Women’s Health Tips: 7 Steps to Finding Balance

Rachel & Isabel Yoga on Beach

I wanted to share these women’s health tips for improving your health naturally. As a macrobiotic chef and counselor, I work with individuals that are seeking balance in their lives— to improve physical, mental, and emotional health naturally. A macrobiotic lifestyle emphasizes a whole foods diet that emphasizes whole grains, beans, fish, vegetables, fruits, seeds, nuts, sea vegetables, natural seasonings and fermented foods such as miso, shoyu, sea salt, umeboshi, and fresh sauerkraut. In addition, macrobiotics recommends limiting exposure to harmful chemicals in our environment, especially those we would come into contact with every day at home in soaps, shampoos, detergents, cleaners, clothing, bedding, and unfiltered municipal water. Although it’s a challenge in our busy lives to seek out natural and healthy alternatives, the benefits to health are worth it. Below is a partial list of Women’s Health Tips, in no particular order. Many of these tips apply to men, women, and children, so please read on even if you’re not a woman!

Your body is constantly finding balance for you. By pumping your heart, exhaling toxic gases, and keeping your blood at a proper pH, it maintains a delicate balance called homeostasis… And balance isn’t happening just inside of you; you are a product of a vast network of organic systems all striking their natural balances; they include the soil, the oceans, the atmosphere, and space itself. So naturally your inner world seeks to balance with the outer world; you relax into sunlight and shiver when it’s cold. You experience teenage join the spring and mature melancholy in the fall. You give love to your family and receive it back from them in kind. That’s healthy. You are many to harmonize with the bigger systems of nature. You are meant to feel connected to all of life.

Jessica Porter, macrobiotic teacher and author

1. Create a more balanced diet. “Eat a balanced diet” is such a cliché… what does it even mean? My favorite book that describes how to create balance in the diet is The Complete Macrobiotic Diet: 7 Steps to Feel Fabulous, Look Vibrant, and Think Clearly by Denny and Susan Waxman.

  

This book describes how to wisely choose what to eat, when to eat, and how to eat for optimal health, which also involves living according to our natural rhythms. Also, check out the recipes on my blog to get you started on cooking healthy meals, and my article on eating for blood sugar stability.

2. Get the sugar out! 

Sugar not only provides major highs and lows in mood and energy, it can also disrupt one of the most powerful hormones in the body: insulin. And insulin is closely connected to all of the other hormones in your body, including estrogen and testosterone. –Dr. Mark Hyman

Sugar is linked to weight gain, diabetes, candida infections, yeast infections, and the growth and spread of cancer. Most of us can really feel the mental and emotional effects of sugar as well. If you’re ready to get off the roller coaster, try Dr. Mark Hyman’s sugar detox plan or read the Always Hungry Diet: Conquer Cravings, Retrain Your Fat Cells, and Lose Weight Permanently by Dr. David Ludwig and Chef Dawn Ludwig (my macrobiotic cooking teacher!). The Ludwigs have a great facebook group for support as you are transitioning away from sugar.

3. Adjust your eating according to where you are in your menstrual cycle. The week prior to the onset of menstruation (week 4 of the monthly cycle), a woman’s body becomes more contractive or yang as estrogen and progesterone levels plummet. Therefore, it is best to avoid very yang foods during this time to avoid cramps, heavy blood flow, PMS, and other uncomfortable symptoms. Do this by reducing concentrated animal foods and salt the week before your menstrual cycle starts, or anytime you are feeling tight (tight muscles, stiff neck, headaches in the back/base of the head). Foods such as eggs, chicken, hard cheeses, cured meats, deli meats, pork, beef, and salty, dry foods such as chips, crackers, and fast food are considered to be energetically contractive or yang. Instead, reach for nourishing soups like:

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Creamy Butternut Squash SoupCreamy Broccoli SoupCreamy Carrot-Fennel Soup;  whole grain salads with lots of fresh vegetables; and beans, lentils, or fish for protein. The week after the menstrual cycle (week 1-2) is a good time to have more protein and mineral-rich meals, so you may want to season your food while cooking with sea salt or shoyu, try some sea vegetable dishes like arame, carrot, and onion sauté, add some pan-fried dulse to your soups and salads, and have some wild-caught fish with vegetables.

