If you have found yourself snacking more these past few months you are definitely not alone.
And I am not here to tell you to stop, or that it's a bad thing to do. My approach to nutrition is not about restriction, deprivation, or stressing about how much you are eating.
However, I do want to talk about the migrating motor complex (MMC) and its role in maintaining healthy gut function.
What is MMC? Migrating Motor Complex is a sequence of muscle contractions throughout the digestive system that acts as a 'cleaning wave' to help keep contents moving along. (1,3)
These cleaning waves occur after ~ 90 mins of fasting. The majority of the cleaning waves happen at night while we are asleep, and for many people this will be sufficient enough to help maintain a healthy, balanced environment in the digestive tract. For others, it may be beneficial to space out food intake to allow for a couple cleaning waves to occur between meals throughout the day as well.
If you are someone that experiences bloating or other digestive issues, it may be worth trying out a few different options when it comes to supporting the MMC.
Whether or not snacking in between meals is a new habit or something you have always done, try spacing out your snacks/meals by 4-5 hours, and only having water in between.
To help maintain this eating schedule, it is important to eat enough at each meal, and for the meals to include plant-based proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates.
This type of eating schedule won't be suitable for everyone, and it may be difficult for athletes to get the calories they need by just eating 3 meals a day.
If you try it and feel it doesn't work for you, you could try instead to increase the length of time you are not eating between dinner and breakfast the next day in order to help increase the number of cleaning waves that happen at night (aim for a 12-14 hour window). Then, throughout the day, you may be able to have more frequent meals (i.e. every 2.5-3.5 hours) since you'll likely be increasing the cleaning waves that happen between dinner and breakfast the next day.
Again, everyone is different so it will be important to figure out what works for you.
Obviously, this alone may not solve all of your digestive issues, but it is a piece of the puzzle that's worth considering when dealing with bloating, indigestion, heartburn, and other symptoms associated with SIBO or IBS.
There are multiple underlying factors that can contribute to decreased activity of the MMC:
MMC & the Vagus Nerve:
The health of your vagus nerve can sometimes be the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to examining the root cause of gut imbalances. Work with your doctor to determine whether or not your vagus nerve or MMC may be involved with your digestive symptoms.
The vagus nerve is a 2-way highway of communication between the gut and the brain. (7) And they influence each other in both directions. Low vagal tone can lead to gut disfunction and dysbiosis, and dysbiosis can lead to low vagal tone. (10)
There are many factors when it comes to the involvement of the vagus nerve with digestive health. Low vagal tone may be involved with:
There are a number of simple ways to support the health of the vagus nerve (12):
MMC & IBS/SIBO:
There are often gut motility issues and MMC irregularities involved with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). (9)
"The MMC has been considered an “intestinal housekeeper” that prevents SIBO" (9)
Your doctor may include short-term use of prokinetics after SIBO treatment to help prevent relapse (prokinetics stimulate gut motility and MMC - however it is still important to try to figure out the underlying reason(s) for the gut motility/MMC issues as prokinetics are not always a suitable long-term solution)
It is important to treat SIBO and determine the underlying causes of SIBO (2,9), IBS and other digestive issues since SIBO and other gut imbalances eventually lead to nutrient deficiencies and other chronic health issues.
There are many possible underlying causes when it comes to digestive issues, and the MMC and health of the vagus nerve is only one area of possibility. However, it is one that is important to talk to your doctor about, especially when many other factors have already been ruled out as a cause, or have been addressed in your treatment protocol.
If you like to learn more please feel free to book a complimentary 15 Min Discovery Call.
"But where do you get your protein?"
I know, I know...if you've been vegan for any amount of time you may be tired of hearing this question, I am definitely with you, I've been answering it since 1993!
However, I wanted to talk about protein today because I see such a wide range being recommended in the vegan community. I see recommendations for anywhere from 10-30% of calories from protein, or to put it in terms of ideal body weight, anywhere from 0.8-2.2g of protein per kg of body weight.
With such a wide range being recommended, how do you know how much to aim for?
The general consensus among vegan health professionals is that if you are eating enough calories, you will easily be getting more than enough protein. However, I did want to provide a few tips to help you determine where on the protein intake range you should aim for:
Now, to go back to that statement about not having to worry about your protein if you are eating enough calories, which I do agree with, but there are some things to keep in mind:
Some people may suggest that you'll need to eat more than the recommended amount if you are getting your protein from plants because plant protein is 'incomplete' or not as bioavailable. This is not the case, and you are actually better off getting your protein from plants:
Many of us are aware of the health benefits associated with reducing our exposure to the environmental chemicals used in conventional farming. If we aren't buying everything organic, we are probably at least buying the organic options of the Dirty Dozen, since these are the 12 most sprayed food crops. However, there are other benefits of organic food that are not as widely known.
A principle known as Xenohormesis refers to the added immune support & stress resistance properties we get from eating plants that have experienced natural environmental stressors, which they don't really get a chance to do when grown with pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.
These additional benefits are mostly to do with the higher levels of antioxidants, which is the result of the plants actually getting to use their own defence/'immune' systems. The compounds that act as the plants' defence system are the same compounds that act as antioxidants in the human body.
Another possible mechanism for conventional plants having lower levels is due to the use of synthetic fertilizers, it seems these plants may be using more of their resources for growth rather than their defence systems.
"Xenohormesis is a biological principle that explains how environmentally stressed plants produce bioactive compounds that can confer stress resistance and survival benefits to animals that consume them. [.....] The xenohormetic plant compounds can, when ingested, improve longevity and fitness by activating the animal's cellular stress response..."
- Xenohormesis: health benefits from an eon of plant stress response evolution
Each plant contains thousands of phytochemicals, and each phytochemical provides numerous benefits. We can optimize these benefits by choosing organic whenever possible.
Organic foods have the combined benefits of increased antioxidants and reduced environmental chemical residue. Be sure to look for certified organic, or if you shop at farmer's markets you can speak to the farmer directly about their practices. When I had my farm it was not certified organic, but we practiced organic farming.
"Is Soy Bad?"
This is still one of the most common questions I hear from my clients. Both men and women have concerns about the phytoestrogens in soy so I wanted to share some of the science and research on the topic, and hopefully help ease some of those concerns.
First it is important to point out –– there is no mammalian estrogen in soy.
The plant-estrogens (phytoestrogens) in soy do not act the same way as mammalian estrogen. This is due to the differences in structure, and the type of estrogen receptors that they prefer to interact with.
There are two types of estrogen receptors in the body, ERalpha and ERbeta. Phytoestrogens from soy prefer to bind to ERbeta receptors which actually help reduce the effects of stronger estrogens in the body, including the estrogen-mimicking chemicals (also known as xenoestrogens) found in plastics, pesticides, personal care products, cleaning products, and cologne to name a few.
One of the ways that phytoestrogens have this protective effect is by physically blocking the stronger estrogens from binding to the receptors.
Mammalian estrogen and xenoestrogens always have a strong estrogenic effect. In contrast, phytoestrogens can have an weak estrogenic, anti-estrogenic, or neutral effect. Phytoestrogens are therefore classified as SERMS (selective estrogen receptor modulators).
Phytoestrogens also decrease the risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer. We wouldn't see this effect if phytoestrogens acted like mammalian estrogen. When the ERalpha receptors in the breast tissue are activated by regular estrogen it stimulates cell proliferation (i.e. increasing breast cancer risk). When ERbeta receptors in the breast tissue are activated by phytoestrogen it blocks the proliferative effects. This is another mechanism for how phytoestrogens have a protective effect.
It is also interesting to note that Hops, used to make beer, has a different type of phytoestrogen that prefers to bind to the ERalpha receptors. Please take note that there have been hormonal imbalances from a high intake of hops.
This brings us to the hormonal effects of animal products. There is actual estrogen in breast milk from mammals. Dairy is a very hormonal fluid since it is designed to support rapid growth in baby animals. There are also traces of real estrogen in all meat since it is a hormone produced by the animal.
"All foods of animal origin contain estradiol, which is at least 10,000x more potent than the already harmful xenoestrogens found in man-made chemicals." - Nutritionfacts.org
In addition to the naturally present hormones in animal products, the environmental estrogens end up accumulating in animal products because they are fat-soluable. So not only are you getting mammalian estrogen, you also get all those estrogen-mimicking chemicals. Check out this research linking fish intake to lower testosterone levels.
There have been two case studies (1, 2) linking soy intake with negative hormonal outcomes in men but these men were consuming 12+ servings a day. I think consuming anything in that amount would lead to some sort of imbalance. To compare, I would like to see what the effects would have been if these men were drinking that much cows milk.
There are no issues with men consuming an average amount of soy (3-5 servings a week). Even up to 1 serving a day should not impact hormone levels. Generally, I recommend no more than 1 serving every 1-3 days, not because of hormonal issues but to help increase the variety of other plant-foods in the diet. It can be easy for vegans to overly rely on soy products but doing so will cut down on the amounts of other beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds needed for a well-balanced diet.
With all that being said, you can definitely be vegan and not consume soy products if you don't want to, there is just no reason not to enjoy this high-protein food as long as you don't have a soy allergy, or a tendency to drink 3 quarts of soy milk a day!
Keep in mind that maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, managing stress, and having a balanced gut microbiome also play important roles in supporting optimal hormone levels.
Sprouted and fermented versions like sprouted tofu, tempeh, and miso may be easier for some people to digest.
If you are interested in learning more, here are some great resources:
Interested in learning what you can do to support optimal hormone balance?
Book your complimentary 15 Min Discovery Call to discuss how Private Nutrition Coaching or a Custom Meal Plan can help you will reaching your health goals.
Collagen has become quite the buzz word in the last few years, and for good reason. It is one of the most abundant proteins in the body, making up 30-80% of our bones, tendons, ligaments, skin, cartilage, and blood vessels.
However, before you go out and buy one of the many collagen supplements on the market it is important to understand how the body actually absorbs and builds its own collagen.
Collagen is a protein, and like all proteins it is comprised of a string of amino acids. Collagen is the term we use when referring to raw collagen proteins, while gelatin refers to heated collagen, and hydrolyzed collagen refers to collagen that has been heated and broken down into shorter amino acid chains.
Dietary collagen sources include bone broth, gelatin, and hydrolyzed collagen powder - all of these sources are animal-derived. We are often led to believe that the only way to support collagen production in the body is to eat collagen. As you will see below, this is simply not the case.
Like all proteins, when we eat collagen it is digested into its individual amino acids before it can be absorbed by the body. Consuming collagen provides the body with amino acids, the most abundant being glycine, proline, alanine, arginine, and glutamic acid.
When we eat collagen, we don't absorb collagen,
we absorb the amino acids that make up collagen.
There is nothing special or unique about the amino acids provided by collagen. These amino acids are also abundant in a variety of vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes, and whole grains.
When these amino acids are supplied by the diet, the body can then make its own collagen, as long as there are also enough antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in the diet.
For example, one of the first steps in collagen production is the hydroxylation of the amino acids lysine and proline. The enzymes required for this step are dependent on ample vitamin C levels, therefore, without enough dietary vitamin C the body will have a difficult time making collagen regardless of the amount of amino acid building blocks that are consumed.
We can support healthy collagen production by eating enough of the key amino acids, vitamin C, antioxidants, and silica.
Do these amino acids have to come from collagen
supplements or other animal-based products?
No, they absolutely do not, and to give you a few examples I have listed some of the highest sources of the key amino acids below. I have also included some sources of the other nutrients required for collagen production.
As long as you are eating a variety of plant foods there will be no issues consuming enough of these amino acids, or enough protein in general. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. The body needs a full range of amino acids to be able to build all the different types of proteins in the body (hormones, enzymes, and antibodies, as well as structural proteins like muscle, hair, nails, and of course collagen).
Every food has an amino acid profile that shows the ratios of amino acids found in that particular food. By eating a mix of foods, all with different amino acid ratios, we can easily get the full range of these building blocks. It was previously thought that we needed to get the full range in every meal, or at least every day, it is now known that we actually have about 3-5 days to consume all of our amino acids.
Foods that Support Collagen Production:
*Please note that food sources of silica have variable absorption, ranging from 2-50%. Eating a variety of plant foods should supply enough silica, but to really boost collagen production I recommend looking into the different supplements. My favourite is BioSil because the silica is bound to choline which helps with delivery into the cells. There may be others that also have high bioavailability, let me know in the comments which ones you've had success with!
Other collagen-building co-factors: manganese, copper, zinc, vitamin E, sulfur, essential fatty acids, vitamin A, selenium.
The amino acids that make up collagen can easily
be obtained from plant-based sources.
What may be more important than focusing on the amino acid building blocks, is ensuring optimal intake of the co-factors necessary to carry out the steps of collagen production.
Are you a new vegan or interested in eating a more plant-based diet?
Maybe you have tried eating vegan in the past but
ended up with low energy or digestive issues?
Or maybe you are currently vegan but are not experiencing optimal health?
Book your complimentary 15 Min Discovery Call to discuss how Private Nutrition Coaching or a Custom Meal Plan can help you succeed and thrive on a plant-based diet!
When working with my clients, one of the most common challenges we address is how to deal with cravings for processed foods and refined sugars.
Often when we have a craving for a certain food, flavour, or even texture, it is very much linked to our emotional state, stress levels, blood-sugar instability, vitamin/mineral deficiencies, and the balance of our gut microbiome.
Here are two of my favourite go-to strategies for dealing with food cravings:
1. Be Prepared:
I try to always have healthy snacks stocked in my kitchen for times when I get home and am hungry, or times that I have a craving for something that falls into that "20%" category (see Tip #2).
For sweet cravings, I usually have raw vegan brownie bites in my freezer. Raw vegan desserts are made from a variety of whole food ingredients including nuts, seeds, dates, cacao, and fruit - making them high in fibre, antioxidants, healthy fats, and protein.
For salty cravings, I'll have sprouted, flavoured nut/seed mixes, or crackers with cashew cheese. Another go-to are those seasoned seaweed sheets you can get from most grocery stores.
Having balanced meals (in terms of flavours, textures, and nutrients) helps reduce cravings. Balancing our blood sugar levels throughout the day is also helpful, as well as staying hydrated and managing stress.
When we have healthier treats readily available we don't really have to worry about cravings, or view them as something negative. With my clients, we go over what some healthier options are for whatever their favourite treats happen to be - whether that be new options for pre-made snacks, or how to 'healthify' their favourite recipes.
2. Be Gentle with Your Thoughts:
When it comes to the foods I eat I do not strive for perfection or ever feel guilty about what I eat. I encourage my clients to follow the 80/20 Rule. When we focus on eating fresh, vibrant, whole-foods 80% of the time, the remaining 20% can be flexible (especially if you are starting out on a healthier diet journey).
This way it reduces feelings of restriction and deprivation, and helps us not ever feel guilty about a food choice (which could actually be more harmful than the "unhealthy" food we just ate).
The foods that make up that 20% will be different for everyone. For myself these foods are always vegan and free from artificial sugars, colours, and flavours.
Life happens. Traveling, socializing, and stress all influence what we want to eat and when. I just encourage listening to our body and take note of how you feel when you consume certain foods. The more whole-foods we eat the more our tastebuds change overtime, so after awhile many of us won't even crave the same foods we once used to, or we will have found healthier alternatives to the foods we used to crave.
If you feel like you are eating healthy, but still feel like food cravings are controlling your life, feel free to book a complimentary 15 Min Discovery call. Then we can address the root cause of your cravings and set you up with a Custom Meal Plan full of delicious, whole-food recipes!
I am going traveling to South America soon and was wondering if there are any supplements you recommend I bring with me to prevent getting sick from the food or water? I am usually pretty careful when I go but do often get sick for a day or two. Would love to hear about what you take with you when you travel!
That is a great question, and one I get quite often, especially when I am somewhere tropical and the other people I'm with, or other tourists I meet, are getting sick but I am not. It definitely has to do with your individual microbiome, as well as digestive and immune system functioning, but there are a few supplements I take that I think really help with prevention and even if you do pick something up:
1. Activated Charcoal - I will take this once or twice when I first get to a new place. It is also designed for when you do have mild symptoms of a food/water-borne illness as it helps rid the body of the pathogenic bacteria more efficiently. It is not meant to be taken on a daily basis since it binds to and removes minerals from the body, as well as the pathogens.
2. Grapefruit Seed Extract - This acts as a natural antimicrobial agent. I add it to the bowl of filtered water that I wash my fruits and vegetables in, and also add a few drops to my drinking water occasionally.
