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      The stats tell it all: The number one cause of death in the United States is heart disease. That’s right, more than any other disease – even cancer (a close second) – heart disease is the most likely to kill you. The United States is currently facing a “diabesity” epidemic, or a substantial increase in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome leading to diabetes and obesity, all serious risk factors for heart disease.

      According to the American Heart Association, every 34 seconds someone in the US dies of a heart attack. By the time you finish reading this paragraph, another person will have lost their life. Sadly, many people do not even know they have heart disease until they experience a heart attack. These facts alone make Heart Health a critical topic to understand.

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      The gut-skin connection is very significant. Inflammatory processes present in the gut may manifest on the skin. Toxins are expelled with sweat, and can cause the skin to react. Like the inside of the digestive tract, the skin is covered in microbes which can be neutral, protective or pathogenic. Skin reaction may reflect what is going on inside the body. Therefore treating skin conditions only from the outside will often be ineffective and lead to other chronic issues.

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      The gut-brain connection occurs in two directions—from the brain to the gut, and from the gut to the brain. When a person has a “gut feeling,” or an emotional upset causes a stomachache or loss of appetite, they experience examples of the first, most familiar direction. When the gut is out of balance, inflammation results leading to a condition commonly known as leaky gut. A leaky gut will allow undigested food particles and toxins to enter into the bloodstream. Some may cross into the brain, setting the stage for diseases like Alzheimers and dementia. Recognizing the underlying contributing factors that created the gut imbalance in the first place is the first step to achieving optimal brain function .

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The Many Tastes of Fermentation

Filed in Adults, Children, Diet, Digestive Health, Fermentation, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Sugar, The Skinny Gut Diet | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/29/2015


Fermented foods are on my mind today. Yes, I’m glad to see that there’s an article about their health attributes written about them nearly every day. In contrast, it’s interesting to me how often I’m asked if my recent eating plan, Skinny Gut Diet, can “work” if a person doesn’t like fermented foods. Someone just the other day posed that in our Facebook support group.

When I created Skinny Gut Diet – even though the word “diet” is in the title, I envisioned this program much more as an eating plan – for life. And the reason fermented foods were included was their incredible health benefits.

Having been such a strong advocate of probiotics for so long, I’ve been fermenting in many different ways for decades. So my answer to the question was – if you are only interested in “losing” weight – eliminating processed carbs, increasing good fats, regular protein intake, essentially following the 3 rules of Skinny Gut Diet, will certainly direct you to reach your goal. By the way, Rule #2 is “eat living foods daily”. “Living foods” includes both non-starchy vegetables as well as fermented offerings, so you can understand how weight loss might result, even sans fermented goodies.

What’s important to understand in the bigger picture of creating a life of vibrant health is – omitting fermented products will negate an easy and affordable way to balance your gut with good probiotics. Those helpful microbes support stronger immunity and detox capabilities for your body.

In my newsletter recently I wrote about my granddaughters, and how varied their palate is due to the fact that they had only been offered healthy foods to eat since birth. Fermented foods like sauerkraut were among their choices, and they now love them.

It’s clearly a matter of “palate conditioning”. And if you don’t enjoy fermented foods, listen up – it’s not just about pickles and sauerkraut at all!

I know – it’s the sour taste you just don’t like. Well there are recipes that include some sweet aspects that persist even through the fermentation process. My friend Donna Schwenk offers this one – Cultured Broccoli Salad in a Jar. The grapes retain much of their sweetness, probably because the outer skins are left intact. Really yummy.

And I look at it this way. If the requirement for a sweeter taste is what’s blocking you from fermented foods, and you’re eating sweet stuff anyway in other foods, then when you prepare your fermented foods, add in a bit of sweetener. Isn’t it better to eat something sweet that contains wonderful probiotics too, than just something sweet made with other forms of carbs?

Another friend of mine has a recipe for Pickled (fermented) Beets that she makes. Everyone loves it! One day I asked her for the recipe and was somewhat dismayed to learn that she adds in a bit of sugar AFTER the fermentation process. No wonder it was so delicious. Although personally I didn’t eat the beets again quite as voraciously, it occurs to me that for those of you who have that sour aversion, this could be an option. You just need to calculate approximately that added sugar when you’re noting it in your daily food journal.

And don’t forget the option of kefir! Did you know that milk kefir contains 35-50 different strains of bacteria? Now that’s diversity.

Kefir can be added to everything from coleslaw to pudding. Here’s a great recipe we include in Skinny Gut Diet for kefir ice cream! Imagine that favorite treat – guilt-free! And remember to substitute zero-calorie sweeteners like erythritol or stevia for at least 2/3 of the regular sweetener suggested in other dessert recipes. This will lower your sugar count considerably.

Also consider kombucha. It’s now available even in grocery store chains. Kombucha offers you the gut balancing good yeast called S. boulardii. Often store-bought kombucha can be a bit too sweet, so limit this, or dilute it a bit. Your label is your guide, so be sure to check it out.

If you’re not a kitchen type, no worries. I simply can’t believe that you won’t find a recipe you will learn to love right here. The great news about fermenting is that the bacteria do the work for you. Yours is a simple assembly job. Couple that with a dash of willingness to experiment – for the good of your own gut – and I’ll bet you’ll be eating fermented foods in no time. Palate diversity is a very good thing.

Happy fermenting!

Cruciferous Veggies – Friend or Foe?

Filed in Hypothyroidism | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/22/2015


My entire career has been built on my respect for research and its value, however every so often when I read articles that are based on research studies, it takes me back to that old adage – a little knowledge/information can be a dangerous thing. It can be that studies examine very small populations, and then provide statements, that when taken out of context, may be misleading.

It’s frustrating when I read an article that shares information about some of the most wonderful foods on the planet – cruciferous vegetables – and then the message associates them primarily with the rather negative term “goitrogens”. It’s difficult enough to get people to eat veggies to begin with in this country. That’s a sad fact unto itself. Just let someone who already is struggling with greens on their plate read an article about possible issues with “goitrogenic foods” – all bets are off. No more veggies for those people! Boy are they relieved! And that’s a really sad thing.

This blog is specifically written for you if you’re learning to love broccoli, kale, cabbage, spinach and other foods considered goitrogenic (bet you didn’t realize strawberries and peaches are in that family too!). This is also for the very well-intentioned nutritionally oriented person out there that is overwhelmed by so much information about what is “good” to eat. It certainly can be very confusing!

So let’s take a closer look. The definition of “goitrogen” is technically – any substance that could potentially lead to a goiter – and not always foods, by the way. A goiter is that swollen area of the neck that happens when the thyroid gland is enlarged. In many cases it appears when a person is severely iodine deficient, a condition that is actually rare these days due to accessible thyroid testing. The goitrogenic foods are called that because it’s possible for them to inhibit the body’s iodine metabolism under certain circumstances. Actually, more accurately, some of the enzymatic nutrients they contain, once converted in the body, could have an effect on iodine uptake.

Hypothyroidism is a common issue today, and here’s the confusing part. One cause of hypothyroidism is iodine deficiency. So in these cases, it would be logical to limit your intake of anything that might decrease your ability to absorb iodine, at least until you have your iodine/thyroid situation understood and under control. However, the impact that cruciferous veggies might have on your iodine is extremely minimal when you eat them in moderation (the key word!).

And hypothyroidism can commonly be the result of an autoimmune response against the thyroid like Hashimoto’s or Graves’ disease. In those cases, iodine deficiency isn’t even your issue. Healing your immune system will be your action plan and there are other factors to consider as well. If you suspect a thyroid issue, please consult an integrative practitioner for a well-rounded program.

If you don’t have an iodine deficiency or if you’re managing your diagnosis of hypothyroidism well, Dr. Sarah Ballantyne who wrote the book “The Paleo Approach” feels that the research doesn’t justify avoiding these vitality packed foods. Keep in mind that steaming your cruciferous veggies reduces the enzymes responsible for the goitrogenic effect by two thirds. And you might consider increasing your intake of iodine rich foods like seaweed to help balance your system.

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, well-respected vegan, author and medical doctor, states that “it would be almost impossible to consume enough cruciferous to harm the thyroid”. He goes on to say that “a person would have to consume an insane amount of cruciferous to have a negative effect on thyroid function”. We’re back to that very appropriate word – for almost any situation – MODERATION.

Recognizing the nutrients available in our foods and balancing our intake goes a long way toward eliminating the “bad food” vs. “good food” concept when it comes to Mother Nature’s offerings. Instead we can strive to support our bodies by providing whole food nutrients in the best, most delicious, and beautiful combinations. Cruciferous (goitrogenic) veggies have been found to deliver substantial anti-cancerous properties, along with numerous other beneficial nutrients. Not the least of them is fiber, which is so essential in my favorite function – digestion!

There’s an old term that fits perfectly in this situation. “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater!”

It comes back to listening to our own bodies, and focusing not so much on what there is to fear, but instead on how we can create health and vitality, one mouthful at a time.

 

Increase Your Magnesium – A Message Worth Repeating!

Filed in Adults, Conditions, Constipation, Diabetes, Digestive Health, Heart Disease, Metabolic Syndrome | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/15/2015


I’ve been addressing constipation issues a lot recently, due to the fact that they seem epidemic in our country! And constipated people are very commonly magnesium deficient.

It’s been really great to interact with the people on the Skinny Gut Facebook group – and whenever someone seems stuck in terms of weight loss, my first question is always – are you eliminating? If the answer is no, then shortly thereafter comes the inevitable magnesium discussion.

Simply, magnesium is critical for an amazing number of processes in your body – heart function probably topping the list. According to the World Health Organization, low levels have been implicated in hypertension, coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Besides those serious conditions, Dr. Dean who wrote the excellent book The Magnesium Miracle cites heart palpitations, leg and muscle cramps, migraines, insomnia and fatigue are associated symptoms. Do I have your attention?

Since magnesium is so important to simply living, it’s easy to see why our bodies will use whatever is available as soon as it can be absorbed into our circulation, and many times, magnesium doesn’t make its way to the colon to assist in elimination if needed.

In times past, we were able to get most of our magnesium from our foods, but farming and food production practices have disturbed the mineral content of the soil. Couple that with increased toxins that our bodies need added magnesium to process daily, we find ourselves at a magnesium deficit. So you are aware, high magnesium foods include dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, fish, beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit, dark chocolate, and more. Bone broths are also a great source of magnesium (make sure they come from a clean animal source though – free range, hormone free or organic). Keep in mind, to get the magnesium (and other nutrients) from foods you eat, you need a relatively balanced digestive system that’s able to properly breakdown and then absorb the nutrients.

Since magnesium is responsible for so many basic health processes, it would be logical to assume that it might be a go-to product to suggest to anyone in a doctor’s office presenting with the symptoms I mentioned. It’s cheap too. Maybe that’s the reason that medical doctors don’t know about it! No profit for pharmaceutical companies there!

Magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide are the two forms that are most commonly used to increase bowel movements. Magnesium oxide is the least absorbable form – meaning that it doesn’t get into your body easily. That’s why it can make its way to the colon to help with stubborn constipation issues. It won’t be absorbed in the upper intestine.

Keep in mind that if you’re taking magnesium oxide, you really aren’t improving your magnesium level overall. It’s not unusual to take different forms in various products to effectively help your body repair and resume normal function.

The worst side effect you will have with magnesium supplementation will possibly be a watery stool. Many of us who have dealt with stubborn constipation issues don’t see that as a bad temporary issue. Magnesium will not harm you, and you can increase your dosage, and then taper off when your bowel begins to eliminate regularly and normally. Don’t be frightened of a bit of experimentation with increasing dosages.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if inexpensive and easy magnesium supplementation could truly make a difference in our daily health and vitality? I honestly think it can.

What have been your experiences with magnesium? I’d love to hear.

What Does “Fresh” Really Mean?

Filed in Diet, Organic | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/08/2015


I was walking through the produce section of the grocery store the other day and a lady looked at me and asked where the locally grown produce was located. I replied with “I usually look for the areas of organic vs. conventionally grown”. Her question got me thinking because the locally grown conventional produce could actually have just as much pesticide residue as regular conventional produce, wherever it is grown.

I started considering the new “food vocabulary” we now have to know as we walk into a grocery store. It’s an ever-changing environment when it comes to food. So what does it all mean? Let’s look at some of the words we frequently use these days to describe our food.

At least the term “organic” has strict guidelines. Technically, “organic” on a label certifies that the food was processed in accordance with US Department of Agriculture regulations that promote sustainability and MINIMIZE exposure to pesticide and other synthetic materials. Notice the word ‘minimize’. Believe me, this gets crazy. I decided to follow the link above to view the “allowed synthetic substances”. The list alone had me feeling like I was being sucked down into quicksand – and yet, all these regulations are certainly better than no regulations by far! I’m so glad someone takes the time to make those lists!

The term “natural”, when seen on meats and egg products means MINIMALLY processed (that word again). If you’re interested, here’s more explanation on what that could include – and bottom line – that word “natural” means next to nothing. The FDA doesn’t technically define the word, however the agency says it won’t object to the claim “natural” as long as there are no artificial or synthetic ingredients in a particular product. The truth is that the word “natural” has become a billion dollar marketing ploy, with 60% of Americans purchasing a food more readily if that word is on the label.

“Local” may be defined as products from a person’s own state, or sometimes from bordering states as well. A different definition could be anything brought into a store within 24 hours of harvest. Wow, now that’s a big difference! To get it to the store within 24 hours, it better be close – and that sounds fresh to me!

“Artisan” products of all types have historically been defined as ‘handcrafted, made in small batches’. This term was used to denote premium quality, explaining higher prices. In today’s world, it’s a term fast food chains are now claiming. I just cannot imagine “artisan” and “Domino’s” in the same sentence. Can you?

“Seasonal” is a term that’s heard often as well. One definition refers to the window of time in which a given food is freshest, ripest and most abundant in a particular region. In other words, ‘grown near me now’. That has a good ring to it.

And one more – the term “fresh”! Another mind boggler!! “Fresh” could mean the following – ‘just picked or gathered produce, live or unprocessed’, or even ‘dishes made the day they are sold’ – I read this in Consumer Reports. HMMM?? Really, that could mean just about anything.

I hope you’re laughing along with me – or at least a bit confused too. I don’t think I’m alone in all this. One thing, I’m grateful we’re defining and considering words like “organic” and “seasonal” instead of “processed”, “artificially flavored” and “trans fat” today. Hopefully those terms are on their way out! We’ve come a long way.

I can tell you though, the next food related definitions I would really like to understand are the words MINIMIZED and MINIMALLY!! What are your favorites?

Guess What? Gut Microbes Don’t Thrive on Yo-Yo Dieting Either!

Filed in Adults, Conditions, Diabetes, Diet, Dietary Fiber, General, Heart Disease, Metabolic Syndrome, Probiotics & Gut Flora, Ulcerative Colitis | Posted by Brenda Watson on 05/01/2015


We have a war going on inside of our guts! It is a constant battle between all kinds of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Do you know what they are all fighting about? FOOD! So to support our health it logically follows we should find out what feeds the good guys and stick to those foods. Right?

The specific foods of choice vary for the different bacteria – good and bad (tip – the bad guys love sugar and carbs). I wrote a lot about that recently in The Skinny Gut Diet. The book is based on how the ratio of different bacteria in the gut reflects whether we are lean or overweight. One of the main nutrients necessary to support good bacteria is fiber.

An interesting recent study shows that when microbes are starved of fiber they actually feed on your gut lining!!! This certainly explains why people very commonly end up with leaky gut (intestinal permeability). The average American only gets about 12-15 grams of fiber a day in their diet. This amount is well below the amount documented as necessary for a healthy digestive system. I’ve been suggesting 35-40 grams daily for years.

Apparently, in the absence of fiber, the microbes are gobbling up the delicate mucosal lining. A thick healthy mucosal lining creates a natural barrier between our gut and our bloodstream, keeping undesirable toxins and undigested proteins where they belong – in the bowel. A thin mucosal lining begins to allow those irritating substances to pass into general circulation – the lining begins to “leak”. Various inflammatory conditions throughout our bodies are the eventual outcome – diseases like cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome and diabetes are some examples.

The study shows that dietary fiber and the diversity of the gut microbes are the crucial elements with regard to keeping your gut lining healthy.

How does this work? A group of researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School found when they fed a group of mice a high-fiber diet the result was a healthy gut lining. When they switched the mice to a more fiber-free diet the mucosal lining layer dramatically diminished.

They then took a different group of mice and fed them a high fiber diet and a fiber-free diet on alternating days. It would be like us having a healthy day of eating with plenty of fiber in our diet and the next day eating all low fiber foods like those found at McDonald’s. I call this Yo-Yo eating. On examination, they then found that the Yo-Yo diet created a thinner mucosal lining – ½ the thickness of mice consistently fed fiber. Obviously the mucosal lining was seriously affected by dietary input.

In another study, adults with diminished gut linings were given a high fiber bar daily. Their mucosal lining thickened. As soon as the daily fiber was discontinued, their lining returned to its original compromised state.

When the gut lining thins it can manifest in severe health consequences in humans as well. A Swedish research team published a study last year that showed a link between bacteria penetrating a diminished mucus lining and the condition called ulcerative colitis, a form of severe bowel inflammation.

I hope you find these studies as interesting as I do. They show how extremely reactive the gut microbiota is to dietary input, specifically lack of fiber. Rapid diet changes likely served us in our evolutionary history in times of feast or famine, but they don’t do us any favors today.

In our culture, with so much junk food at our fingertips, we commonly shift back and forth between healthy and unhealthy food choices, often from one day to the next. We make poor food choices, and then feel guilty the next day and choose better foods = Yo-Yo dieting. Admit it, we always knew that way of eating couldn’t be healthful, and now here’s even more evidence. Science is showing us how choosing chronic low fiber diets over our lifetime, and worse yet, over generations, might very well permanently alter our guts and our health.

Studies like these make it even clearer how our gut bacteria are our key to vibrant health or debilitating disease. So keep eating that fiber! Lets feed the good guys and maintain our gut lining!