School lunch box nightmares

 

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Back to the grind of school days and one of the things that I’m least looking forward to is the monotony of the lunch box. Every morning, when I’m just barely awake, I’ve turned the kitchen bench in to an assembly line of snacks and sandwiches- and the anxiety I feel is one of both time pressure, and the pressure of creating something that I will be happy with nutritionally, that they’ll ACTUALLY eat. Nothing makes my blood boil worse than unpacking a lunch box at the end of the day and putting the food I got up early and stressed out over, in to the compost. In fact I’ve implored the kids to PLEASE throw away your uneaten food at school, so that I never have to see it again.

Out of 21 meals a week- 5 will be spent at school- where your kids will be lured in to the playground and may not be able to focus entirely on your lovingly prepared lunch. 5 meals a week, you won’t be able to tell them they have to sit there until they eat their vegetables. You won’t be able to negotiate with them or offer rewards if they have 2 more bites. They will have a half hour tops, they will be distracted and if the contents of their tupperware fail to excite, they’ll be off to the playground and that’ll be the end of it. So what are we to do? How can we sneak nutritionally rich food in to their away from home meals that they’ll ACTUALLY eat? Darned if I have all the answers, it’s bloody hard work and frustrating. I have been at this for 7 years now, and I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve I can share. There won’t be recipes in this post- just tips, but I’ll try to build up a resource of lunch box recipes in the future.

Each kid has their own quirks

Suggestions are helpful, but you will have your own journey figuring out what works for your kid. Depending on when your family started a whole foods lifestyle (it could be this very second) you may have varying degrees of success straight off. Your lunch box kinda reflects the way you eat at home. So the more work you can do making nutrition part of your food culture right from the very earliest introduction to food as a baby- the easier it’ll be at school. If your kid has been till this point raised on white bread and vegemite and not drinking the saurkraut juice out of the jar and eating chia pudding- well, you may have a bit of a harder time initially, and the transition may be slow. If you’ve got small kids just beginning school- the best plan is to start them with a robust palate and a diverse lunch box. They don’t know any different and so they are less likely to argue. A kid who has had raw veggies since day one is less likely to scoff at a box of snow peas and cherry tomatoes.

12190097_10156160575280177_618747318178752797_nPROOF! You can have a kid that enjoys sauerkraut for breakfast- Oscar has been eating this way since day dot, and has an advanced palate. Your kid may not be as adventurous, but don’t despair… 

Accept compromise

It is possible that your kid won’t embrace the pinterest perfect, mum-of-the-year lunch no matter what. Remember that it’s just 5 out of 21 meals. You still have a lot of opportunity to influence the other 16. Don’t set yourself up for tears- work with your kids likes and give in a little. Better that they have calories to fuel their brains then none at all. Try one new thing at a time, and slowly build your repertoire.

Lunchbox strategies

Preparation is key- I always try to make Sunday my prep day for the weeks lunch boxes. This usually involves some kind of baking. Getting the kids involved in this can be both rewarding quality time but also helps them to feel empowered with the decision of what they want to eat that week, and builds their confidence in the kitchen. If you are time poor- and baking once a week is a stretch- try baking once every 2 weeks. It’s actually no more work to mix a double batch of cookies/muffins and you can freeze the batter/dough for the next week, or for a week you run out of time. Double batches are a good way to time save.

Of course baking your own allows you to be in control of the amount/source of sugar that goes in, and to sneak a few healthy ingredients they won’t notice. Here’s where compromise comes in. My kids are less than enthusiastic with doughy sugar free paleo blobs. I’ve had some limited success with coconut flour muffins, and if I have any hope at all – they better have chocolate chips in there. But if they are sweetened with coconut sugar or apple sauce and have no processed carbohydrate in them, can I concede defeat with a sprinkle of choc chips? Sure I can. I may even put a little sprinkle of coconut sugar on the top too so that it goes all caramelized and yum.

If you want to mix it up- also remember things like “balls” and home made muesli bars, of which there are million recipes out there. Nut free is usually the tricky part to adhere to.

Covert ingredients- How awesome is carrot cake? Zucchini muffins? A totally legit vegetable in a dessert. That is some gold right there. Branch out though too… don’t forget the Chocolate/beet root combo (using densely nutritious raw cocoa of course- check out this awesome recipe! ) and the sweet potato/pumpkin options for muffins/scones too.

Everything I bake has chia seeds hiding inside. I usually have some soaked for smooties, and I just add a big tablespoon or 2 of the chia “jelly” to the mixture. Seeds are generally ok for most schools these days (nuts are out, which totally sucks). If your kid is open to whole seeds in their baked good, go crazy- sunflower, pepita, sesame, flax. Also, you can try to reduce the processed carbohydrate by using ½ coconut/buckwheat/quinoa flour to your other flour of choice (if these aren’t already your flour of choice). This will also increase the protein of the baked good and reduce it’s impact on blood sugars (reducing the energy crash for the second half of the lesson day).

Shapes matter– If you want to get your kid to eat raw veggies and fruit in their lunch and you suspect they may be resistant, try experimenting with shapes and widths etc. My kid won’t eat an apple unless it’s cut up. She’ll eat celery if it’s sliced lengthways in to strips that make the stringy-ness less… stringy. There are kinds of slicers and cutters out there that make flowers and stars out of things- see what works for your kid without being too time consuming for you.

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Borrowed this photo from Alphamom.com – this post has some cute shape ideas. However if going to the trouble of fancy shapes isn’t your style, you may still find that veggies in smaller bites and thinner slices are more likely to be eaten. 

Containers are helpful- Aside from being good for the environment and reducing waste, packing your own stuff in containers is more economical. A good container can also make the job of eating easier for your kid. I know it sounds weird, but take this example. If I pack carrot sticks and hummus in 2 separate containers – The hummus comes back every time. If I use a nifty container with a little separate dip section- it’s wiped clean. Also I get mine to eat a variety of vegetables (not just carrots- but also cucumber, celery, snow peas) with dips. They’re tastier with dip- duh.

I will also often portion out my own yoghurt in to small little boxes. Prepackaged yoghurts, even at the expensive end, are either low-fat (which I’m not in to- especially for kids) or have sugar. Finding an organic, full fat sugar free yogurt in a prepackaged container is near impossible. It’s easier to buy your own in the jumbo 1 kg tub and add raw honey, fresh/dried fruit, soaked chia seeds, raw cocoa, cinnamon/vanilla etc…

Those same little boxes good for yoghurt are also good for making things like puddings (chia, sago, rice, avocado) and homemade jelly. I’ve written about the health benefits of grass fed gelatine on the immune system and gut health here before. Good quality gelatine can be a bit tricky to get your hands on. Here and here are good sources to buy it on line in Australia. If you get excited about gelatine, you can also get in to making fruit lollies with it and all kinds of other super fun things.

Puddings and jelly are a good Sunday prep to do while you defrost the second half of your previous muffin batch and whack it in the oven. You’re feeling like a super parent this week.

12737016_10153200389586148_499949656_oThis very uninteresting picture is of some of my favourite lunch boxes. The nifty ones for veggies and dips- the small square ones that seal completely shut and won’t leak yogurt or jelly, and assorted kinds for crackers, dried fruit and other bits and pieces. 

Mix it up- I had an alternating PBJ with cheese whiz sandwich situation every day of my primary school years. I hate sandwiches and bread generally, which makes it really hard for me to make them every day for my kids to eat. They want sandwiches though. Partly because they like them, but also because that’s what everyone else is eating- so there’s that compromise again. Luckily mine will accept spelt sourdough but definitely prefer fluffier lighter options- and I do try to source wheat free/gluten free sandwiches breads from time to time. My daughter will do wraps instead of bread, but not my son (just to make things a bit annoying). I also try to mix up the “main” of the lunchbox with non sandwich options that I know that they like. Sushi- is a fav. I try to sneak ¼ quinoa into the sushi rice. Smoked salmon, avo and cucumber always get a good reception. Leftovers- On occasion when we’ve had a pasta dish, or a home made pie/quiche- the kids will accept these. I wouldn’t send them with a thermos of soup – I just know that wouldn’t get a look in, but your kids might be different. Ricepaper rolls- Traditional Vietnamese cold rolls is another way to sneak in a few extra veggies- just make sure to leave out the peanuts. Fritters and falafel- Some kids love homemade corn/zucchini fritters, bean/lentil patties, veggie burger patties and falafels. Theses can be served as a snack or made in to a wrap/sandwich with salads/pickles and dips.

Carbohydrate vs. protein- Lunch box fare is generally carbohydrate based, which always stresses me out. Sandwiches, muffins, cookies, crackers, fruit. Try to find ways to sneak in protein wherever you can to keep those energy levels stable. Mine love jerky and salami- I try to source as good as quality as possible, and on occasion we make our own. Small boxes of goat feta and olives seems to be well received as a snack. Some kids will do a hard boiled egg. Always add seeds, coconut/buckwheat/quinoa flours to as much baking as you can- as these are seeds not grains and are higher in protein. If your kids will do my raw cereal as a “cookie”, perfect! If it’s sandwiches your kids are after, try to always make your sandwiches savoury and protein based, and avoid sweet ones like jam, honey etc. We do leftover roast chicken with homemade mayo and diced celery, free range ham/salami/BLT, hummus & salad, smoked salmon and avocado.

