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Filtering by Tag: Nutrition

Getting Enough Iron During Pregnancy

Rachel O'Reilly

Iron is one of those buzzword nutrients that almost every woman knows about. Groups at highest risk for iron deficiency include teenage girls, women of childbearing age, pregnant women, children under 2 years of age, and the elderly. According to the World Health Organization, iron deficiency affects a large number of children and women in developing countries and is the only nutrient deficiency that is also significantly prevalent in industrialized countries.

Some degree of iron deficiency occurs in 35-58% of healthy women of childbearing age. But why does this occur? Mostly due to inadequate dietary intake, blood loss, lack of iron absorption/utilization, increased demand by the body (such as during pregnancy), or a combination of all these factors.

Iron deficiency anemia is one of the common nutrient anemias that can occur during pregnancy (others are a deficiency of folic acid and B12). Symptoms include:

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Dizziness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Paleness of skin, fingernail beds, and mucous membranes

  • Loss of appetite (especially past the first trimester)

  • Heart palpitations

  • Gastrointestinal disturbances such as constipation and abdominal pain

  • Frequent colds or infections

Iron’s role in the body

Iron plays an important role in transporting oxygen from the lungs to the body’s tissues, and carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs. For this reason, sufficient iron availability allows for optimal oxygenation of fetal tissue. Additionally, iron is a key enzyme in metabolism and DNA synthesis. The body’s need for iron will increase dramatically during pregnancy, as well as lactation, and proper optimal iron levels leads to adequate iron stores for the newborn.

Food Sources of Iron

There are two types of iron, heme and nonheme. Heme iron is found in animal sources, and is the most efficiently absorbed form of iron. Non-heme refers to iron found in plant foods, and is poorly absorbed.

Here’s an example of foods containing bio-available iron (heme):

  • 3 oz clams (cooked) 23.8 mg

  • 3 oz beef liver 5.3 mg

  • 3 oz Sirloin steak 2.9 mg

  • 3 oz shrimp 2.6 mg

  • 3 oz lean ground beef 2.3 mg

  • 3 oz turkey breast 1.3 mg


Other heme iron food sources include:

  • Poultry such as chicken, duck, and turkey

  • Meats such as beef, pork, and lamb

  • Seafood including sardines, anchovies, and oysters


Non-heme food sources: (in plant sources, ~17% of iron is absorbed)

  • 1 cup lentils 6.6 mg

  • 1 cup cooked spinach 6.43 mg

  • 1 cup cooked quinoa 5.3 mg

  • 1 cup kidney beans 5.2 mg

  • 1 cup cooked beet greens 2.74 mg

  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds 2.62 mg

  • 5 figs, dried 0.85 mg

Other sources include:

  • Blackstrap molasses (also has a lot of sugar, so use sparingly as a sweetener)

  • Nettles (tea)

  • Kelp (seaweed - kombu and dulse)

  • Nutritional yeast  

  • Organic, unsulphured dried fruits including raisins, prunes, black Mission figs, apricots, and cherries)


According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the National Institutes of Health, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of iron during pregnancy is 27mg, and 9-10 mg during lactation.  Keep in mind that the RDA is a guideline that was originally created in 1941 and was designed to reduce the rates of severe nutritional deficiency disease, such as scurvy. In other words, consider the RDA the minimum amount necessary, and these amounts will not take your individual need into consideration. To check your individual iron status, talk to your healthcare provider; they will be able to run a CBC test, or complete blood count, and interpret the results for your needs.

Can I get all my iron needs from food?

Even for women who eat a healthy, whole foods diet, and have reasonable iron stores prior to conception, supplementing (via your prenatal vitamin, not as a single supplement) will ensure sufficient iron levels during pregnancy, as well as for a good length of time postpartum. Supplementation may also be helpful in protecting against iron deficiency in subsequent pregnancies . Always talk to your health care provider and/or midwife before supplementing.


Honey Iron Syrup



Black Mission figs

Dried dark cherries


Carob pod


  1. Mix equal parts of each to add up to 1 cup

  2. Place in a 1 quart canning jar

  3. Pour honey to fill and cap the jar

  4. Place into a hot water bath, and heat gently for three hours.

  5. Let sit at room temperature for 1 week

  6. Can strain or use as is

Dose: 1 tablespoon per day, in Nettle herbal tea. To bump up the iron levels even more, use a combination of nettles, yellow dock, and dandelion root. 

