Spring Cleaning Your Body with Food
Spring is finally here…actually it’s already almost been a month and yet winter still seems to be holding onto us for dear life! I don’t know about you, but after this harsh and long winter, I just can’t wait for those warmer days, nothing crazy, even simply those lower end two digit temperatures to consistently stick around. I start dreaming about when I can then start opening the windows, hear the birds singing or chirping all day, hear the kids playing outside after school, start planting some flowers around the house, I look forward to the smell of backyard barbecues in the air, a time when the days literally feel lighter and brighter! It’s also that time of year that we associate to a fresh new start or a time of renewal: out with the old and in with the new as they say! Personally, I just can’t wait to freshen up both the inside and outside of my home and start living with those two areas combined versus being limited to living indoors all the time. As I start spring cleaning my home and wardrobe, I also feel it’s the perfect occasion to do a little reboot or spring cleaning of my body and eating regime! Winter with its lack of sunshine, cold weather, home heating, comfort foods, lack of exercise and fresh produce, takes a toll on our bodies and health. So out with the heavier, braised, comforting, winter foods and meals, and in with the fresher, lighter, crunchy and brighter foods and of course all the wonderful seasonal spring produce that we will soon start to see pop up at the market and in grocery stores. As we start peeling off the layers of clothing, why not tweak the foods we eat daily so that we can help our body remove the excess bloat it may have accumulated during the winter, help our hair find its shine and bounce again, our skin get its silky smooth glow back, and so much more?
It’s really quite simple, here are the different categories of food you want to focus on daily to help your body reboot and smoothly transition from winter into summer!
Unfortunately, most of us during the long winter months may have had a diet which included one too many processed or refined foods and heavier comfort meals, we may also have had to deal with being sick and perhaps even needed to take some antibiotics, all of which are triggers for inflammation. It is important for us to reduce any possible inflammation that may have started brewing in our bodies since many diseases (heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s) have been linked to chronic inflammation. Anti-inflammatory foods and beverages are considered the most powerful tools in helping us maintain optimal health. Focus on these two important categories of food to help your body soothe any possible inflammation you may be holding onto from those cold winter months:
Antioxidants are compounds that help protect our bodies against cell and DNA damage caused by free radicals, as well as reduce inflammation, boost our immune system and prevent illness. Some antioxidants are produced by our bodies, while others we need to get from our diets by eating foods that are rich in these compounds.
Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in antioxidants and phytochemicals (compounds with antioxidants properties). It is important to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables to optimize the benefits of these natural health boosting agents. For this reason, my rule of thumb is to eat the rainbow when it comes to fruits and vegetables. You want red, purple/blue, orange/yellow, green and white/brown fruits and vegetables in your diet as each color carries its own set of disease fighting and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals and properties.
Some beverages like coffee and tea, particularly matcha, also provide interesting amounts of antioxidants, as does dark chocolate that is made with at least 75% cocoa. Finally, herbs and spices even in small quantities contain high amounts of antioxidants. I particularly love and use cinnamon and turmeric daily.
Healthy fats are also what we call anti-inflammatory fats or omega 3 fats. They have numerous science-backed benefits, helping to strengthen our immune system and fighting inflammation being two of them.
The number one source of healthy anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats (EPA and DHA fats) is wild caught fish, amongst the best being wild salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and anchovies. As I have mentioned before, those of us who for whatever reason don’t eat fish or don’t get enough servings of fatty fish in our diets weekly should be taking 1000 mg of a good omega-3 supplement daily!
You also want to include more plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids (ALA fats) to your diet. Chia and flax seeds are some of the best plant-sources of anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids, they also contain prebiotics which you will see below are an important part of this spring cleaning process. Many nuts like pecans and walnuts, and seeds like pumpkin seeds are also good choices of plant-based healthy fats. Pumpkin seeds are also high in antioxidants like carotenoids and vitamin E, making them an anti-inflammatory power house.
I love Skuta pumpkin seeds because they are grown right here in Canada (Ontario) from non GMO seeds and they are the only commercial producers of pumpkin seeds in Canada!! I think these pumpkins seeds make the perfect wholesome snack. Rich in protein, fiber and healthy essential fatty acids, they fuel me up and are incredibly nutritious. They come in two flavors: sea salt and chili maple jango. Finally, avocados, olives and olive oil of course, are also wonderful sources of anti-inflammatory fats.
If you have been following me for a little while, you must be well aware of how much I love probiotics, those little live microorganisms with many health benefits. If I know you personally and am part of your daily life, I may have suggested you or your kids take them daily more than once…sorry, not sorry…that’s just how strongly I feel about them and us! Probiotics are essentially good bacteria that help us maintain a healthy digestive system, boost our immune system, have been linked to brain health, weight loss, better looking skin and disease prevention…and the research is only beginning! Need I say more to convince you to add these to your diet daily? I truly believe that probiotics, and overall gut health, are the answer to optimal health and disease prevention. After a long winter of being stuck indoors, fighting off germs and colds and reaching for one too many comfort foods, our gut needs a refresh and we need to replenish these beneficial belly bugs.
You can get probiotics from supplements or from fermented foods. Most of us consider yogurt to be a good source of probiotics. Although they do contain bacteria, they don’t all have live probiotics. Therefore, it is not always the best source, especially if the label doesn’t specify that it has live or active cultures or if it is loaded with added sugars.
Personally, to make sure I and my family gets a good dose of probiotics daily, I like to include both a supplement and foods that are fermented to our diets. My personal favorite supplement is Bio-K+, a Canadian (from Laval, Quebec) well-researched and proven probiotic supplement, which comes in both a fresh drinkable format (dairy or vegan) or as an enteric coated vegan capsule. I have been using the Bio-Kidz for my daughter Trinity since she was one; she drinks half a bottle daily.
