Health Blog

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Diets are complicated and difficult; eating healthy can be simple

I get it. Eating healthy can seem complicated, difficult, and time consuming. Or not.

Problem #1: Eating healthy is confusing

how to healthy eatingYes, choosing the right foods for you can be confusing. But if you are eating poorly–be honest with yourself, are you eating too much garbage and not enough nutrient-rich food?–there’s so much you can do! Eat more foods that don’t require a label or packaging. Eat regularly until you’re 80% full, not more.

If you generally eat healthy, congratulations, you may find some simple tweaks beneficial. Keep reading for ideas. 

If you have food “issues” (allergies, sensitivities, stress about food), speak to a knowledgeable health professional for personalized recommendations.

Problem #2: Eating healthy is difficult

Look, I’m no chef. I’ve messed up the simplest meals. For example, I once forgot to drain the can of tuna when making a tuna salad sandwich. If I can do it, you can too. There are pre-cut food options. There’s frozen veggie and fruit options. There are actually some (you need to get to know how to read labels) healthy packaged food and restaurant options (depending on where you live). Learn a few simple go-to recipes. And read on for more tips.

Problem #3: Eating healthy is time consuming

eating healthy Vancouver BCI’m not a patient person when it comes to food. I won’t line up for a popular restaurant, unless I have no other choice. I don’t pick recipes that require hours of standing in front of a stove. When I want to eat, I want to eat soon. It’s mostly about organization and preparation.

I know it’s tough when you’re busy, but here are some basic, simple recommendations you can start with. If you want, just start with section 1 here for a week or two. Then you can move on to section 2 and so forth, so that you don’t get overwhelmed.

 

Section 1 for Eating Healthy: Eat mindfully

  1. Vancouver nutrition healthy eatingDrink between, not with meals. We chew our food better, making digestion easier, if we don’t drink with meals. We have a tendency to swallow bigger chunks of food if we wash our food down with meals. 
  2. Make sure to drink enough fluid. Start the day with a glass of water. 
  3. Chew, chew, chew your food. If you eat quickly, put your utensil down between bites. Or eat with your non-dominant hand. 
  4. Pay attention to your food. Taste it, enjoy it. Food is more than fuel.
  5. Hara hachi bu–eat until you’re 80% full. Don’t eat until you’re stuffed. Stop when you are about 80% full. Or when you are no longer hungry. You’ll find that “no longer hungry” and “full” are not the same

That’s the basics. If that’s all you do, that can make a difference.

Section 2 to Eating Healthy: How do you feel about food?

Next step is about figuring our your food habits.

  1. Vancouver natural healthy eatingYou may find it helpful to keep a food diary for a week to help you figure out what you’re really eating. Sometimes we don’t even notice how much or what we’re consuming throughout our days. Write down what you had, approximately how much, when, and ideally include how you felt before and/or after eating it.
  2. Even if you don’t keep a food diary for a week, think about your food choices. Do you have cravings? For what? What are your food habits? For example, I have a major sweet tooth. I think I used to have a muffin addiction. I seriously felt like I couldn’t go a day without having a muffin. I thought it was healthy because it was bran or blueberry or blueberry bran, but really, it was a cupcake dressed up as a healthy snack. Those muffins were huge! And full of sugar. Dropped those and my Frutopia or Snapple drink and I dropped about 5 pounds in less than 2 weeks. No other changes. Plus, I got rid of my headaches and hangry tendencies.
  3. Think about (and perhaps write down) how you feel about food. Do you live to eat or eat to live? Do you love food (best friend), hate food (enemy), or have a love-hate relationship with food (frenemy)? Do you know why you feel this way about food? 
  4. Start to pay attention to the types of hunger you might experience. Is it true hunger for food that has you reaching for something to eat? Is it stress, sadness, loneliness, anger, frustration, boredom, or simply habit? Even if you recognize you’re eating out of stress and you still choose to eat, just let yourself recognize that you’re eating to calm your feeling of stress. Don’t self-judge. Just recognize. For now.
  5. Start to consider what you’re feeding and think about whether there food substitutions that might be better for you. For example, if you’re eating to calm yourself, can you first try doing 5 minutes of breathing exercises and still if you still feel like eating after? If you’re craving ice cream, is it the sweetness, the creaminess, or the memories of childhood that you want? Is there something else that might substitute, e.g. a handful of berries for the sweetness, half an avocado for the creaminess, or make up a silly rhyme (or skip or sing or make a joke!) for the visit to child in you. 

That second part can make a huge difference because remember that most of our decisions are based on what we are feeling. And sometimes we don’t pay attention to how we feel, meaning that we could be making poor choices. And eating inappropriate food doesn’t solve the problem.

Section 3 to Eating Healthy: Start adding in healthy foods

Next step is adding in healthy foods. The focus is on good things to add, rather than bad things to avoid.

