Food in Color: All About Kiwis

Have you ever thought of foods as being directly connected to your emotions and moods? When I was going through health coaching school and beginning to eat better, I noticed a huge change in my moods and overall mental state. I was happier, less moody, more of a morning person (which was key for my early morning client sessions), slept better through the night, had more energy overall and just plain felt better in every way. Foods are not often thought of as mood boosters but they certainly can be, and with a whole well-rounded diet, those up lifters can be felt in powerful ways.

Exercise of the Week – Mermaid Stretch

The Mermaid stretch is a great exercise to fluidly work internal and external rotation of the hips while opening up one side of your waist from the hip all the way up through the ribs and shoulder blade. It lengthens and opens the side of the body while also stretching and facilitating healthy movement for the inner thighs (a place that doesn’t get enough healthy movement). If this mermaid sitting position is hard at first on the hips, read on for how to modify.

The Set Up:

Following the picture above, position your legs into what is called a z-sit position or the mermaid sit position. If this is uncomfortable at first, see if you can ease into it allowing your hips to get used to the external and internal rotation of the legs. It is not a common way to sit for many, so no worries if it feels awkward at first. However, if this position feels impossible on the hips and/or you have had a hip replacement, you can try sitting on your knees with your bottom back on your feet.

The Move:

Reach the arm that is on the same side of the leg that is turned out (the leg where you can see the foot in front of you) out to the side and sweep it up and over to the opposite side. Inhale as you ease into this side bend stretch, exhale as you return to the start. Repeat the same side 3-5 times. Then, switch the legs in the sitting position and repeat with the other side.

The Connection:

It is best to try and keep the reaching arm as straight as possible reaching out from the body. The arms are an extension of the body and an integral part to engaging the core when used properly. The moment you break (bend) at the elbow of the wrist, there is a loss of connection through the core and thus to the side stretch in this exercise specifically. Also, the same can be said for anytime the shoulder pulls up to your ear – there is also a loss of congruency though the body and the integrity of the stretch/exercise. Perform this exercise in front of a mirror so you can take stock of how your body wants to move here. Keep the hip down towards the floor on the same side that is stretching. Ideally, there should be no change in the hips while moving in and out of the side bend.

Think of keeping the shoulder blade connected to your back and rib and thus your whole core while reach the arm up through the fingertips. Then, allow the arm to guide you gently into the side stretch. You might get the desire to want to reach far, but we really do not need to go too far to find the stretch. The best way to reign in the movement is to think of the hip pulling down towards the floor while the arm reaches up and over – feeling an oppositional pull along the side of the torso.

I would love to hear if you try this stretch exercise and how it felt for you. This is a great floor exercise that can be done daily. Keep in mind, the more it is practiced, the more your hips will find it easier to sit in this position.

Food in Color: Beets Edition

One of the best ways to begin eating healthier is quite simple really – just add more color to your plate. Think of all the foods with beautiful hues and you’ll probably think of an assortment of fruits and veggies. When you add a variety of colors you also add a variety of nutrients and thus nourishment for your body. This post will start a series on foods in color; highlighting one colorful food a week to add to your plate.

This week, I was preparing some beets and couldn’t help but notice the deep, beautiful red almost purple hue of them. Beets are great as a side dish and only need to be eaten in small amounts. They add a vibrant punch to your plate and boast an exceptional nutrition profile.

What’s in them:

Folate

Fiber

Manganese

Potassium

Iron

Vitamin C

What’s unique about them:

Beets have a high content of nitrates which in some people turns into nitric oxide in the body and has been linked to lowering blood pressure. “A 2015 study of 68 people with high blood pressure examined the effects of drinking 250 milliliters of beetroot juice every day. The researchers found that doing so significantly lowered blood pressure after ingestion” (Medical News Today).

They contain a compound called Betalain which is responsible for the deep red and orange pigment. One study performed on Betalain calls it a “food colorant with biological activity.” It has been found to have anti-inflammatory effects in the body as well as possibly preventing DNA damage and inhibiting cancer cells (Pubmed).

Some studies have also shown consumption of beet juice to increase high-intensity endurance exercise. “Beetroot juice given as a single dose or over a few days may improve performance at intermittent, high intensity efforts with short rest periods… In addition, beetroot juice supplementation could improve muscle power output via a mechanism involving a faster muscle shortening velocity” (Biomedcentral)

How to eat them:

Beets are easy to prepare and can be eaten boiled or roasted. Add ¼ cup of beets to your plate and you’ve easily added some color and nutrition to your diet.


