3.29.2018

How Blue Light Is Affecting Your Sleep (And How To Fix It)

(photo by Jay Wennington)

For nearly all of history, the only source of light for humans was the sun. That's it. And we centered our days around it; we woke with the sun, and slept once it went down. But with the invention of the light bulb, suddenly man was thrust into a predicament we were never designed to handle.
Now, I'm grateful for the advent of electric lighting as much as the next person, but it hasn't brought only positive things.
So, before I continue, let's talk about what blue light is exactly. From this website, blue light is simple "the portion of the visible light spectrum with the shortest wavelengths and highest energy." And it's not bad, but the way we're using it seems to be causing negative effects on us.  
Up until the 1800s, it was pretty much impossible to be exposed to any blue light once the sun went down. And that's actually pretty crazy when you think about how quickly that's changed, and in such potency.
Fire and candles were forms on man-induced light, but neither of those sources contain any blue light. But now we're dealing with computer, tablets, phones, tv, and even the lightbulb in our fridges.

What blue light does to our bodies
So what exactly is all this blue light exposure dong to us? Now, blue light isn't inherently bad, it's important and we need it for for things mood-boosting and alertness. Just not in the way most of us are getting it.
If you're at all familiar with circadian rhythm, you'll know that it's basically our internal 24-hour clock, the wiring in our brain that tells us when it's time to sleep and when it's time to wake. But since the sun isn't our only form of light anymore, our bodies can easily get knocked out of this natural rhythm. And since sleep disorders and issues are a real problem for most Americans, this isn't something we should be brushing aside. So scrolling on instagram while lying in bed isn't only unproductive, but bad for our sleep cycles as well. When you think about it, it's one of the most unnatural things for our bodies to experience. Large amounts of blue light when the moon is up? Y'all, we were not created for thiiiiis. I mean, there's a reason why it'd be incredibly hard to fall asleep with a bright light shining in your face. When the body is exposed to blue light, the secretion of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep, ceases. So it's easy to see how staring at your phone in bed could be making it difficult for you to quickly and easily fall asleep.
From Harvard:
A Harvard study shed a little bit of light on the possible connection to diabetes and possibly obesity. The researchers put 10 people on a schedule that gradually shifted the timing of their circadian rhythms. Their blood sugar levels increased, throwing them into a prediabetic state, and levels of leptin, a hormone that leaves people feeling full after a meal, went down. Even dim light can interfere with a person's circadian rhythm and melatonin secretion. A mere eight lux—a level of brightness exceeded by most table lamps and about twice that of a night light—has an effect, notes Stephen Lockley, a Harvard sleep researcher.
I think it's fairly easy for people to understand that we put in our bodies, like food and drugs, have a direct affect on our health, but it's harder for people to make the connection between light and health. And that's a totally fair place to be. It's not quite as obvious. But just like with nutrition, we can change our light exposure lifestyle to improve our health (and sleep).

How can I limit my blue light?
WOW. Glad you asked. I just happened to have compiled 5 simple steps you can try out for reducing your blue light exposure! Let's get your circadian rhythm back in check.

1. Get a blue light blocker extension for your computer. And I've found Flux to be the best out there. It's totally free and downloading it was one of my wiser decisions. It makes your computer display warmer as the sun begins to set. I used to get headaches when I'd stay up late on my computer editing, but once I started using Flux, the pain went away instantly. Like, instantly. It was weird. In a good way. If you don't believe me, just try it for yourself!
And don't worry the it might feel weird staring at an orange screen. It's such a subtle process, that I never really notice it happening. It's super easy to use and customizable. I definitely recommend it.

2.  Invest in some blue light blocking glasses. Several different companies now make what essentially looks like a pair of orange sunglasses to wear at night (while you're watching tv, are on the computer, etc.) Now this one may seem a bit silly and overdone to some, but it's really not that weird when you're only wearing them around the house at night. I dunno. Your call. (You can find some here and here.) Also, EyeBuyDirect and Felix Gray sell regular prescription glasses with a blue blocking coating, so that might be worth looking into.

3. Make your bedroom a blue light free zone. Switch out your light bulbs with some color-changing LED bulbs. I have some of these, and they come with a little remote so it's super easy to switch the light from white to orange or red once dawn hits! If you live in the city or suburbs, get some blackout curtains for your bedroom (P.S. they don't actually have to be black- they come in all different colors!) Salt lamps have also grown in popularity recently, but they're not just for looks. I use mine so that I can safely and happily read before bed without any blue light. (Plus, okay, they are just really pretty.)