  1. healthy eating nutritionist Vancouver BCIf you find that saying “no” to certain foods is really hard, you could start by just adding in healthy foods. This means organizing yourself and having these foods at the ready. If, instead, you hope that you’ll simply find and choose healthy food when you are starving and pop into Starbucks or other such place, good luck. 
  2. Some top foods you might want to add to your routine:
    • Hemp seeds, ground flax seeds, chia seeds–add them to smoothies, top them on your oatmeal or cereal, sprinkle them on salads or cooked veggies.
    • Buckwheat, quinoa–these are actually seeds–rich in protein, fibre, and good fats–but you prepare them like grains. They are gluten-free.
    • Millet, amaranth, rice are all non-gluten grains. Don’t make them the centrepiece of your meal though. Side dish, small servings.
    • Add more veggies. Find a vegetable you’ve never used before and add it in. Or simply give veggies more real estate on your plate and eat them first. 
  3. Collect some delicious-looking healthy recipes (choose easy ones with not too many ingredients or steps, if you don’t have much time or are not inclined to spend much time in the kitchen). Pick one day to spend some time making one of those recipes at least  a couple of times per month. Invite friends or family to join in on the preparing. 
  4. Make more than you need and freeze portions for later.
  5. If you don’t like chopping and slicing and peeling and all that jazz (maybe you’re slow at it, as I am), buy the pre-prepped stuff at the grocery store. Yes, you’ll pay more. And yes it’s not as fresh as when you do it yourself. But it’s better than not eating enough vegetables. Frozen fruit and vegetables are also handy.

By adding in healthy foods, you may find you automatically eat less unhealthy foods simply because you’re not hungry.

Section 4 to Eating Healthy: Swap for healthier options

Finally, start dropping out the “bad” foods by substituting in healthier options.

  1. natural health Vancouver healthy eatingGo through your pantry, your fridge, your freezer, and any other place you stash food. If it’s junk food or processed food, get rid of it. 
  2. When you shop, shop mostly at the perimeter of the stores, not much in the aisles. Skip the aisles that contain just chips, pop, cookies, and other empty food. If you don’t have it readily handy at home, you won’t have it tempting you continuously. Or go to farmers markets for fresh, local fare.
  3. Don’t have pop, juice, or sugary cafe drinks like frappuccinos  (the venti caramel frappuccino coconut no whip is 340 calories and 75g of sugar; add whip to that and it’s 470 calories and 81g of sugar; even a venti nonfat milk, no whip mocha is 310 calories and 44g of sugar; and the venti iced passion tango tea lemonade though fewer calories at 190, but with 47g of sugar!). Do you have a fave coffee shop drink? Check out your fave drink https://globalassets.starbucks.com/assets/94fbcc2ab1e24359850fa1870fc988bc.pdf Don’t drink your sugar. Drink water, tea, fruit or veg infused waters (e.g. cucumber slices in water or raspberries in water or lemon slices in water). If you have shakes/smoothies or freshly made juices, know what’s in them and have ones with more veg, no artificial sweeteners, and not too much sugar.
  4. Bring your lunch to work. Or at least do some searching out to find healthy options for when you do eat out.
  5. Sweet tooth? Tame it by getting your tastebuds to notice the sweetness in things that don’t scream sweet, like yams, sweet potatoes, dates, figs, berries, grapes, melon, even carrots and other root vegetables, especially when they are roasted. Salt craver? Look for naturally salty foods like seaweeds, fermented foods like sauerkraut, and even celery. Perhaps it’s texture you’re after. Try whole foods that provide the textures you crave. Substitute.
  6. When you start to sub in a healthier food option, you may find it easier to do a blend of healthy and less healthy (or less appropriate for you). e.g. if switching to brown rice from white, mix the two together or when adding in nut milks instead of cow’s milk, alternate them for a bit.

And, of course, if you’re confused or need help, just ask! I love helping people make healthier foods choices.

Do you have your own tips and ways to make healthier choices for your food? Share it here!

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Traditional Chinese Medicine in Alive Magazine

 

Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncture Vancouver BCWhen I was offered a chance to write about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for Alive Magazine, my answer was a resounding, “YES!” If we haven’t met, I’m a huge fan and supporter of TCM, its principles, and its treatments. After all, I’ve been practicing it for over 16 years. The more people who know about TCM and get a chance to try it in some format–TCM consultation, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, TCM food cures, cupping, or simple lifestyle changes based on TCM foundations–the happier I am!

Traditional Chinese Medicine Vancouver BCOne challenge about sharing information about Traditional Chinese Medicine is that it uses a different language than most of us from the West can comprehend. Yin, Yang, Qi, meridians, Damp-Cold, Liver attacking Spleen–say what?! The thing is, many systems and professionals use their own language, from “lawyerspeak” to medical jargon to tech terms. Understand that this is our way of explaining complex principles and diagnostics, and some of our words are not to be taken literally (for example, your liver is not actually attacking your spleen!). 

It’s not easy to encapsulate all I want to say about TCM in just one article, but check out my link to Traditional Chinese Medicine: Deep, Historical Roots Offer New Medical Insights in June 2017’s issue of Alive. You’ll find a basic intro, my description of how TCM has been changing and evolving, and some info about how to find a qualified TCM in Canada. 