RECIPE for boiling beets:

Ingredients

Beets

Salt

Water

  1. Prepare the beets. If you bought the beets with the stems and greens attached, save them – they make for a delicious side recipe on their own! Cut off the stems leaving about an inch of stems on the beetroot. Rinse the beets under water to remove the dirt.
  2. Place the beetroots in a medium sauce pot and cover them completely with water.
  3. Add some salt to the pot. You may also add 1tbsp of vinegar to keep the beet color from bleeding too much.
  4. Bring the pot of water and beets to a boil. Then, simmer for 45-60 minutes until beets are tender and can easily be pierced with a fork or knife.
  5. Remove beets from water and immediately run them under cold water.
  6. Cut the top and bottom ends off of beets.
  7. Peel the outermost layer off of each beet. If they do no peel easily with your finger, you may use a small knife or peeler and gently peel off the top layer.
  8. Cut each beet into quarters and serve!

Store them in the refrigerator for 3-5 days in an airtight container. They go great with salads or any animal protein entrée as a side vegetable.

Exercise of the Week – Modified Side Plank

Modified Side Plank

If you’re like many who have done the full version of a Side Plank, then you are most likely not a big fan. It can feel awkward, not great, and can bother the wrists and shoulders. The Modified Side Plank is a great way to train those lateral/side muscles of the core without too much of the discomfort. This is a great full body exercise that works to stabilize and strengthen the arm/shoulder muscles along with the whole core while achieving great mechanics in body placement.

The Set Up:

From a side position, begin with one hip down on the ground with knees bent and in line with the hips. The same side elbow will be supporting you directly underneath the shoulder. You can either make a fist or have your palm flat on the floor, but make sure that hand is in line with the elbow. Set up is key here so try in front of a mirror to see where all the pieces go. Ideally you will be in one line from head, shoulders, hips, and knees. Knees and feet should stay stacked on top of one another.

The Move:

Lift your hips off of the ground and reach your top arm above the shoulder. You will feel the bottom side of your waist (closest to the ground) engage as well as the muscles supporting the bottom shoulder and arm. Stay in this position and take 2-4 breaths. Then, drop your hips back to the floor, but staying engaged lift them back up again. Continue this, tapping your hip down to the ground and slowly lifting back up, pause in the up position, and then back down for 3-5 reps. Repeat on the other side.

The Connection:

The best place to perform this exercise is in front of a mirror so you will be able to see what your head and shoulder do when lift into the plank position. Think of keeping your head back in line with your body (in line with your spine). Also, keep your supporting shoulder out of your head and ear. Take a look at what your hand does on the supporting arm when you lift. Work on keeping it firm and strong in the ground – no breaking in the wrist. You can imagine a string attached to the top hip and the string lifting your hips effortlessly off of the ground. Maintain that effortless hold through your breath; each exhale should place you just a bit deeper into your body and the connection.

Something to remember: oftentimes developing a connection with our body and becoming aware of our mechanics (the way we move, work, hold ourselves… our form basically), is just as important as actual exercise.

I would love to hear if you try this exercise and what your thoughts are. Try it throughout the week and see if it begins to get a little easier for you after a few days.

Why 2021 is the Year to Heal Your Gut

Still in the abyss of a pandemic, it has never been more important to put our own health into our hands and get healthy. Luckily, our bodies have a built-in health system waiting for us to activate. That system is located in our gut. Did you know that 70-80% of the immune system resides in the gut?

Our whole body is teeming with bacteria (and not just bacteria, but fungi, viruses and parasites) that make up what’s called the Microbiome. The gut itself has about 100 trillion bacteria that call it home. These bacteria, both good and bad, make up the building blocks of a person’s health system and essentially determine how healthy they will be. It is like an army of health ready to attack any incoming threat. Unfortunately, most of us do not have a great defensive system. Many of us, through a typical American diet, have fortified the bad guys and not the good ones. The CDC says that 9 out 10 adults don’t eat enough nutrient rich food to support a healthy immune system.