 

photo of red lentil soup

4. Reduce or eliminate dairy products. Cow’s milk and milk products contain naturally occurring growth hormones meant to grow a baby calf into a big cow (440-600 lbs by 8 months of age). Even if the milk does not have “added hormones” the natural cow hormones are still there and affect/disrupt our own hormones levels.  Milk is also considered to be acid-forming can can lead to inflammation and bone loss. Even vegan dairy products such as almond milk, soy milk, and non-dairy ice cream are acid-forming and should be used sparingly rather than drinking big glassfuls.

5. What else are you drinking? We should be careful with caffeine, red wine, and carbonated beverages. We all know about caffeine- it’s a very addictive stimulant that drains our adrenal glands and gives us the false sense of being “wide awake” or “wired” even if we haven’t gotten adequate sleep. Daily use can lead to headaches, anxiety, and adrenal fatigue. Wine is a very concentrated beverage—it takes 600-800 individual grapes to make a 750 mL bottle of wine! So with 5 glasses of wine per bottle, each glass of wine is made from 120-160 grapes! In other words, that is a lot of fruit! It’s no wonder that our liver feels the effects of wine. Women in their 40s-50s are especially susceptible to getting hot flashes at night after drinking wine (some feel the effects of red wine more than white varieties)– even as little as a half a glass. How about those trendy, calorie-free fizzy waters? They are marketed as a “health food” but carbonation turns to acid in the body (carbonic acid) and can lead to stiffness in the joints (especially when we first wake in the morning), stomach upset, and erosion of tooth enamel. Reach for the “still” spring water rather than the fizzy varieties to hydrate without the negative effects of acidity.

6. Stop taking birth control pills. I know this is a controversial topic. But oral contraceptives have been linked to depression, a decrease in circulating testosterone and thyroid hormones, inflammation, disruption of gut flora, oxidative stress, and depletion of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. According to Dr. Kelly Brogan, MD, there are so many women suffering from hypothyroid, leaky gut issues, bone loss, and inflammation today that could benefit from stopping oral contraception.

7. Limit exposure to plastics. Different types of plastics are in almost everything these days, including clothes and shoes, food containers, water bottles, cookware, cosmetics, flooring and carpets, cushions, mattresses, pillows, baby pacifiers and toys, and on and on… The manufacturing of and exposure to different kinds of plastics have been linked to all kinds of health problems including endocrine disruption, cancer, skin rashes, birth defects, infertility, endometriosis, birth defects, immune system impairment, obesity, diabetes, hyperactivity, respiratory issues, liver issues, and more! I definitely notice a positive difference with 100% cotton clothing and bedding. See this article for more information. If plastic is everywhere, how can we limit our exposure?

  • Try replacing synthetic clothing and bed sheets as they wear out with 100% cotton. Wearing organic cotton underwear is supposed to be especially helpful because it is non-toxic, breathable, and super soft.
  • Carry reusable canvas bags in the car for any kind of shopping to avoid bringing more plastic into your home.
  • Buy a nice set of reusable glass containers (most have plastic lids but there are some out there without any plastic).

  • Make a commitment to use refillable, non-plastic water bottles. There are all kinds of glass water bottles as well as stainless steel varieties you can choose from:

Bonus tip #8: Exercise more moderately or gently. Gentle forms of yoga, tai chi, qi gong, walking in nature, swimming, or whatever movement is rejuvenating (without overexertion) are actually better for you than strenuous exercise. Certain stretches are particularly beneficial to stimulating flow of energy through the liver and gall bladder meridians (these organs are closely related according to TCM) which eases menstruation, evens out moods, and improves digestion. Try these yoga stretches  and qi gong exercises for liver and gall bladder health.