Drinks- It’s important to limit the amount of juice and flavoured milk. I’d actually say, abstain all together. Mine may get juice as a special treat on an excursion or sporting day- that’s it. Boxed juices offer no nutritional value- they are highly processed and nothing more than a straight sugar hit. On the other hand, if you’re a super parent who wants to put your homemade fresh juice or kombucha in to a container to send to school- and your super kid will drink it there… WIN! Smoothies can also be sources of protein (seeds, good quality protein powder, raw egg, yoghurt) and can be bottled for the lunch box. Smoothies can also hide leafy greens, especially when made chocolate with raw cocoa, I’ve got a smoothie post here.

Breakfast is important- So if lunch is going to be a place of compromise- best make sure that another 5 meals a week are top quality. Protein rich is the best for breakfast. We do lots of eggs (at least 3 times a week) and in winter there may be miso soup made with bone broth, and in summer always a smoothie full of seeds, greens and super foods. Also consider omelettes (a good place to hide veggies), baked beans (home made is best, but if it’s out of a tin, you can sneak in mushrooms, tomato and spinach). On toast think: good quality labna, quark or ricotta with a drizzle of honey, nuts and seeds. If you’re an oats family- try mixing rolled quinoa in to your oats and make sure to add soaked chia seeds, high quality protein powder and nuts. Sorry, but avoid all breakfast cereal. No matter what it says on the box it’s highly processed and a direct sugar hit/energy crash for your kid. If the “best” cereal/granola in the universe fits in anywhere, I’d say it’s as an afternoon snack or desert/treat. Definitely not breakfast.

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However your lunchbox goes out, above all, try to avoid it going out soaked in your guilt, stress or tears. There’s a lot of packed lunches ahead before they’ll be making their own, and at the end of the day, a full stomach and a heart full of love is what we’re the most grateful for- just do your best!

 

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How to stay sane in the silly season

How to stay sane in the silly season: 

Stress relief for the busiest time of year

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So last night something made a crash sound somewhere in my house and woke me up right at that point when I’d just tumbled off the raft in my dream, in to the river of snakes, and some thing down in the depths had grabbed my foot and was pulling me down. Simultaneously a memo came from my subconscious. “You are tired and strung out. Here is what you need to take: Lemon Balm, Chamomile, Withania and a dash of Kava.”

So it turns out that this “end of the year thing” is an actual thing! We have created such a monotony with our culture of work and school in one straight line that we all collectively collapse and need a break!… and so we invented Christmas holidays, or whatever the excuse. Whatever it is- I’m down with it! I haven’t had a break since this time last year, and I don’t know about you- but I’m needing one. So… until you can be on your couch watching movies, or in a hammock with a drink in your hand- OR if you are one of the poor dears working in the many shops, restaurants or community service industries that get PUMPED about now: here are my top tips for those who can’t muster another drop of blood from the stone.

B vitamins- I’m not talking effervescent tablets that turn your pee yellow here- I’m talking good quality, therapeutic doses of the little cogs that make the wheels turn. Many good quality B vitamins on the market are now containing the “activated” forms of many of the B’s, including B6 and B9. The good thing about activated Bs is that your body can slot them right in to do their job without converting them. B vitamins become depleted when we are stressed or have been burning the candle at both ends and can contribute to anxiety and fatigue. Definitely a good place to start.

Magnesium- Often referred to as the great relaxer, magnesium is a mineral which is easily depleted if we consume caffeine, alcohol or a diet high in processed foods. It’s necessary for the production of serotonin and in other nervous system processes, as well as being important for the relaxation of muscles. This makes magnesium ideal for those of us who suffer back/neck pain or tension headaches associated with stress. It is also appropriate for those of us who have been under stress long term, as this can deplete our reserves of magnesium and make it harder for us to cope. 

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Herbal medicines-There are so many fantastic herbs to treat nervous system symptoms and stresses, I’ll only touch briefly on some of my most prescribed and favourite. You can take some of these in tea form, however I recommend visiting your local herbal dispensary and having a brew made up for you. To give you an idea of what you might be after, let’s briefly separate them out in to groups:

Adaptogens- This is what we call herbs which are supportive to the adrenals, which help to support the stress response, and help achieve our resting state when the body gets stuck in fight or flight mode. They will often give you a boost of energy and over time will help improve your sleep. These include: Rhodiola, Siberian ginseng, Korean ginseng, Withania, Codonopsis, Rehmannia, Schisandra. Some of these can be a bit too stimulating if you are feeling nervous or strung out, so make sure you check with your naturopath about which is the best for you.

Anti-anxiety/or gentle calmative- These are the herbs which will take the edge off, without making you want to go to sleep. I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed and I’ve got a lot on, the last thing I want to feel is tired. These can be used before bed to calm you down, but if taken during the day (in moderate doses) won’t make you feel like you need a nap: Kava, Chamomile, Verbena, Lemon balm, Passionflower, Motherwort, Oat straw, St. John’s Wort

12_76_18_prevThe oil, the tea, the tincture- the very sight of Lavender restores calm. I adore this plant

Sedative herbs- These WILL make you feel tired if you need to chill the *f out in a hurry and also if your adrenalin/cortisol pumpin’ is keeping you up at night. They can be used acutely to turn down the volume. They include the herbs mentioned above in larger doses and/or : Valerian, Zizyphus, Skullcap, California poppy, Lavender, Kava (deserves a second mention) and Mexican Valerian.

*always make sure you tell your herbalist if you are on any prescribed medication- especially anti-depressants as this may mean you need to avoid some herbs.

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California Poppies grow native where I’m from on the west coast of North America. Certain times a year they transform the bushy hills into oceans of orange. 

LactiumA product based from milk protein- it increases the activity of a relaxing neuotransmitter in the brain called GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid). Many studies have shown that Lactium can help reduce the emotional experience of anxiety and panic, as well as the physical symptoms of stress like increased blood pressure and insomnia. Therapeutic doses of lactium are available in tablets or drinking powders and a typical dose is between 150-300mg. You can use it any time of the day when you need to take the edge off or as a relaxing night cap. Lactium also has the benefit of being safe with most medicines and in pregnancy/breastfeeding.

L-Theanine- This is an amino acid found exclusively in leaves of Camellia sinensis or tea. This includes green tea, black tea, bancha, and matcha teas amongst others. It suppresses the effects of the stress hormones, glucocorticoids, and enhances the more uplifting hormones serotonin, dopamine. It can also makes us sharper- helping to improve attention span, memory and concentration. But while L-theanine improves energy and gives us a lift, it also promotes quality and restful sleep. It can be taken in supplement form for a therapeutic benefit when stress levels are running high. However, most of us can use a cup of tea on a regular basis to recharge.

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Exercise-More and more studies are emerging proving that people who exercise are happier and able to cope better with stress than their sedentary counterparts. In fact some studies show that exercise can be as effective as medication for some people in treating anxiety and depression. Even a brisk 10 minute walk can be of benefit and the more regular you can make your activity the more these effects will build up over time. I’m in no way a naturally sporty person- but I’ve found that a 45 minute session 3 times a week keeps me on top of things and I can really feel it when I fall out of the routine. When we are busy and stressed, it’s easy to feel like we don’t have time- but exercise should be a priority now, as the increase in energy and focus it provides actually becomes a time saver in the end.

Food and Water- Classic “busy” behaviour can be skipping meals and drinking excessive diuretics (caffeine and alcohol). Being low blood sugar and/or dehydrated can aggravate anxiety and so being mindful of these things is important to keep things on an even keel. Reduce simple sugars and carbs which tend to fluctuate our blood sugar, and instead opt for protein rich meals and snacks (think animal proteins, nuts, eggs, and good quality protein supplements). Carry a water bottle so you can keep track of how much you are drinking and make sure you are getting 1.5-2 L of fresh, plain water per day- especially if it’s hot, you’ve been exercising or taking diuretics.

We all deserve a rest after a busy year of family, work, and life commitments, but if you’re still caught in a maze and it’s all head-down-bum-up, maybe use this information to think about how you might better support yourself to be your best and enjoy your busy-ness. To find the satisfaction in being on top of your game, and if not a well oiled machine, one that is at least not squeaking and rattling in to the new year. Put a little more in and you’ll get a lot more out. Happy holidaying everyone!

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Grass fed and pasture raised- the fat facts

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You are what you eat- a cliché never more true than when discussing the fats in our diet. You’ll have heard a lot about essential fatty acids- specifically omega 6 and 3. These fats are “essential” because they are building blocks that we need to obtain from the diet- our body can not manufacture them. Getting the right kinds of fats and in the right ratios determines much about our health- from skin to cardiovascular, from hormones to chronic inflammatory diseases. You are either feeding inflammation with the types and ratios of fats you are eating, or you are promoting anti-inflammation pathways in your body. The ideal ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fats we are after for good health is 2:1. While this may have been the way our body’s evolved, in the last 140 years (or so) there has been a dramatic increase in the consumption of omega 6s (which are pro-inflammatory) and a dramatic reduction in omega 3s (which are neutral/anti-inflammatory). Some figures say that a modern diet filled with polyunsaturated seed oils and processed fats can be in ratios up to 25:1!!! This is a serious health concern. The facts are simple. A diet high in omega 6 will be high in inflammatory mediators contributing to heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other inflammation driven diseases- while a diet high in omega 3 fatty acids will be protective, by driving anti-inflammation pathways in the body.