Healthy Hippity-Hoppity Easter Ideas

Rachel O'Reilly

By Rachel O'Reilly

Easter is an especially whimsical holiday… I’m sure we can all remember the enchantment we felt as children waking up Easter morning and finding bunny paw prints leading us to our Easter basket, or the exhilaration of an Easter egg hunt, or the simple joy of gathering with family and community. Holidays are a sweet opportunity to relive that magic with your own kids and remember how special all those little traditions were to you!

Infusing more meaning and fun into family life with rituals and traditions is something we love to do at Cherish, so we’ve put together a few simple ideas, some borrowed from generations of Easter Bunnies, and some new hippity-hop ones that we hope you enjoy sharing with your little honey buns!

Dyeing Easter Eggs, Naturally

The hues that natural egg dyeing produces are so rich and beautiful, and most importantly are non-toxic and safe for children. This visual ingredient guide shows how simple natural dying really is. Most of these ingredients are things you probably already have in your kitchen. Thanks to Kristen Rickert for these instructions for natural egg dyeing. Eggcellent!

Healthy Bunny Treats

  • We’re big fans of Annies Organic Foods, and so are our kids. Luckily you can find these bunny fruit snacks and bunny crackers, (available gluten-free) at any Whole Foods or natural foods store, and they are a fun treat to incorporate in Easter baskets or to stuff Easter eggs with for a hunt.

  • Sometimes, if the Easter Bunny leaves baby carrots behind, kids will happily munch them down… Another way to sneak in healthy foods as festive fun is by cutting fruit, these homemade nutritious bars, cheese or other wholesome options with these Easter-themed cookie cutters.

Holidays often mean processed candy and unhealthy levels of sugar for kids, but rather than avoiding sweets entirely, these less sugary options will make any bunny happy!

  • Jelly beans made with organic fruit juice.

  • Sunflower seeds covered in chocolate or yogurt-covered raisins.

  • Gut-healthy gummies (which can be made in any festive shape you desire).

  • We were surprised by how easy these vegan, gluten-free, and overall healthy homemade chocolate bunnies are to make. Check out the Hippy Homemaker for the recipe.

Eggcellent Egg Hunt

  • Put a crystal inside an egg like rose quartz with an explanation of it's magical power (this is great for children 3 years+ so there's no risk of choking). 

  • Stuff eggs with special “coupon” notes for gifts and family activities. For example, “An afternoon at the Discovery Museum!” or, “A new soccer ball!” or, “Let’s go fly your new kite!” or, “A picnic at the park with grandma and grandpa!"

  • You can create an egg hunt anywhere, like in your house or backyard, but it can also be fun to use the hunt as an excuse explore somewhere new! Check out a different park or adventure on a new trail (where Dad or Mom can run ahead or go beforehand to place eggs before the kids reach the mysterious egg hunt spot), or even visit a local farm or petting zoo, and give kids the chance to see baby chicks, bunnies, or other farm animals up close. These kinds of outings can create thrilling and lasting memories as a family. Spring is such a great time to cherish nature and blooming life all around!

Happy Easter EveryBunny!

Natural Remedies for Morning Sickness

Rachel O'Reilly


By Erica Favela 

Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (NVP), also known as “morning sickness,” occurs in approximately two-thirds of pregnancies. In most cases, this occurs during the first trimester, but only about half of women are free from this symptom by week 14. In most cases, it is resolved by week 22

Regardless of how sick you may feel, you can rest assured that having morning sickness is not associated with negative affects on your growing child. Although many theories about nausea and morning sickness exist, the cause of NVP is still a mystery that even our advanced scientific research has not been able to consistently conclude. It can stem from a myriad of things, including nutritional imbalance, hormonal changes, altered thyroid function, stress, emotional blocks, and lifestyle habits.

