Strawberry Almond Butter Muffins

Strawberry Almond Butter Muffins

The season for fresh strawberries is here! ūüćďūüćďūüćstI have friends who love making jams, jellies, shrubs, and compotes with this beautiful and flavorful berry, but my favorite way to eat this fruit is by themselves or in a baked good. ūüėČ

Almond butter is another favorite of mine. It typically gives baked goods a fudgey consistency, or at the very least, produces a moist batter. The key is using a creamy, all-natural nut butter with just a touch of the oil that pools on top. I mix mine, but not as thoroughly as I normally would using it solo.

I created this recipe with vegans in mind, along with those who are sick of seeing bananas in everyūüĎŹdamnūüĎŹrecipe! Don’t get my wrong, I love bananas. I eat them nearly every single day as a runner, BUT, I don’t find it necessary to use them as a natural sweetener in every bloody recipe. LOL. Let’s switch it up people!

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Strawberry Almond Butter Muffins

Prep time: 5 minutes

Bake time: 20 minutes

Ingredients

Wet 

  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/3 applesauce (I used unsweetened)
  • 1/2 cup creamy almond butter (mix lightly and use top of jar contents)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 flax egg- click link to see how to make one (you can use a regular egg too)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup or honey
  • 6-8 strawberries (depending on the size and amount desired)

Dry

  • 3 cups oat flour (rolled oats)
  • 1/2 tsp fine sea salt (if almond butter has salt, use 1/2 tsp)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 Tbsp cinnamon

Tools

  • muffin tin
  • muffin liners
  • measuring cups and spoons
  • rubber spatula
  • ice cream scoop

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Get your muffin tin out and insert muffin liners.
  2. Prepare flax egg if using. Add all of the wet ingredients (besides the strawberries) to a large bowl and whisk until evenly mixed.
  3. Blend or process 3 cups rolled oats until a rough flour consistency is formed. I counted to 10 processing on medium and left a few broken oat pieces in because I like the rustic texture and look.
  4. Add all dry ingredients to a small bowl and mix to combine. Then add to wet ingredients.
  5. After the batter is formed, dice strawberries and add to the batter. Mix with rubber spatula. Use an ice cream scoop or 1/3 cup to add batter to each muffin liner.
  6. Bake at 350F for 18-20 minutes, or until top is golden brown and the muffins pass the knife test- insert knife into muffin, if the batter is not on it, it’s fully cooked!

I hope you enjoy these summer treats as much as my husband and I did! I’m not sure about the shelf life, but since there are fresh strawberries in them, I would recommend refrigerating them for longevity.

 

 

 

 

Better Sleep Can Improve Eating Habits, and Vice Versa

Better Sleep Can Improve Eating Habits, and Vice Versa

I attended the largest-held food and nutrition conference in the U.S. for the last two years- last year in Philly, and two years ago in D.C. It’s called FNCE, short for the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo. Both were fully funded by my university’s Student Government Association, and I couldn’t be more grateful for these opportunities. If you have never been to one of these grandiose and usually overwhelming events, you may not know that several rooms host various speakers all the same time. It is the attendee’s responsibility to choose, plan, and navigate each session as the day goes on.

One topic that stood out to me was about sleep and nutrition. We have known for awhile now that 8 hours of sleep is the standard recommendation, but does everyone really know the science behind it and how it relates to our eating habits? I was intrigued, so I added that to my schedule. The session was called “Best of the Rest: Improving Health Through Better Sleep”, and it was presented by Michael A. Grandner, PhD, MTR from the University of Arizona. He was pretty engaging, which my friends and I were thankful for since it was started at 9am on a Sunday.

He introduced the topic by simply defining sleep as a “naturally rhythmic and recurring process with a reduction or lack of consciousness, perceptual disengagement, immobility, ¬†and which is reversible”. Now this process is controlled by two mechanisms: 1) Our sleep drive, and 2) our biological clock, aka circadian rhythm.

Did you know…

when we are awake that our brains accumulate fluid, toxins, and adenosine (a cell by-product from energy production)? Yep! This is our body’s sleep drive. When enough build-up and pressure is present, we grow tired. When we sleep, this is when these fluids, toxins, and adenosine are released. Sleeping is detoxifying for our brains!!!!!

This is such an important fact I think everyone should be made aware of. We tend to glorify those who can function off of less sleep and praise the “hustlers” and “go-getters”, but is the exchange of long-term health for success worth it? That’s kind of a rhetorical and subjectively-pointed question. ¬†What I can tell you is that this presenter made it clear that no matter how well you think you function sleep-deprived, no one is exempt from the health recommendation of getting 7-9 hours of sleep per night.

The tricky thing is getting enough quality sleep. Many of us think we are getting our suggested 7-9 hours in because we spend that time in bed, but quality sleep takes many things into account:

  • Sleep onset, or how quickly you fall asleep
  • Number of awakenings per night
  • Total sleep time
  • Sleep efficiency

For quality sleep, you should be falling asleep within 20-30 minutes of putting yourself to bed. If you are having a difficult time with this, try turning off any devices 2 hours prior to bedtime, wearing blue-blocking glasses if you absolutely need to have screen time (I just ordered myself a pair), avoid doing anything but sleeping or having sex in the bedroom, and practice going to bed satisfied with food (not hungry, but not too full).

Some foods that have been proven to aid in melatonin production, relaxation and sleep include:

  • tart cherry juice or tart cherries,
  • kiwis
  • foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan (which is a precursor to serotonin, which is a precursor to melatonin- whew! science) Foods with tyrptophan include turkey,¬†seafood,¬†dairy,¬†chicken,¬†nuts,¬†seeds and eggs.

What about melatonin supplements?

