Pharmaca Blog

  • Essential Herbs for Summer First Aid

    BoyonbeachSummer's not over yet...and neither are our outdoor activities! To get some insight into unique herbal remedies for the bumps and bruises, stings and scrapes that come with outdoor fun, we turned to Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, MD, and member of Pharmaca’s Integrative Health Advisory Board.

    What should I stock in my herbal first aid kit?  

    Choose what you need in your herbal first aid kit based upon where you live, how you live and who lives with you! Here are the basics that most of us should keep around the house:

    • Calendula salve for skin irritations and rashes
    • Arnica salve or tincture for bruises, strains and sprain
    • Oregon grape root or goldenseal tincture—a powerhouse antimicrobial that can be used internally or topically
    • Echinacea tincture and/or elderberry syrup for colds and upper respiratory infections
    • Slippery elm lozenges for sore throat and occasional heartburn
    • Bentonite or French clay for insect bites
    • Witch hazel extract for bug bites and swelling
    • Grindelia tincture for poison ivy/oak and for chest congestion
    • Tea tree oil for fungal infections
    • California poppy tincture for use as a mild sedative and pain relief
    • A variety of herbal teas (e.g. chamomile for tension, ginger for nausea or upset stomach, peppermint for colds, etc.).

    Other first aid essentials: acetaminophen for pain, diphenhydramine for allergic reactions, tweezers for removing splinters, oatmeal and baking soda for itchy skin, and an assortment of bandages, gauze pads, etc.

    What herbs are safe for babies and children? 

    If you have children in the house, make sure that you keep some remedies that are appropriate for their age. Chamomile, for example, soothes a fussy 2 year old or can ease crampy diarrhea in a 5 year old; slippery elm lozenges can soothe sore throats; honey can reduce coughs in children over a year; and echinacea glycerite (an alcohol-free version) and elderberry syrup are good for colds and coughs, etc.

    Remember, any child under the age of two months who appears ill should be seen by a qualified health care professional. You can also find extensive information on safely and effectively treating children and adults at home in my book, Healthy at Home—as well as information about when you should seek medical care!

    Give us your go-to herbs in the summer for the following

    Insect bites. French or bentonite clay mixed with a little water to make a paste—apply to bite and then cover with cloth or plastic wrap for 30-45 minutes. Repeat 3-4 times per day if needed. Witch hazel extract can also be applied as a compress to the bite.

    Poison ivy and poison oak. Grindelia tincture is hands down my favorite treatment. It can be applied directly to affected area, or you can mix 1 teaspoon in 1/4 cup of witch hazel extract and then apply (repeat as needed).

    You can also make an oatmeal bath to soothe skin: Whirl 4 cups of oatmeal in blender or coffee grinder until powdered, then add 1/2 cup baking soda. Put in a cloth bag, sock or pantyhose and throw in bathtub of cool water and soak. You can also make a compress out of the oatmeal/baking soda blend and apply topically to the affected area.

    Scrapes and bruises. For scrapes, wash with soap and water to remove any debris. If necessary, you can get extra antimicrobial protection by rinsing the cut with either of the following: Dilute 5 ml of Oregon grape root or goldenseal tincture in 50 ml of water, OR dilute 60 drops tea tree oil in 1 ounce water. Calendula ointment can then be applied and the cut can be covered with an appropriate bandage. For strains, sprains or bruises (not an open cut), arnica salve or tincture is the best you will find.

    Earaches from swimming. If you’re prone to getting swimmer’s ear, use this remedy to prevent infection (Caution: Don’t use this if your ears are already hurting, because the alcohol will burn). Mix 1 oz rubbing alcohol and 1 oz white vinegar in a jar (mark EXTERNAL USE ONLY!). Apply 2 to 3 drops of room temperature mixture in each ear after swimming or showering. The alcohol will effectively remove the water, while the acidity in the vinegar prevents bacteria from growing.

    Sunburn. You can use aloe vera topically, but one of my other favorites is to make a strong pot of green tea, let cool, and apply to the sunburn every 3-4 hours. Prevention is the best remedy here, however. Wear a hat, protective clothing and/or safe sunscreen!

    For more first aid advice, speak with a Pharmaca practitioner today.

  • No Adults Allowed! Kid-Friendly Supplements

    ClassroomStart those healthy habits early with a variety of supplements specially formulated with the vitamins and minerals necessary for healthy development for brain and body. With a new school year rapidly approaching, it's all the more important to give them a nutritional edge for increased energy and strengthened immunity against the germs lurking in their classrooms.