Easing nausea and the general discomfort during the beginning months of pregnancy should be handled specifically to your unique lifestyle and health history. Because we still do not have conclusive evidence about the cause, it’s worth trying multiple things. All aspects should be considered here, both physiologic and psychological factors. As is the case with many things, there’s usually not one sole culprit. Rather, self-care and dealing with these symptoms can come from a mind, body, spirit approach.

For instance, was the pregnancy a surprise? It’s natural that with such news, feelings of fear, ambivalence, resentment, or other unresolved conflicts can arise, and our emotions can take on physical manifestation. Or consider your environment - do you work in a place where toxicity exposure should be considered? Are you feeling stressed or anxious about the future? Acupuncture and acupressure have been shown to be great aids of alleviating NVP, and are also excellent ways to slow down and de-stress.  While this post will only focus on nutritional aspects, be aware that food is only one part of the equation, and don’t forget to nurture your mental and emotional sides too.

Whether you’re already in the thick of NVP, or just want to know how you might handle it when the time comes, here are some nutrition basics:

Nutrient density. As previously mentioned in other posts, and probably obvious, eat a balanced, nutrient-dense, whole foods diet. This includes fresh vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, proteins, whole food fats like avocados, complex carbohydrates like summer/winter squashes, and plenty of fiber (which will naturally come in whole food form). Although nausea and vomiting are common, symptoms like these are the body’s way of coming back into balance. Eating foods that are unprocessed, organic, and in their whole form, will support the body with the raw materials it needs. 

Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration can contribute to nausea and vomiting. Aim for at least half your bodyweight in ounces, and focus on fresh water or herbal teas (not juice, coffee, sodas, or other bottled beverages). Avoid large amounts of liquid at meals, as this can dilute digestive juices. Try ginger tea right upon waking in the morning. 

Aim to eat smaller meals more frequently. Eat in a relaxed state, and chew your food completely. This will help the stomach from emptying and blood sugar from dropping. Both of these are associated with nausea and vomiting. You may want to try eating first thing in the morning. 

Reduce high-fat foods. During pregnancy, bile (which is used to digest fats) can reduce, making high-fat foods harder to digest and potentially causing nausea. This does not mean you need to completely eliminate fatty foods, such as pastured butter, avocado, etc. Fats will be excellent in keeping blood sugar stable, and avoiding low blood sugar is helpful in preventing nausea. If fats are causing nausea, try eating your meal/snack with sour fermented foods, which can help digest the fats.

Take a prenatal multivitamin. This can support an already-healthy diet and due to restoring certain vitamins and minerals may help reduce NVP. If this is nauseating, try taking your vitamin during or after your meal.

Ginger. Ginger is well known for its long tradition of being used for reducing nausea, and clinical trials demonstrate its effectiveness during pregnancy. When enjoying ginger, you’ll also get the bonus of its carminative effects, which helps relieve gastrointestinal distress.  An easy way to enjoy the benefits of ginger root is in tea form. Grate 2-3 teaspoons of fresh ginger with hot water, adding honey and or fresh lemon juice to taste. Upon waking, sit up slowly and enjoy your tea. An alternative to fresh ginger tea, is this one by Yogi.  Other great herbs to try include raspberry leaf, mint, or chamomile tea.

Snacks. Keep easily digestible snacks on hand to keep blood sugar normal.

Consider Vitamin B6. This vitamin is essential for maintaining hormonal balance, proper immune function, chemical transmitters in the nervous system, and a deficiency in this vitamin is often associated with nausea and leg cramps. Clinical studies have shown that supplemental B6 can be helpful in conditions such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and morning sickness. Before supplementing, get enough of this nutrient via food from salmon, cooked spinach, avocado, poultry, gluten-free whole grains, legumes, bananas, seeds and nuts, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. If considering supplementing, ask your healthcare provider or midwife about a high quality B6 supplement. 

Vitamins K and C. The effectiveness of these two vitamins occurs with their synergy - when used together, they have been shown to be clinically effective. A study cited in The Clinician’s Handbook of Natural Medicine reports that in one study, 91% of patients had complete remission of NVP in seventy-two hours.



