Benefits of Beets 

Beets may seem a humble little food, but they pack a huge health punch!

I have been a big fan of beets and their health benefits for some time. Beets as a bile-thinning agent for congested bile and pancreatic ducts. But the power of beet goes far beyond its bile-boosting benefits!

Interestingly, red beet juice has become the preferred performance-enhancing drink for the Auburn College football team and, based on a handful of compelling studies, beet juice has even made it to the NFL, as the Houston Texans’ pre-game drink!

Body Boost

Beets happen to be one of the highest sources of performance-enhancing nitrates. That’s right, nitrates from plants such as beets, celery, and cauliflower are actually good for you, while nitrates found in packaged meats such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, deli meats, packaged ham, pepperoni, and salami are quite toxic.

Plant-based nitrates in the diet convert easily into nitrites, which have a powerful vasodilation effect. Vasodilation refers to widening of blood vessels, resulting in better circulation, more efficient delivery of oxygen and nutrients to cells, as well as improved physical performance.2

Poor blood flow due to lack of healthy vasodilation may be a factor in the decline of physical and cognitive function associated with aging.2 Many studies are currently underway reviewing potential health benefits of nitrites and beet supplements.2 One study demonstrates that running performance is significantly improved by supplementing with beetroot juice.1

Brain Boost

Beet juice has also been found to increase cerebral circulation to certain parts of the brain that govern executive function.2Executive function is what allows us to do things like organize, plan, remember details, and manage time. As a vasodilator, nitrates in beets may support healthy cognitive function and memory by enhancing blood supply to these areas.2

Circulation Boost

Vasodilation effects of beetroot have also been shown to support healthy blood pressure. In one study, drinking just 500ml of beet juice lowered blood pressure by 10 points in 3 hours, possibly due to blood vessel-dilating effect of nitrates!3

Liver and Bile Boost

Beets are very rich in B vitamins, calcium, iron, and powerful antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid (ALA). All of these support healthy liver function and bile flow. Poor bile flow is extremely common and is linked to weak stomach acid, inadequate liver detoxification, and poor fat metabolism.5

In one study, both beets and okra were found to attach to bile in the intestines.4Once toxic bile is attached to certain types of fiber, like beet fiber, it is escorted to the toilet. This is important because bile carries toxic cholesterol particles, environmental pollutants, and a variety of other fat-soluble toxins it picks up on its journey through the liver and intestines. Without adequate fiber, up to 94% of toxic bile can reabsorb back into the liver and back into circulation.5

Beets also provide powerful liver protective support. In one study, mice who were fed beets for 10 days (2g/kg of body weight) produced a significant amount of enzymatic antioxidants. Mice who ate beets produced a large amount of the body’s two most powerful antioxidant liver enzymes: superoxide dismutase and glutathione.7

Blood Sugar Balancing Boost

Surprisingly, beets, loaded with beet sugar, have been shown to help support healthy blood sugar levels.6 Much of these benefits can be attributed to high levels of alpha lipoic acid (ALA) found in beets, which seem to offset effects of the beet sugar. ALA is both water- and fat-soluble, which allows it to penetrate any tissue in the body. For this reason, it has become a popular antioxidant skincare ingredient: allowing it to penetrate many deep tissues of the body and help resolve free radical damage.

Conclusion

Beets have become a superfood because of their broad spectrum benefit: for energy; performance; and, perhaps most importantly, as a reset for liver, bile, blood sugar and digestive function. Throughout summer, try to add more beets into your diet. They can be juiced, eaten raw, cooked, or steamed—one small beet a day just may keep the doc away!

I have been such a fan of the clinical benefits , used to roto-rooter the bile ducts from congested, thick, and viscous bile from years of highly processed food.

February Seasonal Guide

Welcome to February! We would like to acknowledge that this is a CHALLENGE and may not always be the easiest to keep up with. Just do your best—your health and immunity will thank you. This time of year provides an excellent opportunity to expand your taste buds and take advantage of all the variety and flavors winter offers.

Local seasonal foods are not only good for your health, they’re easy on your wallet!

When produce is in season, the abundance of the crop usually makes it less expensive. Start monitoring what you spend at the grocery store—I think you’ll be surprised how much you save!

Amalaki is the dried version of the amla berry and because of its very sour, high vitamin C taste, sources suggest that it naturally preserves the vitamin C when drying and is better absorbed than others forms of vitamin C.