Melatonin supplements aren’t typically effective. Our bodies already produce this hormone, so it isn’t necessary to supplement with it. Melatonin supplements can have a minimal effect on sleep quality by timing the dosing right around 8pm, the peak at which natural melatonin reaches a high in the body. When the sun sets, our body’s secrete the most melatonin. This occurs around 8pm on average, so it makes sense why we would have to time our melatonin supplement then- to aid in the amount of melatonin present for sleep support.

Now to return to the other points I made about quality sleep…

The average person wakes up about 30 times a night, but only for a few seconds. Yep. That’s kind of a startling number, right? This is normal, and we typically don’t remember these brief awakenings. What we do want to focus on is the number of times we remember waking up. Since each full sleep cycle entailing the 5 stages of sleep (REM + nREM) takes place in 90 minute intervals, we should be getting about 5-6 cycles in per night. So we shouldn’t be consciously waking up more than 5 times per night, at the maximum.

How long should my naps be?

This was a popular subtopic when the end of the presentation opened up for questions. Dr. Michael Grandner suggested that a person should set their alarm for a 90 minute nap if possible. Why is this? Because this is the duration of a full sleep cycle, which gifts you quality sleep. He acknowledged that everyone does not have the luxury to take a 90 minute nap and that any amount of sleep is better than none.

What’s this talk about circadian rhythm being important?

Circadian rhythm is our body’s internal mechanism of knowing when to wake up and when to sleep. A large component of this is light. When the sun rises, our eyes register this light and release cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone that makes us alert, hence, why it is secreted when we rise- to wake us up! It is this reason why coffee first thing in the morning is not suggested- because it is not necessary with our body’s natural way of waking itself up. We just have to give it time. I do not practice what I preach when it comes to this though, simply because I LOVE my caffeine highs. ūüėČ I must note that if you are having trouble sleeping, you should consider reducing or removing caffeine from your diet. Stimulants and depressants (including alcohol) have shown to disrupt sleep in numerous studies, even when the subject was unaware.

What else does sleep deprivation affect?

  • weight gain- increased appetite
  • (those who sleep less consume 300-500 kcals extra/day)
  • exacerbates¬†chronic disease symptoms
  • adds to inflammation
  • toxins build up in the brain
  • lowers immune responses
  • reduces performance
  • effects mental health
  • can cause behavioral issues
  • can lead to poor decision-making
  • shorter life expectancy

What else can I do to improve my sleep?

Aside from shutting down electronics 2 hours before bed, only using the bedroom to sleep and for sex, and eating or drinking tart cherries, kiwis, tryptophan-rich foods, or taking a melatonin supplement, you can also…

  • drink more water for improved temperature regulation
  • invest in black-out curtains
  • ensure a comfortable sleeping environment
  • engage in regular exercise
  • eat healthy, balanced, and sufficient portion sizes
  • avoid stimulants or depressants
  • maintain healthy relationships to decrease stress.

Summary

Sleep is considered the third pillar of health, next to diet and exercise. It is essential for humans to reset, detoxify, and function properly. A regular schedule and ample amounts of sleep can lengthen one’s expected life span and decrease other health risks, including but not limited to weight gain, chronic disease, and heart issues.

While eating healthy, exercise, and certain food and supplements may help, you should seek help from a professional sleep expert and undergo a sleep study should you still have trouble sleeping. Many suffer from undiagnosed insomnia and sleep apnea, which are serious medical conditions that cannot be helped by lifestyle changes alone.

Resources

American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society

National Sleep Foundation

Photo by DANNY G on Unsplash

Reference

Grandner, M. (2019). Best of the Rest: Improving Health Through Better Sleep [1-46].

The medical/health information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of medical/health advice. THE USE OR RELIANCE OF ANY INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS SITE OR OUR MOBILE APPLICATION IS SOLELY AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Raw Butter Pecan Bars!

Raw Butter Pecan Bars!

I was daydreaming of flavor combos that would kill it as a raw bar, and my mind landed on butter pecan. I LOVED butter pecan ice cream as a kid, and while pecans are typically used in the fall, who says we can’t have them NOW!? Ami right?!

I wanted to make this recipe vegan and paleo friendly, so I used coconut oil instead of butter and maple syrup instead of any other sweetener.

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Raw Butter Pecan Bars

Prep time: 30 minutes

*2 hours refrigerating time is suggested!

Ingredients

Crust

  • 1 sleeve Graham crackers
  • 1 packed cup medjool dates
  • 3/4 cup toasted almonds

Filling

  • 2 cups soaked cashews
  • 1/2 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 pecans

Topping

  • 1/2 cup toasted pecans

 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Toast almonds and topping pecans for 10 minutes.
  2. While they are toasting…boil water and soak the medjool dates and cashews, separately. The dates can soak for 10 minutes, but the cashews should soak for 20-25 minutes.
  3. Discard the water from the dates and REMOVE THE PITS! Once the almonds have cooled, put the 3 crust ingredients in a blender or food processor. Pulse 5-8 times, scraping the sides as needed. The pieces should be a large grain consistency.
  4. Lightly coat an 8×8 pan with coconut oil. Place and press the mix to the bottom of the pan only to form the crust.
  5. After the cashews have soaked for the allotted 20-25 minutes, discard the water and blend with the remaining filling ingredients. Blend on high until smooth. This took me about 3-4 minutes. Scrap sides as needed.
  6. Pour and evenly layer on top of crust.
  7. Press pecans on top of the filling, making whatever design you would like!
  8. Refrigerate for 2 hours to set. You may even prefer them frozen for a longer shelf life and a firmer consistency. It’s up to you! JP and I prefer them frozen!

Enjoy these sweet treats, and please let me know if you tried them out! Happy eating, friends! ‚̧

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COVID-19 & Zinc

COVID-19 & Zinc

It seems that vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc are among the most talked about nutrients in relation to COVID-19. I already delivered the truths about vitamin C & D in terms of their true power in preventing or treating this virus, but let’s take a look at zinc.

