Hello friends! Today I invited Nutritionist Marina O’Connor to write a guest post about hormonal health, and what we can do to nutritionally support our body throughout each stage in our cycle.
Understanding Your Menstrual Cycle
By: Marina O’Connor, B.A., CNP
How well do you know your feminine cycle? For a very long time, the only thing I knew or cared about my cycle was when I was going to menstruate (crossing fingers it did not land on an important event or vacation!). Unfortunately, basic health class does not prepare us with the specific and thorough knowledge to navigate our fertility and hormonal cycles. We are not taught that our bodies are eloquently and continuously adapting to these changes without us even realizing. This is most certainly not a criticism against our education system! Instead, this post is intended to educate and empower women about the way their cycle moves. I hope you will come away from this post knowing three things: 1) how to adapt to your energy levels as hormones fluctuate, 2) how to balance your cycle with appropriate food choices, and 3) learn to appreciate the function and strength of your body.
Here’s a look at the four phases of the menstrual cycle:
Duration: 3-5 Days Average
The follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) is released slowly by the pituitary gland right before menstruation when estrogen and progesterone levels are at their lowest. FSH is responsible for developing the dozen or so follicles in the ovary that will later race for ovulation (Weschler, 2015, p.408). Immediately before and during menstruation, melatonin levels peak (responsible for regulating blood pressure, sleep and wakefulness, immune system, and the coordination of other hormonal shifts).
This is the perfect time for a woman to rest, spend time alone, and practice positive affirmations. This time of the month shows an increase in creativity, contemplation, intuition and spirituality (Kaur, 2005, p.76). Take time to self-reflect and journal during this phase, particularly on the emotions that are overwhelming (and completely normal).
Increase dietary sources of iron: seaweed, pumpkin seeds, oatmeal, beets, and molasses (Kaur, 2005, p.76). Focus on water-rich foods and vegetables in order to hydrate your body such as watermelon, burdock, dark berries, as well as various soups and stews (Vitti, 2014, p.153-154).
Duration: 8 Days Average
As estrogen continues to rise during the first half of your cycle, the uterine lining thickens and prepares for a fertilized egg. FSH drops and luteinizing hormone (LH) is released by the pituitary gland between menstruation and ovulation. Estradiol (estrogen made by follicles) boosts neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine resulting in feelings of happiness, pleasure and motivation (Briden, 2017, p.57-58). High testosterone levels before ovulation increase sexual energy. Estrogen causes the cervical fluid to thin and alkalize, promoting passage and survival of sperm (Kaur, 2005, p.77).
This is a good time to start new projects. There is an increase in left brain activity indicating verbal fluency (Kaur, 2005, p.77). Energy levels begin to rise and the body is more receptive to physical activity. Use this time towards creating to-do lists and setting goals for the upcoming phase as your mental and physical energy continue to rise.
Increase consumption of phytoestrogen-rich foods such as flaxseed while estrogen levels are still quite low. Eating light, fresh food during this time is very helpful. Help transition to ovulation and assist with cervical mucus production by focusing on foods such as: artichoke, broccoli, zucchini, carrot, avocado, flax seed, Brazil nuts, olives, citrus fruit, and mung beans (Vitti, 2014, p.159-160).
Duration: 1 Day Average
The outpouring of LH triggers a more subtle rush of FSH, which halts estrogen production in the leading follicle. Eventually this follicle ruptures resulting in the release of the interior ovum (ovulation). The egg stays alive for about 24 hours. Pheromones are strongest during this phase as the body is most fertile. Body temperature begins to rise and cervical fluid is very thin and elastic; the most conducive for achieving pregnancy (Weschler, 2015, p.410).
Mental and emotional activity is at its peak, causing a rise in intense emotions (Kaur, 2005, p.78). This is the time for receptiveness to new ideas and strong communication. Speak your truth, open up fluid conversation with loved ones, and execute your to-do lists and goals using the energy of this phase.
