The Bitter Truth

In my previous post I discussed the wine, chocolate, coffee debate as it is commonly discussed in popular literature. (Mainly, antioxidants and polyphenols.) I realized that what I didn't do was discuss one of the other ways to approach some of these foods. Wine doesn't really fit this topic, but chocolate and coffee certainly do.

So let's revisit.

coffee from urth cafe

I, like many Americans, love coffee.  I don't simply mean I like the caffeine, I mean I LOVE the taste of coffee.  So much so, that I drink my coffee black.  Of course, when I'm at a cafe, I also love a good latte (such as the one pictured above from Urth Caffe in Los Angeles before I lapped that baby up).  

It's interesting that Americans love coffee so much because, as it turns out, coffee is really the only bitter taste in most American diets.  

The Five Tastes are Sweet, Salty, Sour, Bitter and Umami.  (Umami means savory.)  The most lacking taste in most American diets is Bitter. With the exception of coffee, most Americans don't consume any bitter foods.  Why is this bad?  Because bitter foods do many wonderful things.

Here are some of the great things that Bitters do:

  • Stimulate digestion + Aid in digestion
  • Balance/regulate blood sugar
  • Have a "cooling" and "drying" effect  (Herbalists out there will understand that one)
  • Tonic for infections

While I am a proponent of herbal medicine and absolutely believe in the bottom two, most Americans are probably more interested in the top two. The number of people in America (and increasingly all around the world) with digestive issues and blood sugar problems is huge. Put simply, bitters get our digestive juices flowing and help to break down food. They also modulate blood sugar spikes- both up and down.  

What many people don't realize is that after eating a sugar-heavy meal, your pancreas will work really hard to send lots of insulin into the blood stream in order to get that sugar into your cells. Since there is so much insulin floating around concerned with getting the sugar out of the blood and into your cells, it will actually overshoot and pull too much sugar out of your blood causing reactive hypoglycemia. Your blood sugar will actually fall too low and you will have a sugar craving. Which, of course, is actually the last thing that your body really needs. That cycle can keep repeating itself and if you indulge sugar craving after sugar craving you are heading down a path towards Type II Diabetes. Overtime, your body will not be able to keep up and that is when you get insulin resistance and become hyperglycemic, and a diabetic. Not what you want.

What is something that can help?  Well first: try not to eat a load of simple sugars, but if you do...Bitters!

The taste of bitter will squash a sugar craving immediately.

Suddenly the concept of dessert coffee makes sense, huh?  It actually aids in your digestion and can overcome blood sugar disruption.  Of course there are a lot of other bitter tasting foods out there besides coffee.

True chocolate is actually bitter.  Vermouth is a classic bitter.  (See how much fun this is?!  We are talking about coffee, chocolate and alcohol again!)

Of course, one of the best bitter foods to add to your diet are bitter greens. Most greens are bitter and most American diets are thoroughly lacking in greens. There are also many herbs that have a bitter taste such as dandelion, wormwood and goldenseal. Incorporating bitters into your diet can help stop blood sugar swings and help your body properly digest your food. It's a pretty good deal. And just to be clear, you don't want to only treat bitters as a post sugar-indulgence tonic. Try incorporating them into your everyday meals and habits; your body will thank you for it.  Plus, if you'd like to see an herbalist, I'm sure he/she knows many types of various bitters to treat certain ailments.

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Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Raw Deserts are Awesome

Now that the holiday season is over, many of us may be looking to ditch desserts for a while to make up for the many treats that were consumed throughout December. Instead of completely ruling out anything sweet, if you are looking for a healthy swap, here is a way to "hack" your dessert plate: Raw Desserts.

Raw desserts are an awesome way to get your dessert fix without consuming processed sugars.  Most raw desserts use raw nuts to make amazing things.  Seriously, those two raw cheesecakes pictures below are made with cashews!  And they are awesome.  As in really, really deliciously awesome.  

What is a Raw Dessert?

Raw food hasnโ€™t been cooked, processed, microwaved, irradiated, genetically engineered, or exposed to pesticides or herbicides. It includes fresh fruits, berries, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and herbs in their whole, natural state. Proponents say cooking destroys most of the vitamins in food and crucial enzymes.  In general, the temperature determined to be the cut off is around 115 degrees Fahrenheit.  Raw desserts are desserts made using raw foods. 

