Renewed By Nature

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“Nature has been for me, for as long as I remember, a source of solace, inspiration, adventure, and delight; a home, a teacher, a companion.” —Lorraine Anderson

According to studies, exposure to plants and trees can benefit your health in tangible ways. Yet, we live in a time when “nature deficit disorder” (a phrase coined by journalist and author Richard Louv) prevails. Characterized by increasingly sedentary and indoor lifestyles, this condition is not recognized by the mental health community but the side effects are becoming evident in today’s society.

This relationship has shifted from the days when children’s free time was less structured, to today’s prevalence of organized sports and video technology. And although children suffer most from nature deficit, adults who are not comfortable with nature and science also contribute to the disorder.

Here are some suggestions for how to overcome this disorder and benefit from the horticultural therapy offered up by Mother Nature.

Spend more time outdoors. Plan parties at local parks, take vacations that involve hiking or camping, and spend time walking around your neighborhood, listening to birds chirping and noticing the changing environment as the seasons turn.

Limit screen time for yourself and your children. As a society, on average we spend 8 hours per day plugged in. What would happen if you cut that down to 2 hours? You could extend your life! A 2011 study reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology conducted by a group of international researchers, showed that anyone who devotes more than four hours daily on screen-based entertainment such as TV, video games or surfing the web, ups their risk of heart attack and stroke by 113 percent and the risk of death by any cause by nearly 50 percent compared to those who spend fewer than two hours daily in screen play.

Volunteer. Find a local environmental or land stewardship organization and see if you can donate your time in their outdoor campaigns. You’d be surprised how many projects for which they need helping hands!

Container GardeningPlant a garden. Whether it’s a few pots on your balcony or a full-blown 20×20 garden, growing your own food and getting your hands dirty connects you with the earth. If you don’t have much outdoor space of your own you can use for this purpose, look into securing a community garden plot or sharing space with a willing neighbor.

Shop at the farm. A weekly trip to a local farm can expose your family to the sights, smells, and wonders of living off the land and provide context for where your food comes from. By making that connection, you foster a sense of respect for the natural world that can’t be undone. If there’s no farm nearby, opt for the farmer’s market or a CSA!

The late environmentalist Rachael Carson may have summed it up best when she said, “Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the Earth are never alone or weary of life.” Once reconnected with nature, that solace is yours to keep.

 

 

Author’s content used under license, © 2012 Sprouted Content, LLC

Anti-Inflammatory Diet Basics

Anti Inflammatory Diet BasicsInflammation is your body’s innate way of providing acute healing to an area of your body, but when it persists on a low level throughout the body, it can do much more harm than good. Because chronic inflammation isn’t something you can see with your eyes, many suffer from its consequences and don’t even know it! It can surface in sneaky ways in the form of allergies, skin rashes, pain, insomnia, migraines, food allergies, and more. In addition, it sets a perfect stage for many serious age-related diseases, such as autoimmune diseases, diabetes, neuro-degenerative diseases, heart disease, and cancer.

The Stress Connection—When you are constantly stressed, the sympathetic nervous system signals your body to produce the stress hormone cortisol to meet the demand. This leads to an increase in blood sugar designed to give you the energy to flee whatever’s “chasing” you. But because nothing’s actually chasing you, you are left with elevated cortisol and blood sugar levels that can lead to a whole host of metabolic imbalances. Because neuropeptides (proteins that deliver messages in your nervous system) that mediate stress also mediate inflammation, it’s likely that stress causes an inflammatory response in your body. And if that weren’t enough, elevated cortisol levels spark inflammatory reactions that diminish immune system function. Obviously, getting stress under control is a key piece of keeping inflammation in check.

Diet Guidelines—Try to eat all organic food if possible to risk your exposure to pesticides; eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full; don’t repeat the same food more than five times a week; plan meals so they roughly follow this breakdown—40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% healthy fats.