Spring Menu

Rachel O'Reilly

By Erica Favela 

When the seasons shift, it’s a great time to see where else in our lives we can make some adjustments or take on a new frame of mind for the next few months. Spring represents newness, birthing, and laying the seeds that will sprout into future crops. We also get to welcome lighter days, and after a restful winter, you may be experiencing more energy, or an urge to move swiftly forward with goals and projects. This is a great time of year to see where you can initiate or even trailblaze. We can use food as a helpful tool for shedding both the physical and mental/emotional/spiritual heaviness of winter, and as a way to initiate feeling fresh and enlivened for the next season.

Spring is also a time when people cleanse and detoxify. In fact, you’ve probably seen plenty of marketing going on for juice cleanses or detoxes. If you’re pregnant or nursing, remember that programs like these may not be ideal for you and your baby’s needs, so always speak to your midwife or other partner in natural healthcare before jumping on the “cleansing” bandwagon. If breastfeeding, resist the urge to do something drastic to get back to pre-baby weight; significantly dropping calories and consuming simple sugars from a juice cleanse will not be healthful for breast milk production.

In general, the best foods for spring include foods that will disperse waste (support the liver’s detoxifying abilities), reduce heat and move stagnation (more raw foods), reduce weight (which will naturally come as you move more with longer, lighter days), and cool or refresh (think seasonal fruits like grapefruit and Valencia oranges).

Here’s an example of what a few days of Spring-inspired eating might light look (no juice fasting required!). Start each morning with tongue scraping, and 1 cup warm lemon water upon waking.

Day 1

Breakfast: 1 cup plain yogurt with 1/2 cup berries with 2 tbsp pumpkin seeds and generous sprinkle of cinnamon

Lunch: Kale salad (4 cups kale), 1/4 cup cherry tomatoes, dulse flakes, plus a few slices of chicken breast


  • 2 tbsp lemon juice

  • 2 1/2 teaspoon olive oil

  • fresh pepper

  • dash salt

Dinner: Vegetable mineral broth or bone broth and Quinoa Tabbouleh (recipe)

Day 2

Breakfast: Smoothie with greens (kale, spinach) 1 cup berries (blueberries, raspberries, blackberries), with boosters such as green powders or maca, coconut or almond milk base, 1 tablespoon almond butter, and plant-based protein such as pea protein.

Lunch: Pineapple avocado gazpacho with large mixed green salad with 1/2 cup garbanzo beans or sprouts. Dressing for the salad: lemon, garlic, dulse, and basil

Dinner: Asparagus and veggie tempeh (or other preferred protein) stir-fry over kelp noodles. Try this recipe from Dr. Mark Hyman.

Day 3

Breakfast: 1 cup fresh mixed berries with coconut chips, 1-2 tbsp hemp seeds, in 1 cup nut milk

Lunch: Red Leaf Lettuce salad, thinly sliced basil (or other fresh herbs), black olives, and thinly-shaved red onion. Add protein such as sliced chicken breast or cooked salmon.  Dress with 1 part apple cider vinegar to 2-3 parts olive oil and crushed garlic

Dinner: Miso soup with 1/4 cup Adzuki beans and 1/2 cup brown rice with steamed broccoli

Other foods to incorporate or use as snacks:  

  • nuts/seeds & their milks

  • bone broths

  • sprouts

  • fresh melons

  • vegetable juices (no carrots or beets)  

  • moderate amounts non-gluten grains like quinoa or brown rice  

  • leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables

  • algae, seaweeds, fermented veggies

  • water and herb teas


Easy Pineapple Avocado Gazpacho

Makes 1 large, or 2 small servings

  • 2 cups pineapple, diced small

  • 1 avocado, diced small

  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

  • juice of 1 lime

  • fresh sprouts or cilantro (garnish) 

