SERTONIN SERIES Pt 5

Serotonin is a key hormone that deserves our full attention as it impacts our entire body!  Most people know that this hormone stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.   But it doesn’t end there.  Serotonin helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion.  It also enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other.

While we cannot directly ingest serotonin from our foods, we can fill our plates with the key players in the serotonin making pathway. This blogpost is going to be #5 of a five part series – with each part focusing on a different player.  Today’s MVP is Fiber.

WHAT IT IS AND WHY WE CARE: 

  • Fiber is a key nutrient that keeps our blood sugar stable and our appetite in control by regulating the way our body processes sugar.   
  • It is unique as it cannot be broken down into sugar molecules like other carbohydrates can.  Instead, fiber remains undigested as it passes through our digestive tract.
  •  Even though we do not metabolize fiber, it still offers us many benefits.   For instance, fiber takes up space in our stomach which makes us feel fuller for longer.  This helps us maintain a healthy weight, because it prevents us from overeating. 
  • Diets high in fiber fuel healthy gut bacteria, which play a key role in serotonin levels through the gut-brain axis.

 

SEROTONIN SERIES Pt 4

Serotonin is a key hormone that deserves our full attention as it impacts our entire body!  Most people know that this hormone stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.   But it doesn’t end there.  Serotonin helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion.  It also enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other.

While we cannot directly ingest serotonin from our foods, we can fill our plates with the key players in the serotonin making pathway. This blogpost is going to be #4 of a five part series – with each part focusing on a different player.  Today’s MVP is Magnesium.  

WHAT IT IS AND WHY WE CARE: 

  • Magnesium is a mineral found in the sea, plants, the earth, humans and animals.  In fact every cell in your body contains it and needs it to function!  
  • As the second most abundant intracellular cation after potassium, it is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that manage various biochemical reactions in the body.
  • To name a few of its important roles, magnesium is required for muscle contraction and relaxation, ATP metabolism (which is vital to energy production), bone formation, blood pressure, heart rhythm and normal neurological function.   

LOW LEVELS OF MAGNESIUM HAVE BEEN LINKED TO:   Hypertension, ADHD (attention deficit disorder), Alzheimer’s disease, type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and  migraine headaches  Scientific literature shows that magnesium intake has decreased over the years especially in the Western world.  Deficiency is not uncommon among the general population and Prominent cardiologists have even called magnesium deficiency a principal driver of cardiovascular disease and a public health crisis.

SEROTONIN SERIES Pt 3

Serotonin is a key hormone that deserves our full attention as it impacts our entire body!  Most people know that this hormone stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.   But it doesn’t end there.  Serotonin helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion.  It also enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other.

While we cannot directly ingest serotonin from our foods, we can fill our plates with the key players in the serotonin making pathway. This blogpost is going to be #3 of a five part series – with each part focusing on a different player.  Today’s MVP is Vitamin B6.  

WHAT IT IS AND WHY WE CARE: 

  • Vitamin B 6 is important for our mood because it is needed to convert niacin (vitamin B3) into tryptophan, which is needed for serotonin synthesis.
  • Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in many foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement
  • Acting as a coenzyme, it performs a wide variety of functions in the body and is involved in more than 100 enzyme reactions, mostly concerned with protein metabolism

SEROTONIN SERIES PT 2

Serotonin is a key hormone that deserves our full attention as it impacts our entire body!  Most people know that this hormone stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.   But it doesn’t end there.  Serotonin helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion.  It also enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other.

While we cannot directly ingest serotonin from our foods, we can fill our plates with the key players in the serotonin making pathway. This blogpost is going to be #2 of a five part series – with each part focusing on a different player.  Today’s MVP is Vitamin D.  

