5 Facts We Absolutely Know About Good Nutrition

whole_food_greens_powder_sale

Though there is much debate in the scientific community regarding the role nutrition plays in development of health and disease, a few facts exist that are relatively certain and based on a body of good research.

Like everyone else, we’ve grown weary of the countless fad diets and claims about miraculous results just by eating one thing or avoiding x food. For that reason, we’ve assembled a list of nutritional facts that can be used to help assemble and/or supplement a healthy diet.

1) Low Carbohydrate Diets Reduce the Likelihood of Type II Diabetes

As Type-II Diabetes (formerly known as adult-onset diabetes or non-insulin dependent diabetes) hits prevalence, researchers are constantly exploring different factors that could be contributing to this pandemic. Some focus on genetic factors (for which there is some support) and others focus on lifestyle choices (exercise levels, for instance).

But nearly all walks of science and common sense agree on one thing – eating too much sugar is a major risk factor, particularly processed sugars that have been separated from their respective whole foods. Soda is one of the prime culprits, sometimes containing over 40 grams of sugar in just a single can.

Diets low in processed sugars (or entirely devoid of them) have been linked to reduced incidence of Type-II diabetes and may generally lead to healthier outcomes. Conversely, whole foods high in fiber reduce the incidence of diabetes, most likely by slowing the absorption of sugar and improving gut health.

2) Setting Goals Helps Stay on Track in Life and Nutrition

Goal setting has always been an important part of success. Some cultures naturally orient themselves towards healthier diets, but that isn’t the case for everyone. The United States is one of the more obvious examples, where the Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) is plagued with chemically derived ingredients and artificial foods.

For those pursuing better nutritional standards, setting goals can be helpful in the same way it has been proven for other areas. Exact methods vary, but taking advantage of what technology has to offer may reduce the difficulty. Tracker apps such as MyFitnessPal or SparkPeople aid in keeping track of calories consumed, activity and food types eaten. They’re best paired with security apps such as VPNs in order to ensure privacy (among other things).

3) Unprocessed Foods Are Higher in Essential Nutrients

It’s no secret that eating whole foods is beneficial; virtually no sane person would argue the contrary. Yet exactly how beneficial a diet loaded with unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and meats can be is often lost on the public. Take the nutritional content of a sweet potato.

A single sweet potato contains over two times the daily requirement of Vitamin A, half the daily requirement of Vitamin C, and a host of B Vitamins. Eaten with the skin, sweet potatoes also incorporate a large amount of our daily fiber requirement.

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli tend to be high in Vitamin K and Folate (absolutely essential for anyone avoiding enriched grains, particularly women who plan to become pregnant), while fruits such as berries or citrus are usually high in Vitamin C. Grass fed and free range meats are fantastic sources of complete protein (they contain all essential amino acids) and are higher in Omega-3 than their grain fed counterparts (especially the processed kinds).

Unprocessed foods, due to lack of added sugars, contain significantly fewer calories. Eating a mixed diet full of vegetables, fruits, and proteins make it difficult to overeat because the fiber, fat, and protein content help to trigger the “full” response in the hypothalamus and keep the stomach from emptying as quickly.

organic_greens_powdersThose still new to unprocessed foods may want to consider supplementing at least initially. Particularly when it comes to eating leafy greens, it can be really difficult to develop a taste when coming from a previously high sugar, high salt diet. Have time constraints? A greens smoothie makes a quick, easy breakfast, lunch or snack.

4) Whole Foods are Devoid of Fillers & Additives

Another major concern we constantly see voiced is one regarding the “extra” ingredients added to so many different kinds of foods. Additives range from colors to artificial flavors and preservatives, all with the aim of making food sell better and stick around longer before it rots. Fillers, on the other hand, are there to cut costs (usually at the cost of vital nutrients). We see this done with sugar more than anything, especially in foods where fat is removed.

But whole foods don’t suffer from any of these pitfalls. Before hitting your table, they had everything needed to survive and this translates into better nutrient content. This has many benefits for us. For instance, watermelon seeds are actually highly nutritious (don’t worry, you won’t grow a watermelon in your stomach).