Zinc

Zinc is a trace mineral that is essential for growth, development, and managing the complexity of the immune system. It is found throughout all systems, organs, and tissues of the body. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that up to 31% of the world is deficient in this mineral, but the National Center for Biotechnology Medicine (NCBI) estimates <15% of zinc deficiency exists in the United States.¬Ļ

The functions of zinc include:

  • RNA synthesis and gene expression
  • Cofactor to more than 300 enzymes
  • Aid in alcohol metabolism
  • Growth
  • Reproduction
  • Immune function
  • Protein synthesis
  • Antioxidant
  • Stabilizes cell membranes

ATTENTION PARENTS!

Sufficient zinc levels can reduce the risk for premature births, all-cause mortality, and stunted growth in children. In addition, zinc supplementation can decrease the duration and severity of child diarrheal episodes and Acute Lower Respiratory Infections (ALRI).¬Ļ As we now know, COVID can cause both upper and lower respiratory infections, so zinc supplementation could potentially reduce the duration and severity of a viral-induced infection.

In a study conducted in 2019 in Thailand, children suffering from ALRI who were administered 30mg of zinc/day recovered 1 day faster and were released 3 days earlier from the hospital than the placebo group. A similar study carried out with Indian and Bangladesh children resulted in similar conclusions- less severe cases and a shorter stay in the hospital.²

The mechanism by which zinc supplementation improves the symptoms of ALRI is unknown. Theoretically, zinc is essential for protein synthesis and cell growth, and it plays a critical role in maintaining the integrity of the immune system and respiratory cells during inflammation mucosal resistance.²

Zinc can possibly be protective against COVID symptoms, specifically for those at risk, by reducing inflammation, aiding in breaking up and clearing mucus build up, and modulating the immune system’s response. However, more isolated studies must be done to confirm its effects. When I say isolated, I am referring to studies that do not supplement with other nutrients simultaneously because it would be impossible to determine which nutrients had a positive, negative, or no effect on the patients. Zinc dosing must be the independent variable in future treatment studies.

So how do we protect ourselves against zinc deficiency?

According to the USDA, “the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adult men and women is 11 mg/day and 8 mg/day of zinc, respectively”.¬†Like most other vitamins and minerals, zinc can easily be obtained through the diet and/or a multivitamin.

Dietary sources of bioavailable zinc include:

  • Shellfish
  • Organ meats
  • Eggs
  • Dairy
  • Enriched breakfast cereals

Bioavailable means that your body can appropriately and effectively digest, absorb, and process said nutrient. Zinc may also be found in whole grains and legumes, but the zinc is not as abundant or bioavailable in these foods. With that said, since quality zinc is mostly found in animal-sourced foods, those who are vegan may need to supplement to specifically address this lack of mineral absoprtion.

The Upper Limit (UL) for zinc is 40mg/day. However…

Supplementation with doses of zinc in excess of the UL is effective to reduce the duration of common cold symptoms. The use of zinc at daily doses of 50 to 180 mg for one to two weeks has not resulted in serious side effects.³

Just like vitamin C, zinc has been shown to alleviate cold and flu symptoms, which makes sense because these effect the respiratory system. The long-term supplementation of zinc can lead to copper deficiency, but this is not common. Please consult with your physician or child’s primary care pediatric physician before supplementing with zinc.

To wrap up the COVID & Nutrition series…

While vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc can all arm the body’s immune system with virus weaponry, these nutrients do not provide immunity or prevention of contracting this virus. They can alleviate the severity of signs and symptoms, as well as the duration of an infection should one ensue. Please consult with your doctor before deciding to supplement. Food and drug interactions may occur for those with conditions or taking herbal remedies or medications.

Keep in mind that eating a well-balanced and nutrient-dense diet can set you up for an improved health outlook. While I do not want to condone using the phrase, “boosting your immune system”, eating foods or supplementing with vitamin C, vitamin D, and/or zinc can potentially alleviate symptoms associated with the cold, flu, and respiratory infections. Stay safe, and be happy and well, my friends!

Tell me. Did this article help?

 

Photo: HOTZE Health & Wellness Center.; 2017. https://www.hotzehwc.com/2017/07/foods-boost-testosterone/. Accessed May 21, 2020.

References

1. Wessells KR, Brown KH. Estimating the global prevalence of zinc deficiency: results based on zinc availability in national food supplies and the prevalence of stunting. PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e50568. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0050568

2. Rerksuppaphol S, Rerksuppaphol L. A randomized controlled trial of zinc supplementation in the treatment of acute respiratory tract infection in Thai children. Pediatric Reports. 2019;11(2). doi:10.4081/pr.2019.7954

3. Zinc. Linus Pauling Institute. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/zinc. Published January 1, 2020. Accessed May 21, 2020.

 

COVID-19 & Vitamin C

COVID-19 & Vitamin C

Moving on to another hot topic regarding COVID and nutrition- today I’m telling all about vitamin C! Nope, not the infamous graduation song singer. The vitamin. (bad joke, I know). ūüėČ

Vitamin C

Vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is utilized primarily as an antioxidant. Antioxidants fight free radicals, toxins and stress that oxidize and damage cellular function. Vitamin C is considered an essential micronutrient because our bodies don’t produce it. Instead, we must rely on our diet or oral supplementation for our daily dose.

Dietary sources of vitamin C:

  • Citrus fruits (such as lemons, limes, grapefruit, and oranges)
  • ¬†Berries
  • Papaya
  • Potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach¬Ļ

*If you are not consuming enough of these foods, a multivitamin should do the trick. The DRI (Daily Recommended Intake) for men is 90 mg, while the DRI for women is 75 mg.¬Ļ Just double check your multi-vit label.