Now supplementation is one way to increase your omega 3s. Common sources are fish, krill, flax, chia seed and hemp seed oils. Also, we can increase the intake of these fats from foods, as well as decreasing the amount of omega 6s from the diet (vegetable oils, seed oils/margarine, soy oil- any oils used in processed foods and frying).

But there is another way we can tip the scales in favour of good health, and this is where the importance of grass fed /pasture raised beef comes in. Lately there has been a move towards grass fed animal products- with brands available in most chain supermarkets now. But what exactly is the benefit of eating grass fed? 

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I used to wonder, how people got enough omega 3s before capsulated fish oils and adding flax seeds to everything. The truth is, animal fat used to be a major source of omega 3 fatty acids! The natural diet of ruminant animals is grass. In Australia most cattle are raised in pasture and feed on grass, but about 35% of cows are “finished” on feedlots where they spend 6-8 weeks eating grain to increase weight. In grass fed animals the fat content is similar in ratio to the ideal for human health- 2:1. In animals who have fed on grain the ratios can vary from 5:1 to 13:1.

12277103_10153053896711148_166600458_n Photo courtesy of my clever chook raising friends, at Autumn Farm in Bega NSW.

Let’s look at the quick facts. Grass fed beef:

1- Lower in total fat and calories

2- Ideal ratio of omega 6:3 essential fatty acids

3- High in a fatty acid CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which is a potent ally in preventing cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, insulin resistance, immune dysfunctions/allergies and inflammation. It also influences body composition/fat distribution.

4- Reduced exposure to GMOs- Corn and soy fed to grain fed animals comes can often be contaminated with genetically modified products. The impacts of GMO’s on human health are not understood and their safety is controversial- they are best avoided.

5- Better animal health and welfare- Pasture raised animals are living on their ideal diet in their ideal environment, free to roam and have significantly less health issues than animals who are fed on GMO grain living their last months in feed lots. And for those who want an ethically raised, sustainable product- it’s grass fed all the way.

It’s important to not that these benefits are not exclusive to beef but include ALL animal products, including eggs from pasture raised chickens, dairy and other meats such as lamb, pigs etc…

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12270530_10153053911511148_448560255_nMy gorgeous farming friend, Linda working with the pasture raised hens.   

One of the things I love the most about living where I do, is access to local farm raised produce. I have the luxury of buying much of my animal products from farmers markets- where I can speak directly to the farmer about their production methods and welfare of the animals they raise. If you’re in the city, it can get  be a bit trickier to access producers of ethical and pasture raised animal foods. Luckily these changes are catching on- and more and more networks, small goods shops, cafes and health food stores are labeling their products so that you have more of an idea of how and where your food was raised.

So, if you’re eating animal foods-  do your best to chose pasture raised, small scale and as local as possible. It’s better for your health, for their health, the environment and the local economy. So much you can feel good about.

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Most of the beautiful pictures in this post are found on my friend Linda’s Instagram page “GROWFARMFORAGE”- she’s nothing short of an inspiration and her pictures are divine. 

Hot tips for fresh juicing

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Juicing is no fad. All the way back in Ancient Greece, people used to call pomegranate juice “a love potion”, and some of the earliest recorded evidence of people juicing for health benefits date back to 150 BC in the dead sea scrolls, with accounts of people taking mortar and pestle to pomegranates and figs. I love fresh juices, especially in the summer- when I think these sweet cooling beverages are most balancing. I try to mix up the green smoothie/juice/herb teas in my routine to get a variety of nutrient dense beverages. Juices make your body feel great- there’s no doubt about it. Over the years of juicing, I’ve developed few methods that might be helpful if you are just getting in to it, or if you’ve been juicing for a while- some different approaches you might find interesting.

1- Invest in a cold pressed juicer- If you are serious about juicing for health and want to get the most nutrition out of the end product, it’s definitely worth investing in a cold pressed, aka “slow” or “masticating” juicer. These are different from the standard centrifuge juicers, which use a high speed, rotating blade to juice produce. Different methods of extraction lead to a very different end product, and independent studies have confirmed that nutritional profiles (vitamins and plant enzymes) are greatly increased with cold pressed juicers. Also, cold pressed juicers retain their value for longer, allowing you to keep juices for up to 48 hours before degrading. Have a read HERE to get a better idea of the difference and to check out the different kinds of press juicers on the market.

IMG_4177Here’s mine in action just the other day.

2- Juices are very powerful– A potent juice can make your stomach a bit upset or be a bit overwhelming in flavour, and some may find them a bit hard work to drink. This is especially true with cold pressed juices which are significantly stronger. In the case of cold pressed juices, 100-200mls is a decent serve. It’s absolutely fine to dilute your juices. I use water kefir or coconut water to dilute mine, but purified water and ice work great too.

3- Juices are high in sugar and fructose– It’s important to remember that juices will give you a spike in insulin and blood sugar- so if you’re trying to work on insulin resistance, juices may need to be a “sometimes food”. My favourite way to reduce the impact on my blood sugar, is to blend seeds and nuts in to my juice. After juicing, I put in the blender my 100-200mls of fresh juice, half part coconut water/water kefir, then whatever seeds/nuts I’ve got soaked or ready. Hemp seeds are a favourite as they make the juice almost creamy, but I’ll also add linseeds, chia, cashews, or almonds if I’ve got them available. This adds fibre and protein which helps to slow down the sugar absorption and makes the juice more like a meal. You can also add super food powders or protein powders if you like. I’ll sometimes add ice, as I find the whole combo more refreshing if it’s cold.

IMG_4174 Hemp seeds in this juice has turned the concoction creamy-with added ice= delicious!

4- Don’t juice greens, berries and some fruits- Some fruits and greens are excellent sources of fibre, and the pith and seeds are also highly nutritious. Juicing can be a bit of waste in the case of these ingredients. Instead of juicing, I’ll blend in berries, mango, pineapple, passionfruit and greens (except wheat grass). You don’t need to add so much that the juice becomes thick like a smoothie (or do! If you like…) .

5- Juice equal parts fruit and veggies- Vegetables are drier, and usually won’t give off as much juice so you might need to prep extra carrots, beets and celery to obtain equal amounts of juice to oranges for example. Beetroot is an excellent liver tonic and celery is great for ridding the body of extra uric acid and supporting kidney function. TIP: It’s often a good idea to juice fibrous foods first, like carrots, beets, celery and apples- so that the internal sive of the juicer doesn’t become clogged. Leave the more liquid-y components: citrus, watermelon, cucumber etc. till the end. In a cold pressed juicer make sure to run the pulp through more than once so you get all you can out of you produce.

6- Fresh is best- but not always possible- If you’re like me you may find at times that making a juice is a bit laborious, and the clean up a bore. Though it is true that juice is best fresh- most juice will last refrigerated for up to 3 days and still be a great addition nutritionally. I try to juice enough for 3 days at a time.

IMG_4175I’ve got a collection of glass jugs with lids I’ve found at op shops over the years. These are perfect to store juices in- but old jars will work just as well. Always opt for glass when storing your juice. My fav is this totally functional and completely ironic “Tang” jug. 

7- Juice organically or chemical free- It goes without saying that if you’re adding fresh juice in to you diet for health benefits, it’s best to obtain good quality, pesticide free produce where possible. If not possible, make sure to scrub the skin of all fruit and vegetables that are going in whole with a brush to remove residues and waxes.

IMG_4173 Juice for two. 

There are so many recipes for juices out there. You can go out of your way to discover new and fancy flavour combinations- or you can just use what’s fresh and in season and get as much of it in to you as possible. That tends to be my approach. If you’ve bought a juicer with good intentions, but seem to leave it in the cupboard- it’s time to get it out! Juicing is a simple way to increase vitamins and minerals, helping you to get all you need from your diet- without resorting to extra supplements to top up. They are also cleansing and if you get in to the habit, you’ll notice the difference in your health: sparkly eyes, clear skin and beaming energy. Bottoms up…!