4. Utilize your phone's night cycle. If you have an iPhone, this function can be easily accessed through Settings > Display & Brightness > Night Shift. You can set it to automatically turn on and off at anytime you choose, and it's super easy to use. I have mine to turn on from dusk til dawn. And if your phone doesn't have this built in, look for a free app that'll do it for you. Also, my friend showed me this cool trick, which can turn the iPhone display completely red-tinted on command! And I swear it's been absolute favorite thing to use at night.

5. Get outside. Okay, this isn't a tip on how to reduce blue light, but it's important nonetheless. Exposing our bodies to blue light during the day is just as important as reducing it during the night. Support your body's natural system by getting out in the the sun for at least a few minutes ever day.

Welp, that's it. I know I've personally greatly benefitted from implementing some of these things in my life, so I hope this can help you too!

Sleep well,
Mel


(photo by Becca Tapert)
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3.23.2018

Clean Eating Easter Recipe Roundup


(photo by Annie Spratt)

Spring is well on it's way, and despite the cold east coast weather I've been enduring, Easter is just around the corner; which is why I thought I'd try and round up a handful of clean eating recipes (some are gluten-free, refined sugar-free, paleo, keto, etc.) so we can all be sure to have our favorite Easter and spring treats this year without compromising our health. So go ahead, try something new! Pick out one of the recipes below and give it a whirl. Bring some gluten-free carrot cake to Grandma's this year, and I'd bet no one will be the wiser that it's "healthy".

Savory 

Sweet 
And, even though it's not necessarily a recipe, tis the season for dyeing eggs. Just don't forget that it's not just a fun spring activity, but you can create some lovely, vibrant colors without the use of artificial dyes!

Go forth and eat well 
Let me know if you try out any of these, and how it turns out! Personally, I think I miiight have to try out the garlic breadsticks or carrot cake this year. Both of those recipes just look too tempting to me. And if I do try my hand at any of these recipes, you can be sure I'll candidly document the end result (whether good or bad) on my instagram

Happy Easter!
Mel


(photo by Micheile Henderson)
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3.16.2018

Why You Should Start A Garden Today


(photo by Markus Spiske)

Gardening is one of those things I never took much interest in. People always spoke of it like it was the most difficult hobby to have. And the thought of spending my summers bent over, nails filled with dirt, never really appealed to me. But now that I'm so much older and so much wiser (haha), I've really started to see the value and the art of gardening. Gardening has brought me more joy than I ever thought it would. And with spring now in the air, I've been getting so excited to get my plants in the ground.
But despite all that, vegetable gardens aren't quite as popular as they used to be. It was only a in the last century that America came together to start victory gardens. In World War II, there was a need across the country, food was rationed, and so people acted accordingly. Victory gardens were a way to help with the war effort, and it's estimated that up to 40% of the food consumed in the states at the time was from backyard vegetable gardens. I mean, that's a lot, especially compared to now.
But in the 21st century, there seems to be no shortage of good food, and no real need to grow our own. Why grow your own vegetables when grocery store aisles are lined with seemingly fresh produce?
And while I'm not saying that I think we need another world war to force people into growing their own food again, I still believe there's a whole lot of wisdom and love that goes into a backyard vegetable garden.



Why should we garden?
There's practical reasons and sentimental reasons, and pretty much everything in-between.

The benefit of exercise. 
You can't garden sitting down. It's just that simple. Gardening requires weeding, mulching, planting, tilling, which are all low-level forms of exercise and movement. It's not difficult work, but your body will thank you in the long run.

You get loads of vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency is a real problem in the West.  Conventional wisdom has taught us to be afraid of the sun, and so we shy away from staying in the sun for too long. But that's come at a cost. So anything that helps us to get more of "the sun vitamin" is probably a good thing.

Dirt is good for you.
In our culture we're a tad obsessed with being sanitary. Germs must be destroyed at all costs and hand sanitizer rules supreme. But not all bacteria is bad, and dirt isn't necessarily dirty. And the rise in autoimmune and gut issues might be a unintended result of a super sanitary society. So get some dirt under your fingernails, and don't be afraid to those carrots straight from the ground, raw and still a little bit dirty.

