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For years, people would routinely pose the same question me “so what are you?” Pretty sure that people are clear that I’m a brunette, a female, even that I’m a dietitian (though sometimes they confuse that with a nutritionist – sorry folks, I have a license and the educate years and internship to show for it). So since the question usually came amidst a conversation about food choices, I would presume they were asking about my eating habits. And for years, I wouldn’t really have an answer. I had been a vegan, a pesco-tarian, a person following a macrobiotic diet and later Westin Price’s protocol; I had dabbled with Atkins out of curiosity (and the promise of daily lattes with half and half), the Body Ecology diet (despite not having a yeast problem, call it ‘professional curiosity’) as well as other “plans”. But I stopped in my tracks when the question now came to me.  It was about me and my eating for sure, but also recognizing that it came with undertones of obviously if I was doing it then that must be the plan I endorsed for others. It got me thinking – what protocol or plan do I endorse?

 

Around the same time I had the good fortune to vacation, truly vacation, as in no cellular service once we hit the seventeen miles of dirt road that took me to the ranch, as in no cell service while I was casting, wading, or glaring at the bank in search of snakes, and as in not eating a single thing from a package.  During that trip, a ranch hand cooked dinner for me one night, a fly fishing guide brought me lunch daily, and a group of women invited me to their gathering where I sampled some of their amazing treats. Yet, I was in Montana – and in Montana they eat meat, and not just meat but game. I haven’t eaten meat in years  (like 15) after a rather memorable experience with some veins in a supposed chicken breast in my college campus café almost sent me right into the hands of my frozen yogurt-loving, bin-food candy eating friends. While that didn’t work out to well as fuel for college requiring energy, the no meat part lasted. But back to Montana, at first I declined to eat antelope, to taste have bison, or any other meat and said no to the dairy from the cow I could see eating the grass as I looked out the window. Then, someone said to me “so what’s your objection? Is it animal cruelty, taste, or what they might be fed, cause I can tell you I treat these animals like they are my kids – no hormones, plenty of grass…” and then he chuckled and looked at his grown son “and I do kill them when it’s time – I guess that’s where it’s a little different than my kids.”

 

“So what was my objection,” I pondered.

 

I object to animals fed food they wouldn’t eat in nature, to the medications used to treat them when develop illness related to eating the wrong foods; I object to artificial ingredients, chemical combinations made in a lab to look like things in nature but that don’t chemically resemble what’s in nature. I object to genetic modification of plants (and certainly of animals) so that we can speed growth up or get more of something when what nature provides should be plenty. And I object to making claims about components of foods when tone doesn’t have anything nice (or worthy) to say about the rest of the food or product. Thus, I realized, I had no objection, other than what my palate may or may not enjoy, to the meat being presented to me in Montana. And further, thus, “Qualitarianism” was born.

 

Being a qualitarian, is, I believe, the solution to our health issues today – all of them. We wouldn’t have the quantity and intensity of health issues (mental and physical) if we ate better quality foods exclusively.  And if we all ate better quality foods, they would cost less resulting from greater demand for food coupled with lesser need for advertising money to be spent to counter the poor quality food products. If we all ate better quality food, better quality food would be more available, too.

 

What does it mean to be a qualitarian? It means, first and foremost, that you choose to be the gatekeeper for what goes into your body. That you don’t feel deprived but rather empowered when you turn down a veggie burger with genetically engineered ingredients or hexane and enjoy one made from organic quinoa and mushrooms or a wild salmon burger or a grass-fed burger. It also means saying no to a ready-to-eat salad of chemically sprayed lettuces in favor of cooking your own organic broccoli (great to start with frozen too). And it means taking pride in being smarter than the front of a package or a commercial. Yes, you are smarter than both of those; yes, you are. You are smarter than the package that tells you what it wants you to know but doesn’t tell you the rest of the story. Or what about the commercial, do you think whoever made it feeds that food to their kids or eats it themselves?  So just as you wouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, get to know the whole story before you buy and certainly before you eat.

 

There are so many amazing resources out there today to help you on the journey to becoming a qualitarian. I have added one more – the Ashley Koff Approved lists – so that if you don’t know what questions to ask, don’t have the time, energy, or even don’t care to do the work, you can feel comfortable that I have asked the questions and have evaluated the products for you. Why should you trust me? Because I became and remain a registered dietitian to address my curiosity, which can be at times relentless, about what is actually good quality in our food system. That, and because I am not paid to evaluate any products – the Ashley Koff Approved stamp of nutrition for optimal health can’t be bought, it’s earned.