Foods to Steer Clear of—Here’s what you’ll want to wean yourself off of in order to reduce the inflammation in your body: wheat, dairy, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, sugar, citrus fruits (except for lemons and limes), pork, commercial non-organic eggs, shellfish, peanuts and peanut butter, coffee, alcohol, juice, caffeinated teas, soda, anything containing hydrogenated oils, processed foods, and fried foods.

Foods to Eat More of—You can think of the Mediterranean diet as a jumping off point. You want to incorporate a variety of fresh food and think of eating from the rainbow. But these foods will specifically help decrease inflammation:

  • cold-water oily fish such as wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, and halibut as well as oils extracted from these fish
  • organic berries
  • fruits and vegetables (except those mentioned above)
  • pineapple
  • seeds and nuts (except peanuts)
  • garlic, ginger, and turmeric
  • flaxseed oil and olive oil (if not heated too high)

To keep you motivated to adopt this truly healthy way of eating just remember this:
anti-inflammatory = anti-aging!

 

Author’s content used under license, © 2012 Sprouted Content, LLC

Healing Spices and Herbs

Healing Spices and Herbs

Rich in phytochemicals, many herbs and spices serve as anti-inflammatory superfoods. Stock your spice cabinet with the following and it’ll double as an all-natural medicine cabinet!

Basil— Researchers from the University of Michigan have shown that holy basil has anti-inflammatory activity compared to aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Traditional basil contains a compound called eugenol, which eases muscle spasms. Basil can help relieve gas and soothe a turbulent tummy.

Cayenne—What doesn’t this spice do? Capsaicin, the source of cayenne’s bite is the main ingredient in many commercial treatments for arthritis and muscle pain. It’s also used to heal shingles. It’s thought to be an anti-inflammatory, an antioxidant—and even antidiabetic! The ancient Maya used this fiery spice to treat mouth sores and inflamed gums.

Cinnamon—Perhaps best known for its ability to significantly lower blood sugar with as little as 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon a day, cinnamon is beneficial for diabetics. Cinnamon bark contains an oily chemical called cinnamaldehyde, which is a potent antibacterial that also helps reduce anxiety. Cinnamon bark helps regulate the menstrual cycle. It’s also high in fiber!

Ginger—Known most for its ability to help with nausea and motion sickness, ginger increases digestive fluids and absorbs and neutralizes toxins and stomach acid. In addition, ginger helps ease inflammation in the body, with positive effects on arthritis and migraines. As an anti-inflammatory, it may also play a role in preventing and slowing the growth of cancer.

Mint— Its leaves have been used for hundreds of years to soothe digestive problems, which is why peppermint tea is such a common after-dinner drink. Recent studies show it has positive effects on IBS and flatulence, and because it also relaxes the esophagus, it allows for relief of gas through belching. The same property that relaxes the airways, menthol, is responsible for fighting bacteria and viruses.

Sage—An unsung hero, sage is well known for its place in the culinary world, but it deserves recognition as a potent healer. It enhances memory, can soothe an upset stomach, and reduce night sweats. Studies have shown antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and astringent properties.

Turmeric—A powerful anti-inflammatory, tumeric’s effects have been compared to that of topical hydrocortisone! The chemical responsible for its deep orange-yellow color is curcumin, a proven anticancer agent. Recent studies show Turmeric can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Author’s content used under license, © 2012 Sprouted Content, LLC

Healthy Treats Every Kid Will Love

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It’s back to school time and getting little ones to go for a snack that isn’t chock full of sugar can be a real challenge. Here are several healthy snack ideas for kids, as recommended by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (pcrm.org), an organization headed by Dr. Neal Barnard and dedicated to advocating good nutrition. Try packing these in your kids’ lunchbox and see if they pass the taste test!