Many of us have heard to take vitamin C when we feel like we’re coming down with something. Whether it’s drinking OJ or chugging Emergen-C, this is luckily a common knowledge remedy. And it’s true! Science has shown that vitamin C consumption does work as a weak antihistamine, relieving flu and cold-like symptoms like sneezing, a runny nose, and congestion or swollen nasal cavities.¬≤ But vitamin C does much more than fight off foreign invaders…

The functions of this vitamin include:

  • Acts as an antioxidant
  • “Recharges” enzymes
  • Collagen synthesis
  • Precursor to hormone production and secretion
  • Needed for formation of blood vessels, cartilage, and muscles
  • Essential for wound healing
  • Neurotransmitter
  • Hormone synthesis
  • Aids in iron absorption and storage
  • Anti-carcinogen
  • Protects against heart disease¬Ļ

As far as COVID prevention is concerned…

Different studies showed that ascorbic acid (vitaminC) positively affects the development and maturation of T-lymphocytes, in particular NK (Natural Killer) cells involved in the immune response to viral agents. It also contributes to the inhibition of ROS production and to the remodulation of the cytokine network typical of systemic inflammatory syndrome.²

While vitamin C cannot outright prevent contracting COVID-19, it has a significant influence on how your immune system responds to and fights the virus cells if you do become infected.

The classic symptoms of COVID-19 thus far are fever, coughing, and shortness of breath, a myriad of other signs and symptoms have been reported around the world. According to the CDC, these symptoms include, but are not limited to chills, muscle pain, sore throat, and loss of taste and smell. Critical illness complications are not typically discussed, but The National Institute of Health has an entire page on these, two relative conditions being sepsis and pneumonia.

Septic shock develops due to an infection. It displays itself as low blood pressure and organ failure. “It is estimated that 40% of critically ill patients with septic shock have serum vitamin C levels that suggest scurvy (<11.3 őľmol/l).” Therefore, vitamin C supplementation could be beneficial for this group.¬≤

But what does this have to do with COVID? Good question. COVID-19 is a viral strain that causes an upper and/or lower respiratory infection, among other signs and symptoms. Sepsis develops due to infection, so it is quite possible for COVID patients who are in critical condition can develop sepsis and display vitamin C deficiency.

The University of Palermo in Sicily, Italy has decided to treat their COVID patients by administering 10 grams of vitamin C in 250 ml of saline to infuse at a rate of 60 drops/minute. This was decided after a preliminary double-blind study was conducted on 167 patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome back in October of 2019. The trial treated randomized patients with COVID pneumonia with 50 mg/kg every 6 h of high dose intravenous vitamin C (HDIVC) for 4 days versus placebo. By day 28, 46.3% of the placebo cases resulted in fatal conclusions, while 29.8% represented the mortality rate for those treated with vitamin C.² Those treated with vitamin C had a 36% lower rate of mortality.

Other studies have implemented similar doses with the addition of a glucocorticoid to fight inflammation and carb-restricted diet (usually parenterally administered, or through an IV).³

Vitamin C Supplementation Risks

Vitamin C toxicity is unlikely because it is not stored in the body; however excessive vitamin C dosing can lead to cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and even kidney stones in some long-term cases.

Possible food and drug interactions include the following:

  • Aluminum, found in phosphate binders, that could be harmful to dialysis patients
  • Chemotherapy
  • Estrogen
  • Protease inhibitors
  • Statins and niacin
  • Warfarin (aka Coumadin)¬Ļ

*Please consult with your physician before taking vitamin C.

Summary

While vitamin C has traditionally been used to ward off the onset of mild cold and flu symptoms, it has not been proven to prevent contracting COVID-19. However, vitamin C has been shown to increase the amount of T-lymphocytes and Natural Killer cells, which both assist the innate immune system in attacking viral-infected cells. Vitamin C also attenuates oxidative stress and inflammation. Lastly, in terms of prevention, this powerhouse helps modulate cell signaling by improving cytokine (hormone-like protein involved in the immune response) production and function.

Further studies are currently underway in the midst of this global pandemic, with many hospitals actively treating their COVID patients intravenously with vitamin C along with other biomedical treatments. So far, the results indicate that vitamin C can lower mortality rates for critically-ill patients.

Does this mean that you should dose with vitamin C? Nope! While it doesn’t hurt in suggested amounts, you can simply incorporate more foods and beverages that contain vitamin C or get your daily fix through a multivitamin.

Photo by Bruna Branco on Unsplash

References

  1. Vitamin C. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-vitamin-c/art-20363932. Published October 18, 2017. Accessed May 20, 2020.
  2. Rossetti CA, Real JP, Palma SD. High Dose Of Ascorbic Acid Used In Sars Covid-19 Treatment: Scientific And Clinical Support For Its Therapeutic Implementation. Ars Pharmaceutica. 2020;61(2):145-148. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.30827/ars.v61i2.15164
  3. Erol A. High-dose intravenous vitamin C treatment for COVID-19. Erol Project Development House for the disorders of energy metabolism. 2020. doi:10.31219/osf.io/p7ex8

COVID-19 & Vitamin D

COVID-19 & Vitamin D

The abundance of misinformation out there regarding COVID-19 and nutrition is alarming. While these pieces mainly revolve around “boosting” one’s immunity, some go as far as claiming that certain nutrients prevent or treat this virus. I have been wanting to write a science-based article that compiles truths and telephone-game rewrites of how nutrition impacts this virus and its hosts. **SPOILER ALERT** Some of it is true!!