 

Food foraging and backyard bounty- The joys of feast or famine

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There were days before the supermarket. Before the travel of foods like cherries and rice and garlic across the country, across the globe – to be made available “fresh” (in some form) 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Before refrigeration and long term storage of fresh produce- where in oxygen free rooms an apple can last for 2 years. In those days, we were always on our own when it came to fresh produce out of season. You want it? You better learn how to preserve it when it’s dripping off the trees and stop it from rotting in the grass. The winters were long- and few if any plants grew. You’d better have your root cellar stocked up and your pickles fermented, your fruits dried and your meats smoked and salted. There were all kinds of ways we worked out how to make use of the feast time, to help us out during the famine. And now, though we are spoiled for choice here in the first world, many of us are looking back to these older methods, realising that there is much to be learned from the past- and that there are many benefits to living according to seasonal availability. Some of these benefits include:

  • Nutrition- Some of the older methods of preserving foods actually enhanced their nutritional value. The obvious one here is fermentation- where the lactobacillus organisms used to preserve different foods lend a probiotic effect and improve digestion. Many grains were sprouted and fermented in the storage process, which not only improved their nutritional density (increasing amino acid profiles) but also reduced anti-nutritent chemicals like phytates and lectins.
  • Allergies/food intolerance- One plausible contributing factor to the increase in food intolerance is our over consumption of the same food for too long a period without a break. In the feast or famine times, you gorged yourself when it was in season- you tried to save as much as you could for later, and then you’d enjoy sparingly the preserves until the next feast. In the modern supermarket- aside from all the processed rubbish and stuff in boxes- even the whole foods are the same- day in day out, without any variation. Did you know that almost all the wheat we eat today is from the same mutant strain developed in the 1960s? People eat cereal or toast for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and then pasta for dinner… eating this same food- for years on end. This is a particularly sinister example, and the work of Dr. William Davis, in his book “Wheat Belly” goes in to great depth over all the havoc this variety is having on our health. There are actually many different kinds of wheat. In other times we might be eating one of the many varieties like Emmer, Einkorn, Kamut or Spelt- or a combination of them all which is a good way to increase yield. Never did we eat one strain of one food every day for life. Never ever never. And because some foods are more aggravating and inflammatory than others, by over eating them we become sensitive to them and inflamed. It’s the start the vicious cycle which can lead to things like leaky gut, dysbiosis (overgrowth of bad bugs) and therefore most other inflammatory conditions and chronic health issues. In short: VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE.

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  • Eating seasonally is eating fresh. Foraging for wild herbs and greens, finding a roadside plum tree or planting a veggie patch- you won’t get more vital, nutritious food than that. Picked ripe and in it’s element. Taking advantage of local feast times is like being invited to a party!
  • Eating wild or home grown is eating a plant that has to fight to survive. Plants can’t pick up and move when there isn’t enough rain, or if the sun is particularly harsh. They have to develop chemical responses that protect them from the environment and these chemical responses also offer health benefits to those who eat them. Plants grown in the wild or in the wilds of a back yard not tended by industrial practices and technology, have increased amounts of things like antioxidants and other, only just now recognised, phytochemicals that are showing promising anticancer/anti-aging effects. Fruits and vegetables grown to be picture perfect by artificial means lack all personality.
  • Wild, foraged and grown plants are tastier (all those chemicals needed to survive make good eating!)
  • Connection to place, season and community- The best things in life are free. Like knowing when your neighbours mandarin tree is about to go off- and going round to fill up your buckets- and at the same time standing around chatting about daily affairs, while eating oranges straight off the branches still warm from the sun. That is a priceless moment. In that moment you’re with your neighbour, your time and your place. If you can try to find moments like these as regularly as possible, your mindfulness becomes belonging and purpose. Knowing where the best nettle patch is come September, or getting the kids to the beach to fill buckets of blackberries for pies. These are the things to live for.

IMG_4098Mangos gathered off my friends tree just the other day. We’re having a particularly amazing season this year. These are getting made in to a batch of raw buckwheat cereal- recipe will follow. 

Rules for foraging, wildcrafting

  • Identification- make sure you do your homework. Get some good books on your area, or get a knowledgeable friend to take you out. Don’t go eating things if you aren’t 100% sure of what they are. Know poisonous or toxic plants in your area so you can avoid them.
  • Harvest- Part of knowing what to eat is also knowing when to harvest it. This applies to the time of year, but also, the time of day. This is particularly important if you’re going to be using plants for medicinal purposes.
  • Don’t be greedy- An old foragers expression is “Always leave some for God”. Always leave some for the birds, the bugs, other foragers and for the plant itself to reproduce and keep the cycle going. Avoid going to locations where you know other people are foraging. Find your own little secret patch.
  • Pollution- Be mindful of harvesting near busy roads, in waste areas used by industry or in areas where chemicals may have been sprayed.
  • Always ask- You see that passionfruit vine absolute drooping under it’s own weight? Go knock on the door, say hello, and ask if you might help yourself to some. It’s neighbourly and you won’t find many people who say no.

There are so many reasons to forage, grow and preserve. Even if you’re only picking from the neighbours tree once a year, if you only have enough room to grow pots on your balcony and preserving is putting mango pieces in the freezer- you are contributing to that part of yourself that is providing- directly- to your own nourishment and survival. And this is a satisfaction that even in the smallest dose, is big medicine.

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Food-babies and Hangovers: Happy Holidays everyone!

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It doesn’t matter if you’re a clean living, green smoothie drinking devoted whole food-er, chances are around the holiday season you may find yourself at a party reaching for a ferrero rocher- most uncharacteristically. Any level of indulgence can have you registering somewhere on the spectrum between the food-baby and the raging hangover. But don’t despair! There are many ways to navigate this time of debauchery and celebration and live to see another egg nog. Here are my top tips for getting you through…

The basics

These are the tips you can employ before and during a period of indulgence to help prevent the unpleasant side effects that we know all too well. You may know a lot of these already- but here they are, in case you need reminding or convincing.

Don’t drink on an empty stomach- If you know you’re going to be heading out for drinks, make sure you have a proper full meal before hand. This slows down the absorption of alcohol and being full may slow down your drinking. Also, pick your poison. If you know you have a sweet tooth and you won’t be able to resist the rum balls, pavlova and shortbreads- make this your main indulgence, and limit alcohol at this sitting. Alcohol is also full of sugar, and aside from the sugar it contains- part of the process of breaking down alcohol results in an increased amount of stored sugar (glycogen) being broken down in the liver, which sends your insulin through the roof and stresses your pancreas. If you’re going to a cocktail party or can take or leave desert, restrict your intake of sweets and other starchy carbs. Opt instead for extra servings of protein and veggies either way you go. Protein will slow down the absorption of sugar and reduce the insulin surge and subsequent crash- which also contributes to feeling off centre the next day.

Take care to hydrate before you go out- Starting off a night having had enough water and electrolytes is going to definitely put you at an advantage of avoiding some of the symptoms of hangover. When we are recovering from drinking, our body tries to regain it’s optimal fluid balance. One way it does this is with electrolytes. It retains sodium and expels potassium, which then plays a role in our blood pressure (increasing headaches) , and causing fluid retention. Coconut water is naturally high in potassium and can be drunk the day before a party and the next day to help with recovery. Natural based electrolyte/rehydration formulas are also a great idea and can even be drunk during the evening. Have them on hand for the next day too.

Stick to clear spirits- If you know you are particularly prone to hangovers, substances called congeners could be aggravating you even more. These are byproducts of the fermention process, found in greater quantities in dark coloured spirits (whiskey, rum, brandy).

Pre-tox/detox-

Preparing your body for the holiday season, if you know you’re going to let your hair down, is one way to avoid being knocked around. Supporting your organ function and making sure your nutritional status is optimum is the way to cultivate only happy memories.

Protect your gut- I did a recent post on how to look after our digestive systems, here, and it would be a good time to do a refresher. Wether it’s too much feasting or too much merry making- protecting and supporting digestion is so important.

  • Alcohol is a major irritant and can increase stomach acid production- so protect your delicate mucous membranes with soothing demulcents like Slippery elm powder and,or aloe vera juice.
  • Probiotics help prevent the growth of our less favourable organisms, including candida, when we’re eating and drinking too much sugar.
  • Digestive enzymes can be helpful if you are some one who suffers from bloating, or indigestion after meals or who feels uncomfortably full. You may need a little support in this area generally but around the holidays, it’s going to be especially important.

Support your liver- This is where all the magic happens. Once alcohol is absorbed from your digestive system, it’s on up to your liver to process- where it does it’s darnedest to transform the very toxic acetaldehyde your margarita has become to less harmful acetate. There are a few main enzyme players in this process, one of which is called glutathione , an amazingly potent antioxidant that contains high quantities of the amino acid cysteine. If you are drinking too much alcohol, or if you don’t normally consume much alcohol and go on what is called a “binge”, you don’t have the enzymes handy. Either you’ve used them up, or you don’t normally need as much as you do on this occasion, so you aren’t prepared. You then end up with a toxic overload of acetaldehyde- which is poison. It contributes to much of the hangover experience. Women also naturally produce less of the enzymes needed to break down alcohol, which is why women and men of a similar weight may have different blood alcohol effects.

N-acetyl cysteine (NAC)- This is a form of the amino acid cysteine- which as we mentioned is an important component of glutathione which helps to detoxify alcohol. Take it immediately before drinking or during the holiday season to support your liver.

B vitamins- While the research on whether B vitamins help with the symptoms of hangover are not supportive of the claim- We do know that B vitamins are an integral part of the liver’s enzyme formation and detoxification process. So your fizzy B tablet or similar isn’t a waste of time. B vitamins can also give us a lift, which many of us are sorely needing the day after a big night.

St. Mary’s Thistle- This is the main ingredient in many herbal liver formulas, the gorgeous herb Silybum marianum.  This is a powerful ally of the liver helping to increase glutathione production. It also protects the liver from the toxic effects of alcohol by acting as an antioxidant, and has even been found in studies to reverse fatty liver. It is the #1 go to if you want to treat your liver right, and the best way to take it is for the duration of the holiday season as a general tonic. Tablets are fine and there are many good quality one-a-day formulas out there containing about 15,000 mg of the herb, which is what you’re after.

milk_thistleMilk Thistle gets it’s name from the milky white veins of it’s leaf, and is as beautiful as it is powerful. Easily grown, you can collect the small black seeds and add them to your smoothies, as you would other seeds. 1 teaspoon ground to a powder is a dose. See this resource for more on this incredible herb. http://www.superfoods-for-superhealth.com/milk-thistle-benefits.html

Zinc- Zinc has been clinically found to reduce the toxic effect of alcohol on the liver. Zinc is also depleted from the body when drinking, so it is absolutely necessary to replenish your reserves, as zinc can be quite tricky to get in the diet (main sources include organ meats, some whole grains, oysters and pumpkin seeds). Take a good quality zinc supplement (best forms include citrate, piccolinolate, or amino acid chelate) throughout the season, or take one before retiring for the evening with a nice tall glass of water.