WHAT IT IS AND WHY WE CARE: 

  • Vitamin D is needed to activate Tryptophan, the essential amino acid that makes Serotonin
  • It is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in a few foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement.
  • It is also produced endogenously when ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis.
  • It helps your body absorb calcium, one of the main building blocks for strong bones. Together with calcium, vitamin D helps protect you from developing osteoporosis
  • Your muscles need Vitamin D to move, and your nerves need it to carry messages between your brain and your body. 
  • Your immune system needs vitamin D to fight off invading bacteria and viruses.

SEROTONIN SERIES

Serotonin is a key hormone that deserves our full attention as it impacts our entire body!  Most people know that this hormone stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness.   But it doesn’t end there.  Serotonin helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion.  It also enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other.

While we cannot directly ingest serotonin from our foods, we can fill our plates with the key players in the serotonin making pathway. This blogpost is going to be #1 of a five part series – with each part focusing on a different player.  Today’s MVP is Tryptophan. 

WHAT IT IS AND WHY WE CARE: 

L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning the body cannot make it on its own. This protein building block is vital not only for serotonin production, but also to make melatonin and niacin (vitamin B3).   Clearly it is imperative that we make Tryptophan an integral part of our diet.   Check out these food sources!

MAKE YOUR BRAIN THINK – USE THAT OTHER HAND!

We’ve all tried it at some point or another, using that non dominant hand.  And let’s face it, it feels awkward!  But don’t we need to work those weak spots to grow stronger?  The answer is yes.   Here are 3 great reasons to use your dominant hand as often as you can. 

1.  It makes you think! The concept is analogous to repeating the same workout over and over again in the gym only to hit a plateau. If we do not challenge our body, we will stop progressing. Like our bodies, our brains stay stagnant, or even get weaker, if we do not challenge them. . If we keep plowing the same neural pathway again and again we deprive our brains of the chance to adapt and become stronger.  

2.  It opens your mind! Recent research based on brain imaging technology has shown the ‘left brained person vs. right brained person’ theory to be false.  However, what is 100% true is that our cerebrum is divided into two major parts: the right and left cerebral hemispheres.  Fascinating research suggests we can enhance the usage of both hemispheres by performing complicated movements with our non-dominant side because it creates new and stronger connections between both sides.  In fact, musicians who use both hands had a 9% increase in their corpus callosum, which is the connector between the two halves of our cerebrum.  When we use our non dominant hand we are activating the non dominant hemisphere which is related to an increase in intuition, creativity and the ability to empathize.   

3. It balances you out!  I’m convinced that the reason the majority of my massage clients have an overly fired up right quadratus lumborum (right lower back area) is because of driving.  Think about the fact that every time you have driven a car you are creating an asymmetry in your body as your right leg is typically more extended and doing the work, naturally shifting your pelvis off balance a bit.  While my dream of stand up driven cars is far from reality, one thing we can do is notice how bent we keep our left knee in effort to create some balance. Along these lines of rebalancing, using our non dominant hand as often as possible helps to bring our body back into balance.  The way we were designed to operate 🙂 

 IDEAS FOR USING YOUR NON DOMINANT HAND: 

  1. Eating
  2. Brushing and styling your hair
  3. Brushing your teeth
  4. Talking on the phone
  5. Texting 
  6. Using your mouse
  7. Opening doors with your hand or a key
  8. Cooking
  9. Writing
  10. Opening jars 
  11. In the john  – all of the above on that front!
  12. Buttoning your shirt
  13. Throwing a ball
  14. Shuffling Cards
  15. Lighting a match

ARE YOU GETTING ENOUGH FIBER?

FIBER: WHAT IS IT? 

Simply put, fiber is a type of carbohydrate.  And what exactly is a carb?  A carbohydrate is a group of organic compounds which contain a 2:1 ratio of hydrogen:oxygen, just like water (H20).   The two main types of carbohydrates are complex (starches and fiber) and simple (sugars).  

WHY IS FIBER SO IMPORTANT?  

