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.

  • Coconut: Packed with Healthy Benefits

    What is this nut that’s so hard to crack? Coconut is cropping up everywhere these days—coconut water, coconut flour, shredded coconut, coconut milk, coconut oil, coconut cream. When I was a young girl we’d shake them to check for water inside (an indication of a good coconut, according to my mom). The next task was actually getting the hairy orb open so we could drink the water and carefully pry the meat out.

    I’ve always thought of coconuts as a special treat, but in the islands of the South Pacific, coconuts have long been a staple food item. While doing research on the benefits of this mysterious “nut,” I found that the people of Polynesia have been consuming coconuts for centuries, and their population is amazingly healthy—free of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and arthritis.

    Now it’s true that coconut contains saturated fat, and it’s fair to say that most people are concerned about consuming too much saturated fat for fear of increasing their cholesterol and triglyceride (fats) numbers, along with the potential for heart disease.

    But coconut doesn’t contain just any saturated fat—it contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) and medium-chain lauric, capric and caprylic fatty acids, which are associated with many health benefits. In fact, medium-chain fatty acids (MFCAs) have long been used in hospitals to treat critically ill patients who have malabsorption and digestive problems, as well as in premature infants (MCFAs provide many of the same nutrients as human breast milk). In fact, coconut water is still a primary ingredient in infant formulas.

    Let’s look at some of the other benefits of coconut.

    Metabolism: A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that medium-chain fatty acids were three times more effective at raising metabolism than long-chain fatty acids. This is for two reasons: First, MCFAs do not circulate into the bloodstream. Instead, they are sent directly to the liver, where they are immediately converted into energy. Second, they don’t raise blood sugar. And it has been reported that coconut oil can actually help to control sugar cravings.

    Candida: The medium-chain fatty acids in coconut oil have been shown to destroy Candida, a condition of yeast overgrowth in the body that triggers symptoms of weight gain, carbohydrate cravings and fatigue. Additionally, coconut oil slows the digestion of food, which helps you feel more satiated after a meal. The added bonus is that coconut oil has no carbohydrates or sugar—another reason coconut oil can help with weight loss and is a good alternative for diabetics.

    Digestion: The saturated fats present in coconut oil have anti-microbial, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties and help in dealing with bacteria, fungi, parasites, etc., that can cause digestive problems. MCFA molecules are smaller, and require less energy and fewer enzymes to break down for digestion, which reduces strain on the pancreas and digestive system. Coconut oil also helps in the absorption of other nutrients such as fat-soluble vitamins, minerals and amino acids, which can be beneficial for people who suffer from gallbladder disease, pancreatitis, Crohn’s disease and diabetes.

    Cholesterol: Coconut oil contains about 50% lauric acid, which has been shown to help increase HDL (healthy cholesterol) and does not lead to increased levels of LDL (unhealthy cholesterol). As such, the saturated fats found in coconut oil are clearly not the same as those found in animal fat—the difference is in the length of the fatty acids.

    5 easy ways to make coconut part of your healthy lifestyle

    If you’re thinking about incorporating some of this “healthy” saturated fat into your lifestyle, here are some ideas to make it quick and easy.

    Replace other cooking oils with coconut oil. I would start out by using half of the amount that you would normally use. If you don’t care for the flavor or smell of coconut, look for oil that says it’s odorless and tasteless. It’s great for cooking vegetables, eggs, meats and fish—even baking.

    Add a tablespoon to hot cereal
    along with some raw walnuts or almonds, a drizzle of agave nectar and some fresh berries for a heart-healthy breakfast.

    Coconut oil is a fantastic moisturizer and hair conditioner. Keep a jar of coconut oil in the bathroom and use it as a moisturizer after a warm bath or shower. It’s also great on dry heels and elbows. If you suffer from dandruff, apply a small amount to your scalp, massage it in and leave on for about 15 minutes (or even overnight), then wash your hair as you normally would.

    Try using coconut in smoothies, soups, dressings, cakes, cookies, sauces, cereals or pancakes. Coconut products are relatively easy to find—look for coconut water or milk, coconut flour, shredded or flaked coconut, coconut cream or butter, and coconut sugar.

    Use it as a deodorant. OK, you might think this one is a stretch, but consider the fact that coconut oil is anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. If you’ve been searching for a healthy alternative to conventional deodorant, give coconut oil a try. I’ve been applying odorless coconut oil as a deodorant for about four months and so far, knock on wood, no complaints from my co-workers at Pharmaca.

    Pharmaca carries several types of coconut oil from Jarrow Formulas and Nature’s Way, as well as a variety of coconut waters, both plain and flavored.

