Four Tips to Curb Caffeine

My son’s camp is finishing up and so Mommycamp has begun. That means cramming six weeks of fun-filled activities together for my son with usual work demands. But it is exciting, exhilarating, and exhausting! So I picked now to try to cut down on caffeine ☹. I know, I know, sad day for me. Anywho, I’m a green tea drinker so I always figured that I was okay in the caffeine department. I was averaging around three to four cups a day at one point. After all, green tea is high in antioxidants and lower in caffeine compared to black teas and various coffees, right? But the caffeine content with some teas may vary based on the type of tea and the brewing time.

What the heck is caffeine anyway? Caffeine is an alkaloid found in plants that acts on the central nervous system. It is an ingredient in many foods, beverages, and proprietary drugs (the FDA’s National Center for Drugs and Biologics lists more than 1,000 over-the-counter drugs with caffeine as an ingredient—yikes!). Small amounts of this stimulant may alter metabolic rate, respiratory rate, heart rate, and blood pressure. Other effects may include frequent urination (diuretic) and increased blood sugar levels.

Some research indicates that caffeine comes with a mixed bag of results. Moderate amounts of caffeine can decrease fatigue (yeah!), enhance cognitive and physical performance, quicken reaction accuracy, and increase focus.  Too much caffeine may alter your hormone levels and deplete essential nutrients such as calcium and magnesium. In fact, caffeine intake has been associated with risk of endometriosis, osteoporosis, and anxiety and gastrointestinal disorders. Some other problems that can occur with overconsumption of caffeine include insomnia, headaches, nervousness and nausea. For example, some evidence suggests that consumption of five or more cups of coffee a day is linked with a low risk of Type II diabetes but lower consumption levels are inconclusive. Okay, before we all burn our stashes of coffee and tea, remember the risk comes with caffeine overconsumption. So keep it moderate folks.

In my quest to control my caffeine, there are some foods that I rely on:

Parsley

I confess that I used to be one of those people that would toss the parsley right off my meal at restaurants like what the heck do I need that for?! #don’tknownobetter. In my defense, most restaurants tend to use curly leaf parsley that has no flavor. Flat leaf parsley—yep, much better. But parsley can be just as tasty and healthy as the main meal. This diuretic herb is an antioxidant because it contains the flavonoid apigenin, which also has anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, and antimutagenic properties. In addition, parsley has vitamins C and E, beta carotene, thiamine, folate, iron, and calcium. Calcium levels decrease with high caffeine consumption. Please note: be very careful with high-calcium foods because some of them may contain oxalates. I talk about that here. I do love some flat leaf parsley when I can get it but when I can’t, dried parsley will do just fine on my soups and salads.

Almond Butter

Like many of you, I grew up with peanut butter in my house. When my parents weren’t home and we didn’t want to heat anything up, it was peanut butter to the rescue. I didn’t try almond butter until I was an adult. And, admittedly, at first I friggin’ hated it. It took tweaking the right combination (almond butter and a dash of agave nectar FTW) to really bring out the flavor of this nut butter. Almonds are loaded with vitamin E, phosphorus, potassium, and dietary fiber. This nut is also rich in magnesium and calcium, both of which are reduced by high caffeine intake. Almond butter has more fiber, calcium, and potassium than other nut butters like peanut butter. What’s more, it has been reported that high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the good cholesterol that decreases risk for heart disease) increased with almond butter intake. I like almond butter occasionally on toast or as a snack with whatever fresh veggies or fruit are available in the house.

Black-eyed peas

I used to think black-eyed peas were just something you ate to celebrate the new year. Before I became a vegetarian and then a vegan, I thought black-eyed peas were just “awkward” as my son says about foods he abhors. But then I discovered Texas caviar—DIVINE! The flavor combination of the peas, onions, red bell peppers, and tomatoes with just a hint of oil and vinegar. Here’s a nice recipe for it. Just plain lovely. Black-eyed peas or cowpeas are also a nutritional powerhouse because it is a good source of flavonoids like quercetin, protein, carbohydrates, and nutrients such as niacin, thiamine, iron, magnesium, and calcium.

