Integrative Nutrition

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5 Health Conditions That Affect Women More Than Men

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The Gut-Brain Connection: How To Feed Your Brain

If there was ever a call for digestive health, this is it! Yes, it's true. Your gut is considered your second brain. There is no denying it anymore.Wit h the new scientific discoveries about the vagus nerve, the enteric nervous system, and the amazing influence your gut microbes can have, it's no wonder that what you eat feeds not only your body but can directly affect your brain.  

What exactly is the "gut-brain connection"?

  Well, it’s very complex, and we’re still learning lots about it. There seem to be multiple things working together.
  • The vagus nerve that links the stomach directly to the brain
  • The enteric nervous system (the second brain) that helps the complex intricacies of digestion flow with little to no involvement from the actual brain
  • massive amount of neurotransmitters produced by the gut
  • huge part of the immune system that is in the gut, but can travel throughout the body
  • interactions and messages sent by the gut microbes
I’ll briefly touch on these areas, and end off with a delicious recipe.  

Vagus nerve

This nerve runs directly from the gut to the brain and 90% of the transmission is from your gut up to your brain.    

The enteric nervous system and neurotransmitters

  Would you believe me if I told you that the gut has more nerves than your spinal cord? That's why it's referred to as the second brain. If you think about it, controlling the complex process of digestion (i.e. digestive enzymes, absorption of nutrients, the flow of food, etc.) should probably be done pretty "smartly"...don't you think? These nerves speak to each other, and to other cells by chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. In fact, many of the neurotransmitters that have a strong effect on our mood are made in our stomach:a whopping 95% of serotonin is made in your stomach.  

The immune system of the gut

  Eating and drinking is a huge portal where disease-causing critters can get into your body. It makes sense that much of our defense system would be located there too. In fact, 75% of our immune system is in our stomachs. Did you know that the immune cells can move throughout the entire body and cause inflammation just about anywhere? If they’re activated by something in the stomach, they can potentially wreak havoc anywhere in the body; including the potential to cause inflammation in the brain.  

Gut microbesGut microbiome

  Your friendly neighborhood gut residents. You have billions of those little guys happily living in your belly and they do amazing things like help you digest certain foods, make certain vitamins, and even help regulate inflammation. More and more evidence is showing that changes in your microbiota can impact your mood, and even other, more serious, mental health issues.  

How do these all work together for brain health?

  The honest answer to how these things all work together is that we really don't know just yet. More and more studies are being done to learn more. One thing is becoming clear, a healthy gut goes hand-in-hand with a healthy brain. So, how do you feed your brain? Of course, a variety of minimally-processed, nutrient-dense foods is required, because no nutrients work alone. Two things that you many consider eating more of are fiber and omega-3 fats. Fiber (in fruits, veggies, nuts & seeds) help to feed the beneficial microbes and omega-3 fats (in fatty fish, walnuts, algae, and seeds like flax, chia, and hemp) are well-know inflammation-lowering brain boosters.  

Recipe (Gut food fibre, Brain food omega-3): Blueberry Hemp Overnight Oats

Overnight Oats

Serves 2
  • 1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1 cup oats (gluten-free)
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 2 tablespoons hemp seeds
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts
  1. Blend blueberries in the food processor until smooth.
  2. Mix blueberries, oats, almond milk, chia seeds, hemp seeds in a bowl with a lid. Let set in fridge overnight.
  3. Split into two bowls and top with cinnamon, banana, and walnuts.
  Serve & enjoy! Tip: Your microbes love to eat the fiber in the blueberries, oats, seeds, and nuts. Meanwhile, your brain loves the omega-3 fats in the seeds and nuts.  



Five Weight Loss Friendly Snacks You Will Love

The words weight loss and snacks often appear in the same sentence. That might also bring thoughts of tasteless, cardboard, and completely unsatisfying. Let me give you my best weight-loss friendly snacks that aren't just nutritious but also delicious! What’s my criteria you ask? They have to be nutrient-dense whole foods where a little goes a long way: foods that contain protein and/or fiber.  

