Food & Nutrition

Everyone can use some healthy eating tips these days—when we’re bombarded with low-fat this, and sugar-free that, it can be difficult to know exactly what to put on our plates. We’ll continue to post recipes, eating suggestions and other healthy food tips that we think will help clarify the oft-confusing world of dieting, food fads and research that tells us one day that coffee is good for us and the next day it’s not. From research studies about the latest superfoods to recommendations from our nutritionists, Project Wellness offers practical eating healthy tips for even the most confused consumer.

  • Coffee: Is it Really Good For Us?

    Young woman drinking tea at homeFor coffee drinkers, nothing beats the aroma and taste of a freshly brewed cuppa. Considering so many of us start the day with a cup or two, here are a few things to know about whether to imbibe or abstain?

    It’s full of antioxidants and nutrients.

    Coffee is a pretty complex drink, as it’s made up of hundred of compounds, from caffeine to vitamins and minerals. A single cup of coffee contains 11 percent of your daily recommended riboflavin (vitamin B2), and also has small amounts of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), magnesium, potassium and niacin.

    Coffee also contains powerful antioxidants called quinines that become more potent after the beans are roasted. And the antibacterial compound trigonelline in coffee has been shown to prevent cavities in black coffee drinkers.

    Coffee’s caffeine may delay the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

    Alzheimer's research studies have shown that drinking 3-5 cups of coffee a day in midlife can slow down the start of the illness by up to 65 percent later in life. This is perhaps because caffeine blocks inflammation in the brain and suppresses the rise of amyloid plaques that are strongly linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Caffeine also slows the progression of Parkinson’s disease, and eases tremors by blocking certain receptors in the brain that cause symptoms.

    Coffee protects us against type 2 diabetes.

    Drinking more than four cups of coffee each day can help keep type 2 diabetes at bay, according to scientists at Harvard. Seems the antioxidants and minerals in coffee, including magnesium and chromium, help your body use insulin which controls blood sugar levels.

    Skip it if: You’re pregnant.

    Caffeine is the culprit here—it can go through the placenta and reach the fetus, and can keep you and your baby awake (it has also been linked to higher incidences of miscarriage). For pregnant women it may be better to reduce coffee consumption to one or two cups a day.

    Skip it if: You have trouble controlling high blood pressure.

    If you’re not a coffee drinker and you start, the first week or so of drinking it can raise your blood pressure significantly, though after a few weeks those readings usually go down. If you have a hard time controlling your hypertension, limit coffee intake or switch to decaf coffee.

    Skip it if: Your decaffeinated coffee is processed with solvents.

    There are a few ways to remove caffeine from coffee beans, and a common process uses the chemical solvent methylene chloride. Although the FDA has approved its use in decaffeinating coffee, this solvent’s side effects in higher exposures include headaches, dizziness and other central nervous system troubles. Instead, be sure your decaf coffee is processed by the Swiss water process, a chemical-free method that uses green coffee bean water and filters to remove nearly 100 percent of the caffeine.

  • Get Your Electrolytes the Natural Way: Two Recipes

    electrolytesFrom our friends at WishGarden Herbs

    With summer at its peak and the sun at its zenith, it’s a great time to do a little thinking about electrolytes. These naturally occurring substances – minerals such as sodium, potassium and chloride – are present in all our body fluids; they are also called ions because they carry an electrical charge. By maintaining electrical gradients across cell membranes throughout our body, they play a vital role in nerve impulse transition, muscle contraction and many other imperative processes that are required for life. Because we lose these salts when we sweat during intense exercise or exposure to heat, it is extremely important that we find ways to replenish them. The repercussions of not doing so can be dangerous – even deadly.

    But think again before you reach for a sport’s drink or vitamin water.

    These drinks not only deliver unnecessary amounts of calories, sugar and sodium – but are also often packed full of harmful ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors and preservatives. You might think you are doing a good thing by replenishing electrolytes when drinking these beverages, but instead you are setting yourself up for a sugar crash and pumping your body full of questionable things.

    So, how should one replenish electrolytes? The answer is very simple, inexpensive and involves nothing artificial of any kind: brew yourself up some herbal electrolyte replenishing tea. There are a plethora of herbs to choose from (from nettles and red clover to alfalfa) and most contain minerals in concentrations very close to that found in our own blood stream. They taste great, contain no high fructose corn syrup and will deliver nothing artificial or nasty into your body. I promise once you start, you will never be tempted by the neon sugar water marketed as ‘sports drinks’ again.

    Here’s two easy recipes to get you started:

    Nettle Tea with Peppermint and Lime

    Makes 1 quart.