That’s not to say all whole foods are equal and able to be eaten in excess. Bananas taste great, but are relatively high in sugar and low in fiber compared to some other fruits and should be eaten semi-conservatively. But even at their worst, bananas will never lose out to packaged snacks and other premade foods.

5) Trans Fats Are Never a Good Choice

There are so many reasons that trans fats are terrible for you. Totally devoid of any real nutritional value, they are produced by a chemical process involving hydrogen and high heat to yield what is commonly labeled on foods as “partially hydrogenated [oil type].”

This is the type of fat you might expect to find in packaged sweets and especially in butter replacements like margarine. Consuming trans fats has been linked with heart disease, insulin resistance, and even the development of Alzheimer disease. In the interest of good health, there’s absolutely no reason to ever consume anything with trans fats in it.

organic_virgin_coconut_oil_saleThat it is still allowed in food is nearly a mystery of its own. That said, if you use oil to cook, it’s recommended that you stick with extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil, as both offer relatively healthy mixes of fat (omega 9 and saturated fat respectively) and are readily available without breaking the bank. Just be sure your olive oil comes in an opaque container and isn’t used in high heat recipes, as direct light and high heat ruin its nutritional value.

For a Healthy Tomorrow

While researchers may continue to debate the merits of individual chemicals such as caffeine, there is no shortage of certain information regarding good nutrition. Other factors are certainly at play in determining overall health, but eating nutritious foods is one way to keep things in your favor.

Will you take steps to create a scientifically sound diet? Tell us how below.

About the Author: Cassie is a health enthusiast with a heavy focus on nutrition. While some of her knowledge comes from academia, much of what she knows is independently learned through a great deal of research.

When Organic Isn’t Good Enough: Food Labels, Beyond Organic

Helpful tips to decode your "natural" food and supplement labels

It’s a problem more and more of us are beginning to face: You walk into your local natural food store, and find yourself disappointed with the selection. Frustrated with offerings nearby, I started driving a bit further to a very expensive natural food chain. I was so excited walking in, imagining my grocery cart piled with new and exciting organic foods. The problem is, most of their selection was not even organic! In fact, a large portion of it wasn’t even truly natural, especially in the personal care and supplements section. I noticed additives I have long since banned in my house — polysorbate 80, PEG, carrageenan, etc.

You want to know what I found a lot of, though? Organic junk food. Chips, crackers, cakes, candies, chocolates… the organic selection in these categories was endless! But as we well know, just slapping the word “organic” on something doesn’t make it healthy. What I really wanted was a wide selection of beautiful, local, organic produce. I wanted to find grass-fed meat, free-range chickens that actually spent time outdoors, sustainable seafood. And, of course, I wanted it all to be affordable. Keep dreaming!

Why not settle for whatever the natural grocery store offered? Because it’s not good enough. I don’t want to feed my family food that met some kind of minimal standard. I want to buy food that supports the local economy and local farmers. I want to eat whole foods that aren’t processed and stripped of all their nutrients and cofactors. I want supplements made from whole foods, not something chemically isolated in a lab. So I thought I’d spend some time examining some of the labels we find on foods and supplements, to create a quick guide to food labels that goes a bit beyond just “Organic.”

Food Labels and What They Really Mean

What the label says: Organic

What it means: “Certified Organic” means that the product met some basic standards: no chemical fertilizers and pesticides, no antibiotics and growth hormones, no GMOs. “Organic” is great, but it’s not synonymous with “healthy.” It doesn’t mean that the animals were treated humanely, or that they fed on verdant pastures, or that the farm workers were paid a fair wage. USDA Certified animal products, however, must be from animals that at least had access to the outdoors.

What the label says: Non-GMO

What it means: If a product is labeled GMO-Free or Non-GMO, it cannot contain any genetically modified ingredients. This is especially important when it comes to foods that are frequently genetically modified, such as corn, soy, and sugar. Some foods have not yet been genetically modified — wheat, for example, as well as the majority of produce — so the Non-GMO label on these foods would be insignificant. For more information on GMOs, check out the Non-GMO Project.