  1. Set aside about 1/4 cup pineapple and 1/4 of the avocado

  2. Add rest of the ingredients except garnish to blender

  3. Blend just until smooth

  4. Pour into a bowl and fold in pineapple and avocado pieces (to chew!)

  5. Garnish with sprouts or cilantro



Quinoa Tabbouleh

makes 3-4 servings


  • 2 cups cooked quinoa

  • 1 tsp chopped parsley

  • 1/4 cup currants

  • 1/4 cup chopped raw almonds

  • 1/2 cup diced carrots

  • 1/4 cup chopped mint

  • 1/4 cup scallions diagonally cut, thin

  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

  • 1/4 cup lime juice

  • 1 tsp honey

  • 1/2 tsp cumin

  • 1 tsp sea salt

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil


  1. Mix all ingredients in a bowl and let sit for 20 minutes (to allow flavors to blend) before serving.

  2. Enjoy with zucchini hummus and raw vegetables! (celery, cucumber, carrots, red bell pepper, etc.)


Flu Season 101: Do's and Don't

Rachel O'Reilly

While getting sick is never fun for you or your children, coming down with a cold can be the body’s clear message to slow down. More often than not, we push ourselves to the limit, take care of others before ourselves, or don’t check in with our bodies, and then we get sick. Or, if it’s your child who’s getting sick, maybe they’ve been eating less than optimally, eating pre-packaged snacks and high sugar juices, or they’re being exposed to other bacteria/viruses from others kids in their classroom. Regardless of the cause, we can use signs of illness as a reminder to help our bodies come back into balance and harmony.

What NOT to eat: sugar and alcohol

Most people are very aware that commercial, processed sugar offers no benefits to health, and the same holds true with sugar’s impact on the immune system. Studies have found that sugar reduces the effectiveness of neutrophils, a type of immune cell that is one of the first to travel to the site of an infection. Sugar can also reduce lymphocytes, which is a problem because the immune system depends on large numbers of lymphocytes to create an effective immune response. Furthermore, high sugar consumption causes urinary excretion of several important minerals that are important for immune function, such as zinc. 

Remember, sugar is sneaky!


Studies of immune function in alcoholism show a profound negative impact on most parameters of immunity. For instance, alcohol directly promotes bad gut bacteria, which is important since ~70% of our immune system resides in the gut. And even acute consumption of alcohol can impair cellular immunity, leaving the immune system less prepared to deal with inflammation or infections.

Should I really stay away from dairy?

Many people suggest staying away from dairy when sick, however there is inconclusive medical evidence that dairy consumption causes an increase in mucus in the respiratory system.

Dairy is one of those “gray area” foods because people will respond to it differently. Many individuals don’t know how they truly respond to dairy unless they’ve done a strict elimination diet and then reintroduction, or have taken food intolerance/sensitivity tests (multiple tests would be good to cross check, as many are unreliable). For instance, in susceptible individuals, casein (found in cheese) can cause an immune system reaction called a histamine response. When dealing with a cold, or even when you notice the beginning symptoms of a cold, you don’t want to put any extra demand on the immune system. 

Other factors:

Many lifestyle behaviors will affect the immune system, including:

  • Smoking

  • Irregular meals

  • Simple carbohydrate consumption

  • Excess weight

  • Excessive alcohol consumption

  • Poor or inadequate sleep

  • Inactivity

How to Support the Immune System

When going the natural route with a cold or flu-like symptoms, do not expect a quick fix or immediate relief. You are assisting your body in doing its work, and this is going to take a little more time than the suppressing actions of a drug, which will just work to control the symptoms, not the root cause. While you may experience uncomfortable symptoms, the total length of the illness can be shorter lived when healing through natural remedies and food.

This is simple, but one of the most important things to do when dealing with a cold or flu symptoms is to prioritize rest. Go to bed earlier, sleep in if you can, ask for help with your children, or learn to say no. Prioritizing at least 7-8 hours of sleep can be one of the best things you can do for your body.

Also remember to drink enough liquids. Ideally, drink water in the amount of at least half your bodyweight in ounces. This will maintain a moist respiratory tract that can help repel a viral infection. Other liquids include bone and vegetable mineral broths, and herbal teas. Stay away from juices, even orange juice. As mentioned above, sugar can greatly reduce the white blood cells ability to kill bacteria. If you want to go for juice, keep it to 4-8oz, or dilute it by 1/2 or 1/3 water. Alternatively, opt for a juice that’s made fresh from 100% vegetables, and diluted.

Specific Immune Boosting Foods

Garlic - garlic has long been considered a medicinal plant. It is anti-viral and anti-microbial, due to many of its sulfur-containing compounds, such as allicin. 

Mushrooms - Some of the most commonly used mushrooms in Chinese medicine are maitake, shiitake, reishi mushrooms. The chemical profiles of mushrooms are quite complex, and even common button and portobello mushrooms offer healing and immune boosting effects.