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From my TCM nutrition book: Treating anxiety with food

treating anxiety naturally with food Vancouver nutritionStill working on it…my TCM nutrition book. One whole section of it will contain food suggestions for various health conditions. Because so many suffer from anxiety, I thought that would be a good section to share with all of you now.

Treating anxiety with food

Though there are several different types of anxiety—including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias—and a wide range in severity of anxiety symptoms, the general symptoms include feeling panicked or uneasy, palpitations, shortness of breath, dry mouth, cold or sweaty hands or feet, muscle tension, dizziness, nausea, and problems sleeping.

TCM usually looks to the Water and Earth elements when addressing anxiety, as it is a combination of fear and worry. The Water element is related to the Kidneys and adrenal glands that pump out stress hormones. Some salty flavoured foods address this issue. The Earth element is fed by whole sweet foods, including complex carbohydrates. Unrefined complex carbohydrates maximize the presence of L-tryptophan in the brain which aids in the formation of the neurotransmitter serotonin.  Serotonin is required for calming the mind and promoting sound sleep.  L-tryptophan is found in most foods, but other amino acids in high-protein foods compete with its use in the formation of serotonin, so carbohydrates are your best source.

Of course you shouldn’t go overboard on the salty or sweet foods, and you may notice you crave these foods when you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed. But, look to find a healthy balance of whole foods that include these flavours.

Whole grains fit this category, as they are rich in B vitamins. They also contain some essential fatty acids, like the omega-3s you’ve probably heard about time and again as a thing you should make sure you eat. When the germ and bran of a grain is kept, you get these nutrients, and the bitter flavour of the whole grain supports the TCM Heart, helping to calm the mind. The interesting thing is that TCM and Ayurveda both use whole grains like wheat and barley (both gluten grains) as herbs and foods to help calm the mind and even improve digestion. That is, if your digestive system is not completely out of balance.

Foods rich in essential fatty acids and magnesium are also key to addressing anxiety. Essential fatty acids help improve brain function. Magnesium has been called “the original chill pill,” as it can help decrease an overactive stress response through a number of hormonal and brain mechanisms.

Put it all together, and these are foods that can help treat and decrease your anxiety.

  • Avocado
  • Chamomile tea is calming and ideal for the evening
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens
  • Green tea contains L-theanine which helps release chemicals in the brain that promote a feeling of alertness with calmness during the day
  • Magnesium-rich foods, including beans (black, kidney, lima, navy, pinto, white, etc.), halibut, tuna, artichoke, dates, figs, barley, oat bran, brown rice, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, lentils, broccoli, beet greens, okra, parsnips, peas, pumpkin, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes
  • Omega-3 essential fatty acid foods, including wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring; also chia seeds, flax seeds (ground), and walnuts
  • Seaweeds such as dulse, kelp, kombu, nori, wakame

Foods that are best avoided or limited include stimulants like caffeine-containing food and beverages and processed or concentrated sugary foods.

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Local Superfoods BC

Many foodies are keen on splurging on the most recently “discovered” superfood, from achacha to zucchini flowers. Jicama salads, coconut aminos, and turmeric milk tea are all healthy foods. But you can’t grow their ingredients in Canada–they need warmer climates. I don’t call myself a foodie. I’ve yet to try achacha, jicama, or turmeric milk. I won’t line up for the next hot restaurant. And, I won’t spend half my paycheck on a meal. But I do consider myself food-focused, food-enthralled, and even a food-fiend. And so it is that I thought to write about some of the many wonderful local superfoods available in BC

Local Superfoods BC

Berries

local superfoods BC Vancouver healthy food natural medicineAs a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) student, I spent 3 months in China doing internship in 2 different hospitals. One thing I noticed was that most of the TCM doctors drank hot water with goji berries (I know them as an herb called gou qi zi). As the weather got hotter, they added in chrysanthemum flowers. But the goji berries seemed a staple. 

Most of the world’s commercial goji berries are grown in China, but luckily we do actually have a local goji farm! Gojoy (great name!) is in Aldergrove. A nice local superfoods option, and you can u-pick starting soon! I’m going! 

Many other superfood berries are also locally grown, including blueberries, cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, boysenberries, blackberries, and so on and so on. Berries are a great source of fibre, potassium, folate, vitamins C, K, and an assortment of Bs. They are also one of the best sources of antioxidants (including resveratrol–not just in red wine!), helping stave off a wide range of diseases. They may help with fighting off, treating, or managing Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.

Mushrooms

local superfoods BC vancouver natural health foodsWant to know a secret? Mushrooms. Okay, maybe it’s not an actual secret–you know about mushrooms. But do you know that mushrooms sit atop the list of some of TCM’s most revered herbs? Reishi, shiitake, maitake, cordyceps, turkey tail, and lion’s mane are just some of the most wonderful and wondrous of the medicinal fungi we can eat. 

Researchers are expanding their study of the powerful compounds contained in these sometimes odd-looking edibles. Many of them have shown a remarkable ability to help boost immunity when we need to fight off a virus, bacteria, or cancerous cell, while also calming an overactive immune system when it comes to allergies and autoimmune disorders. Depending on the mushroom, they can also support the health of many other body systems, including brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys. 

