Thursday, February 23, 2012

Therapy Thursday: Slippery Elm Bark

Slippery Elm is a species of elm that is native to North America.  Traditionally, the bark has been used as a demulcent, which means it can soothe the mucous membranes.  Uses include dried powder taken in capsule form, tea or as a food thickener.  Native Americans used it as a staple food because of its easily-digested carbohydrates.

Internally, Slippery Elm bark soothes digestive discomforts like ulcers and indigestion, but it's also used as a remedy for sore throat and respiratory issues.  Externally, the powder can be added to natural creams to soothe skin challenges including rashes, hemorrhoids and yeast infections.  It can also help soften the skin.

A friend of mine recently told me that she used Slippery Elm bark when she had an ulcer.  She would add water to it and make a thick pudding that coated her stomach and eventually healed the ulcer.  There are also studies that show it helps people with irritable bowel syndrome.  Mixed with other digestives, this can be a powerful aid in relieving discomfort from these conditions.

If you have any digestion challenges or disorders, eating a clean, mostly-raw, plant-based diet remains your best bet.  However, adding this powerful herb can really help with the healing process.  As always, Mother Nature provides us with many natural solutions to our ailments.  Be healthy!

Mystic Merman

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Workout Wednesday: Full Body Strength Training in Under 30 Minutes

When I was in high school, I enrolled in a strength training class for Physical Education.  At that time, fitness instructors urged their trainees to work on the upper body on a different day than the lower body.  If you wanted to work out the upper and lower body at least twice a week each, you had to practice strength training at least four days a week.  Nowadays, many fitness experts question this and suggest doing a full-body training.  This makes it easier to focus on strength training two or three times a week and practice cardiovascular exercise on off days.

However, working out the entire body in one day can be very time-consuming.  Sometimes, we don't have the time to spend working out for over an hour at the gym.  There is a way to get in a full body workout at home without weights.  The method here centers on major muscle groups.  By doing a few exercises that work the major muscles in the body, we can give all our muscles a conditioning.  This will not isolate small muscles like your biceps or calves, but they will still get worked.

Just four exercises can work your chest, arms, back, abs, and legs.  Depending on your skill and strength level, you can increase the time and intensity to get a better workout.

Push ups: This classic exercise will build your chest, arms and shoulders.  If you can't do at least two push ups, start with your knees on the floor until you build enough strength.

Pull ups: This will build your back and arm muscles.  If you can't do at least two pull ups, use momentum or have someone assist you.  Once you build up enough strength to do them on your own, even doing three or four makes a huge difference.

Squats: Doing these fully and deeply will work out the legs, hips and buttocks.  To increase the intensity, try jumping off the floor from the low squat position, landing on your feet upright.  This burst engages the muscles in your legs, giving them an intense training.

Sit ups: Try different varieties of ab work, like crunches, leg lifts, and planks.  Make sure to work your obliques (the side muscles) as well.

Depending on the time you have, you should go through at least two sets of each exercise, doing as many as you can before moving onto the next.  If you don't do any other form of strength training, fitting these four exercises into your lifestyle at least twice a week can make a huge difference.  Many people experience relief of joint pain, better bone and muscle mass, boosts in energy and mood and weight loss.  Our bodies are designed to move and resist gravity.  You'll feel better if you listen to your body's desire to work.  Be healthy!

Mystic Merman

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tasty Tuesday: Raw Boats

For most people, spending hours in the kitchen preparing gourmet raw food is not an option.  Our lives are far too busy and complicated.  In this age of fast food and fast information, it helps to have a few easy-to-make recipes in your raw food repertoire.  Something easy, fun and tasty are raw boats.

The boat can be made from several vegetable sources.  Most commonly, raw chefs use long-sliced zucchini or cucumber, romaine lettuce leaves, kale leaves or even celery or carrots.  The idea here is to cut or form the vegetable so that you can fill it with something yummy.  The combinations of boat and filling can be endless with a little imagination.  Play with your food (no matter what your mother told you) and come up with some combinations that you love.

So, what about the filling?  Well, there are some real easy ones.  Nut butters go well with celery and green leaves.  Who doesn't love celery with peanut butter?  Well, you may have to substitute raw almond butter if you can't find a good quality raw peanut butter (Sunfood has one!).  You may also want to explore the wonderful tastes of cashew butter, hemp seed butter, tahini, Brazil nut butter and so many more. Just spread the butter on and make a nutritious, energy-giving snack in minutes.

Other fillings may take a little more time.  Guacamole remains a staple in the raw food diet, especially in California.  Making a spicy salsa from fresh tomatoes, peppers, onions, cilantro, lime and sea salt is also fast and easy.  I like to combine salsa and guacamole on romaine lettuce leaves.  For creamy versions of these fillers, blend cashews or coconut meat with sun-dried tomatoes (creamy tomato sauce), pesto and pine nuts (pesto sauce) or other combinations of food in your fridge.  Like I said, the variety of tastes and textures you can come up with are nearly endless.