February is winter’s last push before spring thaw. It’s often the most difficult time to maintain healthy immunity, stamina, sleep, elimination, and a stable good mood.

How Nature Balances Vata Each Winter

According to Ayurveda, the three tastes that should predominate in winter to balance vata and stabilize the nervous system are sweet, salty, and sour. Most of us get more than our share of sweet and salty, but few get enough sour to stay warm, insulated, and thriving during winter months. Fall-harvested (and winter-eaten) nuts and grains are considered sweet in nature. Salt, as we all know, will melt snow and is therefore a perfect antidote to the winter’s cold. But how do we get enough sour?

Sour is not very common in this culture, and perhaps that’s why we insidiously become deficient in vitamin C during winter, since this is the vitamin C taste. One report found as much as 23% of the population depleted in vitamin C.1 Lemons are winter-harvested and loaded with vitamin C as are grapefruits (my third choice after limes) and oranges, but oranges have been hybridized to be too sweet.2

Squeezing a lemon on a salad, cooked veggies, your fish, or in your water or tea is a great regular habit to ensure you get the vitamin C you need to provide the antioxidant protection of your fat-soluble vitamins, in particular for your vitamin E.3

The Sour Winter Wonder Berry

Perhaps the most powerful berry in the world, which researchers have named “the wonder berry” is the amla fruit, aka Indian Gooseberry or amalaki (Emblica officinalis or Phyllanthus emblica). Depending where in India that amla tree is located the fruit is harvested between October and April and is considered a fall-winter berry, boasting 10-20x more vitamin C than an orange, and during a season when vitamin C is harder to come by!4-5Just one 500mg Amalaki capsulehas more than 200% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C, according to one source.4-5 The amount of vitamin C in amalaki has been debated, so I wrote a fairly comprehensive article on the subject.

How Vitamin C Balances Vata

In the study mentioned above, vitamin C acts as an antioxidant protecting fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin E and other delicate fats from being oxidized or going rancid. In the study, not only did vitamin C protect fats, it regenerated depleted vitamin E.1According to Ayurveda, fats balance vata and the nervous system, but good fats are easily damaged. Due to the importance of these fats, it is not a mistake that sources of vitamin C like lemons and amalaki are used to help balance vata—their sour vitamin C content protects good fats, maintaining vata balance in the winter. Winter-harvested fruits like lemons and winter-harvested berries like amalaki are nature’s solution to balancing vata during the winter months.

In addition to being a winter source of vitamin C, offering antioxidant protection for your fat soluble vitamins, and balancing weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, and healthy cholesterol, amalaki is absolutely loaded with additional health- and immune-boosting benefits that are key for optimal winter health.

Boost Your Mood In February

Besides the risks of losing healthy fats, serotonin levels also drop during darker months, thought to contribute to the seasonal mood disorders. The number of hours of sunlight exposure each day is directly linked to the amount of brain-circulating BDNF and serotonin, which presents a real problem in the winter for those living above or below the equator.

According to Ayurveda, the extremes of each season accumulate at the end of the season. Late February is when we will see the accumulation of winter’s harsh cold and dry properties.

Finding the antidote to these extremes is key in February. I always suggest taking ashwagandha, an immune-boosting, sleep-promoting, endurance- and stamina-boosting winter herb that is warm, heavy, and sweet.

This month is the time for warm, heavy, and sweet foods. Sweet should come from nuts, grains, seeds, and some raw, hard cheese.

Vitamin D3 is also a main driver of immunity and, in February, after four months of less sun, the time to supplement is NOW.

Heavy, Warm, Insulating Foods

  • Ghee is made up of butyric acid as its primary fat, and the microbes in the gut also make butyric acid! This fat is the primary fuel for colon cells, does the major driving of immunity, and feeds other good microbes throughout the intestines. Add to your soups and other dishes!
    • Winter squash (acorn, butternut, spaghetti) is rich in omega-3s and beta-carotene, which are important for a strong immune system. Winter squash is an easy seasonal vegetable because of its versatility and long-term storage qualities.
    • Nuts and seeds are naturally high in protein and fat, providing much-needed insulation for these cold months. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids and minerals, which are also important to store each winter. In general, nuts are most balancing during winter.
    • Animal proteins are very acidic in nature, driving high-quality proteins and fats deep into tissue storage sites. Acidity allows this to happen more efficiently than more alkaline plant-based proteins.
    • Olive oil is loaded with antioxidant polyphenols, which support healthy cardiovascular function and winter insulation.
    • Avocados are about 85% fat and harvested during the winter in warmer climates, making them the perfect winter fruit. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids as well as carotenoids, which are powerful antioxidants.