Even the lowly button mushroom has been shown to support many of our systems. Portobello mushrooms make a great vegan alternative for a burger. They are the right size and have a meaty consistency and taste. Which reminds me, I need to make this grilled portobello recipe soon.

At Christmastime I bought myself this bag of mixed dried BC mushrooms from West Coast Wild Foods and enjoyed every precious bite, including in this recipe for sauteed mushrooms (atop mashed sweet potatoes).

Sea Veggies

local superfoods bc vancouver natural health food“Eat your veggies,” said King Triton to his daughter Ariel. Or, at least I imagine he might have told her that, as she probably didn’t want to eat her friends Sebastien (the crab) or Flounder (the fish). What veggies would he be referring to? Sea vegetables, of course, including kelp, kombu, dulse, and wakame.

Seaweed is a particularly rich source of calcium, but also magnesium, chromium, iodine, iron, phosphorus, zinc, and vitamins A, Bs, C, E, and K. As it additionally contains a good amount of fibre, it has also been identified as a food that can reduce the incidence of colon cancer, decrease intestinal inflammatory diseases, support intestinal probiotics, and help regulate blood sugars.

For many, the only thought about eating seaweed is when you enjoy a California roll or other sushi. But did you know that you can crumble dried seaweed onto your rice or cooked vegetables, add it to soups or stews, or soak it and toss it on a salad.

Buckwheat

local superfoods BC vancouver natural health foodsLike quinoa, buckwheat is actually a seed that is thought of as a grain. So, yes, it is gluten-free–don’t let the fact that the name contains the word “wheat” fool you. Unlike quinoa, buckwheat can be grown locally in BC.

Buckwheat offers an excellent source of protein, fibre, antioxidants, magnesium, manganese, zinc, iron, phosphorus, B vitamins, and folate. It has been shown to help lower elevated blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, improve digestion, and help balance blood sugar.

I know people love their quinoa. It seems like healthy restaurant menus contain quinoa in everything. Personally, I find this a real challenge because quinoa causes me stomach pain that radiates into my back. I’d love to love quinoa. But it doesn’t love me back. That’s because the seed and its coating contain the compound saponin, which causes allergies with symptoms like stomach pain, hives, and itchy skin. Some find that soaking quinoa before cooking removes enough saponin to make it easy to enjoy. Doesn’t work for me. So, instead…I get to have a local superfood (even better!) called buckwheat. 

I just wish the local restaurants would catch up and make the switch. 

A slew more local superfoods 

local BC superfoods Vancouver health foodWhile I do occasionally enjoy tropical fruits and I love coconut oil and avocados, it’s definitely a good idea to try to emphasize local superfoods over exotic ones that have to travel a long way to make it to your plate. The good thing is that here, in BC, we have a lot of options. 

Just because these foods might be common, doesn’t mean they should be downplayed. We should really celebrate their availability, flavour, and health benefits.

For example, many of us health nuts are nuts over almonds. But almonds are grown largely in California, and they require a lot of water for their growth. Note that California has had some major droughts. Instead, you might consider hazelnuts. These beauties, full of fibre, essential fatty acids, vitamins E and the Bs, folate, copper, and manganese, are grown in the Fraser Valley.

Other wonderful local foods include west coast wild salmon, apples, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, and pumpkin. 

I don’t have a green thumb or the space to keep a garden, but if you do, growing your own local superfoods is perhaps the best way to save money, de-stress, and get and stay healthy.

What local BC superfoods are your favourite?

 

 

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Sauteed mushrooms and mashed sweet potatoes recipes

mashed sweet potato and sauteed mushroom healthy easy recipe nutrition vancouverWant a delicious side dish that will support your immune system? And, want that dish to be easy to make? This is it! I usually eat fewer root veggies as the weather warms, but today I was craving sweet potatoes, and though I would normally roast them, seasonal changes mean I’d try something different. 

Traditional Chinese Medicine rates different cooking methods as adding different levels of heat to the food. If you experience a lot of cold signs, like poor blood circulation, feeling cold, slow digestion, and pale complexion, then you should add more warming foods. If you tend toward more heat symptoms like feeling hot, sweating easily, fast metabolism, and flushed complexion, then cooling foods are a better call for you. Roasting adds a lot more warmth than boiling, so as the weather is starting to warm, I’m pulling back on how much roasted food I consume, adding in more steamed, boiled, and juiced. Because I still tend toward cold, I still limit how much raw food I eat.