Tahini (Sesame seed butter)

Tahini or sesame seed butter is definitely a dressing that I discovered when I became a vegan and I’m glad that I did. It is creamy, filling, and a great compliment to meals like falafel tacos or even pasta—who knew! Sesame seeds are high in protein, carbohydrates, and dietary fiber. And sesame seeds are rich in phytosterols or compounds that resemble cholesterol in humans and ultimately reduce our blood cholesterol levels. Tahini is made from sesame seeds that are ground or milled into a paste. Tahini has B vitamins like niacin and minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium. Special advisory for those with allergy issues: sesame seeds do contain immunoglobulin E, which are mediated food allergens. When it comes to tahini, basic is best. Nothing tops off a night like a spoonful of tahini over a plate of falafels.

Those are some of the foods I like to combat my caffeine craziness. What do you like?

Advertisements

Four Foods to Eliminate Irritation

For the past two weeks, I’ve been fighting a losing battle against anger. There are a lot of changes taking place in my life. Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, I find that I constantly butt heads with certain people in certain situations. I’m sure you know the feeling. It seems as if once one thing is squashed and settled, then another thing pops up in its place. Ughh!

What’s more, I feel like there are moments where my usual methods of dealing with stressful situations don’t seem to be working as well. The answer is to let go and let be. It sounds very airy but it isn’t. I find that a lot of my frustration stems from resistance. We all have our own beliefs and experiences that we cannot shake no matter what. They shape who we are and how we react. There are certain situations and people who we will not synch with despite our best intentions because of those experiences and beliefs. So find your tribe, whoever they may be, and learn to respectfully walk away from the ones that you don’t mesh well with. Okay that’s my  sermon for today 😉.

When I have those irritating moments, I like to use the stress-busting tools that I discussed here. Sometimes, I like to just stop what I’m doing for five minutes to glance out the window. What I’m trying to say is changing a small thing can be valuable in terms of dealing with bigger issues.

As far as diet goes, I like to make sure that I have a lot of calcium-rich foods. Low levels of calcium may affect your mood. So please feel free to indulge in some broccoli, soybeans, and kale. Here are some other foods I thrive on when I feel a little too heated:

 

Bananas

Let me start by dispelling a very widespread belief that many of us grew up with regarding bananas. Yes, bananas do have serotonin’s precursor tryptophan, but no, they will not improve your mood because of it. Unfortunately, most foods containing tryptophan like bananas must compete with other amino acids for access to the brain and the serotonin doesn’t cross that blood-brain barrier. That’s why you crave carbs when stressed out—high carbohydrate foods increase the tryptophan ratio and allow more serotonin to your brain, which alters your mood for the better. So why the hell are we even talking about bananas? Well because bananas have other vitamins and nutrients that are beneficial for enhancing your mood such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus. This fruit is an antioxidant that is rich in vitamin A and B-vitamins. I like to mix banana puree into my baked goods like muffins or mix it in the occasional smoothie. Other times, I use it as an after dinner topping on my dessert.

 

Black beans

If I do one thing with this blog, that one thing will be having you walk away with a total lovefest with pulses like lentils, chickpeas, and black beans. Black beans, like other pulses, are a good source of protein, fiber, and iron. They also contain folate and magnesium. Some studies indicate that folate deficiency is linked with conditions such as depression and I talk about the benefits of magnesium here. Definitely a plus when dealing with daily irritants. But what makes black beans special is that they contain a higher amount of antioxidants than other beans. I love black beans in quesadillas, sandwiches, and salads.

 

Sourdough bread

Unrefined whole grains are a great source of carbohydrates and, as previously mentioned, that may promote that good mood that we’re seeking. And some research has shown that eating whole grains protects against chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. My husband turned me on to sourdough bread last year when I found that I had a lot of difficulty digesting other wheat breads. There is a problem with whole grain bread that a lot of us don’t know. While whole grain bread is high in potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin B1, and zinc, the presence of an antinutrient called phytic acid makes it very hard to absorb those nutrients into our bodies. What I love about sourdough bread is that the fermentation process allows for better mineral availability and digestion. I like my sourdough avocado toast during the week, but honey, I am a sandwich girl through and through.

 

 

Almond milk

As a person who has suffered from allergies my entire life, I was determined that for the first year of my son’s life that he would only  drink plant-based milk. And this was before I was a vegan. Now, my son is ten years old and, for much of his childhood, he has had soy milk at home. About a year ago, my husband and I decided to switch to almond milk. While the protein content is higher with soy milk, almond milk has more fiber (wonderful for lowering blood cholesterol). Almonds are a good source of antioxidants and the milk is high in minerals such as magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium that may influence mood disorders and brain function. Every now and then, I like to drink golden milk made with turmeric and almond milk.