    Sweet, Sour, Salty Foods

    These foods calm vata. When temperatures drop and cold aggravates our nervous systems, we become less able to handle stress, have more trouble sleeping, and experience more feelings of anxiety. We live in a vata-aggravated society, but fortunately, nature provides the antidote!

    • Sweet: This does not mean sugar, treats, and desserts. Choose naturally sweet foods. Nourish the sweet taste with winter squash and root veggies like carrots and whole grains.
      • Sour: Think lemons and pickles. These will strengthen and fire up digestion. Eat more sauerkraut and other fermented foods this season: the lactic acid wards off bad bacteria. Sour taste reflects acidity.
      • Salty: These foods are warming and increase circulation. If you add salt to your food and want to know what kind of salt is best, please see my article Confused About Salt?

      Ginger Magic

      One of my favorite foods to add to my meals and drink as a warming tea during winter is ginger. It is called the “universal spice” because it balances all body types and has a host of health benefits. It’s a great agent for digestion, circulation, and thinning mucus. It has immune-building properties and creates a great environment for microbes to proliferate.

      Organic is Best

      Be mindful that if you don’t buy organic foods, pesticides and fertilizers will eradicate strains of beneficial microbes in the mouth and digestive system. The newest research tells us that gut microbial diversity (the presence of numerous strains of good bugs in the gut) and gut bacterial richness (microbial count) are the two most important criteria for determining optimal health, immunity, blood sugar, and weight.

      If organic foods are not easy to find where you live, do your best. Wash all produce with vinegar and water to remove topical pesticides and remove peels. Relax and dine. Eat your food with love and gratitude.

Ayurvedic’s Diet this January

The month of January is when the qualities of the vata dosha are stronger: light, dry, airy, and cold.

Feeling dry? Can’t get enough water? Holiday-induced stress? Feeling achy? These are signs of excess vata.

To stay balanced, we want to focus on foods and activities that are warm, moist, heavy, and oily.

Eat balancing foods, such as soups, nuts, warm grains, and other high-fat and high-protein foods. When preparing your meals or ordering at a restaurant, ask yourself, “How can I make this meal more warm, moist, heavy, and/or oily?” A little extra drizzle of olive oil on your salad and veggies is always a good idea during winter.

Balancing activities could be enjoying a steam sauna, a nice sweaty workout session, warm oil self-massage (abhyanga), hot yoga, or a hot bath. It’s also very important to balance vata by keeping your head covered and warm during these winter months.

This month is our first step in aligning our desires with the foods that nature has provided each season for thousands of years. The newest research suggests that our gut microbes are meant to change seasonally with the foods we eat. Seasonal microbes optimize digestion, mood and immunity—the way Mother Nature intended.

Winter’s seasonal microbes are found in high-quality dairy, fermented foods such as sauerkraut, root vegetables, nut, and seeds.

Our hunter-gatherer, Paleolithic-era ancestors ate way more fiber compared to what we do today.1Here is a breakdown of the amount of fiber eaten per day:

  • Hunter-gatherers: 100g
  • Average American: 10–20g
  • US Recommended Daily Allowance: 25–38g

Fiber is crucial, as it provides a ride for bile through the intestines and colon. Bile carries toxic cholesterol particles, environmental pollutants and a variety of other fat-soluble toxins that it picks up on its journey through the liver and intestines. Without adequate fiber, up to 94% of this toxic bile can be re-absorbed back to the liver and put back into circulation.2

The Best Fiber for Winter

Winter fiber is primarily soluble fiber or “slimy fiber,” as I like to call it. Think soaked flax seeds, soaked chia seeds, oatmeal, and other grains which, when cooked, become gooey. Oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, okra, and Brussels sprouts are all good in January. See the Winter Grocery List below for more ideas.

These foods are one of nature’s strategies to insulate the gut from the coldness and dryness of winter by soothing, warming, and lubricating the intestinal walls. So when the cold sets in, be sure to enjoy a warm bowl of oats and have a pot of lentils ready for dinner.