What the label says: Fair Trade Certified

What it means: The “Fair Trade” label means that workers were paid a fair wage for their work, and that working conditions were safe. To become Fair Trade Certified, a farm may not use child labor. They must also abide by international environmental standards.

What the label says: Cage Free

What it means: This just means that the animals (usually chickens) were not kept in cages. It does not mean that they were treated well, or that they had access to the outdoors.

What the label says: Free Range

What it means: The label “free range” generally means that the animals had access to the outdoors for at least half their lives. This could mean that they spent hours outdoors every day, or simply that there was a small door leading to the outdoors that the animals never dared to pass through. Free range doesn’t mean that the animals actually spent time outside, and just 5 minutes of outdoor time is considered sufficient according to USDA standards.

What the label says: Pasture-Raised

What it means: Pasture raised meat or dairy products are derived from animals that are free to roam and feed on pastures. However, they may be fed grain in the winter. Pasture-raised products are considered more humane. This is not a regulated label, so do your research before trusting the company.

What the label says: Grass Fed

What it means: The Grass Fed label might seem similar to Pastured, but there is a subtle yet important difference. Products labeled “100% Grass Fed” are from animals that only ate grass or dry hay; no grain was used to supplement their diet. Just “Grass Fed” (without the “100%” on the label) often means that the animal was grain-finished — fed grain on a feedlot for the last few months of its life. Technically, a grass-fed cow could spend its entire life indoors and be fed only hay, but most products labeled “Grass Fed” are likely also “Pastured.” The label generally implies that the animal spent lots of time outdoors. Note: You wouldn’t see “grass fed chicken” or “grass fed pork,” as these animals require some grain in their diet for good health.

What the label says: Certified Humane

What it means: Certified Humane foods must adhere to strict standards for how the animals can be kept and raised. They need to be fed well, treated kindly without unnecessary stress, and given opportunities to enjoy life. Certified Humane animals cannot be given hormones or antibiotics (unless the animal is ill and requires antibiotics).

What the label says: Whole Food

What it means: Whole Food means exactly what it sounds like — that the product was made from whole food ingredients, nothing isolated, processed, stripped of nutrients, or synthetic. Foods and supplements that are not made from whole foods are often missing the naturally-occurring cofactors needed for nutrient absorption and other critical components for complete nutrition. Whole foods are the foods nature provides, in the form our bodies recognize: the foods we are meant to be eating. Whole food supplements are generally made up of actual real foods that have been gently dried and powdered to create an easy-to-take capsule or smoothie powder; all the delicate nutrients and cofactors are preserved. You can read more about whole food vs. synthetic vitamins in Decoding Your Multivitamin.

What the label says: Natural

What it means: These days, the label “natural” means virtually nothing. The label is not regulated, so anyone can use it. This also goes for other catchy terms or packaging tricks. Products labeled “Simply,” “Green,” etc. or packaged in natural shades of green and brown are being marketed to us as something healthy, organic, or natural, but in reality they aren’t necessarily any different than their counterparts. This is why it’s so important to read the ingredients label.

What the label says: rBGH Free or rBST Free

What it means: These are labels often found on dairy products; rBGH is recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBST refers to the scientific name, recombinant Bovine Somatotropin). This is a genetically engineered hormone given to cows to force them to produce more milk. Products labeled rBGH/rBST-Free are from cows that were not given rBGH, but this does not necessarily mean they are free of all hormones or antibiotics.

What the label says: Hormone Free

What it means: Foods or supplements labeled “Hormone Free” are from animals who were never given any hormones during their lifespan. However, there is no organization that oversees this label, so you’ll have to take the manufacturer at their word. You’ll probably want to research the manufacturer rather than blindly trusting them. Certain products, such as chicken, are not allowed to use hormones anyway, so the Hormone Free label in this case would be pretty meaningless.