• Chopped raw vegetables and dip
• Chunks of avocado, cucumber, or cooked sweet potato
• Breadsticks or pita chips with hummus
• Tortilla chips with bean dip
• Graham crackers or gingersnaps dipped in applesauce
• Mini rice cakes with peanut butter
• Apple slices with hazelnut butter
• Fresh or dried fruits, especially raisins
• Frozen bananas blended with a little non-dairy milk
• Nuts, especially mixed with dried fruit
• Fresh soybeans (edamame)
• Bite-sized tofu cubes

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Maple Walnut Granola
Makes about 6 cups

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup wheat germ
½ cup chopped walnuts
½ cup raisins
½ cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tablespoons molasses
1 teaspoon cinnamon

  1. Preheat oven to 300ºF.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly.
  3. Transfer to a 9- x 13-inch baking dish. Bake, turning often with a spatula, until mixture is golden brown, about 25 minutes.

Nutritional facts per ½-cup serving: 231 calories; 7 grams protein; 39 grams carbohydrate; 6.5 grams fat; 2.5 grams fiber; 5 milligrams sodium; calories from protein: 11%; calories from carbohydrates: 66%; calories from fats: 23%

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Applesauce
Makes about 6 cups

6 large, tart apples (gravenstein, pippins, Granny Smith, etc.)
1 cup undiluted apple juice concentrate
½ teaspoon cinnamon

  1. For chunky applesauce, peel apples, then core and dice. Place in a large pan. Add apple juice concentrate, then cover and cook over low heat, stirring often, until apples are soft. Mash slightly with a fork if desired, then stir in cinnamon. Serve hot or cold.
  1. For smoother applesauce, cut apples into quarters and remove cores. Chop finely in a food processor. Transfer to a pan and add apple juice concentrate and cinnamon. Cover and cook, stirring often, over low heat until tender, about 15 minutes.

Nutritional facts per ½-cup serving: 101 calories; 0.3 grams protein; 26 grams carbohydrate; 0.5 grams fat; 2 grams fiber; 6 milligrams sodium; calories from protein: 1%; calories from carbohydrates: 95%; calories from fats: 4%

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Pumpkin Spice Muffins
Makes 10 to 12 muffins 

2 cups whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 15-ounce can solid-pack pumpkin
½ cup raisins

  1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
  2. Mix flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Add pumpkin, ½ cup of water, and raisins. Stir until just mixed.
  3. Spoon batter into oil-sprayed muffin cups, filling to just below the tops.
  4. Bake 25 to 30 minutes, until tops of muffins bounce back when pressed lightly. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes.
  5. Remove muffins from pan and cool on a rack. Store cooled muffins in an airtight container. 

Nutritional facts per muffin: 131 calories; 3 grams protein; 31 grams carbohydrate; 0.5 grams fat; 4 grams fiber; 236 milligrams sodium; calories from protein: 10%; calories from carbohydrates: 87%; calories from fats: 3%

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Veggies in a Blanket
Makes 2 large roll-ups

2 flour tortillas
2 tablespoons vegan cream cheese
1 grated carrot
2 lettuce leaves (or a handful of baby spinach leaves)

1. Warm tortillas in a dry pan. Spread vegan cream cheese on them.

2. Add carrots and lettuce or spinach. Roll up and serve or wrap in plastic wrap for snacking later.

Variations: Add thin sticks of cucumber or sweet red pepper before rolling.

Nutritional facts per roll-up: 159 calories; 4 grams protein; 22 grams carbohydrate; 6 grams fat; 2 grams fiber; 230 milligrams sodium; calories from protein: 10%; calories from carbohydrates: 55%; calories from fats: 35%

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 Resources

Super Healthy Kids — http://blog.superhealthykids.com/

Making Good Food Fun — http://www.foodbackwards.com/

 

Author’s content used under license, © 2012 Sprouted Content, LLC

Why You Should Make Doing Nothing a Priority

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Ancient civilizations upheld a formal “day of rest”. The earliest Christians, Muslims, and Jews all created a day in which all of the faithful were obliged to cease working and simply rest, contemplate, or pray. Why? Because it is one of the healthiest things the human body can do for itself!