Slimy, soluble fiber does three very important things each winter:

  1. It insulates, soothes, and lubricates the intestines from the cold and dryness of winter.
  2. It escorts toxic bile to the toilet, forcing the liver to make fresh bile instead of reusing the old stuff (which can be recycled up to 17 times until the bile is finally excreted).3
  3. Most importantly, it provides a layer of slime that the microbes will feed on. While the winter microbes on your root veggies, fermented foods, and other organic foods love gobbling up the naturally-occurring dietary fiber, the real reason for winter slime is to feed the massive microbial surge that takes place each spring.

Many of the suggestions found in your seasonal guides will be in anticipation of the seasonal cycle of life ahead.

Every spring, the bugs in the soil start reproducing like crazy, and they swarm around the root vegetables. In early spring, it was traditional for thousands of years to dig up the surface roots (rhizomes) of burdock, dandelion, ginger, turmeric, goldenseal, and so many more to break the spring famine. The spring bugs that swarm on these roots repopulate our guts with a new stable of beneficial spring microbes—starting the new year off with a base platform for a healthy and diverse gut microbiome.

This winter, eat lots of soluble, slimy foods to feed your bugs in the upcoming spring!

Why is Iodine So Important?

The Complete Guide to Iodine Deficiency

While most of us are aware that iodine is a precursor to making thyroid hormones (T4 into T3), the role of iodine only begins with the thyroid.

Iodine receptors exist in each of the many trillions of cells in the body and regulate cellular function, like the movement of nutrition into the cell and the lymph drainage of toxins out of each cell.

Iodine was thought to be an antibiotic in the 1800s. Even today, before surgery, doctors rub the area to be operated on with iodine to support immunity. (8)

The Far-Reaching Benefits of Iodine

  • Supports the body’s antioxidant activity
  • Supports natural detoxification
  • Supports healthy thyroid function
  • Supports optimal hormonal function
  • Supports memory, energy, mood, and weight

Iodine Protects Against Heavy Metals, Chemicals & Toxins

One of the most important roles of iodine is to protect cells from the chemical and toxic load that has reached unprecedented levels in our environment.

Today, we dump 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals into the American environment each year and 72 million of them are cancer-causing. (19) Fluoride is in toothpaste and some drinking water, and chlorine is in every flame retardant fabric, your shower, some drinking water, and most hot tubs and pools. Heavy metals, environmental pollutants, pesticides, off-gassing furniture, carpets, pollutants, pesticides and estrogens from plastics may be more aggressive when iodinelevels are low.

Chlorine, bromine, fluorine and iodine are all halogens – this means that they attach to and compete for the same receptors in the body. (9) When iodine levels are low, the empty iodine receptors will pick up these other halogens, as well as their chemical by-products that may be even more toxic.

These toxins further compromise iodine levels, which may inhibit thyroid function, hormonal balance, and many other detox functions.

Iodine deficiency is one of the most important and prevalent global deficiencies of the late 20thand early 21st century.

While great strides have been made in fighting this epidemic, there is still ample work to be done. Here are some statistics:

  • From 1971-1994, iodineintake levels in the United States decreased by 50%, according to the National Health Nutritional Examination Survey. (1)
  • Since then, iodine intake levels have stabilized, but at levels considered by experts to be on the low end of sufficient. Many groups are still considered to be at-risk, including women of child-bearing age, pregnant women and those on a voluntarily restrictive diets. (2-4)
  • According to the World Health Organization, 40% of the world’s population live in areas considered at-risk for iodine deficiency. (5,6)

Join me as I reveal why iodine deficiency is still prevalent these days, why having sufficient levels is crucial to your health, as well as the best ways to lock in your iodine stores.

How to Detox Fluoride from your Pineal Gland

The pineal gland is a pea-sized gland that sits in the deep center of the skull. It may be most well-known for its production of melatonin. It has been credited with having a hand in promoting sleep, boosting mood, enhancing sex, and even increasing longevity by as much as 10-25%. (1,2)

The pineal gland is vulnerable to stress, poor lifestyle habits, and irregular sleep. (11)

This precious little gland is also vulnerable to accumulating toxic levels of calcium and fluoride as we age. These render it less able to produce adequate levels of vitality-supporting melatonin. (9)

The pineal gland lies outside of the blood-brain barrier in an area of the brain where blood flow is weaker. This seems to make the pineal gland a landing site for calcium and fluoride particulates. (10)

Fluoride, in particular, has been shown to build up in the pineal gland, and thus alter both pineal and thyroid function. (5,6)