 

Those are some of the good mood foods I enjoy. What do you like?

Five Ways to Calm Your Menstrual Cramps

One of the wonderful things about being a lady is dealing with that time of the month or when Auntie Flow from Red Hills comes for a visit, as they say in my neck of the woods. When I was in my teens and twenties, I absolutely hated that visit. Bloating and lots and lots of cramping. #bigsweatshirtweek. Now, the cramps and bloating are almost non-existent, thank goodness. Unfortunately, for some people managing your menses can be a freaking nightmare that includes severe cramps that may affect your ability to function. This common condition is known as dysmenorrhea and it is underdiagnosed and undertreated. What causes all these cramps are hormonelike substances called prostaglandins, which are usually kept in check by progesterone during much of the monthly cycle. But before menstruation begins, progesterone levels drop and prostaglandin levels increase. The prostaglandins in the menstrual blood trigger the uterus to contract and cramp and that means a cycle of pain. Women with gut-wrenching cramps have more prostaglandins than women who aren’t as affected by them.

Dysmenorrhea is divided into two categories: 1) primary dysmenorrhea, which is menstrual pain without organic disease; and 2) secondary dysmenorrhea where the pain is related to an identifiable disease. So don’t be a hero—if your pain is so severe that you need a medical professional, please, please, do something about it.

There are certain things that I like to do when my auntie likes to come by like applying warm castor oil to my abdomen. Some research indicates that applying a heat wrap for an extended time can relieve pain. Another thing I like to do is to eat more high-calcium and high-magnesium foods right before my period. It has been reported that increasing calcium reduces pain, mood symptoms, and water retention during the menstrual cycle. And magnesium has been effective with reducing dysmenorrhea symptoms. So I pile on my broccoli, lentils, and chickpeas during that time of the month.

Here are some other foods I eat that provide relief from those moody menses:

Carob

Way before I became a vegan, I thought carob was only something that patchouli-smelling hippies ate. This was also before I realized that, deep down inside, I was a patchouli-smelling hippie. I was never really a chocolate aficionado. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some chocolate when the mood strikes but I never really went crazy to get it. So when I passed carob powder one day at the supermarket, I thought why the hell not? Carob is a natural sweetener that looks similar to chocolate but what makes carob so special is that it doesn’t contain the stimulants caffeine and theobromine. Also, carob is high in calcium. What’s more, carob is a good source of vitamin E, vitamin C, vitamin B6, folic acid, niacin, iron, and potassium. I like to mix carob powder into protein balls, frothy smoothie-like drinks, and baked goods like this chocolate cake.

 

 

Nettle

I started drinking nettle tea last year for a relentless case of allergies. As some of you may know, nettle is a potent antioxidant and antimicrobial. Some research suggests that nettle may be effective as a treatment for conditions such as gastrointestinal diseases and rheumatism pains. In addition, nettle contains vitamin A, vitamin B1, potassium, and calcium. I like to kick back with a nice cup of nettle tea when I need to build a defense against those uncomfortable menses moments.

 

Oats

I have always, always been an oatmeal lover. Back in the day, it would be nothing for me to sit in front of the TV with a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies or enjoy a bowl of instant oatmeal. There is a small controversy over whether or not it is appropriate to eat steel cut oats, rolled oats, or quick-cooking oats. That all boils down to the fact that steel cut oats have a higher cooking time but are lower on the glycemic index than rolled oats and quick-cooking oats. Choose whatever floats your boat. Oats are a gluten-free food but, depending on where it is processed, there may be a possibility of wheat contamination, so always practice caution in terms of the brand you choose if needed. Oats contain magnesium, vitamin B1, fiber, and iron. And some studies have shown that the consumption of oats can significantly lower cholesterol levels. I like to put oats in my chia pudding, muffins, and cookies.

