Gut Instincts

Bacteria, yeast, and fungus, oh my! The human microbiome can seem like a scary place under a microscope, and indeed, the results can be quite horrifying when thrown out of balance. Bloating, discomfort, and irregularity are just the beginning for those so unlucky to experience it themselves. Probiotics are essential for restoring internal (and especially intestinal) peace, found naturally in fermented foods like sauerkraut, yogurt, and kimchi, and more fortified processed foods than ever. Less fanfare is given to prebiotics, supplements that actually rebuild those good bacteria existing in your system, supporting your unique flora and fauna already hard at work.

There’s no one size fits all solution to wellness, which is why the current state of the probiotic craze makes little sense. Some strains may work well for some people, not at all for others, and yet there’s scant information on how to best utilize the wealth of choices now at our disposal. Country Life’s Gut Connection offers a targeted approach to address specific concerns, all stemming from a microbiome at odds.

Given the opportunity to use myself as a test subject for this innovative approach to holistic health, I was intrigued, if a bit skeptical as I broke the seal on a new bottle of Digestive Balance. I already take daily probiotic supplements, so I thought I was already doing reasonable due diligence on the issue. Prone to overindulgence at times and with a voracious appetite for all things new, particularly unusual, I’m no stranger to varying degrees of distress after a night on the town. Just one week in, I felt a real difference not just in physical symptoms, but overall well-being. If not for carefully logging my results to stay accountable, I would have doubted the impact, too. 

“Balance” is a moving target and a difficult concept to define, but in this regard, can be distilled to four primary components:

  1. Clear signals between gut and brain.
  2. Gut microbiota helps maintain immune system.
  3. Healthy gut lining.
  4. Happy digestive track.

Simple, right? If you have the right tools at your disposal, it really is! Everyone should be so fortunate to achieve that sort of internal harmony, so I’m pleased to share a FREE full bottle of Energy Balance with one lucky reader! Enter your details in the form below, and tell me in the comment section: Do you take pre- or probiotics? Have you struggled with poor digestion, and do you think it may be linked to frequent fatigue or general lethargy?

Gut Connection by Country Life Giveaway

Go with your gut. Though poor digestion may not be the first culprit to investigate when it comes to poor sleep, stress, or immunity, the results go to show that everything truly is connected.

This review was made possible as a collaboration with Moms Meet and Country Life. My opinions can not be bought and all content is original. This page may contain affiliate links; thank you for supporting my blog!

 

 

 

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Eat to Beat Anxiety

The connection between diet and mood is more than just food for thought. “A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health,” according to Felice Jacka, and she should know. She’s the president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research. “A healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.” As someone who suffers from both, I’m acutely aware of the difference in how I feel when choosing healthier whole foods, but what exactly is it that causes this shift? It’s tough to pick apart such a tangled ball of yarn, where so many elements are inextricably tangled together. When it comes to anxiety though, I’ve seen amazing and rapid improvement by focusing on a few select superfoods to keep all-out panic at bay.

Almonds are often praised for their high levels of healthy fats, touted for heart health. Moreover, these nutty superfoods bring iron and zinc to the table in ample measures, both of which are key nutrients for balancing one’s mood and overall energy level.

Hemp seeds are another good source of brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to help with anxiety. Naturally, it stands to reason that CBD oils derived from hemp has the very same nutritional properties, along with chemicals called cannabinoids that bind to specialized receptors in the brain. These affect everything from appetite and pain perception to mood and memory.

Chocolate, dark and intense, without added sweetener or milks, is more than just a feel-good flavor. Yes, it does help boost moods based on great taste alone, but it also has been shown to reduce cortisol, which is a stress hormone that can wreak havoc if left unchecked. Additionally, the flavonoids in the cocoa are protective for all the cells in your body. These antioxidants have shown promising results in lowering blood pressure, boosting the blood flow to the brain and heart, which all adds up to less anxiety. Just be careful not to overdo it, since the natural caffeine compounds could add up and have quite the opposite effect.

Maca root is bit less common, but particularly potent. Adaptogens are all the rage these days, promising protective properties against stressors of all kinds, whether physical, chemical or biological. Maca in particular is a remarkably concentrated source of phytonutrients such as magnesium and iron, which are both critical for controlling anxiety.

Whole grains, packed with satisfying, satiating fiber, are the complex carbohydrates that help maintain a steady energy boost. If you’re hungry, you’re less rational, less patient, and quicker to irritation. Oats especially are said to help increase the production of serotonin, most famously known for addressing symptoms of depression.

Coconut, and all the individual ingredients it creates, from coconut milk, oil, flour, and butter, are made up of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) which are smaller fat molecules that are easily broken down and used as a backup source of energy. The brain is made of approximately 60% fat, so it needs these essential fatty acids to function properly. The brain can’t store energy and can continue to function properly for a very short amount of time without it. You need to consistently feed your brain these good fats to keep it happy and healthy.

Taken individually, these separate ingredients can do a world of good, but when they join forces in a fully balanced diet, they make the most impact. Beyond the powerful nutritional punch you get from the array of vitamins and minerals you get from so many unique sources, they happen to add up to a really delicious combination, too. Joining all of these anti-anxiety superfoods in sweet blended harmony, the resulting creamy shake will blow any powdered meal replacement out of the water. Malt shoppes only wish they had the true earthy goodness that maca brings to the table, playing off the subtle woodsy notes of true cocoa. Thick and rich with whole oats and fresh coconut, rather than sugary scoops of ice cream, you can drink it down to power up, rather than crash out from a sugar coma later.

There are no overnight cures, no quick fixes for holistic lifestyle changes, which can also be said of many medications, too. You really are what you eat, though; eat well to feel well!

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Bare Essentials

This blog post is sponsored by iHerb but as always, the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

Essentially, the freshest new obsessions in ancient wellness trends are essential oils.

Distilled from the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits, essential oils are the most concentrated expression of individual plants available through natural means, which makes them incredibly potent and effective for therapeutic uses. It doesn’t take a medical degree to reap the benefits, though! Aura Cacia makes these powerful extracts accessible to everyone, offering well over one hundred single origin essential oils and dozens of different blends. Previously overlooked or simply unavailable in small health food shops, iHerb is delivering the largest selection of these indispensable ingredients around.

Based in California but reaching customers in over 150 countries all around the world, iHerb boasts over 30,000 brand name natural products, guaranteed at the highest quality and lowest prices possible. Free or discounted shipping ensures that your oils will arrive on time for even the most urgent needs or ailments; no need to suffer from both an unfortunate malady and the offense of an interminable wait. Additionally, do I have to remind you that all this shopping can be done from the comfort of your own home, without going on a mad goose chase trying to hunt down obscure pieces to complete your wellness puzzle?

Aura Cacia oils promise the highest standards of quality. You’ll never find synthetic fragrances, fillers, artificial colors or stabilizers in any of their products. Only 100% pure essential oils make the cut.

Starting from truly the bare essentials, uses for these powerhouse oils are endless. Take a peek into my kitchen and you’ll undoubtedly find an impressive array of those tiny glass bottles standing tall, but perhaps not in the way you might imagine for someone as food-focused as myself.

Not only do citrus oils infuse everything they touch with a bright, clean, uplifting scent, but they’re also powerhouse grease busters. Natural antibacterial and antiviral properties make everything from lemon, tangerine, grapefruit, sweet orange, and all the sunny shades of warm yellow in between ideal candidates for chemical-free cleaning. My very favorite Citrus Symphony Dish Scrub is made of little more than baking soda and essential oils. Sometimes I’ll switch up the routine and inject a new bright scent with ginger or lemongrass, which are both excellent for soothing nausea, in case the aroma of your splattered, stained, and crusty dishes becomes overwhelming.

Continue reading “Bare Essentials”

When Health Care is Self-Care

Staring straight ahead with unfocused eyes, an expression of abject terror plastered across my face, the urge to escape grew stronger with every passing minute. A dozen other deliberate prisoners shared my plight, but none seemed nearly as disturbed by the situation. Hands shaky, shallow breaths failed to fill lungs, while a vague buzzing began to resound within my head. For a general well visit, I did not feel very well at all.

Call it classic white coat syndrome or iatrophobia because the symptoms are impossible to deny. I am absolutely terrified of doctors, to the point that merely dialing the phone to arrange an appointment is liable to send me into a full-blown panic attack. No matter how sick I may feel, no matter how dire physical evidence, there is always a good reason why it doesn’t warrant professional medical attention. Unless I was actively dying, it would not be a reasonable option to seek further intervention, and even then I might give it a 50/50 chance.

As you can imagine, many years tend to pass between checkups. Rarely afflicted by anything more serious than a head cold once a year, if that, there’s been no reason to reconsider this routine anyhow. I can’t say that the lack of objective evidence of overall well-being hasn’t bothered me, though. How accurate is my own self-assessment? How do I know that I’m taking the right supplements, at the right dosage, from prime sources? There’s no nutrient you can’t get from a vegan lifestyle, but conflicting nutritional advice makes it an onerous task to plot out a healthy diet on any level.

That’s why, despite my intense anxiety, I was quite excited to find the Vegan Nutritional Maintenance Panel offered by Health Labs. An independent service that needs no primary care physician nor medical insurance, available at over 4,500 labs nationwide, the range of potential tests is staggering, covering more wellness concerns than I thought could be addressed without more invasive measures.

Stunningly, the worst part of the whole experience was just waiting to be seen at my local clinic, which was one of three I could walk to from my home. After presenting a photo ID, I had my blood drawn in under 5 minutes, no pain, no bruising, no problems. It seemed implausibly easy, in sharp contrast to the mountains of paperwork required for even a vehicle’s emissions testing. Still eager to make a quick getaway, I made a break for the door, nonetheless dubious of the whole process.

Two small miracles resulted almost immediately, the first of which being that it was actually immediate. After submitting my blood samples on a Friday, I got back the results on Monday morning. Given the snail’s pace at which such highly regulated exams typically proceed, how is that even possible? Then, to my immense relief and mild surprise, after so much worry, my vitamin levels for the 11 most common deficiencies in a vegan diet were all within optimal range. Every. Last. One.