See, “nutrient rich food” is the key here. It is literally a key to turn on your healthy army. We want to feed the good bacteria and not the bad bacteria. Of that huge number of 100 trillion bacteria living in our gut, many of us have too many species sitting dormant, literally sleeping, because we haven’t been nourishing them. We want to feed those guys so they can keep us healthy. By eating nutrient rich foods, we nourish the many strains of good bacteria in our gut and create a diverse gut flora profile.

In a healthy person, there exists a bustling city of microbes (also called microorganisms or microbiota) that coexist peacefully. If the bad guys outgrow the good guys, then we develop a state of imbalance, more accurately called dysbiosis. An increased state of dysbiosis makes us more susceptible to numerous diseases and illnesses, which can and will lead to states of chronic illness for many. It is harder to fight off infections and viruses when we do not have a sufficiently healthy system to fight for us. The CDC has reported that a lack of a healthy immune system can lead to experiencing worse and longer Covid symptoms as well as longer Covid hospitalizations and higher death rates.

A study published by Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection states this: “Gut microbiota diversity is decreased in old age and Covid-19 has been mainly fatal in elderly patients which again points to the role the gut microbiota may play in this disease. Improving gut microbiota profile by personalized nutrition and supplementation known to improve immunity can be one of the prophylactic ways by which the impact of this disease can be minimized in old people and immune-compromised patients.” (Gut microbiota and Covid-19- possible link and implications, Dhar and Mohanty, Aug 2020)

The CDC has indicated specific vitamins and minerals that have been lacking in Covid patients. They are Vitamin C, Zinc and Vitamin D. You can speak with your doctor about adding these supplements in along with others that might be recommended for your own health profile. While supplementation might be a great way to jumpstart your health, it is really through foods and changing eating habits that will change the bacteria in your gut. Your body might not even fully absorb the goodness from those supplements if it cannot metabolize and digest properly. We need to turn on more good bacteria and begin to turn off the bad ones that have been thriving for too long.

Here are 4 beginning steps to a healthier gut:

Manage your carbs:

Carbs get a bad rap but not all carbs are bad. It is prudent for your health to recognize the good ones and eliminate the bad ones. Bad carbs to avoid are soda, juice, candy, white bread, baked goods (cookies, pastries and desserts), and other processed grains (white pasta, chips, crackers, pretzels) ice cream, energy drinks (coffee drinks), and the list goes on. “Good” carbs (aka complex carbohydrates) include foods like fruits, vegetables, some whole grains (quinoa, gluten free oats, buckwheat), and legumes/pulses. These good carbs are some of the most important foods for nurturing essential microbes (Source: The Microbiome Solution). Diversify your plate and you will most likely diversity your microbes. Side note: how to build your plate with nutrient rich foods is a great skill to learn and will be explored in another post. Skip the bad carbs and explore the food that nourishes.

Watch your meat intake:

A meat-rich diet has been linked to inflammation and intestinal diseases as well as building a less diverse microbiota when compared to a fiber-rich, plant-based diet. A study done by Harvard University scientists showed that a complete shift in microbiota can happen in just two days when they switched subjects to a diet full of meats and cheeses (read more here). Dr. Robynne Chutkan in her book The Microbiome Solution writes, “Bottom line: it’s not that meat is necessarily bad for the microbiome; it’s that dietary fiber is good for it, and eating too much of the former can lead to not eating enough of the latter” (p. 128). Vegetables and colorful foods should be the star of your plate. Meat can be a side show and should not be, as a rule of thumb, any larger than the size of your palm.

Eat more plants:

As stated above, diversify your plate and you will most certainly diversify your gut bacteria. The best way to do this is to increase vegetable intake. Eat vegetables of all kinds, shapes, and colors. Cook them in many different ways. Eat them raw, sautéed, and roasted.  The more you eat this way the more your body will crave vegetables because you are feeding the good gut bacteria and producing the health-promoting short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs are produced by beneficial bacteria in the gut and are essential for a healthy body and immune system. In order to increase these SCFAs, a diverse intake of dietary fiber is key. “When we don’t eat enough plant fiber, we risk starving the essential bacteria we’re trying to cultivate” (Source: The Microbiome Solution). To follow one of Michael Pollan’s 7 rules of eating, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Cut out sugar:

This is one most of us know and have heard time and time again. There is a reason why cutting out sugar is a common rule: it really works to make us healthier. Before I became a health coach, I remember a former Pilates client of mine telling me how sugar feeds cancer cells. As she was battling cancer at the time, it was crucial for her to cut sugar out of her diet. This fascinated me and I wanted to know more. I had no idea the body worked this way and is one of the big factors that sent me back to school.

