Foods to Eat for a Restful Night

Since the foods and drinks that you consume throughout the day can impact how you sleep at night, it’s important to choose foods that are calming, rather than those that stimulate your mind and body. Luckily, certain types of foods naturally promote rest and relaxation, particularly those that contain tryptophan – the amino acid that the body uses to make serotonin, the neurotransmitter that slows nerve activity in your brain.

Tryptophan-Containing Foods

cottage-cheese-for-sleepSince tryptophan is a precursor of other neurotransmitters in your brain, eating foods that are rich in the amino acid will help you feel relaxed and make it easier to sleep soundly. Foods highest in tryptophan include cottage cheese, red meat, eggs, fish, turkey, chickpeas, sunflower seeds, and peanuts. Since it takes about an hour for tryptophan from food sources to reach the brain, it’s best to eat these snacks an hour or two before bedtime, rather than immediately before. However, don’t overdo it on the turkey and cottage cheese, as eating foods that are high in protein may actually cause restlessness since protein-rich foods contain the amino acid, tyrosine, which naturally stimulates the brain.

Healthy Carbohydrates

whole-grain-cereal-bowlWhole-food, nutrient-dense sources of carbohydrates encourage the release of insulin, which helps to produce serotonin and clear tryptophan-competing amino acids from the bloodstream. Some of the healthiest carbohydrates to eat later in the day or a couple hours before bed time include whole grain cereal, beans, rice, hazelnuts, sweet potatoes, and popcorn.

Calcium-Rich Foods

Broccoli-steamedCertain foods that are high in calcium may also promote sleepiness, as calcium helps the brain use tryptophan to manufacture melatonin. Research shows that a deficiency in calcium may contribute to interrupted sleep patterns and the inability to achieve a deep REM sleep. Without enough calcium, you may fall asleep quickly, but find it difficult to stay asleep or fall back asleep after awaking during the night. While most dairy sources, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, and eggs contain a significant amount of calcium, you can also choose other foods if you’re sensitive to dairy or lactose intolerant. Some alternative non-dairy foods that are rich in calcium include dark leafy greens, oranges, quinoa, broccoli, and dried fruit.

Combination Snacks

cheese_and_crackersChoosing snacks that combine healthy carbohydrates and calcium, such as whole-grain cereal with milk, a peanut butter sandwich or crackers with cheese, will have an especially strong effect since they’ll work together to relax the mind and body. These types of snacks also contain small amounts of protein, which is also important to consider since eating carbohydrate-only foods may cause your blood sugar levels to drop, resulting in the release of stress hormones that will keep you alert.

Magnesium for Improved Sleep

In addition to calcium, several other minerals are especially useful for calming the mind to help you sleep better at night. Magnesium is an essential mineral that is commonly known to relieve insomnia, as it helps to decrease the stress hormone, cortisol, which can keep you awake at night. Foods that are high in magnesium include almonds, black beans, avocado, figs, and dark chocolate (yay!). Organic fruits, such as bananas, are not only rich in tryptophan, but also contain the minerals potassium and magnesium, which are natural muscle relaxants.

natural_calm_powderWhile it’s not always easy to ensure you’re getting enough of the recommended essential vitamins and minerals, especially if your sleep is affected, supplementation can help. For example, I add a spoonful of Natural Vitality Calm Powder to a glass of water and drink it every night before bed to feel more relaxed, settled and ready for a good night’s sleep.

Above all else, it’s important to avoid rich, high-fat foods within two hours of bed time since they require a lot of work to digest and may cause heartburn. You should also avoid drinking too much liquid, such as water, juice, tea or hot chocolate, as this may result in frequent bathroom trips throughout the night. Caffeinated drinks, such as soda, coffee or caffeinated teas not only act as diuretics, but will also keep you stimulated and make falling asleep much more difficult. Overall, maintaining a healthy, balanced diet will keep your energy levels high throughout the day, help you relax and sleep soundly at night, and contribute to general wellness.

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5 Herbal Remedies for a Healthy Spring Season

Did you know most common health problems can actually be resolved without over-the-counter or prescription medications? It’s true! Natural herbal remedies – from those found in nearly every garden to the ones often used for cooking – can be just as effective, or even more beneficial, than most prescription drugs. So before you head to the pharmacy counter, consider the following natural herbs and plants to treat what ails you.

prepared-ginger-teaGentle Ginger

Ginger has been considered the universal medicine for centuries, because it is gentle on the stomach and often used to relieve symptoms of nausea, indigestion, fever, and infection. Some research even shows that it can be used for heart health, digestive health, cold and flu prevention, and weight management.

