Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Natural Alternatives for Women's Health

Moving away from the issue of real food and how that effects our whole lives - including our fertility and child bearing - I wanted to focus this week on natural options for women's health issues. We will go more in depth on many of these topics in later posts, but I hope this post will serve as a good primer on the topic.

We use chemically treated cotton to sop up Aunt Flo's monthly visit, hormones and plastic to prevent an unplanned pregnancy and 1/3 of births in this country happen by c-section. But is there a more natural way than pills and chemicals to deal with the health and hygiene issues particular to women? I contend that there are many! A combination of factors sent me down this path, including a family history of ovarian cancer, bad emotional side effects from being on the pill and a concern that almost every birth I ever saw on TLC's A Baby Story ended up as a c-section (A procedure I'd always associated with emergencies and high risk pregnancies - not every other episode of a birth show. I knew on very basic level that these healthy women with normal labors should not be going in to get sectioned so quickly - and now I know the science of why as well). Here is what I've discovered.*

More Natural Menses
In treating PMS symptoms I have found that the best ways to help are to prevent through proper diet (check out the resources Nourishing TraditionsReal Food and Practical Paleo for more information). Even with a healthful diet however, hormone fluctuations that effect how our bodies function are a natural (and even essential) part of being a fertile female.

For cramps I recommend . . .
  • Warm epsom salt baths
  • Body rubs with warm grapeseed and/or coconut oil with a drop of your favorite relaxing essential oil such as lavender
  • Heating pads (electric pads work, but the infrared heat may be dangerous in large doses, rice or barley stuffed flannel pads are probably a better option)
For flow I recommend . . . 
  • The Diva Cup (or other menstrual cups) - I can honestly say, I've not had success in positioning mine - but for those who have been successful in this key step, I've not heard a single complaint. They are certainly as easy, if not more so, than non-applicator tampons
  • Cloth menstrual pads - The brand I use is Naturally Simple, but there are others available (including here). These are comfortable and reusable, which also makes them great to have in case of a SHTF-type situation where conventional pads are unavailable. You can also make your own.
  • If cloth pads or Diva Cups aren't for you, there are more natural options for feminine hygiene products such as Seventh Generation unbleached feminine hygiene products and other organic lines. (Though, honestly, for the money, I'd invest in organic cotton-based reusable pads).

Hormone-Free Birth Control
I cannot speak more highly of the Fertility Awareness Method for both hormone-free birth control, and for pregnancy achievement when ready. Not only does it help to identify most fertile periods for abstinence or barrier protection to be used (or for intimacy if trying to achieve pregnancy), it also helps us to be more in tune with our body's natural rhythms and to identify symptoms of potential fertility issues. The bible for FAM is Taking Charge of Your Fertility. TCOYF has charting resources available for free online, as does Fertility Flower. Both also have premium subscriptions with more features that might be especially useful for women trying to achieve pregnancy. I can happily recommend both, or either. You may also be able to find similar tools available for your smart phone. I use My Period Calendar, since I am not married, and therefore chart only for feminine health (rather than birth control or pregnancy achievement), this program provides all I need and is easily portable no matter where I'm going. In order to chart you will need to invest in a basal body temperature thermometer available at your local drug store, grocery store or discount store, usually for less than $10.

Natural Childbirth
This is one topic where my knowledge is more theory and science than practice, so I welcome comments from those who have experienced natural child birth first hand. My knowledge comes from books and films I've pursued in copious amounts over the last 5 years or so and the few births I've been privileged to attend. Since I don't have as much first hand experience here (yet) I'll stick to just a few key bullet points and then a long list of resources to allow you to dig deeper into this topic for yourselves.
  • Child birth in healthy women is not a medical condition to be treated but a physical process to be supported
  • The United States has one of the highest rates of c-section of any developed nation, and well over the rate that research shows to be beneficial to both babies and moms (which is to say the rate at which c-sections are truly life saving for the women and their babies who receive them). This is largely due to the interventionist friendly environment of the American OB-GYN system.
  • While c-sections and other interventions are great tools to have when truly needed - the vast majority of women do not and will not need them given proper support and understanding of the natural process of birth.
  • C-section rates go up just before shift changes and before the weekend at many hospitals - this belies the true reason for many unnecessary interventions - convenience for the doctor - not the health of the patient.

My favorite books about midwifery . . .
My favorite must-see midwifery films (in order) . . .
What ways do you tackle women's health in a more natural way?

*I am not a physician, these recommendations are based only on my personal experience and reading. In issues of both child birth and fertility especially, none of this should be a substitute for the advice of a trained medical professional with whom you have a trusting relationship.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Don't Fear the Fat

One thing I've been learning over the last several years is to get over my fear of fat. Fat gets a bad wrap since it also is what is often found in our spare tires and saddle bags. Fortunately, Time and other media outlets are finally getting the word out that fat is an important nutrient to our bodies, vital in fact. It helps create our hormones, line our myelin and serves as fuel. It also carries essential fat soluble nutrients - like vitamins A, D and K - that are especially important for our bodies to be able to build healthy ova, sperm and, of course, babies. In fact, both protein and fat are essential to human function. We can live completely without carbs. Not that I would, but I could and so could you! I now see the enemy to my health and fertility as refined carbs. Nutrient dense carbohydrate sources like fruit and especially vegetables are great. Added sugar, grains and their refined flours are not good for us. Yes, I still eat grains in small amounts (and always gluten free), but now when I add a cup of rice flour to a recipe I see it as adding a cup of sugar, because that's how it will react in my body.