    Sharon Wegner is a Certified Holistic Health Coach, Nutritional Consultant and member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Sharon teaches her clients how to make healthier food and lifestyle choices by creating simple and sustainable changes. She shares her passion for cooking with her clients by teaching them how to make fresh and delicious REAL food. You can find out more about her work at her Essentials for Healthy Living blog.

  • Healthy Hydration for Hot Summer Days

    Good hydration isn’t just about drinking lots of water—especially when you’re out in the hot summer sun. Even if you get your requisite 64 oz of water a day, exercising in the heat require the right minerals and electrolytes to keep your body moving.

    To determine whether you’re dehydrated, the simplest rule of thumb is to check the color of your urine—it should be a light straw color or lighter.

    “I’m a big proponent of hydrating before you exercise,” says Dr. Andrew Datti, naturopath at our north Boulder location. “Shoot for a liter before, a liter or two on the way, and a liter on the way back.” He also recommends drinking mineral water or natural spring water, which will naturally have more nutrients and electrolytes than filtered or tap water.

    So what are some other ways to keep from dehydrating and losing electrolytes? Dr. Rebecca Phillips, DC, from our Albuquerque location, says to make sure you’re packing along the right kind of snacks that can replenish the nutrients and sugars your body is burning off.

    Dr. Phillips cites a study done on hikers in the Grand Canyon, who exercised in 120 degree heat. She says that those that drank just Gatorade didn’t get very far; the group that just drank water fared slightly better; but the group that ate two salty crackers along with each 8 oz of water didn’t overheat.

    The key is in allowing your body to sweat, which requires salt. As such, Dr. Phillips recommends turning to salty chips or soda crackers when you start feeling wilted, extra sensitive to the heat, or are losing good judgment.

    “If you’re legs start getting tired, then you need other electrolytes: sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium,” she says. She recommends Oxylent Multivitamins, which come in single-serve packets that are easy to stash in a daypack and add to your water bottle. “Those nutrients will allow your muscles to work again and revive you for awhile.”

    “When you ‘hit the wall,’ meaning you start becoming dizzy or your balance is off, that’s one indicator that you’ve used up your glycogen stores and your blood sugar is dropping,” says Dr. Datti. That’s when it’s good to have sugar on hand, along with with protein—try our Pharmaca brand Mighty Omega-3 Mix, which features chocolate, almonds, cranberries, walnuts and blueberries.

    If your blood sugar drop is really extreme and you start sweating profusely and feeling shaky, it can help to have some liquid sugar on hand, such as orange juice, coconut water, or even beer, says Dr. Phillips. Dr. Datti agrees that coconut water can be a great way to replace electrolytes and get some natural sugar.

    Pick up hydration and snacks for your next outing at a Pharmaca near you.

  • What Makes a Superfood a Superfood?

    Though it’s not exactly a scientific term, the word "superfood" is often used as a marketing tool. So what does it mean exactly?

    Something is referred to as a superfood when it is nutrient-rich and provides multiple health benefits to the body. Those nutrients can include phytochemicals (compounds found in plants that have beneficial biological value but aren't necessarily essential), antioxidants (which prevent cell oxidation and free-radical damage), essential nutrients (nutrients we can’t produce ourselves, like vitamin C), dietary fiber, essential fatty acids and protein.

    A superfood is usually low in calories and saturated fats and has no artificial ingredients or contaminants. Here’s a simple way to break down the different types of superfoods:

    Green superfoods: These contain the highest concentrations of easily digested nutrients, and vitamins and minerals. They may also contain beneficial substances like proteins, phytochemicals and beneficial bacteria, all of which can protect against disease and illness.
    Examples: wheatgrass, barley greens, chlorella, spirulina, blue-green algae, leafy green vegetables

    Fruit and nut superfoods: These are high in antioxidants, vitamins and some are even antimicrobial.
    Examples: goji berries, açai, raw cacao, maca, coconut and coconut oil, noni, blueberries

    Bee superfoods: Propolis, royal jelly and bee pollen contain some of the most power-packed nutrition of all superfoods. Royal jelly contains every nutrient essential to support life. And propolis is a powerful antimicrobial that protects against bacteria and viruses while strengthening the immune system.

    Seaweed superfoods: These are the most nutrient-dense plants on Earth, making them excellent blood purifiers that alkalinize the body (helping to free the body of the burden of an acidic toxic environment).
    Examples: nori, kelp, dulse, arame, wakami, kombu

    Here are some dietary supplements that include some of my favorite superfoods:

    HealthForce Nutritionals offers 28 different products that are considered superfoods. I love Vitamineral Green, which supports detoxification, enhances regularity, energizes, and supports the liver, kidneys, pancreas, blood, bones, muscle, brain, colon and immune function.