Sweet potatoes are a rich source of vitamins A, C, Bs, potassium, copper, and fibre–great for strengthening the immune and digestive systems. Mushrooms are often used to support the immune system too. While spring is here, cold and flus are still circulating, so it helps to have immune supportive foods to keep a spring cold at bay.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Better than mashed potatoes, I think.
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Ingredients
  1. 4 sweet potatoes (you could use yams instead if you like, but though people often use the names interchangeably, they are different vegetables)
  2. 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  3. 1/4 cup of almond milk
  4. 2-6 Tbsp of maple syrup (depends on your sweet tooth)
  5. salt and pepper
Instructions
  1. Peel and cut the sweet potatoes into cubes
  2. Boil in water until soft, 20-30 minutes
  3. Drain out water
  4. Mash sweet potatoes with a potato masher, fork, or hand blender
  5. Stir in coconut oil
  6. Add in almond milk so it's the consistency you like
  7. Add in maple syrup to taste
  8. Add salt and pepper to taste
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/
Mushroom Saute
Mushrooms should always be cooked. But the cooking of them can be super simple. Like this.
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Ingredients
  1. Mushrooms, 1/2 cup sliced (instead, I rehydrated a bag of West Coast Wild Foods mixed mushrooms)
  2. 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (I used Copper Kettle Fine Foods small batch handmade sauce)
  3. 1 Tbsp coconut oil
Instructions
  1. Heat oil at medium heat
  2. Add mushrooms and saute a few minutes
  3. Add Worcestershire sauce (took me a long time to learn how to spell that; still can't pronounce it!)
  4. Saute another few minutes
  5. Optional to serve on top of mashed sweet potatoes
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/

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Quick and easy tropical smoothie bowl recipe

healthy smoothie bowl recipe healthy food vancouverMay 1. I think. One moment it’s sunny and dry. The next it’s raining and cold. Hard to know what to wear when you head outside. It’s also hard to know what to eat, if you follow treating to eat with the seasonal cues. The last recipe I shared was a warming soup. Today wasn’t warm out, but after the rain cleared for a bit and the sun came out, I felt like having something cool and refreshing. Thus, my smoothie bowl recipe.

Smoothie bowl recipes are all over the internet. But I find some of them too complicated, too many ingredients and things I need to slice. Now, I normally recommend local, seasonally available foods. But, that’s what to emphasize, not hard core. Every now and then you might want something tropical. Like mango.

Mango is rich in antioxidants, fibre, vitamin C, carotenes, vitamin A, potassium, and more.

What I love about smoothies and smoothie bowls is that you really don’t need a recipe (even though I’m going to give you one). Modify it to contain what you want. Smoothie bowls are basically super thick smoothies. 

Quick and Easy Tropical Smoothie Bowl
Couldn't get much simpler.
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Ingredients
  1. 2 large mangoes
  2. 1 cup coconut water
  3. 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
  4. 1 tray ice cubes
Instructions
  1. Peel and cut up the mango small enough to put in your blender (I have a Vitamix, so I don't need to chop very much)
  2. Add coconut water, protein powder, and ice cubes to blender
  3. Blend until smooth. If too thin, add more ice. If too thick, add more water or coconut water.
Notes
  1. If you're using frozen mango, you may not need as much ice.
  2. Optional to add coconut flakes on top. Or, if you want, sliced fruit.
  3. Note that this makes a lot. For me it's 4-5 servings because I treat this as a treat, not a meal.
Adapted from nope
Adapted from nope
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/
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Carrot Ginger Immune and Digestive Support Vegan Soup Recipe

carrot ginger immune boosting digestive health easy vegan soup recipeI know, that’s a very long title for a recipe: Carrot Ginger Immune and Digestive Support Vegan Soup Recipe. But I wanted to say a bit about why I chose to make and share this one. My poor husband has had a fair amount of dental work done recently. Most people don’t particularly enjoy having someone drill in their head, but for him, it’s particularly anxiety-provoking, as I’m sure many of you can relate. All that stress was taking a toll on both his immune and his digestive systems–as stress does. Plus, he wasn’t able to chew very well.

Now, I’m not much of a cook, I’ll easily admit. So, anything I do make needs to be pretty easy and quick. I’m mostly not much of a cook not because I can’t cook well, but because I’m impatient when it comes to getting food ready. When I want food…cue Queen’s song…I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now.

As you probably know, carrots are good for you. Rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C, they are immune system supportive. They support the digestive system with a rich source of fibre. Combine that with anti-inflammatory, digestive supporting ginger, and you’ve got a powerhouse of health.

So, here it is, the no-chewing-required, immune-boosting, digestion-supporting, vegan-friendly, make-it-easy recipe.

Vegan Soup Recipe

Carrot Ginger Immune Boosting Digestive Supporting Healthy Vegan Soup Recipe
Serves 4
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Ingredients
  1. 2 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil
  2. 1 medium onion, diced
  3. 3 tablespoons minced ginger (I did closer to 4-5 Tbsp and it was super gingery, but delish!)
  4. 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander (I used cumin because I thought I was out of coriander)
  5. 4-5 cups diced carrots
  6. 3 cups vegetable broth
  7. 1 cup coconut milk
  8. salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat
  2. Add onions
  3. Saute until onions are translucent (about 4 minutes)
  4. Add ginger
  5. Saute for another 4 minutes (until softened and fragrant)
  6. Add coriander (or cumin)
  7. Add carrots
  8. Stir
  9. Add vegetable broth
  10. Reduce heat and simmer until carrots are completely softened (about 30 minutes)
  11. Remove from heat and let cool for 20 minutes
  12. Blend soup until smooth, using either an emulsion blender in the pot or put into a blender in batches (my Vitamix did it all in one go)
  13. Return soup to pot
  14. Stir in coconut milk
  15. Add salt and pepper to taste
Notes
  1. Even better the 2nd day, if you have leftovers!
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/
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The Unicorn: #1 requested acupuncture point

vancouver acupuncture unicorn calm stressI don’t get the Starbucks Unicorn drink craze. It doesn’t look edible, it’s full of junk, and it contains a whopping 59g of sugar! It’s not just the calories. That’s almost 15 tsp of sugar. Inflammatory sugar. 