Fiber is a key nutrient that keeps our blood sugar stable and our appetite in control by regulating the way our body processes sugar.   It is unique as it cannot be broken down into sugar molecules like other carbohydrates can.  Instead, fiber remains undigested as it passes through our digestive tract.  Even though we do not metabolize fiber, it still offers us many benefits.   For instance, fiber takes up space in our stomach which makes us feel fuller for longer.  This helps us maintain a healthy weight, because it prevents us from overeating.  Which by the way is one of the secrets to longevity!  Take it from the Okinawans who have some of the highest life expectancy in the world.  When it comes to eating, they embrace the “Hara hachi bu” style – which means “Eat until you’re 80% full.”    

THERE ARE TWO MAIN TYPES OF FIBER: SOLUBLE VS. INSOLUBLE  

INSOLUBLE

  • cannot dissolve in water, instead it absorbs water
  • moves food through your digestive system 
  • often referred to as “bulky” fiber
  • promotes regularity
  • gives you a sense of satiety 
  • cleanses your GI tract 
  • lowers the risk of colon cancer 
  • Slowly (if at all) fermented by our gut microbiota

SOLUBLE

  • dissolves in water
  • once dissolved becomes gel-like and absorbs sugar and fat from other foods
  • slowly releases these sugars and fats throughout the day to give us energy 
  • helps stabilize blood sugar 
  • aids in lowering blood cholesterol
  • easily fermented by our gut microbiota, in essence it feeds our good bacteria
  • makes short-chain fatty acids which provide nourishment to our colon wall.   

Clearly,  both soluble and insoluble fiber are vital to our health. Within these two broad categories of fiber, there are actually seven types of fiber that are worthy of mention which I will delve into at the end of this post.  First I want to be sure to provide you with a list of high fiber foods. 

Like any shifts in your diet, when increasing the amount of dietary fiber be sure to start slow and gradually increase.

How much fiber should we eat daily? 

In the past century, the amount of fiber we eat has decreased by about 90%!   In fact, most Americans are only getting about 15g of fiber per day when really we should be aiming for closer to 38g (males) and 25g (females)each day.  Although these numbers vary slightly depending on your age and gender.  See these tables below for the current fiber RDI.   I would be remiss in my health coaching duties if I didn’t remind you that too much of a good thing is not always good.   Aim to stick close to the RDI, too much fiber can create bloating and stomach upset.   Not to mention diarrhea which would leave you deplete of minerals and nutrients.   

RECOMMENDED DAILY FIBER INTAKE

ADULTS (<50yo)ADULTS (50yo +)
MALE38g30g
FEMALE25g21g

CHILDREN & ADOLESCENT: 

1-3 yo19g
4-8 yo25g
9-13 yo26g (f), 31g (m)
14-18 yo26g (f), 38g (m)

SHOULD YOU SUPPLEMENT???

Ideally we are getting both our soluble and insoluble fiber from our foods rather than supplements because whole, natural food is best for our body and our gut bacteria.  High fiber foods contain key health promoting nutrients that supplements do not.  While fiber supplements such as psyllium and wheat dextrin can contribute to your daily intake, it is important to first discuss the idea with your primary care physician.  There is no evidence that usage of fiber supplements is harmful, however they can in some cases cause intestinal upset and interact with certain prescription medications.  Because fiber slows down digestion, it may decrease the rate at which some drugs are absorbed. So again, have a conversation with your doctor if you are considering supplements

Personally, I aim to get my fiber through food but on the rare occasion my digestion feels like it needs a little oomph I resort to psyllium. Like any supplement, it is crucial to find a  quality, vetted brand. Organic India is my favorite.    You can take psyllium in the morning or night, I prefer to take it before bedtime.  PLEASE NOTE YOU MUST TAKE  PSYLLIUM WITH WATER.  Because it absorbs water so quickly, it needs to be taken with a full glass of water to reduce the choking hazard.   I find a little goes a long way and only take ½ a TB in 1 cup of water, which is ½ the recommended serving size. Some of my clients feel the same way, but others use a full TB.  I’m an advocate of always starting with the lower dose to see if you can achieve your results.   You can always go up from there if need be.  