Tough Thyme

Thyme is considered one of nature’s most powerful antiseptics and is commonly used in mouthwash and decongestant products. Thyme can be added to teas and herbal drinks to help relieve a sore throat, cough, bronchitis, and laryngitis.

Garlic the Guardian

Garlic contains various active components, including allicin, alliinase and sulfur compounds, which make it a potent antibiotic, anti-viral and fungicidal medicine. For this reason, garlic is highly effective in lowering high blood pressure, maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, and boosting the immune system.

Mellow Mint

Mint doesn’t just smell great, it also has the ability to settle the digestive tract to decrease the severity and length of stomach aches. Mint can be added to teas, salads or eaten on its own to relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and thwart the growth of toxic bacteria in the stomach.

Luxurious Lavenderlavender

Lavender is another fragrant herb that is used in a variety of medicinal and cosmetic products. The natural oils found in the lavender plan are known to calm nerves, alleviate headaches and reduce stress.

Using herbal remedies over the common prescription drugs is an affordable and effective way to maintain your health, while building your immune system. Before the spring time sniffles wreak havoc on your household, look to your garden for inspiration on healing your body!

4 Surefire Ways to Beat Your Mid-Afternoon Slump

OfficetiredDo you find yourself losing that morning mojo by mid-afternoon? You may want to consider trying one or all of these four key tips to  not only put the pep back in your step, but also to improve your immune function and increase your overall health. The right balance of carbohydrates, protein and fat combined with the proper herbal supplementation, can help to keep your mood and energy levels high throughout the day!

Eat a Good Breakfastoatmeal

One in four Americans starts their day without eating breakfast, causing them to feel sluggish and fatigued throughout the day. People who skip breakfast also tend to have higher cholesterol levels, making them more susceptible to developing heart disease over time. It’s no wonder they call it the most important meal of your day! For a healthy breakfast meal, oatmeal or buckwheat are options that can energize your body and provide health benefits for cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose metabolism, satiety, and the gastrointestinal system. Add in some blueberries for a boost of antioxidant protection and flavor. Along with your balanced breakfast, drink a glass of hot water with lemon to help stabilize your acid levels, which have been building up throughout your slumber.

Snack Regularly

Between meals, noshing on healthy snacks will help you boost your energy levels and keep your metabolism revved all day long. Snacks like fresh apple slices and bananas are high in vitamin C, antioxidants and fiber, as well as other vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates that send a quick energy boost to your body’s systems. Certain types of nuts are also healthy options for quick energy-boosting snacks. While some people may be resistant to eating nuts due to their high fat content, it is important to note that most nuts contain unsaturated and monounsaturated fats, which help to decrease bad cholesterol levels and sustain healthy levels of good cholesterol. Eating small servings of raw, high-protein walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, Brazil nuts or pecans give you healthy sources of potassium, magnesium, iron, calcium, fiber, vitamin B, vitamin E, and thiamin, which keep you satisfied and energized.

Drink Waterbenefits-of-drinking-water

Drinking water instead of soda, coffee or sugar-filled fruit juices is important for maintaining your energy levels and a healthy body weight. Water plays an important role in your bodily functions and processes, helping to remove waste products, carry nutrients, and regulate your body temperature. Drinking purified water throughout the day also helps to relieve fluid retention and maintain healthy bowel functions. To determine how much water you need per day, divide your body weight (in pounds) by two and sip on that many ounces!

Supplement with Ginseng

Now to get a little scientific on you: Cellular energy is generated in the mitochondria, which are tiny structures within each cell that turn nutrients into energy. When you are under stress, your body releases a surge of hormones like adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol, which can damage the mitochondria and inhibit the cell’s ability to produce those beneficial chemicals. Herbal supplements like ginseng can enhance the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to cells and reduce oxidative damage that can harm the mitochondria. Ginseng also naturally relaxes blood vessels, which increases oxygen delivery to cells throughout the body.

So if you suddenly feel your forehead hitting your desk by 3pm, take a second look at your daily habits and fine-tune your routine. You will discover that these small changes will go a long way in keeping you peppy and purposeful all day long!

4 Steps to Living Happily Gluten Free

By now, you’ve it heard over and over again – through the media, in national health magazines, and from nutrition experts far and wide – gluten is a healthy diet no-no. Whether you’re gluten intolerant or have a natural sensitivity to the protein found in wheat products, consuming foods containing gluten can wreak havoc on your body’s systems. If you’re trying to improve your diet by banishing wheat products and learning more about the impact that gluten has on your body, don’t think you’re alone in this journey to better health. According to the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, 18 million Americans have gluten sensitivity and need to tweak their diets in order to maintain a happy, healthy gut.