Sugar is highly addictive for the body as it increases the microbes that flourish on it. This can happen within moments of consuming sugar and increases more thereafter the more it is consumed. Think your nightly ice cream consumption is harmless? (Or replace that with whatever treat you allow yourself daily). “Studies have shown that a diet high in sugar can lead to overgrowth of yeast species and other pathogenic bacteria” (Source: The Microbiome Solution). Research has also shown that “drinking sugary sodas significantly increases the risk of pancreatic cancer” (Source: The Inside Tract). And, more recently, a study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine found that sugar consumption can lead to colon inflammation and inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s diseases.

Basically, nothing fun seems to come out of consuming sugar in the long term. As delicious as it may taste in the moment, there is a myriad of evidence showing the negative effects of sugar on health. Your future self will thank you for the good health you give it now.


It is important to note that anything related to health, particularly diet, must be approached in a gentle manner. A daily step by step process must be followed so as not to shock the body into unknown territory. For example, if you eat poorly now, then decide to completely revamp your diet by changing everything the next day and thereafter, you might find yourself in a state of extreme discomfort as your body does not yet know how to digest all of these different foods all at once.

More specifically put another way, if you eat a diet rich in red meats and simple carbs now, only a few types of bacteria are being fed in your gut – the kind that digest red meat and simple carbs. If you were to switch that up completely in one day and begin eating more plant-based whole foods like vegetables, legumes, and whole grains like quinoa, you might find yourself bloated and uncomfortable. This is because the bacteria that feed off of these foods have been asleep for so long and the ones that are active (the red meat and simple carbs guys) are now deprived. On top of the discomfort, this can lead to feelings of being “hangry,” not satisfied, and having craving after craving unlike any you might have been experiencing before. This is why diets do not work. There is no quick fix in a healthy lifestyle.

Therefore, change one thing at a time every 3-5 days. Think baby steps and not giant leaps. The microbiome can begin changing within just 2-5 days of diet and lifestyle changes.


Stay tuned for the next post in this gut health series which will include more steps to increase your gut health. It is too easy to become overwhelmed when starting a new healthy food plan and lifestyle, so focusing on fewer steps at a time will maximize success.

I would love to hear how you begin to incorporate these steps into your day to day. What will be your first step?

Exercise of the Week – Table Plank

From last week’s exercise, the Cat Stretch, we move into this full body, core connecting exercise, the Table Plank. It is a great way to engage every muscle in the body in a stabilizing way. It requires a connection of the whole core, from shoulders to hips, arm stabilizers as well as leg stabilizers. This is a great way to strengthen the shoulders in a healthy manner and strengthen the muscles around the spine. It is a perfect and challenging move for all including pregnant, post-pregnant women and anyone with back issues. As you can see from the image, the back is in a safe position, neither arched or extended.

The set up:

Begin with hands directly under shoulders and knees directly under the hips. Feel your back from head to tailbone connected with the ribs in your back (not drooping down). Flip the toes under so that they look as mine do in the photo (this will be hard for those with inflexible toes, but is great to try to increase that flexibility).

The move:

Float your knees off of the ground so you are now supporting yourself from your hands and feet. Breathe here, maintaining this position, holding for 3-5 full breaths. As you get stronger in this position, you will be able to increase your breath count. After 3-5 breaths, bring your knees back down and sit back into a rest position. Pause, reset your body, then go again. Repeat this for 2 more sets for a total of 3 sets.

The thought process:

Lift up out of your hands and feet so that you are not bearing down into the ground but instead lifting up out of the ground and into your core. Every exhale should get you deeper into your core connection. You should feel your quadriceps (front thigh muscles) engaging as well as the muscles around your shoulders, most notable from your triceps (backs of the upper arms), through the armpits and into your back underneath the shoulder blades. Be mindful to keep the shoulders out of your ears and your head lifted. You’ll want to keep the table position of your back – not rounding or caving.

If your wrists hurt, this is usually due to a lack of connection and strength of the shoulder stabilizers into your back. You will want to keep thinking of lifting up through the whole length of your arms and into your back to strengthen that.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes!