The Whole Picture

When I was a health conscious teenager drinking skim milk, I remember I used to look at my grandmother drinking whole milk with a bit of self righteousness.

“Doesn’t she know any better?” I would wonder. “Whole milk is full of saturated fat and cholesterol!”

My, how times have changed! These days, I enjoy full-fat dairy, and I’m much more likely to tell my clients to drink whole milk, rather than skim or 1%. Especially my fertility clients!

Why the 180? Eating full-fat dairy fits into my “eat real food” philosophy. This philosophy has been cultivated year after year, the more I study food and nutrition. And it’s reinforced year after year, as new research emerges that shows the foods my grandmother ate may be healthiest for us after all. Butter and whole eggs have both seen a healthy renaissance recently. Now it looks like whole milk may see a similar revival.

Consider two recent studies that conclude the consumption of whole-fat dairy is associated with reduced body fat. In a study published last year in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care, middle-aged men who consumed high-fat milk, butter, and cream were significantly less likely to become obese over a period of 12 years compared with men who never or rarely ate high-fat dairy. (1)

In another paper, published last year in the European Journal of Nutrition, researchers reviewed 16 other studies and concluded that the evidence does not show that high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity or heart disease. In most of the studies, high-fat dairy was actually associated with a lower risk of obesity! (2)

Moreover, full-fat dairy has been a recommendation for women trying to get pregnant since 2007, when research from the Nurses Health Study showed intake of high-fat dairy foods may decrease the risk of anovulatory infertility.

How can this be? Well, the fat in whole milk can curb appetite and slow the release of sugar into the bloodstream, reducing the amount that can be stored as fat. Also, fat-free dairy products can potentially disrupt hormone balance, an important factor in fertility and weight. The process of removing fat from whole milk removes estrogen and progesterone, which are bound to the fat. This leaves behind higher portions of androgens, insulin-like growth factor one (IGF-1), prolactin, and male hormones in the watery layer, therefore causing an imbalance. (3)

So does that mean you can go on an ice cream and cheese-eating bender? Not quite! It means you can stop feeling guilty if you keep whole milk in the house for the kids and you drink it too. It means you can enjoy the 2% Greek yogurt, instead of the 0%. It means cheddar and apples can be a balanced afternoon snack. Incorporate modest amounts, 1-2 servings, of full-fat dairy into your diet, even if you’re trying to lose weight. And let your grandmother tell you, “I told you so!”

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23320900

2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22810464

3. Victoria Maizes, “Be Fruitful.”

Why we killed 48 chickens last weekend

When Karl and I moved out to this house on 33 acres nearly a year ago, we knew one of the first things we wanted to do was buy chickens. Not just for the eggs and for meat, but for the fruits and vegetables. Yes, that’s right – fruits and veggies. Karl and I are both very much influenced by Joel Salatin’s model of farming. We want to avoid monoculture – growing a single crop or focusing on a single animal year after year on the same land, in the absence of rotation through other crops. We love his ideas on polyculture, the traditional rotation of crops and livestock. It’s a symbiotic relationship of everything on a farm. It’s better for both the land and people. Polyculture, when done right, automatically replenishes what is taken out, which makes it sustainable with minimal effort. You have healthier animals, healthier soil, and easier to grow fruits and vegetables with little need for fertilizer and pesticides.

Karl built Salatin-style pens for the broilers (meat chickens). The pens protected the chicken from hawks, foxes, and other predators, while still allowing for sunshine, grass, and fresh air. They were moved to a fresh patch of grass daily so they could eat bugs and fertilize the ground. The patches of grass where they were moved over ten weeks are now noticeably super green and healthy! While Salatin is known for his meat products, he calls himself a grass farmer above all else. Everything he does, he does with the health of the grass in mind.

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The chickens grow super fast! We waited until they were about 4 lbs each, about 8-10 weeks. You’re allowed to process up to 1000 chicken on your property a year, and usually people rent the equipment. But Karl spent weeks prepping and he built an entire chicken processing set-up from scratch. Even an electric chicken plucker! Moving out here, I’ve seen an entirely new side of my husband, that’s for sure!