 

Dill

Dill used to remind me of summers as a kid: barbecues that featured potato salad slathered with mayonnaise and chopped fresh dill with relish. Even back then I had more fondness for the side dishes than all those meat-laden stuff. But dill is more than just a flavoring for your cousin’s salad. This herb is a powerful antioxidant and antimicrobial. Dill is loaded with calcium, manganese, and iron. Some research indicates that dill may be effective as a treatment for gingivitis, indigestion, and menstrual disorders. In fact, a 2014 study showed that dill reduced the pain severity of women who suffered from primary dysmenorrhea. This herb also contains minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. Even though I’m a vegan now, I do tend to follow tradition and mix a teaspoon of dill in some vegan mayo to top my veggie sausages or falafels.

Blackstrap molasses

My husband always talks about my weird taste in food. For example, years ago before I became a vegan or even a vegetarian, I went through this phase where I was growing tired of chicken (I never really liked red meat except for the occasional fast food burger—my, how the tide done turn!). Anyway, I didn’t know what to do to make my meals more interesting so I got the bright idea to use dark molasses as a topping for my grilled chicken. Let’s just say it wasn’t a good idea then. Maybe I didn’t choose the right one because it wasn’t a pleasant experience at all. But later, after much research, I finally figured out the right way to use blackstrap molasses. Molasses is the concentrated and clarified extract of sugar cane that is made by boiling cane juice until most of the water is evaporated. There are three grades of molasses: mild, dark, and blackstrap. The grades can be sulphured or unsulphured. Sulphured molasses are made from young sugar cane that is treated with sulphur dioxide during the extraction process. Not good. We want unsulphured molasses that are made from mature sugar cane with no sulphur added. Blackstrap molasses is the most concentrated form of the sugar cane extract. This sweetener is a great source of B-complex vitamins, calcium, iron, potassium, and magnesium. And please note that this is still sugar, so use it sparingly. I like this brand a lot. I like to drizzle about a teaspoon of molasses on sweet potatoes or combine it with about two and half tablespoons of unsweetened coconut shreds for coconut bacon.

 

 

These are some of the ways I alleviate monthly cramps. What are some of the ways that help you?

Five Ways to Handle Headaches

Last Sunday, I woke up with a bothersome sinus headache. I knew that it was connected to the pollen floating around from the previous day. In fact, as my family and I were driving back and forth for our errands, my son looked out the car window and pointed to the small white wisps and said, “Look at all the pollen blowing in the wind!” I rarely get headaches at all, thank goodness, but unfortunately headaches are all too common for many people that we know and love. Common triggers for headaches may include:

  • Foods such as ripened cheeses, chocolate, vinegar, and fermented foods
  • Caffeine
  • Hunger
  • Dehydration
  • Drug-related reactions
  • Hormonal factors such as menstruation and pregnancy
  • Visual stimuli such as glare, eyestrain, and flicker
  • Odors and smells such as paint and exhaust fumes
  • Seasonal factors such as sudden changes in weather, humidity, heat, and cold
  • Allergens such as pollen
  • Head trauma
  • Neck pain
  • Sexual intercourse

Chronic headaches can result in lost peace of mind and income. It is estimated that 156 full-time work days were lost because of headaches, at a possible cost of $25 billion in lost productivity. So it is absolutely important to identify these triggers and to prevent these headaches from occurring if possible. And most importantly, seek professional medical attention if you are a chronic sufferer.

On the rare occasions that I do have a headache, there are certain foods that I like to indulge in for relief. Here are some of them:

Green Tea

Green tea leaves contain caffeine (I know, I know, I just said caffeine may be a trigger—I’ll explain), theophylline, essential oils, and polyphenols. Okay, caffeine influences the central nervous system by decreasing fatigue, increasing wakefulness, and facilitating idea association. That’s why we like it now and again, but moderation is the key. In addition, theophylline causes a relaxation of the bronchial smooth muscle and stimulates on a respiratory level. This is beneficial for those of us who are suffering from allergy-related headaches. Also, those polyphenols are powerful antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that boost our immune system, definitely a plus when healing your body. Green tea is my beverage of choice for most mornings. I have it plain without an ounce of sweetener (it took me a while to get used to that!) with a dash of amla powder and lemon or ginger juice.

 

Cayenne Pepper

Cayenne Pepper contains the compound capsaicin that stimulates circulation and aids digestion.  Some evidence suggests that capsaicin has strong anti-inflammatory properties that may be useful in treating conditions such as neuropathic pain. And some clinical studies have found that capsaicin may be effective in relieving and preventing sinus headaches, cluster headaches, and migraine headaches. Cayenne peppers also contain vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, magnesium, iron, and potassium. I like to sprinkle cayenne pepper on my morning avocado toast on when I need it.