OK.. last but not least… here are the 7 forms of fiber mentioned earlier!   

  1. Lectin is a natural fiber found in the cell walls of plants.  It falls under the soluble category and is a key player in the game of blood sugar control.  By stalling glucose absorption, it dampens the glycemic response of the foods we ingest.  Say see ya to blood sugar spikes!  Our gut bacteria can easily ferment pectin and it has been shown to lower LDL (the “bad” cholesterol).    FOOD SOURCES WITH THE HIGHEST AMOUNT: Citrus fruits: Pears, apples, guavas, quince, plums, gooseberries, and oranges 
  2. Like pectin, lignin is abundant in the cell wall of plants however it is not a soluble, but rather an insoluble, fiber.  As mentioned earlier this means that instead of dissolving in water, lignin will actually absorb water.   No wonder it helps keep us regular!   While insoluble fiber speeds things along in the GI tract, it decreases the amount of time cancer causing agents can spend interacting with our tissue.  Researchers believe this to be the reason it is considered protective against colon cancer.   FOODS HIGH IN LIGNINS: Root veggies, Fruits with edible seeds (tomatoes, strawberries, avocados), Green beans, Flaxseed 
  3. Cellulose is another insoluble fiber that helps comprise the cell walls of plants.  Since your body cannot digest it, cellulose will latch on to other food pieces you have ingested and help move them along your digestive tract.  Again, promoting regularity and keep your GI tract clean.  FOOD SOURCES HIGHEST IN CELLULOSE: Legumes (peas, beans, lentils); cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, arugula, Brussels sprouts, collards, watercress and radishes); bran and nuts 
  4. Inulin is a soluble fiber, so we know it helps control blood sugar spikes. What’s neat is that it is also a prebiotic that can be used as food for the beneficial microflora that live in our large intestine. Better yet, inulin has been shown to create an environment in the colon that prevents the growth of harmful bacteria such as e. Coli.  One thing to keep in mind is that because this fiber is so easily fermented by our gut bacteria, if it is consumed too quickly or in very large amounts it might cause GI discomfort.  Our ancestors ate tons of roots and tubers where inulin concentration is quite high, in fact they consumed up to 15-20g!  Today, the average american consumes closer to 2g of inulin per day.    One of my favorite ways to ensure a safe amount of inulin in my diet is to drink teecino, a delicious coffee substitute made from chicory root.   Having experienced a lot of anxiety in my life, teecino has also been a saving grace while cutting down my caffeine intake.  Other foods high in inulin are: burdock root, dandelion root, asparagus, garlic and leeks
  5. Another soluble fiber that is considered a prebiotic for our gut bacteria is beta glucan.  Like most soluble fibers it helps control spikes in our blood sugar and increases satiety.  It is also closely linked to heart health and improving serum cholesterol levels.  Because of its powerful effect on our immune system, beta glucan is becoming a hot item in many research studies.  While many people promote beta glucan supplements, there are many yummy foods that will give you plenty of this soluble fiber.   FOODS HIGHEST IN BETA GLUCAN:  nutritional yeast, oats, barley, shiitake mushrooms, reishi mushrooms, seaweed and algae. 
  6. Depending on where it is along its journey through our digestive tract, resistant starch is similar to both soluble and insoluble fibers.  Most starches are rapidly broken down into glucose in our small intestine.  “Resistant” starch, however, resists digestion until it reaches the colon, just like insoluble fiber.  Then, like soluble fiber, it is fermented by the good microbiota that live in the colon. Needless to say, resistant starch helps to protect the GI tract from harmful bacteria, control blood sugar, maintain a healthy weight and regulate digestion.  Not to mention, it is one of the best sources of short chain fatty acids which, again, help to maintain the health of colonic cells.  FOODS HIGHEST IN RESISTANT STARCH: oats, brown rice, green bananas, legumes (esp fava beans!) 
  7. Psyllium is a soluble fiber and is what is found in most fiber supplements, such as metamucil.  In fact because psyllium comes from the husks of the Plantago ovata plant’s seeds it is only available in supplement form.  Like all soluble fibers, psyllium binds with water in the gut to create a gel-like substance which grabs on to sugars and inhibits reabsorption of cholesterol in the GI tract.  Because it absorbs so much water from the intestines, psyllium is referred to as a ‘bulk forming laxative’ as it adds bulk to the stool, making it easier to pass.  With its lubricating and absorptive properties, you can think of this fiber as a gentle internal scrub brush for the colon.   Lastly, psyllium is a prebiotic, once again meaning it acts as food for that ‘good’ gut bacteria.  Again, here is my favorite brand: 

