Mini Pumpkin “Pies”

pumpkin-pieI was recently diagnosed with gestational diabetes (I’ll be sharing more about that soon) and it’s pretty much the worst news to receive right before the holidays. I’ve been craving pumpkin pie lately and while the real thing isn’t the most unhealthy dessert you can choose, it is certainly loaded with sugar and simple carbs that I can’t have right now.

I experimented a bit this past weekend and came up with a delicious option that would satisfy my pumpkin craving and help keep my blood sugar low.  Two of the ingredients are powerful at lowering blood sugar – cinnamon & stevia – and it makes the perfect bedtime snack to keep your morning fasting levels low.  Plus, as with all recipes you’ll find on this blog, it’s super easy and quick to make.

Ingredients:

  • 1 can (15 oz) organic pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup organic heavy whipping cream
  • 4 soy-free, free-range eggs (beaten)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 teaspoons pumpkin spice (I make my own and just re-fill the container each fall to keep it fresh: 3 parts cinnamon, 2 parts nutmeg, 2 parts ginger, 1 part allspice and 1 part cloves)
  • 2-3 teaspoons liquid stevia

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Mix all ingredients together in a bowl or with your stand mixer until smooth and combined.
  3. Use a bit of coconut oil to grease your ramekins (6 small ones or 4 large ones)
  4. Pour the mixture evenly into your ramekins
  5. Bake for 45 minutes (if a knife comes out clean, they are set)
  6. Let cool then place into the fridge – best served cold!

Topping Options: homemade whipped cream sweetened with stevia, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon roasted walnuts/pecans, soy-free 70% dark chocolate chips, whipped coconut cream (recipe here).  You can also create a grain-free crust by chopping up nuts with some butter and pressing into the bottom of your ramekin before pouring in the pumpkin mix.

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What’s Your Dog Eating?

Raw Dog FoodWe all love our pups… they’re not only our best friends, they’re part of our families. We want them to live long, healthy lives as our companions; but, are we giving them the best chance at doing so?

Our family dog, a Wheaton terrier, had several health problems throughout her life.  It was heartbreaking and frustrating that we followed all the vet’s advice for raising a healthy dog and still watched her suffer. Ultimately, her life was cut short because of it all. When I got my schnoodle, Belle, I did a lot of research on everything I could do to raise her in better health.  The information I found lead me to make some dramatic changes, including what I feed her.  I focus so much on putting nutritious foods into my own body, why wouldn’t I do the same for her?

It’s a well-known fact that dogs share a very similar DNA with their canine relatives (like wolves), so, of course, we should feed them similar diets, right?  We see the pictures of meats and vegetables on the bags of dog food, but have you ever actually taken a look at the ingredient list?  You might be surprised by it.  Commercial dog foods today contain:

  • Questionable Meat – The type of meat that goes into dog food is typically the cheapest, poorest quality. And there’s usually not much of it to meet the high-protein needs of our canine friends. Many brands use “meal,” which is a highly processed form of meat.
  • Grains & Carbs – Many kibbles use corn or wheat as cheap fillers. Dogs cannot digest those foods well, leading to the big smelly poops you get in your yard, but also to a host of other problems… allergies (this is a BIG one!), yeast infections, poor dental health, diabetes, obesity and even cancer.
  • Preservatives – Filled with salt and other chemical preservatives to improve shelf-life, it leaves your dog thirsty and laden with behavioral and health problems caused by these toxins. Many of these additives aren’t deemed safe for humans.
  • Processed Ingredients – It’s funny how we are told to avoid processed foods for optimal health, yet we feed our dogs heavily processed food every single day, for their entire lives. No wonder they are begging for our kitchen table leftovers.

This all comes as probably a shock to you, as it was to me. Don’t these companies spend time and money on research to find what the best nutrition is for our pets? Their commercials certainly advertise that they do.  But check out the ingredients for yourself and you’ll find that even the “best” dry dog food raises some questions.