    To prevent nutritional deficiencies, get your child into the healthy habit of taking a daily multivitamin—and turn it into a fun morning (or nightly) ritual instead of a chore. Bluebonnet's Super Earth Rainforest Animal Chews Multi-Vitamins feature a superfruit blend along with with extracts of bone-building vegetables (broccoli, broccoli sprouts, brussels sprouts, carrots, kale, onion, spinach and tomatoes) in one yummy, raspberry-flavored chewable. The tasty tablets also help facilitate calcium and phosphorus absorption and increase the formation and density of children's growing bones.

    Rainbow Light's Sunny Gummies Vitamin D3 is a delicious lemon-flavored gummy that delivers a potent level of vitamin D3 to support bone and muscle strength, immune function, and circulatory and cellular health. Vitamin D3 is the most effective form of vitamin D, and Berry D-Licious contains 2,500 IU of this important vitamin. Totally natural and free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives and additives, this delicious supplement is also allergen safe, created without gluten, soy, yeast, milk, eggs, nuts, fish or shellfish.

    Fish oil, known for its fantastic benefits, isn't just for adults. Kids everywhere love Nordic Naturals' strawberry-flavored Children's DHA. Made entirely from Arctic cod liver oil, this supplement is rich in the omega-3 DHA–essential for the proper development of the brain, eyes, and nervous and immune systems. Easily swallowed or chewed by children over three, Children's DHA also contains healthy levels of naturally derived vitamins A and D.

    Babies can also benefit from supplements. Nordic Naturals' Baby's DHA Vegetarian is formulated for the specific omega-3 nutritional needs of infants, and is a safe, effective way to ensure that babies 6 months or older (or as directed by your pediatrician) get the DHA they need for healthy development. And don't forget the vitamin C! Ensure your toddler receives crucial quantities with Hyland's Vitamin C tablets. These no-fuss tablets dissolve quickly and deliver 71 percent of the daily value for babies under a year, and 63 percent for kids between 1-3 years.

    Should a cold strike–despite your best efforts–treat your child with Hyland's 4Kids naturally soothing Honey Cough Syrup, Cold 'N Cough, or Sniffles 'N Sneezes. Safe and effective, these homeopathic remedies quell the symptoms of the common cold, cough or congestion for fast recovery.

    Pharmaca is committed to offering a holistic and well-rounded approach to children's health. Visit one of our stores to talk to a licensed practitioner about your child's health and nutritional needs.

  • Is it a Cold or Allergies?

    SnifflesYou have a runny nose, cough and congestion…but is it a cold or allergies? It's a common question during summer, when pollen counts are high but colds are still going around. Allergies and colds share many of the same symptoms, but causes—and treatments—are different for the two.


    Allergies happen when the immune system reacts to a substance it believes is harmful, called an allergen. During the immune reaction, histamine is released from immune cells, causing the typical symptoms of allergies: congestion, red and itchy eyes, nose and throat, coughing and sneezing.

    In severe cases, hives and rashes can develop. Allergens are specific to the individual and can be anything, including pollens, dust, food, grasses, mold and other environmental substances. Allergies are not contagious and symptoms can continue as long as a person is exposed to the allergen.

    Common colds

    Common colds are caused by hundreds of different viruses. Your immune system recognizes a virus and mounts an attack by producing different proteins and antibodies. The attack can result in common cold symptoms: sneezing, coughing and congestion. Colds are contagious and are spread from person to person through respiratory droplets (coughing and sneezing), and bodily contact such as shaking hands. Colds generally last less than 10 days.

    Sinus Infections

    Sinus infections develop when mucus builds up in the sinus cavities, creating a welcome environment for bacteria to collect and cause infection. The reason for the mucus build-up is because the nasal lining is unhealthy and inflamed, most often due to allergies, a cold or, less frequently, an underlying dental infection. Sinus infections can be acute or chronic, but allergies are the main cause for chronic sinus infections. Sinus infection symptoms include pressure around and behind the eyes and cheeks, runny/stuffy nose lasting more than a week, headache, fever, cough and thick green/yellow mucus.

    Is it an allergy or a cold?

    The most notable difference between a cold and allergies is the duration; a cold usually doesn’t last longer than 10 days. If your symptoms persist beyond two weeks, contact your doctor to determine if it could be allergies or something different such as a sinus infection.