The top nutrients in relation to COVID-19 will be discussed post by post over the next week, as one post would have been way too¬†lengthy to cover everything I wanted to. Today’s topic is vitamin D.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning, it is dissolvable in lipids (fat) and stored in the liver and fatty tissues. We can obtain vitamin D from the sun (of which our skin converts and transfer it to our liver then kidneys to be activated), or from dietary sources.

Dietary sources of vitamin D include:

  • Fish (such as salmon, tuna, herring, cod and sardines)
  • Egg yolks
  • Beef liver
  • Cheese
  • Mushrooms
  • Fortified foods and beverages (such as cow’s milk, yogurt, soy milk, plant-based milk, orange juice, and cereals)

The functions of this vitamin include:

  • Calcium homeostasis
  • Bone health (aids in calcium absorption)
  • Cell differentiation
  • Cell growth, maturation, and reproduction
  • Modulation of innate and adaptive immune responses¬Ļ

Let’s start with those who are vitamin D deficient. According to the Journal of Investigative Medicine, “Individuals with lower vitamin D levels (<30 nmol/L) were more likely to self-report a recent upper respiratory tract infection than those with sufficient levels, even after adjusting for variables including season, age, gender, body mass and race”. This is because both the risk and development of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is associated with lower serum vitamin D levels.¬†The risk is attributed to vitamin D increasing¬†“cathelicidins and defensins that can lower viral replication rates and [reduce] concentrations of pro-inflammatory cytokines that produce the inflammation that injures the lining of the lungs”.¬Ļ

From 2005-2006, the Nutrition Examination Survey found that 41.6% of Americans were vitamin D deficient.² This is a significant number, especially with the current risk of contracting the highly transmissible COVID-19 strain. Since many of us are still under a stay-at-home order and may not be getting enough sun, I highly recommend trying to either consume more foods that contain vitamin D (listed above) or to invest in a vitamin D3 supplement.

The National Institute of Health recommends daily doses of 600-800 IUs. Many supplements are higher than this, but due to the risk of hypercalcemia, calcification of soft tissues, and other side effects, it is not recommended to exceed 4,000 IUs/day.³ Although studies are currently looking at higher dosing for prevention and treatment, individuals should not attempt this at home.

It may take 2-4 weeks for vitamin D to accumulate to sufficient amounts in your system, so you may lower your dosage once you get back in the sun more often or ensure your levels are where they should be. A multivitamin with vitamin D can do the trick too.

The first bullet is where you want your numbers to be.

* Vitamin D sufficiency: Serum 25OHD 50-125 nmol/L (20-50 ng/mL)

* Vitamin D inadequacy: Serum 25OHD 30-49 nmol/L (12-19 ng/mL)

* Vitamin D deficiency: Serum 25OHD less than 30 nmol/L (12 ng/mL)³

You can get your levels checked in a routine biochemical lab panel from a blood draw. Contact your primary care physician to make an appointment.

But what about vitamin D treating those infected with COVID-19? 

While vitamin D reduces the risk of developing an infection, it does not guarantee protection or immunity from this virus. Nor has it been proven to treat or cure COVID-19.   I will leave you with this- vitamin D and vitamin C are strongly linked to improved immune responses. You can ensure your levels are where they need to be through consuming dietary sources or by supplementation, followed by getting bloodwork done.

However, “boosting your immune system” shouldn’t be a coined health phrase because we should always want to enforce our immune strength. This can be done by eating a well-balanced diet, scheduling regular wellness checkups with bloodwork and labs, and by taking supplements and/or a multivitamin.

Did I answer our questions about vitamin D in relation to COVID? Drop me a comment on what you thought!

The medical/health information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional advice. Accordingly, before taking any actions based upon such information, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. We do not provide any kind of medical/health advice. THE USE OR RELIANCE OF ANY INFORMATION CONTAINED ON THIS SITE OR OUR MOBILE APPLICATION IS SOLELY AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Photo by Michele Blackwell on Unsplash

References

1. Aranow C. Vitamin D and the Immune System. Journal of Investigative Medicine. 2011;59(6):881-886. doi:10.2310/jim.0b013e31821b8755
2. Parva NR, Tadepalli S, Singh P, et al. Prevalence of Vitamin D Deficiency and Associated Risk Factors in the US Population (2011-2012). Cureus. May 2018. doi:10.7759/cureus.2741
3. Office of Dietary Supplements РVitamin D. NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/VitaminD-HealthProfessional/. Accessed May 18, 2020.

Roasted Red Pepper Tuna Melts

Roasted Red Pepper Tuna Melts

NEW RECIPE ALERT!

I’ve mainly been posting my recipes on my Instagram feed, but I think it’s time to start sharing the love again on here. Plus, I can begin to compile all of my recipes in one, easy-to-navigate space.

So, without further ado, here is the recipe for these incredible Roasted Red Pepper Tuna Melts JP and I had last night for dinner. I typically use him as my unofficial taste-tester and food critic, and he claims that nothing needs to be changed to perfect this recipe. You can be the judge of that bold statement though. ūüėČ

Roasted Red Pepper Tuna Melts

Prep time: 5-10 minutes                         Cook time: 45 minutes

Yields: 6 sandwiches *Just halve or quarter the ingredients if you want to make less

Ingredients

  • Bread (I used homemade sourdough, but pick up any kind you like!)
  • 2 red peppers
  • 2 cans 16 oz. tuna (we used white albacore in water)
  • Organic mayo (you can use reduced-fat, vegan mayo, or even low-sugar Greek yogurt) I do recommend mayo for the taste factor though.
  • Seasoning Salt (got ours from TJs)
  • 1/4 red onion
  • 1 jalape√Īo (can use green pepper or green onion if sensitive)
  • cheese of your choosing (we used pepperjack and JP also had cheddar)
  • OPTIONAL: pickles OR the Dill Pickle Hummus from Trader’s as a spread *drool*, arugula, hot sauce

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Line baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Slice red peppers into strips. Toss in 1-2 tsp olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.
  3. Roast for 20 minutes on each side- 40 minutes total.
  4. In the meantime, make your tuna mixture. Drain the tuna cans well. Add the tuna to a large bowl.
  5. Finely chop the red onion and jalape√Īo. Add to tuna. Measure and add seasoning salt and mayo. Mix until combined.
  6. Assemble sandwiches! I used 2 slices of pepper jack cheese on the bottom slice (added 1 cheddar slice for JP). Then added about 1/3 cup (maybe a little more) of the tuna mix.
  7. Transfer the red pepper strips on top of the tuna. Place top piece of bread.
  8. Toast for 5 minutes in the oven, still at 425F.
  9. Let cool and add any other cold toppings you would like. I HIGHLY recommend the Dill Pickle Hummus if you like pickles.

