose Metabolism. 2023. StatPearls Publishing. Revised July 17. 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560599/
  • The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. N.D. “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 Eighth Edition.” Retrieved Oct. 26, 2023. https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/DGA_Cut-Down-On-Added-Sugars.pdf
  • Rabinovitz, Friedensohn, Leibovitz, Gabay, Rocas, & Habot. 2004. “Effect of Chromium Supplementation on Blood Glucose and Lipid Levels in Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Elderly Patients.” International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research; 74(3): 178-182. doi:10.1024/0300-9831.74.3.178
  • Reynolds, Andrew N, and Bernard J Venn. 2018. “The Timing of Activity after Eating Affects the Glycaemic Response of Healthy Adults: A Randomised Controlled Trial.” Nutrients; 10(11): 1743. doi:10.3390/nu10111743
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans; 2020-2025. 9th Edition. December 2020
  • Yedjou CG, Grigsby J, Mbemi A, Nelson D, Mildort B, Latinwo L, Tchounwou PB. 2023. “The Management of Diabetes Mellitus Using Medicinal Plants and Vitamins.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences; 24(10): 9085. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms24109085

Image attribution:

spukkato/freepik.com

FOOD as the First Spiritual Practice

FOOD as the First Spiritual Practice

By Shannon Sabol, Holistic Health and Ayurveda Wellness Coach, www.gratefullifehealth.com

Someone recently asked me what the most life changing Ayurveda self-care practice was that I have incorporated over time, and although there has been many, I quickly responded with “blessing my food before I eat.” It helps me slow down, feel grounded, and step into a state of gratitude. A short and sweet blessing over my meal supports the first Pillar of Health in Ayurveda…FOOD!

Food is what nourishes your body, and is considered the very first step on your spiritual path. It is what gives you strength and energy to be your best self. Think of it this way…what you put into your body gives you the power to go out into the world and share your gifts. Food provides nutrients to your body temple, and reminds you that YES, you are sacred…you deserved to be nourished! Moving your body to a balanced state of health, raises consciousness (aka becoming more aware of who you are and how you show up in the world)! You are what you consume…literally. What you eat becomes energy, which becomes your consciousness.

Let me first acknowledge that food might be a sensitive subject for some folks. And let me just say…I see you…I hear you…I feel you. This is why I like to focus on the HOW to eat food, and support that first Pillar of Health, and your first step on your spiritual path.

HOW you eat is just as important as what you eat. How you eat affects your digestion, and according to Ayurveda, all disease orientates in the digestive system.

The HOW of eating is not really talked about in the West, but is a huge part of supporting digestion and overall health in Ayurveda. How we digest food is connected to how we can digest life.

How to SPIRITUALIZE YOUR FOOD

  • Prepare your meals with ritual care and call in the Elements before cooking! Earth – feel your feet on the ground, Water – wash your hands, Fire – light a candle, Air – take a deep breath, Ether – feel the space in your kitchen.
  • Be aware of your mental/emotional state when you are cooking. What you are feeling (anger, anxiety, joy, love, etc.) goes into the food you are cooking on a subtle, energetic level. Try to stay in a positive state, and infuse your food with LOVE. (This is also true, not just in preparing food, but noticing your mental/emotional state when you are eating food as well).
  • Eat at consistent meals times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Your body is happier when it knows when it will be nourished.
  • Eat your meals sitting down, undistracted, alone or in good company. Avoid eating while standing up, walking, or driving (anything where you are mobile).
  • Bless your food 🙂 You do not need to be a religious person to bless your food. Blessing your meal can be as simple as giving thanks for the people, plants and animals involved in getting your food to your plate…or reflecting on the process of a seed turning into a plant, turning into food, turning into a meal, turning into energy, and eventually turning into consciousness!
  • Ayurveda recommends eating two cupped handfuls of food at every meal. Ideally, you want to fill up your stomach two-thirds, while leaving one-third for digestion (having space allows for the churning of food, and easier digestion). Eat until satisfied, not full.
  • Eat your largest meal midday. Your digestive fire (Agni) is strongest, when the sun is highest in the sky. I know this is not in alignment with our culture, where dinner is the largest meal, but give it try and see how you feel. Having a lighter dinner helps your body focus on healing and repairing, versus the body’s energy being diverted into physical digestion of food.
  • Take a deep breath when you are done with your meal. This is like a mini ceremonial closing of your meal (the blessing is the beginning, and a deep breath is the end), and your body knows it is done eating.