    Allergies tend to have itchiness in the eyes, nose and throat where colds do not. Seasonally speaking, allergies (hay fever) predominate in the spring and summer, and colds predominate in the winter and fall.

    Here are a few other rules of thumb when it comes to determining the difference:

    Characteristic Common Cold Allergy Sinus Infection
    Pathogen Virus Allergen Bacteria
    Duration 3-14 days Indefinitely Acute or chronic
    Time of Year Most frequent in fall and winter, but possible anytime Any time, but seasonal allergies predominate in spring and summer Any time
    Symptom Onset 12-36 hours following exposure to germs Can begin immediately following exposure to allergen Usually a history of cold, allergies or dental infection prior to symptom onset
    Symptom Common Cold Allergy Sinus Infection
    Cough Often Sometimes Occasionally
    Aches Occasionally Never Occasionally
    Fatigue Occasionally Sometimes Occasionally
    Fever Rarely Never Sometimes
    Itchy, watery eyes Rarely Often Rarely
    Sore throat Often Occasionally Occasionally
    Runny or stuffy Nose Often; usually yellow mucus Often; usually clear Often; yellow or green mucus

    So I know what I’ve got. Now what? 

    Relief from the common cold

    The key to preventing and treating colds (and sinus infections) is boosting the immune system and avoiding germs. Remember to wash your hands often, drink plenty of liquids, avoid sugar (it impairs the immune system) and get plenty of rest. You can also try the following products:

    Vitamin C is antiviral and reduces the severity of symptoms and duration of a cold. Try MegaFood’s Daily C-Protect or American Health’s Ester-C.

    Zinc lozenges serve a dual purpose: they relieve sore throats and are a critical nutrient for optimal immune functioning. Try Nature’s Way’s Sambucus Organic Zinc Lozenges or Source Naturals’ Wellness Zinc Lozenges.

    Umcka, (aka South African Geranium or Umckaloaba) is very healing for a cough and shortens the duration and severity of a cold. Try Nature’s Way’s UmcKa ColdCare Original.

    Shop all cough & cold relief >

    Relief from sinus infections

    Anything that causes swelling of the sinuses can result in obstruction of drainage and a subsequent sinus infection. Keep the nasal passages healthy and drained to avoid infections—daily nasal irrigation with a neti pot can help to keep the passages clear—and don’t forget to support the immune system by using the products suggested for a common cold. For sinus support specifically, try these products:

    Pharmaca brand Sinus Relief Soother, a traditional Chinese formula for immediate sinus support and relief

    XClear’s Sinus Nasal Spray with Xylitol helps to wash, hydrate and moisturize the nasal passages.

    Mucolytics help to break down mucus. You can find them in Jarrow Formulas’ N-Acetyl-l-cysteine (N.A.C.), Enzymedica’s SerraGold or Jarrow Formulas’ Bromelain.

    Shop all sinus care >

    Relief from allergies

    Reducing exposure to allergens and stabilizing histamine reactions is key to preventing allergies. Some common allergens are pet dander, trees, pollen and grasses, dust mites, cockroaches and molds such as mildew and fungi.

    Try the following products to tame allergy symptoms:

    Plantiva’s AllerDx can help to quickly calm histamine reactions and improve nasal airflow.

    Ortho Molecular’s D-Hist provides nasal and sinus support by breaking down mucus and stabilizing cells that release histamine.

    Learn more about Dr. Tieraona Low Dog's recommendations for natural allergy relief >

    Shop all allergy relief >

  • The B Vitamin Breakdown

    Vitamin B1Know that you need B vitamins, but not sure which ones you need (or why?). Here's a breakdown of different types of B vitamins often found in B complexes, and why they're important. Follow the links to learn more about dosage recommendations, dietary sources and supplement suggestions.  

    B1 – Thiamine

    Vitamin B1 plays an integral role in the brain and central nervous system. B1 assists in the synthesis of acetylcholine, which is critical in preventing memory loss and nerve inflammation. B1 is also important for the digestive system, as it supports the production of stomach acid and provides nourishment for all digestive organs, helping us get maximum nutrition from our food.

    Read more about vitamin B1 >

    B2 – Riboflavin

    Vitamin B2 is a powerhouse of energy, and a key member of the B vitamin family. As a potent enzyme, riboflavin helps us to synthesize essential fatty acids and amino acids, and enables better absorption of iron and B6. Riboflavin is so vital to the system that cells cannot grow without it, and deficiency is quickly seen in cells that are frequently reproducing, like the mucous membranes, eyes and hair.