I get that it’s only available for a short time and people just want to try it because others are trying it. I’m curious too. But I know that that drink, for me, is a recipe for a headache–even if I only have a portion of it. So, instead I propose a new unicorn craze. I’d love to start an #acupunctureunicorn trend!

Ok, so the acupuncture point is not called The Unicorn. But I do nickname it the “#1 requested acupuncture point” and the “aren’t you going to do that point” point. The acupuncture point name is actually Yintang, and the benefits are many!

The main reason people request that point from me? Because it helps calm our overactive minds. We want to be mindful, but instead we find we’re “mind full.” Who amongst us couldn’t use a bit more calm? Unicorn acupuncture to the rescue.

What about sleep? Are you able to relax well and enjoy a deep, restful sleep? No? Then perhaps you could use some “acupuncture unicorn.”

Stuffy or runny nose? Allergic rhinitis? Congested sinuses? Become an acupuncture unicorn.

Headache? Perhaps it’s because you had a Starbucks unicorn drink? Or maybe it could be from eye strain, sinus congestion, stress, or other. Some unicorn acupuncture can help with that too.

Are you in? Are you ready to make a new unicorn craze–a healthy one? Take a picture of you getting acupuncture at Yintang and share it with the hashtag #acupunctureunicorn ! That would be a trend worth sharing.

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Natural health trends for 2017

Every year I attend the CHFA (Canadian Health Food Association) trade show that’s open only to retailers and health professionals. This past Sunday I spent the day wandering through the aisles with my mom (she’s a nurse practitioner), checking out what’s available in health supplements and healthy food options.

This is what I picked up.

CHFA health show 2017 natural health product trends

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the tried and true stuff. After all, I am practicing a medicine that has a history of thousands of years–Traditional Chinese Medicine’s foundations began 4000+ years ago. But, I also like to find out what’s new. Even TCM continues to evolve, with elements of our practice being fully modern. After all, don’t you prefer your acupuncture with sterile, fine, filiform needles that are thin as hair and glide with ease rather than a sharpened stone? Uh huh, I thought so. Plus, I love being able to offer biopuncture, press needles, silicone cups for cupping, microcurrent stimulation, Swarovski crystal ear seeds (a different post I’ll need to write about soon), and other newer aspects of TCM practice.

So, without further ado, here are some of the things I was most excited to see at this year’s CHFA trade show: foods with more medicinal benefits, companies giving back, healthy things that are also convenient, people passionate and knowledgeable about health!

Functional foods

Okay, so I’ve often been a bit perplexed about the idea of “functional foods.” After all, aren’t all whole foods functional, i.e. have health benefits? But the term functional foods refers to foods that “have a potentially positive effect on health beyond basic nutrition.” Still, the category is pretty broad. We’re finding out more and more that many foods contain phytonutrients, i.e. chemicals that the plants produce for their own benefit that also provide health perks for us. 

probiotic health food bar CHFA 2017Another definition of functional foods is “processed foods containing ingredients that aid specific bodily functions in addition to being nutritious.” What I saw at the show were foods that have been added to. You get the food…plus you get a supplement of some sort. It’s not a new idea. Vitamin D has long been added to dairy products, you can buy omega-3 eggs, and iodine is added to table salt. What I saw though, were the addition of herbs and other nutrients, like this probiotic granola bar. This one is delicious (if you have a sweet tooth), soft, and chewy. It contains 4 billion active probiotic cultures. That’s a good amount! They also make drinks with their probiotics too, though I haven’t tried it yet. Plus, I see that they’ve partnered with the Creation of Hope initiative to help build water wells in Africa, with 5 cents donated for every bottle they sell.

You may know, I’m a big fan of reishi mushrooms. It’s one of TCM’s top herbs! How can it not be, when its Chinese name “ling zhi” translates to “holy mushroom,” and when it’s also known as the “mushroom of immortality!” I write articles regularly for Mikei Red Reishi Mushroom, so I’ve done lots of research beyond the usual for this particular power herb. So, I was excited to see a snack bar with reishi in it (and one with cordyceps too–another powerful Chinese herb!). Though this brand’s reishi uses only the mycelia (root-like structure of a fungus), rather than the fruiting body (the stem and cap–the part you usually think about when you think “mushroom”)–unlike the Mikei brand–meaning it doesn’t contain all the beneficial compounds, it does still contain many polysaccharides that help with immune health. The powerful medicinal compounds in reishi and cordyceps taste awful. They are bitter. So, I was surprised to see them in a granola bar. But, here they were, and the bars taste good. They are crunchier, much firmer than the probiotic bars, and much less sweet. I’m not giving up my daily reishi supplement, but I’d have these snack bars as a topper up on occasion.