My recommendation is to pick one suggestion off this list to try, and stick with it for a week. Maybe it is one meal a day, or one meal a week.

For me, my breakfast is my non-negotiable, undistracted meal of the day. I eat my warm, spiced, and nourishing oatmeal seated at my dining room table. I bless my meal and sit in silence (no phone, laptop, tv or other device) while I enjoy every bite. I eat before my kids get up, making sure I have the quiet time and space to make my morning feel sacred and my breakfast feel like a ceremony.

The more care, attention, love, presence, and gratitude in preparing and eating your food, the more you can enhance your spiritual life. The teaching of Ayurveda says that food is the food of the body and love is the food of the soul, consciousness. Food = LOVE.

What Causes Disease?

What Causes Disease?

By Ava Wentzel, LMT, Ayurvedic Yoga Educator

“The Doshas are three: Vāta, Pitta, and Kapha. In their balanced state, they maintain the body. When imbalanced, they afflict the body with imbalances and diseases.”

 

-Charaka Samhitā, Vimānasthāna, 1.5

I like to think of the word disease as dis-ease, signaling a lack of easiness. Dis-ease implies that something has gotten in the way of your comfort. When there is dis-ease, there is not: Security, serenity, painlessness, effortlessness, simplicity. Put another way, when you are troubled you are not in a state of ease … when there is trouble, there is disease. So, what we want to know is: “Where is my trouble?”

According to Ayurveda, there are three causes of disease.

Pragyaparadh or Prajnaparadha — Offending your wisdom. Doing something that isn’t good for you, even though you know that it isn’t good for you, e.g. going for that cup of coffee even though you have a feeling* it’s going to give you acid reflux/an irritated gut/nervous sweats/a racing mind or heart. (*Note: Ayurveda is, at its core, practicing how to swiftly “tune in” to our body’s innate wisdom. This is the wisdom that is known so bone-deep that nobody really ever needs to teach it to us, we just need to remember it.)

Ask yourself … Are you offending your wisdom?

Are you staying up late when you know you need to be up early tomorrow? Are you eating foods that upset your stomach regularly and just dealing with the consequences? Are you drinking alcohol even though your stomach is in knots and your tongue is dry? Are you prioritizing everyone else before yourself? Are you offering your help to someone who you know takes advantage of you? Are you having a late night snack right before bed even though it gives you indigestion?

Asatmendriyartha samyoga — Improper contact of the senses with their objects, e.g., overindulging in treats, sleep, or television.

Ask yourself … Are you mistreating your sensory organs?

Are you listening to music too loudly in your headphones? Are you eating past the point of feeling full just because it tastes delicious? Are you ignoring tired eyes and looking at a bright screen late at night? Are you watching TV for hours on end? Are you in constant conversation or can you entertain silence? Are you over engaging in physical contact or do you regularly give yourself space to be alone?

Parinama or Kala — Living out of rhythm with nature, e.g. eating late at night when your digestive fire is low, eating foods that aren’t in season, or keeping up a wild schedule during the time of natural hibernation in winter.

Ask yourself … Are you living with Nature?

Are you eating foods that are growing in season or do you eat ice-cream in February? Do you wake up with the sun and go to sleep with the moon? Do you eat your biggest meal in the middle of the day? Are you favoring building, nourishing foods in Autumn and Winter? Are you favoring lymph-cleansing foods in Spring? How often do you look at the moon?

Personally, I struggle with overeating. I love food, what can I say! Usually, I am pretty good about stopping eating when I’m full but there are times when I snack away to my heart’s content even though I know I’m going to feel bloated or heavy or dull or get acid reflux. Listen, life is messy and nobody can make the best choice or the right choice one hundred percent of the time. But, what we can do is start to deepen our awareness of how we feel because this is ultimately the best indicator of whether or not something we are experiencing is working for us (or against us).