We all need to get outside more.
I swear, even just being outdoors for 10 minutes is therapeutic. Our bodies were never designed to be stuck indoors, under fluorescent lights, for 16 hours a day. It's unnatural. Gardening is a great way to get back to a more primal way of interacting with the earth. Many gardeners say that working in the garden is a way to destress and detoxify. And it's just really hard to be outside on a beautiful day, and not feel great.

The food, duh.
There's really nothing quite like planting something in good faith and, after a lot of time and nurturing, reaping the benefits. Growing your own food is just exciting and such a rewarding experience. (And homegrown produce usually tastes better, too.) But there's just something about being a little more self-sufficient that fills you up inside.

How do I start?
It doesn't take a whole lot to start a garden, you just have to start! Here's how:

1. Make a plan. Figure out what you want in a garden. Do you want to start out small? How much space do you have for planting? Do you want to grow several herbs or have just a small tomato plant? Write out what everything. Keep in mind that some plants need more sun and water than others, and plan accordingly. And, say you're really excited about growing your own potatoes? Do a little research on how to best care for potatoes specifically.
2. Find your growing zone. Depending on where you live, you should germinate and plant your seeds at different times of the year. Just put in your zip code here, and you should find out the best dates for planting in your area!
3. Buys seeds. Look for a company that adheres to the Safe Seed pledge, a privately assembled stamp of approval that promises non-GMO seeds. "The Safe Seed Pledge was created in 1999 when High Mowing Organic Seeds guided a coalition of 9 other seed companies in drafting a statement about the signers' stance on genetic engineering. To date the Pledge has been signed by over 370 seed companies worldwide. In signing the Safe Seed Pledge we affirm our commitment to non-GMO (genetically modified organism) seed." (source)
And if you wanna get real fancy, keep an eye out for Heirloom varieties (seeds that have been passed down generations from a plant at least 50 years).
4. Plant and watch 'em grow! Be sure to keep the seeds constantly moist while they're germinating, but from there each individual seed packet will give you instructions on how to do the rest.
5. Don't get discouraged. Like anything worthwhile in life, gardening takes practice. Worms might eat some of your cabbage, and you might overwater and underwater your plants some days. But don't lose heart! Every year you'll learn something new, and ever new season you'll be a better gardener for it. It's all part of the process.

Here's also some great posts on the subject: How to start a gardenTips on starting a vegetable garden, and Gardening for beginners. And if you're planning on getting your hands dirty with gardening, it'd be a great companion project to start a compost and get some free fertilizer while you're at it!

So get started! Whether it's a huge vegetable garden, a few backyard perennials, or even just a windowsill herb planter. There's no start that's too small.

Here's to exercising our green thumbs!
Mel
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3.08.2018

Claim Your Natural Movement (GUEST POST)

(photo by Imani Clovis)

I often get so passionate about the nutrition side of wellness, that I forget the physical aspect of things. Good health isn't just about what you put in your body, but what you do with it as well! So my friend Joshua Colea, a certified Personal Trainer and Health Coach, is here today to give some tips on how to benefit from moving our bodies more! So without any further ado...

Claim Your Natural Movement
When you think about ancestral movement, does the image of a big box with fluorescent lights, cables, padded benches and running machines that take you nowhere come to mind? Likely not. Look, I’m not here to bash gyms. I think they’re a great place to develop and strengthen the body. That said, just like the way some of us strive to emulate our ancestral diet in a modern world, so too can we emulate movement. In both cases, it will only be a replication. We can’t go back to what it actually was and trying to do that is not helpful. Though what we can do is work to take components of our natural patterns and place them where they fit in the modern world. (No gym required)

So here are 5 tips to help you get back to natural movement.

1. Change your Mindset
A lot of us are mostly set in the way of thinking that the gym is the only place for exercise. Really, the gym is just one tiny twig on the huge tree of movement that is available to us in our world. You can really make anything a workout. Begin to look at the world around you as a playground. If you’re cooking and need to reach something in the bottom cabinet, do a full squat to reach it instead of just bending down to get it. Walking down the street, you see a bench. Jump up on top, walk across it and jump down. You can hang on the overhead bar on the bus or train. Stand up and stretch out every so often when you’re sitting for a long time. It might feel weird at first but hey, beats going to the gym right? Simply bringing movement to your awareness will open up a whole new world of insight towards exercising. These habits really add up to create an amazing impact on your body’s health and capabilities.