That’s it! A pretty easy recipe for a fun dinner for 1, 2, 3 or 6! You decide. Please leave comments if you try this out so I know what you think. ūüôā Happy eating!

Mushrooms & Coffee: Better Together?

Mushrooms & Coffee: Better Together?

The History of Mushroom Magic

Mushrooms…in coffee?! Yep. Mushroom coffee has been around since WWII. The people of Finland, like many other countries, experienced a shortage of coffee during the war. And who wants to live without coffee? No one. The answer is no one. So they got creative and started cutting down chaga mushrooms on local birch trees. These trees grew abundantly in the area, as did the mushrooms that look like burnt wood (see below).

Chaga
Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus)

So the Finnish had these chaga mushrooms. They soaked and pressed them to essentially steep their medicinal properties without eating them (which you can do by the way). Drinking this chaga “tea” resulted in long-lasting energy. It was similar to the stimulant effects coffee provides, but without the caffeine crash to follow. Many also noticed less stomach upset with increased focus. Once the war ended and coffee became readily available again, the Finnish kept their chaga ritual by mixing the mushroom “tea” in with their regular coffee. This is how mushroom coffee came to be.


Present Day Fun-guys

Today’s mushroom coffee is made from mushroom powders derived from medicinal mushrooms (mainly Chaga, Lion‚Äôs Mane, Turkey’s Tail, reishi, and cordyceps) that are then mixed with traditional coffee grounds. See the nutritional breakdown below.

Screen Shot 2020-05-13 at 1.48.23 PM
Example of nutrition profile. In this case, Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus).

Notice that Lion’s Mane mushroom powder is mostly comprised of carbohydrates and protein. Moisture and fiber content is minimal. Acrylamide is not¬†considered a nutrient, but I included it in this table because it is present in mushroom powders.

Acrylamide is a byproduct produced during the heating process of drying mushrooms to make powder. It is considered a carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance. The FDA tests acrylamide present in foods and approves foods with <20ppm measurements. Mushroom powders are so low in acrylamide, it is either undetectable or in minimal amounts deemed safe by the FDA. 

The state of California does require that mushroom coffee companies, as well as other acrylamide-containing food products, display a warning label on their packaging. Their Proposition 65 law enforces companies disclose chemicals present in their products, including both coffee and mushroom powders separately. 

“WARNING: Consuming this product can expose you to chemicals including acrylamide, which is known to the State of California to cause cancer and lead, which is known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. For more information go to www.P65Warnings.ca.gov. “


Don’t Feel Like Mush

Why not just drink coffee then? Sure, a regular cup of Joe gives you an instant boost of energy, but chugging coffee can be followed by an energy crash a couple of hours later. Caffeine can do this- provide a momentary jolt that makes you feel like a superhero, and 2 hours later, leaves you feeling exhausted and defeated. Unlike caffeine, mushroom coffee releases energy slowly due to its polysaccharide makeup that takes longer to break down in the body. The mushroom powders in this coffee are also proven to fight and improve both mental and physical fatigue, avoiding that afternoon crash while uplifting your mind, body, and spirit.


No Cap on Benefits

On top of giving you steady energy, the mushroom powder in this coffee protects your stomach lining against gastrointestinal irritation and bloating coffee can cause. In one study, the Lion’s Mane mushroom showed promise in reducing ulcerative symptoms, guarding the lining of the digestive tract, and fighting against the bacteria H. pylori (which causes infection in your stomach).

The medicinal mushroom powders also contain antioxidants, nutrient parts that fight off free radicals and stress. We can all use a little stress relief in our lives, am I right? In fact, mushrooms are considered adaptogens, which means they are considered a food that helps you adapt to stress.

They are anticancer too, a property we want all of our foods to have and protect us against. If you open my poster project¬†I worked on this entire semester, you will be able to see the charts I made that display Lion’s Mane killing cancer at a 67% effectiveness rate, while Chaga killed all 4 strains of adenocarcinoma (commonly known as lung cancer). Chaga was 100% successful in killing these cancerous cells- amazing! More studies must be done before adding this to preventative and therapeutic treatments.


I Can’t Believe This Shiitake!¬†

Summary of the top 5 benefits of medicinal mushroom coffee…

  1. Fights mental & physical fatigue
  2. Protects gastrointestinal epithelial lining, limiting stomach irritation and upset
  3. Increases energy levels at a steady pace without the caffeine crash
  4. Is adaptogenic and contains antioxidants that fight stress!
  5. Contains anticancer properties

*You should not consume Chaga if you are currently on blood thinners or about to undergo surgery. Chaga is also not ideal for diabetic patients because it can induce hypoglycemia. Those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medication should consult with their physician before consuming this mushroom, or any medicinal mushroom/product.


Make ‚ÄėShroom in Your Pantry

Are you interested in trying this alternative to mainstream coffee? Great! There are many companies who specialize in mushroom coffee, the most popular being Four Sigmatic. Their product can be found on their website, Amazon, and in many grocery stores. In grocers, these products may be found in the coffee aisle or by the health supplements. Don’t be shy to ask an employee where they stock their products.