    Genesis Today: Try their liquid superfood supplements like Goji, Sea Buckthorn, Resveratrol, Açai and Noni. They also offer delicious chewable snacks, which are an easy way to get some extra superfoods in your diet. Try Açai, Resveratrol, Vitamin C and Gogi snacks.

    Garden of Life Perfect Food is a raw, organic green veggie juice powder rich in chlorophyll, trace minerals, antioxidants, enzymes and probiotics, all of which support healthy digestion and elimination, blood sugar balance and immunity.

    Vibrant Health Green Vibrance is a restorative, concentrated superfood containing organic greens and freeze-dried grass juices. This product supports the four foundations of health: nutrition, digestion, circulation and immunity, with additional benefits to support all body systems.

    Experts believe that consuming superfoods can protect against diseases such as osteoporosis, heart disease, cancer, diabetes and respiratory infections, in addition to enhancing the immune system. With a list of benefits like that, we would all be smart to incorporate more superfoods into our diets.

    Kate Brainard earned her degree as a naturopathic doctor from Bastyr University. She currently manages Pharmaca’s La Jolla store.

  • What's the Difference Between Food Allergy and Sensitivity?

    The term “food allergy” and “food sensitivity” are thrown around a lot these days. But it’s important to know that these two things are not the same.  In fact, there’s a very big and important difference between the two.

    As described by the Food, Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network, a food allergy “occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks a food protein. Ingestion of the offending food may trigger the sudden release of chemicals, including histamine, which results in an allergic reaction.”

    The protein found in food is the most common allergic component. These proteins trigger the formation of an immune cell called IgE (Immunoglubulin E), which “tags” these foods or proteins as allergens and fools the immune system into thinking the person is under attack. The presence of the IgE antibody initiates the counter-reaction in the body in the form of an allergic response.

    Symptoms of an allergic food reaction range from mild--rashes, hives, itching, swelling, etc.--to severe, including trouble breathing, wheezing, loss of consciousness, etc. That’s why a food allergy can be potentially fatal, and individuals who know they have severe reactions should carry an EpiPen (injectable epinephrine) at all times, since even the smallest trace of an allergen can trigger an anaphylactic reaction. Medical attention should be sought immediately should an individual show symptoms of anaphylactic shock.

    Food sensitivities, on the other hand, trigger a different process in the body. The medical terminology for food intolerance is non-allergic food hypersensitivity, also loosely referred to as food hypersensitivity. Where food allergies tend to produce a very quick and noticeable immune reaction, food sensitivities tend to show less dramatic symptoms that may take longer to develop.

    There are different bodily mechanisms that create food hypersensitivities. One common cause is if the body lacks certain enzymes for breaking down food (e.g. the absence of the lactase enzyme will create issues for digesting lactose in milk/dairy).

    Food hypersensitivities can also be triggered if there’s an abnormality in the body’s ability to absorb certain nutrients--basically an imbalance in the gut flora (that’s why probiotics are so important!). When there’s something not right in the gut’s mucosal lining, food just won’t be absorbed properly.

    Some experts have theorized about a correlation between genetically modified foods (GMOs) and food hypersensitivities. Some of the most common food sensitivities are to foods such as soy, corn and wheat--which make up a large part of the standard American diet--which are also often genetically modified (unless they’re organic). Because of this, I highly recommend buying organic foods whenever possible.

    Food sensitivities are often harder to diagnose because of the delayed onset of symptoms and the difficulty in making the association between offending foods and their related clinical symptoms in the body. For example, one person may react to a food hypersensitivity with a skin issue like eczema, and another may have difficult bowel movements. That’s why it’s hard for the person, and even their practitioner, to make the connection.

    It’s estimated that between 2-20 percent of the population is afflicted by food sensitivities. (My feeling is that this number is conservative and there are even more underlying sensitivities that exist, but are ignored or mistaken for other health issues.) While food sensitivities usually cause less severe reactions than food allergies, individuals who suffer from chronic sensitivities can experience skin issues (eczema, psoriasis, rashes, hives), respiratory problems (nasal congestion, sinusitis, asthma, cough) or gastrointestinal tract upsets (mouth ulcers, nausea, gas, diarrhea, constipation). In addition, food intolerance has been shown to be linked to irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease and headaches, among other less common symptoms.