Kibble is nothing like the diets of dogs’ relatives and goes against everything considered “healthy” by humans.  So what’s the alternative? A raw food diet… exactly what a canine needs for proper nutrition.  What does that consist of?  Raw meaty bones, muscle meat and fish, organs, vegetables, eggs, and vitamins. Still not so sure? Here are a few of the questions and fears I had originally and the answers I’ve discovered:

  • How do I make sure my dog is getting the right amount of food and balanced nutrition?  The book Raw Dog Food: Make It Easy for You and Your Dog explains everything in detail and very simply. It explains proportions for each type of ingredient, gives sample “meal plans” with different meats and has a formula to determine the amount to feed based on your dog’s size and stage of life.
  • What will this do to my dog’s teeth?  Actually, it will help a lot!  Kibble is terrible for keeping your dog’s teeth and gums healthy… it creates lots of plaque leading to decay and bad breath. One of the most noticeable things about switching food for my dog Belle is that her teeth are getting whiter and her breath is much better.
  • Aren’t bones bad for dogs? Cooked bones are bad because they can splinter and be very harmful when swallowed.  Raw bones don’t splinter like this and dogs really enjoy chewing on them (which helps clean teeth even more!). If you are still really worried about it, the book above has some suggestions for softer bones to use or how to grind them up smaller.  Even small dogs like bones – my 10lb dog loves gnawing on chicken wings!
  • This sounds messy… is it?  Yes, unfortunately, it is messier than kibble. I now have to clean Belle’s face after meals, but she enjoys it SO much, it’s totally worth it!
  • How much time does all this take?  It depends. I’ve talked to people who say they prep their dog food when they do their own meal prep on Sundays, and it’s only an additional half hour a week or so.  But, I currently don’t do the food preparation myself right now. I’ve found an option that’s dehydrated raw food where I can just add hot water to rehydrate. It’s super quick and easy to make a bowl for her. Then I throw in a couple bones each week for her to chew on and an organ every once in awhile when I’m cooking a whole chicken.
  • Is it more expensive?  It depends on what you’re buying now, but it wasn’t for me.  A quick Amazon search shows that a 35lb bag of Purina Pro dog food cost $40.  When I was buying dry dog food, I purchased a GMO & preservative-free, high protein brand called Nulo for $55 for a 24lb bag. I now purchase I and Love and You Raw Dehydrated Dog Food; a 5.5lb bag makes 36 lbs of prepared food – on Amazon it’s $67, at Whole Foods it’s $60 and on Thrive Market it’s only $50. I’ve also purchased a similar option that uses free-range meat – The Honest Kitchen Free-Range Chicken Raw Dog Food – it’s a little pricier, but I buy if it’s on sale. If you go with preparing your own food, there’s many ways to save by buying meat & bones in bulk or getting unique cuts of meat no one else wants (dogs don’t care!) for a discount. I’ve asked the butcher for the bones they remove for their boneless chicken breasts & thighs and got them super cheap.
  • My dog is picky; will she like it? ABSOLUTELY!  Honestly, I was convinced by my research that this was certainly the healthier choice, but what sold me was how much she LOVES it. With her old dry dog food, I would put a bowl out in the morning and she would only pick at it a little throughout the day. And she’s always been picky with treats and sometimes even table scraps. Now, when I make her food, she scarfs it down. If we take too long to get out of bed in the morning, she will whimper and jump to remind us because she’s so excited to eat. Obviously, this food is the best for her. I’ll never make her go back to crumbly kibble.