1 - Nuts

It’s true - nuts contain calories and fat, but they are NOT fattening! Well, I’m not talking about the honey roasted ones, of course.  Those probably are fattening. Studies show that people who eat nuts tend to be healthier and leaner. By the way, nuts also contain protein and fiber, which means a small amount can go pretty far in terms of filling you up. Not to mention the vitamins and minerals you can get from nuts! Did you know that almonds have been shown to help with weight loss? At least 10% of the fat in them is not absorbed by the body, and almonds can also help to boost your metabolism! Tip: Put a handful of unsalted/unsweetened RAW nuts into a small container and throw it in your purse or bag.  

2 - Fresh Fruit

As with nuts, studies show that people who tend to eat more fruit, tend to be healthier. (I’m sure you’re not too surprised!) Yes, fresh fruit contains sugar, but whole fruits (I'm not talking juice or sweetened dried fruit) also contain a fair bit of water and fiber; not to mention their nutritional value with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. And fresh fruit is low in calories. Fiber is something that not only helps to fill you up (known as the satiety factor) but also helps to slow the release of the fruit sugar into your bloodstream and reduce the notorious blood sugar spike. Win-win! Try a variety of fruit (apples, pears, berries, etc.) and pair that with a handful of nuts. Tip: Can't do fresh? Try Dried or frozen. Plus, they're already chopped for you.    

3 - Chia seeds

This is one of my personal favourites… Chia is not only high in fibre (I mean HIGH in fibre), but it also contains protein and omega-3 fatty acids (yes THOSE omega-3s!). As well as antioxidants, calcium, and magnesium. Can you see how awesome these tiny guys are? They also absorb a lot of liquid, so by soaking them for a few minutes, they make a thick pudding (that is delicious and fills you up). Tip: Put two tablespoons in a bowl with ½ cup of nut milk and wait a few minutes. Add in some berries, chopped fruit or nuts, and/or cinnamon and enjoy! Also you can check out this recipe for breakfast**insert chia, chocolate porridge recipe***  

4 - Boiled or poached eggs

EggsEggs are packed with nutrition and most of it is in the yolk. Egg yolk is high in lutein and vitamin A, both are important for eye function. They contain a lot of high-quality proteins and a good amount of vitamins and minerals. And recent research shows that the cholesterol in the yolks is NOT associated with high elevated cholesterol or heart disease risk. Yup, you read that right! Tip: Boil a bunch of eggs and keep them in your fridge for a super-quick (and nutritious) snack!  

5 - Vegetables

I don’t need to tell you how great these are for you, but just maybe I need to sell you on the delicious “snackability” of these nutrition powerhouses. Veggies contain fibre and water to help fill you up, and you don't need me to tell you about their vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, right? You can easily open a bag of baby carrots and/or cherry tomatoes and give them a quick rinse (they’re already bite-sized). Tip: Use a bit of dip. Have you put almond butter on celery? How about trying my new hummus recipe below?  


  Go ahead and try one, or more, of these healthy snacks. Prepare them the night before if you need to. They will not be "tasteless," like "cardboard," or "completely unsatisfying." Trust me.  

Recipe (Vegetable Dip): Hummus

Hummus Makes about 2 cups
  • 1  can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained & rinsed
  • ⅓ cup tahini
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 dash salt
  • 1 dash pepper
  1. Put all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth. You may need to thin it out, simply add more oil, so add it 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time and blend.
  2. Serve & enjoy!
Tip:  Use an avocado in place of the tahini.      References:


Is My Poop Normal?

Yes, I'm serious! (And don't you sometimes wonder anyway?) You already know that your poop can reflect your physical, and sometimes even emotional, health. You may get constipation or have diarrhea when you eat something that "doesn't agree with you," or when you're super-nervous about something.

And what about fiber and water? If you’re not getting enough, it’ll probably show in your poop. What about the all-important gut microbes? If they're not happy, it'll probably show in your poop. Here’s a trivia question for you: Did you know there is an “official” standard for poop? I mean a university-created chart! One that is used to help diagnose conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?  