I hope you will join me in becoming a qualitarian and please email me (aka@ashleykoffapproved.com) questions and follow me on facebook at the Ashley Koff Approved fan page or on Twitter @ashleykoff for daily tips and discoveries on being a qualitarian.

 

Did I just hear right? Indeed I did. I caught a moment of the news and the anchor was covering a new study touting these results – and later, after a quick online search, I learned that this anchor wasn’t alone – many were covering the “4 cup a day, keep diabetes away” story.

Here’s what I’ve got to say, could 4 cups of Joe a day ever be healthy, or even help prevent diabetes?:

1) If one exchanged plain coffee for caffeinated sodas – this would be a nutritional upgrade that could help prevent diabetes.
2) If, however, one decided to have cream and sugar or even fat-free milk and artificial sugar or a no-sugar added powder or a non-dairy creamer with partially hydrogenated oil in their coffee…then they would lose in terms of diabetes risk
3) If one was drinking 8 cups of coffee a day or 6 cups and 2 Red Bulls, and traded down to 4 cups a day, then I could see how this nutrition upgrade could help prevent diabetes.
4) If one was drinking 16-24 ounces daily of juice, “vitamin” waters, and sugar-based teas, and exchanged these for 4 cups of coffee one could see reduction in their risk of diabetes as well as likely their waist circumference and body fat.
5) If one was eating “energy” bars with greater than 10 grams of sugar, less than 5 grams of protein, and which contained artificial ingredients daily or several times daily, and exchanged it for a cup of coffee and an apple with some peanut butter, then perhaps the coffee could help to reduce diabetes risk.
6) If, however, one consumed 4 cups of coffee in lieu of eating nutrient balanced eating occasions during the day and then “backloaded” with calories at night, then one surely did not help prevent the onset of diabetes and moreover, the stress and irritation to the system would more likely increase risk for other chronic diseases or symptoms in the future
7) If one added spices to coffee like cinnamon, clove, and cardamom then one would likely feel the benefit of digestive aids as well as hormonal ones that could help protect the body against diabetes and other diseases.
8) If one has a high risk of diabetes due to obesity, family history, or other medical factors and decides to ONLY increase consumption of coffee to prevent diabetes then one likely misses out on whole host of other well-documented nutrition and lifestyle behaviors that can help prevent diabetes while also improving overall long term health.
9) If one consumed only organic coffee – so that no additional chemicals enter our system – then one will help reduce the toxic burden in the body which could be linked to a lower risk of obesity and disease, including diabetes.
10) If when consuming coffee, one doesn’t get any jitters and it allows one to function daily as well as get in routine exercise and go to sleep at a reasonable hour (before midnight) with 6-8 hours of sleep then the coffee consumption might not be an issue.
11) If, however, one has one 24-hour day where coffee wasn’t available and one can’t function; one scours the cupboards for sugar to get a “lift” or to identify replacement sources of caffeine. Then one’s body is telling them that it is likely addicted to caffeine and should consider reducing or eliminating intake.

Net, net, only you can answer the “if’s” for yourself. But I will provide one final If / Then scenario that applies to us all: IF you believe the topline of a study presented on the news and change your diet to meet the reported results without finding out more about what the study results were based on, as well as whether it fits your particular health profile, Then you have no one but yourself to blame if the outcome isn’t as the tv reporter presented.

Recently, on a trip touring the food and beverages of Aspen, Co, I had an ironic moment when an old Burger King ad jingle popped into my head at one of Aspen’s, and the world’s, most renowned restaurants, Mastuhisa. What in the world could an exquisite restaurant sourcing high quality and unique ingredients for both its menu and bar have in common with a global fast food chain?

In the 1970’s, Burger King ran advertisements touting its’ ability for customers to get their burger exactly the way they desired. The popular jingle, “Have it Your Way,” became a defining competitive stance.  So there I was sitting in Aspen amongst a group of journalists for a special lunch and this is what I hear “I’m lactose intolerant and I don’t eat meat, but I do like fish and eggs,” “I’m a vegan and I also don’t do well with fats,” “I am an omnivore – I like everything – bring it on” and, of course, then there was me, “I am a Qualitarian – can you tell me where the fish comes from…and the soybeans…and is that real wasabi root – how divine!”  To be fair, our food preferences and even interests weren’t news to the chef, they had already been conveyed to the chefs and the servers at every restaurant we attended and so as we sat similar menus were placed in front of us, customized to our preferences.