Want to know more about food labels? This Eco-Labels database breaks it all down in detail.

What I look for in a healthy food or supplement:

  • Whole foods or supplements made from whole foods
  • Organic certified
  • For animal products, meat, and dairy: Grass-fed/pastured, preferably local
  • For produce: Local if possible
  • For premade products: Only the ingredients I’d find in my own kitchen: no additives, preservatives, added sugar, unhealthy oils, etc.
  • For imported foods (chocolate, coffee, etc.): Fair Trade

Are you disappointed in your natural food store’s offerings? What are your most important criteria when buying foods and supplements?

 

By Ali Wetherbee

Homemade Toddler Formula Recipes

Homemade_toddler_formula

One of the questions we are most frequently asked is whether we sell toddler formula. There is a Peaceful Planet Toddler Formula; it is not, however, affiliated with us in any way. We looked into the Peaceful Planet Toddler Formula and found that, while it did contain some great organic ingredients, many of the vitamins are synthetic. We always advocate for whole food vitamins, as the body can utilized these optimally.

What’s Wrong with Commercial Toddler Formulas?

Commercial toddler formulas are not only expensive, but they are also loaded with synthetic vitamins and other unhealthy ingredients such as corn syrup solids, vegetable oil, and GMOs. Take a look at the ingredients label for the PediaSure powdered mix we used in the nutritional comparison chart (below):

Corn Syrup, Corn Maltodextrin, Sugar, Corn Oil, Sodium & Calcium Caseinates, Soy Protein Isolate, Artificial Flavor, Potassium Citrate, Magnesium Chloride, Calcium Phosphate, Sodium Citrate. Less than 0.5% of the Following: Potassium Chloride, Soy Lecithin, Ascorbic Acid, Choline Chloride, dl-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Zinc Sulfate, Niacinamide, Ferrous Sulfate, Calcium Pantothenate, Manganese Sulfate, Cupric Sulfate, Thiamine Chloride Hydrochloride, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Vitamin A Palmitate, Folic Acid, Biotin, Chromium Chloride, Sodium Molybdate, Potassium Iodide, Sodium Selenate, Phylloquinone, Cyanocobalamin, and Vitamin D3

Right off the bat, you can see that the first ingredient is corn syrup. You might as well feed your toddler a bottle of corn syrup with some soy protein mixed in and a gummy vitamin — at least it would be cheaper! The 144 grams of carbohydrates in PediaSure, as shown in the chart below, include a whopping 81 grams of sugar. You’ll also note artificial flavors, corn and soy ingredients that are likely genetically modified, and a slew of synthetic vitamins. This is not what our children are meant to eat.

For these reasons, we’ve developed two toddler formula recipes that you can make on your own using whole food, organic ingredients. These formulas are great for young children who are picky eaters but no longer nursing, and they can provide nutrition when your toddler is sick. They can also be used to supplement the diet of elderly individuals, as an alternative to shakes such as Ensure or Boost.

The first formula is a raw milk toddler formula based on a recipe from Nourishing Traditions. If you are planning to use a toddler formula as a primary nutrition source, we’d recommend opting for this one. It is more nutritionally similar to breast milk than the second formula. The second formula is our Super Simple Toddler Formula, which is ideal for supplementation or as a secondary nutrition source. Compare the toddler formula recipes below.

Nutrition Comparison Chart:

Breast Milk vs. PediaSure vs. Homemade Toddler Formulas*

Breast Milk PediaSure Powder, prepared Homemade Cow’s Milk Formula Super Simple Formula
Calories 766 1080 856 822
Protein 11.3g 54g 18g 45g
Carbohydrates 76g 144g 79g 25g
Total Fat 48g 36g 52g 57g
Saturated Fat 22g 9g 28g 51g
Cholesterol 153mg 45mg 137mg 0
Vitamin A 946IU 3375IU 5000IU 2500IU
Thiamin (B1) .15mg 1.35mg 1.05mg 2mg
Riboflavin (B2) .4mg 2.68mg 1.2mg 1.2mg
Niacin (B3) 1.9mg 18mg 2.5mg 2.15mg
Vitamin B6 .12mg 1.8mg .51mg 1.5mg
Vitamin B12 .5mcg 8.1mcg 1.9mcg 6mcg
Folate 57mcg 360mcg 236mcg 800mcg
Vitamin C 55mg 108mg 57mg 49.1mg
Vitamin D 480IU 540IU 450IU 660IU
Vitamin E 9.9mg 13.5mg 6.2mg 20mg
Calcium 355mg 1575mg 532mg 399mg
Iron .33mg 8.1mg 1.4mg 20.48mg
Magnesium 37.4mg 180mg 91.3mg 184.5mg

*The nutrient contents shown are based on 36 ounces of milk or formula. PediaSure nutrition information is for the powdered formula mix prepared with 1% milk as directed. It is important to note that breast milk composition depends on maternal health and diet, and it changes as a baby grows. This chart is simply for rough comparison purposes, developed using available nutrition information for each ingredient. Exact nutritional content of these formulas may vary depending on brands used and preparation methods. Always consult your healthcare professional regarding your child’s dietary needs.

Homemade Cow’s Milk Toddler Formula Recipe

Based on Sally Fallon’s baby formula recipe from Nourishing Traditions, this recipe attempts to mimic the composition of breast milk, which is higher in whey, lactose, and certain vitamins than cow’s milk. There are a lot of ingredients, but each one is necessary to provide complete nutrition. This toddler formula has a higher upfront cost, but because you are only using a small amount of the healthy oils and other supplements, they will last through many batches of formula.

Makes approx. 36 ounces

Heat about half the filtered water and add gelatin and lactose, stirring to dissolve (gelatin will clump if you skip this step!) Then blend the dissolved mixture with everything else in a blender until smooth. Store in a jar in the fridge. Gently heat portions as needed.

About the Homemade Toddler Formula Ingredients:

The Weston A. Price Foundation developed this baby formula recipe to come as close as possible to human breast milk. This is a whole foods formula with high-quality ingredients, designed to maximize nutrition and digestive health. It is low in iron so as not to compete with zinc absorption (which is crucial for neurological development). Ingredients such as fermented cod liver oil and coconut oil provide healthy fats, omega-3, omega-6, DHA, and EPA which we now know are necessary for growth, development, and brain health. Gelatin provides protein and nutrients while making this formula more digestible. Like breastmilk, this homemade formula is high in whey and lactose and low in casein.

Super Simple Hypoallergenic Vegan Toddler Formula Recipe

This is a simple, quick to prepare supplementary toddler formula with far fewer ingredients than the above recipe. We created this formula to be free of the top allergens: dairy, gluten, eggs, nuts, fish, corn, and soy. It also contains no animal products, so it is suitable for vegetarians and vegans. However, because it is vegan, this toddler formula contains no cholesterol. It is also lower in carbohydrates. Ensure that your child is getting carbohydrates (bread, pasta, fruit, etc.) and cholesterol (meat, dairy, eggs, fish) from other sources if you use this formula.

Makes: approx. 36 ounces

Blend all ingredients well. Use within 24 hours.

Super Simple Toddler Formula Flavor Options

Toddlers are notoriously picky, so blend in the flavoring that your kid will enjoy the most! We tried these:

  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Catie’s Vitamin C (tastes like fruit punch!)

You can also include nut or seed butter, a banana, or frozen fruit to suit your child’s palate. Because this formula recipe is so low in sugar and carbohydrates, you could add in a tablespoon or two of honey, maple syrup, or other natural sweetener to entice reluctant eaters, without compromising the nutrition of this whole foods formula.

About the Super Simple Formula Ingredients:

Perfect Plant Protein Powder is our protein of choice here for several reasons. It contains none of the major allergens and is completely free of soy and dairy. This protein powder is 100% plant-based, making it suitable for vegetarians and vegans. The protein in this powder comes from mushrooms, hemp, and brown rice, which is a very high-quality blend of raw proteins. Plus, Perfect Plant Protein Powder contains a blend of probiotics and enzymes to support healthy digestion.