Finding creative and easy ways to include raw food in your diet gives you a better edge on being raw.  If we make it too complex, we set ourselves up for failure.  Your health is worth eating right, so make it easy on yourself.  Be healthy!

Mystic Merman

Monday, February 20, 2012

Manic Monday: Fighting Depression with Food

Estimations suggest that nearly 10% of Americans suffer from some sort of depression.  That number continues to rise, even as the amount of people taking anti-depression medications rise.  Obviously, the medication is not working.  One cause of depression that is rarely discussed by mainstream media is diet.  However, even the Mayo Clinic and admit that eating a lot of junk food can contribute to depression.  Many even agree that inflammation caused by certain foods could be a leading cause of depression.

While there are certainly several factors that contribute to depression, nutrition is one of the keys.  Like every organ in the body, proper nutrition feeds the brain and helps the neurotransmitters function at a normal level.  These chemical messengers play a key role in mood and mental health.  Insulin resistance is another factor affected by diet that can have a huge impact on our mental health.

So, what foods are best to eat and not to eat for fighting depression?  First, cutting out grains has been shown to reduce inflammation and increase mood.  Our carbohydrates should come from organic, raw fruits and vegetables, with limited or no grains and starchy vegetables.  Amino acids are precursors to neurotransmitters, so make sure you eat a well-balanced meal with protein from a variety of sources (nuts, seeds, greens, superfoods, etc.).  Foods rich in Vitamins A, B, C and D are also important.  Supplementation may be necessary for some, but you're better off getting most of these nutrients from an array of fruits and vegetables, as well as algae, sea vegetables and sprouts.

Of course, avoiding processed foods like sugar, flour, denatured fats, soda, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners makes a huge difference in how you feel and how your brain functions.  Instead, include natural sweeteners, good fats (flax oil, coconut oil, olive oil), and possibly some ancient grains like quinoa and amaranth.  For most people, switching to a diet of 80% or more raw, organic, plant-based foods creates a better state of being and elevated moods.

Our mental health is one of the best treasures we have.  Protecting it means a happier and more fulfilling life.  Your diet is your best tool to change the chemistry of your brain and nervous system.  Be healthy!

Mystic Merman

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Superfood Sunday: The Power of Garlic

When I think of superfoods, the foods that normally come to mind are nutrient-dense foods that are not usually part of our diets.  In the past, I have focused on these foods.  However, garlic contains enough healing and therapeutic properties to put it in a superfood class.  Used as a culinary flavor enhancer in recipes from around the world, this bulb food (part of the same family as onions and chives, Allium) does a lot more than enhancing the flavor of food.

A native to Central Asia, garlic includes several subspecies, with the most popular varieties being the white and purple cloves.  Several studies confirm that garlic can lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease and fight cancer cells.  In addition, garlic has been established to have anti-fungal, antibacterial and antiviral activity.  It also has a long history in traditional medicine as a remedy for colds, infections, and digestive disorders.  A little known fact about garlic is that it contains a high amount of vitamin C, which supports the immune system and prevents scurvy.

Because it has a high amount of sulfur (like other spicy foods), garlic is considered to be a beauty food.  Sulfur-containing compounds protect the skin from free radical damage and support collagen growth.  In fact, it may be one of the reasons the Mediterranean diet keeps people young and beautiful.  The French and Italians along the Mediterranean are known for using garlic liberally in their food.

The only significant downside to eating garlic is its effect on the breath and body odor.  Eating raw garlic certainly poses this problem for many raw foodists.  There are a couple of things you can do to alleviate this uncomfortable side effect.  First, eating garlic with fresh parsley takes care of the breath problem.  Parsley freshens the breath and also aids in the digestion of parsley.  In fact, many dark greens can help with people who have digestion problems.  Second, aged garlic is becoming more popular and more readily available.  By aging garlic, many of the odor-causing properties are neutralized.  The flavor continues to exist during the aging process, but digestion and assimilation is easier.  Finally, eating garlic with probiotics also seems to curb some or all of these effects.  Adding coconut kefir, raw sauerkraut or other fermented foods is a great way to improve digestion and assimilation.

However you decide to add garlic to your diet, you really don't want to miss out on this versatile superfood.  It's an amazing way to balance flavor, spice up your meal and boost your body's ability to fight disease.  Most recommendations suggest that you can eat up to three or four bulbs of garlic a day.  Enjoy and be healthy!

Mystic Merman

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Workout Wednesday: Healthy Recovery Drinks

When I did a Google search for "after workout recovery drinks," some of the websites that came up suggested Gatorade, chocolate milk and a lot of formulas that are filled with low-quality whey protein and other toxins.  Superficially, these drinks might give a boost or supply some nutrients, but they also create a lot of waste and toxins that the body has to deal with.  After a workout, our bodies need great building material to really thrive.

