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Zombies, BRAINS and Essential Fatty Acids

Theories abound on how zombies came to exist.  Contaminated food supply, mutated viruses, radiation exposure or parasitic infection.  No matter the cause of the zombie state, one thing is consistent for all zombies – a need for BRAINS.

Why Brains?

As we don’t have any zombies to consult for this article, we must rely on a bit of speculation as to why zombies have a nutritional preference for brains.  The human brain is the fattiest organ in the body, made up of at least 60% fat.  However if the fat was the only nutrient a zombie was interested in, adipose tissue (body fat) might be an easier target, especially in North America where roughly 70% of the population is overweight or obese.

What brain tissue has that body fat does not is a high concentration of a specific omega 3 fatty acid, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).  Concentrations of this essential fatty acid are higher in the brain than any other tissue.  Could it be that zombies are hungering for more DHA?

Functions of DHA in the Brain

DHA is essential for the development of the brain and nervous system in infants, and in the repair and protection of the brain in aging individuals.  Perhaps zombies are seeking the known benefits of DHA on cognitive function (as their function has been significantly decreased by the zombie state).  Some of the known benefits include:

  • Improved memory
  • Improved learning
  • Improved mood
  • Improved neuroplasticity
  • Decreased rates of dementia
  • Decreased rates of depression
  • Increased brain size (less loss of brain size with age)

Novel Nutritional Recommendations for Zombies

I’d like to encourage all zombies, and zombie caregivers, to consider other sources of DHA and to leave the brains where they are best put to use – in the heads of healthy humans.  While food sources of DHA are not abundant in the typical zombie diet, incorporating more of these foods may help to reduce brain cravings and support zombie health.

Food Sources of DHA

  • Algae
  • Fatty fish – especially cold water fish like anchovies, salmon, mackerel, and herring
  • Eggs – especially DHA enriched eggs
  • DHA supplements

Select References

Dyall SC, Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and share effects of EPA, DPA and DHA.  Front Aging Neurosci 2015;7:52 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4404917/

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes by the supernatural community. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed monster doctor. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Frankenstein, or other primary care provider is recommended for any supernatural being suffering from a health problem.

Mummies & Dehydration: Supernatural Health Series

Water, water everywhere.  With 71% of the earth being covered in water, and around 60% of the human body being water, there is no doubt that water is one of the most important elements of health – health of the body and health of our environment.

But what about the health of mummies?  No one is more prone to severe dehydration that a mummified person or animal.  In fact, a lack of water is necessary for the mummification process.

So what is a health seeking mummy to do?  Let’s look at general guidelines for water consumption in humans, and see if our mummy brethren can benefit from this information.

Benefits of Water

Every system in our body uses water.  Without water many essential processes slow down or do not function optimally.  Some of the most important functions of water in the body:

  • carrying nutrients to your cells
  • allowing your cells to remove debris
  • flushing bacteria out of the bladder
  • supporting digestion
  • regulating bowel movements
  • supporting blood pressure
  • protecting joints
  • regulating body temperature
  • maintaining salt balance in the body

Signs of Dehydration

Dehydration can occur quickly, especially on hot days, or slowly with compounded effects day after day.  If you have any of the following signs of dehydration, you should increase your water intake and talk to your doctor.

  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • low blood pressure
  • confusion
  • dark coloured urine
  • dry skin
  • bandage wrapped skin and a birth date more than 100 years ago

How Much Water to Drink?

There is no hard rule for how much water to drink, but there are some general guidelines which can be helpful in keeping you hydrated.

  1. Two to three cups (250ml) per hour – This will keep you hydrated all day long
  2. 8×8 rule – eight 8oz glasses per day. – Simple, easy to remember, but not based on any hard science, the 8×8 rule is likely to work for most people
  3. 5-1.0 ounces per pound of body weight – A nice guideline that can be easily individualized based on your weight. Aim for the higher amount during hotter or drier weather.

For mummies, the recommended amount of water is likely to be much higher due to a baseline of severe dehydration.  I recommend tripling the above recommendations to meet a mummy’s water needs.

Human, or mummy, water is essential to our quality of life.  So pick a guideline above and challenge yourself to drink your way to optimal health.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes by the supernatural community. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed monster doctor. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Frankenstein, or other primary care provider is recommended for any supernatural being suffering from a health problem.

The PMS Diet

Premenstrual syndrome may hit you like a storm each month, throwing your mood and your body into chaos and misery. But does it have to be like that? We all know women who sail through their cycles with not a concern in the world. Is it possible that we all can achieve that level of hormone harmony and banish our PMS symptoms? Yes, I believe it is.

The PMS Diet

My philosophy is that health comes from the balance of three key components:

  1. What we put into our bodies (food, alcohol, drugs, etc.)
  2. How we move our body (exercise, flexibility, play, etc.)
  3. The thoughts we hold in our mind-body (gratitude, self love, frustration, etc.)

With this philosophy at the core of my approach, I often suggest that women with hormone imbalances consider the impact of their diet. And in PMS your diet can have a huge impact – for good, or for bad. So lets get to it and discuss how you can have an impact on your PMS by optimizing your diet.

  1. Quit sugar

Ladies, you know this one. But it is so damn hard to do – your body can send some pretty strong cravings for sugar when hormone imbalances associated with PMS cause your serotonin to plummet. But sugar is not going to make anything better.

Women who experience PMS eat, on average, 275% more refined sugar than women who do not have PMS. What?!! That’s a ton of sugar! And women with PMS also consume between 200-500 more calories per day – typically in the forms of carbohydrates, fats and sweets. That is not going to make anyone feel better!

The main issue is that sugar increases the loss of magnesium in the urine – and magnesium deficiency is thought to be the cause of a lot of PMS symptoms, including fatigue, irritability, brain fog, insomnia as well as period cramps. Just to add to your misery, sugar also increases salt and water retention, leading to swelling and breast tenderness. Ugh.

  1. Avoid alcohol

We’re still in common sense country here, but avoiding alcohol really is something you need to do if you want to balance your hormones and eliminate PMS. While reaching for a glass of wine (or two) is tempting when you’re in a PMS rage, you are not making things any better. Alcohol can inhibit your liver’s ability to detoxify hormones, and can lead to higher circulating estrogen levels. This can exacerbate the imbalance of hormones that is already thought to cause PMS – high estrogen to low progesterone.  So consider making a cup of tea instead, and skip the alcohol for your own sake.

  1. Cut the caffeine

I’m really not making any friends with this article. I’m feeling like a bit of a buzz kill! But let’s talk straight – hormone imbalances are strongly associated with our behaviours. And we can change our behaviours!

Drinking coffee, and other caffeine-containing beverages, has been found to be associated with PMS, and with a greater severity of PMS. If you have PMS, I encourage you to try a cycle without caffeine and see if you notice an improvement, a lot of the women in my practice have found this to have a huge impact.

  1. Skip the salt

If you experience bloating, breast tenderness or swelling during PMS, you should check your diet to see if you are eating too much salt. Mostly found in processed food, salt can contribute to water retention, and swelling. Skipping prepared, processed and fast foods should bring your salt intake down to a balanced and healthy level.