    If you have experienced any of these conditions on a long-term basis, it may be worth determining whether food sensitivities are playing a role. The best route for quelling symptoms of sensitivity includes avoidance of these foods, and supplementing with digestive enzymes, probiotics and high doses of fish oil. A Pharmaca practitioner can help direct you to the best supplements for your condition.

  • Chia Seeds: A Tasty Way to Get Your Omega-3s

    Chia seeds are enjoying something of a renaissance these days—researchers are rediscovering their nutritional benefits, something the Maya and Aztecs cherished hundreds of years ago.

    Chia seeds come from the plant Salvia hispanica, which grows abundantly in the deserts of southern Mexico. As such, chia was a staple in the ancient Maya and Aztec populations between 1500 and 900 BC, and was even used as a nutrient-packed ration for Aztec warriors (Chia actually got its name from the Maya word for “strength”). But when the Spanish invaded in the 16th century, the chia crop was quickly outlawed because of its association with the Aztec religion, in which the seeds were used as offerings.

    Chia’s superfood status comes from its powerful combination of omega-3s, fiber, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and other nutrients. They offer more omega-3s, ounce for ounce, than salmon, and three times the calcium of skim milk! Each ounce also has nearly 11 grams of fiber per ounce.

    Health experts are also interested in chia’s ability to expand in liquid—forming a gel—which is believed to be replicated in the stomach and thereby slow the process by which digestive enzymes convert carbs to sugar. And, just like fiber, they can also increase the feeling of fullness and decrease caloric intake.

    So how do we incorporate chia seeds into our diet? Just like flax seeds, they’re a versatile addition to just about any meal—sprinkle some on salads, soups, yogurt, or grind them into flour you’re using for any baking project.

    Find the following chia products at

    Pharmaca brand Super Chia Seed
    Gaia Herbs’ Chia Fresh Daily Fiber
    Renew Life Ultimate Chia Life

    We’re excited to try these Coconut-Chia Pancakes from Whole Living (gluten free, too!). Have a chia recipe to share? Let us know.

  • Mediterranean Diet May Reduce Cognitive Decline

    We often hear that the Mediterranean diet is a great way to eat—when done right, it can be packed with good fats, fiber, fruits, veggies and antioxidants, all of which can help boost heart health, reduce inflammation and help stave off chronic diseases

    According to a study published last year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the Mediterranean diet can also help reduce cognitive decline in the elderly. The study followed nearly 4,000 Chicago residents over the age of 65, tracking their adherence to the diet, as well their mental acuity at three-year intervals. The results showed that participants who most closely followed the Mediterranean diet saw the slowest rates of cognitive decline (even after controlling for smoking, education, obesity and other factors).

    In a similar study published this February in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers focused on the connection between the antioxidants that are abundant in the Mediterranean diet with cognitive performance among older adults at high cardiovascular risk. The Spanish study followed 447 people, between 55-80 years old, to assess the effects of food intake on brain function. The team discovered that some foods were specifically linked to certain areas of cognitive function: olive oil may improve verbal memory; walnuts may improve working memory; and wine may improve scores on a test used to assess mental health and clarity.

    Want to get more of the Mediterranean in your diet? Here’s what the Mayo Clinic says:

    “The Mediterranean diet emphasizes plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. It replaces butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil and canola oil, and uses herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods. Red meat is limited to no more than a few times a month, while fish should be on the menu twice a week.” (Click here for some great recipe suggestions from the Mayo Clinic.)

    Read more from a Pharmaca expert about other ways to maintain good brain health throughout your years, including sleep, exercise and supplements.

  • Chocolate: The key to your heart?

    Looks like giving chocolate to your loved one for Valentine’s Day isn’t just a sweet thing to do—it could also help their heart. An August 2011 review published in the British Medical Journal found that people who consumed the highest levels of chocolate (generally more than once a week) had a substantially reduced cardiovascular risk than those who ate chocolate rarely. The systematic review covered seven studies that recorded varying levels of chocolate consumption and the associated health effects.

    “Recent studies (both experimental and observational) have suggested that chocolate consumption has a positive influence on human health…,” the report states. “These beneficial effects have been confirmed in recent reviews and meta-analyses, supporting the positive role of cacao and cocoa products on cardiovascular risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, atherosclerosis, and insulin resistance.”

    “Five of the seven studies reported a beneficial association between higher levels of chocolate consumption and the risk of cardiometabolic disorders. The highest levels of chocolate consumption were associated with a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease…and a 29% reduction in stroke compared with the lowest levels.”

    Experts agree that the best way to benefit from chocolate’s polyphenols is to lean toward darker chocolate, minus the added dairy and sugar. Ones to try: Pharmaca's two Dark Chocolate Bars, made from organic, Fair Trade chocolate in 78% and 70% cocoa contents.