MY GO TO PRODUCTS

  1. LUO HUAN GO: MONK FRUIT SWEETENER more info here

“In remote mountain highlands of Asia, a group of Buddhist monks called the Luohan achieved enlightenment and ascension through meditation and pure living. In this primeval forest, the monks discovered a rare superfood prized for its sweetness and its ability to raise chi, or life energy.”

(first product from the left!)

2. GARDEN OF LIFE MULTIVITAMIN FOR WOMEN

Whole Foods based multi, with vitamins, iron, folate (no fake folic acid!), probiotics & more. Garden of life makes products that are USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project verified. They are all about real, whole and plant-based foods.

I take 1 capsule in the a.m.
Garden of Life Vitamin Code Raw One for Women, Once Daily Multivitamin for Women – 75 Capsules, One a Day Women, Vitamins, Fruits, Veggies, Probiotics for Womens Health, Vegetarian, Gluten Free

What I love about this multi is that it is backed by consumer labs – meaning it is a supplement that actually contains what it claims to on its label! Since it is whole foods based you can take it on an empty stomach or with food, your choice. I only take 1/4 the recommend dose because I feel my diet is full of fruits and veggies. I supplement with this because even with a healthy diet it is smart to fill in those nutritional gaps! Plus, they add in just the right amount of immune and gut support.

GARDEN OF LIFE’S MULTI FOR MEN:

Garden of Life Vitamin Code Whole Food Multivitamin for Men – 120 Capsules, Vitamins for Men, Fruit & Veggie Blend and Probiotics for Energy, Heart, Prostate Health, Vegetarian Mens Multivitamins

FOR MEN 50+:

3. TRUVANI’S ASHWAGANDHA

The Ultimate Stress Buster

I like to think of adaptogens as nature’s pharmaceuticals. Stress can cause physical changes in the body, and many of them harm our neurological, endocrine, and immune systems. With the magic of their stimulant properties, adaptogens like ashwagandha neutralize those harmful effects. I have been searching for an organic ashwagandha supplement with organic black pepper powder that comes in a tablet form for years, well before this amazing ayurvedic herb was all the hype! Truvani is the true deal. The black pepper is key for optimal absorption and you can also blend the tablets in your smoothies or hot drinks if you prefer. Feeling the effects of that stress?

4. CALM MAGNESIUM GLYCINATE & LEMON BALM

Everything you need to know about magnesium

2 at night for solid zzz’s
Vital Proteins Marine Collagen Peptides Powder Supplement for Skin Hair Nail Joint – Hydrolyzed Collagen – Dairy and Gluten Free – 12g per Serving – 7.8 oz Canister

I alternate between Vital Protein’s Marine Collagen and Collagen Peptides Powder. If your goal is hair health, go with the Marine Collagen as it is the one that has been shown to be the most effective on hair health in multiple studies. When it comes to benefiting your connective tissue, both of these products get the most valuable player award. I alternate between both because the peptides have more protein per serving – so I will add it to my lunch beverage if my meal needs a lil’ protein boost.

peptides link:

MONK FRUIT SWEETENER

Luo Han Guo (Monk Fruit) is native to southern China and has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for decades.

Because of its many healthy benefits, it is commonly called “the immortal’s fruit”.