  1. Get complex

Breads, bagels, crackers, pasta and other simple carbohydrates are setting you up for blood sugar instability and almost guaranteeing a miserable PMS. Instead of these foods, opt for the complex carbohydrates, these are slower to digest, keep you full longer and your blood sugar stable. Women who eat more complex carbohydrates also eat more fiber, an important nutrient that promotes estrogen elimination from the body.

So banish the bread and instead go for whole grains – brown rice, oats, quinoa, millet, and amaranth are delicious. And try sweet potatoes, squash, lentils, and beans for filling complex carbohydrates.

  1. Go green

Leafy greens are a PMS fighting superfood! A rich source of calcium and magnesium, leafy greens also support liver function, encouraging the liver to detoxify and eliminate excess estrogen. Choose your favourite leafy greens and eat them every day – kale, spinach, arugula, swiss chard or collard greens are all excellent choices!

  1. Go fish!

Fish, and other foods that are rich in vitamin B6, are important for any woman struggling with PMS. B6, a water-soluble nutrient, is involved in over 100 reactions in our body, many of which are involved in the production of hormones and neurotransmitters. Vitamin B6 is one of the best studied nutrients for PMS, and it has been found to help restore balance for women with PMS and reduce symptoms, especially mood symptoms such as irritation, anger and sadness.

  1. Open sesame

Sesame seeds are an excellent source of calcium, and clinical trials have found that women with the highest intake of calcium have the lowest incidence of PMS symptoms. While most studies have been on calcium supplements, increasing dietary calcium is a great place to start.

Other great sources of calcium include tofu, sardines, leafy greens, cabbage, broccoli, green beans, squash, bean sprouts, almonds, brazil nuts, quinoa, chickpeas, beans and oranges.

  1. Beans, beans, beans!

There are many reasons why beans pack a powerful punch in treating PMS. Beans are an excellent source of magnesium, one of the most important nutrient imbalances in PMS. Taken as a supplement, magnesium can improve mood, reduce breast tenderness and relieve pain during periods.

But beans offer more than just magnesium. They also are a rich source of fiber and protein. Women who consume a mostly vegetarian diet have lower incidence of PMS and lower levels of estrogen – both benefits that can be achieved by just increasing the beans in your diet.

  1. Boost Bacteria

Fermented foods, like kim chi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir all contain probiotics – healthy bacteria that can live in our digestive tracts and support our overall health. Healthy bacteria do more than just help our digestion, they also support hormone balance – especially estrogen elimination, an important component of managing PMS.

When your bacteria balance is optimal your body is able to easily eliminate estrogen. When your bacteria levels are out of balance estrogen levels increase and can significantly contribute to PMS. So try some fermented foods, or take a daily probiotic to balance your bacteria.

 Diet and More

Diet is an excellent place to start in treating your PMS.  It may seem simple, but simple things can sometimes be incredibly powerful.  Each action you take on a daily basis, each food you eat, or those foods you don’t eat, all influence your hormone balance and determine whether you sail through PMS or struggle.  Once you have started with these dietary changes, if you are still experiencing symptoms, check out my top treatments for PMS, ask whether you may be experiencing PMDD or take a refresher on the hormonal imbalances of PMS.  And if you are ready to take the next step, feel free to get in touch so we can work together on resolving your PMS.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

 

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10 Tips to Treat PMS Naturally

PMS (premenstrual syndrome) sucks.  That’s not medical jargon, that’s just the way it is.  Once a month, up to three-quarters of women experience physical or emotional discomfort or pain which can last up to 14 days (seriously.  14 days.)  Over 150 symptoms of PMS have been identified but the most common symptoms are:

Naturopathic treatment of PMS
There are over 150 symptoms associated with PMS
  • Decreased energy
  • Irritability, nervousness, anxiety and anger
  • Food cravings
  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Altered sex drive
  • Breast pain
  • Muscle aches and low back pain
  • Bloating
  • Diarrhea and/ or constipation
  • Swelling of the hands and feet
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping

What causes PMS?

Honestly, we don’t exactly know.  Researchers, clinicians, and people all over the internet debate this constantly.  We do know that it’s most likely a combination of imbalances in our hormones, neurotransmitters, lifestyle factors and our environment that leads to symptoms of PMS.

Balancing these diverse systems gives most women relief from their PMS symptoms. But it can take some time to determine what will work for you!  Don’t try to do this alone – an experienced naturopath or functional medicine doctor can guide you and give you the best chance for bidding farewell to your PMS.

Below you will find my TOP TEN natural treatments for PMS.  Start here.  Empower yourself with knowledge.  Then find the support you need.

10 Tips to Treat PMS Naturally

1. Exercise

Come on.  We know exercise is important, but did you know it can decrease your PMS symptoms?  Studies have shown again and again that women who engage in regular exercise have fewer PMS symptoms than women who do not.  And the exercise doesn’t need to be intense – it just needs to happen regularly (at least 3 times per week throughout the month).

Exercise can reducing estrogen levels, improve blood sugar levels and raise your feel-good endorphins!  And really, any exercise will do.  So run, dance, swim, cycle, hula hoop, yoga or pilates – it doesn’t matter.  Just do it!

2.    Cut the sugar

Women who experience PMS have been reported to eat whopping 275% more refined sugar than women who do not get PMS symptoms.  DAMN.

Refined sugars zap our magnesium levels, increase salt and water retention and create imbalances in our insulin levels.  All of these concerns have been linked to PMS symptoms.

Eliminating refined sugar and limiting simple carbohydrates (grains, pasta, baked goods) in favour of high fiber complex carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables, whole grains) lowers levels of estrogen, improves magnesium levels and can significantly improve symptoms of PMS.   So cut out the cookies, cakes, bagels and breads in favour of oatmeal, popcorn, quinoa, brown rice and other fiber rich foods.

 3.    Eliminate caffeine

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but caffeine consumption is associated with more and worse PMS symptoms.  Caffeine is linked especially to breast tenderness, anxiety, irritability and difficulty sleeping during PMS.  The impact is even worse when combined with sugar (pay attention all you Frappuccino drinkers!).  Eliminating caffeine, or limiting it during the premenstrual phase can improve PMS symptoms for a lot of women.

4.    Take a probiotic

Probiotics are not just for digestive health!  Those little buggers living in our intestines are working hard for our health.  Healthy bacteria can decrease symptoms of PMS by increasing beta-glucuronidase enzyme activity and promoting estrogen excretion.

The best way to establish healthy bacteria levels in your gut is to take a probiotic supplement.  Try for one with both Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum.  Taken with food, probiotics are extremely safe and have no negative side effects (you can experience bloating if you take too much – 1 to 10 billion is usually a safe amount).

 5.    Consider Cal-Mag

1k-7649 spinachEstrogen and calcium are BFFs in our bodies.  Estrogen is involved in the absorption, metabolism and utilization of calcium in our bodies (this is why we are more prone to osteoporosis as we age – we’re learning so much today!)  And studies have found that both mood and physical symptoms of PMS are improved with daily calcium supplementation

Magnesium deficiency is a serious concern and most women with PMS are deficient in magnesium!  I’m going to say that again – MOST women with PMS are deficient in magnesium.   Magnesium deficiency causes fatigue, irritability, mental confusion, menstrual cramps, insomnia, muscle aches or pains and heart beat irregularities.

Dietary sources of calcium include dark green leafy vegetables, dairy (cheese, yogurt, milk), tofu, and almonds.  Dietary sources of magnesium are similar and include green leafy vegetables, tofu, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains.  Take to your ND about a Cal-Mag supplement, and take it in the evening away from other medications and supplements.

6.    Bring the B vitamins

It is hard to keep track of the hundreds of different things B vitamins do!  One of the most important is the detoxification of hormones through our liver.  If you don’t have enough B vitamins, your body is going to be dealing with those hormones a lot longer than you want to be.

Vitamin B6 is also a superstar when it comes to treating PMS.  Necessary for the production of two neurotransmitters – serotonin and dopamine (read all about them in my article on hormones for happiness!), vitamin B6 can seriously ease symptoms of PMS such as low energy, irritability and mood swings.

As if that wasn’t enough, B6 is also involved in transfer of magnesium into cells – without B6 magnesium wouldn’t be able to enter cells.  This is another reason why B vitamins, and especially B6 are so important in the relief of PMS symptoms.

7.    Dong Quai

Dong Quai (Angelica sinensis) is a traditional Chinese herb with thousands of years of use for imbalances in women’s hormones.  It has been used for menopause, painful menstruation, no menstruation and as a uterine tonic.  Dong quai has phytoestrogenic properties and I recommend it for women who experience PMS symptoms in addition to painful menstruation.

Dong quai is usually used from ovulation (day 14) until menstruation begins.  If you are also experiencing painful periods, continue it until your period stops.

 8.    Chaste tree

The SINGLE most important herb in the treatment of PMS, chaste tree (Vitex agnus castus) has been a life-changer for many women in my practice.

The effects of chaste tree appear to be due to the impact it has on the hypothalamus and pituitary – the starting point for hormone production in the body.  As a result, chaste tree is able to normalize the production of many hormones, for instance, reducing prolactin levels and normalizing the estrogen to progesterone ratio.

Chaste tree is best taken daily throughout the menstrual cycle.  Studies have found it to be useful for almost all symptoms associated with PMS including irritability, mood swings, anger, anxiety, headache, and breast tenderness.

9.    Licorice

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) is an amazing herb – one of the most powerful we use.  It has been used in both Western and Eastern herbal medicine for thousands of years for a wide variety of ailments.  It also has impressive modern scientific research to back up its historical uses.

 Licorice is useful in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome because it lowers estrogen levels while simultaneously raising progesterone levels.  Licorice also blocks the hormone aldosterone, decreasing water retention.

Licorice is usually taken from ovulation (day 14) until your period starts.  It should not be used if you have a history of kidney disease or high blood pressure.  You should be under the care of a Naturopathic Doctor while taking licorice.

10. See a Naturopathic Doctor

Obviously I think this is the best thing you can do to help manage your PMS symptoms.  Naturopathic Doctors are experts in correcting the underlying imbalances that lead to PMS symptoms.  Your unique set of symptoms will give an experienced ND a lot of information that can be used to individualize a treatment plan just for you.  NDs also can order comprehensive hormone panels that will identify imbalances in cortisol, estrogen, progesterone or testosterone that may be contributing to your symptoms.  You can find a licensed Naturopathic Doctor in your area by visiting the national association websites – CAND in Canada and AANP in the United States.  And of course, you can contact me if you’d like us to work together.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

The Empowered Woman’s Guide to HSV

Oh herpes. No one wants you. But with 2/3 of people under age 50 having some form of herpes, a lot of women are dealing with this unwanted guest in their lady garden. And herpes isn’t going anywhere – once you have the herpes virus, you always have the herpes virus. Herpes is one of the types of virus that is able to remain in a hidden state in our bodies (called “latent” infection) and pop out when we least want it to.

Types of Herpes

There are two types of herpes simplex virus – HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is the virus associated with most cold sores. HSV-2 is the one associated with genital herpes. However their location doesn’t really matter – you can have HSV-1 on your genitals, and while relatively rare, you can also have HSV-2 around your mouth.

How to Get Herpes

Now no one wants to get herpes, but honestly it is hard to avoid. HSV-1 and -2 are transmitted by physical contact, kissing or sexual intimacy. As one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, exposure rates are very high. To avoid exposure to HSV use condoms or dental dams when having sexual contact, and avoid direct contact during known outbreaks in a partner.

While HSV-2 is commonly transmitted sexually, it can infect the mouth as well through oral sex. Most cases of HSV-1 are contracted during childhood, but can also occur sexually. HSV-1 and -2 can both also be passed along to infants during childbirth.

Symptoms of HSV

Many people recognize the symptoms of cold sores – a watery blister near the lip (or sometimes the nose) or in the mucous membranes of the mouth. As the blister heals it forms a characteristic scab.

But herpes can also be completely silent – many people have HSV infections and never know it. This contributes to the high rates of exposure to HSV – it can be passed on even if no active blisters or sores are present.

Symptoms of an outbreak can also cause some symptoms such as tingling, burning or flu-like symptoms before the blisters appear. It is important to avoid direct contact with a partner during these times (use a condom or dental dam).

The first contact with the virus will cause the primary outbreak – usually with symptoms showing up between 2-21 days after contact. Typically this outbreak is more severe and can last longer than subsequent outbreaks.

Triggering Future Outbreaks

Any number of different triggers can lead to the resurgence of the herpes virus. Things that compromise your immune function – like lack of sleep, stress, poor diet and alcohol consumption are common triggers. Other triggers may be sun exposure, excessive heat, skin irritation or other local infections.

Diagnosing HSV

The best test is a simple swab, done in your doctor’s office soon after the onset of the blisters. It can take up to a week for results to come back, so treatment is often started if the symptoms and appearance are consistent with a herpes infection.

There are blood tests available as well that can be used if HSV is suspected.

An Empowered Approach to Treating HSV

My first step in treating HSV in women is to offer assurance. You are practically a unicorn if you have never had HSV – most people in Canada do have it (and remember, once you’ve had it you always have it). It is a virus like any other and we need to let go of some of the negative connotations around contracting HSV.

Second, there are antiviral medications available that can help to lessen the severity of an outbreak and lower the chances of passing HSV to a partner. While I don’t advocate for on going use of these medications, they can be used judiciously in women who are looking for short term support.

Of course, as a naturopathic doctor, my focus is on empowering women to make choices for their health based on knowledge and informed by science. So I like to emphasize what we, as women, can do to help control HSV and prevent outbreaks.

St. John’s Wort – most commonly known as a treatment for depression, Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort) also has powerful antiviral properties that are effective against herpes viruses. Typically taken at higher doses for 1-2 weeks, then decreasing to a lower or maintenance dose.

Lysine – one of the more well-known treatments for HSV, lysine is an amino acid that helps to stabilize the virus and prevent reactivation. It is most often taken daily to prevent outbreaks. Many doctors also suggest consuming more lysine in the diet, and avoiding arginine – this balance supports the immune system in it’s work. Below you’ll find a list of foods high in lysine (enjoy lots of these!) and foods high in arginine (limit these).

Lemon Balm – topical lemon balm is stellar at soothing and supporting the healing of cold sores and genital herpes. It is applied directly to the lesions once or twice per day during an outbreak.

Coriolus Mushrooms – mushrooms pack one hell of a punch when it comes to optimizing our immune system. Coriolus mushrooms in particular have been found to optimize immune function and support the immune system in it’s battle against viruses. I suggest taking mushrooms regularly to support your immune function.