The documentary Fat Head (embedded below) does a great job of explaining why sugar (and insulin resistance) is pro-inflammatory and the enemy of weight loss and maintenance, not fat.

One caveat on fats though, trans fats and rancid fats are good for no one. So avoid hydrogenated oils and cooking with vegetable and seed oils. Olive oil is great as a dressing, but when cooked the healthfulness of the oil breaks down due to oxidation. So keep that in mind when choosing which oils to cook with. My personal favorites include coconut oil, butter, ghee, tallow and lard.

For more information on the science behind this I would encourage anyone to check out the Weston A. Price Foundation. I would also recommend the book Real Food for Mother and Baby by Nina Planck. It was this book more than any other that started me down the path to whole foods and clean eating. It's a great resource for moms, moms-to-be, and single girls like me who want to maintain and protect our fertility until we are able to have families of our own.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Foodie Fridays - Not Your Mother's Meatloaf

This hearty fall meatloaf recipe is inspired by the meatloaf my mom used to make. So moist and juicy it never needed extra ketchup or sauce, and a great flavor! Unfortunately my mom's recipe called for crackers or bread crumbs and cream of mushroom soup - both of which usually contain gluten. So here is my gluten free spin on mom's meatloaf!

1 lb. ground beef - You can substitute any ground meat, such as turkey, venison, bison or lamb
1 cup gluten free bread crumbs - I made my own by setting out 4 heels from gluten free loaves of bread to stale and then crumbling them by hand
2 large eggs
2 tbsp. heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup chopped mushrooms - I used fresh, but you could use canned or dried as well
1 small yellow onion chopped, or half a large onion
1 tsp. sea salt
Seasoned salt, sage and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Mix all the ingredients in a medium bowl, you can use a spoon, but I prefer to use my hands. Once well combined add to a greased 5x9 loaf pan. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, until the center is no longer pink. Serves 4-5.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Paleo 101

When it comes to overall health I have not yet found a diet that yields the same results as real food, and especially a paleo diet. I admit I'm not the most faithful paleo lifestyle liver, but I can say from experience that the more faithful I am to paleo the better my health. My digestion is better, my skin is clearer, my allergies are less severe, my joint pain is practically non-existant and I am closer to my ideal weight range the stricter my paleo lifestyle. I've seen a lot of misinformation out there on the interwebs about paleo, so this is my attempt to cover the basics of what to eat, the most frequently asked questions, and to point you towards some excellent resources that have more and better information than I.

What Do You Eat on Paleo?
Lots of real good food! Meats (preferably pastured, organic, humanely raised sources - it's better for the animal and for you, I promise), fish, eggs, lots of vegetables, fruit (especially berries - yum!), nuts, seeds and healthy fats (like olive oil, pastured ghee and coconut oil).

What Do You Not Eat on Paleo?
No grains. (That means no wheat, oats, corn, yes corn counts as a grain, etc. No quinoa either). No legumes (No beans, no peanuts, technically no green beans or peas - but those are in a grey area). No dairy, unless you tolerate it well - and then you should aim for pastured, organic sources - even raw if possible.

Is all that fat bad for you?
Heck no! It's all that sugar, not the fat, not even the saturated kind, that is killing you. Some fat is bad for you - trans fats are good for no one. I repeat - No One. Omega-6 fats (the kind you get from seed oils like corn and canola) are bad for you if not in balance with your omega-3 fats. Saturated fat is also good for you when it is in balance. (No it won't raise your cholesterol and give you heart disease - but sugar will).

Is all the red meat bad for you?
No. But if you're concerned about it you can always stick with poultry, fowl and plenty of fish! Not to mention lots of fruits and vegetables.

Where do you get your carbs?
From all those lovely vegetables and fruits! Paleo is not necessarily low-carb. Yes, you can make it low carb. (And if you have metabolic syndrome that's probably wise). But no, it doesn't have to be. Sweet potatoes, bananas, mangos and papaya are just some of the higher-carb fare that you are free to eat on a paleo diet.

Where do you get your fiber?
From all those lovely vegetables and fruits! (Really - and they come packed with many more nutrients and far fewer anti-nutrients than those whole grains that the food pyramid wants you to get your fiber from).

Okay, I'm interested, where can I find more information?
The two best books I've read on the paleo diet are Practical Paleo and The Primal Blueprint. Some other good ones include The Paleo SolutionYour Personal Paleo CodeEat The Yolks and Primal Body, Primal Mind. For more info see below or check out these resources.

Here are some great websites and blogs on the Paleo Diet and ancestral health:
Marks Daily Apple (author of Primal Blueprint)
Everyday Paleo
Whole 9 Life (authors of It Starts With Food)
Balanced Bites (author of Practical Paleo)

Here are some more books for both the science and recipes:
Make it Paleo
Paleo Comfort Foods
The Paleo Diet Cookbook
Primal Blueprint Cookbook
Good Calories, Bad Calories
It Starts With Food
Well Fed

It should go without saying that I am not a doctor and while I am a strong proponent of the paleo diet because I've seen it work first hand, I do not know your unique situation or medical history. Always consult a trusted physician before undertaking a new diet or exercise program.