Garlic

I grew up with a Jamaican mother who wouldn’t hesitate to put fresh garlic or garlic powder on any meal she was preparing for dinner that night. And when I say garlic, I don’t mean a dash. I mean a full-blown massive attack where you are walking away with some halitosis. I am proud and, a little bit scared to admit, that I inherited a little of her sensibilities when it comes to this plant. I don’t think I put as much garlic in my dishes as she did, but just enough for my husband to yell that he can smell it from the living room 😊. Garlic is a stimulant, antiseptic, antihypertensive, and carminative. This plant has vitamin A, C, sulfur, iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium and manganese. But most importantly, garlic contains compounds such as allicin that have antioxidant properties for scavenging the body for those damaging free radicals, which is definitely helpful when combating pain. I like to have raw garlic cloves with my dinner for that extra boost of flavor.

 

Ginger

One major rule in my household is that we use garlic and ginger in treating a lot of common illnesses like colds and coughs. Again, it’s the Jamaican background, my friend. Ginger, like garlic, is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. This plant has been studied as a treatment for conditions such as post-operative nausea and vomiting. But some studies indicate that ginger may be as effective as medications like sumatriptan for treating acute* migraines. I like to have a spoonful of fresh minced ginger first thing in the morning before eating any meal. Lately, I’ve been enjoying this brand below.

 

Magnesium-Rich Food

I have spoken about why it is important to have magnesium as a staple in your diet here. Magnesium deficiency may be associated with headaches. For example, some studies have shown that low magnesium levels have been found in patients with cluster headaches. And it has been reported that magnesium may be an effective complementary treatment for migraines. I like to take the preventive route and have a high magnesium food like chickpeas with rice when I feel the slightest bit of pressure coming on.

 

So these are some of the ways I ward off headache woes. How do you do it?

*Again, please note that I am not a medical professional, so it is absolutely important to consult one before using any method to treat a serious condition.

How I Manage Stress–And You Can Too!

Confession time: I am not always great at managing stress. In fact, there are times when I get angry and just like most people and say the wrong thing or slam a door or two. But there are times when I’m aces at handling stress. I’ve found that when unexpected situations pop up I can usually deal with them just fine. The situations that are difficult involve times when I go against my personality or nature. For example, I am an introvert, so I energize by being alone in quiet settings. So a challenge might be dealing with a person who is the opposite (i.e. an extrovert) in a confined setting. Or another stressor might be when I push myself in a decision to do something that I honestly don’t believe in. The lesson here is be as authentic as humanly possible in everything that you do.

But I digress, here are a few of the stress-relieving tips that have helped me:

Pumpkin Seeds

Okay, let’s just pause for a second so I can just explain how much I love pumpkin seeds!

1093966

 

Pumpkins seeds are just crunchy and satisfying and wonderful! One cup of pumpkin seeds equals a whopping 168 mg of magnesium. Magnesium deficiency is tied to stress. I like to sprinkle some in my morning chia seed pudding of coconut milk yogurt and oatmeal. Occasionally, I’ll put a small amount in my homemade protein balls made from shredded coconut, almond flour, and carob powder. It is simple and delicious just the way I like it.

 

Coconut oil

Yes, I know, I know, *cue yawn*. What can’t coconut oil do? Coconut oil is a MCFA (a medium-chain fatty acid). Some of you may know that this MCFA promotes better calorie burn in the body because it goes to the liver instead of the muscles or fat like other saturated fats. But did you know that coconut oil can also be an antistress oil too? A 2014 study on showed mice treated with virgin coconut oil exhibited increased levels of brain antioxidants, which may prevent further neuronal damage. I like to put at least a teaspoon or so of coconut oil on my morning avocado toast. Talk about starting the day off right!

 

Lavender essential oil

This oil has been a godsend for myself and my family. Lavender oil has antifungal and antibacterial properties. Whenever a cold is about to hit one of us, we sprinkle a few drops in a steaming shower and we are good to go! But studies have also shown that lavender oil can also induce sleep and relieve anxiety. I also use lavender oil in my homemade hair leave-in spray of amla powder and aloe vera gel.

 

There you have it. These are just some of the ways that I manage stress—what are a few ways that work for you?