Jerusalem artichokes - due to their high content of inulin, Jerusalem artichokes can enhance the immune system by helping to neutralize viruses, reduce destructive bacteria, and increase movement of white blood cells to sites of infection. Medicinal herbs such as echinacea and burdock root are known for their immune enhancing effects due to inulin, and Jerusalem artichokes offers one of the richest forms of inulin.

Immune-enhancing Herbs

Any herb that enhances the body’s stress response will be a good choice. These herbs are known as adaptogenic herbs, and a couple notable examples include cat’s claw and licorice root. Here are a few more of the herbal super stars:

Echinacea - perhaps on the most popular herbs known for the common cold is echinacea. There are hundreds of scientific investigations on echinacea, specifically its polysaccharides,  and its effects on immune function. In addition to immune support, echinacea also exerts direct antiviral activity and helps prevent the spread of bacteria. The main consideration for echinacea, as well as other herbs used medicinally, is that its effect is highly dependent on quality. Any herb is only able to be effective if it can deliver an effective dosage of active compounds. Make sure you use an echinacea product from a trusted manufacturer that can guarantee the level of active ingredients.  

Astragalus - a traditional Chinese medicine used for viral infections. This herb can help reduce the duration and severity of symptoms in acute treatment of the common cold. In addition, astragalus has been shown to possess anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, adaptogenic, cardiotonic, and liver protective properties.

Elderberry - Elderberry can be traced back to ancient Greece. It has a long history of use for the common cold and flu. Elderberry extract can provide antimicrobial activity against pathogenic bacteria that cause upper respiratory infections and against certain strains of  influenza virus.

Don’t forget that culinary herbs and spices (cilantro, parsley, turmeric) also possess immune-boosting properties! Many herbs are rich in vitamin C, flavonoids, and carotenoids, which can add a helpful edge to a whole foods diet.

Immune-Boosting Soup

What’s more comforting than a warm bowl of soup when you’re feeling under the weather. This soup brings out the medicinal properties of mushrooms, so be sure  not to skip them! You can find kombu and astragalus at your natural health food store, or Asian market. To bump up the healing properties even more, I suggest using a bone broth base.

Medicinal Mushroom Soup

Makes 6 servings

  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil

  • 2 onions, thinly sliced

  • 5 cloves garlic, crushed or grated with a microplane

  • 3 tablespoons ginger, grated

  • 10 cups broth 

  • 2 cups shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced

  • 2 carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal

  • 4 stalks celery, thinly sliced

  • 2 pieces astragalus root

  • 1 piece kombu (about 4 x 6 inches), rinsed

  • 2-3 tablespoons coconut aminos (coconut-based soy sauce, or use tamari)

  • 2 cups broccoli or cauliflower florets, chopped into small pieces

  • 1 small bunch dandelion greens, roughly chopped

  • ½ cup scallions, sliced on the diagonal

  1. In a large stock pot, heat the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent.

  2. Add the garlic and ginger, constantly stirring for 30 seconds.

  3. Add the stock, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, celery, astragalus root, and kombu. Bring to a low boil, then reduce and let simmer 20-30 minutes.

  4. Add the broccoli/cauliflower florets and dandelion greens, and cook until tender, about 2-3 minutes.

  5. Remove the astragalus root and kombu and discard.

  6. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with sliced scallions.








Other sources:

Bauman, E. & Friedlander, J. (2014). Immune bandits and heroes. Therapeutic nutrition, part two. Penngrove, CA: Bauman College

Murray, M. & Pizzorno, J. (2005). The encyclopedia of healing foods. New York, NY: Atria Books.

Pizzorno, J.E. & Murray, M.T. & Joiner-Bey, H. (2008). The clinician’s handbook of natural medicine, second edition. St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone.


Seasonal Fall Foods

Rachel O'Reilly

What to Eat This Fall

We all have daily, monthly and seasonal cycles that help us ebb and flow, rest then renew, or let go and call in. Likewise, mother nature is always in cycle; the waxing and waning moon, or long summer days, followed by shorter winter days. These cycles can prevent us from getting stuck in ruts. So as we’re saying our slow goodbyes to summer, we get to welcome the refreshing changes of autumn. Part of this transition includes our food choices and eating patterns.