That said, Matsuhisa is no Burger King, nor is the Montagna, Rustique, Caribou Club, Cloud Nine, Zocalito, Ajax, nor even 39 Degrees at The Sky, the après ski spot –so what proved amazing was that in every instance, we each enjoyed “Have it Your Way,” menu items that were still completely five-star.  Vegan and vegetarian options were creative both from an ingredient, flavor and visual appeal standpoint. Vegan sushi looked like a work of art at Matsuhisa, risotto made without any fat tasted divine and the colors (beet purple and carrot orange) lit up the table at Rustique, there were no grasshoppers for several but instead bean dishes and guacamole, and chiles at Zocalito delighted, and up on the mountain, chef Ryan Hardy from Montagna made the non-cheese eating menu of pickled and fresh vegetables with mustards, toasted baguette and sautéed truffles taste and look as visually appealing as the fondue-experience.

Customization in fine dining has its’ fans and its’ nay-sayers. For example, I’ve seen menus that state “we politely decline any alterations to the menu” and have witnessed the more overt shunning of a customer by a chef when said customer requested parmesan on their pasta “it is not done that way – ever.”  But in an exclusive resort town, where the defining concept is to cater to the guest’s every whim, it was music to my ears to hear chefs and managers express their pleasure in carrying that over to food requests. Several of the chefs said they felt inspired or challenged (in a good way). The restaurant managers agreed. That said, as Todd Clark, general manager of Matsuhisa Aspen – who developed a gluten-free menu for food and beverages – remarked, “there are challenges – it’s almost always doable if we have advance notice, but we can run into an issue if we have someone who eats here at a less busy time of the year and we customize something for them that takes my chef a long time and then they come back in the height of the season bringing friends and wanting the same thing, it can be tricky if we can’t accommodate that at that moment.”

So next time you are planning a ski trip and you know that your crew may have differing opinions on just about everything, feel confident, that when in Aspen, all their mouths can be fed “their way.”



Whether you overdid it or not, the New Year seems to spark the desire in everyone to clean up their act. But what of the cleanses we read about – are they healthy, do they work, what if I don’t have the $500 a week or more to go to one or have one delivered to my home? I hear you, so last year I developed the AKA New Year Cleanse and this year I’ve updated it. Keep in mind, I am still a fan of places like We Care or deliveries like IzoCleanse, Paleta cleanse, SoCal Cleanse, Blue Print and many others . The AKA Cleanse is a way to DIY and just because it says New Year doesn’t mean you can’t start this week or pick this up again in April – it’s a rebalancing tool. For those of you who are more visual and /or want to see specific product recommendations, watch my video on the components of the AKA Cleanse at http://fitperez.com/2010-12-26-the-411-on-cleanses/?from=PH . For product recommendations see the AKA lists at http://www.ashleykoff.com/approved/index.html


Before you begin your cleanse a few things to keep in mind:
1) This isn’t about weight loss (yes you will likely lose weight and inches) but rather setting your body up for a healthier year (and if your goal is weight loss that falls under the ‘healthier’ umbrella);
2) you HAVE to move your bowels daily – regularity is just that, meaning that you need to make sure you are not just stirring toxins up out of their resting spots but that you are actually eliminating them too – and that doesn’t mean rely on laxatives or even colonics …it means including fiber, the right kinds, and magnesium to aid motility;
3) Enter and Exit GRACEFULLY: I have blogged about this before but it deserves additional attention. The body needs to feel supported and nourished both as you enter into a cleanse and leave one – so the idea of cleansing from Christmas until New Year’s Eve then blowing it out with alcohol and food on New Year’s…very very bad idea…same goes with pre-wedding, pre-event cleanses. Give yourself at least a week between the conclusion of your cleanse and any planned event;
4) Sweating it Out: Yes you should! Whether it’s an infrared sauna, jogging with a hoodie, boxing, yoga etc you can incorporate it all into your cleanse but pay attention to your body. Make sure to hydrate and consume sufficient fuel prior to working out, during, and after. While cleansing can trigger headaches (especially if coming off caffeine), headaches are a usual sign of hydration and / or slowed motility (i.e. constipation) so follow the tips to address both and plan ahead. In terms of how much activity, that’s going to depend on your body and your normal routine as well as things like your menstrual cycle and how different the cleanse is from your norm;
5) The NO’s: It isn’t my goal to tell you what you can’t have but rather what you should have during the cleanse. The idea is that these foods and supplements will encourage detoxification and encourage renewal optimally. So you don’t see comments about caffeine, energy drinks, alcohol and sugar. My best advice is to use this as a time to “Come off” anything on which you depend or that makes you feel imbalanced.
THE AKA NEW YEAR HEALTHIER YOU CLEANSE