When we started feeding Belle raw dog food and bones, I immediately noticed several improvements to her health.  To sum all this up, here are a few of the health benefits you can expect by switching your dog to a raw food diet:

  • Cleaner Teeth, Better Breath – gnawing on bones and meat helps remove plaque
  • Shinier, Smoother Hair – all the collagen in the bones and extra vitamins help
  • Less Allergies – I barely notice Belle chewing her feet anymore. Grains and toxic preservatives in dry dog food are the main cause for allergic reactions and inflammation.
  • Healthy Joints – I’m hopeful that Belle won’t have to struggle with painful arthritis in her old age like our Wheaton did. The bones & marrow contain glucosamine which is necessary for creating collagen and helps build and repair bones, joints, tendons and ligaments.
  • Easier Digestion – This is one of the biggest changes I’ve seen. Real talk… Belle’s poop is not nearly as hard as it used to be, which makes it come out much easier for her. I don’t have to express her anal glands anymore or risk them getting infected from becoming impacted. Her poo essentially dissolves in the yard in just a couple of days, which I think says a lot about what kind of ingredients she was eating before. It’s also less smelly.
  • Hydration – Raw dog food naturally contains lots of water unlike dry kibble.  I’ve noticed that Belle rarely goes for her water bowl anymore (only after a long walk or after barking at the neighbor dog on a hot day).
  • More Energy – you’ve removed ingredients that cause lethargy and replaced by those that give proper protein and nutrition for energy
  • Lean Muscle –  Belle didn’t struggle with being overweight like many dogs, but she’s definitely more muscular now.  If you’re dog does need to lose some pounds, this raw diet would be great to try.

Sorry for the super long post, but I hope this information helps you make a more informed decision about your dog’s nutrition. I’m so glad we’ve made this change for our sweet pup… the transition has been so easy and was definitely worth it!

What do you think? Is this something you’d be willing to try for your dog?

“You’re Not Sick; You’re Thirsty”

Is it possible that the majority of illness originate from something as simple as dehydration?  Could we be treating ourselves with medicine when we should just be drinking more water?  I recently read Your Body’s Many Cries for Water by F. Batmanghelidj, MD, which explores this possibility.

Water

Our body is made up of 75% water, and in particular, our brain tissue is 85% water. Adequate hydration is essential to our bodies and brains functioning properly to stay healthy.  But many of us are suffering from chronic dehydration because we live in a society where coffee, tea, alcohol and manufactured beverages like soda have become acceptable thirst-quenchers.  While many of these contain water, they also contain dehydrating agents that only make our body’s more thirsty.  And, sodas, in particular, are addictive (both the caffeine and sugar), taking away our natural thirst for water, even when it’s plentiful and available.

We tend to think that we are “thirsty” when our mouths become dry and we crave a drink.  But this is actually the last outward sign of dehydration – if you are feeling this, your body is screaming for water.  And as you age, your body begins to ignore “dry mouth” more and more, making dehydration easier. Our vital organs receive the water, nutrients and hormones they need to work only by enough water existing in the body to deliver those elements, so it’s obviously essential to our basic functioning.  Just in case you need a few more reasons to drink more water, here are some that really stood out to me:

  • Morning sickness during pregnancy is the main indicator of a baby and mother’s dehydration.  Water is essential to cell expansion during a baby’s first stage of life.
  • Chronic pain is a huge indicator of thirst.  For a while, painkillers may work for pain monitored by the central nervous system, but eventually the brain will become so dehydrated that it will register all pain until it gets enough water.  And, until it does, the pain will increase and the body will limit the mobility of those areas in order to “prevent the production of additional toxic waste” that water, if available, would wash out. If you are experiencing consistent back pain, leg pain or headaches, take note.
  • Dyspeptic (gastritis, heartburn, constipation) pain is an emergency thirst signal.  “Digestion of solid foods depends on the presence of copious amounts of water” and “water provides the only natural protection against the acid in the stomach.”  Antacids contain a lot of aluminum (so does your deodorant, by the way), which combined with brain cell dehydration are proven causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Stop popping those antacids and drink a couple glasses of water instead.
  • “Fully 75 percent of the weight of the upper part of the body is supported by the water volume that is stored in the disc core.”  While proper posture is helpful, adequate water is essential if you are experiencing back pain.  Exercises that stretch the back and help “vacuum” water back into the disc space will help both neck and back pain.  I personally find that laying on the bed with my head off the edge for a minute or so helps a great deal.  Of course, my chiropractor adjustments help tremendously as well.
  • Dehydration affects the regulation of body temperature.  Many migraines and headaches are caused by “heat stress” because of dehydration that may occur due to lack of drinking water, drinking alcohol, or an allergic reaction that releases histamines (blocking hydration).
  • Dehydration leads to stress in the body and causes hormones to go into crisis mode.  As a result, dehydration contributes to chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.
  • Using caffeine to override your body’s available energy will lower levels of stored energy, meaning that your hormones will not be able to react appropriately later and the brain has less energy to work from, leading to less focus and attention span.  This dehydration effect is exacerbated when elderly people with memory problems or children with learning disorders drink anything other than water, especially soda.
  • Adequate water and salt intake are essential to maintaining blood volume that prevents hypertension.  The body will do all it can to retain water and sodium (helps balance water in and out of cells), yet the current “treatments” for hypertension prescribe diuretics.  Water is the best diuretic – if you are drinking enough water, your body will respond and eventually flush out the toxic edema fluid rather than the water your body desperately needs.
  • Cholesterol is essential to the function of our cells because it helps our cells retain water.  In the state of dehydration, you will develop high cholesterol as its working in overdrive to prevent cell dehydration.
  • “The sensation of thirst and hunger are generated simultaneously to indicate the brain’s needs.” We cannot tell the difference, and thus often overeat when our body’s are really just crying out for water.  Then, dehydration causes our brain to crave more energy, thus causing us to crave sugar.  So, we overeat, eat unhealthy foods and gain weight simply by being dehydrated.
  • Asthma and allergies are indicators that the body has resorted to an increase in production of the neurotransmitter histamine, the sensor regulator of water metabolism and its distribution in the body.”
  • In some cases of chronic dehydration, our brain begins to inhibit insulin so the pancreas can provide water for food digestion – a crucial function to provide energy to the body.  Ultimately, this can cause insulin-independent diabetes, and instead of drinking more water & eating a balanced diet to get the body to behave normally again, people take chemical override medications to force the body to produce more insulin.
  • Salt is crucial to ensuring we have an “ocean” of water outside our cells, but the table salt we eat in most foods is a chemical and not mineral-rich.  Remove sodium preservatives and table salt from your diet and replace with unrefined sea salt to keep your body’s hydration in balance.

The simple way to prevent the damage from chronic dehydration is to drink enough water.  Your body needs a minimum of 8 glasses of water per day, more, especially, if you are drinking alcohol or caffeine.  If your urine is not colorless, you are not hydrated enough.  Drink water slowly, throughout the day.  I typically drink a glass of water before and after each meal, and then at least one in-between each meal as a rule of thumb.  If I am feeling sick, my allergies are flaring or my back pain returns, I immediately drink lots of water, and only water, until the symptoms pass. I have truly noticed a difference.

Are you drinking enough water?  If any of the above dehydration-related illnesses stuck out to you personally, you must read this book. It has very detailed chapters on each of the effects of dehydration and testimonials for how water has healed people.  Go read it (or borrow from me!) – it’s fascinating!

The Truth About Exercise?

Tennis ShoesRecently I watched a program on PBS called The Truth About Exercise with Michael Mosley that addressed some surprising new research and challenged many of the things I had ever heard about working out.  Y’all, I hate exercising.  I will do whatever I can to avoid it, especially when life gets busy… or I’m tired, or stressed, or lazy, or just having too much fun to not have fun.  If you’re anything like me, I think you’ll find some hope in what this program had to say.