    Stop in and check out the rest of Pharmaca’s heart-smart chocolate selection today!    

  • Tart Cherry Juice: An effective new remedy for sleep, pain, even your heart

    Exciting new studies have recently come out about the effectiveness of tart cherry juice as a remedy for a number of health issues. Dr. Oz is even talking about “nature’s ultimate antioxidant,” its anti-inflammatory properties, its ability to help fight heart disease by balancing cholesterol levels and aid in sleep as a natural source of melatonin.

    Tart cherry juice is made by juicing Montmorency cherries, which contain high amounts of antioxidants, vitamin c, potassium, magnesium, iron and folate, along with melatonin. This last ingredient is the key to an important new study that was recently published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. A team of researchers in the UK found that tart cherry juice from Montmorency cherries allowed participants to sleep longer and improved their quality of sleep. They divided 20 volunteers into two groups, one of which was given tart cherry juice to drink morning and evening; the other group received a placebo. The juice-drinking group saw a 5-6 percent increase in quality of sleep, and slept an average of 34 minutes longer each night. Researchers attribute this to the natural melatonin that exists in the tart cherry juice.   

    Another recent study analyzed the effects of tart cherry juice on a group of arthritis patients. Participants were given tart cherry juice or a placebo for a six-week period. The results showed that patients who drank two 8 ounce servings of tart cherry juice each day for six weeks had significantly decreased markers for inflammation, reported less pain and had lower WOMAC scores, which assess pain, joint stiffness, physical, social and emotional function of patients with osteoarthritis.

    Ready to try this superfruit? Pharmaca now carries Cheribundi Tart Cherry Juice, available in a number of interesting (and tasty!) flavors. Find it in the cooler case at your local Pharmaca.

    Creative Commons License, photo credit: {maira.gall}

  • Research Says Chocolate Reduces Risk of Heart Disease

    We’ve heard about many of the health benefits of chocolate—and now there’s even more healthy evidence. A new study shows that chocolate has significant cardiovascular health benefits when consumed in moderation.

    According to "Eating Chocolate Cuts Risk of Heart Disease," published by the University of Cambridge, eating chocolate is associated with a significantly reduced risk of certain cardiovascular disorders. The original research for this compelling study was published in the British Medical Journal in early 2011.

    Researchers reviewed seven studies utilizing data from 114,000 patients. They found that people who consumed the most chocolate had a 37 percent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease than people who consumed less chocolate. Additionally, the patients who consumed the most chocolate had a 29 percent lower risk of having a stroke than those who consumed less chocolate. The studies involved dark chocolate, milk chocolate, chocolate drinks and other products that included chocolate.

    While new research continues to show us that chocolate can be a healthy addition to our diets, don’t forget that it’s also packed with calories—so don’t overindulge!

    To learn more about healthy foods and how to supplement your diet with the vitamins and antioxidants your diet may be lacking (such as the flavonoids in chocolate), please consult a Pharmaca practitioner.

  • Improving Colon Health with Okra


    Though not many of us want to talk about it, the colon is a vital organ. When the colon is damaged and does not function to its fullest potential, serious health problems can occur. If you're not thrilled with the idea of a colonic or some other type of colon cleanse, then consider this natural alternative for boosting colon health: Lady Finger. More commonly known as okra, Chinese okra, bindi or bamia, it’s not only delicious but it’s also easy to prepare. Okra provides numerous health benefits to your body, and especially to your colon.

    Lady Finger is a great source of important vitamins and minerals that naturally improve colon health. Some of the powerhouse nutrients found in Chinese okra include vitamin C, vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin B, iron, calcium, potassium, copper, magnesium, selenium, manganese and zinc.

    Let's discuss what Lady Finger specifically does to improve colon health. Chinese okra releases a dietary fiber that’s able to clean out the gastrointestinal system, which can easily become clogged with fats, carbohydrates, cholesterol, toxins, bacteria and other harmful substances. By cleaning out the intestinal tract, okra can improve colon health by simply allowing it to work more efficiently.

    Additional benefits of okra? It's fat free, low in calories and high in fiber. But okra can do so much more than improve colon health. The health benefits of okra include reducing the risk of obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes and colon cancer.

    Interesting tidbit: The edible part of the flowering plant (or okra) is long and tapered, resembling a woman's fingers, thus giving it its name. Lady Finger was originally only found in Africa, but is now grown all over the world.

    To learn more about natural remedies to various diseases and conditions, please consult a Pharmaca practitioner today.

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