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Karl’s family raised chickens for meat and eggs when he grew up, so his parents came down to help supervise on processing day. We also had friends and family who are interested in food and agriculture come for the day/weekend to help out. Everyone watched videos and read the manual to get a general idea. But no manual is as good as Karl’s mom showing us exactly how to do it! We processed and packed 48 chickens into our deep freezer.

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I won’t go into the nitty gritty of how to process and butcher a chicken. I just wanted to write about WHY we did it and I hope this gave you a better idea. Someone at Karl’s school last week asked him why he should buy pasture-raised poultry over supermarket chicken. I gave Karl some talking points – fewer inflammatory fats, no hormones or antibiotics, soil health, happy chickens, blah, blah, blah. But ultimately, he needed a one-line, easy to understand answer. An elevator speech. What did Karl and I come up with?

“It’s healthier.”

Haha. Not very good, I know! We’re working on it :)

Are You Eating Enough?

In case you didn’t know/don’t remember, I veered off on a newish career path ten months ago when we moved. I went from working in nutrition policy and communications to counseling people on nutrition at an integrative health clinic. Integrative medicine and nutrition (also called functional medicine/nutrition), addresses the underlying causes of disease. It focuses on the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms. The doctors I work with are more interested in finding the ‘why’, rather than covering up symptoms with prescriptions.

I have been interested in integrative health since I became an RD in 2007. I even started this blog as an outlet for my musings in 2009, so it seems funny to me that I waited so long to explore this type of nutrition career. I really am loving it. It’s very rewarding and satisfying to talk to people about nutrition and their diet. Most days, I feel like I really make a difference.

I’ve learned so much in the past months, but the most significant, surprising thing I’ve learned is in regards to weight loss. The mainstream approach to overweight and obesity emphasizes energy balance – calories in/calories out. Cutting calories equals weight loss, right? Well, I’m going to tell you that 8 out of 10 of my overweight/obese patients don’t eat enough.

Patients think they’re being so “good” when they tell me that they had yogurt for breakfast, a “healthy” frozen meal for lunch, and a grilled chicken salad with light dressing for dinner. “Why am I always hungry? Why am I not losing weight?” Patients are always flabbergasted when I tell them to eat more.

Not eating enough means the body isn’t getting enough fuel to function properly. Think about this – function properly. Your body needs fuel in the form of calories to do anything – make hormones, fight disease, grow hair, digest food properly, build muscle, etc. The list is endless. The body will do whatever it can to burn fewer calories, including burning muscle for fuel, because muscle requires more calories to maintain than fat. That’s a double whammy for those trying to lose weight.

Most people can realistically consume 2000 calories a day. Sound like a lot? Plug in your info into these calculators:

  • http://www.health-calc.com/diet/energy-expenditure-advanced
  • http://www.womenshealthandfitness.com.au/energy-counter

Track your calories with MyFitnessPal or LoseIt for two weeks and then tell me you don’t feel better all around. Some people can naturally and instinctively consume the number of calories that will support a healthy weight, but most people need a little retraining. That’s why I recommend calorie counting, if only for a short amount of time. People need to see how much food 2000 calories looks like.

Stop eating the puny breakfast. Stop binging at night or eating massive restaurant meals. Eat three squares a day, a healthy snack or two, and fuel your body!

Postpartum Update

Greetings from motherland – where I don’t do much besides sleep, feed, and gawk at my new baby daughter. E is 10 weeks old now and smiling! I’m relishing every second, and moving things like blogging (and housework!) down on my priority list. But I’m back at work and re-inspired professionally, so I felt called to the ol’ blog. I’m updating a few things on the site, so don’t mind the current appearance.

I’ll be back in the next few months to write about my first garden, grape maintenance, and our 50 Cornish Crosses (broilers – chickens for eating) we’re raising! But I wanted to write a quick postpartum update. Not that the postpartum period is over! I think it takes a full year to recover from pregnancy and childbirth.

Exercise – Many women dive back into strenuous physical activity after their six week check-up. My midwife (who works with a physical therapist) says that that’s the reason many women have that lower abdominal “pooch.” The abdominal muscles take a long time to heal and fuse. Isometric exercises are best – think planks instead of sit-ups. I’m going to Mom & Baby yoga and slowly adding kettlebells back into my routine. I’m still loving my walking and seem to have lost my desire to run. Maybe one day I’ll have the urge again. It’s been nearly a year and a half since I’ve been on run!

Food – We had a lot of frozen meals (that we made in January) and people cooking for us until recently. I’ve been spoiled and now have to get back into meal planning and cooking. My new favorite recipe site? Real Simple. The recipes are fast, tasty, and….real simple. My sister recently introduced me to ZipList. Brilliant! I’ve been using the site and the app to tag recipes, plan meals, and make grocery lists.

I eat three balanced meals plus snacks, and eat to appetite. I’m breastfeeding and I know that most of the pregnancy weight will come off eventually.

Mood – I had the typical sleep-deprivation-induced weepiness once or twice during those first few weeks. But besides that, I’ve been feeling pretty great. I had my doula encapsulate my placenta. You can read more about it here. Even if my placenta pills had nothing to do with my postpartum mood, at least I got to skip the standard postpartum iron prescription!

Sleep – I’ve been focusing on getting lots of rest the past ten weeks. I think sleep is SO important. It significantly affects nearly every health outcome. My biggest advice to new moms regarding sleep is not the often heard “sleep when the baby sleeps,” but sleep when it’s dark! I’m not a great napper during the day. But when E was waking up every few hours, if I went to bed at 8pm and slept until 7am – even with the wakings, I felt remarkably okay the next day.

Room-sharing is going well. I wrote about not having a nursery here. I have no plans to move her into her own room anytime soon. She’s been sleeping well in her Snugabunny Rock n’ Play sleeper since birth. I don’t have a plan for what we’ll do when she outgrows it, eek! I love our Sleep Sheep white noise machine, or a white noise app on my phone. But the white noise is for my benefit, not hers! Babies are noisy : )

Be back soon!

Prenatal Chiropractic Care

About halfway through my pregnancy, I started experiencing lower back pain. I thought yoga and physical activity would protect me, but apparently that hormone relaxin is pretty powerful stuff! It works to loosen your hips to prepare you for labor and delivery. Based on where my pain was at, I knew it was my sacroiliac (SI) joint causing me trouble – where the sacrum meets the pelvis. I put up with it a few weeks. I skipped yoga, I rested, I iced. But the pain was preventing me from living my life, so I stopped by the chiropractor’s office that was located in my office building.

I did absolutely NO research, which is unlike me. The pain was bad enough at work one day that I just walked over to the office at lunch and said, “Help!” Little did I realize that the chiropractor I ended up seeing was certified in the Webster technique. It’s a widely practiced prenatal chiropractic technique that promotes a “relaxed uterine environment” and allows the baby to move into the optimum birth position.

Cool, right? As soon as I got home I started reading up on it. I couldn’t believe I never had heard about it before! I did a lot of reading about pregnancy and childbirth in early pregnancy and prenatal chiropractic care never came up. Some people may see chiropractic care as “fringe” or alternative, but even the American Pregnancy Association recommends it. And I found several studies in PubMed that showed clear benefits, including significantly shorter labor times and reduced incidence of c-sections and breech and posterior babies (which causes the dreaded back labor!). And there are no known contraindications to chiropractic care throughout pregnancy. Even if the chiropractor didn’t make my back pain go away, I was sold!

The first appointment was about an hour and included a thorough assessment of my spine and gait. She did ultrasound therapy on my SI joint, trying to relieve some of the inflammation. Then came the adjustment. I’ve seen it done in movies, and my sister and dad have talked about it, but nothing could prepare me for the “crack.” She twisted me up like a pretzel (all upper and mid-spine, not my lower body where the baby was), threw her weight on me, and achieved that satisfying sound. Ahhhhhh. She also did my neck, which gave me the heeby jeevies, but also felt wonderful. She taught me how to massage my round ligament, and gave me some much-needed advice on how to sit at my desk and told me to stop crossing my legs, a lifelong bad habit of mine.