Coconut milk works perfectly in this easy homemade formula recipe because it is rich in calories and healthy fats — perfect for weight gain. It’s hypoallergenic, so it’s a great alternative for most children with soy or dairy allergies. We used canned coconut milk in this recipe because it is the most concentrated — cartons of coconut milk are generally diluted with water and have synthetic vitamins and fillers added. Canned coconut milk has the highest fat and calorie content, so you would need to adjust the recipe accordingly if you chose to use another type of coconut milk or a different milk substitute.

Sunwarrior Liquid Vitamin Mineral Rush is a liquid multivitamin derived from organic fruits, vegetables, and other plants. It contains a full range of vitamins and minerals in their most bioavailable, all-natural forms. SunWarrior Liquid Vitamin Mineral Rush is vegan, Kosher, and raw.

Growing bodies need extra calcium — especially if they aren’t getting it from dairy or other sources. Unlike most calcium supplements which come in tablets, Vitamin Code RAW Calcium comes in capsules, so you can simply open a capsule and dump the contents into your formula. This calcium supplement is complete with conutrients like vitamin D, magnesisum, and vitamin K2, plus raw organic fruits and vegetables, probiotics, and enzymes.

 

By Ali Wetherbee

Beat the Winter Blues

Natural_mood_enhancerBy Ali Wetherbee

As the days get colder and darker, 25 million people across the country suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and up to 20% of Americans are dragged down by a milder form of seasonal depression. Depressed mood is not the only symptom of the winter blues; many may not notice any change in mood but instead will experience low energy, fatigue, trouble waking in the morning, insomnia, increased appetite, carbohydrate cravings, and weight gain. Other mood changes include irritability, anxiety, panic attacks, a lack of interest in usual activities, and withdrawal from family and friends. You may experience just a couple of these issues or many; make sure to see your doctor to be sure another medical condition is not causing your symptoms. If your doctor gives the OK for you to treat your winter blues naturally, here are some things you can try.

Omega-3s

Omega-3 supplementation, ideally from fish oil, is one of the most important things you can do to counteract seasonal depression, because these essential fatty acids increase production of serotonin. Studies on various populations throughout the world find that in countries where little or no fish is consumed, depression rates are up to 50 times greater than countries with high fish consumption. Multiple studies have found that low PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acid) levels are associated with more severe depression. A Norwegian study with over 21,000 participants found that regular cod liver oil supplementation led to 30% fewer depressive symptoms, with longer periods of supplementation correlating with the lowest levels of depression. Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil is an excellent source of omega-3s/PUFAs and is one of the highest quality fish oil supplements on the market. It is available in several flavors and either liquid or capsule form. If you are already taking fish oil, now is the time to increase your daily dose. While fish and fish oil are generally considered the ideal sources of omega-3s, vegetarians and vegans may experience some of the omega-3 benefits from walnuts and flax seed oil.

Vitamin D

The other essential component in combatting SAD is ensuring that you are getting adequate vitamin D. Called “the sunlight vitamin” by many, vitamin D supplementation is particularly crucial for those who get little direct sunlight exposure. People with depression often have low vitamin D levels, which makes sense since this vitamin is necessary for serotonin and dopamine production. A review of research published in Nutrients found that in the studies without flaws, vitamin D supplementation of 800IU or more, when substantial enough to demonstrate a change in vitamin levels, was about as effective as antidepressant medication at managing depression. There is also some speculation that low vitamin D levels signal our bodies to go into winter metabolic mode, leading to weight gain over the coldest months. While the Recommended Daily Allowance of Vitamin D is only 400IU for adults, many experts are now recommending much larger doses, up to 4000 or 5000IU a day or more, for optimal health and wellbeing. Vitamin Code Raw D3 contains 5000IU of raw, whole food D3, along with probiotics and enzymes to optimize absorption.