As a macrobiotic health counselor, Chef Rachel Zierzow is a teacher, mentor, and guide. Her aim is to educate you about your condition from a macrobiotic perspective, and give you the tools to incorporate a macrobiotic diet and lifestyle as a way of improving your physical, mental, and spiritual conditions. Chef Rachel Zierzow does not replace your doctor, nor will she prescribe things for you to do or take. Recommendations and tools will be given to empower you to improve your own health. The doing of macrobiotics will be up to you.

To view Chef Rachel Z’s upcoming cooking classes click here.

For more information about personal health consultations or pantry makeovers with Chef Rachel Z, click here

Chef Rachel Z is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Natural Foods Approach to Maintaining Normal Blood Sugar

photo of red lentil curry

The natural foods approach to maintaining normal blood sugar is about learning how to nourish ourselves in a way that creates balance and harmony, so that we can go through the day feeling calm and steady. This differs from weight loss diets that restrict calories or create nutrient deficiencies. Keep in mind that each person is unique, has individual needs, and should consult with their doctor when making any changes to their diet or lifestyle. Some people may have advanced stages of disease that require medication and monitoring while undergoing diet changes.

A balanced plate should be about 1⁄2 non-starchy vegetables, 1⁄4 starchy vegetables and/or grain, and 1⁄4 plant-based or animal protein

Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar condition) and diabetes (high blood sugar condition) are different examples of blood sugar instability. Experiencing unstable blood sugar is kind of like being on a giant roller coaster. Refined carbs (like flour products, fruit juice, and sugars) create a spike our blood sugar, which often is followed by a sharp decrease in blood sugar (below the original normal level), which forces us to eat another blood-sugar-spiking food or chemical that will bring it back up. And so it goes, like a roller coaster, all day long, for days on end, until we find a better way. Some of the symptoms that may arise from unstable blood sugar may include: dizziness or shaking an hour or two after eating, mood swings, hunger in between meals, food cravings, being over-scheduled and overly busy, being too tired to exercise, and/or having low insulin levels.

Read on for tips on what to eat, how to eat, and when to eat in order to maintain normal blood sugar.

NOURISH YOURSELF! GENERAL GUIDELINES ABOUT WHAT TO EAT:

  • For each meal, include high fiber, plant-based foods including whole grains or polished grains (not bread and other flour products), beans or lentils, and vegetables as your principal foods. Try one new whole food per week to slowly incorporate a larger variety of whole, natural foods into your diet.
  • Visually speaking, a balanced plate should be about 1⁄2 non-starchy vegetables, 1⁄4 starchy vegetables and/or grain, and 1⁄4 plant-based or animal protein. Most people don’t get enough vegetables.
  • Be sure to include a variety of vegetables throughout the day, including leafy greens, root vegetables, winter and summer squashes, and cruciferous vegetables. Keep the skins on vegetables whenever possible.
  • Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, peppers) are contraindicated and should be avoided, as they are acid-forming and inflammatory.
  • Soups and stews are the best kind of meal, because they are easy to digest, contain lots of minerals, are nourishing to the spleen, pancreas, and stomach, and are very satifsying. When reheating leftover soup, be sure to add some leafy greens and/or fresh herbs for added nutrition. Puréed sweet vegetable soups like carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, zucchini, or butternut squash soup are great for stabilizing blood sugar and curbing sugar cravings when eaten regularly. Hearty bean and vegetable soups keep you feeling full in between meals because they are packed with protein and fiber.
  • Stir fry dishes that include lots of vegetables, ginger, garlic, and small strips of protein, served over rice, make great meals.

Practice eating while sitting down in a calm, unhurried environment, not distracted by technology

 

  • Use only high quality, unrefined cooking oils such as extra virgin olive oil, unrefined virgin coconut oil, or unrefined, untoasted sesame oil. Avoid processed oils and those high in polyunsaturated fats such as canola, safflower, soybean, and sunflower.
  • Small servings of lean animal protein can be included in meals as a compliment to vegetables, but avoid greasy, fried, and barbecued meats which are very acid-forming, often contain sugar, and can contain carcinogens (from frying or blackening).
  • Avoid processed junk food (laden with added sugars, salt, flour, oils), milk, ice cream, and other dairy products, oily foods, fruit juices, and sweetened beverages like soft drinks which create inflammation and acid in the body.
  • Choose cooking methods that are more strengthening, such as pressure- cooking, steaming, stewing, stir-frying, sautéing, and braising, rather than eating foods raw (like salads and smoothies).
  • Check out Dr. Josh Axe’s web site for great tips for maintaining normal blood sugar.

IT’S NOT JUST WHAT YOU EAT, BUT HOW YOU EAT!

  • Practice eating while sitting down in a calm, unhurried environment, not distracted by technology, loud noises, or anything stressful.
  • Express gratitude to everyone and everything that made it possible for you to have your meal, and be thankful that you are healing.
  • Chew each bite well (30-50 times minimum) in order to take the burden off of your digestive tract, alkalinize your food, and prevent overeating.
  • After eating, take a short walk to aid digestion and allow for energy to flow through the body.

WHEN YOU EAT IS ALSO IMPORTANT!

  • Be consistent with your meal times, such as breakfast 7-8 am, lunch 12-1 pm, and dinner 5-6 pm. Varying slightly from these times is fine, but routinely skipping meals or eating at different times every day can destabilize blood sugar.
  • Eating too early in the morning or too late at night will throw off your digestion and sleep patterns, causing you to consume unhealthful food and drinks in an attempt to boost your energy (such as caffeine, sugar, chocolate, and bread products).
  • Eating in between meals may be necessary at first to maintain a steady blood sugar, but the goal is to go longer and longer between meals without eating in order to give your digestion a rest. So choose healthy snacks that will not spike your blood sugar, such as smaller portions of leftover meals with vegetables, grains, and beans rather than processed snack bars and other sweets.

SOME WHOLE, NATURAL FOOD RECIPES TO HELP STABILIZE BLOOD SUGAR:

photo of nishime style vegetables with tempeh
Nishime style vegetables with pan-fried tempeh


TO LEARN MORE ABOUT PLANT-BASED COOKING FOR RADIANT HEALTH, CHECK OUT MORE RECIPES HERE OR TAKE A CLASS WITH CHEF RACHEL. HER CURRENT SCHEDULE IS LISTED AT chefrachelz.com/book-a-class AND SHE IS AVAILABLE FOR PRIVATE COOKING LESSONS AS WELL (EMAIL: rachel@chefrachelz.com). 

photo of Chef Rachel teaching an in-home cooking class

7 Tips for Healthy Home Cooking

10 Steps to Staying Healthy this Spring

Spring into Health!

In the weeks leading up to the spring equinox—March 20th this year—you can already see many signs of spring. It is a time of new life and upward growth that follows the more dormant time of winter, when many living things are taking a rest and restoring for the active months ahead. By March 1st in Central Texas, there are signs of new growth all around us—buds, sprouts, leaves, and all things green. Redbud trees, bluebonnets, and Texas mountain laurels are blooming, ash and elm trees are leafing out, cardinals, wrens, and chickadees are singing, and bright, fresh, green grass is sprouting to replace the brown grass beneath it. But what is happening inside us at this time of year? Below are spring health tips to set you up for a vibrant, healthy year ahead.

IMG_6326 Redbud in bloom at my condo- March 1, 2016IMG_6324Texas Mountain Laurel in bloom at my condo- March 1, 2016

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and macrobiotic theory, the liver and gall bladder are most active during the spring season. These organs are responsible for detoxifying the blood from environmental and food toxins and for digesting oils and fatty foods. As we are cleaning our houses and clearing out closets, our bodies are trying to do the same. Giving the liver and gall bladder extra help and support will put you in good shape for the months ahead.

liver-gallbladder

Symptoms of an imbalance in the liver and/or gall bladder may include: being slow to rise in the morning, waking up in the middle of the night and having trouble going back to sleep, waking up with “sand” in the corners of the eyes, stiff joints, tension in the neck, shoulders, and the base of the skull, pain in the right, upper abdomen, hot flashes, feelings of indecision, irritability, anger, or resentment, and more. A liver in balance shows virtues of being kind, caring, and generous to yourself and others.