tea health food natural health VancouverOk, this food isn’t about adding something medicinal to a food, but instead, it’s a functional food that is now being used when it was previously tossed away. Do you love coffee? Did you know that the coffee plant leaf has health benefits? Like many teas, it is rich in antioxidants. The cool thing about attending a trade health show is learning the stuff you didn’t know you didn’t know. Like, the coffee plant leaf contains mangiferin (found in mangoes, but not only mangoes), a compound that is anti a lot of things–antioxidant, antimicrobial (kills bad things you don’t want in your body), anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, anti-allergic–and analgesic (should I have called it “anti-pain”?). It also contains about as much caffeine as green tea and chlorogenic acids–the same compound that has made green coffee beans popular for weight loss. Bonus is jobs. The coffee industry is huge and many people are employed by it, but only for the 3-4 months per year when coffee beans can be harvested. What can they do during the remainder of the year? By harvesting the coffee leaf instead of tossing it, those people can still be employed. Plus, waste not, want not. This really a wise product: Wize Monkey Coffee Tea Leaf.

Essential Oils

I’ve recently become minorly (my husband might say it’s not that minor) obsessed with essential oils. I blame two of my friends/colleagues (you know who you are!) who are even nuttier than I am about E.O. I’ve spent way too much money stocking up on oils, but the good thing is that I use them regularly, and I find them helpful! It’s a whole huge topic to go into all the health benefits of E.O., but it’s way beyond smelling nice. For one, did you know that your sense of smell is one of your most primitive and powerful senses? Your olfactory (smell) receptors are directly linked to your limbic system, the part of your brain that helps control your drive for survival, emotional stimuli, motivation, and some types of memory. You’ve likely experienced a powerful memory prompted by a smell–I love the smell of ice rinks because I spent a lot of time there as a figure skater, and Chinese herbal stores always make me feel instantly better.

essential oils natural healthSo, when I came across this company, Divine Essence, I was riveted with amount of information I learned about oils. Many of their oils are organic and they can offer the chemical breakdown analysis for proof of purity, if you ask. The thing about essential oils is that quality can vary. I bought one set of E.O. on a Groupon from a different company. Serves me right. It was cheap. Too cheap, and what I found was that the oils they sent are more like water. Good quality essential oils will have the Latin species name (there are many types of lavender, for instance, each with a different profile), where it was sourced, and that it’s 100% pure and natural. You know when you meet someone who is clearly passionate about what they do? These guys are that. Plus knowledgeable. This may be my favourite product I picked up at the CHFA show: organic helichrysum (also called everlasting or immortelle). It’s beautiful for skin health, an antiviral, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, etc. (note that most E.O. should be diluted in oil to use topically and should only be used internally with guided support from someone who’s qualified, despite what some marketing companies say).

essential oils natural health VancouverIf you’re not planning on going E.O. nuts, but you’d like your car or closet or gym bag to smell nice, here’s an option. I’m trying the peppermint one in my car. It’s strongly scented right now, so it’s a good thing I love peppermint. They apparently last for 3 weeks. Please, please, please don’t use the fake scents–those cardboard pine tree-shaped smelly things for your car, Febreeze, fake scented air fresheners, cologne, perfume. The chemicals in those products are harmful to us and to our environment. Raise your hand if you, like me, hold your breath when you walk through the perfume section of a department store or past the store Abercrombie & Fitch (stinks like a cologne war). I love these Purple Frog air fresheners because they combine one of my favourite animals (I collect frog knick knacks) with essential oils. 🙂

Toiletries and Topicals

Toiletries. What an awful name for things that you use to make yourself look better. But, I didn’t create the word and it makes for nice alliteration in my subheading. 😉 

dental health natural health vancouverBrushing your teeth may not be exciting or ground breaking. But this oil (Body Food Dental) used as an alternative to toothpaste is quite different. It doesn’t foam. It doesn’t have chemicals. No SLS (sodium laureth/lauryl sulfate) or fluoride. You don’t need much. Just add 1-2 drops on your wet toothbrush and brush as you normally would. It’s a specially chosen blend of essential oils (you’ve already seen my love for E.O., as mentioned above) in coconut oil. It also tastes great. Not sure yet if I’ll convert over entirely, but I am alternating it with my natural toothpaste.

lymphatic support drainage natural health vancouver bcI often recommend dry brushing. Why? Because your lymphatic system will benefit, as will your skin. Why do I want to support my lymphatic system? Because the lymphatic system is part of your circulatory and immune systems, clearing away the garbage–dead cells, bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, toxins, excess fluid, and other waste products. I’ve written about lymphatic support here and here. This isn’t a new product at all, but it’s one I was happy to pick up–a dry brush. Practice dry brushing before you hop in the shower and you may find you catch fewer colds, have less puffiness, feel more energy, and have healthier skin. This brush by Urban Spa has a nice long handle, but I did notice that some of the bristles came off when brushing, so I might better recommend the Merben brand, as it comes with options for sensitive skin and is ethically sourced and made.

topical natural pain relief natural health Vancouver BCThis product counts as the one I’ve used the most since I picked up a sample. Some of you, as my patients, have already had this EpsomGel applied to your area of pain. I’ve tried topical magnesium products before. But they made me itchy, so I stopped using them. This one didn’t itch. Plus, it also contains arnica, which is good for treating injuries. It does have a light scent, but it’s not overwhelming. If you find that epsom salt baths help you relieve muscle tightness and cramping, then here’s your quick version that doesn’t require you to draw a bath (though you still might like to do that). I find it helpful for menstrual cramps or other muscle cramps, as well as tight muscles in general. If you want something topical for joint pain, and something that you can really feel as cooling and instantly pain relieving, then you might want to try SierraSil’s topical spray (I use that at the clinic). Either way, it’s great to have options for pain relief that won’t damage your liver, stomach, heart, or kidneys. 

I didn’t take a picture, but if there was one line of product I wish would disappear, it’s the bottled water category. I get it, sometimes you’re out and you want water. For sure, buy bottled if you’re in a country where the water will make you sick. Otherwise, drink tap or filtered tap water. I have a filter at home and plenty of re-usable, very nice looking and practical containers (some are collapsible and thus more portable for travel). At the trade show, I saw Mood Water. It was plastic bottles of a clear liquid and labels with pictures of emoticons. Cute, but “what’s in it?” I asked. “Water,” she said. Simply that. It was a marketing gimmick: Water is healthy; people like emoticons. But what an environmental waste. As much as I loved the show and am excited to see the innovations put forth next year, I’d like to no longer see stuff like that.

I’ve now recovered from my sampling of too many gluten-free, dairy-free, free trade, organic, vegan snacks, chocolate bars, cookies, ice cream, pastas, breads, spreads, etc. from last Sunday. But I’m still absorbing all the information that I gleaned from that day!

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Paella recipe: How do you say “paella”? I say it paeyum!

Paella recipeWhile I prepared to share this paella recipe, I thought, “How do you pronounce paella?” Yes, it has “l”s in it, but no, you don’t pronounce them. In Spain, it would be pronounced pa-ey-ya. But last week my good friend, Chef Luisa Rios, came over to my place to teach my husband and me how to make it (and learn some knife skills). Chef Luisa is from Columbia, and in some areas of South America, the “l” is said like a “j,” making it pa-ey-ja.

As we sat down to eat the dish, however, my thoughts were that it should be called paeyum!

The wonderful thing about making this dish is that you can modify it to suit your tastes, like a pizza! In fact, the way that it’s served it often looks somewhat like a pizza, in a round shallow pan with colourful pieces of food nicely placed in/on it.

The original paella recipe was from Jamie Oliver and included fennel, green pepper, chorizo, pancetta, and bacon, but to fit everyone’s preferences, this is what we made.

Paella Recipe

Paeyum Paella
I'm not kidding, it really is "paeyum"!
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Ingredients
  1. • 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced
  2. • 1 red bell pepper, sliced
  3. • 1 bunch asparagus, quartered
  4. • 1 jar artichokes, sliced
  5. • 2 chicken thighs (or 1 chicken breast) boneless, skinless
  6. • 1 onion, finely chopped
  7. • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  8. • 2 cups chicken stock, more if needed (we ended up adding in about another 2/3 cups)
  9. • 1 pinch saffron, about 1/4 teaspoon
  10. • 1 teaspoon paprika (smoked is best for this)
  11. • 1 cup paella rice, arborio rice, or carnaroli rice
  12. • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  13. • 1 cup frozen peas
  14. • 12 prawns
  15. • salt and pepper, to taste
  16. • 1 lemon, cut into wedges, for serving
Instructions
  1. Bring stock to a boil. Turn off heat and add saffron to infuse. Keep warm.
  2. Pull peas from the freezer and let thaw.
  3. Dice chicken into 3/4" cubes.
  4. Preheat a large skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add oil.
  5. Add chicken to the pan and sauté until cooked through and golden brown on all sides. Remove from skillet and set aside. (It will still be raw on the inside, but will be cooked later with the rice and veggies.)
  6. Add onions and sauté until translucent (at least 5 minutes).
  7. Add peppers and asparagus to skillet and start to sauté about 3 minutes.
  8. Add garlic and saute for 20 seconds.
  9. Return seared chicken to the skillet.
  10. Add paprika, a pinch of salt, and rice, stirring to coat.
  11. Add 1.5 cups of stock to the skillet and stir.
  12. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until rice is almost cooked through. Stir periodically.
  13. Taste rice to see if it's sufficiently cooked. Add more stock to cook longer, if needed. Rice should be moist, but not too wet.
  14. Add raw prawns and allow to cook another few minutes (only takes 2-3 minutes, otherwise the prawns will get rubbery).
  15. Add thawed peas.
  16. Add parsley and artichokes.
  17. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
Notes
  1. Serve with lemon wedges
Adapted from from Jamie Oliver
Adapted from from Jamie Oliver
Acupuncture, TCM, natural health, Vancouver, BC http://www.activetcm.com/
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