OOPS! I’ve managed to get hungover anyways!!!

Don’t despair. Pretox protocols in place, keep up the good work the day after a night out. There are few other tricks you can have up your sleeve while you’re sipping away at the coconut water.

  1. Nux vomica– Whether it’s a food-baby or a hang over, Nux vom is the homeopathic first aid for over indulgence. The symptoms you might have include: Headache or migraines triggered by food or alcohol; sensitivity to light, odours and noise; nausea and/or vomiting; dry retching (so awful), and undigested food which “sits like a rock” in the stomach.
  2. Eggs- You crave them because you know you neeeeeed them! Eggs are naturally high in cysteine- so yes, the cafe breakfast is a good idea- GO! Don’t overdo it on the coffee though- you may think it’s what you need, but it’s not. Just one cup to avoid more dehydration and havoc on your liver and kidney.
  3. Umeboshi plum- This is a medicinal food coming from the macrobiotic tradition. It is a japanese plum which has been salted. It’s quite a wonderful idea- the plum never ripens but falls off the tree and rots. People believed there had to be a purpose to this fruit- as nature makes nothing by mistake- and so began to pickle the unripened plums. It therefore combines perfectly opposites- unripened fruit (yin) and salt (yang). It is believed to balance you out which ever way you need. I don’t know if all that is scientifically true- but the stuff makes you feel great. Either eat the plum neat (it’ll blow you head off it’s so salty- but kinda cool), or drop a plum or a spoon of the paste in a cup of boiled water and sip. It really does bring you back to earth, whatever it is you are suffering from. The electrolytes from the salt are also beneficial.                                                10014_alb_xlarge_500x375_19346_1295652239These crazy shrivelled up looking morsels might remind you of all kinds of odd things- but let me tell you, they taste like nothing you’ve ever had. Used as a condiment in Japanese cooking and a powerful medicine in macrobiotics. 
  4.  Soups- Think miso and bone broth. Miso for reasons similar to umeboshi and bone broth is a nutritive elixer for the gut, as I’ve discussed before here.
  5. Sleep and rest- Hopefully you’ve been civilized and planned to party when the kids are at the grandparents or you have a whole day off. Your body didn’t really get much proper resting done last night while it was in full out damage control dealing with the mess you’ve made. You have heaps to catch up on.

Everything in moderation- including moderation

           IMG_3415Party time! 

I’d be a big liar if I didn’t say I hadn’t had my fair share of ails associated with over indulgence. And I’m happy to say, that while the hangover or the gut ache were unpleasant, they were usually associated with some wonderful times with friends and loved ones- connecting, celebrating and having a laugh. This is what life is about! We aren’t just here to preserve our machine- we are here to USE it. So don’t be afraid to let your hair down and enjoy yourself. But it does help to know your bodys’ limits, and practice a bit of pre-tox and detox along the way.

It’s at this point that I do need to be a bummer and remind you that alcohol is a drug- a nerotoxin and one which will disrupt your hormones, create systemic inflammation, ravage your digestive system, and is certain to cause major health issues if you are a regular over consumer. It is also defined as a Class 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organisation- which means- yes, it’s bad for you. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcohol_and_cancer

What “moderation” is exactly, is a bit fuzzy and depends on what country you live in and who your doctor is. I’ve read between 2-4 drinks max per day for men, and 1-2 drinks per day for women. And that doesn’t mean EVERY day either. You should have regular alcohol free days. Below are a few resources I found interesting on this topic, if you want to work it out for yourself.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/katiebell/2013/09/03/are-you-drinking-too-much-the-myth-of-moderation/

http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/alcohol/art-20044551

http://www.gastro.net.au/diets/alcohol.html

SO… The balance is to nourish BOTH your body and your heart-

I hope you have fun over the holidays everybody-

be safe & SALUD!

Genna

Follow your gut- simple every day things to support your digestive health 

 

The Hows and Whys of digestive wellbeing

In naturopathic medicine there is an old adage “it all comes back to the gut”.  And though it could be considered a bit of a “yeah yeah yeah…” cliche- It reeeeeallllly does. The impact the health of our gut has on the rest of our body, from physical disease to mental health can’t be over stated. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with one of the myriad of digestive disorders (IBS, Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD), Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), diverticulosis, fructose malabsorption, gluten sensitivity etc…) or a seemingly unconnected illness (autoimmune, inflammatory,depression/anxiety, hormonal imbalance) – the state of affairs in your GIT (gastrointestinal system) could be playing a major role. Even for those of us who may be in general good health, who maybe experience a few seasonal allergies, occasional bloating/fluctuating bowel motions, recurring colds and flus, fatigue/ sluggishness, acne or skin conditions- yup- digestive wellbeing could be at play.

Listen to the symptoms 

When we become accustomed to tuning our attention to our bodies, we get direct messages about how the things we eat or drink effect us. There is either a neutral experience, one of particular balance or nourishment, or immediate imbalance or upset. Of course, while we don’t want to be neurotic or overly sensitive to the play-by-play, listening to our body can tell us what is going on and is crucially important. I don’t believe major illness just happens over night. In fact, a person was probably ignoring and not addressing symptoms- for sometimes years- before the more serious pathology presented itself. If you’re in the fortunate position of being in good health, with no major diagnosis against your name, you are in the perfect position to prevent disease (which we know is worth a pound, right?) through listening to your digestive system, and taking measures to support it’s health and function. If you are the type of person who is experiencing some unpleasant digestive symptoms, whatever they be- it’s time to look a bit closer.

Diet-

“I eat a healthy diet”. I hear this a lot. But what does it MEEEAAAANNNN??? If you’re presenting with persistent digestive symptoms, minor to major, chances are your diet isn’t as healthy as it could be, at least FOR YOU.

Another thing people say, is that they can’t work out what it is they are eating that upsets them. “I don’t seem to react to any one particular thing. I can eat pasta or a salad, the symptoms are the same” This is because, when you have inflammation going on in your gut, it’s the same as if you had a wound on your skin. Say you’ve grazed yourself on the arm, the skin is broken, it’s red and sore. ANYTHING you do is going to cause it to hurt, right? Even just having a shower and getting water on it could irritate it. This is exactly the same in your gut. If you have inflammation internally, everything you eat will irritate it. By eliminating the CAUSE of the inflammation and healing the gut, you will then be able to see a more clear reaction when you consume the offending food. 

Is it allergy? Or intolerance? NEVER in our evolution have we been able to access the same foods day in and day out year after year. There has ALWAYS been seasonal variability and periods of time when a particular food wasn’t around at all, giving our body breaks and time to heal. The modern world which has refrigeration and international movement of out of season foods around the globe has created a situation where we never get a break. And industrial agriculture has also reduced the variety of species we grow. Many people are living on a max of 20-30 foods if they are lucky! And let’s not even START on how highly processed and full of chemicals and preservatives, OR GMO’s sneaking in ever so many more places- it’s no surprise our digestive systems are more and more inflammed and irritable.

So what if you feel like mostly you avoid processed foods and additives and still have symptoms? Most digestive symptoms aren’t caused by a true allergy, but an intolerance. Probably because of a combination diet/lifestyle factors and some of the circumstances listed above. So aside from recommending a reduction in obvious culprits like alcohol, sugar, refined grains, processed food and excessive caffeine- I usually start by looking at what I call- the big 5. The most irritating foods, and ones that are likely to cause intolerance if consumed regularly. That means daily. Wheat, dairy, soy, corn, yeast. By looking over what a person eats in a 3-5 day period, you’ll often find one of these foods is over consumed. Sometimes (often) the offending food is also the person’s absolute favourite, which they don’t think they could ever possibly live without (pasta, cheese, milk, beer, bread are some common examples). It’s mean, but true: the thing you love the most could be the worst thing for you 😦 sorry bout that. This is because if our gut is inflamed and absorbing the larger, undigested molecules of foods we are sensitive to, those larger molecules can trigger the morphine receptors in our brains, and give us a particularly good feeling when we eat those foods (this is especially true of grains and dairy). We become addicted to the feeling and those foods, the very ones that started the process and that may be causing health issues. Totally sucks- I know, but it’s time to say adios amigos if we want to stop the cycle. 

Notice that gluten isn’t in there. Gluten is very often a sensitivity for people, but not always. I find that wheat is more often the culprit and by going off wheat and replacing with other grains or low grain diet (often times gluten free, but not always) many people’s symptoms improve. If they do not improve, well, then we can move on to stage 2, eliminating gluten, looking at carbohydrates/starches which could be feeding bad bugs in the gut, and other potential food allergens. This is where the help of an experienced naturopath or nutritionist comes in handy- when things get confusing and not so straight forward. 