Modern doctors point out that our world is full of so many conveniences and yet we are busier than ever. We don’t have to grow our own food, hand wash our clothes (or make them as well), and we can communicate with a few clicks of a keyboard…so, why are we so busy, depressed, and stressed? The answer is very simple: we don’t make a point of stopping and “doing” nothing. Now, we are not talking about lying on your bed and refusing to do anything at all. What we mean means is that you will do yourself a tremendous load of good if you plan some actual “down time” at least one day each week.

Many studies have been done on modern people, and most of them indicate that we are generally a very large group of stressed out individuals. Because of this, there are unprecedented numbers of people with anxiety issues, formally diagnosed depression issues, and chronic health problems brought about by the hormones created by stress. Just consider the rate of obesity in the world. Though it is essentially a matter created by poor diet and exercise choices, there are many people who struggle with weight related issues because of their personal stress level. They may be worried about money, their career, their families, or a host of other issues. This causes their body to produce cortisol and other hormones that interrupt sleep and trigger improper metabolic functions (such as inordinate fat storage).

If people dealing with poor sleep and too much stress would give themselves a single “day off” each week, they would soon find that just knowing they had nothing to do during the coming weekend or weekday would begin to alleviate some stress. It is of the utmost importance to give yourself time with nothing to do, with no agenda or goals, and to just “be” with friends, family, pets, or yourself.

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Wellness Travels

Wellness travel has reached a $106 billion global industry, so it’s never been easier to plan a vacation that’s focused on your wellbeing.

From yoga retreats in Costa Rica or Bali to deep spiritual quests in South America, to hands-on learning weekends at centers such as Kripalu, Canyon Ranch, and The Omega Institute, to meditation retreats in the South of France or the Canadian outback, the options are seemingly endless! To cut through the overwhelm and help you make the right travel decisions, you’ll want to take several considerations into account before you embark on your journey.

What’s Your Wellness Goal?

Think about what’s prompting you to get away. Are you in desperate need of relaxation? Do you want to kick-start your fitness or healthy eating plan? Do you want to learn to meditate? Are you feeling removed from the natural world? Do you want to reconnect with your loved one? Jot down some ideas to help you get clear on what you want to experience.

What’s Your Travel Style?

Next, consider how you like to travel. Are you someone who roughs it, regularly camping and spending time in hostels? Or, are you someone who prefers having top-notch amenities and concierge to cater to your needs? Perhaps you fall somewhere in-between? Make sure your destination (and your mode of getting there) align with how you normally like to travel for the most comfortable experience.

What’s Your Budget?

How much money can you spend on your vacation? By having a set figure in mind you can better craft your time away to match your travel style. For example, if you have limited funds but feel more relaxed in refined accommodations, you may be able to afford a rejuvenating weekend at a 4-star eco-lodge, but not a full two-week vacation. Budget will help you remain realistic about your experience. And, if you covet a luxurious trip but can’t afford it, a budget will help you get you there as you put away money over time. 

Will You Have Company?

Are you traveling solo, or would you like to embark on your wellness journey with a best friend or loved one? Or, maybe you want to bring your entire family? If you are traveling with others, you’ll want to take into consideration their goals and travel style as you plan your trip.

Working through these questions will help get you focused and excited about your trip. And based on your answers, you’ll be led to the experience that best fits your style and temperament and allows you to relax, recharge—and return feeling truly revived!

Author’s content used under license, © 2012 Sprouted Content, LLC

Coconut 101

Coconut 101

For centuries, island cultures have exclusively used coconut and coconut oil as a staple in their diet, and according to a study conducted in the early ’80s on Polynesian populations and published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, these people showed favorable heart and circulatory health.