Spring is an intuitive time to think about our health, as the body is naturally working to cleanse from excess accumulated in the fall and winter months. I’ve had many friends asking me about weight-loss diets and cleanses in the past few weeks. Diets and cleanses can sound appealing, as they often offer quick fixes to feel better or lose weight. However, I prefer a more gradual and balanced approach which leads to lasting changes that benefit your health and well being.

What steps can you take do to ease the transition from winter into spring, give support to the liver and gall bladder, and set yourself up for a healthy year ahead?

Here is my Top 10 List of Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations for the Spring:

1. Reduce the intake of foods that particularly aggravate the liver and gall bladder:

–too much salt (especially refined salt used in restaurant food)

–deep-fried food

–bad quality oils (refined oils and hydrogenated oils)

–salty snacks like chips, pretzels, cheese, and crackers

–high fat processed foods like cheese, ice cream, and barbecue

–alcoholic drinks, drugs, and chemicals

2. Add foods that are nourishing and cleansing at the same time

–fresh, organic vegetables and fresh herbs

–fresh, organic fruits such as berries, apples, and citrus

–whole grains such as quinoa, barley, wheat and spelt berries, brown rice

–plant-based proteins such as beans and lentils

–small amounts of organic, pasture-raised meat and poultry

–wild-caught, sustainable fish and seafood

IMG_5720Nabe pot with tempeh, vegetables, mushrooms, awaiting the dashi broth!

3. Add accents of the sour taste to your meal

–squeeze of lemon in your water

–green apple sliced in salads or grated to eat at breakfast

–fresh sauerkraut

–homemade quick ume pickles (recipe)- slice and put into fresh salads, sushi rolls, and fresh spring rolls

IMG_3993Pressed Salad with Carrot, Daikon, Green Apple, Lemon, and Mint (recipe)

4. Use lighter cooking methods than you may have used in the winter, which have plenty of moisture rather than being baked and dry

–blanching

–steaming

–sautéing or water sautéing

–pressed salad

–sprouting

–brothy noodle soups with fresh herbs like Vietnamese Phở

–some raw seasonal fruits and vegetables, unless it is still cold in your are.

IMG_5744Blanched Vegetables (see recipe)

5. Prepare meals fresh, or add fresh herbs or greens to reheated meal.

IMG_3366Nabe pot with fresh vegetables, tempeh, and dashi broth

6. Finish eating by 7 pm with no late-night eating, so your liver has time to cleanse and rejuvenate each night

7. Get plenty of fresh air

–take a walk where there are lots of trees and nature

–exercise outside whenever possible

–observe the new life springing up all around you

IMG_6141My daughter with acroyoga teacher John McClellan

8. Wear a scarf to protect against the wind

9. Use natural cleaning products in your home

10. Identify sources of anger and resentments and learn how to deal with them, practice forgiveness, or let them go (this is a tough one!)

 

What about popular diets?

How do you choose which one is right for you? I have found the macrobiotic diet to be a good framework to understand the energetic qualities of foods and how to balance them in your diet. Macrobiotics gives you the tools to analyze all the different diets that are out there, figure out why they work, or what might be the effects of following them. Macrobiotics focuses on natural foods and how to prepare them to balance out your particular health condition and your unique constitution. It is not necessarily a “popular” diet as it is more of a lifestyle that takes time to learn and customize for your particular needs, i.e., not a quick fix.

 

Staying Healthy in 2016- Keep it Simple and Balanced

In my work as a macrobiotic chef, instructor, and health counselor, I get questions just about every day about what to do for specific health conditions. Some examples include:

“What diet adjustments should I make if I have or want to prevent colon cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, or another type of cancer?”

“What should I do to prevent heart disease, because I have a family history of high blood pressure and heart attacks?”

“Is it possible to reverse hypoglycemia or diabetes?”

Although I probably would make specific recommendations to each individual based on their unique constitution and particular health challenges, there are some things that I think every person can do on a daily basis to stay healthy or improve their overall health. These recommendations are simple, in most cases don’t cost money (not above and beyond what you’d spend on food anyway), and have been proven to be effective