1. ORGANIC: this tops the list because you can’t be effective or efficient at removing toxins from the body when you are putting them right back in. Simply put, certified organic food, teas, supplements are your best bet for the least amount of residues and no additional toxins.
2. Greens / Greens Powders: whether you have them juiced, raw, sautéed, steamed make sure that greens top your list during a cleanse. Daily and several times daily, greens will help to remove toxins, provide energy, and alkalinize your lower digestive system – all ideal for optimal cleansing and health.
3. Lemons: these deserve their own bullet point because they play such a key role in cleansing. Whether it’s the juice, the skin, or both lemons will help alkalinize, transition flavor away from sweet cravings, and purify the system.
4. Hydration: true hydration is more than water. That said, you need adequate water [equation: half your body weight in pounds gives you the minimum ounces of water (160 pound person would be 80 ounces or 10 8 ounce glasses of water)] remember that water used for your protein drink or a soup or a tea counts and water-based veggies are an added bonus. But back to true hydration, you need potassium too to get the water into the cells – so choose plain coconut water as an ideal source.
5. Fiber: The right fibers like chia and flaxseeds, psyllium, rice and oat bran among others will help to pick up the toxins from your digestive tract and remove them from the body.
6. Sweet sans sugar: ideally you don’t want to have any sweets during a cleanse. This is a great way to rebalance your palate which often sways so far in the direction of sweet. That said, we don’t want to miss out on valuable antioxidants and fiber so I recommend using organic fruits (see tip #1) especially those like organic blackberries and plain acai which have little to no sugar in them.
7. Vegetarian proteins: Cleanses DO require protein. While some popular cleanses promise better results without protein they miss the boat nutritionally. Proteins are used in our hormones, for our lean body mass, and to stabilize blood sugar – a cleanse that eliminates protein threatens an imbalance of these during the cleanse and potentially thereafter. But what type of protein and how much? I recommend organic vegan sources for all (unless allergies, intolerances or other personal nutritional issues warrant otherwise). Hemp and quinoa top my list as well as other protein sources like seeds, grains, and isolated rice or pea proteins.
8. Spices: are you aware of that spices are one of your best detoxifying and supporting components of a diet. Spices help fight off bad bacteria and their other benefits range from stimulating metabolism, helping you sweat out toxins, calming the digestive tract, and oh yeah, adding flavor naturally.
9. Regularity Aids: As mentioned above, it’s imperative that you “go” regularly. Many cleanses use tools that the body can become dependent on and thus don’t encourage the body to regulate itself. Hydration, fiber and motility are the keys to regularity and thus far I’ve addressed the first two. In terms of motility, we need the mineral magnesium. Magnesium relaxes the body and helps to encourage normal and optimal motility. We get magnesium from whole grains and many vegetables but you may also benefit from a supplement during the cleanse. The body may need a gentle boost (Here I recommend Smooth Move tea but not for more than 3-4 days in a row) if these other remedies don’t work.
10. Immunity: keep in mind that if you are sick or if you are immune-compromised a cleanse is not for you. Why? The body needs to harness all its energy to heal itself and that is not what a cleanse does. A cleanse stirs up toxins that are tucked in fat cells and other parts of the body to eliminate them. That’s a lot of work for the body and it can leave a healthy person feeling fatigued and even slightly flu-ish. To support your immune system during a cleanse I recommend all of the above as well as a good quality probiotic and to consume mushrooms like maitake, shitake and others or to take a good quality supplement.

Putting the AKA Cleanse into Action:


1. Sleep: Aim to get as much sleep as possible – that includes naps but ideally means going to be a little bit earlier than you normally do.
2. Eat regularly: Consume eating (or if doing liquids: drinking) occasions about every 3 hours. The goal of a cleanse is not to starve. It is okay to feel hungry but starving means the body will go into a shocked / storage / hibernation mode which defeats the cleanse.
3. Consume nutrient balanced eating occasions: – see the AKA menu worksheet for more on this http://www.ashleykoff.com/services/resources.html – but the idea is to have a carb + protein + healthy fat and unlimited vegetables at each eating occasion; here are some samples:
a. The ProHydrator: Coconut water + greens powder + hemp protein + healthy fat (flax, chia oils)
b. Quintessential BreakFAST bowl: quinoa + greens + seeds + few berries or lemon juice and avocado
c. Organic applesauce with cinnamon + hemp seeds and oat bran
4. Regularity aids: everyone is different but I often find it best to take the magnesium supplement at night, to consume fiber during the day, and to hydrate with teas like detox and ginger during the day as well as the coconut water.
5. Immune support: take a probiotic on waking or consume coconut water kefir or cultured vegetables during the day and add mushrooms to your meals as well as taking a supplement either morning or night.
6. Liquid versus solid: there are different schools of thoughts on this but my advice is to do what’s best for you. The benefits of a few days of liquids include digestive system getting some time off, as well as mentally separating from a reliance on food (what am I going to have, where am I going to go get it) as well as not going out to dinners which can mean you are home earlier and to bed earlier.
7. Medications and supplements: Before beginning any cleanse, if you are taking medications or supplements prescribed by a healthcare practitioner check-in with them so they can advise you how to adjust.

Send me your questions or tweet them @ashleykoff

More AKA posts on cleanses:

http://ashleykoff.wordpress.com/2010/01/03/aka-new-year-cleanse/

http://ashleykoff.wordpress.com/2009/04/21/to-cleanse/

Stephen Colbert hightlights Raw Dairy Raid in Venice, CA and it begs the question: Why are some people: celebs, athletes, and not-so-local folks enduring LA traffic and paying to join a private club (Rawesome) so they can consume these products?

Before The Raid
Rawesome was just a local private food club selling some of the best produce, oils, prepared food, nuts, supplements, smoothies, raw meats, wild fish, and yes, raw dairy, that happened to be up the street from me. When I met volunteer Lela Buttery who introduced me to James Stewart, a co-founder of Rawesome Foods in Venice, it was for an interview about what food is and isn’t today, how a grocery store could be run, and how one man’s journey to heal himself led to a business of helping others. So excited about what I saw and tasted, I became a member and began to write a story about James’ personal journey — how switching to whole organic, and yes raw dairy, foods helped him both physically and emotionally. My story would focus on words and phrases like “honesty” and “consumer trust” and “ethics in food production” and the interdependency of “food costs and health costs” of which James spoke so eloquently and passionately. My story wouldn’t be the story of raw dairy, it would be about quality food and the return of the truly local grocery store.

And Then Came The Raid
I heard about it from Lela. How was it? Were you scared? I asked curiously, sharing with her that my only close encounters with military force had been seeing the armed guards at the Dublin, Ireland airport and on Madison Avenue on September 12, 2000, when tanks came through the streets. I could understand their military presence based on the events at the time, but federal guns wielded in a private buying club? Why was our government crying over raw milk? Had it spilled? Had it killed? Had someone just got the address wrong and thought this was a drug bust? None of the above, I soon learned. I will leave the coverage of the raid to Colbert, as they did a most excellent job. However, despite them highlighting the issues in their piece, I left the segment wondering, had consumers’ thirsts been quenched, or was there more to the raw dairy story?

After The Raid
I sat down with Lela Buttery, a biologist, to talk about raw dairy and here’s what I learned:

Me: What does “raw” mean for milk, cheese, meats, produce?
Lela Buttery: When most people think about “raw” they associate it with vegan/vegetarian, but it actually isn’t about animal or not, raw means raw proteins. Raw proteins are virgin proteins. Straight from the animal, untouched — meaning not heated, added to or subtracted from. Raw milk is hand milked from the animal by a reputable farmer with whom you should be familiar and trust their practices. What comes out of the animal is what you consume. Dairy products are made from that raw milk such as: cheese, ice cream, yogurt and butter. Grass-fed, free-range meats (chicken, lamb, beef, pork and bison) are those that are freshly slaughtered and never finished on corn. This is what we mean when we say raw.

Me: How does it taste?
LB: Amazing! Most people think that raw milk is going to be thick or viscous, but the thick viscosity that one finds in conventional whole milk is due to homogenization. Raw milk tastes like milk, but with a fresher more enhanced flavor. Most people comment on how thin the consistency is to what they imagined it to be. The taste is the difference between instant mash potatoes and homemade.

Me: What should I look for when choosing raw on a label? Can I trust that if my grocery store claims a cheese to be raw that it really is?
LB: Due to the lack of an actual definition of the term “raw” it is open to interpretation. So don’t believe everything you see when reading “raw” on a label — investigate! Be your own scientist and test the product. Ask what temperature the product has been heated to. If it was over 150 degrees it’s probably not raw. Be aware! If the food doesn’t occur in nature the way it is packaged, then it was refined in some way.

Me: What if I want to try raw, what should I consider to try first?
LB:
Find a reputable farmer that has a small farm. A farmer should want to show off his or her good clean practices. I always tell people to get to know your farmer, visit their farm or know someone that has visited. If a farmer won’t let you visit then do not buy their product. In terms of what food to start with, it is pretty easy to get raw cheese, so I would say start there.

Me: Is raw dairy really safe for me, for my family?
LB:
You must know your source. Visit the farmer, watch their practices and sample the products that the farmer is offering. Then make a decision that is best for you and your family. It’s best when the meats are all slaughtered on a weekly basis, eggs the day after they have been laid, and milk hand milked the same week. All cold products are stored in a 30 degrees walk-in cooler. Conventionally products can be weeks old laced with preservative and washed with acids. Some poultry can be frozen up to two years by USDA standards.

Me: Are there any proven nutritional benefits of raw vs. pasteurized dairy?
LB:
There are very few studies done on the benefits of raw dairy, but I believe that it is due to lack of funding. However, I believe that raw milk is essentially a super food — it’s nutrient dense, enzyme and mineral rich, so it’s very natural. There are many countries that do not pasteurize and really it is only due to the mass production of dairy the U.S. began to pasteurize. We wouldn’t boil our breast milk, why? Because it may not be as nutrient-rich for the child. Exactly the reasons for not killing raw milk. Pasteurized milk is completely dead and has no enzymes. It is fortified with vitamins, but your body will have a hard time utilizing those vitamins in a media that is not bio-available. There are many consumers of raw dairy that claim it has aided in digestive ailments, like asthma and psoriasis, and does not seem to hurt those with lactose and casein sensitivities.

So whether or not you choose to consume raw dairy, this should help clear up some of the misconceptions.

Follow Ashley Koff on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ashleykoff

Winter is here. We see it in our skin, hair and nails – the dryness, and the resulting little cracks that will prove to be excellent entrance ways for bad bugs that can lead to winter colds.

How do we spell protection against winter dryness and colds? HYDRATION

Sometimes hydration is only thought of as a summer issue – we are hot, we sweat, and so we remember to drink lots of water and eat water-based foods. We wear hats to shield our hair and skin from the sun and we lather on the moisturizer.

Habits change in the winter. We change from water-based vegetables to winter’s more starchy and less water-based vegetables; we trade raw salads for warm soups; and our iced teas often become hot tea with milk, hot cocoa, and hot cider which translates to: less water, more sodium = DEHYDRATION. Furthermore, we often forget our skin under all those clothes and while sun exposure may not be our issue (though winter sun should not be ignored), heaters/heating have a powerful, drying effect on our skin.

What to do? Follow these tips to improve winter health by way of HYDRATION:

1) Potassium intake: make sure to include potassium-rich foods and beverages which help bring water into our cells for hydration: coconut water (see this video to learn more about coconut water’s hydration benefits: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWOV_WRvVdc), bananas, potatoes, avocado, and even try supplement Ultima Replenisher for travel or in your workout bottle.

2)Sodium intake: be careful with excess sodium which keeps water outside our cells (dehydrating). Make your own soups or look for low-sodium options; use spices versus salt; and when using salt aim for a sea salt that contains an array of minerals; avoid canned and packaged foods where salt is used as a preservative, and choose fresh and frozen options (sodium can still be an issue in these packaged foods so read labels). In general, sodium should be less than 250mg PER serving but in some foods like soups it’s likely to be higher versus others like frozen vegetables where there should be zero. Check the Ashley Koff Approved lists on my site for good choices and always compare products in a category (i.e. cereal, soups etc.). http://www.ashleykoffapproved.com/approved/index.html.

3) Water – yes, you need it…8 glasses or take your weight in pounds and divide it in half and that will give you your daily ounces requirement (if you wight 150 pounds then that’s 75 ounces and there’s 8 ounces in a cup so you need between 9 and 10 cups daily).

4) Oil Up – when you get out of the shower or after you wash your face add some oils like coconut oil or argan oil to your skin to lock in moisture. Also, you can spray a hydrosol on your face in the day and reapply a dot of oil to the nose and lip areas which tend to get dry the quickest. Choose alcohol-free skincare products to avoid extra dryness.

5) Shroom ‘n Good Bugs: Yup, adding mushrooms like maitake and shitake to the diet or taking a daily supplement like LifeShield from New Chapter are great ways to boost your immune system. Also, consume probiotic-rich foods like coconut water kefir and cultured veggies as well as taking a supplement (I recommend and work with Align).

December, the 12th month of the year…the time when holidays can create a holidaze leaving even the most health committed person saying, “I’ll get back on track in the New Year.” Well, we all know what putting off for tomorrow what we should do today can do for our health, our energy, our skin and our waistlines. So, this year, to help me best help you, I reached out to some of my favorite experts for their advice on how to stay on track through the holidays. These twelve tips are my gift to you – and so I begin with my own favorite tip…

1.            TREAT yourself right during the holidays…the holidays ARE a special time. Wanting to maintain your health regime is no reason to give up on treating yourself a little extra special during this time. But since when does TREAT= EAT…What puts the ‘TR’ in “TREAT” are things like: TRim your hair, TRy a new type of massage (I love Thai massage), TRek with a friend – blow off some work and go for a hike even through the snow, fly through the air on a TRapeze, and TRade your errands (with a spouse, a friend, a child). Enjoy your TReats this holiday season!

2.            From Leslie Goldman, women’s health writer, author of Locker Room Diaries, body image blogger for iVillage, www.lesliegoldmanwrites.com

Yoga can keep you emotionally and physically grounded during holiday food chaos. Feeling overstuffed? Try Warrior Pose. Plank pose keeps you balanced. And any kind of workout will rev up mood-boosting endorphins.

3.            From Veronica Bosgraaf, Pure Bar Founder, www.thepurebar.com

Enjoy Holiday Fruits:

I know you are surrounded by cookies, candies and cakes, but also surround yourself with the sweet and succulent fruits of the season.  I love pomegranate, dried cranberries, sweet pears, oranges with cloves, and baked apples with cinnamon!

Recycle Your Wrap:

Wrapping paper may look pretty but it is a huge source of waste around the holidays.  Instead of buying wrapping paper, I always save colorful tissue paper that is used to wrap clothing in and use it to wrap my gifts.  I also use old patterned bed sheets or tablecloths that you can buy at a thrift shop and cut to size.  Tie with a string and reuse over and over.  Another idea is to use your children’s artwork to wrap presents.  Grandparents especially love this one!

4.            From: Maria Emmer-Aanes, Nature’s Path, Director of Marketing and Communications, www.naturespath.com

The holidays are full of treats, but for us at Nature’s Path, treats mean delicious, organic granola bars in unique and tempting flavors that, at 150 calories or less, won’t pack on the holiday pounds.  Our 100% USDA certified organic bars contain no artificial preservatives, additives, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or synthetic pesticides, and they come in flavors that will make passing up unhealthy holiday goodies easy, including: Pumpkin-n-Spice, Mmmaple Pecan, Berry Strawberry, Lotta Apricotta, Sunny Hemp, Peanut Buddy, Peanut Choco and Chococonut.  They make great stocking stuffers too!

5.            From: Michael J. Balick, PhD, Vice President for Botanical Science, Director and Philecology Curator Institute of Economic Botany, The New York Botanical Garden, www.nybg.org

As the weather gets cold up here in the North, I usually start adding lavender oil to the washing machine. Long ago I gave up fragranced and heavily synthetic washing soaps, and just add a half dozen to a dozen drops of lavender oil to the rinse cycle of the wash. Not only does it leave a hint of summer in the air, but moths seem to hate this essential oil as well. You can add lavender oil to a small jar containing dried flowers and leave it (open) in your closet, where it will help perfume your belongings as well as possibly helping keep moths away (depending how much oil you put in the jar) . Lavender has been used for centuries as a cleansing agent, for example, in bathwater and for washing floors. If you have a tub at home, put a few drops of lavender oil in a hot bath in the evening–very relaxing!

6.            From Kathy Kaehler, Trainer, Spokesperson, Author, www.kathykaehler.net

It is very easy to pack on extra pounds over the holidays.  It seems that preparing for all of the festivities invades our gym time.  To keep your weight

at bay and your energy balanced make your exercise routine a priority.  Keep it in your calendar just like an appointment.  Get it done in the morning

because you will find too many excuses not to exercise later on during the day.  Even if you can’t make it to the gym find things that you can do around your home

that will charge up the calories.  Walk up and down your stairs, power walk around your neighborhood or dust off that old piece of equipment and get moving.