Our bodies are beautiful and divine instruments and we have the option of taking the time to learn how to work with them to make music. When we honor our feelings with our decisions, we are calling in our Higher Self. My teacher says, listen to your body while it’s whispering before it has to yell. Can you pinpoint what your body is yelling about, alerting you to the danger of disease? Better yet, can you listen closer to see if there is a whisper you have been ignoring?

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

(Om, Peace, Peace, Peace)

Demystifying Menopause: Finding Facts and Ignoring Fiction

Demystifying Menopause: Finding Facts and Ignoring Fiction

By the year 2025, there will be over one billion women in the world who are either menopausal or postmenopausal. These women are in the prime of their life, but some have been led to believe this natural stage of womanhood is a sign that their body is betraying them.

Menopause is one of the biggest biological shifts a woman endures. Hot flashes, night sweats, emotional ups and downs, periods are heavy and painful one month and non-existent the next…

These are indications that your body is transitioning into menopause, and how a woman’s body can respond during this change can vary from day to day. This constant state of change can be difficult and worrisome for a lot of women, but it’s possible to enter into menopause gracefully and healthfully. Part of that is a willingness to talk about it. In honor of those soon-to-be one billion women—menopause is not something to be feared. Think of it not as an end, but as a beginning.

What is Menopause?

In the United States, more than one million women a year experience menopause. The years leading up to menopause are referred to as perimenopause. This process generally begins between ages 45-55, and it can last, on average, around 7-10 years. Premature menopause is when this process begins before age 45. Menopause is, by definition, when menstruation has ceased for 12 months.

Menstruation cessation is triggered by hormone shifts as a woman’s ovaries stop making adequate amounts of estrogen and other hormones. These naturally declining hormones no longer signal the maturation and release of an egg in a monthly cycle. Without an egg being released, there is no need for menstruation.

Some women sail right through menopause without any symptoms, and others deal with a whole boatload of them. Women who have had a complete hysterectomy can experience these symptoms immediately after the surgery. Those who have had a partial hysterectomy (leaving the ovaries intact) can experience menopause years sooner or in a normal time frame depending on their body.

Symptoms of Menopause

There are a variety of symptoms that can occur during perimenopause and continue through menopause. Typically, symptoms will start to reduce after menopause, but this is not the experience for all women. Symptoms can include:

  • Hot flashes – also known as vasomotor symptoms where a sudden feeling of heat/warmth can spread throughout your body
  • Night sweats
  • Sleeping difficulties
  • Vaginal dryness – this can make sex difficult or painful
  • Urinary urgency
  • Weight gain
  • Dryness – this can include your skin, eyes, or mouth
  • Emotional changes – Mood changes can include being more irritable, depressed, or anxious
  • Breast tenderness
  • Irregular periods – menstrual cycles may be heavier or lighter and more or less frequent

Additionally, women can experience symptoms like headaches, racing heart, pain in their joints or muscles, memory or concentration difficulties, and hair thinning or loss. There are also a few important health concerns to keep in mind after menopause (referred to as postmenopause). Osteopenia/osteoporosis is more likely to occur with reduced estrogen levels. Estrogen helps mature bone in childhood, and it is key to maintaining bone density and strength in older years.

The risk of coronary artery disease also goes up roughly ten years after menopause. This is because estrogen is anti-inflammatory and protective of the small blood vessels in the body. Once estrogen production slows down, the risk goes up. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in women and men worldwide, so heart disease prevention should always be considered.

Conventional Approaches to Menopause

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is a popular conventional approach to perimenopausal symptoms. There are two main types including estrogen-only hormone therapy used by women who no longer have a uterus, and estrogen-and-progesterone hormone therapy used by women who still have their uterus. These therapies are typically dosed orally with pills or topically via creams depending on doctor/patient preference. Risks do exist with HRT including an increased risk of endometrial cancer (if you use estrogen therapy and still have your uterus), breast cancer, blood clots including deep vein thrombosis, gallstones, pulmonary embolism, and stroke. Risks are lower if you start HRT close to when you started perimenopause or went through menopause.

Antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) have been used to help reduce menopause symptoms. Birth control pills may also be recommended to assist with hormone fluctuations during this time. Additionally, vaginal hormone creams can be used directly on vaginal tissues to reduce vaginal dryness. You can choose other non-medical interventions to supplement these options or medications as a first-line approach.

Ways to Support a Healthy Postmenopausal Lifestyle

During menopause, it’s very important to help support your liver and adrenal glands. The ovaries will produce far fewer hormones, including estrogen, after this transition. This means estrogen is going to come mainly from fat cells and the adrenal glands. Liver health is also critical during this time. The liver helps regulate sex hormone levels by breaking them down and supports detoxification.

Healthy Diet. An overall healthy diet will contribute to a reduction in symptoms. Research has shown a reduction in weight in women can lower symptoms. Even a reduction of 5-10 pounds has demonstrated positive effects on hot flashes. A whole foods diet with whole vegetables, a moderate amount of leaner meats, and fruits are great for supporting a healthy weight. Foods such as avocado, turkey, fatty fish, dark leafy greens, strawberries, and pumpkin seeds can also support healthy adrenal glands.

Fiber. Fiber is critical to dietary support through the menopause years. Research shows fiber lowers the risk of cardiovascular events, especially coronary artery disease. The best kind of fiber to consume comes from a whole-food diet. Vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are all great sources of fiber that can be added to your diet. The USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends at least 22-28 grams of fiber per day depending on your age. Additionally, fiber helps bind with broken-down hormones so they leave the body instead of being reabsorbed.

Protein. Menopause has been linked with a decline in bone mineral density and lower muscle mass and strength due to declining estrogen. Adding in good sources of protein and minerals can help with this. Eating adequate amounts of protein can help stimulate muscle formation, especially when paired with quality mineral intake. Experts recommend elderly adults consume between 1.2 and 2.0 grams per kilogram of weight per day. This means that an adult weighing 150 pounds, should be eating a minimum of roughly 80 grams of protein per day. This means eating protein with every meal and snacks can help people reach this goal for optimal health.

Other things to keep in mind include physical activity, drinking enough water, breathing fresh air, getting some sun when you can, and working to get plenty of rest at night can all improve the menopause experience. It’s also a good idea to limit sugar intake to smaller amounts as it has been linked to many diseases.

Natural Approaches to Menopause

Here are a few other ideas you can consider to support health and wellness through your menopausal years.

Emotional/Mental Support. Menopause is another life transition for women. From childhood to teen years, to focusing on your career and/or having a family (if you choose), to kids growing up and leaving the house… Life is full of shifts. Seeking out talk therapy can help support mental health and may even lower hot flashes. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help improve sleep. Finally, reaching out to other women such as family members or friends for chats can also be helpful.

Alternative Therapies. Besides talk therapy, studies have shown reflexology sessions may be helpful though more research is needed. Acupuncture and traditional Chinese herbs may also be helpful with a wide variety of menopausal symptoms. Research is mixed, but acupuncture is very practitioner-dependent; seek a trained licensed professional near you if you’d like to give this a try.

Botanical Support. Herbs can be a great way to help support your body in menopause. Valerian (Valerian officinalis) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) can be helpful to support sleep. Black cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) and wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) may be helpful with many menopausal symptoms such as irritability, hot flashes, night sweats, etc. Red clover (Trifolium pratense) and soy (Glycine max) can be helpful in supporting bone health. As always, especially if you are taking medication, see advice from your health professional before adding new herbs and supplements.

Exercise. Getting movement helps you maintain your health and wellness throughout life, not just menopause. Research has shown yoga may help improve hot flashes, fatigue, and mood. Other evidence has found that high-intensity and high-impact exercise can help maintain, and possibly improve postmenopausal bone health. Weight-bearing exercise in general can be very supportive of bone health. Even going for walks daily with a water bottle in a backpack adds weight which can support healthy bones.

To Sum It Up…

Perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause are natural stages of menopause. There are many different ways to ease yourself through this transition. Self-support during this change may be connecting with others going through the same experience. To connect to others online, Healthline has a great listing of online blogs offering connections to women. Their listing can be found here.

Most importantly, remember this is your body changing to support you through the coming decades. It’s a life event for women that’s been ongoing since the beginning of humankind. To read more about menopause and hear the voices of other women from around the world, visit Women First for your free copy. As always, remember to reach out to a trusted health professional for information and advice on menopause and other health concerns.