Calcium and fluoride accumulation in the pineal gland has been linked to decreased numbers of functioning pinealocytes and reduced melatonin production. In rodents, it was associated with early sexual maturation. (12)

A Quick Review of the Pineal Gland

Perhaps this gland’s most important role is in the production of melatonin, which governs the body’s day, night, and seasonal circadian rhythms. The adherence to the circadian clock is a foundational principle in Ayurvedic medicine and an exciting new branch of this year’s Nobel Prize-winning science that promises to revolutionize western medicine, referred to as “Circadian Medicine.” (3,8)

With emerging science pointing at the health risks of chronic disruption of the circadian clock as a result of shift work, there is renewed interest in maintaining healthy function of the pineal gland. (3,4)

Sunlight is processed through the retina of the eyes, and that information, in the form of light, travels to the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus, which informs the pineal gland on how to regulate our hormones based on the circadian rhythms. For the pineal gland to be activated, it cannot have too much or too little light, it has to be just the right amount. (1)

In mammals, the pineal gland regulates sex hormones and the seasonal nature of mating. In one study, when bears lost pineal function, the normal reproductive cycle of bearing young in the spring was lost. This cycle of seasonal fertility is critical for species survival.

While this effect is less clear in humans, when the pineal gland is either over- or under-stimulated, there is a direct correlation to sex hormone production in humans. (1) Pineal circadian activity decreases significantly during the four months of light-restricted hibernation, followed by a surge of light, pineal activation, and sex hormone production. (20) During times of darkness, the pineal gland produces melatonin, which supports healthy sleep cycles and slows sex hormone production (if the cycles are balanced). (1)

The proper production of melatonin through the pineal gland is closely linked to heart, brain, mood, and immune health, as well as longevity and healthy sleep. (4)

Iodine Flushes Fluoride

Iodine is a halogen, alongside fluoride, bromide, and chloride. Excluding iodine, these halogens are toxic to the body and, to make matters worse, they compete for the iodine receptors in the thyroid.

Iodine deficiency may be a contributing reason why the thyroid is so vulnerable to environmental toxins such as fluoride.

While the incidence of iodine deficiency in the U.S. has lowered in recent years, it is still a global health concern according to the World Health Organization. (12) In particular, those who limit meat, dairy, and commercial iodized salt are still at risk. A study from 1998 showed that iodine levels have decreased by 50% in the general population over the past 30 years. (16)

In numerous studies, iodine supplementation was found to significantly increase the urinary detoxification of both fluoride and bromide. (6)

In one study, only one day after supplementing with 50mg of iodine, urinary excretion of bromide increased by nearly 50% and fluoride excretions increased by 78%! (13) This is a significant toxic load off the thyroid and pineal gland!

In another study, when fluoride levels were high in drinking water, there was a significant reduction in thyroid function, and the effect was worsened when there was an iodine deficiency.

In fact, when iodine levels were normal, there was minimal effect from the fluoridated water. (5,6)

Iodine Supplementation

Research has indicated that the current RDA for iodine, at 150mcg per day, may be too low.

In Japan, the rates of breast and hormonal health are some of the greatest in the world. This may be connected to their daily iodine intake. While our RDA is just 15% of 1 milligram, reports on the iodine intake for the average Japanese person varies. Early studies suggest their daily iodine intake at 14-15 milligrams (17) while others suggest their daily intake is 336 micrograms. (18)

In one report, average habitual dosages are as much as 1500 micrograms per day and even higher for the older population who generally eat a more traditional, non-westernized diet. (19)

After reviewing much of the current science available, the average intake ranges from 1-3 milligrams (1000-3000 micrograms) per day, which is the dose that studies suggest supports optimal breast health. (17)

The Good, The Bad, and The Ayurvedic Perspective

When we think of cheese, we may imagine cows roaming freely in the Swiss Alps or Europeans picnicking with wine and baguettes. We probably don’t immediately think of Ayurveda. In fact, in general, Ayurveda frowns on the consumption of hard cheeses. But there’s good news: it approves of soft cheeses!7

Fermenting dairy into yogurt, buttermilk, or cheese was a favorite way to preserve milk throughout winter—a practice made popular in Europe, but which may have originated in India some 6,000 years ago as a soft cheese called paneer.2