Meet the Bristol Stool Scale

The Bristol Stool Scale was created at the prestigious University of Bristol in the UK back in 1997: see the chart here. The scale breaks down type of poop into seven different categories ranging from type 1, which is very constipated, to type 7 which is diarrhea: poo-chart-2 1 - Separate hard lumps (very constipated). 2 - Lumpy and sausage-like (slightly constipated). 3 - Sausage shaped with cracks in the surface (normal) 4 - Smooth, soft sausage (normal). 5 - Soft blobs with clear-cut edges (lacking fiber). 6 - Mushy consistency with ragged edges (inflammation). 7 - Liquid consistency with no solid pieces (inflammation).  

Other “poop” factors to consider

You probably guessed that the shapes described in the Bristol Stool Scale are not the only thing to consider for poop health. Think about how often you go. At least once per day, up to 3 times per day is pretty good. Less than one or more than three can mean there is something going on. What about how hard you have to try to go? You want it to be as effortless as possible. And the color? It should be brown from the bile that you need to break down the fats you ingest. And if it’s green after a day of massive veggies, or red after that large glass of beet juice, you’re just fine. But if you see an abnormal color, like red or even black, that you can't explain based on what you ate or drank in the last day or two, you probably want to get that checked out.  

What do you do when you have "imperfect" poo?

Well, the first thing to consider is how imperfect it is, and how often it is like that? Once in a while, things aren't going to be perfect, and that's okay. If you know you need to get more fiber or water, then try increasing that or haven’t had enough probiotic foods then try getting more of them; if you’re super-stressed, then try deep breathing, meditating, or taking a warm bath. Oh, and don’t forget the two most basic pieces of nutrition advice:
  • First, eat a variety of nutrient-dense, minimally processed foods, including a lot of fruits & veggies (and their “fibrous” skins, wherever possible). The fiber in these is not only helpful for pushing food through your gut, but they also feed those millions of amazing helpful critters that live there, your friendly gut microbes.
  • The second piece of advice is to eat slowly, and mindfully, chewing thoroughly.
These are good habits for anyone and everyone, even when you have perfect poop! Of course, long-term issues might require a more thorough review with a qualified health care practitioner. Don't suffer from poop issues for too long before seeking help.   Recipe (dairy-free probiotic): Super-Simple Coconut Milk Yogurtcoconut-yogurt Serves 6
  • 2 cans full-fat coconut milk
  • 2 probiotic capsules,
  1. Open the probiotic capsules and empty contents into the blender. Blend with coconut milk.
  2. Transfer to a sanitized glass jar (make sure it’s not still hot - you don’t want those probiotics to die).
  3. Store it in a warm place for 24-48 hours. If it's not thick enough for you, you can let it ferment for another 24 hours.
  4. Add your favourite yogurt toppings, and store the rest for up to a week in the fridge.
Serve & enjoy! Tip: Fermenting food is not an exact science. If this doesn’t work out as you’d like it to, try different brands of coconut milk and/or probiotics. Also check out the Good Belly 12 Day Reboot Challenge  



All About Digestive Enzymes

Not everyone should be taking digestive enzyme supplements and not all of them are created equal. As a wellness ambassador, I find that many people with digestive issues want to jump straight into using a supplement and many times I would rather try other strategies first. Not to mention that some supplements can be harmful if used inappropriately. So let’s dive into a few of the common digestive enzymes, what they do, and who should NOT take them.  

What are digestive enzymes?

Technically, enzymes are compounds that help critical biochemical reactions to happen in your body. These reactions can be anything: from making neurotransmitters like serotonin, to burning food for energy, to breaking down food we eat into smaller pieces that our guts can absorb. Oh, and they all end with “ase”. As I just hinted, digestive enzymes are specifically those enzymes we use for digestion. They’re enzymes that our digestive system naturally makes and secretes when we eat. Now, all of the macro nutrients we eat (carbs, protein, and fat) need to be broken down into their smaller parts so that we can properly absorb and digest them. They’re just too big otherwise. f we don’t absorb them properly, we can get symptoms of fatigue, malnutrition, digestive distress, or a host of other symptoms.  It is these smaller parts that our body amazingly rearranges and uses to create other larger molecules that our body needs. The most common digestive enzymes you’ll see on product labels are:
  • Amylase - helps to break down starch into its sugars.
  • alpha-Galactosidase - helps to break down specific fermentable carbohydrates into its sugars.
  • Lactase - helps to break down lactose into its sugars.
  • Protease - helps to break down protein into its amino acids.
  • Bromelain and/or Papain - help to break down protein into its amino acids.
  • Lipase - helps to break down fats into its lipids.