Fortunately, finding gluten-free foods at your local grocery store is MUCH easier today than it was just a few years ago. Most of your favorite carbohydrates are made in gluten-free versions, such as cereal, crackers, sweets, and even bread! Other products that aren’t made in “gluten-free” versions can still be healthy for you, as long as you know what to look for.

Before I get into the four key steps to living happily gluten free, let’s examine exactly what gluten is and how it affects your body. According to Dr. Arthur Agatston, cardiologist and developer of the South Beach Diet, gluten is the major protein that is found in many grain products, as well as all forms of wheat, barley and rye. For those who are sensitive or intolerant, consuming foods containing gluten can make them feel ill, damage the lining of the small intestine, and contribute to a number of health problems, including chronic diarrhea, abdominal cramping, osteoporosis, and even cancer.

So how do you skip the suffering and keep your digestive system in tip-top shape? Start with these easy-to-follow steps for living happily gluten free:

1. Check the Label

Most gluten-free products today will specify on the package whether they are gluten-free or not. If it’s not obvious on the packaging with a circled “GF” symbol, check the ingredient list for your main culprits: wheat, barley, rye, etc. Some of my favorite gluten-free brands include Udi’s, Bob’s Red Mill and Glutino.

fruitsandveggies2. Eat Fresh

Maintaining a balanced diet chock full of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with a healthy assortment of lean meats and cheese, is the most natural sure-fire path to a happy belly. Gluten is often found in highly processed foods found in plastic packaging or freezer aisles, so on your next visit to the grocery store, peruse the produce and be nice to your butcher!

3. Moderation is Key

Do you ever try to cut something out of your diet completely with good intentions only to find yourself binging on it three days later? Don’t fall into this all-too-common trap! Carbohydrates are a KEY part of a balanced diet, so DON’T feel like you have to ditch them all to stay healthy. Gluten-free grains come in all types of delicious varieties, including millet, brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, and popcorn, just to name a few. By allowing these into your diet – in moderation – you’ll satisfy your carb craving without offsetting your body’s balance.

Bobs Red Mill All Purpose Flour 5004. Make Substitutions

Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of staying truly gluten free is when you’re dining out. Unless you’re planning on eating at a vegan, vegetarian or gluten-friendly restaurant, most establishments don’t offer gluten-free menu options. You can, however, ask for substitutions or modify your order to make it gluten free. For example, swap grains for veggies, skip the heavy sauces and stick to proteins. When cooking or baking at home, you can substitute all-purpose flour for white rice, millet or chickpea flour and still make the same great-tasting treats you grew up on.

Whether you’re grocery shopping, dining out or cooking at home, there are countless options to keep your menu free of gluten. The key is staying open-minded and keeping it creative. In the end, your tummy will thank you!

THIS is the Most Important Relationship in Your Life

couple-with-food

When you first wake up in the morning, does your growling stomach send you dashing to the kitchen cupboard or do you cruise through your morning without a bite until lunch time? And what about that evening hour when you’re easing back after a long day and getting ready to shut your eyes, but your hunger pangs are just annoying enough that you could use one more quick bite before retiring for the night?

More importantly, how do you handle your body’s clear signals to your brain that it needs nourishment? Do you listen to them and allow yourself to quiet the rumbling, even if it’s your sixth meal of the day or do you ignore them and await your next scheduled feast?

Everyone has their own unique relationship with food and this very relationship can have the most impact on your health. Sure, romantic relationships, work relationships, friendships, and family ties are all critical to the health of your mind and body, but your relationship with food can solely determine how you function on a day-to-day basis.

For those of you with tumultuous, trying and somewhat dramatic relationships with food, the thought of your next meal may always be on your mind. You probably even find yourself scheduling everything else in your life around your next bite. If you make a commitment with a friend late morning, do you make sure you’re able to get home by noon so you don’t run late for your date with that chopped salad? Or do you get anxious when you know that your last meeting of the day will run late, setting off your whole evening schedule of meal prep, cook time and clean-up?

The very sustenance grown from this earth to keep you nourished and strong can also tear you apart – both physically and psychologically – if you don’t maintain a healthy relationship with it. On top of that, depriving your body of certain food groups can wreak havoc on your systems, causing your brain to slow down, your body to weaken and your emotions to spiral out of control.

Too many of us try to restrict our diet by limiting the amount of carbohydrates or fat we consume. While this may seem like a superficially effective way to keep your body slim and healthy, overdoing this can throw your whole metabolism out of whack, which will ultimately cause more harm than good.

So, what’s the solution? Sit down with the most important person in your life – yourself – and map out a balanced, healthy regimen that will not only work for your lifestyle, but will provide you with balance. Because at the end of the day, loving yourself and giving your body what it needs will keep you moving along the path of physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological health.