2. Walk more
So you may have heard stuff like “park further away from the store so you walk more.” Thing is, little habits like that can be huge! As humans, we are made to move. I think people would be surprised to know just how beneficial walking can be. Just light walking is extremely beneficial in building endurance, stamina even boosting metabolism. If you need any more motivation, remember the saying “if you don’t use it, you lose it?” Well you definitely want the ability to walk, right? Aside from parking as far as possible from the grocery store, here are a few ways to create habits that put more walking into your day. You could start a morning routine, going for a 10-20 minute walk before you start your day. That way you have a moment to get some movement in and clear your mind for the day ahead. You could also think about places you go that are near your home. If they are close enough, instead of driving you could walk there. Or maybe a friend lives nearby, take a walk over there!

3. Focus on perfecting movement patterns
As humans, there are a few different movement patterns that we are designed to do and most of us do every single day. These are: squatting, lunging, pushing, pulling, bending and lifting and rotating. Here’s a modern day example. Imagine someone leaving their house. They walk to their car, open the driver door and perform and lunge with a twist to get in the car. They drive to the grocery store, walk to the front and pull open the door. Then find the juice aisle and notice the gallon is on the bottom shelf, so they bend down and lift it into the cart.

Though these movements seem simple, it’s really important to do them well to both prevent injury and become as healthy and strong as possible. Here is a great place to get started thinking about those movements.

4. Think About Your Focus
After you get the basic human movement patterns dialed in, you can start to look at goals you have. Everyone has different goals when it comes to exercise. Some people want to be strong, others want to have endurance and some want to perform well in their sport. Each one of those goals are achieved through different modalities of training. If you’re going for general fitness, you might not need a lot of extra weights and equipment and if you want to gain strength, start to think about what equipment you might need for that. From a health and longevity standpoint, it’s a good idea to train a little bit of everything but there might be a focus area that you either like or are interested in the most.

5. Listen to Your Body
When you take a moment to breathe, check in with your body, and take a break from all the noise of the day, you may start to hear things your body is telling you. Check in, do you feel tired or sore? It might be a good idea to invest in a foam roller and spend some time with that or move around joints that feel still, like wrists and ankles. You might check in and feel a little stagnant. It might then be a good time to go for a run or work on perfecting those movement patterns. Feeling really good? Drop down for some push ups and squats. Make it your own time. Exercising should be enjoyable and fun. If you hate it, might be a good idea to change it. I think there’s so much pressure and guilt around exercising. Let’s change that and make it fun.

The body is made for constantly varied movement. It’s how we work. Take this next week to really become conscious of your movement patterns. Walk a little more, tune into what your body is trying to tell and and take a lot at which movement patterns needs attention. Move well and feel great!

You can check out more of Joshua's work, read his articles, and hire him for personal coaching on his website here, and be sure to follow him on instagram for motivating content!

That's all for this week!
Mel
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3.01.2018

7 Foods You Think Are Unhealthy, But Really Aren't

(photo by Antonio Barroro)

Last week, I talked about conventionally known "healthy" foods that turned out to be not-so-healthy. So today, I'm doing the reverse. So many foods have been demonized over time, especially during the low-fat craze of the twentieth century. But we're here to break down those dietary barriers and get back to breakfasts full of butter and bacon. So here we go.

1. Butter & Lard
Butter has a bad name. Lard no longer stocks the pantries of our kitchens. It's a sad byproduct of the saturated fat and cholesterol demonization of the past several decades. High intake of saturated fat and cholesterol only clogs your arteries and lead to heart disease, right? Ehh, not really.
I've talked about how saturated fat is indeed, not detrimental to your health or heart. The infamous 1950's "Seven Countries Study" is likely one of the reasons why the public became so fearful of it. But it actually wrongfully correlated saturated fat intake with heart disease (ignoring countries such as France that consumes large amounts of saturated fat, yet have very low coronary heart disease rates). (Read more about the saturated fat myth here)
And to this day, many of us still haven't let go of those fears, despite so much science to back up the benefits of traditional fats. Lard has been a part of the human diet as far back as we go, in eras and cultures where heart disease was nearly nonexistent. And when produced from pastured hogs and cows, lard and butter are particularly high in vitamin D and full of fat-soluble vitamins. So eat up! I think we all would be a little bit happier with a pat of butter on top our food.
And in the words of the wise Julia Child, "If you’re afraid of butter, use cream." 