References:

    • Baum, Jamie I et al. 2016. “Protein Consumption and the Elderly: What Is the Optimal Level of Intake?.” Nutrients, 8(60; 359. doi:10.3390/nu8060359-
    • Chen, Li-Ru, et al. 2019. “Isoflavone Supplements for Menopausal Women: A Systematic Review.” Nutrients, 11(11): 2649. doi:10.3390/nu11112649
    • Cleveland Clinic. N.D. “Menopause.” Revised Oct. 5, 2021. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/21841-menopause
    • Jacobs, D R, et al. 2000. “Fiber from Whole Grains, but not Refined Grains, is Inversely Associated with All-cause Mortality in Older Women: The Iowa Women’s Health Study.” Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 19(3): 326S-330S. doi:10.1080/07315724.2000.10718968
    • Johnson, Alisa, et al. 2019. “Complementary and Alternative Medicine for Menopause.” J Evid Based Complementary Altern Med. https://doi.org/10.1177/2515690X198293
    • Kroenke, Candyce H, et al. 2012. “Effects of a Dietary Intervention and Weight Change on Vasomotor Symptoms in the Women’s Health Initiative.” Menopause (New York, N.Y.), 19(9): 980-8. doi:10.1097/gme.0b013e31824f606e
    • Kalervo Väänänen, H., & Härkönen, P. L. 1996. “Estrogen and Bone Metabolism.” Maturitas, 23: S65-S69. doi:10.1016/0378-5122(96)01015-8
    • Lenherr, Clarissa. N.D. “Support Your Body Through Stress – The Best Foods To Support Adrenal Health.” Revised April 7, 2022. https://clarissalenherr.com/support-your-body-through-stress-the-best-foods-to-support-adrenal-health/
    • Maki, Pauline M, and Rebecca C Thurston. 2020. “Menopause and Brain Health: Hormonal Changes Are Only Part of the Story.” Frontiers in Neurology, 11: 562275. doi:10.3389/fneur.2020.562275
    • Manaye, Sara, et al. 2023. “The Role of High-intensity and High-impact Exercises in Improving Bone Health in Postmenopausal Women: A Systematic Review.” Cureus, 15(2): e34644. doi:10.7759/cureus.34644
    • Meyer, M R, and M Barton. 2016. “Estrogens and Coronary Artery Disease: New Clinical Perspectives.” Advances in Pharmacology (San Diego, Calif.), 77: 307-60. doi:10.1016/bs.apha.2016.05.003
    • Moorman, Patricia G, et al. 2011. “Effect of Hysterectomy with Ovarian Preservation on Ovarian Function.” Obstetrics and Gynecology, 118(6): 1271-1279. doi:10.1097/AOG.0b013e318236fd12
    • National Institute on Aging. N.D. “Research Explores the Impact of Menopause on Women’s Health and Aging.” Revised May 6, 2022. https://www.nia.nih.gov/news/research-explores-impact-menopause-womens-health-and-aging
    • Rizzoli, Renè et al. 2014. “The Role of Dietary Protein and Vitamin D in Maintaining Musculoskeletal Health in Postmenopausal Women: A Consensus Statement from the European Society for Clinical and Economic Aspects of Osteoporosis and Osteoarthritis (ESCEO).” Maturitas, 79(1): 122-32. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2014.07.005
    • Samami, Elahe, et al. 2022. “The Effects of Psychological Interventions on Menopausal Hot Flashes: A Systematic Review.” International Journal of Reproductive Biomedicine, 20(4): 255-272. doi:10.18502/ijrm.v20i4.10898

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Unlocking the Freedom of Minimalist Footwear

Unlocking the Freedom of Minimalist Footwear

This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see our disclosures here.

 

In a world filled with high-tech sneakers and cushioned soles, there’s a quiet revolution happening in the realm of footwear – the rise of minimalist shoes. These understated wonders have gained popularity not just among athletes and runners but also among individuals seeking a more natural and comfortable way of moving through life. The benefits of wearing minimalist shoes extend far beyond style, offering a host of advantages for your overall well-being.