I continued to see her once a week throughout the rest of my second trimester and all of my third trimester. The back pain took a few sessions to go away, but it did go away. From what I’ve heard/read, the muscles and joints take a while to be “trained.”

And what about labor and delivery? I gave birth to a healthy baby girl mid-February. I was induced (scary!), but once we hit active labor, interventions were discontinued. She was head down, anterior, and active labor was less than five hours. Pushing lasted 20 minutes. Obviously, I have nothing to compare it to. Maybe my body would have done that on its own without chiropractic care. However, seeing the chiropractor during pregnancy was so enjoyable, I would definitely do it again if I have another baby.

A Trip to the Grocery Store

My main nutrition message for the past 7+ years has always been “Eat Real Food.” Eat whole foods. Eat food as close to the source as possible. It’s the one thing I keep coming back to as I learn more and more about nutrition, and as I counsel patients and see real life diet results.

Headlines, studies, and advertising are confusing the heck out of people. Consequently, people say “screw it” and eat what they want, or they eat according to the research and not intuition. Consequently, we have a whole generation of people eating margarine, Egg Beaters, diet drinks, and other fake foods and doing their bodies a huge disservice. It’s mind-blowing to me when I see a patient who won’t eat steak because “red meat is unhealthy,” yet in their food log I see daily Fiber 1 chocolate chip candy bars….err, excuse me – “granola” bars. Because, you know, “fiber is healthy.”

This type of eating has got to stop! This focus on health claims and nutrients as ingredients is detrimental to health.

I try to teach people to ignore the headlines, ignore health claims, and just eat food. Fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, whole grains, legumes, and nuts are all food. Once you venture down the packaged food aisles, it gets trickier, but if you just take a quick peek at the ingredients list, it’s easy.

Come take a trip with me to the grocery store.

Bread Aisle

Bread

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edible bread-like substance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dairy Case

Cheese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cottage cheese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edible cottage cheese-like substance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edible yogurt-like substance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spreads

Butter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edible butter-like substance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peanut butter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edible peanut butter-like substance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freezer Aisle

Ice cream

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edible ice cream-like substance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snack Aisle

Snack bar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edible snack bar-like substance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crackers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edible cracker-like substance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cereal Aisle

Oats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edible oat-like substance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bottom line?

1. Eat more foods without ingredients lists!

2. When buying packaged food, read the ingredients list. If you see ingredients that you recognize, go for it. A long list of chemicals? Skip it.

 

Why We Don’t Have a Nursery

As I enter the last few weeks/days of my first pregnancy, I’ve been struggling with answering a simple question from so many people. No, it’s not about the name, the due date, where I’m delivering, or if “I’m ready.” It’s regarding the nursery. You see, we don’t have one. The look on people’s faces is priceless when I tell them I’m not doing a nursery. It’s incomprehensible! It seems to me to be more controversial than homebirth, vaccines, co-sleeping, or placenta eating. For the record, I’m doing the latter. Post to come.

Designing and decorating a room for baby seems to be what many women look forward to most about pregnancy (besides the new addition to the family, of course). I’ve seen some stunning nurseries! It’s not that I don’t like decorating or that we don’t have the room. We have a big, beautiful house with a plethora of bedrooms to choose from. The main reason I’m choosing not to decorate a nursery for baby? I plan to breastfeed, and the thought of traipsing down the hall and up the stairs in the dark several times a night seems silly. Plus, I’ve read all sorts of really interesting research that shows that babies that sleep close to their mothers are influenced by her heartbeat and breathing patterns, lowering the risk of SIDS.

I’ve had several people tell me, “Good luck sleeping in the same room as a baby. They’re noisy.” People adjust to noises (as do babies). My friend lives on a busy, bright street and the first few weeks she found it difficult to sleep. Not anymore.