Empowered Steps

If you are struggling with recurrent HSV outbreaks, or this is your first outbreak, I hope that you feel more knowledgeable after reading this article. As always, I suggest that you work with a qualified Naturopathic Doctor to put together a plan that approaches all aspects of your health, and the health of your lady garden. If you’d like to work with me, I am happily taking new patients in my women’s health focused practice in Toronto. You can book here.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Phytoestrogens: Hormone Balance With Food

Phytoestrogens, or plant-based estrogens, are compounds found in our food that can bind to our estrogen receptors.  While a lot of confusion exists on the impact this has on our hormone health, I’m going to help you understand the amazing balancing effects of phytoestrogens, and tell you why you should consider having more of them in your diet.

Why Phytoestrogens are Important

In our bodies we have three sources for estrogen: the estrogen we make (also known as endogenous estrogen), the estrogen we eat (phytoestrogens) and the estrogen-like compounds we are exposed to in our environment (xenoestrogens).

Each of these estrogens can bind to an estrogen receptor and cause an estrogen-like effect.  The chemical estrogens, or xenoestrogens, from the pesticides, herbicides, personal care products and other chemicals in our body have a much stronger impact than that of our own home-made estrogen.  And the plant estrogens have a much weaker effect.

The Balancing Effects of Estrogen

With many women suffering from conditions of excess estrogen – like fibroids, PCOS, obesity and estrogen dominance as well as estrogen sensitive conditions like endometriosis, fibrocystic breasts and breast cancer – lowering their body burden of estrogen is important.  For women with high estrogen, consuming more very mildly estrogenic phytoestrogens can prevent the negative impact of exposure to their body’s own estrogens as well as the chemical estrogens from the environment.  When you have lots of plant estrogens in your body they occupy the estrogen receptor, causing a very small estrogen-like impact, but most importantly, they prevent other stronger estrogens from binding to that receptor.  This results in an overall lower estrogen state in the body.

Following along so far?  It gets better!

When women are suffering from low estrogen – due to hysterectomy or menopause, phytoestrogens can also be helpful.  When women is no longer producing her own estrogen in optimal amounts, the small amount of an estrogen effect from a phytoestrogen can help to boost her estrogen levels and diminish symptoms of low estrogen like hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia and mood swings.

Food Sources of Phytoestrogens

More than 300 different plants contain phytoestrogens. There are several subclasses of phytoestrogens, some of which are listed below.

Lignans – Vegetables, fruits, nuts, cereals, spices, seeds; especially flax seeds

Isoflavones – Spinach, fruits, clovers, peas, beans; especially soy

Flavones – Beans, green vegetables, fruits, nuts

Chalcones – Licorice root

Diterpenoids – Coffee

Triterpenoids – Licorice root, hops

Coumarins – Cabbage, peas, spinach, licorice, clover

To increase dietary sources of phytoestrogens, consider the following foods:

Flax seeds – the highest food source of phytoestrogens is flax seed and oils. The phytoestrogens in flax seeds are lignans. Lignans have antitumour, antioxidant, and weakly estrogenic and antiestrogenic characteristics. They have been found in studies to decrease vaginal dryness, hot flashes or night sweats in women with low estrogen symptoms.

Soy, edamame, tofu, tempeh – the best known phytoestrogen, soy, when consumed in the diet, is safe for women with symptoms of both high and low estrogen.  For hot flashes and night sweats, women who consume soy tend to have less symptoms than women who do not.  Other research suggests that increasing soy foods in the diet stabilizes bone density, decreases cholesterol levels and has a favourable effect on cardiovascular risk profiles in menopausal women

Beans: soybeans, tempeh, black beans, white beans, kidney beans, lentils, mung beans, coffee

Grains: wheat berry, oats, barley, rice, alfalfa, wheat germ

Seeds and nuts: flaxseed, sesame seeds, fenugreek

Vegetablesyams, carrots

Fruits: apples, pomegranates

Herbs and spices: Mint, licorice root, ginseng, hops, fennel, anise, red clover

Harmonizing Your Hormones

If you are interested in exploring more ways to balance your hormones naturally, book a free 15 minute meet and greet appointment with me to discuss how you can bring harmony to your hormones and fire up your health!

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

 

The Empowered Woman’s Guide to UTIs

This month I’m sharing some of my best advice on how to support and maintain a healthy lady garden. And no discussion on lady garden health would be complete without a mention of those miserable, burning, peeing-a-million-times-a-day UTIs.

Urinary Tract Infections

While men get UTIs as well, women are much more prone to getting urinary tract infections. This is due to a couple of unique things about the lady garden anatomy – the urethra is very close to two bacteria-filled environments, the vagina and the anus, and the urethra in women is much shorter, allowing a fast-track for bacteria to get into the urinary bladder.

Sex can also increase the incidence of UTIs in women because of, well, friction. If the bacteria in the vaginal tract are not healthily balanced those bad bacteria can be pushed into the urethra and lead to a UTI (this is why we are told to pee after sex ladies!)

Symptoms of UTIs

Most women are pretty fast to identify a UTI. There is no mistaking that burning sensation when you pee, as well as that urgent and frequent need to urinate – even when very little comes out each time. Other symptoms to pay attention to are: cloudy urine, pain in the lower back or lower abdomen, or fatigue, fever and chills. If you pain, fever or fatigue – get to your doctor – the infection may have moved into your kidneys which needs immediate attention.

An Empowered Approach to Treating UTIs

While most women are given an antibiotic for UTIs – a treatment which is absolutely necessary in some cases – many women can manage their UTIs quickly and easily with a more natural and empowered approach. There is much more to the treatment of UTIs than just killing off bacteria (those antibiotics will kill off both good and bad bacteria) – we also need to support the health of the lady garden and the immune system.

Lifestyle and Prevention

If you have ever had a UTI it is likely you have been given this advice, but it is so important that it is worth mentioning again. Follow these simple tips to prevent UTIs:

  1. Pee after having sex (to flush the urethra of any bacteria that may have gotten in there)
  2. Drink lots of water
  3. Pee often – don’t hold it in!
  4. Wipe from front to back
  5. Don’t use scented products on your lady garden
  6. Wear cotton underwear and loose fitting clothes

Diet to Prevent Bladder Irritation

Some foods can promote a bladder environment that makes it more likely for you to develop UTIs – and can make it harder to effective treat infections, leading to an increased likelihood of chronic or recurrent urinary tract infections (no thank you!)

Limit caffeine, refined sugar, white flour, alcohol, and food allergies to support the health of your bladder and reduce irritation. If you are a smoker, you should quit as well.

Get Hydrated

Another piece of obvious advice, the importance of hydration can NOT be underemphasized in the treatment of UTIs. I recommend drinking water like it is your day job when actively treating a UTI. But for prevention you should still drink at least 2 litres of water per day. Avoid fluids that contain caffeine and sugar, and stick instead with just plain water – or water with lemon if you’d like.

Keep Your pH Balanced

We talked a lot about the importance of pH balance in the lady garden in the BV and yeast infection articles, and pH balance is just as important for urinary tract infections. Our urine should be slightly acidic (like our lady garden!) which creates an environment that is inhospitable to those UTI-causing bacteria, like e. coli.