And while conventional medical sources still condemn coconut oil as being unhealthy due to its high content of saturated fat, most experts in the natural health world agree that coconut is an uber-beneficial addition to your diet. Here’s why:

  • It’s high in lauric acid. Lauric acid is a medium-chain fatty acid found in virtually one other naturally occurring place—mother’s milk! Lauric acid converts to monolaurin in the body, which is known for its anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-protozoa properties. Due to this, coconut oil can help with dozens of conditions that would normally require prescription treatment like ulcers to infections and even HIV!
  • It contributes to weight loss. Even though coconut oil contains saturated fat, 48% of its saturated fat is made up of the superstar medium-chain fatty acid. This means that it’s easily digestible and easily processed and put back into the bloodstream unlike the long-chain fatty acid found in traditional saturated fats, which take more energy to digest and literally stick around in the form of visible fat. Medium-chain fatty acids stimulate your body’s metabolism, which can lead to weight loss. They also have an anti-inflammatory effect on your body.
  • It acts like a carbohydrate—without messing with your blood sugar. Because medium-chain fatty acids are delivered directly to your liver to be processed, they provide quick energy, without the insulin spike you get when eating carbohydrates. This is extremely beneficial for diabetics!
  • It stands up to high-heat cooking. Unlike other liquid oils that turn rancid and become oxidized when cooked at high temperatures, coconut oil remains stable, making it the ideal oil for baking and cooking.
  • It conditions your skin—and your mouth! When applied topically, coconut oil can help protect skin from the elements that speed up aging as well as heal such conditions as psoriasis and eczema due to its anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. For the same reason, when it comes to oral hygiene, a study by the Journal of Oral Health and Community Dentistry confirms a spoonful of coconut oil can clean your mouth more thoroughly than brushing, flossing, and rinsing with mouthwash.

By incorporating coconut oil into your daily diet (all it takes is eating one to three tablespoons per day), you can reap the many benefits of this tropical wonder without leaving the comfort of your home.

Author’s content used under license, © 2013 Sprouted Content, LLC

Healthy Foods That Travel Well

road-trip-snacks“Would you like fries with that?” This statement is part of the “soundtrack” of any typical road trip, and it is something that often signifies bad food choices. Unfortunately, there are many times when you cannot travel without also enduring very limited food options. Luckily, there are some incredibly good foods that also travel well.

The key to the list of foods below is that most do not need constant refrigeration to remain safe, they are packed with the kinds of vitamins and nutrients that will keep you feeling your best, and they are easy to prepare and package for any sort of trip.

  • Almond and Goji Berry Blast – just measure equal parts dried goji berries and raw almonds into snack-sized containers (a few ounces is more than enough) and you have one of the most amazing snacks imaginable. Almonds are packed with protein and “good fat” that will give you plenty of energy to burn, and goji berries are considered one of the world’s top “super foods” due to their antioxidant and nutrient properties.
  • Chia beverage – if you have already had a chia smoothie in the past, you know that they make a gelatinous “goo” around themselves when moistened. This is a reaction that you really want because it is the protein and omega-3 fatty acids in the seeds thickening in the fluid. Use an easy to clean water container and place 16 ounces of water along with 2 tsp of chia seeds into it. Shake well and drink when you need it.
  • Fruits – apples, oranges, mangos, cherries, and dried fruits will all travel just fine without any refrigeration. Just rinse them and bring them along for the journey.
  • Vegetables – cherry tomatoes, avocadoes, carrots, celery, broccoli, and many other veggies are also ideal when washed and packed in travel pouches.
  • Oddball items – a small jar of coconut oil will work great to soften lips and skin, but you can also take a spoonful of it to ward off hunger and boost the metabolism. All seeds and nuts travel well, but should be mixed with dried fruits to get a good balance. Small packets of tuna are healthy and safe, and a small jar of nut butter is a good dip for fruits and vegetables too.

See just how easy it is to bring healthy food on the road? Now, go get a map and plan your next road trip!