If you find certain brands are more pricey, keep in mind that the medicinal mushrooms are worth the investment. Here is $15 off your first purchase with Four Sigmatic Co. Let me know what you think, and happy sipping this energizing brew! 


 Photo: Mushroom Coffee.; 2017. https://www.health.com/food/mushroom-coffee-trend. Accessed March 18, 2020.

References

  1. Sen M. The Hidden Wartime Origins of Mushroom Coffee. Food52. https://food52.com/blog/18958-the-hidden-wartime-origins-of-mushroom-coffee. Published September 26, 2018. Accessed February 10, 2020. 
  1. Kim SP, Kang MY, Choi YH, Kim JH, Nam SH, Friedman M. Mechanism of Hericium erinaceus (Yamabushitake) mushroom-induced apoptosis of U937 human monocytic leukemia cells.Food & Funct. 2011;2(6):348. doi:10.1039/c1fo10030k.
  1. Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. Survey Data on Acrylamide in Food: Individual Food Products. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/chemicals/survey-data-acrylamide-food-individual-food-products. Accessed February 7, 2020..
  1. Crawford LM, Kahlon TS, Wang SC, Friedman M. Acrylamide Content of Experimental Flatbreads Prepared from Potato, Quinoa, and Wheat Flours with Added Fruit and Vegetable Peels and Mushroom Powders. Foods. 2019;8(7):228. doi:10.3390/foods8070228. 
  1. Baek J, Roh HS, Baek KH, Lee S, Lee S, Song SS, et al. Bioactivity-based analysis and chemical characterization of cytotoxic constituents from Chaga mushroom (Inonotus obliquus) that induce apoptosis in human lung adenocarcinoma cells. JEthnopharmacol. 2018;224:63-75. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2018.05.025.
  1. He, Xirui, et al. ‚ÄúStructures, Biological Activities, and Industrial Applications of the Polysaccharides from Hericium Erinaceus (Lion‚Äôs Mane) Mushroom: A Review.‚ÄĚ International Journal of Biological Macromolecules, vol. 97, 2017, pp. 228‚Äď237., doi:10.1016/j.ijbiomac.2017.01.040.

 

Are Collagen Supplements Effective?

Are Collagen Supplements Effective?

Collagen supplements have been a hot topic regarding skincare and joint relief, but do these exogenous (aka externally sourced) aids really work? Are they necessary for everyone to look and feel their best? Many think this is a recent discovery, but collagen supplement studies have actually been going on since the late 70s. Let’s take a look at the findings…

Our Tendons-y to Buy In.

Let’s start with the basics. Collagen is the most abundant protein produced in the body, making up 30% of our total protein mass. It is found in our skin (specifically the dermis), our tendons, bones, and muscles. Collagen contributes to skin elasticity and joint durability. This characteristic diminishes as we age, leaving the skin less supple with more wrinkles and the joints with less agility and the ability to repair themselves quickly. You can see why collagen supps would be alluring to battle these aging woes , right?

Stretching the Truth.

So, is the Health and Wellness industry stretching the truth when they claim that collagen supplements firm skin and lubricate joints? Maybe. Let me start by sharing that collagen is a supplement; therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate or test these products! With that said, it is up to the consumer and third-party testers to do our research about the sourcing, quality of the product, and companies providing these products to determine if they are up to our standards.

Smooth Results.

I summarized 2 different studies to showcase various forms of collagen supplements. Given that our skin is our biggest organ, it’s important to know how supplements and their forms may affect this system.

Collagen Tablets

There are no current studies on collagen tablets and their effect on the skin or joints. Please note that collagen tablets are usually just collagen powder mixed with water, gelatin and other binders anyways. The best rule of thumb is to only buy tablets from third-party approved testers.

Collagen Gels

In this study¬†conducted by The Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology, a¬†group of 49 women aged 19-23 were administered 4 different collagen capsules derived from fish in the Polish Baltic Sea. 3 of the 4 capsules changed the participant’s skin pH. Usually, the skin’s pH rests between 4.5-6.5, so slightly acidic, but when the pH was altered from these collagen capsules, it temporarily became more acidic, ranging from 3.7-4.5. This is not okay! And to make matters worse, men displayed a change in their sebum (oil) pH as well.

Our bodies work so hard to maintain homeostasis in all of our organs and systems, so taking a supplement that can potentially alter this is alarming. The study highlighted that the processing methods are crucial in maintaining collagen pH and delivering it to humans at a neutral level, not moderately acidic. According to the researchers, “Collagen preparations must be used carefully as the result of their application depends on their composition, and they may contribute to an imbalance of hydro-lipid barrier homeostasis.” Do your research people!

Collagen Powder

This study is the sole reason I continue to invest in collagen powder, along with the fact that I enjoy the vanilla flavor and how it thickens up my latte foam. ūüėČ

Anyways, this study was published by Journal of Medical Nutrition and Nutraceuticals.¬†It measured women’s skin hydration and elasticity levels before and after consuming a collagen supplement drink for 12 weeks. This drink consisted of Vitamin E and C, hydrolyzed collagen, and hyaluronic acid. These women displayed a 78% increase in dermis density after undergoing this study, resulting in greater hydration retention, suppleness, and decreased wrinkle depth. That is extremely significant. If you want to give this regimen a go, I would recommend investing in a multivitamin, collagen powder, and hyaluronic acid capsules.

Connect the Joints.

As time passes, the spongy part of our cartilage started to break down. A systemic review confirmed that a daily dose of 8g of collagen increases certain amino acid production (glycine and proline), while 12g helps relieve osteoporosis and osteoarthritis pain.