Increase fibre and specific nutrients (e.g. glutathione) to aid with estrogen metabolism, detoxification, and removal (Vitti, 2014, p.149). Boost circulation and lower oxidation with the following foods: asparagus, red bell pepper, chard, dandelion, okra, spinach, coconut, fresh fruit (apricots, strawberries, raspberries, figs), red lentils, and almonds (Vitti, 2014, p.159-160). If striving for pregnancy, amplify fertility with: turmeric, cinnamon, buckwheat, avocado, leafy greens, royal jelly (Vitti, 2014, p.217-218).
Duration: 14 Days Average
Progesterone (our nourishing and calming hormone) rises after ovulation and dominates the luteal phase (Briden, 2017, p.63). Progesterone keeps the body temperature higher and controls the buildup of the uterine lining to support pregnancy. If there is no pregnancy, progesterone levels fall and the uterine lining sheds, resulting in menstruation. FSH and LH remain low during this phase, until just before menstruation when FSH begins to rise as a result of low estrogen levels (Weschler, 2015, p.411). Cortisol and serotonin may decrease, resulting in mood imbalances such as depression, irritability, anxiety, and food cravings. Towards the end of this phase, melatonin peaks.
This is the time when reflective and intuitive thoughts rise. Decrease stress by saying “no” more often (Kaur, 2005, p.79). Increase rest and be gentle with yourself as your body prepares for menstruation. One way to shift the focus on rest is to concentrate on self-care; take time to meditate, do gentle yoga, take long baths, spend time in nature, and partake in any other relaxing activity you enjoy.
Increase potassium rich foods to help decrease salt and water retention in the body: carrot juice, avocado, papaya, cantaloupe, mango, banana, kiwi, figs, pineapple, adzuki beans, lentils, pinto beans, and squash (Kaur, 2005, p.79). To further reduce water retention, increase the consumption of diuretic teas (e.g. dandelion greens) and leafy greens (calcium and magnesium). Avoid sugar cravings by focusing on B-vitamin rich foods, such as: brown rice, pine nuts, and collard greens. Eating complex carbs at this time balances serotonin and dopamine levels and averts mood fluctuations (Vitti, 2014, p.150-151).
Thank you Marina! I hope you enjoyed this post. If you need help supporting your cycle with nutrition, please do not hesitate to reach out to either Marina or myself.
Briden, L. (2017). Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods. United States: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.
Kaur, S. D., Dean, C., & Danylak-Arhanic, M. (2005). The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Women’s Health. Toronto: R. Rose.
Vitti, A. (2014). Woman code: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source. New York, NY: HarperOne.
Weschler, T. (2015). Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health. New York: William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins.
This month is the last edition of Monthly Nourish.
For those not following along, Monthly Nourish was my little attempt at inspiring simple and small change, completely aligned with my fundamental approach to nutrition that health is not all-or-nothing. Each month I highlighted three foods, discussed the health benefits and provided loads of recipe inspiration. The hope was that you could try new foods or new recipes, a little bit at a time, and at a pace that suits you.
I am finishing up the series, but there is a full year (12 months!) of posts to go back to, when you find yourself in need of a little inspiration.
So here it is, the final Monthly Nourish!
MONTHLY NOURISH | SEPTEMBER
Apples are the quintessential fruit of fall. They are a high-fibre and low-sugar fruit, typically suitable for those watching their sugar intake. Apples contain vitamin C and B vitamins, along with phytonutrients to help with free-radical damage. Apples contain prebiotic fibre, which can help feed the beneficial bacteria that naturally reside in your gastrointestinal system. Apples also contain a good amount of a flavonoid called quercetin, which is good to support the immune system.
Apples can be enjoyed as a snack ( I love them with almond butter), or baked in an apple crisp/pie. Try out this recipe for Carrot Muffins with Apple from The Minimalist Baker and check out our Pinterest board for more recipe inspo!
Carrots are a starchy vegetable, that contains fibre, along with other vitamins and minerals. Carrots, similarly to other orange coloured foods, are notably high in beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is great for skin health, immune system and eye health.
Squash is another fibre-rich vegetable, high in beta carotene. It is also a good source of B 6, which is helpful for energy and stress, along with folate, making it a great food to enjoy when pregnant. Squash also contains potassium, which is an important mineral to help with nerve signals, muscle contractions and specifically can help to manage blood pressure.
Squash comes in many forms, and they can all be cooked and enjoyed in different ways. Roasted or baked squash, is one of my favourite ways to enjoy it. Try out this recipe for Butternut Squash Veggie Pizza by The Minimalist Baker and check out our Pinterest board for more recipe inspo!
I hope you enjoyed this series. Please check back through the archives whenever you need a dose of nutrition inspiration!
Hello and Happy Friday!
Not only is it Friday, but it is also the first week in September, and back-to-school time, which is generally a busy week for most.
I know many of my clients are starting to feel overwhelmed by school lunches, or even getting into a good routine for themselves and I wanted to pop on the blog to offer three simple items that you can cook this weekend, to make next week easier.
What To Cook This Weekend, To Make Next Week Easier!
1. Baked Salmon/Chicken Or a Pot of Lentils
It is a great idea to have a good protein source available, which you can add to your meals throughout the week. All of these options keep for a good 5 days and can last you the work/school week. Even if you do not want to cook something, you can have canned tuna or salmon available to top salads, put in a wrap or just add to whatever sides you are making.
2. Roast Vegetables
Roasted vegetables could not be easier. You can chop up a bunch of your favourites like cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, sweet potato, asparagus, zucchini etc. and add to a pan with oil of choice ( I like avocado or olive oil) and salt. Depending on the vegetables, cook at 350 anywhere between 30 minutes-1 hour. Roasted vegetables can be reheated, or added to a salad as an easy way to get added vegetables into your diet.
3. A Sauce or Dip
This is a great way to make boring meals a bit more exciting. Many of us do not have the time to cook and so throwing together some things ( like your pre-made salmon, roasted veggies with perhaps a handful of greens) can be made more enjoyable and exciting with a really delicious dressing.
You do not have to be a meal planning/batch cooking extraordinaire, but I really find that a little bit of preparation can go a long way. Minimizing kitchen time even a little bit throughout the way, can alleviate some stress. These three options are a great start and a wonderful base to a healthy week!
Hello + Happy Saturday!
Today, I am posting my go-to banana bread recipe. I absolutely love banana bread, and make it quite regularly. I am not the best baker in the world, and I really love simple recipes with basic ingredients. This recipe checks all the boxes for me; low in sugar, tastes great, easy to make and full of whole food ingredients.
Here is my go-to recipe for banana bread:
4 ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup olive oil or melted coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 cup whole wheat or spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Big pinch of cinnamon
1. I mix this batter one of two ways. I either blend all ingredients together in a blender, or I mix the wet and dry ingredients separately and then add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
2. Pour into pan and cook for approx. 45 minutes, or until a knife comes out smooth.
Please let me know if you make this recipe and how you like it! I am going to go enjoy a piece right now :)
Today I have my friend Kelly back on the blog to discuss a topic that I have been wanting to talk about for a while. Meal Planning vs Intuitive Eating, is a topic that is incredibly nuanced and complex. I thought it would be great to invite Kelly here to talk about it.
Meal Planning Vs Intuitive Eating – Which is Right For You?
Gone are the days where people went to a nutritionist just to find out what to eat. Nowadays, HOW to eat seems to be just as important. Should you eat small meals or large? Stop after a certain time, or follow your hunger? Stick to a meal plan, or eat intuitively?
The questions can seem overwhelming, and often there is no one right answer. When it comes to the meal planning vs. intuitive eating debate, there needs to be a middle ground. But let’s start at the beginning, and make sure we’re all on the same page.
What is Intuitive Eating?
Intuitive eating is a fancy way of saying “listen to your body”. If you’re eating intuitively, you’re choosing foods that are right for you in the moment, eating when you’re hungry, and stopping when you’re full. Basically, it’s how we ate as small children, before external messaging messed up our relationship with our intuition. By practicing intuitive eating, we learn to return to a place where there’s no all-or-nothing, feast-or-famine, diet-infused thinking.
What are the pitfalls of Intuitive Eating?
Now, while intuitive eating is quite possibly the most natural way of eating, we live in a very unnatural world. It’s not possible to eat intuitively all the time. Sometimes, finances get in the way, and we have to learn to live off of rice, beans, and toast, regardless of what our bodies are asking for. Sometimes, we’re traveling, and the foods available to us are slim. On long stretches of highway, the options can be Tim Hortons, McDonald’s, or starve.
Even in our normal, day-to-day life, it can be hard to eat intuitively. For people with families to feed, it’s virtually impossible to create different meals that are what each family member intuitively wants to eat in that moment. Often, meals are planned in advance, and the foods you intuitively want just weren’t on this week’s shopping trip.
Finding a balance
So what is a person to do? How can you learn to eat intuitively within a more structured framework? While it may take a while to find a balance that’s right for you, here are three steps you can take now to start moving towards intuitive eating.
1. Let go of “should”
Yes, your plate “should” have a lot of vegetables on it. But maybe tonight you’re feeling pasta more than the sauce. Instead of forcing yourself to eat vegetables that you don’t want right now, honor your want for pasta. Just because you’re eating intuitively doesn’t mean you’ll be eating all pasta and no vegetables for the rest of your life. Your body will tell you when it needs a vegetable, and you can intuitively choose it then.
2. Honor your body’s needs as soon as you can
While it may not be possible to eat dhal on a whim late on a Tuesday night, there’s no reason you can’t plan to make a stop at your favourite Indian restaurant Wednesday. Chances are, if your body was asking for lentils one night, there will still be something it needs from those lentils the next night. But, if you’re not feeling the dhal on Wednesday, return to your regularly scheduled meal plan instead.
3. Let yourself snack
For whatever reason, a lot of people seem to think that a person’s need to snack ends with childhood. Not so! Even adults can enjoy a snack. Snacking is a great way to satisfy your intuitive wants and needs within a meal plan. If you’re craving something sweet, but savory is on the menu for tonight, grab a cookie at the local cafe on your way home. Some days you may not need a snack. Some days you’ll need multiple snacks. Your body’s needs change from day to day. Intuitive eating will help you understand and meet those needs, before your body’s whispered requests become a scream.
If you’re struggling to find a balance, or having a hard time transitioning into intuitive eating, you’re not alone. The longer you’ve spent engaging in diet culture and/or disordered eating, the harder it will be to hear your body’s messaging. It just takes time, and work. If you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out. This is a battle you can win.
Thank you again, Kelly! You can read Kelly’s past blog posts; Emotional Eating, Everything Your Health Class Didn’t Teach You About Eating Disorders and All Food Is Good Food.
After winning her 17-year battle with anorexia, Kelly Boaz turned her life’s focus to helping others do the same. Kelly is a Toronto-based Holistic Nutritionist (CNP), specializing in eating disorder recovery and food freedom. She is also a writer and speaker (TEDx, TDSB), raising eating disorder awareness, and helping people heal their relationship with food and their bodies. You can find out more about Kelly, or get in touch via her website, kellyboaz.com.
Today I am sharing a recipe for a fresh salsa-like side dish. This pairs very nicely with fish, or add black beans and top on lettuce to make it a full meal! It keeps well for a few days, and is a good source of vegetables along with healthy fat!
1 avocado, chopped
1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
1 mango, chopped
1/2 cucumber, chopped
5 radishes, chopped
1 shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt + pepper
1. Add all ingredients into a bowl. Stir.
2. Let sit for an hour or so.
I hope you enjoy this recipe! Let me know if you make it!
Today I am talking about pasta. Coming from a 1/2 Italian background, pasta plays a huge role in my life. Nothing beats Nonna’s pasta!
I 100% believe in eating what you want and what feels good for you, pasta included. However, I wanted to compile a list of my favourite pasta options that may be more conducive to some of your health goals, and talk about some more nutrient-dense pasta options, if that is your thing!
Another disclaimer is that these pasta options are not all the same, nutritiously, and can not necessarily substitute one another. I highlight some ways to include the different options, to hopefully give you a better idea of how they can all play a role in a balanced diet.
My Favourite Pasta Options
1. Lentils or Chickpea Pasta
These pasta options contain roughly 21 g of protein, and ~10 g of fibre, making this a very nutrient-dense option. I enjoy lentil or chickpea pasta with pesto (see: recipe) or tomato sauce. When I enjoy lentil or chickpea pasta, I do not worry about having a protein along with it, whereas if I have another type of pasta, I always ensure I have a good source of protein to help balance my blood sugar. Lentil or chickpea pasta, with sauce + veg is a balanced, delicious meal option.
Brands: Chickpea Pasta and Explore Cuisine
2. Egg Pasta
Egg pasta is wheat pasta made with eggs and traditionally found in Italian pasta brands. I love pasta made with eggs because it actually contains protein, roughly about 12 g per serving. It is not a full serving, so I would still add some protein to your meal, but it will be a bit more stabilizing to your blood sugar. Keep in mind, egg pasta does not contain fibre, so you would still want to load up your plate with vegetables, as well as a bit more protein and a healthy fat!
Brands: Some brands that I know of are Caponi, Benedetto and Spinosi, however you can check the ingredients and they should contain wheat and eggs as the only two ingredients.
3. Kamut or Spelt
A higher-fibre option to white pasta, these ancient grains provide a nice alternative to whole wheat pasta and can be up to 10g of fibre per serving. They are a bit more grainy than semolina wheat, but less grainy than whole wheat. Ancient grains contain a variety of vitamins and minerals, even when they are milled into flour. You can replace any pasta with a kamut or spelt pasta to add some variety.
Brands: Eden Organics
4. Brown Rice
Brown rice pasta is a great gluten-free alternative, and quite accessible/easy to find. Most grocery stores carry brown rice pasta now, and it can replace any pasta. The only issue is that it can over cook easily, and so you have to watch the pot! This is generally not a great source of fibre, so again I would add your veggies to the sauce or on the side.
Brands: Rizopia, Tinkyada
5. Spirulized Vegetables or Spaghetti Squash
Before I get an eye roll for insinuating that vegetables replace pasta, hear me out! Firstly, I do not think spirulized zucchini replaces pasta. I think that spirulized vegetables, with a tasty sauce, can be a nutrient-dense option and a way to add more vegetables to your diet. I have a lot of clients who find sauce to be the best part of pasta and enjoy a tomato bolognese, or shrimp with pesto on a plate of zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash equal to that of pasta. To spirulized vegetables, I would add a source of protein, healthy fat + even some more vegetables to make it a well balanced meal.
I love pesto, and find it quite easy and versatile. You can add vegetables like kale or arugula, and use any nut or seed that you have on hand.
3 big handfuls or 2.5 cups fresh basil
1/2 cup olive oil
1 handful or 1/2 cup nuts/seeds of choice ( I used sunflower seeds)
2 tbsp of Parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast
2 cloves garlic
1. Add all ingredients together in a blender or food processor. Add more olive oil until desired consistency.
2. I added the pesto to chickpea pasta and topped a big bowl of arugula!
Hello friends and Happy August!
We have been running our Monthly Nourish series for almost a year now- how fun!
We hope it is inspiring you to try something new and include healthy foods at a pace that suits you!
Monthly Nourish for August is basically bruschetta in a list, because in Ontario these foods are fresh, in season and oh so delicious.
I hope you enjoy this month’s edition of Monthly Nourish and try to include these three foods in some news ways. Let us know what you make with the hashtag #monthlynourish.
Monthly Nourish | August
Tomatoes have been featured on Monthly Nourish before, but I couldn’t resist highlighting them again. Tomatoes are notably high in a phytochemical called lycopene. Lycopene is found in any fruit or vegetable that has a red pigment to it. Lycopene is known to been good for heart health, prostate health and skin health.
Basil is a powerful green that contains many vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. It is very nutrient dense, and a great option to include if you are a not a huge vegetable lover.
Vampires beware! Garlic contains powerful antioxidants, and the active ingredient, Allicin, is anti-inflammatory and great for our immune system. A fun fact, is that allicin is only released when garlic is crushed or chopped, not when consumed whole.
I hope you enjoyed this month of Monthly Nourish! Let us know what you make!
Dramatic title aside, this salad recipe is delicious, and one that I have been and will continue to make on a regular basis until summer ends. Inspired by a salad I enjoyed at my friend’s house a few weeks ago, I knew I had to make my own to share it on the blog!
It is full of summery, local to Ontario vegetables, and tastes so flavourful and fresh. When ingredients are good, they speak for themselves, and you don’t need to add much to them. It is a privilege to have access to fresh fruit and vegetables, and one that I do not take for granted!
Here is a recipe for a simple, summery chopped vegetable salad! Please enjoy!
The Ultimate Summery Salad
2 bell peppers ( I used purple + red), chopped
3 tomatoes, chopped
1 cucumber, chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
2 green onions, chopped
handful basil, chopped
handful parsley, chopped
handful oregano, chopped
1.5 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 cup sheep feta
1 lemon, juiced
4 tbsp olive oil
salt + pepper, to taste
1. Add all chopped vegetables and herbs into a bowl. Mix. Add chickpeas and mix again.
2. Top with drizzled olive oil + lemon juice + salt + pepper.
3. Top with cheese at the end.
Please let me know how you like this recipe. I also encourage you to switch it up with vegetables of your choice, herbs of choice or anything else!
Today I am going through three toast combinations, that can be enjoyed as a healthy breakfast or snack.
Bread often gets a bad reputation but I personally love bread and think that it can be part of a healthy diet.
Reasons I like bread:
1. It is a great source of carbohydrates to provide the body with energy, as well as a source of fibre and other vitamins.
2. It can be quite cost effective.
3. Easy + quick!
4. Restricting or limiting bread ( especially if you love it!) can lead to cravings and binge eating.
5. Satisfying + versatile!
Now, when choosing bread, there are a few things I typically try to keep in mind. I try to keep it whole grain, so that you are in fact getting fibre. I also keep the ingredients minimal. You can read the ingredient list of bread and see 10 + ingredients, most of which are unnecessary. I also like a sourdough bread or bread using a sourdough culture, instead of yeast, which can be easier to digest. Lastly, I prefer an ancient wheat like spelt, rye or kamut, or a sprouted grain, which is also often easier to digest and generally more nutritious.
My favourite bread brands include:
1. Ezekial Sprouted Grain Bread
2. Silver Hills Sprouted Grain Bread
3. Stone Mills Sprouted Grain Bread
4. Dimpflmeier 100% Rye Sourdough Bread
6. Little Stream Bakery
St. John’s Bakery, sourdough bread
Cock-A-Doodle-Doo, gluten-free sourdough bread
Praire Boy Bakery
Now that you know why I love bread, and the brands I choose, here are three different toppings that you will commonly see me make.
1. Avocado Toast
How to make:
Add 1/2 avocado sliced, with 1 tbsp hemp hearts, sea salt, a squeeze of lemon, a pinch of nutritional yeast + any spice or herb of choice (I added zaatar spice here).
2. Coconut Cream + Jam
How to make:
Spread sunflower seed butter as a base, top with a spoonful of coconut cream and a dollop of your favourite jam.
3. Nut Butter + Fruit
How to make:
Spread almond butter as a base, and top with sliced apple, pear + banana. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
Now, I would love to hear from you! What are your favourite bread brands? Do you have toast toppings you love? Let me know in the comments!