Staying regular having regular (daily) bowel motions is vitally important to digestive health. That means not to many or too little. Every day is ideal. Every second day for some is normal, but any longer than this, and you’ve got old food putrefying in there, feeding harmful bacteria and creating a toxic burden for the liver. Some people go 2-3 times per day, but any more than that and you run the risk of malabsorption. For most people the things required to stay regular are, LOTS of fresh plain water (2 L is ideal), exercise, high fibre diet (fruit and veggies or fibre supplements), and bitter digestive herbs. Many cultures value bitter greens and herbs for their ability to stimulate digestion and they are a feature of aperitifs and many tonics. Bitter is a flavour westerners have shied away from during our love affair with sugar. Time to embrace the dark side… try bitter teas like Dandelion root if you find your bowels are a bit sluggish. It gets bile moving and your bowels will follow. 

IMG_2945Dandelion “coffee” is the roasted root of the Dandelion plant and is a fantastic bitter digestive. It clears stagnant liver energy and can really lift your mood. Consume with abandon. 

Maintenance

So what are the every day things that we can do to give our digestive systems a little extra lovin’, heal and soothe inflammation and maybe prevent some chronic conditions? Things that EVERYONE can and should do to nourish our GITs.

Demulcents- This is the technical term for mucilaginous substances which heal and sooth the digestive tract with their gooey sliminess. Sounds yum, right? Some demulcents are yummier than others, and most you wouldn’t even know were doing such a good job of it- especially if you get crafty at hiding them in food and drinks. Here are some of my favs.

Chia seeds and flaxseeds– These are easy to use every day, and offer so much more than just their gooey goodness. Both are high in omega 3 essential fatty acids, and in the case of chia- a particularly good source of protein and the minerals calcium, magnesium and manganese. The soluble fibres found in both are excellent for keeping the bowels regular and helping to eliminate toxins.

IMG_2938Here are some chia seeds I have soaking for my morning smoothie

Slippery elm-The inner bark of the elm tree, Slippery elm is a demulcent par excellance. Another soluble gentle source of fibre it’s an all around excellent food for the gut. It is used for both constipation and diarrhoea- as it absorbs water, so please please remember, if you don’t have loose stools or diarrhoea- drink a big glass of water after. Hot tip: stir up a teaspoon of it in water and get that stuff down the hatch toute suite. It’s mucilaginous nature will soon become apparent if left in the glass and you may find it reminiscent of the glue you used in preschool. (don’t let me turn you off it- it’s really amazing stuff and a must if you have inflammation or pain in the gut).

Aloe vera- We use the inner gel of the Aloe plant- either in juice or if you have some growing- cut a leaf through the middle and scrape the gel in to you blender when you’re blending your smoothie. Aloe has been used forever as an important internal and external healer of skin and tissues. (The outer leaf has a laxative effect- so again, it’s the just the gel you are after)

IMG_2933This perky specimen grows in my herb garden. I really need to grow more of these beauties so I can have a continuous supply of fresh aloe for morning smoothies and juices.

Kudzu- This is one many people aren’t as familiar with- Kudzu or Kuzu is also known as Japanese arrowroot. It is often used as thickener similar to cornstarch, in macrobiotic cooking. It comes in rough little white rocks which dissolve in warm water. It’s an excellent and nourishing demulcent for the entire gut- and something about it makes you feel relaxed and balanced. I drink it dissolved in bancha twig or green tea. Take ½ – 1 tsp and put it in the bottom of your cup- pour a little bit of boiling water over it, and stir it to a paste with your spoon (similar method to how some people make hot chocolate). Then fill the rest of the cup with water or hot tea. Especially yummy on a cold winters morning. You can find it in most health food stores which carry macrobiotic foods or japanese foods stores.

xkuzu-root-starch-300.jpg,q79f2b8.pagespeed.ic.1TFtM4bZvvThis strange chalky looking substance is Kudzu. 1/2 to 1 tsp dissolved in water 1-2 times per day is a fantastic nourishing tonic. 

Gelatine/bone broth- I have written a whole blog piece on the virtues and wonders of bone broth here. Short story- bone broth is probably one of the most valuable healing tools for the gut- and something severely lacking in our western diets. The healing capacity for gelatine the minerals in bone broth is like no other and should be consumed regularly and with abandon. Always use the bones of pasture raised, free range animals that haven’t been fed antibiotics or growth promoting hormones.

Probiotics The inside of our guts is kind of like a garden. The various bacteria and other organisms that usually live there need to be in the right kind of balance for the environment to stay healthy and for functions of the system to run smoothly. If the garden becomes overrun by weeds (bad bugs)- it makes it hard for the beneficial organisms to thrive. The bad bugs also produce toxins and waste products that are damaging to the gut, and add toxic burden to the liver. They make us bloated and feel yucky, they make us crave things (sugar usually) that feeds them so that the cycle continues. A garden full of weeds is not what we are after.

As a supplement- Whether you have major pathology or some niggling symptoms, a probiotic supplement is a great way to maintain the balance of our digestive system and improve immunity, detoxifying and mental clarity. I actually believe that if you had to chose between a multivitamin and a probiotic, I’d go the probiotic. A healthy gut is better at absorbing nutrients and there fore you’ll be getting more out of your food with a probiotic. It inadvertently does the job of both.

There a many kinds of probiotics on the market, and some strains have been found to be particularly useful in certain conditions (Irritable bowel syndrome, allergy, candida and eczema for example). There are also lots of good all rounders which help stabalize the environment by adding in the biggest players (Acidophilus and bifidus strains), making it easier for the little guys to proliferate. If you’re in general good health, those may be the ones for you.

As foods- Fermented foods are the new black. Everyone wants to eat sauerkraut and drink kombuscha. This is a wonderful hands on way to get a hit of probiotics in you daily life. But let’s also remember other fantastic things about fermented foods. They are pre-digested. You’ve got the bugs to do part of the work for you before you’ve even eaten the food! You’ll have little work to do digesting it now and nutrients are easy to absorb. There are about a million books on the subject- with heaps of recipes and ideas. Some of my favs include:

Wild fermentation-by Sandor Katz

The Body Ecology diet-by Donna Gates

Nourishing Traditions-by Sally Falon

My recommendation is to find 1 or 2 that you enjoy doing and do them regularly… I personnaly love water/milk kefir and sauerkraut- and of course I ferment my dosas.

10639610_777548365640499_4719359839147229758_nTypical Sunday counter top getting ready for the week. Water kefir, Milk kefir, Sourdough and soaking buckwheat and quinoa for my dosas. YUM! 

Stress

Our nervous system has only two states. Parasympathetic and sympathetic. That’s rest and digest OR fight or flight. They are mutually exclusive and you can only be switch on in one state at a time. The fight or flight state is certainly not one we are meant to be living in long term, though we do find that more and more people in the modern world are living in a state of adrenal stress that can shut down digestion, reducing the enzymes needed to properly break down foods, therefore leading to malabsorption, irritation and toxic overload. Stress management is vitally important to good digestion. Things like exercise, meditation, counselling, and taking time out to recoup and nurture ourselves are things we can do. If you know you are under a lot of stress, short or long term, there are many things your naturopath can do to support you, help balance your nervous system and digestion at the same time. Both the nervous and digestive system depend on the other to be in balance so that they themselves can function properly.

There are so many approaches to improving digestive health, it’s almost impossible to cover in one short article. Often it’s as much about what you don’t put in as what you put in. And definitely there is no “one size fits all” approach to dealing with it- which can be frustrating if you’re navigating it on your own. So whether you are suffering a niggling upset or one of a more chronic nature- I hope this short list of practical digestive supports has proved helpful, or at least offered some food for thought– cuz after all, without a healthy functioning healthy digestive system, we really are, in the shit!!!!! (puns are also good for your health) 😉

 

 

 

How annoying is hay fever???

How annoying is hay fever? Just when you’re basking in the warm weather, and frolicking in the beautiful flowers, BAM! It goes and spoils everything. Also called “Allergic rhinitis” or the “rose cold”, hay fever is basically, your hysterical immune system mounting full retaliation against a benign passerby- usually pollen, dust or animal dander. When it happens seasonally (usually the spring) you can safely bet that some one, some where, is pollinating and it’s getting up your nose. Symptoms can include sneezing, watery eyes, swelling and inflammation of the nasal passages, increased mucous production and hives. It can disrupt your sleep and make you look and feel awful. Aside from all these delightful symptoms, allergy sufferers can also have unpleasant mental and emotional symptoms. In the past, it was believed that allergy exacerbated underlying mental conditions, and yes- this is true. But we are now beginning to understand there’s also more to it than that. A growing body of research which seeks to understand how the allergic response affects the body’s nervous system, is finding that allergies can be the CAUSE of many emotional symptoms, including panic attacks, compulsive behaviour, depression, irritability, mental fog and anxiety. So, if you’re a hay fever sufferer, and you are in the depths of feeling both physically and or emotionally unwell- time to get on top of it!

IMG_2698 On my way home from the farmers markets this morning- rolling grassy hills and flowering trees- so pretty (at-cho0!)

Many people depend on antihistamines throughout the allergy season to get by. They can provide that instant acute relief that is so desperately desired. But they can come with some negative side effects like: sedation, impaired motor function, dizziness, dry mouth, blurred vision, urinary retention and constipation. But even if you aren’t someone who experiences side effects, you might want to reduce your use of pharmaceuticals, especially if your allergy season is longer than a few days. Luckily there are many natural things that can help- without negative side effects and by addressing the cause.

The best time to treat hay fever is when you don’t have it  It’s a lot harder to treat your immune system when it’s having an acute flare up. The best time to modulate it’s activity, is when you’re not being triggered. This is why knowing WHEN you experience your hay fever is helpful. For example if you’re an early spring type hay fever person, best start your treatment end of winter, a good 6-8 weeks before you would normally begin experiencing symptoms. Natural treatments aimed at the immune response (the cause) will have a greater success at preventing the earlier you start. This is especially true for people who suffer badly (though natural treatments can still help once the season is on). If your hay fever is a mild annoyance and comes and goes, you’ll likely have great results even treating during the acute phase. 

IMG_2697 Gorgeous Australian Bottlebrush is one of my favourite spring flowers, and one of the many culprits of seasonal allergy (at-choo!)  Natural Treatments for Hay fever 101

Saline nasal sprays, gels and Neti pots Also called “nasal irrigation” These are especially good for people who are chronic suffers of sinusitis and congestion. Used daily they can help tonify the mucous membranes, expel mucous, and reduce inflammation. Many people find them invaluable in managing their symptoms, and using the Neti pot in the shower once a day is the easiest way to incorporate it in to your routine. You can find Neti pots at most pharmacies these days with full instructions on their use. Saline nasal sprays work similarly, the gels rubbed in to the inside of the nostril can even help by trapping allergens as they enter.

Exercise Research has shown that exercising a half an hour 4-5X per week reduces hay fever symptoms. Of course, try to exercise in the morning when pollen is lowest or opt for indoor exercise or swimming. (Best yet, an ocean swim and you can forgo the Neti pot!)

Bee products Eating bee pollen and raw local honey may also help prime the immune system so that it copes better with environmental pollens. This is one of those treatments that is best started well in advance of the hay fever season. Bee pollen is also an excellent source of nutrients and can be put in your smoothie, muesli, yogurt or just eat it off the spoon- about 1 tsp per day is recommended. NOTE do not take bee pollen if you are allergic to bees.

Medicinal Foods- Foods that when consumed regularly can help reduce hay fever symptoms include: Onions/garlic, Horseradish, Kiwi fruit, Pineapple, Ginger, and Tumeric. Onions in particular are high in a bioflavonid called Quercetin- which in high doses can be extremely helpful in treating hay fever. Red onions are the highest source, and I love to make a medicinal onion/garlic syrup using red onion and garlic to treat hay fever but also coughs/colds. Stay tuned for my recipe in a follow up post. You can also take Quercetin in a supplement form if you prefer.

IMG_2706 When using red onions as a source of bioflavonoids- we want to chose the darkest coloured ones and use the outer darker rings of the onion (not the dry skin) – as they have the highest concentration of these beneficial nutrients. 

Probiotics- The role of the gut in the immune response can not be understated and often in cases of allergy there is a gut component, even if the person is unaware. There are some strains of probiotics available that have been proven with clinical trials to reduce the severity of hay fever symptoms. If you are someone who expects to be having hay fever regularly throughout the season, gut health is your first line of defence. If you know you have gut issues and you also suffer hay fever, best get in touch with your naturopath and treat your whole body to get the best benefit.

Avoiding certain foods- Our mucous membranes can operate a lot like a light switch. Mucous gets turned on in one place, it gets tuned on everywhere. This is why it is so important to avoid foods that trigger mucous production if you are suffering from sinus symptoms. These are: ANY FOODS YOU KNOW YOU ARE SENSITIVE TO, sugar, alcohol, dairy, and wheat. Some people may also include the inflammation promoting nightshade family (potatoes, tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants) and also things like bananas to the list. Oh- and while it’s not a food- it goes without saying that smoking is terrible for hay fever. 

Herbs- There are so many wonderful herbs out there that have their own unique qualities in the treatment of allergy, both on the immune level and on the respiratory system level. This is just a very short list of my favourites which I use regularly in practice- and also ones you’ll see often in most commercial formulations.

Albizia (Albizia lebbeck) – This is one of the herbs you’ll get in some of the better “Hayfever” formulations either over the counter or by prescription from your naturopath. It works by quieting and reducing the severity of your immune system hysteria.

Baical skullcap (Scutellaria baicalensis)- This herb will often be found in combination with Albizia, and it is also considered an antiallergic, by working on the immune system directly. However, it has added bonuses of being an excellent anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and also a bitter tonic. Bitter herbs help to stimulate digestion and liver function- also addressing some of the potential underlying causes of allergy.

Perilla seed (Perilla frutescens)- The seed extract is has been found in clinical trials to reduce leukotriene synthesis. Leukotrienes are chemicals associated with allergic and inflammatory disorders, including hay fever, asthma and inflammatory bowel disorders. So less of them is a good thing if you are suffering from allergies!

Golden Rod (Solidago virgaurea)- One of my absolute favourites to use in acute hayfever or sinusitis, this herb helps to relieve mucous production, is anti-inflammatory and antiseptic. Perfect for those who tend to infections of their sinuses when allergies flare.

Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis)- This herb is also used acutely, and helps to astringe and tonify mucous membranes of the sinus.

Elder (Sambuccus nigar)- Always included in a sinus mix, this is a herb par excellence for congestion, and deafness associated with congestion of the sinus. Use it equally in the common cold as in hayfever and allergy.

Golden Seal- (Hydrastis canadensis)- One of those herbs that really covers all your bases. It’s a powerful anti-microbial, helping to stave of infections, it’s a top notch tonic for the mucous membranes, and at the same time a potent bitter digestive stimulant and support for the liver. Perfect in any sinus mix.

Horseradish- (Armoracia rusticate)- Funnily enough, I don’t use horseradish as often as the herbs above in my mixes- though with the marketing of the “Garlic, horseradish and vitamin C” formulations that most vitamin companies do a version of- it’s impossible to leave out. And it really shouldn’t be left out, as anyone who’s ever eaten wasabi will attest. This is a powerful herb to clear the sinus and help relieve pressure.

Nettle leaf (Urtica dioica)- This one isn’t as commonly prescribed treatments for hayfever, and really is more of the “long game” approach- though very effective, cheap and with overlapping benefits. Nettle tea, drunk everyday as your regular cuppa- (mix with peppermint or other if you want to jazz it up)- can offer many long term and powerful benefits. In this case I think of waves washing against a rock face for many years, eventually making a deep impression in it’s surface. It’s not the power of the individual lap that does the work, it’s the cumulative effect over time. Much of what we can achieve in natural therapies is this kind of gentle power. Nettle leaf is highly nutritive- full of minerals and blood purifying chemicals that make it a gentle nourishing detoxifier. It calms and cools the over heated and irate system. I have personally seen the profound effect 1-2 cups of nettle tea per day can have on a persons health. So much so, I’m inspired to get the kettle on RIGHT NOW.

Homeopathics– I use homeopathics all the time for hay fever. It’s especially great for the acute flare ups and for those who suffer hay fever only mildly or sporadically and don’t wish to take a daily tonic for a few months because the symptoms come and go. In these cases, knowing your personal “repertoire” of symptoms (most of us have a particular way we usually experience hay fever) and trying the most appropriate remedies, will give you some go-to treatments when you get hit with a bout of seasonal allergy. However, if the commonly prescribed acute remedies don’t seem to do the trick, or stop working after a time, it may be best to get to your homeopath for a more specific prescription. Some cases are easy to treat and others a bit more tenacious. To have more permanent long lasting results- an individual or “constitutional” remedy prescribed by a homeopath is necessary. Here is just the tiniest sample of a long list of potential supports:

Allium cepa- This is homeopathic onion. What happens when you cut an onion? Burning stinging watery eyes, nose runs clear water discharge. This is the kind of hayfever we use Allium cepa for. The watery discharge can be quite burn-y as well, and may make the skin of the nose and upper lip red and raw. There is much sneezing and headache. A very common hayfever picture and a particularly fantastic remedy if this sounds like you.

Sabadilla- I personally use this remedy during allergy season. It’s key symptoms are: crazy sneezing fits, and that itchy feeling right in the spot where your ears nose and throat meet- that spot you can never reach which makes you pull on your ears and rub the roof of your mouth with your tongue. So annoying! There can be watery discharge from the nose and also congestion. You may also have burning eyes.

Natrum muriaticum- This is hay fever worse from being outside and the wind. The nose is running, both clear and also thick like egg white, sinuses can be congested. There’s a lot of sneezing in this remedy and cracked lips or splits in the corners of the mouth. In hay fever, it’s often found in a tissue salt form, and sometimes in combination with other minerals that are helpful in hay fever. I find them very effective.

Euphrasia- This is the homeopathic medicine of Eyebright. As the name suggests, eye symptoms are predominant- inflammed, irritated, red and burning. There can be crusts around the eyes in the morning and may also be indicated if there is conjunctivitis, especially associated with allergy. Lots of clear runny mucous from the nose and sneezing.