In a trip to the mountain malgas(cheese huts) in Italy’s Dolomites, I found a traditional mountain dairy still making sour kasse, a soft cheese made in almost the exact way paneer is made in India.
These styles of cheesemaking don’t use salt, which allow the cheese to stay soft. To make sour kasse, you just set the milk out in a pan and let it curdle naturally.
In India, lemon is used to initiate the curdling. Hard cheeses are made by rubbing in salt, which allows the cheese to store for long periods of time during a cold winter. Salt makes cheese hard and more dense and heavy, which can make these cheeses tamasic, or dulling for the mind, according to Ayurveda. Light soft cheeses like paneer are considered sattvic, or clarifying for the mind.
Because of the heavy nature of full-fat dairy, it balances vata. This is why soft cheeses like paneer, as well as ghee, yogurt, buttermilks, and lassi are all good for vata types and generally beneficial in the winter. Even hard cheeses are okay in moderation for vatas as long as digestive strength is good. For pitta and kapha types, lighter, softer and unsalted cheeses are best.
Ayurvedic rules do not just apply to India—during my training in India, it was drilled into my head that Ayurveda was a universal science and not just an Indian system of medicine, so the rules must apply globally. In Europe, particularly in the winter, the climate (and therefore seasonal foods) are different than in India. In the heat of India, hard cheeses would aggravate pitta, and also melt. In a hot climate, we do not want to add heating, heavy, dense, and harder-to-digest foods. In colder Europe, however, cheese was critical to winter survival.

According to Ayurveda (and now Western science), the colder the climate, the stronger the digestive strength, making it more feasible to digest hard dense cheeses in the winter. Studies have found that in colder weather (i.e. fall and winter), the digestive-boosting parasympathetic nervous system becomes dominant, as does the production of the digestive enzyme amylase, which is critical for digesting fall-harvested starches, such as grains and tubers.23

In the summer, foods are cooked on the vine by the sun and require less digestive heat on our part. In India, where temperatures are significantly warmer year-round, the digestive strength will be much weaker and more amenable to easier-to-digest foods, such as soft, simple, fresh, less-heating cheeses.

It is also important to note that the amount of dairy eaten in a traditional Ayurvedic diet was very little. I lived in India and never saw anyone drink a glass of milk or eat ice cream and the amount of paneer cheese eaten was minimal.

There are also parts of the world where dairy was never eaten and therefore descendants of these areas may not have the genetic capacity to digest dairy. This must also be taken into consideration when assessing dairy’s digestibility.

Ayurveda recommends a 90-95% plant-based diet, with only dairy (not eggs or meat) making up the animal food sources. The dairy was mostly cultured before consuming it—even ghee was made from cultured milk.

The small amount of grass-fed dairy included in the Ayurvedic diet provides the necessary omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12 that is missing a 100% vegan diet.8, 9 To be a healthy vegan, supplements of B12, vitamin D3, and omega-3s are recommended.

NOTE: Only a 100% whole food, plant-based vegan diet has been able to reverse heart disease, suggesting that a vegan diet may be the healthiest, most cleansing and repairing diet on the planet.24No other diet has been able to make these claims. But, without supplementation, a 100% vegan diet is unsustainable. Ayurveda offers a diet more similar to the longest-lived centenarians, who tend to eat a 90-95% plant-based diet.

Dairy also provides heart-healthy vitamin K2, which has been shown in many studies to protect the body from cardiovascular disease. Studies show that K2 has matrix proteins, which direct the high amount of calcium in dairy away from arteries and towards bones.

Vitamin K1 is found in vegetables, but does not convert efficiently into K2. It seems nature has something in place like K2 to prevent cardiovascular risk.(28

In the past few decades, cheese has been labelled unhealthy for your heart and arteries because of its high saturated fat content. Recently, the research tide seems to have shifted, finding saturated fats in cheese to be neutral or even heart-healthy.1

In December 2017, an exhaustive meta-analysis of 15 observational studies measured the cheese consumption of adults who did not have heart disease for more than 10 years. They were grouped into high or low cheese consumption groups.

The study found that there was an inverse relationship between cheese consumption and cardiovascular disease. In other words, the more cheese they ate, the less likely they were to have cardiovascular disease! The greatest reduction of heart health risk was seen at around 40 grams of cheese per day.1

Another study suggests that milk has a neutral effect on cardiovascular health concerns, but fermented dairy products, such as yogurt, kefir, and cheese may have a positive effect.3

Researchers found that the risk of heart disease increased when saturated fats were replaced with sugar and refined carbohydrates. This study found that a diet of reduced saturated fat may actually increase the risk of heart disease!4

Many of us have been taught that saturated fats cause heart disease by increasing cholesterol. But the link between high cholesterol and heart disease is actually very weak.25 Ketogenic diet proponents cite science showing that saturated fats are not related to heart disease and in fact can be protective.26

I will tackle this brewing keto controversy in an upcoming article, so stay tuned!