Exercise

Since exercise boosts serotonin levels and levels of other feel-good hormones, working out daily can go a long way in easing the blues. If you don’t enjoy running and biking outside in the cold, you can join a gym, invest in a treadmill or elliptical, or find home workouts online or on your phone. Just half an hour a day, or an hour three times a week, has been shown to be just as effective as taking an antidepressant, alleviating depression in 60-70% of study participants. If it’s been a while since you’ve last exercised, or you’re having trouble getting going due to lack of motivation, start out with just 10 jumping jacks in the morning, and slowly work up to a full workout. Check out our Pinterest board for workout ideas and routines. Find something you love, because you’ll be more likely to stick to it if you enjoy doing it.

Reset Your Body Clock

Swap your light bulbs for full-spectrum lights, and get plenty of time outdoors or by a window. Sunlight on a bright sunny day can be 100 times brighter than even the brightest indoor lighting. Morning light is crucial to keeping your body clock on track, so try to get outside for a short walk when you start your day. Light therapy boxes are available too, if you aren’t able to spend time outdoors. Always get your daily light exposure during daytime hours, because at night it can interfere with melatonin production. Also, melatonin levels decline as we age, sometimes preventing the deep, restorative sleep that we need to feel our best. Some people with the winter blues find that a small dose of melatonin not only helps them sleep better and regulates the internal body clock, but also improves mood and other depressive symptoms. Try Melatonin Sleep Support Spray by Mercola, and consider experimenting with the timing of your dose, as some SAD studies have found benefit to afternoon, and even morning, melatonin supplementation.

Herbal Antidepressants

Several herbs and natural formulas can help with depression, whether seasonal or chronic. A supplement known as 5-HTP, or 5-hydroxytryptophan, can help raise serotonin levels as it is a precursor to serotonin synthesis. Use this supplement with caution, as it may interact with prescription antidepressants, and take it only for a short period of time. SAM-e, a chemical naturally found in the body, is also available as a supplement, and can reduce symptoms of depression. An herb called St. John’s Wort seems to work similarly to an SSRI by keeping serotonin circulating through the brain, and many studies have found it to be as effective as prescription antidepressants. None of these three supplements should be taken alongside a prescription antidepressant without a doctor’s supervision, as this could lead to life-threatening serotonin syndrome. Consult your doctor before trying these supplements if you suffer from bipolar disorder.

Diet & Vitamins

Despite the intense carb cravings you may be experiencing, it is best to avoid sugar, starches, and simple carbohydrates such as white bread or pasta, as they will cause highs and lows as well as lead to weight gain. Also avoid or limit caffeine, which can suppress serotonin levels. Instead, focus on bright, colorful fruits and veggies, whole grains, fish, nuts, and seeds.

Make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals. Calcium and magnesium are required not only for serotonin production, but also for absorption and utilization of vitamin D. Magnesium has a relaxing effect on nerves and muscles. Dr. Frank Lipman, who combines Eastern and Western medicine in his practice, says, “Insufficient levels of magnesium can compound SAD symptoms by inhibiting the conversion of tryptophan to 5-HTP, which can decrease the production of mood-stabilizing serotonin and melatonin. To boost magnesium levels in winter, I recommend taking 400-600mg at bedtime.” Try Catie’s Whole Food Magnesium along with Catie’s Raw Vegetable Calcium, or if you prefer an all-in-one supplement, opt for Garden of Life Raw Calcium, which contains 80% of the daily value of calcium as well as 100% of magnesium, along with other trace minerals, or Natural Vitality Balanced CalMag, which contains the ideal ratio of calcium to magnesium.

A B-Complex supplement is also helpful. Research is finding that high B vitamin intake is associated with less depression. B-12 supplementation often improves energy, and B-6, which is particularly supportive during periods of stress, aids in the production of serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine. Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw B-Complex provides these essential vitamins as well as inositol, a vitamin-like substance that has been shown to improve depression by augmenting serotonin activity in the brain. Catie’s Whole Food B-Complex is another great option.