Pulsatilla- We use this remedy when there are itchy irritated eyes, which are better for cold applications. Nasal mucous can be clear to green, and sinus can be infected. The person is always better for fresh air- though in the case of hay fever this may be air-conditioning or a fan- as the pollens out side may irritate. Do you relate to one or more of these remedies and can’t chose? It might mean you need more than one of them at more than one occasion- or one not mentioned here. Make an appointment with your friendly local homeopath to set up a treatment strategy. Even though we are now entering hay fever season in the southern hemisphere- it’s not too late to get on top of things, and maybe we’re even more motivate to increase our awareness and understanding hay fever so that next year we can be more on to it. For those in the northern hemisphere, you have a couple of months before you have to start preparing seriously- but you can still get in to a routine of nettle tea and bee pollen daily- which can do so much for your wellbeing all year round.

IMG_2695 Happy spring! (at-cho0!)

The Green Smoothie of Victory!

Smoothies are one of the foundation foods that I am often getting patients to start experimenting with. People usually think of smoothies as a pseudo milk shake. The way they are sold at various fast food joints and even juice bars, make them more of a “treat” food, and less a part of a healthy daily regime. Smoothies, the way I recommend them, are a way to quickly and easily get an entire meals worth of raw fruit/greens/seeds & nuts, into a glass. It is in line with the basic principle I have of making every meal and drink as densely nutritious as possible. The varieties are endless, but having a few basic start up ideas can get you confidently experimenting. Green smoothies are a fantastic breakfast, but also make a perfect snack throughout the day. There are no hard fast rules about the Green Smoothie, except maybe, that it’s supposed to be YUMMY!!! When I first started making these concoctions, I really really couldn’t believe that such a collection of ingredients would actually be delish. That a huge handful of lettuce or sunflower sprouts can ACTUALLY go undetected in the smoothie, that half a beetroot only really adds delightful colour and no crazy flavor. That said, when you start off you may wish to increase the amount of fruit so that you feel more confident that you’ll enjoy it.

Equipment- Now many advocates of the smoothie and indeed many raw foodist use and recommend high speed blenders, such as the Vitamix. While it is my dream to have a $700 blender with the engine of a small motorboat, at the moment I’m working with a good-ish quality basic kitchen blender (I believe a Breville) . The result is not as smooth and creamy as with a sooper dooper one, and that may influence how many greens I stuff in to my smoothie before it’s just too texturally unappealing, but we work with what we got, and I don’t expect people to have to invest in a million specialty gadgets to get started on healthy living. You do need a good blender though, not a bar mix or a food processor, if you really want the experience to be… drinkable.

Ingredients- 

Fruit- I am very fortunate to live in a part of the world where there is always some kind of fruit in season. This may not be the case for some of us, and then, either having frozen and stored our favorites during the glut or buying frozen may be the way to go (I’m specifically thinking about berries here, but bananas freeze well, as so do mangos and even pineapple ect). Ultimately, working with seasonal fruit is ideal. What is in season, is a food in perfect harmony with the conditions and the weather outside. Summer fruits often have a higher sugar content- they are energetically more “yin”, which helps us to balance in the heat (yang). During the colder months, we need the fruits more adapt to that time of year to help balance ourselves. This may be apples/pears/berries or perhaps no fruit is able to grow in your area in winter, in which case, my natural inkling would be to consume less fruit smoothies, as it’s not as appropriate a food to help acclimatize to the season. When reading the recipes below, keep this in mind, and if the recipe calls for mangos and there aren’t any about… don’t worry, just work with what you have and go back to that one when you’re at the market and there’s some enormous display going cheap cuz they’re fresh and in season.

Milks- I’m not in to using dairy in my smoothies- though I have been known to use kefir (we’ll talk about this in another post) or raw milk on occasion. I do make my own nutmilks, but I’m not consistent with them. I would say if I’m in a busy phase, I would be using Oat milk, store bought. It’s a compromise definitely. Firstly, it comes in a tetra pack- which has waste and packaging to deal with. It also contains oils and sweeteners that are definitely not ideal. Lastly, anything tinned, canned or in tetra type packs has to be heated to a very high temperature to allow for shelf life/preserving. This food, is pretty much “dead”. The heat and processing has made it of very little nutritional value. So, in a busy phase, if I can’t DIY, it’s a compromise. Along the same lines are rice milk and almond milk, which I use from time to time. I tend to avoid soy milk, for a few reasons (it’s influence on hormones/ digestibility). Also, you can always use just water. I do this quite regularly, as the nuts in the smoothie are enough to give it a creamy texture. A tablespoon of nut butter or tahini can also suffice. It’s not AS creamy as a milk smoothie, but after a while you don’t even notice.

Todays smoothie- lettuce, chickweed, tat soi, soaked goji berries, soaked shredded coconut, soaked linseed and chia seed, pecans, banana, the water and flesh from one young fresh coconut, raw cocoa- ROCKET FUEL! 

Basic Recipe

SERVES 2

The basic green smoothie recipe I use is:

2 cups filtered water/ milk of your choice (almond, oat, rice, coconut ect…)

1-2 bananas

1 cup frozen berries

2 tablespoons soaked (overnight) chia/linseeds

1 tablespoon of tahini/macadamia butter

1 tablespoon organic shredded/desiccated coconut

1 tablespoon agave nectar/raw honey

1-2 cups of lettuce, spinach, chard, beet greens, or kale, sunflower/buckwheat sprouts.

Depending on the power of your blender, you may need to add slowly while blending. Blend for 1-2 minutes, or until very smooth.

Make Your Own Variations

Other ingredients I like to add, include/play around with are:

beetroot, soaked (overnight) goji berries, soaked dates, water and flesh of fresh young coconut, raw egg, soaked nuts and seeds (almonds, sunflower, pepitas), avocado, raw cacoa powder, maca powder, spirulina and other super foods. You can also use a fresh made juice as the base for the smoothie.

Soaking is way to increase the digestibility and therefore the nutrition available from many foods, especially nuts and seeds. Dried fruits are an ideal way to sweeten a smoothie, by soaking and using both the re-hydrated fruit and the water. 

The Best Way to Digest

Green smoothies digest best when eaten alone on an empty stomach. First thing in the morning and mid-afternoon are great times. If you drink your smoothie with a meal, you may find it creates gas, bloating and other digestion issues. Fruit rich meals tend to digest best alone. Everyone is a little different on this, so experiment for yourself but don’t give up on green smoothies if they don’t agree with your stomach at first.

When I first started my exploration in to raw foodism and recipes, I was a bit shocked at the things that were suggested to go in to smoothies. Beetroot? I mean REALLY????!!!!! But I swear to you this, you get all that stuff blended in there, with a bit of sweetness from dried fruits/agave, some raw cocoa for a chocolate hit, or desiccated coconut which has been soaked, and you will be AMAZED at the stuff you can hide in a smoothie. And when are you really eating beetroot and greens for breakfast? Have a green smoothie and you’re setting up your day for a spring in every step. Beats dead inert Weetabix and Vegemite on toast ANY DAY, no matter how many times Sanitarium will tell you it’s a healthy breakfast.

These smoothies are very nutritious and deeply cleansing. People often detox, lose weight or notice improved skin and increased energy after simply adding green smoothies to their regular diet. They can give you a real buzz. Drinking them daily is a great step toward clearing toxins and increasing vital nutrition.

Green smoothies are best fresh, but can be kept cold for up to three days. However because the greens will start to oxidize over time, the green drink can become the brown drink, and it will definitely be less appealing. Fresh IS best. Make certain to use a wide variety of greens- your body needs a variety of nutrients.

Here are some other recipes to give you ideas, but remember there are no set rules here. Use whatever combination of fruit and greens work for you. Think about what’s in season. Get out to the farmers markets and fill your fridge for the week!

*** ONE LAST IMPORTANT POINT- Smoothies are a GREAT way to get sneaky extra nutrition in to kids. Older ones may be a bit suspicious of tiny green particles in their smoothie- ok, so maybe you blend it all up, pour out their bit, then add the greens for yourself and the younger kids who you are training up to love such things. But all those seeds/nuts are fantastic sources of protein and omega fatty acids which are essential for hormone and brain development. Raw cocoa is full of antioxidants to help their immune systems as well as magnesium. Not to mention about 3 serves of fruit…

  

Pina Colata

2 cups water (or fresh young coconut water if available)/milk

1/4 of a fresh pineapple

2 bananas

1 orange

1-2 tablespoons macadamia butter

2 tablespoons organic desiccated coconut (soaked overnight is best)

1/2 head romaine lettuce, sunflower sprouts or other mild greens

Pretty in Pink

2 cups water/milk

1 cup strawberries/mixed berries

1 apple

1 banana

2 tablespoons soaked in water over night chia seeds

2 teaspoons soaked in water over night goji berries (add the water too)

3 soaked in water over night dates (can soak with the goji berries)

1 good sized chunk of fresh beetroot (1/4 – ½ depending on the size), chopped in to pieces

2 cups spinach

Chocolate is for Lovers

2 cups water/milk

2 handfuls spinach/lettuce leaves

1-2 tablespoons of tahini/macadamia butter

2 tablespoons soaked in water over night chia & linseeds

2 teaspoons soaked in water over night goji berries (add the water too)

1 banana

1 apple

1-2 tablespoons raw cacoa powder

1-2 tsps agave nectar

1 teaspoon spirulina or other green powder