  1. Enhanced Foot Health: One of the primary perks of minimalist shoes is the way they encourage a more natural gait and foot function. With their thin soles and minimal arch support, they allow your feet to move and flex as nature intended, strengthening the muscles and tendons that support your arches. This can reduce the risk of common foot problems such as plantar fasciitis and shin splints. Plus, improved proprioception – your body’s awareness of its position in space– helps prevent injuries by promoting better balance and posture. Say goodbye to cramped, constricted toes; minimalist shoes often feature a wider toe box, allowing your feet to splay naturally, which can be especially beneficial for individuals with bunions or other toe deformities.
  2. A Sensory Connection: Minimalist shoes bring you closer to the ground, heightening your sensory perception. As your feet make direct contact with the terrain, you become more attuned to your surroundings. This tactile connection not only offers a more immersive outdoor experience but also contributes to better stability and coordination. Whether you’re walking, running, or simply going about your day, minimalist shoes invite you to engage your feet and body in amore mindful way. So, if you’re looking to step into a more balanced and healthy lifestyle, consider giving minimalist shoes a try – they might just be the perfect fit for you. These brands are some of our favorites: WHITIN, Xero Shoes, and Joomra.
What Is Ayurveda?

What Is Ayurveda?

By Ava Wentzel, LMT, Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist in training!

“As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world … as in being able to remake ourselves.”

 

-Mahatma Gandhi

Ayurveda—translated literally from Sanskrit as “Life Science”—is an ancient system of medicine that has been practiced for over 5,000 years. It’s understandable that some are wary of Eastern medicinal practices such as Ayurveda or Traditional Chinese Medicine; we’ve all heard stories of people seeking out non-traditional healing methods who have ended up worse off than they were before, or maybe we ourselves have gotten “natural” advice that sounds our inner alarm bells. Allow me to explain why Ayurveda, this ancient Life Science, is safe and effective for every being spiritually connected to the Earth. (That’s you!)

Now, if you dive deep on the Internet, you will uncover Ayurvedic practices such as enemas, vamana therapy (which isn’t as pretty as it sounds), and even leech therapy. It’s true! All of these therapies, when utilized safely with an educated Practitioner or Ayurvedic Doctor, are incredibly healing and not harmful to our bodies. But these more “extreme” therapies, as the Western world might call them, are not Ayurveda. Ayurveda is an embodiment of life’s natural cycles.

When we practice Ayurveda, it looks like …

  • Living in harmony with animals and plants.
  • Eating the foods that nature is providing right now.
  • Getting the proper amount of rest for our bodies every night.
  • Mindful appreciation of how hard our bodies work for us every day.
  • Taking in as much prana (energy) as we need—and knowing that there is always enough for all of us.

The bulk of Ayurveda is truly just to live a simple life with sustained presence. It is not, however, a pseudoscience.

The definitions of “science” vary only slightly, but generally all state that science is “knowledge or a system of knowledge covering general truths or the operation of general laws especially as obtained and tested through scientific method.”

“Scientific method” is what we call the “collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.”

Knowing that Ayurveda is a system of medicine and healing that has been around for over 5,000 years, whereas Western Medicine, as we know it now, has only been practiced for about 200 years (give or take a hundred if you like), it becomes clear that this ancient system of medicine has had quite a bit more time to work out a hypothesis or two! This is not to discredit Western medicine. The contributions Western doctors have made to modern medicine at large are invaluable. However, the fact that Ayurveda is still practiced in the modern world today is a testament to its success and effectiveness.

Ayurveda offers a massive wealth of knowledge that would take (and has taken) many lifetimes to learn. But being that it is, at its core, Earth Wisdom, it becomes easier to let it in when we take the time to ground ourselves in our bodies and truly, truly, feel. Feel what it feels like to be in this one body.

Here is a challenge: Remove your eyes from this screen. Stare at an object in the distance, out of the window if you can. Take three long, slow breaths. Focus on the exhale. What is happening in your body?

Most people cannot answer this simple question.

It’s okay if you can’t right now either. Most of us have become disconnected from our own bodies. It’s a wild time to be alive and it’s no secret that so many people have simply left their bodies. Stress, trauma, you name it. It overwhelms us, it’s too heavy a weight to carry, to feel all the time. So we simply… leave. Even if we don’t realize it. Even if we don’t mean to.

But Ayurveda offers us hope. It offers us a way back. It enables us to regain that essential connection to the most important thing in our life—our Self.

ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः

Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

(Om, Peace, Peace, Peace)