Here are some of my favorite, go-to fermented foods that are much better sources of probiotics than conventional yogurt:
Kefir (fermented milk, people with lactose intolerance often digest kefir well)
Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
Kimchi (fermented spicy Korean-style sauerkraut)
Other unpasteurized (raw/living) fermented vegetables, like pickles (must have been pickled in salty water and fermented, not those in vinegar)
Tempeh (fermented soybean used as a meat substitute)
Miso (paste made from fermented soybeans, barley, rice or rye)
When it comes to all the above mentioned fermented vegetables, my all-time favorite brand is Green Table Foods.
Not only are these fermented vegetable foods made right here in Canada (Guelph, Ontario), but they are made with high quality ingredients, are certified organic, unpasteurized (which means the vital nutrients, enzymes and probiotics are live and not destroyed) and absolutely AHHHMAZINGLY DELICIOUS!! They have 8 different lacto-fermented vegetable-based products that are also vegan and gluten-free. Trinity goes completely insane for these, as does my husband! Sometimes when I don’t feel like prepping and cooking vegetables for a meal, I pop open a couple of these jars and put them on the table and we serve ourselves a good serving of each as our side vegetables! If you haven’t tried these yet, you are definitely missing out!
The dietary benefits of fiber have long been studied and demonstrated. Higher fiber intake has been linked to a reduction in cardiovascular disease, lower body weight and better gut health. Fiber is our friend; think of it like nature’s broom, it literally sweeps clean our digestive system.
Make sure you are choosing half of your grain products as whole grains and that you are getting 2 to 3 servings of fruit daily, as well as half a plate of vegetables at both lunch and dinner time, and don’t forget to switch your meats for some plant-based sources of protein, like legumes, more often to get even more fiber into your diet.
Springtime is also a great time to start adding a smoothie to your daily routine which I find, when done properly, is a great way to help us meet the minimum 5 a day servings of fruits and vegetables. You can mix pretty much any fruit and vegetables into a high powered blender.
For the perfect, healthy smoothie I would encourage you to stick to no more than one cup of fruits, add in plenty of vegetables, two cups minimum is a good place to start, skip the juice as your liquid, instead use water, coconut water or milk (I love to do a mixture of water and plain Greek yogurt), if you prefer a non-dairy milk substitute, make sure you are choosing an unsweetened one, for extra fiber, healthy fats and protein use no more than 2 tablespoons of natural nut butters and/or seeds (flax, chia, hemp seeds) and smoothies are also a great vehicle for any extra ingredient you would like to boost your diet with (collagen, matcha, turmeric, adaptogens, etc.). I love to make my smoothies with extra ice during hot summer days and eat it with a spoon versus drinking it, it feels like a treat and this is a perfect way to get toddlers and kids to eat their 5 a day as well!
Many fiber-rich foods are also natural sources of prebiotics. A food is classified as a prebiotic if it can resist gastric acidity, isn’t absorbed in the upper gastrointestinal tract, is fermented by your gut flora and stimulates the growth and activity of the intestinal bacteria that is linked to health and well-being. Think of them like natural fertilizers. Probiotics rely on prebiotics for food in order to help them thrive and survive. So an important step in spring cleaning our bodies involves adding prebiotic-rich foods to our diets and how fitting that many of the spring vegetables that are about to come into season are actually prebiotics! Mother Nature simply always does know best! Also, by eating in season produce we reap the most nutritional value from our fruits and vegetables, so here’s a few prebiotic-rich vegetables you should be grabbing in the produce aisle or at your favorite farmer’s market:
Jerusalem artichokes or sunchokes
(not at all the same as artichokes but are an even greater source of prebiotics and are great used as a substitute for the conventional potato French fries)
Garlic and garlic scapes (or ramp)
Spring onions, shallots
Make water and water filled foods your top priority. Water helps improve your skin elasticity, as well as helps stimulate digestion and may help food pass more smoothly through your digestive tract, maintaining regular bowel movements. Dehydration can cause constipation, make you feel bloated and lacking energy. Being well hydrated also helps flush toxins out of your liver, your kidneys and your gastrointestinal tract. It can also do wonders on your waistline by taking away some of the excess bloat and make your pants suddenly feel a little less tight…a feeling that is always welcomed this time of year! I’m looking at you bikini season!
If you find plain water to be too boring, try adding sliced fruits or sprigs of fresh herbs (mint, basil, rosemary) to a big pitcher and fill it up with water. I particularly love to dress up my water with lemon and orange slices and add in a few thick slices of fresh ginger. Lemon helps stimulate the bile from the liver to flush out more toxins from the body. Lightly crushing the fruits you add to your water helps release more flavor into the water! If you like a little frizz, you can even mix in some mineral water or just add in some freshly brewed tea or tisane for an extra layer of flavor.
Besides my lemon, orange and ginger concoction, here are a few other flavor combinations to get you started:
Cucumber and lemon
Raspberry and orange
Watermelon and mint
Lemon, turmeric and cayenne
Strawberry and basil
Lime and cilantro
Try to aim for at least 8 glasses (8 ounces) of water a day, the colder the better to help boost your metabolism which may have been a little sluggish during the colder season. Milk, soups, broths and mineral or coconut water are also great sources. Another sneaky way to get more water into your diet every day is by eating foods with a high water content like lettuce (96%), cucumbers (95%), celery (95%), zucchini (94%), tomatoes (94%), bell perppers (92%), watermelon (92%), strawberries (91%), cantaloupe (90%), grapefruit (88%), etc.
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