Who should consider taking digestive enzymes?

I would always recommend that you see a qualified health care practitioner for an expert opinion on whether your issues can be related to digestion, and which, if any, supplements can help you. In general, the most common digestive symptoms that enzymes may help with are bloating, cramping, and/or diarrhea. Particularly, if it happens after eating certain foods (think lactose-intolerance symptoms after eating dairy). One reason for these symptoms can be that food particles are not broken down properly and the larger pieces travel further down the digestive tract to the microbiota where those little critters start breaking them down themselves. This is definitely troublesome for certain people. Don’t get me wrong, a healthy gut microbiota is absolutely essential for good health. More and more research is showing just how it can affect not only our digestion, but also our immune system and even our mood!  

What do I need to know? - Medical conditions

Of course, you should read the label of any products you take and take them as directed; especially if they’re not specifically recommended for you by your health care practitioner who knows your history. Here are two critical things to be aware of:
  1. Digestive enzymes that break down carbohydrates into sugars are not recommended for diabetics, or pregnant/breastfeeding women.  This is because taking them breaks down more carbohydrates into sugars than your body normally would; so anyone at risk of blood sugar issues should take caution.
  2. When it comes to enzymes that break down proteins into amino acids, there are a few people who should avoid them because of potential interactions: if you have an ulcer, are taking blood-thinners or anti-inflammatories, or if you’re having surgery. The reason is because the digestive enzymes that break down protein are thought to cause or worsen ulcers, as well as have the ability to thin the blood and prevent normal clotting.

What do I need to know? - Possible Side effects

Using digestive enzyme supplements for a prolonged period of time may well justify an appointment with a knowledgeable practitioner. There may be strategies other than daily supplementation that can serve you better. If you find that your symptoms get worse, or even if they don’t get better, you should probably stop using them. Allergies are always a possibility, so if you know or suspect you’re allergic, then you should avoid them. As always, keep supplements away from children.  

Before considering a digestive enzyme supplement

You shouldn’t just jump to supplementing with digestive enzymes without a proper diagnosis or trying a few strategies first. My first recommendation for digestive distress would be to relax, eat slower, and chew more thoroughly. This helps to break down food and can put less stress on your digestive tract. Most importantly, see if eliminating troublesome foods from your diet can help (i.e. dairy and gluten; as I touched on during the food intolerance blog).  


While many supplements are safe products, they’re not all for everyone. I recommend that you:
  • Read your labels carefully (who should take them, how to take them, and when to stop taking them).
  • If you have a medical condition or are taking medications, speak with your doctor or pharmacist.
  • If you want expert advice on whether a specific supplement is for you, speak with a qualified health care practitioner.

Recipe (food containing bromelain & papain): Tropical (digestive) smoothie

Serves 1

[caption id="attachment_32316" align="alignright" width="150"]digestive smoothie sourced from Transformation Time Fitness[/caption]
  • 1 cup pineapple, diced
  • 1 cup papaya, diced
  • 1 banana*, chopped
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • ice if desired
  1. Put all ingredients(except ice) into the blender and blend. Add ice if desired.
  2. Serve & enjoy!
*Tip: The levels of enzymes in whole pineapple and papaya aren’t as concentrated as taking them in a supplement; so if you’re not allergic to these delicious fruits, you can try this smoothie. A combo of kiwi and avocado is a good substitute for the banana for those with sensitivities.   Best, Shannon.  

References: Natural Medicines Database, Bromelain, Papain, Retrieved January 21, 2017 from  

Integrative Nutrition

The Role of Health Coaches

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Can My Symptoms Actually Be a Food Intolerance?

Food intolerance or sensitivities can effect you in so many ways. They’re a lot more common than most people think. I'm not talking about immediate allergic reactions that involve an immune response which can be serious and life-threatening.  If you have any allergies, you should steer clear of any traces of foods you are allergic to and speak with your doctor or pharmacist about emergency medication, if necessary. What I'm talking about is an intolerance; meaning that you do not tolerate a specific food very well and it causes immediate or chronic symptoms anywhere in the body. Symptoms can take hours or even days to show themselves and can be located just about anywhere in the body. This is what makes them so tricky to identify.