Vitamin C is one of the easiest and most effective ways to support the proper pH of the urine. During acute UTIs you can take higher doses of vitamin C (discuss your dose with your Naturopath), and for maintenance take 1-2g per day in divided doses (morning and evening).

Promote Healthy Bacteria

UTIs are caused by the presence of nasty bacteria – most often e. coli, in the urinary tract. Promoting healthy levels of beneficial bacteria, especially lactobacillus, will prevent there from being large colonies of e. coli in the vaginal tract, urinary tract and digestive tract. A daily probiotic supplement is absolutely recommended, and I will often recommend a topical probiotic to be applied to the lady garden during acute infection.

Clear Out the Urethra

We’ve all heard of using cranberry to treat UTIs, and there is evidence that this treatment will help. Cranberry contains a compound called proanthocyanidin that prevents bacteria from adhering to the walls of the urinary tract. This allows you to clear the bacteria much faster. For an acute infection you need to use unsweetened 100% cranberry juice and drink a good amount per day – up to 16 ounces, diluted in water.

Banish Bad Bacteria

There are some excellent natural plant-based treatments for killing off the bacteria that cause UTIs. I never recommend these in isolation – they need to be taken as part of an empowered treatment plan. Destroying bacteria alone will not adequately treat a UTI.

Uva ursi is a powerful antimicrobial that can be highly effective in eradicating bacteria, including e. coli. It is not for use in pregnancy, breastfeeding, children or for more than one week at a time.

Goldenseal is another excellent antimicrobial that is effective against e. coli. It can be used as a supplement, in a tea, or as a lady garden rinse after sexual activity.

Boost Immune Function

To support your immune system, be sure you are maintaining healthy vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is necessary for the production of antimicrobial peptides – our body’s own antibiotics. Supplementation with vitamin D has been found to be associated with a decreased incidence of UTIs. And since just about every Canadian is deficient from October to May, a daily supplement is necessary for most everyone.

Empowered and UTI-Free!

I hope you can now see all the many factors that go into treating and preventing UTIs.  Working with a Naturopathic Doctor can help you to individualize your plan – to be sure that you are taking all the necessary steps to be empowered in the care of your lady garden.  If you’d like to talk – drop me a line!  You can book a 15 minute meet and greet session, join me on Facebook or Instagram.  I’m thrilled to a part of your empowered journey.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

The PATH To Treating Bacterial Vaginosis

BV, or Bacterial Vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection in women worldwide. With few symptoms, aside from an unpleasant odour, many women are experiencing recurrent BV infections without receiving appropriate treatment.

But no more. Today I will take you on the PATH to treating BV, so that you don’t have to struggle with BV any longer.

Understanding BV

Bacterial vaginosis occurs when the healthy bacteria balance in the vagina is disrupted. With trillions of bacteria colonizing the vaginal tract, when those populations are out of balance the delicate pH of the vagina changes and symptoms can occur.

Unlike yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis typically has fewer symptoms. Not usually associated with pain, itching, irritation or pain with intercourse, bacterial vaginosis has just two main symptoms:

  • a thin whitish discharge
  • a foul “fishy” odour

These symptoms are often worse after a menstrual period or exposure to semen in the vagina – these can alter the pH balance and support the growth of less-than-desirable bacteria in the lady garden.

The most common bacteria involved in BV is Gardnerella vaginalis, but some other bacteria have been implicated as well – including Mycoplasma hominis, Ureaplasma urealyticum and Prevotella bivia…along with many others.

The metabolic activity of these bacteria causes the discharge and the characteristic odour of BV.

While BV may have few symptoms on its own, it can lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs), pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, candida infections and an increased risk for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Diagnosing BV

BV is pretty straightforward to diagnose – and most women can tell you without a doubt if they are experiencing it. To diagnose BV your doctor will use what is called the Amsel Criteria. This can easily be done in office.

The PATH To BV Treatment

Understanding that BV is caused by an imbalance in healthy bacteria is the most important step in treating BV. When I am treating BV, I encourage all women to follow the PATH – four essential steps in treating BV so that it doesn’t keep coming back.

            PROMOTE Healthy Vaginal Flora

The bacteria that live in our lady garden are essential for maintaining a healthy vaginal environment. Their health often depends on our behaviours – so we need to do what we can to support them.

A diet high in sugar can promote the growth of undesirable bacteria. As can a diet low in fiber from plant foods. A lack of fermented foods in the diet can lead to low populations of healthy bacteria as well.

The most important thing we can do to promote healthy vaginal flora is to take a probiotic supplement. Both oral and vaginal probiotics (suppositories and creams) can support and promote a healthy balance of bacteria levels in the vaginal tract. Selecting appropriate strains is important – make sure that any probiotic you choose has adequate amounts of Lactobacillus – at least 10-12 billion per day for at least 6 months is what is recommended.

            AVOID Triggers of Vaginal Infection

Just as we need to promote healthy bacteria levels, we also have to avoid those things that promote infection.

Bacteria imbalances are more common in women using the birth control pill – both due to the high doses of estrogen and the less frequent condom use in women on the pill. Antibiotic use will also alter bacteria balance and increase the incidence of BV.

Douching and wearing non-cotton based underwear will also increase the risk for BV and should be avoided, especially during active treatment for BV.

            TREAT Overgrowth of Bacteria and Normalize pH

The normal pH of the lady garden is somewhere between 3.8-4.5 – a nice acidic environment.   The pH is maintained in this range by the healthy bacteria – mostly Lactobacillus that colonize the vaginal tract. In BV the pH is elevated above 4.5 – sometimes as high as 7.0! Restoring the healthy pH is essential for resolving the symptoms of BV and preventing recurrence.

The best way to normalize the pH is with the use of boric acid suppositories. Having a similar pH to the healthy vaginal tract, boric acid can restore the pH and, when combined with healthy bacteria supplementation, treat BV very effectively.

Your ND will help you to understand the protocol for use of boric acid suppositories and you can have a local compounding pharmacist make the capsules just for you.

HEAL Inflamed or Irritated Tissues

For the majority of women bacterial vaginosis is not associated with significant irritation or inflammation. If you have redness or swelling of your vulva, discuss with your Naturopath whether you may also have a candida (yeast) infection.

For women using the boric acid suppositories to restore healthy pH balance, there is a small chance of irritation. If this occurs a topical vitamin E gel is highly effective for decreasing irritation and healing the tissues.

Taking the PATH

Now that you have a roadmap to treating BV, I hope you will always consider the PATH when you are managing your BV. This approach has helped countless women in my practice overcome their bacterial vaginosis, and I hope it will help you too. If you’d like to work together and allow me to be a guide on your PATH, don’t hesitate to book an appointment today!

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

Select Resources

Cribby S, Taylor M, Reid G. Vaginal Microbiota and the Use of Probiotics. Interdiscip Perspect Infect Dis. 2008 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2662373/

 

Natural Treatment of PCOS

PCOS is the most common hormone imbalance impacting women and teenage girls. Polycystic ovarian syndrome, meaning “multiple ovarian cysts” can start soon after puberty and can persist for years. For some women it starts later – but for all women and teenage girls, it can be an incredibly frustrating, and sometimes painful condition.

WTF is PCOS?