    Read more about vitamin B2 >

    B9 – Folic acid

    This powerful nutrient is used to nourish and repair tissues, and plays a key role in the manufacturing of neurotransmitters that help regulate sleep, pain and mood. Folic acid is one of the more well known B vitamins because of its importance during pregnancy for healthy fetal development, particularly during the first trimester.

    Read more about vitamin B9 >
    B12 - Methylcobalamin

    This energy booster is vital for amino acid synthesis, DNA replication and the manufacturing of neurotransmitters that are partially responsible for stabilizing mood and sleep patterns. Signs of deficiency include gastrointestinal disturbance, hypotension, fatigue, numbness, tingling in extremities, confusion and agitation. B12 is also needed to metabolize essential fatty acids. Prolonged deficiency of B12 can lead to a variety of central nervous system symptoms, and some neurological disturbances can become permanent.

    Read more about vitamin B12 >

  • Easy Switches for Naturally Healthy Teeth & Gums

    Good dental healthYou know the drill (or how to avoid one!) for good dental care: Brush, floss, rinse. But ingredients like fluoride or alcohol in many dental care products are potentially harmful. Here are a few natural ways to take care of your teeth and gums—and keep you smiling!

    No to: Fluoride
    Yes to: Xylitol

    Fluoride is added to dental products (and many public water supplies) because the American Dental Association says it helps remove the plaque that causes gum disease and tooth decay, and it helps strengthen tooth enamel. But there is a downside: according to the Fluoride Action Network, it has been linked to several illnesses, allergies and compromised thyroid functioning. Alarmingly, the FDA requires a “poison” label on fluoride toothpastes, due to its toxicity if even small amounts are ingested.

    Xylitol is a natural sweetener (look for xylitol made from birch bark), that actually stops the production of tooth-decaying acids and helps recalcify tooth enamel. Try Xlear's Spry Fluoride-Free Toothpaste with Xylitol that combines xylitol with bacteria-fighting aloe vera. For flossing, single-use Xylitol Antibacterial Cranberry Floss Sachets from Radius amp up protection from cavities with both xylitol and cranberry compounds that help stop bacteria from attaching to teeth.

    No to: Alcohol
    Yes to: Oxygen & Coconut Oil

    Mass-marketed mouth rinses rely on alcohol to fight bacteria in our mouths, but long-term use of these alcohol-based products has been linked to oral cancer. A safer way to keep acid-forming bacteria at bay is with oxygen, in the form of hydrogen peroxide. Essential Oxygen's Organic Brushing Rinse is free of alcohol, fluoride and sodium lauryl sulfate to keep gums healthy, teeth white and breath fresh.

    Another way to rinse: “oil pulling," an ancient Ayurvedic technique that’s been in the news lately. Take 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and swish it around your mouth for 10-20 minutes, then spit it out. Fans claim oil pulling draws harmful bacteria away from your teeth and gums and cleans much better than brushing alone.

    No to: Teeth Whitening Strips and Trays
    Yes to: Activated Charcoal

    Teeth whiteners often contain high concentrations of bleaching agents that can cause extreme tooth sensitivity—especially systems that use trays or strips to keep bleach on the teeth for 20 minutes or more. Instead, try brushing your teeth with activated charcoal. Take ½ teaspoon (or one capsule) and dissolve it in a small amount of water or coconut oil, then brush your teeth gently for 2 minutes. Your teeth will be black when brushing(!) but after spitting it out and rinsing you’ll see brighter teeth and tannin stains (coffee, wine, tea) gone.

    No to: Sugary & Starchy Snacks
    Yes to: Apples

    Granulated sugar is a leading cause of tooth decay, and starchy foods mix with saliva forming an “acid bath” in our mouths that erodes tooth enamel. Instead, reach for an apple (nature’s toothbrush!), as it increases saliva flow and its astringent qualities help reduce the build-up of cavity-causing bacteria.

  • 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?

  • Plant-Based Antioxidants and Their Benefits

    You may know why antioxidants are good for the body—they fight free radicals and slow the signs of aging. Here, Dr. Tori Hudson talks about how plant-based antioxidants can help prevent inflammation and oxidative damage. Look for them in brightly colored fruits and veggies, or through dietary supplements such as green tea, ginkgo and hawthorn, and superfruits such as acai and mangosteen.

  • 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.

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