From the perspective of a raw, plant-based diet, there are so many choices.  After my workout tonight, I decided to blend up a green smoothie.  This versatile drink provides essential minerals and vitamins, protein, antioxidants, electrolytes and so much more.  Make sure your green smoothie contains some dark greens like kale, collard greens and parsley.  In addition, I always add celery, which supplies a natural, organic dose of sodium.  Lemons and apples can help to balance the bitterness of the dark green but also cleanse the body, especially the liver.  Be sure to throw in some berries for their powerful antioxidants.

If you're looking for a concentrated protein after a heavy lifting session, Sun Warrior Protein blows the competition away in my opinion.  This unique raw, vegan protein derives its protein completely from organic rice.  How do they get all the protein out of rice?  Well, the rice is sprouted and then mixed with a culture which metabolizes the carbohydrates, leaving a fine powder that is 75 to 80% protein.  The fact that it's a cultured food means that digestion is aided, making it more bio-available than soy, whey or pea protein.  Many people have allergies to proteins on the market or can't digest them well.  I highly recommend looking into this superior product.

Other great foods to consume after a workout are hemp seeds, fruit, chia, flax seeds, and any type of algae, especially Spirulina which is about 65% protein.  Do yourself and favor and supply your body with the best that Nature has to offer.  You deserve it.  Be healthy.

Mystic Merman

Friday, February 3, 2012

Free Friday: Progress Update 2

Hello.  I thought I'd use Free Friday to catch everyone up on my progress.  After doing another fast, I didn't have the energy or the weight loss of my previous fast.  It felt a little forced, so I think I'm going to hold off on a long fast for a while.  Eating feels very good right now.  In the past couple of weeks, I have been eating a lot of raw food, including salads, smoothies, raw chocolate, raw bars, seaweed, fruit, etc.  My digestion is always excellent after a fast, so my energy is way up.

I feel like I'm losing fat again, but as I continue to gain muscle, it's hard to tell.  My focus this month is to stay raw and continue working out.  I love doing a lot of blended foods, because it's so easy to digest.  I'm starting the book I bought called Raw Foods on a Budget which I will incorporate into my blogs over the next couple of weeks.  I can't wait to start to apply all the things I learn and really start to save money while practicing a raw lifestyle.  Brandi has a wealth of knowledge in her books and lectures.  I highly recommend her online classes and books.

One of the most difficult things about starting and staying on a raw diet is the feeling that we are hungry or not getting enough food.  Over the next couple of weeks, I would also like to give some hints to feeling satiated on a raw diet.  Minerals and fat are so important and are often excluded if we rely too much on fruit and tasty vegetables.  Getting dark greens and good fat as well as adding certain superfoods and supplements can really make a difference.  Have a healthy weekend everybody!

Mystic Merman

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Workout Wednesday: MSM for Your Joints

Whether you do yoga, run, workout at the gym, dance or just walk, you need to take care of your joints.  If you don't, exercise can become painful as you get older.  Even many young people experience joint pain after exercising.  While a proper diet tops the list for keeping the joints healthy, there are natural supplements you can take to help.

After ten years in the natural health industry, one supplement that I've seen have more success in this area than just about anything else is MSM (methyl-sufonyl-methane).  This simple sulfuric compound can be found in almost all plants and animals, as well as soil and rainwater.  It's actually part of the rain cycle, forming when methane evaporates and combines with moisture in the air.  

This bio-available form of sulfur is readily used by the body and has the toxicity level of water, making it one of the most useful yet harmless supplements available.  Sulfur is found in every cell in the body, so its importance cannot be overstated.  Although it is important to hundreds of functions in the body, one of its primary functions is to assist in the creation of collagen in the body.  Collagen gives the cells, skin, tendons, muscles and organs structure, support and flexibility.  Without it, you would literally fall apart.  

Joint flexibility and support rely on this important mineral.  Unfortunately, many of us don't get enough sulfur in our diet. There are many foods that contain good amounts of sulfur, like garlic, onions, tomatoes and avocados, but it's likely that our diets contained a lot more sulfur in the past.  Taking a natural supplement can make all the difference in the world to our health.  

Most MSM is derived from either the natural gas industry (methane) or the lumber industry.  DMSO (a precursor to MSM) is a bi-product of these industries, so it's a bit like recycling.  MSM is formed from distilling or purifying DMSO.  If you find a good company, the product should be 100% pure MSM.  It has a bitter taste, but can be blended into smoothies or juice with little effect to the taste.  It is well known in the natural health industry that MSM works synergistically with vitamin C.  Taking it with citrus juice is recommended, but I usually take it with a powerful vitamin C like Camu Camu.  

If you are suffering from joint pain, I highly recommend talking to your health practitioner about MSM.  It's been very beneficial to my healing process.  Be healthy!

Mystic Merman