2. Bacon
Bacon is often looked down upon for the same reason butter is. Saturated fat. Too much and it'll kill ya, they say. But...nope. Bacon can be perfectly good for you when taken from pastured pigs that haven't been fed grains or given hormones and antibiotics, that doesn't have a long list of additives or sugar in its ingredient list. From the Weston A. Price Foundation:
Pork fat also contains a novel form of phosphatidylcholine that possesses antioxidant activity superior to vitamin E ... Bacon fat from pastured pigs also comes replete with fat-soluble vitamin D, provided it’s bacon from foraging pigs that romp outdoors in the sun for most of the year. Factory-farmed pigs kept indoors and fed rations from soy, casein, corn meal and other grains, are likely to show low levels of vitamin D.
Am I saying a side of bacon is a good idea with every meal? My heart wants to say yes, but no, probably not. But there's no reason to avoid it either!  So let's embrace bacon and its salty, fatty goodness with open arms and get back to waking up on Sunday mornings with the savory scent of bacon sizzling in the kitchen.

3. Fried Food
Fried foods typically get a bad rap. French fries, fried chicken, potato chips, deep fried Oreos. All junk food, right? Only to be indulged in occasionally, and cause you to feel guilt-ridden when you do.
But here's the thing. Fried food is literally just a form of cooking. That's it. It's not inherently evil. What we should be talking about is specific food being fried, and the oil it's being fried in. That's what people often seem to gloss right over.
Now, unless advertised as otherwise, any fried foods you'll find in a restaurant are cooked in vegetable oils (here's a good article on why vegetable oils are anything but healthy). So it'd be smart to avoid any commercially food that's fried. But frying at home and choosing your own oils can be perfectly delicious and nutritious!
Opt for using an oil with a high smoke point, like avocado oil, clocking in at the particularly high smoke point of 520°F. Or use animal fats like lard or tallow, which are heat-stable and have stood the test of time.
Here's some delicious-looking clean fried food recipes if you care to take the plunge:


4. Chocolate
Am I saying you should be packing Reese's? Probably not. But chocolate consumption has always been good for the heart. It's high in antioxidants and spans a wide spectrum of health benefits.
The health benefits of cocoa include relief from high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, constipation, diabetes, bronchial asthma, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome and various neurodegenerative diseases

Aim for dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa, but the higher the better). While dark chocolate still contains added sugar, the occasional trade-off for the benefits from the cocoa is fine. Or try a brand that replaces sugar for a natural, low-glycemic sweetener. And look for a brand that promises organic and fair trade practices.

5. Red Meat 
AGAIN WITH THE SATURATED FAT. I didn't realize this list would mainly be comprised of breaking down that long perpetuated saturated fat myth, but here we are. Red meat is not only not going to kill you, but actually is beneficial. Quality red meat is a great source of minerals, such as zinc and magnesium, and a prominent source of vitamin B12. Enjoy a grass-fed steak and move along!

6. Dairy Products 
The rising popularity of veganism has brought many things, one of them being the vilification of all things dairy. Milk, cheese, and butter will be the death of us. But it isn't as simple as that.
Many nutrients just aren't available to us when all animal products are eliminated from the diet. And animals and animal products can be consumed morally and sustainably. Just ask Joel Salatin.
I've also talked about the immense nutritional benefits of raw milk before. So organic, full-fat dairy products should be enjoyed without a wink of guilt. And for those who don't tolerate dairy well, milk kefir or goat milk may be worth looking into.

7. Mayonnaise 
Eggs, vinegar, and oil. Honestly, what's so bad about that? But, for some reason, we've learned to spread it thiiiiiin on our sandwiches, because, well, we just can't have too much of that. But when made with the proper ingredients, mayo poses no harm. Again, it's the quality of the ingredients we should be paying closer attention to. This brand, made with avocado oil and simple, clean ingredients is delicious. Or maybe look into making your own! It's as simple as can be.

And...what about Miracle Whip? Never has a name been more ironic. That's all I'll say.

Miracle Whip ingredient list ^ (source)

And that's it! Many more things nearly made this list, but maybe they'll end up in future posts.
But there's one thing I'd like to mention about the things on this list above: quality really does matter. "Butter is good for you" isn't just a black and white statement. Not all butter is good for you. The milk that the butter was made from matters. What the cow ate matters. Where the cow lived matters. There's no part of the production that doesn't affect a different part. So keep that in mind! And long live bacon :)

Mel
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