I am not a proponent of eating entirely raw foods, but dessert seems to me to be one of the areas where the raw versions flat out trump the processed versions.  I don't seem to get any of the negative consequences traditionally associated with eating desserts if they are raw.  My blood sugar doesn't spike (probably because there are always good fats, fiber and protein included in raw desserts via ingredients such as nuts, seeds, coconut oil, whole fruits and veggies.) I don't get a food coma after eating them and they digest well.

Raw desserts often use dates as the sugar, sometimes maple syrup/agave/raw honey, but never any processed sugars.  Personally, I'm not a big fan of agave, so maple syrup and raw honey are my go-to sweetners when a liquid sweetner is required.  I also like using Brown Rice Syrup since it is fructose-free.  And, because raw desserts are chock full of goodies like raw cacao, raw nuts, and other whole-antioxidant-rich foods, raw desserts are full of lots of vitamins and minerals, unlike most processed desserts which are completely devoid of nutritional value.  Not to mention that processed desserts are often incredibly detrimental to our bodies.  Therefore, for anyone who fears that they can't possibly satisfy their sweet tooth without consuming crap, I say "Fear not! Make yourself a raw dessert!"  

They are pretty simple to make usually, unless you want to get all kinds of fancy.  Which you can.  You can make raw desserts that would bring the house down if you'd like.  Or you can keep it simple and still blow the minds of any naysayer out there.  

There are tons and tons of raw dessert recipes out there, including a couple on my recipe page.  Other great sites are Sweetly RawRawmazing and This Rawesome Vegan Life to get you started.

Pictured above are this cheesecake recipe from The Wellness Warrior via Eat Awesome and this chocolate cheesecake recipe from Detoxinista.  (Surprise: The chocolate cake has an entire cup of zucchini in it! And it's soooo good!)

Happy Raw Dessert Eating!

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Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.

Blood Sugar Regulation is Extremely Important

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • You get sugar cravings throughout the day or after meals.
  • You get extremely irritable, shaky and/or spacey if you haven't eaten recently.
  • Your diet is full of processed foods and simple carbs.
  • Your blood test from your doctor came back revealing above normal blood glucose and/or Hemoglobin A1C levels.

If you said yes to any of the above, you may have blood sugar dysregulation.

The bad news is that blood sugar dysregulation can lead to a whole host of issues such as weight gain, depression, hormonal imbalances and diabetes.  It may even be a contributing factor to PCOS, infertility and breast cancer in women.

The good news is that blood sugar issues can absolutely be addressed by diet and lifestyle habits.

via ucsf.edu

via ucsf.edu

Blood sugar imbalance is one of the few areas where even conventional medicine looks to diet and lifestyle interventions first.

What are the 3 main steps to getting blood sugar under control?

  1. Increase your intake of healthy fats, protein and fiber

  2. Remove processed carbohydrates from your diet

  3. Add regular exercise into your daily lifestyle (including strength training)

Those are the basic concepts.  Now, let me expand on those ideas a bit and help you understand how to do those three things.

I tend to find that my clients have an easier time adjusting their current food intake by focusing on ADDING first, and REMOVING second.  Usually, this approach is the most effective and successful.  Therefore, in terms of blood sugar management, this means that you want to start my making sure that you are consuming enough healthy fats, protein and fiber. How to do this?

via pushupsandcarrots.wordpress.com

via pushupsandcarrots.wordpress.com

Healthy Fats:

Avocado, Avocado Oil, Olive Oil, Coconut oil, Butter (grassfed), Ghee, Oily Fish, Fish Oil, Flax Oil, Nuts and Seeds.

Fat is key.  Thanks to the 1980's people are fat-fearful, but that really needs to go away now.  That was a fad that allowed companies to pump their foods full of salt and sugar, but market them as a health food because they were "low-fat."  Terrible.  Fat slows down the absorption of carbohydrates, limiting the glucose spike that causes blood sugar highs and lows, which can lead to diabetes.  Not to mention all of the very important fat soluble vitamins that come with healthy fats.