Why should you care? Read on…

  • Luo Han Guo is an ideal sugar substitute and will help you kick that sugar addiction to the curb! 
  • It gives you the sweetness of sugar without affecting your blood sugar.  In fact it’s glycemic index is zero.  
  • Monk fruit’s sweetness does not come from fructose or sucrose.  Instead it comes from mogrosides which are antioxidants – substances that protect your cells against free radicals.  Mogrosides, specifically Mogroside V (found in monk fruit), as well have anti inflammatory properties. 
  • Because of these naturally occurring mogrosides, this immortal fruit is 150x sweeter than sugar.  
  • There is promising research taking place that delves into monk fruit extract’s ability to inhibit cancer cell growth. 
  • Since it does not have an effect on one’s blood sugar, Luo Han Guo can safely be used by diabetics.  Allowing for sweetness without the negative side effects!

CHECK OUT WHERE MONK FRUIT STANDS ON THIS GLYCEMIC INDEX CHART:

ENJOY A LITTLE GUILT FREE SWEETNESS!

SABOTAGE SUGAR CRAVINGS

TEN TOOLS TO COMBAT SUGAR CRAVINGS

  1. Hydrate! 

Often sugar cravings are a sign of dehydration.  Before you give in to that sweet tooth be sure to quench your thirst.  You may just find that craving loses its grip on you.   I love to add a tiny pinch of sea salt and squirt of lemon to my room temp water.  Because of its mineral content, sea salt is a great source of electrolytes and lemon is the king of citrus when it comes to those electrolytes! 

  1. Sweet is one of the five basic tastes that our taste buds perceive and guess what? Nature has provided plenty of sweetness for our satisfaction.  To avoid craving artificial sweets (which have no nutritional value!) be sure to incorporate plenty of naturally sweet foods into your diet.   Sweet potatoes, butternut squash, strawberries, yams and cinnamon are my favorites. 
  1. SLEEP!!! When we are sleep deprived our bodies look to a quick fix for energy and we are vulnerable to those sugar cravings.   If you find yourself constantly fatigued it is time to analyze your sleep habits.  Of course we are not going to always be able to get that idealized 8 hours of sleep.  A great trick to combat fatigue is a simple 5 minute eyes closed reset when that feeling of utter exhaustion hits you. 
  1. Kick the caffeine to the curb, or at least decrease your intake.  The highs and lows of this stimulant include blood sugar swings, dehydration and mineral depletion.  All of which will increase your cravings for the white stuff.  
  1. If you are going to use sweeteners, opt for the gentle ones.  These include maple syrup, brown rice  syrup, raw honey, dates, blackstrap molasses, coconut sugar, stevia and monk fruit.   
  1. Move daily.   Whether this is walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, gardening – get that beautiful body in motion!  Even just 15 minutes a day will help balance your blood sugar levels and reduce tension. 
  1. Forget about fat-free.  Typically when makers remove the fat, they add in sugar to compensate.  Plus, fat free processed foods are far from satiating and will leave you hungry.  Which of course leads to sugar cravings.  
  2. Take inventory of how much protein you are eating. Adequate protein intake is a sure way to stabilize blood sugar levels and stave off sugar cravings.  Be sure to choose high-quality whole food sources like lean meats, fish, chicken, nuts, and legumes.  To figure out your daily requirements, it is wise to run the calculations based on your age, weight, activity level and health goals.   Here is a great free calculator from bodybuilding’s website: https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/calpro.htm
  1. Add some spice to your life!  They will naturally sweeten your food and satisfy your sweet tooth.  My favorite is cinnamon which has also been shown in research studies to lower blood sugar levels.   Other sweet spices to experiment with are nutmeg, cloves, cardamom and coriander.
  1. Make life sweeter!  Enjoy extra time with and hugs from family – soon enough you can add friends to that hug list too I hope (post pandemic).  While your body can survive with zero processed sugar, we all know it that it needs connection to thrive.   Be good to yourself and practice self love and care.   Warm baths, walks in nature, meditation, stretching, massage and breathing exercises are all easy ways to give yourself a little TLC.