Ovarian cysts occur when ovulation doesn’t occur as it is supposed to. In every cycle each ovary stimulates a number of follicles to develop, one of which will release an egg at ovulation. In PCOS the follicles are stimulated to grow (totally normal), but they do not respond to the hormonal cue to release an egg at ovulation. Instead they continue to grow and form cysts within the ovary.

There are many reasons why you may not respond appropriately to the hormones and instead form ovarian cysts – you can learn more about the types of PCOS in this article.

How Do I Know If I Have PCOS?

I talk about the diagnosis of PCOS in this article, but these are the most common symptoms that may suggest a diagnosis of PCOS:

  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Infertility
  • Hair growth on the upper lip or chin
  • Hair loss from the head
  • Acne – especially on the body or on the “beard distribution” of the face
  • Weight gain or excess weight around the abdomen

If you have a family member with PCOS, you are more likely to develop it. So talk to your mom, sister, aunts and grandmothers to see if you have a family history.

If you suspect you may have PCOS, then discuss it with your MD or ND and get an appropriate diagnosis.

What Causes PCOS?

PCOS is the result of failed ovulations – so the cause can be anything that disrupts healthy ovulation. Hormone imbalances stemming from the pituitary gland, the thyroid, the adrenal glands or pancreas can all cause PCOS. Insulin resistance – when your cells no longer respond to the hormone insulin – is probably the most common hormone imbalance that leads to PCOS.

How is PCOS Treated?

In conventional care, PCOS is most often treated with the birth control pill. Other choices, like spironolactone or metformin, are also suggested if acne or insulin resistance are present. However, many women are successfully choosing a more empowered approach to treating their PCOS through diet, exercise and some health supporting supplements.

Diet and Lifestyle

While not every woman with PCOS is overweight, if you are, losing weight is an important goal. Losing as little as 5% of your body weight can reverse insulin resistance, promote ovulation and decrease testosterone (less acne and chin/lip hair!)

I go into great detail on the basics of the PCOS Diet in this article – also available as a fun infographic! Check it out for all the information you need.

Vitamins and Minerals

Many different supplements can be used for managing PCOS. These are best selected by working with your ND – knowing what your hormone imbalance is will allow you to choose those supplements most likely to work for you. Here are a few of the most helpful options:

Vitamin B6 – can help balance prolactin levels, a hormone often elevated in PCOS.

Chromium – essential for proper blood sugar regulation. Taking chromium (also known as insulin tolerance factor) increases the uptake of glucose into cells, decreasing insulin resistance.

Vitamin D – essential for healthy ovulation. Every Canadian is deficient during the winter months, and supplementation is often needed to correct that deficiency.

Herbal Medicines

Plant medicines can be incredibly powerful medicines, especially when it comes to supporting hormone balance. It depends on your type of PCOS what herbal medicines may be recommended.

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) – an incredibly effective hormone balancer, saw palmetto decreases the conversion of testosterone to its more powerful form, dihydrotestosterone (DHT). This makes saw palmetto an excellent choice in the treatment of acne, hair loss, and facial hair growth.

Chaste tree (Vitex agnus-castus) – one of the best known herbal medicines for PCOS, chaste tree lowers prolactin levels and raises progesterone levels. It can also restore regular ovulation, the main issue in PCOS!

Other Natural Supplements

A few honourable mentions are necessary in any discussion of PCOS – treatments that have excellent research and deserve to be considered in any woman seeking a more empowered approach to her PCOS.

Inositol – a B-like vitamin, inositol has many benefits for PCOS – it decreases insulin resistance, decreases testosterone levels and helps to promote regular ovulation. It is a super-star for PCOS treatment.

Berberine – compared in studies to metformin, berberine has powerful actions on blood sugar regulation and insulin resistance. It can reduce testosterone, and androgens. Women taking berberine also achieved greater weight loss in some studies.

Next Steps

Knowing that there are a great many different options for the treatment of PCOS, some women can feel overwhelmed by information. This is one of the many benefits of working with a Naturopathic Doctor. Your ND can help you understand your individual hormone imbalance and guide you to the treatments that will be most effective for you.

Remember, any hormone imbalance will take time to resolve. Start taking the steps now to achieve your healthy hormone balance.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only.  It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider.  Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

 

66 Vegan Proteins

Raise your hand if anyone has every responded to your vegan diet with the question “but how do you get enough protein??” I can’t see your hands – but I KNOW a lot of them are in the air (wave them around a bit while they’re up there… just for fun.) It is absolutely the most common question I get asked. But in my 30 years of eating a vegetarian diet, and 10 years as a Naturopathic Doctor in Toronto I have gotten really good at answering this question!

And today I’m sharing with you the most complete list of vegan (and vegetarian) proteins I have ever compiled. I hope that it will give you confidence to respond to all those people who question the protein density of a healthy vegan or vegetarian diet.

But first – how much protein do you need??

A general guideline is 0.8g per kg of body weight.  I suggest that vegans aim a bit higher – around 1g per kg of body weight to account for the lack of certain amino acids in various vegan proteins.  More on this later… read on…

And now, lets get into it!

66 Vegan Proteins

Beans

Black beans
1 cup*: 15g protein

With 15g of protein and 15g of fiber, black beans are a sure fire way to keep you feeling full and energized.

Garbanzo beans (Chick peas)
1 cup: 15g protein  

Most of the fiber in chickpeas is insoluble, meaning it passes through your body unchanged until it reaches your large intestine where the healthy bacteria metabolize it into short chain fatty acids needed to support your intestinal wall. This can help to reduce the incidence of colon cancer, while also keeping you feeling full and having healthy bowel movements.

Kidney beans
1 cup: 15g protein  

Full of molybdenum, essential for detoxifying sulfites (hello wine), kidney beans are also a super source of fiber and protein.

Lima beans
1 cup: 15g protein 

Buttery and a good source of manganese, essential for energy production, lima beans also provide nearly a quarter of your daily iron – bonus!

Miso
1 cup soup: 6g protein 

One of my personal favourites, a cup of miso soup gives a respectable 6g of protein. I like to have a cup in the mid-afternoon to boost energy instead of coffee or tea.

Navy beans
1 cup: 15g protein

Navy beans are small white beans (it got its name not from its colour, but from its popularity with the US Navy!) and are a great source of vitamin B1 which is essential for memory and concentration.

Pinto beans
1 cup: 15g protein 

Pretty pink polka dotted pinto beans provide an excellent source of potassium, which can help keep your blood pressure and stroke risk low.

Soy beans (Edamame)
1 cup: 25g protein 

Unique among the beans, soy beans are not deficient in methionine, and are considered a complete protein (containing all the essential amino acids humans need).

Tempeh
1 cup: 31g protein

A source of highly bioavailable calcium, tempeh can provide a healthy source of calcium to vegans and dairy-free vegetarians. Fermented soy foods, like tempeh, also provide bone supporting vitamin K.

Tofu
1 cup: 20g protein (firm tofu) 

With increasing protein with increased firmness, firm and extra firm tofu are powerhouses of protein. Soft tofu is also excellent for desserts and to provide a creamy texture to soups.

White kidney beans (Cannellini beans)
1 cup: 12g protein

The delicious relative of the navy bean, cannellini beans are high in fiber and protein and make delicious dips and spreads as well as being a superstar in soups.

*All portions are for cooked beans

Lentils

Brown lentils
1 cup*: 18g

Along with beans and peas, lentils are a member of the legume family. Full of fiber and folate, lentils are also a great source of iron.