BTW-Yes, butter is a healthy fat.  The key is to make sure that you are getting a good quality butter- meaning grassfed.  It really does change the nutrient profile.  KerryGold is a widely available grassfed butter, or any smaller local companies that sell grassfed butter at your local healthfood store or farmer's market is great.  Coconut oil (another saturated fat and therefore sometimes demonized) is awesome.  It is a medium chain fatty acid, which means it is easily absorbed into the body.  It is also a high heat oil so you can cook with it.  Please only cook with fats that can take high heat.  Low-heat oils will oxidize and become very inflammatory.  Not good.  

Cook with: Avocado Oil, Ghee, Butter, Coconut Oil. (Save the olive oil for low heat situations.)

ALSO, when it comes to fats, organic should be the priority.  I realize that price can be an issue and therefore you will need to make the decision that is right for you and your family, but in terms of health and the chemistry of fats, organic is extremely important. Fats can store tons of fat-soluble toxins and fats are mostly absorbed directly into the lymph, which means that they enter our bodies before getting screened by the liver. The liver is our ultimate protector that tries its best to eliminate harmful substances before they enter our blood stream.  Fats often skip this first step and therefore it stands to reason that fat-soluble toxins may be even more damaging than water-soluble toxins.  (Not that those are good either, we don't want to overload our livers and cause liver disease.)

Protein

It does't have to be animal protein.  While quality animal meats (humanely raised, not pumped full of chemicals) can be a healthy source of protein, try also looking toward plant sources such as beans and legumes.  They also have the added benefit of being good sources of Fiber.  

Fiber

This is where the classic fruits, vegetables and whole grains enter the picture.  (+Beans and legumes.)  Not only do these foods contain fiber, but they also contain wonderful vitamins and minerals that help our bodies function.  Think the color of the rainbow. While whole grains are good in moderation, try to focus on vegetables more than grains.  

Remove the Junk

Once you've got a hold of including the goodies, you should feel more prepared to remove the troublemakers.  Typically, the sheer act of including more of the good stuff will crowd out some of the bad stuff, but incase there is still a bunch of processed, refined carbohydrates on your plate: time to chuck them.  They are nutrient deplete (seriously, absolutely no benefit other than containing calories) and they spike your blood sugar very high.  This spike in blood sugar (aka. blood glucose) will result in your body bringing tons of insulin onto the scene to move that bucket of sugar into your cells. Unfortunately, this process will work too well and your blood sugar level will drop too low, resulting in reactive hypoglycemia and sugar cravings.  That is why you crave sugar soon after meals.  This can be the beginning of a roller coaster ride for your body's blood sugar management team: You continue to eat processed junk spiking your blood sugar, insulin comes in and works too hard to move the sugar into cells, which causes your blood sugar to drop low enough to cause sugar cravings.  If you indulge this craving the whole things repeats itself until your body is literally worn out. The insulin receptors stop working as well, moving you into non-insulin dependent Type II diabetes.  If you continue, your body will be too tired to make insulin at all and you will have insulin-dependent Type II diabetes and require insulin injections.  Once your body loses its ability to produce its own insulin, it can never be reversed.  You will require insulin injections for the rest of your life. Not Fun.  Let's stop you from getting there.  (If you are already there, we can still vastly improve your quality of life and prevent you from other unfortunate complications of diabetes.  Never give up on your health!)

via dumbellsdepot.com

via dumbellsdepot.com

Exercise

Not only is exercise good for weight management and cardiovascular health (just to name a couple), but the physical act of contracting your muscles will move glucose (sugar) from your blood stream into your cells WITHOUT the use of insulin.  How cool is that?!  If you are heading on the path towards diabetes, or have already been diagnosed with diabetes, how important do you think it is to give the insulin in your body a break?  VERY that's how important.  Since it is the contraction of muscles that is key, strength training really is the golden boy in this scenario.  Instead of just hopping on the elliptical, throw in some strength training and you will reap the rewards!

 

I realize that was a crap ton of info, and I still feel like I only scratched the surface.  If you have any questions, thoughts, confusions, etc. please leave them in the comments section below and I will answer them/discuss them with you. 

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Katie Dawn Habib

Katie Dawn Habib is a Holistic Nutrition Coach with a M.S. in Nutrition and Integrative Health. By combining her nutrition knowledge with a love of writing, Katie created her own website, The Hungry Gypsy, where she talks about food, nutrition, wellness and travel. On her site you can also find information about her nutrition coaching practice and join in on the conversations. Katie would like to contribute in some small way to global healing and help her clients and readers feel inspired.