Back to cheese . . .

Science on the other side of the cheese aisle (vegan studies) continue to blame saturated fats found in meat and dairy for increased risk of heart disease. A study in the British Medical Journal reports the following: “Around a 5% higher intake of longer chain dietary SFAs (12-18 carbons), found in hard cheese, whole milk, butter, beef, and chocolate, is associated with a 25% increased risk of coronary heart disease.”5

So who are we to believe? Does saturated fat lead to heart disease or not? The discrepancies in the science may be due to the source of the saturated fats, the types of carbohydrates consumed ALONG with the saturated fat, and other dietary and lifestyle factors.

Vegan activist Dr. Michael Greger, author of the book How Not To Die, makes a compelling case that decades of research linking dairy intake to heart disease spurred the dairy industry to fight back. In the last 5-10 years, dairy-industry-backed researchers have published numerous observational studies (like the one cited above) that are known to not be powerful enough to provide conclusive predictions of cardiovascular risk.10

This influence of the dairy industry may be why almost all the recent studies on dairy and heart health seem to be pro-dairy.11-16 The studies that link saturated fat to cardiovascular disease are usually much older studies.10

It should also be noted that many of the studies finding heart benefits from dairy are from Europe and Asia, not the US. One massive meta-analysis of more than 140,000 individuals (mostly from Europe and Asia) found dairy to be protective, neutral, or mildly inflammatory.27 Yes, these studies are still observational, but the quantity of these pro-dairy studies is staggering.

Confused?

While studies on the cardiovascular risk of dairy are controversial, the link between high dairy intake and cancer may be more concrete.
For example, studies linking prostate cancer to increased dairy consumption are not hard to find.17-19 But the link between dairy and breast cancer is controversial, with some studies finding a link and others not.20-22More on dairy and cancer in a future article . . .

The Ayurvedic Perspective

With so much conflicting information, I thank god for ancient wisdom. With the science being so controversial, we have to look to our ancestors for some guidance.

As I mentioned throughout this article, dairy is a part of the Ayurvedic diet—and for good reason! A certain amount of animal protein and fat seems to be necessary for a plant-based diet to be sustainable. A vegan diet requires B12, vitamin D3 and omega-3 supplementation (and, in some cases, a multi-vitamin-mineral supplement as well).

Dairy consumed as part of an Ayurvedic diet is organic, raw or vat-pasteurized, grass-fed, and seasonal. It is taken mostly cultured into yogurt, ghee, soft cheese, or buttermilk and always consumed in small quantities. Most centenarians around the world consume small amounts of dairy products much the way Ayurveda suggests.

Vat- or batch-pasteurization heats the milk only to 145°F for 30 minutes. The milk will stay fresh for only about a week, much the way raw milk would behave.(29)

Also, remember dairy is a seasonal food. It is not readily available in the spring or summer, as traditional herders reserve mother’s milk for the baby cow, sheep, or goat. This is critical in order for the calf to become mature enough to survive a long cold winter. In Ayurveda, this is kapha season—the season of famine, where light (not heavy) foods are consumed. The fall is the end of pitta season and the beginning of vata season: a time of feasting, when excess milk is harvested and made in to butter, ghee, buttermilk, yogurt, or cheese. These fats help store reserved fuel and insulation for the cold winter months to come.

Sourcing Cheese

Ayurvedic soft cheeses like paneer are made without salt. Most cheeses have high sodium content and come winter, when vegetables become less abundant, there is a tendency to eat more soups and pre-packaged foods that are also very high in sodium and low in potassium.

Keeping your potassium intake 2-4 times greater than your sodium intake is critical for the function of your sodium-potassium pump, which drives energy from every cell and maintains proper lymphatic flow and cardio-vascular health. Low-sodium cheeses like Swiss, Emmental, mozzarella, cream, goat, Monterey Jack, ricotta, parmesan, and brick cheeses are some good options.

Note: Many healthy folks who have gotten in the habit of eating high amounts of veggies and no processed food with reduced animal protein are often low in salt and high in potassium. For these folks (often with low blood pressure), salted cheeses are healthy.