Desk Job Stretches

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An article in the “New York Times” in January of 2013 mentioned that remaining in any one position for too long is not good for you – even if you exercise all of the time too. For example, the physician who wrote the piece indicated that “standing” desks are great, but standing too long is not healthy. The normal sitting desks are not conducive to optimal health either, and so a basic approach to remaining healthy while desk bound was suggested.

What was it: Get up and move or stretch on a regular basis throughout the day. This means that working for around 30 to 40 minutes and then stretching or walking for another 10 to 15 minutes is an ideal way to remain healthy.

What sort of stretching works? Below is a series of seven different moves that are desk stretches and which will really work the kinks out.

  1. Chin to Chest – Tucking in the chin forces the spine into alignment. It is done when you just sit up tall and slowly drop your chin as far towards the chest as possible. Roll the head gently from side to side to loosen the entire neck and upper back.
  2. Looking Hard – While still holding good posture, turn the head as far as possible to the left and to the right. Don’t tilt the head backward and don’t overdo it!
  3. Pull Across – Sitting up tall, put one hand on the elbow of the other arm (this means crossing the arm over your chest) and pull lightly to stretch.
  4. Chest Lift – Sit up tall and place both hands on the back of your head. Be sure that your elbows are high and pointing outward. Press the elbows as far back as you can and pull the shoulder blades together to really open the chest.
  5. Lower Back Lift – Sitting in your chair, carefully pull one knee toward your chest, without slouching toward the leg. Hold this and continue to apply pressure to pull the leg closer. Repeat several times on both sides.
  6. Rib Stretch – Stand up and put your hands on the top of your head. With your chin held high, slowly stretch as far as you can to one side. Repeat several times for each side.
  7. Spine Stretch – Sit back in your chair and put the feet on the floor. Put the hands behind the back and lace the fingers. Tuck in the tummy as you bring the hands over the back of your head and rest your chin or chest on your lap. Breathe into this and repeat four times.

These stretches will get the blood flowing and help you stay sharp even if you are stuck at the desk all day.

Drug Free Alternatives to Help Insomnia

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If you don’t sleep properly you don’t think clearly, function well, or enjoy optimal health. Problems with sleep can lead to things like weight gain, lethargy, and disease. This is why it is imperative to overcome insomnia, but the problem is that many people rely on drugs to “sleep”. This, however, is not true sleep and it may be a sort of sedation that does not actually provide all of the essential phases of totally effective sleep.

Thus, you want to identify drug free alternatives to insomnia, and we have four very effective options from which to choose.

  1. Deep Breathing – Focused breathing is similar to meditation because you are trying to focus the mind on just one thing – the slow and intentional inhalations and exhalations that are occurring. Nothing else. You can lay in bed or sit on the floor with your back against the wall and legs folded (this helps with posture). You then slowly inhale through the nose for a count of three to five. Be aware of your diaphragm as you inhale and try to take in a “lungful” of breath. Just as slowly, allow the air to exit through parted lips. Repeat five to ten times.
  2. Muscle Relaxation – One of the best ways to relax the muscles is to do small and focused stretching. Be aware that any overly vigorous exercise is going to result in stimulation, and that is something to be avoided. Instead, try the following yoga pose as it will stretch the body and stimulate thyroid function (which helps with sleep). It is the “Plow Pose” and is done by laying flat on the floor with arms at the side and palms facing down. You bend the knees and use the abdomen to pull the legs over the head. If possible, straighten the legs and rest the toes on the ground. Then lace the fingers together and gently shift the weight from side to side in order to bring the shoulder blades closer. Hold this for ten breaths and then release.
  3. Visualization – Counting sheep is a classic attempt to make one bored enough to sleep. If that works, great, but if not you can still use self-guided visualization to encourage relaxation and sleep. A stroll through the woods, a sail along a river, a walk in the clouds…whatever opens the door to dream land!
  4. Chamomile tea – This is the classic natural compound for creating relaxation and triggering the drinker to easily fall soundly asleep.

There you have it, four good tactics to use if you just cannot get to sleep.