Green lentils
1 cup: 18g protein

A more sturdy member of the lentil family, green lentils are excellent in soups and salads, providing a hearty filling protein and loads of fiber.

Red lentils
1 cup: 18g protein

All lentils are high in lysine, but deficient in cysteine and methionine, making them an incomplete protein. Combined with healthy whole grains these little wonders provide a dynamic duo of vegan protein.

 

*All portions are for cooked lentils

Peas

Black eyed peas
1 cup: 4g protein

Thought to bring luck if eaten on New Years Day, black eyed peas also provide around 2mg of iron and half of your daily folate needs.

Green peas
1 cup: 7g protein 

Who knew these little spheres could pack such a powerful punch? An good source of iron (2mg per cup), peas are also a source of coumestrol – a compound that has been found to lower the risk of stomach cancer.

Split peas
1 cup: 16g protein 

Split peas, or dried peas, are known sources of healthy hormone balancing isoflavones, like daidzein, that help to reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancers.

 

Nuts

Almonds
1/4 cup: 5g protein 

Almonds are an excellent source of manganese and copper – two cofactors necessary for energy production in our cells. All packaged together in a delicious little nut – thanks Nature!

Brazil nuts
1/4 cup: 5g protein

In Brazil it is illegal to cut down a Brazil nut tree – and many nuts we eat come from wild collection rather than plantations. Brazil nuts are the richest dietary source of selenium, an essential nutrient for immune and thyroid health, and one that is often deficient in North American soils.

Cashews
1/4 cup: 6g protein 

Did you know, cashews are actually the seed of the cashew apple?? I had no idea. Learning something new every day. Cashews are lower in fat than other nuts, and most of their fats are the heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids.

Hazelnuts (Filberts)
1/4 cup: 5g protein 

While they may be best known for their infamous chocolate-hazelnut spread, one serving of hazelnuts provides 100% of your daily needs for vitamin E – one of our most important antioxidants.

Macadamia nuts
1/4 cup: 3g protein  

One of the highest fat nuts (and one of the most delicious), macadamia nuts can provide you with a full dose of vitamin B1, necessary for turning protein and carbohydrates into energy. Delicious and energy rich!

Peanuts
1/4 cup: 9g protein 

Higher in protein than most other nuts, peanuts are also an excellent source of biotin – a B vitamin essential for healthy hair and nails. Keep in mind most commercial peanut butters are full of sugar, so opt for shelled peanuts or 100% peanut butters.

Pecans
1/4 cup: 2.5g protein  

No matter how you pronounce it, pecans are one of North American’s favourite nuts.   Most often used in sweet treats, pecans can provide a bit of vegan protein and a healthy wallop of manganese to keep your energy up!

Pine nuts
1/4 cup: 4.5g protein 

With nearly 2mg of iron in each ¼ cup of pine nuts, these savoury bites are a great vegan food. Known mostly for their presence in pesto, pine nuts can also be sprinkled on salads and stir fry.

Pistachios
1/4 cup: 6g protein 

The pleasure of eating pistachios from the shell is increased by knowing that a serving of pistachios can give you half of your daily amount of vitamin B6. B6 is a vitamin essential for hormone balance and the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is associated with happiness.

Walnuts
1/4 cup: 5g protein 

Walnuts may not be the most delicious nut, they may have the distinction of being the healthiest nut. Richest in omega 3 fatty acids, walnuts also have high amounts of gamma tocopherol – a type of vitamin E that is incredibly protective for our hearts.

Seeds      

Chia seed
2 tbsp: 4g protein 

Ok, who still feels like they are butchering their childhood chia pet? Just me… that’s ok too. One way or another chia seeds are finding their way into our lives! The best way to enjoy chia is in your morning smoothie or to make super yummy chia pudding – pudding for breakfast and dessert? And 4g of protein? Yes please!

Flax seed
2 tbsp: 2.5g protein

The best vegan source of omega 3 fatty acids, flax seeds are a powerhouse of nutritional benefits for plant based diets. Add to smoothies, sprinkle ground flaxseed on oatmeal or salads, or just about anything!

Hemp seed
2 tbsp: 10g protein 

They aren’t going to get you high, but they will give you some stellar omega fatty acids and a massive hit of protein as well! Unlike flaxseeds they don’t need to be ground for us to digest them, just sprinkle them on your foods, or throw them in your smoothie for a powerful protein punch

Pumpkin seeds
2 tbsp: 2g protein 

One of the top plant sources for zinc, a nutrient essential for thinking and for immune function, a ¼ cup of pumpkin seeds (10g of protein!) will also give you a few mg (2.8) of iron as well! A healthy plant based snack or a tasty addition to salads.

Sesame seeds
2 tbsp: 3g protein 

Open (your mouth to) sesame!! (Funny? Not funny? I chuckled a little…) Sesame seeds may be small, but they are a great source of vegan calcium and can easily be added to just about any food for a mild nutty taste.

Sunflower seeds
2 tbsp: 4g protein  

Has anyone ever told you to eat sunflower seeds because you burn more energy cracking them than you get from eating them? Well sadly that isn’t true (you’d only burn around 70 calories and a cup of sunflower seeds has nearly 270 calories). But don’t let that stop you! Sunflower seeds are rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant vitamin E.

Poppy seeds
2 tbsp: 3g protein 

Step aside hemp seed, if you want to get high this might be the seed for you. Well, not really… While the opiate compounds in poppy seeds can cause you to fail a drug test, the tiny amounts (around 0.5-10 mcg per gram) of morphine are no where near the amount necessary to produce anything close to a high (5000 to 30 000mcg). So sprinkle away without any fear (or hope) of intoxication!

Grains

Amaranth
1/2 cup*: 4.5g protein  

A complete protein (unusual amongst the grains), amaranth provides all the essential amino acids. As a whole grain (germ intact!), amaranth has a decent amount of fiber (5g) and B vitamins to help you turn your food into energy.

Barley
1/2 cup: 3g protein 

Nourishing, filling barley gives you a healthy dose of fiber, and the high magnesium content may help to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

Buckwheat
1/2 cup: 3g protein 

A diet high in unrefined grains, like many of those on this list, has been found to reduce the incidence of gallstones in women. This is likely why vegans have a lower risk than the average population!

Bulgur
1/2 cup: 3g protein 

A type of wheat, bulgur should be avoided by those with celiac disease or known gluten intolerance. If you can tolerate it, it makes a nice substitution for rice.

Ezekiel bread
2 slices: 8g protein

“Take wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt, put them in one vessel and make them into bread for yourself” – Ezekiel 4:9. This biblical recipe makes for one delicious and nutritious bread. Containing all 9 essential amino acids, this sprouted bread is also easy to digest. Look for it in the freezer at your grocery store.

Farro
1/2 cup: 4g protein

One of the many foods on this list you may not have heard of, farro is an ancient wheat grain with an amazing nutty taste. As a member of the wheat family, it does contain gluten.

Freekeh
1/2 cup: 12g protein

Another wheat cousin with a fun sounding name, Freekeh, also known as Farik, has more protein than many of the other grains on this list. It’s also high in zinc and iron. But remember, as a member of the wheat family it does contain gluten.