    • 1/2 cup dried nettle leaf
    • 1/4 cup dried red clover flowers
    • 1/4 cup oat straw
    • 1/8 cup peppermint, spearmint or a combination
    • juice of 1 lime


    1. Place the herbs in a quart sized container (a glass mason jar works well) and cover with 1 quart of just boiled water. Let infuse several hours or overnight.
    2. Strain the herbs out by pouring the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a clean container. Squeeze the lime juice into the tea and refrigerate until use. The tea can be lightly sweetened to taste with honey or stevia.

    Hibiscus Punch

    Makes 1 quart.


    • 4 tablespoons hibiscus flowers
    • 1 tablespoon orange peel, dried or fresh
    • 4 slices fresh ginger root
    • 1/8 teaspoon Celtic or Himalayan sea salt
    • juice of 1 orange


    Place the herbs in quart sized container and cover with 1 quart just boiled water.  Let infuse 15 to 20 minutes and then pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer into a clean container to remove the herbs. Squeeze the orange juice into the tea and sweeten with honey or stevia to taste. Refrigerate until use.

  • 5 Healthy Reasons to Eat More Nuts

    Mixed NutsIsn’t it great when one of our favorite snacks turns out to be good for us? Here’s why eating a handful of nuts every day isn't such a bad idea.

    1.     Nuts are heart healthy.

    Studies have shown that eating a small portion of nuts each day helps lower LDL cholesterol levels. Almonds and walnuts are two of the best for heart benefits, since walnuts are high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids that slow the growth of plaque in our arteries, and almonds are full of good monounsaturated fats that improve blood cholesterol levels and stabilize heart rhythms.

    2.     Nuts can help us breathe better.

    Nuts that are high in vitamin E, like almonds and hazelnuts, help improve lung function. The oil in nuts is anti-inflammatory and helps reduce mucus production, so they're a great thing to include during allergy and cold seasons.

    3.     Nuts (just a handful!) fill us up.

    Nuts make a great snack because they are high in protein and fiber. Choose nuts that are low in calories and saturated fats. Almonds, for example, are high in protein and low in fat: a ¼ cup serving has about 160 calories and 4 g of fiber. Cashews and pistachios are good low-cal choices, too. Just eat macadamia nuts and pecans in moderation, as these have the highest amount of saturated fats and calories.

    4.     Peanuts count.

    Although technically a legume, peanuts offer many of the same benefits as tree nuts. In addition to being a good source of protein and fiber, peanuts have high levels of vitamins E and B, as well as antioxidants such as resveratrol (which helps reduce diabetes risk and heart disease) and p-coumaric acid (a beneficial probiotic that helps digestion). Dry-roasted (or boiled!) without salt are the ones to choose, as these have fewer calories and lower sodium.

    5.     Nuts are easy to add to our diet.

    Here are a few easy ways to incorporate more nuts.

    • Pick up Pharmaca's healthy nut mixes for ready-made nutrition! Try our Antioxidant Trail Mix, a blend of almonds, walnuts, pecans, cherries, cranberries, apples, cashews and peanuts. Gorp with Chocolate is another favorite, featuring peanuts, raisins and chocolate gems. Or go for straight nuts with Raw Almonds or Organic Raw Cashews.
    • Add nuts to salads. A sprinkle of nuts offers an extra protein boost even to pre-made salads.
    • Try incorporating the best of a Mediterranean diet (fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts) and add nuts to whole grain pasta dishes or sautéed greens like spinach or broccoli.
    • Use nut flours in soups or stews, or to replace white flour in baking recipes.
    • Make a quick, tasty dessert.  A quick recipe? Chopped bananas, honey, a sprinkle of almonds and walnuts, and a dash of cinnamon.

    Tell us: What's your favorite way to eat nuts?

  • Why Sugar and Glycation May Be Keeping You From Youthful Skin

    WomanonBedWe’ve heard rumblings about the dangers of refined sugar for awhile now. It’s linked to increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke. It’s addictive, has no nutritional value and might make us fat. Need one more reason to avoid the stuff? Glycation: The process by which sugar can cause wrinkles and sagging skin.

    Simply put, glycation is the process that happens in our bodies when sugar hooks up with proteins. Normally, sugar is converted to fuel for our bodies. But when we eat too many sugar-laden foods, excess sugar molecules find proteins and fats to latch onto, creating abnormalities called Advanced Glycation End products (AGE). These AGEs cause collagen and elastin proteins in our skin to lose flexibility and weaken. The result? Sagging, dull and wrinkly skin.

    We can slow down glycation and help repair the damage with diet changes and targeted skin care products. Here’s how to fight glycation from both the inside and the outside.