Having that peace of mind is priceless, and to anyone else even moderately curious about their own nutritional intake for any reason, I can’t recommend this service highly enough. Whether you add supplements or get all of your vitamins directly from food, it’s incredibly challenging to strike the proper balance. There’s no need to go it alone or feel like you’re hunting for answers in the dark; after getting your results, you can even get a personal consultation to help make sense of the numbers.

In the quest for personal health, just knowing your baseline is half the battle. After all, you can only improve upon something if you’re aware of it in the first place.

Many thanks to Health Labs for making this post possible.

Healthy Morning Habits

This blog post is sponsored by iHerb but as always,the opinions and experiences expressed in this post are my own.

When no two days are the same, a consistent, reliable morning routine keeps chaos at bay, no matter what insanity lurks ahead. Will it be 10 hours straight, on my feet in front of the stove? Is there a cache of a thousand photos to sort through and edit? Does a photo shoot on location call for a mad dash all around town for that perfect background? One of the great joys and pains of freelance life is the predictably unpredictable workflow.

Essential for a complete approach to well-being, the few constants in my own rituals appear unrelated at a glance, but all add up to a full spectrum of self-care practices crucial for success in any endeavor. Many years of trial and error have shaped my personal approach, and this everyday habit has been made possible by iHerb. Their encouragement to share a few of my favorite things was a true windfall, since it’s the only online shop that carries everything I need to make it happen, with over 30,000 products that can be shipped to over 160 countries, and representatives that offer support in 10 languages.

Everyday, be it a weekend, weekday, or holiday, starts at 6AM sharp with the wail of my alarm clock. The thing is, I never set a timer; it’s the insistent yipping from Luka that shakes me from the deepest of slumbers. We both bolt out of bed and head straight outside for a brief jaunt around the block, still bleary-eyed and clad in pajamas. A man on a mission, he heads back inside without delay, anticipating breakfast with a beastly appetite. Only after he’s fed and satisfied can I address other matters.

Skin care is incredibly important, but also very uncomplicated for me. It just takes a vigorous scour with Acure Organics Facial Scrub and a schmear of Shikai Hand & Body Lotion to wash away the nightly grime and instantly rehydrate. A tall glass of cool tap water is soon to follow or else I’ll start croaking like a frog before noon.

One of the biggest dilemmas I faced when first going vegan was sorting through all the supplements and misinformation that came with them, painstakingly sorting through the options to determine what was important to add, what genuinely worked, and what was affordable. Nature’s Way Multivitamin checks all of those boxes, handily beating the competition with a single daily dose that includes everything I might lack from food sources, like B12, iron, and vitamin D. One tablet down and I’m ready for breakfast.

Coffee comes first, but it isn’t my end-all, be-all hot beverage anymore. Caffeine is no longer the benign energizer it used to be in my youth, preventing me from indulging beyond a single cup if I want to keep the walls from vibrating all day. Teeccino, an herbal alternative made from chicory, fills the remaining gaps, creating a brew that’s richer and more satisfying than the typical tea bag. The Dandelion Caramel Nut is my current jam, and I further sweeten the deal with a drop of KAL Pure Stevia Extract, since I’m liable to eat my weight in sugar through recipe testing later in the day.

Oatmeal has been the single, solitary breakfast option on my menu through most of my 20’s, but slowly, that commitment has started to sway. Especially as the weather warms, I find myself craving cooler staples, switching to a high-protein bowl of yogurt or tofu cottage cheese, Nature’s Path Pumpkin Seed + Flax Granola, and fresh fruit. More important than the actual food itself though, is the act of eating it with Luka at my side or in my lap, slowly mulling over emails, readying myself for a new day. In fact, my mom captured a candid shot of exactly this ritual while I visited for all of two days.

Once Luka realizes I’m done eating and haven’t yet started doting on him again, he can get a bit punchy- literally. To fend off his loving attacks, I’ll throw him a Dr. Harvey’s Sweet Potate’r Chew which will keep him happily occupied for a good long while. They’re just dried sweet potatoes, nothing added, nothing removed (except water), and they really do hold up impressively well through some very aggressive teething. The pieces can be a bit big for my guy so I tend to cut them in half with kitchen shears, getting twice as much value from the same package.

Inevitably, I fall down some information rabbit hole, catching up on social media or fake news, giving myself a dangerously narrow window of time to get out the door before missing my regular BART train out to the city. With little time for regular meals and no set schedule to count on, I truly am powered by snacks; I’ll quickly toss a Sunwarrior Sol Protein Bar into my bag, knowing that I’ll need it later. All three flavors are fantastic, the single servings travel well, and always keep hunger at bay during critical times, so it’s one of my top picks. Aside from the manufacturer’s website, iHerb is the only place I can reliably purchase them, which always keeps me coming back for more.

Stepping outside of my orderly, comforting morning routine, I have no idea what sort of craziness may await me, but at least I’ll know that I’m fully fueled and equipped to tackle it, head-on.

How do you typically start your morning? If you’d like iHerb to give you a little boost, new customers will automatically get 5% off their first order!

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