Kamut
1/2 cup: 5.5g protein 

Yet another wheat (is anyone keeping a tally??), kamut is a gluten-containing grain that is so ancient it has been found in pharaoh’s tombs. Excellent as a replacement or companion for barley in soups and salads.

Millet
1/2 cup: 3g protein 

You may be feeding it to the birds in your garden, but maybe you should consider keeping some of the millet for yourself. Millet makes an excellent breakfast porridge or enjoy it (in moderation) as the popular roti flatbread.

Oats
1/2 cup: 5g

We all recognize this whole grain! And those of us who eat oatmeal regularly may also have a smaller waist circumference according to some studies. Go for the steel cut oats rather than the processed oats for maximal health benefits.

Rice
1/2 cup: 2.5g

Brown rice and white rice are essentially the same grain, but with white rice the nutritional hull is removed, destroying the vast majority of nutrients in the rice. So stick with brown rice and get all the B1, B3 and B6 rice has to offer.

Rye bread
2 slices: 5g 

Unlike wheat, rye is difficult to separate from the hull, leading to a higher fiber gluten-containing bread. While bread should only be consumed in moderation, a bit of rye can provide protein and double the fiber of wheat bread.

Seitan
1/2 cup: 31g protein  

Many of the grains listed here contain gluten, but seitan IS gluten – sometimes it is even called gluten (or wheat meat or wheat protein). Made by isolating the gluten from wheat, seitan is more meat-like than most other vegan proteins and is popular in vegan restaurants.

Sorghum
1/2 cup: 8g protein 

A gluten-free ancient grain, sorghum is hearty and chewy (similar to quinoa) and is fantastic in pilafs and risottos. Also a good source of vegan iron (4mg per ½ cup!)

Spelt bread
2 slices: 6g protein  

Yet another member of the wheat family (contains gluten), spelt is often used to make bread and other baked goods instead of traditional wheat. Spelt has more niacin, copper, iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus than wheat, meaning that choosing spelt bread may give you an edge over your old fashioned wheat bread.

Teff
1/2 cup: 5g protein  

Technically a seed rather than a grain, teff is native to Ethiopia. It cooks up similar to quinoa, but cooks a bit faster (great for a quick dinner!) Teff is a great source of manganese, which helps you make energy to keep you going all day.

Triticale
1/2 cup: 12g protein 

The laboratory love child of wheat and rye (brought to us by 19th century Scottish and German scientists), triticale is higher in protein and lower in gluten than wheat (but keep in mind it still does contain gluten). A sturdy grain, it makes an excellent salad or cereal.

Quinoa
1/2 cup: 4g protein

Remember when no one knew what quinoa was? Oh, the simpler times of 5 years ago… who knows which of the foods on this list will rise to superstardom next (remember you read about them first here!) Quinoa is also a seed, rather than a grain, and has the full amino acid profile needed to be considered a complete protein.

Wheat (whole)
2 slices: 7g protein
1/2 cup pasta: 4-7g protein  

The most commonly consumed grain in North America, wheat provides the majority of its protein in the form of gluten, a no-no for celiacs and those with gluten intolerance. White bread, a highly processed form of wheat, only provides 3g of protein for 2 slices.

Wheat berries
1/2 cup: 6.5g protein 

Wheat berries, not actually a berry, but actually a whole grain form of what, are what wheat looks like before it undergoes any processing. Wheat berries take a while to cook but stand up amazingly well in grain salads.

Wild rice
1/2 cup: 3g protein  

Another misnomer in this category is wild rice. Not actually a rice at all, wild rice is an aquatic grass that can be grown in lakes in Canada and the US. Wild rice doesn’t have the full complement of amino acids to be a complete protein, similar to many of the other grains, but combined with beans can be an excellent addition to your diet.

*All portions are for cooked grains

Vegetables

Artichokes
1 cup: 6g protein

Delicious, and completely worth the effort, artichokes are one of the top protein containing vegetables. Some early research also suggests that artichokes have the potential to lower cholesterol – an added bonus to an already delicious food.

Asparagus
1 cup: 4g protein 

A good source of quercetin, asparagus could help to reduce allergy symptoms – important since asparagus is freshest during the Spring when allergy season kicks in for many sufferers.

Avocado
1 cup: 4g protein

Best known for its healthy fats, avocado can also provide you with a nice bump in your daily protein intake. With 1 avocado providing around 4g of protein you will be looking at your avocado toast with newfound respect.

Broccoli
1 cup: 4g protein  

Love it or hate it, broccoli is a stellar anti-inflammatory with the ability to suppress inflammation with its high content of isothiocyanates (that’s a mouthful). Better yet, get a mouthful of broccoli – or the other types of broccoli like broccoli rabe or rapini.

Brussels sprouts
1 cup: 4g protein 

Lots of research has been published looking at the cancer risk reducing impact of eating Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts support three essential actions in reducing cancer risk – detoxification, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

Corn
1 cup: 3g protein 

Perhaps not the healthiest option on this list, corn is also not in the right category. Technically a grain, since we all treat it like a vegetable I’ve opted to stick it here. Corn isn’t particularly dense in any nutrient, so use it sparingly and opt for fresh corn over processed corn foods.

Guava
1 cup: 4.2g protein  

Guava is a fruit that is ready to come to the table. With the highest amount of protein of all the fruits (and more than many of the veggies on the list), maybe we should be making space for guava in the fruit bowl more often!

Kale
1 cup: 2.5g protein  

Is there anything kale can’t do? It’s the superhero of vegetables everywhere. And with the highest content of lutein, a eye healthy antioxidant, you could spend a long happy life looking at all that kale in your shopping basket.

Mushrooms
1 cup: 2g protein 

A potential source of vegan B12 (scientists are still hotly debating this issue), mushrooms are also a good source of eight different vitamins and six minerals, including zinc for immune health and DNA replication.

Spinach
1 cup: 5g protein  

We all love spinach as a source of vegan iron, magnesium and folate, in addition to a nice selection of B vitamins, but spinach also has a nice amount of protein. And it’s so easy to incorporate into smoothies, salads, soups, and more!

Spirulina
1 tbsp: 4g protein

This seaweed is about 60% protein so a little bit can go a long way towards helping you meet your daily protein requirements. With a unique mineral profile, providing calcium, iron, magnesium and iodine, spirulina can support metabolism and energy production.

           

Protein Combining

Just a quick note on protein combining. Many vegan proteins are not complete proteins – meaning they are lacking one or more of the 9 essential amino acids necessary for human health. Nutrients are considered essential when we can’t make them ourselves and need to consume them in our diet. The nine essential amino acids are:

  • Histidine
  • Isoleucine
  • Leucine
  • Lysine
  • Methionine
  • Phenylalanine
  • Threonine
  • Tryptophan
  • Valine

In general beans are deficient in methionine and grains are deficient in lysine and threonine. In order to balance the amino acids you should aim to consume foods in both these categories each day – it doesn’t have to be in the same meal, but aim to provide your body with balanced amino acids every day.

Food Deficient Amino Acid Complementary food
Beans and legumes Methionine Grains, nuts, seeds
Grains Lysine, threonine Beans and legumes
Nuts and seeds Lysine Beans and legumes
Vegetables Methionine Grains, nuts, seeds
Corn Tryptophan, lysine Beans and legumes

 

Did I miss any of your favourite vegan proteins? Let me know in the comments below!