There is obviously a relationship between weight loss and exercise – we’ve all seen the inspiring stories about people who started crossfit or trained for a race and shed the pounds.  Then, we also hear that exercise is not really sustainable for losing weight, that it’s about what we eat and maintaining a healthy diet.  And, truly, eating right does work for everyone. But, there are other benefits of exercise to consider as well:

  • “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy…” – Elle Woods.
  • Lowers blood pressure and risks of stoke & heart attack
  • Lowers your risk of diabetes. This program showed how 90 minutes of walking the night before a terrible-for-you breakfast reduced fat deposits from that meal by a third. The enzymes (lipo protien lipase) released during exercise stay in the system and make fat go to be burned by muscles rather than into our fat stores. This prevents damage to our blood vessels and also the deep fat in our organs (fat around our waist) that’s really dangerous.

Let’s be honest, though, for all that hard work, most of us are really looking to lose weight.  Unfortunately, it does not give many the fat burn they really want.  In fact, it has now been scientifically proven that people respond very differently to the same amount and type of exercise.  15% of the population see huge physical benefits from exercise, while 20% of the population see absolutely no change.  Those 20% are called non-responders and, unfortunately, it’s genetic.  Then there are the other 65% who are somewhere in the middle of that range.  Exercise is not one size fits all… exercising more may not help you, and that, combined with our busy lives, is certainly not motivating us to get to the gym.

Professor Jamie Timmons, University of Birmingham (UK), performed clinical studies of non-responders and set out to find a form of exercise that helps everyone and is sustainable enough to fit into our busy lives.  They used two main tests to measure the health benefits – 1. Insulin Sensitivity (Insulin removes sugar from the blood and controls fat – I discussed this in detail a few weeks back; sensitivity is a measure of how quickly it works) and 2. VO2 Max (how much oxygen your body is able to use, which is a huge indicator of the future health of your cardiovascular system).  Studies suggest that short spurts of highly intense exercise is what can improve these two: 20 seconds of the most intense exercise you can handle, followed by period of rest, repeated twice.  Do that three days a week.  This can be cycling as fast as you can on a stationary bike or sprinting down the street.

How can this possibly work?  That crazy intense form of exercise breaks down the glycogen stores in the muscle and that’s the key signal from the muscles to say “I need more glucose to burn, NOW!” to the blood.  Unlike walking or jogging, where you are only activating 20-30% of your muscles, this intense exercise is activating 70-80% of your muscles, which creates a much larger sink in glucose, causing your body to get more sugar out of the blood to burn.  In fact, they saw results in these two crucial areas in just 2 weeks.

After the show’s host, Michael Mosley, participated in 4 weeks of this protocol, they tested his insulin sensitivity and VO2 Max. He had an overall improvement of insulin sensitivity of 23%, which is remarkable, but in line with what the clinical studies are proving.  Michael also learned that his aerobic activity did not increase at all which proved (along with a genetic test) that he is a non-responder to exercise.

A couple other interesting things I learned from the program:

  • Most of us spend 12 hours a day sitting and not moving.  Being active increases your metabolic rate. Moving throughout the day is how we were designed, so that’s obviously best for our bodies.  Dr James Levine, Mayo Clinic, an obesity expert, says that the best way to burn fat is to increase your NEAT – Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.  No need to sweat, but make a more conscious effort to constantly move.  Our bodies idle when we sit for an hour, gunk builds up: blood sugar and fat elevate. In order to keep the fuels moving through your system, you need to be moving every hour, not just exercise a couple times per week.
  • We may feel like our muscles are what get tired and that’s why exercise exhausts us, but, actually, it may be our brain.  Michael Mosley did a test in a low oxygen chamber and he got tired very fast as soon as his brain realized that he wasn’t getting enough oxygen.  This measured how hard he thinks he can push his muscles. But when probes were applied to his head, putting pressure on the part of the brain controlling his legs, it allowed him to push himself to keep exercising. Our subconscious brain is protecting itself – it triggers a shutdown before you are actually in “danger.” But, your brain can learn that this activity is not threatening which is why it begins to feel easier after training.

If you want to learn more, I highly recommend watching it for yourself here.

Do you think these experts discovered the truth about exercise?  Could you commit to this 3-minute-a-week exercise routine?  Who wants to try it with me to see if it works?