    Slow glycation with a healthy diet.

    • Eat less (or no) refined sugar.
    • Say no to high-fructose corn syrup (it speeds up glycation to 10 times the rate of simple glucose!).
    • Stick with good carbohydrates like brown rice and whole wheat products. They produce less glucose and they’re absorbed more slowly so your body isn’t bombarded with excess sugar.
    • Avoid highly processed food that’s full of refined sugars.
    • Get lots of fiber, especially from raw vegetables—it helps absorb AGEs.
    • Choose low-fat dairy products and eat more fish like salmon, tuna and sardines. (Studies show high fat red meats and cheeses produce more AGEs.)
    • Try carnosine supplements (like Jarrow Formulas' L-Carnosine), a potent anti-aging, antioxidant amino acid that helps protect against AGE buildup.

    Use glycation-targeted skin care products.
    After age 35 glycation really speeds up, making it a good time to switch to anti-aging products that hydrate, firm and detoxify.

    Ask a Pharmaca practitioner about other anti-aging skin care products that might help in your skin's fight against glycation.

  • The Latest Diet Recommendations: Low Fat is Out

    Eggs are in. Eggs are out. Healthy fats are in. Transfats are out. As research evolves about how diet affects our health—and different recommendations seem to come out every week—it can be hard to know what to believe anymore.

    “We've been told for decades that eating a low-fat diet is helpful for heart disease and stroke prevention," says Dr. Brad Jacobs, MD, and chair of Pharmaca's Integrative Health Advisory Board. "It turns out we were wrong. Now, a lot of the data is showing that a low-fat diet is no better for us, and can actually lead to more weight gain and more risk of stroke, diabetes, heart disease." The rationale is people on a low fat diet typically replace fat calories with carbohydrates (grains, bread, pasta) which causes surging levels of sugar in the body, inflammation and even more hunger.

    Dr. Jacobs cites three studies published this year that show that low-fat diets aren’t doing us any good. “The thought is that certain types of fatty acids are actually helpful—like the polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats that you find in avocados, olive oil, nuts and fish oils.”

    First, the body needs fat and cholesterol to help our brains form the myelin sheaths that protect our neurons, says Dr. Jacobs. He adds that fat is also vital to many of our body’s cellular processes. In addition, new research is showing that saturated fats, like those found in vegetable and dairy products, can help increase the good part of our low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL, normally thought of as the “bad” cholesterol).

    Yup, LDL isn’t all bad news. LDL is actually made up of two different types of cholesterol: type A, the lighter, bigger cholesterol particles, and type B, which are smaller and more dense. Type B is the one linked to health problems, and is the one that increases when we eat too many simple carbohydrates. Type A, on the other hand, seems to increase through intake of fat.

    Cholesterol aside, Dr. Jacobs says, there are a few other reasons why low-fat diets can stifle weight loss efforts and create other health problems as a result.  “When you go on a low-fat diet, you have to replace those calories with something—either with more protein or more carbs,” he says. “Fat makes you feel satisfied and full, so low-fat diets may cause you to eat more calories because your brain never registers that feeling of satisfaction.”

    Finally, foods that are marketed as “low fat” are often filled with salt and sugar to make up for the absence of fat. Make sure you’re reading labels, Dr. Jacobs says, to ensure there’s not a lot of other bad stuff in place of fat.

    To make sense of it all, Dr. Jacobs offers these good eating rules of thumb.

    Fill your plate first with vegetables. “Vegetables are good for you in abundance because they have lots of fiber, and lots of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients,” he says. “Studies show that if you eat seven servings of vegetables each day, you reduce your chance of dying from heart disease, cancer and all other causes of mortality of by 42 percent! Even if you can’t get in seven, every serving helps lower that risk.”

    Make sure refined carbohydrates don’t take up more than one-quarter of your daily calorie intake. For a woman on a typical 2,000 calorie diet, that means no more than 500 calories, or 125 g. And, says Dr. Jacobs, “You want carbs that take a long time for your body to digest, so the sugar enters your bloodstream slowly rather than all at once. Simple carbs immediately get converted into sugar and increase your insulin levels.” That throws your blood sugar out of whack, and can affect our energy and hunger levels—and make it hard to eat healthy.

    Limit saturated fat from animals. The European Perspective Investigations into Cancer (EPIC) study showed that consumption of more than 8 oz of red meat—especially processed meats—lead to a greater incidence of cancer and death. So, while your body needs a little saturated fat now and then, the emphasis is on a little.

    Choose healthy sources of fats. Dr. Jacobs recommends avocado, fish, nuts and nut oils, olive oil and coconut oil as the best place to get the fat your body needs to feel full and perform best.

  • Fiber's Benefits for Overall Health (Video)

    Fiber is an important inclusion in our diets because of its ability to regulate digestion, lower cholesterol, maintain healthy blood sugar levels and more. Here, Dr. Brad Jacobs talks about good ways to get it through diet, how much to aim for each day and other ways it can be beneficial to your health.

  • The Benefits of Chamomile

    chamomile-teaFrom our friends at WishGarden Herbs

    Chamomile is such a useful and versatile herb that I find it difficult to know where to start when singing its praises. Shall I begin by telling you about its potent anti-inflammatory action or should I focus on its effectiveness as a digestive bitter? Or perhaps, as every Beatrix Potter fan knows well, I should speak about the usefulness of chamomile as a sleeping aid for naughty rabbits? You can see the problem.

    But with a little thought, I feel I can tie everything that is wonderful about chamomile down to one word: soothing. Chamomile is an herb that soothes. From the digestive tract to the skin to the nervous system, the sweet smelling flowers of German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) are the very first thing I think of when there is a condition requiring a soothing action. Typically, these types of conditions involve irritation of some kind stemming from hyper-reactivity to stress and the environment, and more often than not this irritation and hypersensitiveness can be seen manifesting in multiple ways within the same person.

    So what exactly does this hyper-reactive and irritable state look like? Well, just imagine the irritable child (of any age) who has worked themselves up into such a frenzy that they have a stomach ache, a headache, they can’t sleep and they’ve broken out all over in into hives. I’m sure we can all picture multiple people like this; maybe we’ve even found ourselves in such a state on certain occasions. This is the person to whom you want to give a big steaming mug of chamomile tea before sending them to bed.

    Chamomile accomplishes its magic by working on the interface between the gut, the immune system and the nervous system. We often think of these systems as being distinct, but they are intimately connected through millions of neurons. When we are stressed, our nervous system reacts by altering digestive and immune function. Similarly, when the digestive tract is irritated, it alerts the immune and nervous systems and can put things on over-drive. In both cases, chamomile helps to bring the body back to baseline, both by soothing the nervous system with its aromatic essential oils, and by working directly on the digestion – stimulating function with its mild bitter flavor and soothing muscle spasms and tissue irritation with its moistening, anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic actions. The combined effect is one of relaxation on all levels.

    Just as chamomile exerts its effects directly on the tissues of the digestive tract, it can also be used topically to soothe other tissue inflammation – namely in the respiratory tract and externally on the skin. Chamomile tea in a neti pot is a great ally during allergy season to provide direct topical relief for sinus irritation. Warm chamomile tea bags can also be placed on the eyes to relieve dryness and irritation or can be used as a poultice to soothe and cool down a hot, itchy rash. You won’t be surprised when these topical applications also leave you feeling calm and relaxed.

    So there you have it; when you think of chamomile, think of soothing. Or better yet, when you find yourself or someone you love in an irritable state of any sort, think of chamomile.

  • Increase Fertility By Reducing Inflammation: A Nutritionist’s Perspective

    smoothiesFrom our friends at WishGarden Herbs

    Google the words “what should I eat while trying to get pregnant” and you’ll come back with hundreds of opinions, many of them countering each other. How on earth are you supposed to know what’s best? How do you get the most impact nutritionally?

    As a nutritionist, I am not a fan of throwing down a long list of rules you can’t break. That being said, there are some basics that most will agree on. If you want to make the most of trying to conceive, it’s a good idea to avoid or strictly limit the following foods and beverages:

    • Trans fats, fake butter, and fried foods
    • Farmed fish and high-mercury fish
    • Soda and alcohol
    • Soy
    • Gluten and corn
    • Processed foods
    • Caffeine
    • Anything you’re allergic to

    Some of those might seem pretty self-explanatory (trans fats, anyone?), but I like to boil all of the above down to one main reason for avoidance: inflammation. Fake fats and fried foods increase inflammation in the body. The same is true for toxins (like mercury present in farmed fish), excessive refined sugar (like soda), alcohol (because it overloads the liver), soy and gluten (well-known for inflammatory responses and being hard to digest), processed foods (usually full of soy, corn, gluten, and sugar), and foods that cause an allergic reaction.

    Why is inflammation such a bad thing? Preparing the body to house a baby for 9 months is no small feat, especially if fertility problems are present, and the most important factors are to minimize inflammation and keep blood sugar stable. But I’ll tell you a secret: when inflammation isn’t present, neither is blood sugar imbalance (barring diabetes, of course). Why? Because the foods that wreak havoc on our blood sugar are the foods that also cause inflammatory responses.