I’ve had several people ask me, “What about intimacy?” Again, babies get used to noises!

Another shocking revelation? We haven’t bought a crib yet. Baby will sleep in a bassinet or pack n’ play close to my bed for the first few months. From one of my favorite baby sleep sites (I’m reading up now!):

“About 0% of newborn babies will sleep happily in a crib. You and your peanut will be much happier and will get a lot more sleep if you accept that most babies aren’t sleeping in the crib until sometime between 2-6 months of age (and sometimes later).”

I really wanted an Arm’s Reach co-sleeper, but we have a bed with a wrap-around frame and learned it’s not compatible with a co-sleeper.

We painted Karl’s old dresser and turned it into a changing table. We hung some bookshelves and moved our recliner into the master bedroom for feeding. At 6 months, we plan to re-evaluate the whole situation. If baby is sleeping through the night (Ha! A pipe dream I know…) we may move her to her own room. Who knows.

This situation totally works for us and our house, but I realize it might not work for everyone. I just think it’s so interesting how surprised everyone is when I tell them! Most of the pediatric recommendations I’ve read are on board with the baby being in the same room as mom for the first 6 months. Why all the shock and awe?

Am I missing out on some sort of first-time-mom rite of passage by not decorating a nursery?

Be Your Own Health Advocate

I like doctors, nurse practitioners, and other healthcare providers. I respect their opinions. However, I think people generally give healthcare providers too much power over their lives. People shop around for and get second opinions from accountants, child care providers, car mechanics, and real estate agents. But when it comes to their health care? Many people don’t give a second thought to lab tests, prescriptions, results, and recommendations from their healthcare providers.

Sure they’ve gone to school for many years, completed specialized training, and may have years of experience treating patients, but they’re still just making an educated guess when it comes to your health. Many healthcare providers don’t have much free time to catch up on the latest research and practices in medicine (unless you count pharmaceutical sponsored lunches…). Those who take insurance barely even have time to meet with patients for more than 15-20 minutes. It’s hard to solve anyone’s problems in 15-20 minutes. Often, prescriptions to cover up symptoms are a lot easier and quicker to write than digging and finding the root of the problem.

YOU are in charge of your health. You know your body better than a doctor does! Never forget it.

I’ve long been frustrated with the medical system. Even more so now that I work in it! I constantly see patients who are on statins for no reason. There is a lot more to a lipid panel than just total cholesterol and LDL! What’s the HDL? What’s the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL? What’s the ratio of triglycerides to HDL? What’s the cholesterol particle size? Has the patient tried changing his/her diet? All these things need to be addressed before a statin is prescribed. Especially as more and more research comes out that statins may be bad for health in the long term. Plus, simply lowering the numbers on your cholesterol tests doesn’t necessarily translate into reduced risk of a heart attack.

*NOTE: I am not a doctor and do not recommend you go off your statin. I tell my patients to talk with their doctor about their need for a statin.

A recent personal medical frustration inspired me to write this post. My husband had been feeling very fatigued all summer and started getting dizzy spells. I sent him to an “integrative” doctor who I thought would be able to take a closer look at his lab results than the average doctor. Seven tubes of blood were drawn and two weeks later we received a phone call from the office that everything looked fine. Suspicious, I called and asked them to send me the full lab report. It didn’t even need that much research on my part. There on the front page, I saw his serum vitamin B12 results. While technically he fell in the borderline normal range, there was a big star and note that said: between 5 and 10% of patients with values between 200 and 400 may experience low serum B12 symptoms like FATIGUE and DIZZINESS. Karl was at 222.

Good grief! I know doctors are busy, but this just seemed like a HUGE oversight and I was mad. I talked to a naturopath at work who recommended a certain Vitamin B supplement and Karl is now feeling great. Granted, I’m still trying to figure out WHY his B12 was low in the first place. My guess is – wait for it – impaired gut function : ) You knew that was coming, right? We had a very stressful summer and Karl was on a round of antibiotics in late spring, both of which could affect gut function and nutrient absorption. Plus, unless I’m cooking for him regularly, Karl is perfectly content eating a bag of Doritos for a meal. I’ve been working to get more quality protein in his breakfast and lunch.