In addition, a few studies have also connected collagen supplement consumption with muscle building and heart health.

Types of Collagen

Type I: Foundational building block of skin, making up 80% of the dermis (deepest) layer.

Type II: This type of collagen aids in joint pain relief because it makes up 50% of cartilage.

Type III: This type is great for hair, skin, and nails. As we age, type III is replaced by type I.

Collagen Supplement Shopping Guide. What to Look For…

  • Third-party certified
  • Animal-sourced, label displays type of animal and part it came from
  • Quality of the animal, label displays grass-fed, pasture-raised for poultry and bovine/ non-GMO or wild-caught for marine life
  • No added sugars
  • Make sure the supplement says “hydrolyzed collagen” or “collagen peptides” to receive a complete amino acid profile with optimal bioavailability

Contraindications.

Those who are pregnant, breastfeeding, have allergies, or are on medications, you should consult with your physician before taking.

Side Effects.

Side effects may include mild nausea, diarrhea, and rash development.

Alternatives.

Many collagen products are not vegan or vegetarian friendly. However, some companies make specialty products to accommodate this population and those on a paleo or kept diet. Here is a great read on vegan-friendly engineered collagen that was written by RDN., Katherine Marengo.

Break it Down, But Build it Up!

Here’s the breakdown. Since collagen constitutes a large portion of our protein mass already, it is not necessary to supplement. However, if you are looking to improve your skin’s appearance, dermis strength, and/or joint health, then it might be worth looking into while shopping intentionally and cautiously. Follow the Collagen Shopping Guidelines to invest in the best product possible.

 

The Truth About Fruit & Sugar

The Truth About Fruit & Sugar

 

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Fruit consumption: Is there such a thing as eating too much fruit? Does the sugar in fruit really make us fat? These are questions that have been asked, contemplated, and Googled many a times over the last few decades. Unfortunately, answers to this question have been given by non-nutrition professionals, misleading the general public to believe that any type of sugar (even naturally-derived sugar) should be vilified and is the culprit of chronic disease and weight gain.


First Things First, Sugar.

Let me clear a few things up. For one, glucose (the simplest form of a carbohydrate) is a monosaccharide sugar. Glucose¬†is our brain and bodies’ primary fuel choice, meaning, our bodies were made to utilize- you guessed it- SUGAR first!

Screen Shot 2020-05-10 at 2.23.10 PM

Secondly, fruit contains fructose, which translates to “fruit sugar”. Fructose is found in various amounts, depending on the type of fruit. When paired with glucose, it forms the disaccharide sucrose (table sugar). So what’s the difference between all of these sugars listed above? Is fructose better or worse than others?

You Don’t Have to be Pear-fect.

It is not a matter of whether glucose or fructose is better. It is a matter of understanding how both are metabolized in the body and the effects each has on short- and long-term health. Glucose and fructose are both absorbed in the small intestine. While glucose stimulates insulin production and secretion from the pancreas, it is then immediately taken up by cells for energy use. Fructose, on the other hand, needs to be broken in the liver. Since fructose doesn’t break down as quickly, fructose doesn’t spike blood sugar levels as rapidly, so the negative effects on short-term health are few. However, high amounts of fructose intake can have adverse effects on long-term health.

Natural Sugar High.

What’s considered high amounts of fructose? Let me set the record straight that all fruits are not created equal first. A banana does not have the same nutrition profile as an apple. Grapes cannot be compared to raisins (even though they are dried grapes!). And drinking orange juice is not the equivalent to eating a fresh orange. Why is this?

Fresh fruit contains live enzymes, fiber, water content, and some micro- and phyto-nutrients that cannot survive heat and other food preparation processes. They are the gold standard of getting your 4-5 suggested servings of fruits in per day, or 1-2 1/2 cups, depending on your sex and body mass. Anything more than this can potentially (but not likely) lead to weight gain simply because excess carbohydrates are stored as fat when not utilized. Due to its low caloric and carbohydrate content, most fruits will not amount to a cause for concern or worry about weight gain.

Please note that fruit juice and dried fruits are concentrated in sugars and provide little to no live enzymes, fiber, or water content. Canned fruits can contain preservatives and/or added sugars, and high-fructose syrup is NOT the same as fructose found in fresh fruit. It is a processed and concentrated version, resulting in a calorically dense, sugary substance.

Frozen fruit is actually equivalent to eating fresh fruits because the fruit is typically frozen at peak ripeness. This means that the fruit contains the highest amount of vitamins and antioxidants and the freezing process preserves these micro- and phyto-nutrients. Juts be cautious of any added sugars.

The Skinny on Fruit.

Contrary to these circulating rumors, many studies have shown that fruit consumption has an inverse effect on an individual’s weight and BMI. According to a 2016 study published by MDPI, titled The Paradoxical Effects of Fruit on Obesity,¬†anti-obesity mechanisms such as lower caloric intake, increased fiber consumption, increased satiety, concentrated micronutrient and phytochemical delivery, and gut microbiome transformation outweigh the pro-obesity mechanisms fructose induces.

Another review by the National Food Institute also associated regular fruit intake with decreased body weight and reduction in the risk of obesity development. However, they noted that further studies need to be conducted that factor in all of the following variables: “energy density, energy content, fruit and vegetable consumption, physical form of fruit and preparation methods”.

The Core of It All.

At the end of the day, fruit does not have to be intentionally avoided unless an individual has a medical reason or fructose intolerance. Consuming 4-5 servings or 1-2 cups of fruit per day delivers nutrients that outweigh any sugar concerns by far. Enjoy fruit at breakfast, as a snack by itself or with nut butter, or as a sweet dessert! No guilt has to accompany it. Just enjoy and savor nature’s sweet treats, and remember, everything in moderation.