Your body will thank you and you hopefully won’t be making that redundant New Year’s resolution again.

7.             From Heide Banks, a nationally recognized relationship expert and frequent contributor to 20/20, The Early Show, Good, Morning America Health, a featured contributor to The Huffington Post. HeideBanks@aol.com

Holidays are a great time to meet new people.  Go out with an open heart and  leave home that sweet but awful sweater you got as a Christmas present.

Alone for the holidays?  Tell friends as soon as possible so they can include you.  And, there are plenty of opportunities to help out your community and serve those around you this time of year.  It’s reach out time.

Wanna take a trip but you’re without a significant other?  Check out the many singles trips that abound this time of year.  Gyms are a great resource for this.

You and your mate always seem to fight more this time of year?  Join the can we just make it to January 2nd club!  Identify your source of irritation from holidays past.  Family?  Bad gift giving?  Overeating?  And talk about it.
You can’t change your relatives but you can change the way you relate to them.  Hint.  Laugh.

Thinking of breaking off a relationship?  While holiday time can be lonely there’s nothing worse than kissing someone at New Years that you have lost affection for.  Give yourself the gift of a fresh start for the new year.

And speaking of New Years, forget the vows.  You’ll feel a lot better if you practice some self-forgiveness for anything and everything that didn’t quite turn out the way you wished in the past year.  The one vow I always make us to be a little bit kinder, gentler and more understanding of myself and those I love in the year to come.

8.            From Myra Goodman, Founder and Owner, Earthbound Farm, author Food to Live By: The Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook, www.ebfarm.com

While I don’t count calories, I like to know the calorie count of some holiday foods ahead of time so I can portion accordingly. One slice of pecan pie is over 500 calories, and I find I am just as satisfied with half a slice eaten at half the pace, savoring every bite. A whole slice after dinner would most likely leave me feeling too full and a little worried about holiday weight gain – making it less of a pleasure.

9.            From Jovial King, founder and formulator, Urban Moonshine Organic Bitters + Tonics, www.urbanmoonshine.com

This holiday season make sure to have a bottle of herbal bitters within reach at your favorite holiday gatherings!  Bitters stimulate digestion and help to soothe any feelings of overindulgence, including gas, bloating and acid reflux.  But the best part might just be bitters’ ability to stave off that sugar craving.  After a big meal reach for your bottle of (urban moonshine :)) bitters instead of dessert.  It will keep your body feeling great and that waistline in check.

10.            From Erin Schrode, a young ecoRenaissance woman, the “face of the new green generation,” the spokeswoman and co-founder of the United States-based Turning Green campaign, promotes global sustainability, youth leadership, environmental education, and conscious lifestyle choices, www.erinschrode.com

What’s the best way to “eco-ize” any gift this holiday season? Go one step beyond recycled wrapping paper and package up presents in something reusable or repurposed! It makes any gift far more personal and fun. Old maps, newspaper, shopping bags, even plain paper bags (the little ones can go to town decorating with markers!) are perfect for the job. The receptacle itself can be part of the present too… think scarves, towels, totes, and baskets.

11.            From Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches, www.cynthiasass.com

This season simplify your menus. Enjoy season foods as close to their natural state as possible with just a few natural ingredients to enhance the flavor and nutritional value of your meals. For example, core an organic apple or pear, drizzle with a mixture of water, organic pure maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and bake in the oven. Brush sliced root vegetables (carrots, turnips, and beets) with a garlic infused extra virgin olive oil, roast and garnish with sea salt. Melt organic dark chocolate, fold in fresh grated ginger and drizzle over slices of fresh pineapple. Simplifying your menus can free you up to spend more time with friends and family but you won’t sacrifice one iota of flavor.

12.            From Elisha Reverby, Elique Organics, organic skin care and beauty expert, writer, consultant, salon owner, creator of food based skin nutrition. www.getwaxed.com, www.eliqueorganicskinfood.com

This holiday season share, listen, feel and laugh… do everything you do with passion and zest and let your worries fall to the wayside, trusting and relishing in the love and blessings that surround you. Your skin will naturally glow and you will be the most radiant person in the room. Guaranteed! Merry merry…

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