Like I said in the beginning, I respect my healthcare providers, but I am not a passive patient. I always:

  • Always double check lab reports. Normal ranges change frequently as science advances.
  • Get a second opinion.
  • Ask the doctor questions. I’m like the annoying toddler: “But why?” If they don’t like that, I find a new doctor. You’re paying them for a service remember?
  • Read! We live in an age where there is a plethora of information online and books on every health condition. I research the heck out of a health condition until wellness is achieved. Remember, a symptom is your body trying to tell you something is wrong!

Don’t settle for anything less than optimal health. Your health, and your family’s health, should be a top priority in your life. Don’t put it completely in the hands of someone else!

Ideas on How to Prevent Colds and Flu

It’s that time of year again. It’s almost winter. If you live somewhere with four seasons like me, you will undoubtedly be spending more time indoors over the next few months. That means you’ll be up close and personal with people and their germs! You can wash your hands all you want, but you’re still going to be exposed to cold and flu germs.

So should you just give up and go buy a case of Nyquil and Kleenex? No! There are evidence-based things you can do to prevent colds and flu!

First off, get enough sleep! This is hugely important. Even just one bad night’s sleep can lower immunity. Losing one to two hours of sleep per night can result in a “sleep debt” that leaves your immunity chronically low. And don’t fall for the “catching up on weekends” sleep myth. A single night of solid sleep will not “pay off” a sleep debt.

Second, focus on your gut health. I’m obsessed with this topic lately. I’ve written about it before. Gut health affects nearly every health condition, including immunity and even weight!

By “focus on”, I mean:

  • Work on creating and maintaining a healthy, resilient mucosal barrier (it lines the inside of your intestinal tract), and
  • Keep a healthy balance and diversity of bacteria in the gut.

About 100 trillion bacteria line your intestinal tract. It’s an extremely complex living system that aggressively protects your body from outside invaders. A healthy gut will protect you against an over-growth of disease-causing microorganisms, and help you digest food and absorb nutrients.

So what should you eat to increase the diversity of bacteria and improve the resilience of your gut? Prebiotics and probiotics may be beneficial. Prebiotics are indigestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth and maintenance of beneficial gut bacteria. Onions and garlic have high amounts (onions and garlic can help kill the bad bacteria too!). Probiotics are good bacteria that may help repopulate the gut. The research on probiotics is all over the place. Plus, there are so many different strains, it’s hard to know which one affects which health condition. And that’s if they even make it past the acidic stomach to the gut! However, while I don’t take a supplement, I’m hedging my bets and still incorporating foods that contain probiotics into my diet. Fermented foods like miso, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and kefir are great sources.

I’m learning a lot about bone broth lately. This is just like it sounds – broth made from bones, not bouillon cubes or from a box. It contains gelatin, which is very soothing and healing to the gut wall. In an ideal world, I’d be making it in the crock pot every week. But in real life, I try to make pho – Vietnamese noodle soup – a regular part of my diet in the winter. It’s a cheap and delicious way to get real bone broth outside my house. Luckily, I live in the Washington metro area and there is a pho house in nearly every strip mall!

So how does the gut get out of balance in the first place? Well, our modern world of processed foods, antibiotics, stress, and hand sanitizer certainly doesn’t help. If you eat a lot of processed foods, the balance of bacteria in your gut will have a hard time staying optimal.

Antibiotics wreak havoc on the balance as well. Avoid antibiotics unless necessary. This is a tricky situation, because doctors don’t always agree on when they’re necessary. There are plenty of doctors who are still giving them out willy nilly – for prevention and even for viruses! Several studies have shown that half of all antibiotic prescriptions are not needed! More and more doctors are getting on the “no antibiotics” bandwagon though. Especially as it becomes more and more clear that when you take antibiotics, the diversity of the gut microbial ecosystem declines, leaving you susceptible to secondary infection. And it takes a long time to get the gut bacteria back in balance after a round of antibiotics. Unless I’m dying, I trust in my body’s inherent ability to heal (fevers are good people!) and I avoid antibiotics.