3. Probiotics - These are so important! So many factors influence the diversity and quantity of bacteria that live in our intestines so it is very individual, but for the most part we could all use a nice boost of the good bacteria, especially when we travel somewhere new. Make sure to get a shelf-stable, vegan, enteric-coated probiotic to bring with you.
Please book a complimentary 15 Min Discovery Call if you would like support with individual health coaching and custom meal plans.
I have been enjoying this simple yet satisfiying smoothie for breakfast and usually after yoga. I consider hemp protein and matcha two of my favourite travel necessities!
My Matcha Life Foodie's Matcha is perfect for adding to smoothies and provides anti-inflammatory and liver supporting benefits, not to mention the calming and energizing effect of the L-Theanine found in high-quality matcha.
Manitoba Harvest Hemp Powder is proving protein, fibre, omega-3 fats, and many more vital nutrients.
Simply blend with a couple of ripe bananas and water, coconut milk, or almond milk.
Making your own chocolates from scratch is surprisingly simple, and when you make your own you are in control of the all of the ingredients you use as well as the quality of those ingredients.
Making chocolates is also a great way to start incorporating different superfood powders and herbal extracts so you can easily turn your chocolate treat into a nutrient-dense medicinal food!
Here is one of my favourite chocolate recipes, however, once you try making them yourself you will easily be inspired to start coming up with your own flavour and superfood combinations.
Enjoy ! :)
Orange Coconut Chocolates:
1/4 cup cacao powder
1/2 cup cacao butter (melted)
2-3 tbsp dark maple syrup, coconut syrup, or yacon syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla bean powder (or natural vanilla extract)
3 tbsp shredded coconut (sugar- and preservative-free)
1/2 tsp Simply Organic Orange Oil
Melt cacao butter in the dehydrator or over low heat on the stove-top. In a bowl, add melted cacao butter and stir in remaining ingredients until thoroughly mixed.
Pour chocolate into moulds and set in freezer for 5-10 minutes. Store in the refrigerator or on countertop in airtight container.
Anxiety can occur as an acute episode of highly intense feelings of stress that overwhelm the individual (such as panic attacks), or as more generalized chronic feelings of stress, uneasiness and being wound-up.
Chronic anxiety can often include headaches, chronic fatigue, insomnia, digestive distress, muscle tension, dry mouth, excessive perspiration, increased heart beat, and may cause you to startle easily.
Over time, too much stress and anxiety will age you faster because they put your body into 'emergency mode' - where your energy is diverted away from maintenance and repair and towards physically having to react to the stressful event.
Here are my Top 3 Tips for Reducing Anxiety:
1. Upgrade Your Diet:
Reduce (or avoid completely) your intake of stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, and refined carbohydrates like sugar, baked goods, and white bread. Eat a nutrient-dense whole-food diet in order to balance out blood sugar levels throughout the day and prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Deficiencies of B complex vitamins, iron, taurine, magnesium, and chromium can all lead to increased feelings of anxiety and decreased ability to adapt to stress. Other biochemical imbalances that can lead to anxiety include low histamine/high copper, lactic acid build-up, and undiagnosed food allergies.
2. Use Calming Herbs and Nutrients:
GABA, Passionflower, Magnesium, and Valerian all promote a calming effect in the body and can be very useful when trying to reduce anxiety. Some of these supplements do interact with medications, and GABA for example needs to be avoided if you drink alcohol. Always check with your health care provider before taking any of these supplements. There are some great combination formulas available that combine many of these herbs and nutrients. Adaptogenic herbs are another great option, especially if you experience a lot of stress.
3. Grow Your Inner Garden:
Balance your gut bacteria with fermented foods, and a wide variety of plant-based whole-foods. We are starting to find out how the balance and types of gut bacteria we have greatly influences our neurotransmitter levels and nutrient absorption.
Read More About the Gut-Brain Connection:
It can be overwhelming to try to jump into this yourself and there are numerous benefits to working one-on-one with a nutritionist, such as individualized recommendations, support, and help with deciphering the confusing and conflicting health information out there.
Book your complimentary 15 Min Discovery Call today to find out how I can best support your health goals.
Shawna Barker BSc., RHN is a nutritionist specializing in vegan diets.