What else can you do?

Go for a massage — studies have found it to increase serotonin. It doesn’t seem to matter if the massage is done by a professional, a partner, or a friend. Any physical contact with another human may be beneficial, so if you can’t get a massage, at least get (or give) more hugs, and spend more time cuddling with your partner or children. Another simple way to boost serotonin levels is to reminisce about happy moments. “Think happy thoughts,” such as remembering in vivid detail your wedding day, a fun outing with a relative, a party with a friend, or a ride on the carousel when you were a child. Remembering negative events has the opposite effect and decreases serotonin, so try to avoid listening to bad news stories or rehashing difficult life situations. Consider coming up with a happy memory list to use as a starting point for those moments when you find yourself reminiscing about sad events.

Get Help

If these supplements and lifestyle changes are not helping, or if you are experiencing more severe depression, suicidal thoughts, or other serious problems, consult a doctor or therapist immediately. Don’t attempt to fight it off on your own — help is available. Natural options are great as a first resort or for milder winter blues, but some people may require professional treatment. If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 immediately.

Are You Getting Enough Zinc?

Ramiel_Nagel_Oyster_Powder By Ali Wetherbee

Zinc is essential for cell health, growth, and division. It plays a critical role in the functioning of the immune system, the neurological system, and hormone production. It helps the body fight off illness and recover from colds quickly. Zinc is necessary for vision, taste, and smell. It keeps hair, skin, and nails smooth, strong, and supple. It also supports prostate health, improves fertility, and alleviates menstrual issues. Unfortunately, nearly 2 billion people worldwide are deficient in zinc. If you experience…

  • Fatigue or lethargy
  • Impaired mental functioning
  • Weak immune system
  • Frequent colds, flus, or other illnesses
  • Dry, brittle hair and nails
  • Hair loss
  • Skin conditions, including rough skin, acne, psoriasis, and eczema
  • Low libido or impotence
  • Slow wound healing
  • Altered taste or smell
  • No appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Poor growth and development

…your body may be lacking zinc. Risk factors include liver or kidney disease, diabetes, sickle cell anemia, gastrointestinal disease, alcoholism, and poor diet. In addition, those who take iron supplements in high amounts are at risk for zinc deficiency due to iron’s interference with zinc absorption, and those on birth control pills require extra zinc to maintain the balance with copper. Pregnant and lactating women, as well as vegetarians, also require a higher daily zinc intake.

How to Get More Zinc

Traditional_Foods_Oyster_PowderRed meat, shellfish, nuts, seeds, beans, eggs, dairy, and whole grains are all high in zinc. Phytates in plant sources of zinc, however, can reduce the bioavailability of this nutrient, so it’s best to get your zinc from animal sources. Oysters are the most abundant source of naturally-occurring zinc, with ten times the zinc of red meat! Whole food Oyster Powder from Traditional Foods Market is made from whole oysters harvested from fresh, clean Irish coastal waters. It is a powerful antioxidant and can reverse free radical damage. Oyster Powder can also:

  • Improve energy
  • Decrease susceptibility to colds and flu, as well as reduce duration of illness
  • Leave your hair, skin, nails, and teeth healthier and stronger
  • Boost sex drive
  • Improve appetite and, in kids, reduce “fussy eating”
  • Provide essential fatty acids EPA and DHA
  • Support a healthy pregnancy

In addition to substantial amounts of zinc, Oyster Powder contains many vitamins, amino acids, and 59 trace minerals. These trace minerals and co-factors ensure a proper balance within the body. Synthetic zinc supplements are isolated from other nutrients and thus can easily cause an imbalance in the body. You may wind up getting too much zinc, which can cause many of the very same problems it prevents. Whole food Oyster Powder contains minerals in the precise ratios nature intended. Each bottle of Oyster Powder contains over 100 oysters, which could easily run you $150 or more at the grocery store. Oyster Powder is a much more affordable and convenient — yet quite potent — option for those who would like the benefits of some extra zinc in their diet.