Low-Salt Swiss Cheese!

Swiss cheese is loaded with a healthy probiotic called Propionibacterium freudenreichii, responsible for many health benefits, including boosting longevity and immunity and combating inflammation.6 This superfood bacteria is also found in Emmental and, in case you’re wondering, it’s the bacteria responsible for the holes in your Swiss cheese.6

Should I Eat Cheese Or Not?

Once again, consume non-processed, grass-fed, raw or vat-pasteurized29 cheeses seasonally in moderation and mostly in the winter. In the summer (pitta season), they are too heating and in the spring (kapha season), they are too heavy. Small amounts of soft cheeses are traditional. Goat and sheep cheeses are lighter and much easier to digest.

Bon appétit!

5 Tips to Feel Great After Thanksgiving Dinner

#1: Eat When the Fire is Hot

One of the nice things about a Thanksgiving meal is that it is typically in the early afternoon–when the digestive fire burns the hottest!

According to Ayurveda, afternoon is when digestion is the strongest and the best time to be filling the tank to capacity. So try not to have that big turkey dinner at night when the cooks have gone home and your digestive fire is the weakest. (1)

Are you a vegetarian, or just not into turkey? Try my wife’s amazing vegetarian “turkey” recipe. It has been a favorite of ours for years – many of my kids actually prefer it over real turkey!

#2: Chat and Chew

It is not a bad idea to eat a very light and balanced breakfast that day, so by the time the big meal comes, you have fully digested breakfast and are ready to fill up. If you have adapted to burning fat as your main source of fuel, fasting until the mealtime can be a great way to make sure you are not exceeding your daily caloric needs.

Be careful though, if you sit down to the table starving, you risk inhaling your food! After hours of preparation, you will be stuffed to the gills in under 10 minutes. The key here is to eat slowly! Relax and dine. Force yourself to put the fork down and chat while you chew.

The more time you give yourself to chew and relax, the more your stomach will gracefully expand and allow you to comfortably continue to enjoy your Thanksgiving meal without over-eating. If you eat that same meal fast, it will hit you like a rock, and you will find yourself spending much of the afternoon on the couch. Sound familiar?

Studies suggest that slow, mindful eating helps us eat healthier and lose weight. (2)

#3 – Stoke the Furnace

Use these simple tricks to jump-start digestion before your big meal:

  • Drink a tall glass of water 20 minutes before starting the meal. This will pre-hydrate your stomach wall, which is lined with an acid buffer that is 80% water. The more water, the better the buffer, and the more acid your stomach will produce. Studies show doing this also helps reduce weight. (3)
  • You can add a little salt and pepper to this glass of water to further stoke the digestive fire.
  • Sip some ginger tea while you are eating, or sip it during the 20-30 minutes prior to the meal to stoke the fire.
  • If you happen to have some trikatu (known at LifeSpa as Warm Digest) on hand, take 1 or 2 capsules with that pre-meal glass of water. If you don’t have any trikatu, slice some ginger into dime-sized pieces and sprinkle them with salt and a squeeze of lemon. Eat 2 or 3 pieces before you feast for a palpable digestive boost!

    #4 – After Dinner Tricks

    There is an old Ayurvedic strategy to lie on your left side for 10-15 minutes after a large meal. This is not an all-afternoon siesta, but a short rest on the left side to allow the stomach to empty gracefully and effortlessly.

    The stomach is on the left side of the belly and empties from left to right into the small intestine. By lying on the left side, you allow the stomach to hang freely and contract naturally to move the food through when it is all properly digested.

    If you lie on the right side or get up too soon, the food is hurried and forced out of the stomach prematurely by gravity. This can cause indigestion and, after a big meal like Thanksgiving, it can cause some gas pains!

    After your short rest on the left side (or some serious table leaning to the left) after the meal, it’s time for a nice relaxing walk. Pray for nice weather! Many studies show that a walk after a meal will lower blood sugar and support healthy weight loss. (7)

    #5 – Digestive No-No’s

    • Don’t drink cold or iced water with this meal!
    • Take a few minutes to relax, get settled, and say some form of blessing or grace before eating. Do not start eating until you are really settled, calm and ready to eat and enjoy each bite with awareness!
    • Don’t watch TV while eating.
    • Don’t eat while standing up.
    • Don’t pig out on bread first. It is heavy and hard to digest and before you know it, you will be full!