    Why is inflammation so bad for the TTC (Trying To Conceive) woman? Even on a perfect cycle where there are no fertility problems present and timing is perfect, a woman only has a 20-25% chance of getting pregnant. After that, nearly 1 in 4 pregnancies will end in miscarriage for one reason or another. While it may sound dismal, a woman dramatically increases her odds if her body isn’t full of inflammation, which when present can signal the adrenals to produce other hormones—such as stress hormones—instead of the reproductive hormones necessary for conception.

    The best way to reduce inflammation in the body is to eat vegetables. Lots of them. Aim for 8 to 10 cups daily, but even if you only hit half that, just make sure you eat more than you were. Next, be sure to eat one-half to one cup daily of berries or cherries, which are high in antioxidants that combat inflammation. Drink plenty of filtered water, cut back on coffee and black tea, and get some form of exercise every day. It doesn’t have to be a five mile run or 45 minutes of hard cardio to count, so even if you walk for 10 minutes or do a series of basic stretching, any kind of movement improves digestive function and mood, and thus lowers the inflammatory stress response in the body.

    Here’s a smoothie recipe that can help you meet those daily requirements.

    Anti-Inflammatory Smoothie

    2 cups unsweetened almond milk
    1/2 cup blueberries
    1/2 cup raspberries
    2-4 cherries
    1/2 cup spinach
    1/2 cup kale
    2-3 Tbsp of organic pumpkin seed or hemp protein powder
    2 tsp of organic, raw honey

    Blend all ingredients together and enjoy!

    The recipe is easily customizable for fruit and vegetable swaps, but keep in mind that adding sugary fruits will decrease the anti-inflammatory benefits. I like the pumpkin seed and/or hemp protein powder because they’re gluten free, grain free and are anti-inflammatory.

  • The Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet (Video)

    No matter which diet you follow, including lots of vegetables at every meal is an important way to boost health and can help prevent stroke, cancer, diabetes and more. Here, Dr. Brad Jacobs talks about the overall benefits of eating 5-7 servings of vegetables each day, and supplementing with powdered greens if necessary.

  • Why We’re Sweet on Honey

    HoneyOur love affair with honey started thousands of years ago. What time has taught us is that besides being one of the finest natural sweeteners, honey has amazing health benefits that can improve our skin, fight infections and reduce inflammation. Here’s the scoop on the sweet stuff.

    Honey's health benefits
    Honey’s natural components make it an effective antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory agent. Studies show it contains a high level of polyphenols and flavonoids, powerful antioxidants that are also found in cocoa, berries and tea. It neutralizes disease-causing bacteria with a protein called defensin-1, and small amounts of hydrogen peroxide (really!). Honey is effective against viruses too, especially the virus that cause shingles and chickenpox. Adding to its superhero status is honey’s apalbumin 1 protein, which helps reduce inflammation.

    All honeys are not the same
    While all honeys may be sweet, the type of plant or tree nectar collected makes a difference in the taste and healing properties of the honey. For example, dandelion honey is rich in vitamins A and K, and beechwood honey is a good prebiotic, full of minerals including zinc, copper and magnesium. (Try Wedderspoon's Gold Organic Raw Dandelion Honey or their Organic Raw Beechwood Honey.)

    Manuka. A super honey.
    There’s been a big buzz (sorry!) lately on honey that comes from bees who get their nectar from New Zealand's manuka trees. Manuka honey has all the same health benefits as other honeys, but with a bonus: It’s high in methylglyoxal (MG), a natural antibacterial compound, which makes it a powerful treatment for wounds, stomach troubles and a variety of infections. The higher the MG concentration the more powerful the antibiotic effect. Flora's Manuka Health New Zealand MGO 550+ Manuka Honey Blend and Wedderspoon's Premium Raw Manuka Honey Active 16+ are two of the most potent. Try a tablespoon mixed with warm water for a healthy boost.

    Honey's skin-saving properties
    Cleopatra had the right idea with her legendary milk and honey baths—the special healing properties of honey make it a great treatment for skin. Honey is a natural humectant, drawing moisture to the skin, keeping it soft and supple. And honey’s antibacterial nature purifies the skin surface, making it particularly useful in treating acne. A few honey-infused skin care products to try:

    For an easy do-it-yourself facial mask, try mixing equal parts raw honey with yogurt (or coconut oil) and avocado to ease dry skin. Wedderspoon's Manuka Honey On the Go packets are just the right size to whip up a quick mask!

    What's your favorite healthy way to use honey?

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