Symptoms of food intolerances

There are some common food intolerances that have immediate and painful gastrointestinal symptoms, such as lactose intolerance or Celiac disease. These can cause stomach pain, gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea.  Symptoms can start immediately after eating lactose or gluten. Other symptoms may not be linked to foods in an obvious way. Symptoms like:
  • Chronic muscle or joint pain
  • Sweating or increased heart rate or blood pressure
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Exhaustion after a good night's sleep
  • Autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto's or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Rashes or eczema
  • Inability to concentrate or feeling like your brain is "foggy"
  • Shortness of breath
If your body has trouble digesting specific foods, it can affect your hormones, metabolism, or cause inflammation and result in any of the symptoms listed above. These can affect any part of the body, not just your gastrointestinal system.  

How to prevent food intoleranceGF DF badge

The main thing you can do is to figure out which foods or drinks you may be reacting to and stop ingesting them. The best way to identify your food or drink triggers is to eliminate them for three full weeks and monitor your symptoms. If things get better, then you need to decide whether it's worth it to stop ingesting them or if you want to slowly introduce them back one at a time while still looking out to see if/when symptoms return.  

Start Here: Two common food intolerances

Here are two of the most common triggers of food intolerance:
  • Lactose (in dairy - eliminate altogether, or look for a "lactose-free" label - try nut or coconut milk instead).
  • Gluten (in wheat, rye, and other common grains - look for a "gluten-free" label - try gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa & oats).
This is by no means a complete list, but it's a good place to start. Lactose intolerance is thought to affect up to 75% of people, while non-celiac gluten sensitivity can affect up to 13% of people. If you can eliminate all traces of lactose and gluten for three weeks, it can confirm whether either or both of these are a source of your symptoms. Yes, dairy and grains are a part of many government-recommended food guidelines. However, you can get all of the nutrients you need if you focus on replacing them with nutrient-dense foods. A reliable way to monitor how you feel after eating certain foods is to track it (check out the food diary/journal download below).  After every meal or snack, write down the foods you ate and any symptoms so you can more easily spot trends. Click here to download a free copy of my Weekly Diet Diary/Food Journal to help you monitor your symptoms. As mentioned earlier, symptoms may not start immediately following a meal. You may find, for example, that you wake up with a headache the morning after eating bananas. You might be surprised what links you can find when you track your food and symptoms! When in doubt, ask the server in a restaurant about hidden ingredients, read labels on sauces/packaged foods, or consider cooking at home from scratch (its the best way to monitor how you are feeling). IMPORTANT NOTE: When you eliminate something, make sure it's not hiding in other foods or the whole point of eliminating it for a few weeks is lost. Restaurant food, packaged foods, and sauces or dressings are notorious for adding ingredients that you'd never think are there. You know that sugar hides in almost everything, but did you also know that wheat is often added to processed meats and soy sauce? Even lactose can even be found in some medications or supplements! It's really important to read the ingredient labels. If you are unsure of any ingredients.   What if it doesn’t work? If eliminating these two common food intolerances doesn’t work, then you can go one step further to eliminate all dairy (even lactose-free) and all grains (even gluten-free) for three weeks. You may need to see a qualified healthcare practitioner for help, and that's ok. I don't want you to continue suffering if you don't need to!     Recipe (dairy-free milk): Homemade Nut/Seed Milk Makes 3 cupsalmond milk
  • ½ cup raw nuts/seeds (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, or sesame seeds)
  • 2 cups water
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  1. Soak nuts/seeds for about 8 hours (optional, but recommended).
  2. Dump soaking water & rinse nuts/seeds.
  3. Add soaked nuts/seeds and 2 cups water to a high-speed blender and blend on high for about one minute until very smooth.
  4. Strain through a small mesh sieve with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Squeeze if necessary.
Serve & enjoy! Tip: You can double the recipe and store the milk in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 7 days.   References:

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