Once I learned how bad they are for the gut lining, I’ve severely limited my use of aspirin , ibuprofen, naproxen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) as well.

Who am I to talk about this topic? I’m just a dietitian, researcher, and self-experimenter. I get sick sometimes. But it’s unusually just a cold that doesn’t knock me out for more than a day or two. I thought about this topic when I was talking to someone recently who has chronic sinus infections. She’s on antibiotics a few times a year. While I was talking to her, she was drinking a Mountain Dew, eating a bag of Cheeze-Its, and sucking on a lollypop. Gah! By simply eating better, she could significantly affect her chances of getting another sinus infection. I’ve also been thinking about this topic a lot as I do everything in my power to have a natural labor and delivery in six-ish weeks (!!). A vaginal birth gives a baby a huge head start in balancing their gut bacteria for life!

For more info on gut health, check out this awesome blog I recently discovered:

Human Food Project – Anthropology of Microbes

I’m about to start reading Gut and Psychology Syndrome (aka the GAPS Diet), to help patients deal with food allergies and sensitivities. Anyone read it? I’ve heard it’s the “gut health Bible.”

My Favorite Christmas Cookie

My mom made big batches of Christmas cookies every December and kept them in the freezer. I loved sneaking into the freezer for iced sugar cookies, chocolate crackles, and Magic Cookie bars growing up. I was especially fond of Magic Cookie bars. I’m not sure how these became associated with Christmas, but I’ve talked with other people and they ate them at Christmas time too!

You might also know them as Dream bars or 7-Layer bars. My mom’s recipe was from the back of the sweetened condensed milk (SCM) can and consisted of a graham cracker crust and layers of SCM, chocolate chips, walnuts, and coconut. Simple, yet spectacular.

I don’t have kids (YET!), so I’ve never been into making loads of Christmas cookies during the holiday season. I don’t want that many sweets in the house and rolling dough by myself seems like a chore! Last year, I went to my friend’s house for a marathon Christmas cookie baking session. I think we make seven types of cookies! It was a blast, but I ended up giving most of the cookies away to make room for Poppy’s dog food in the freezer :p

I’ve had a hankering for Magic Cookie bars ever since someone recently asked me what is my favorite Christmas cookie. I had the most important ingredients on hand earlier this week: chocolate chips, walnuts, and coconut. But I didn’t want to buy canned SCM. I don’t eat a lot of canned food normally, but especially not during pregnancy. This isn’t just me being paranoid – most experts now recommend avoiding canned food during pregnancy to reduce exposure to BPA, which may affect neural development in the womb and cause behavior problems.

Most of the recipes to make your own SCM took hours over low heat, so I was fully ready to start my project at 6pm and not actually make the cookies until after 9pm! But after some more digging, I read that if you keep stirring, you can raise the heat and drop the cooking time significantly. I made delicious SCM in 20 minutes! It was so delicious, I almost ate it all by itself.

I “healthified” the crust by using rolled oats, walnuts, and extra virgin coconut oil. I nailed the crust ingredients ratio! It held together quite nicely after baking.

Sweetened Condensed Milk:

  • 1.5 cups milk
  • ½ cup sugar
  • glug vanilla

Crust:

  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 2 T virgin coconut oil
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 T sugar

Toppings:

  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • ½ cup unsweetened coconut

Combine milk, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk until thickened, about 20 minutes. While that’s cooling, combine the crust ingredients in a food processor. Process on high until crumbly. Press into a 9×9 square pan or a 7×11 pan. Smear the SCM on top of the crust and sprinkle on the toppings. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

I’m reminded why I don’t bake much: we finished these in just a few days! A nibble at breakfast, one with lunch, one for dessert…

What’s your favorite goodie this time of year?