Luckily, if you’re shopping locally or at your farmer’s market, there’s not much work to do on your part; simply become inspired by the new colors and produce showing up. If you’re unable to shop at small grocers or farmer’s markets, below are some of the delicious foods that are in season this time of year.

Some examples of seasonal foods from September to November include:


  • Apples

  • Berries (especially blackberries and raspberries)

  • Pears

  • Pomegranates

  • Grapes

  • Passion fruit

  • Kumquats


  • Squashes such as butternut, acorn or delicata

  • Root vegetables such as carrots, beets and turnips

  • Brussels sprouts  

  • Cauliflower

  • Cabbage

  • Artichokes

  • Sweet Potatoes

  • Green beans

Depending on where you are, seasonal foods for autumn will vary. If you’re around the Bay Area in Northern California, you can get excited for special items such as persimmons, or maybe even abalone! To keep up with seasonal foods specific to your area, check out for a handy food wheel.

General Direction

With only a few months left in the year, the transition into fall is a great time to recommit to healthy eating habits. Setting intentions and knowing your direction is a great way to begin the season, especially before the holidays hit. Here are a few guidelines and ideas for what to eat this fall:

  • While summer and spring are especially good for cleansing and detoxifying, fall and winter are better for hearty, balanced meals. This means not shying away from all the nourishing carbohydrates that root vegetables will bring, or opting for a warming soup or stew made with healing bone broth and hard squashes (think butternut squash soup with a bone broth base).

  • This fall, embrace all those hard squashes coming into season. These vegetables may be intimidating to cut, but just make sure you have a good, sharp knife and they’ll be no match for you! You can also consider buying these vegetables pre-cut, then simply toss them in cooking fat, season with salt (and/or cinnamon, curry, etc.), and roast until tender.

  • As the weather begins to cool down, stay warm with soups made from your favorite vegetables of the season, such as pumpkin, acorn squash or cauliflower.

  • It’s also the perfect season for canning! The beginning of fall is a great time to capture the bounty of late summer foods, which will keep well into winter if canned. Or, get ready for the plethora of apples and pears for things like applesauce or apple/pear butter. Throw a canning party, then give them away as gifts!

Inspired yet? Here are some more simple fall food pairings:

  • Roasted sweet potato, dressed with coconut oil and cinnamon, or pumpkin pie spice

  • Diced butternut squash, tossed in butter/ghee, seasoned with Moroccan inspired seasonings like Ras Al Hanout, or simply curry powder

  • Try adding seasonal leeks to your favorite butternut squash soup recipe

  • Cook down apples and/or pears, then top with full-fat yogurt and cinnamon/nutmeg for a delectable breakfast

  • Arugula greens with pomegranate and/or persimmons and toasted pecans

Did we miss anything? What are your favorite autumn foods or recipes?

Gut Health Gummies

Rachel O'Reilly


These Gelatin Gummies are an excellent snack that are truly health-promoting! Their gummy texture is made from gelatin which, unlike common Jello, contains amino acids that promote healthy growth. Store-bought Jello or similar products have artificial sweeteners and colors. However, high quality gelatin can be a super healing addition to almost any diet, especially for those aiming to improve gut, mental, joint or skin health.

Get the Glow

Gelatin is cooked collagen, and it contains large amounts of the amino acids glycine and proline. Both of these amino acids are critical for our body's production of collagen, a major structural protein found everywhere in the body. Collagen can be softer (cartilage) or more firm (tendons). Since collagen is a primary element of skin, gelatin is excellent for skin health, and often recommended for reducing wrinkles and attaining a radiant “glow” to the skin. Gelatin can be found most commonly in slow cooked bone broths, as well as in supplemental form.

Amino Acid Glycine

The glycine found in gelatin aids in the metabolism of methionine, which is found in high amounts in meat. Too much methionine (without sufficient glycine) can lead to toxic levels of homocysteine, which has been associated as a high risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Glycine is also excellent for blood sugar support, reducing sugar cravings, improving cellular energy production, inhibiting muscle spasms, and for liver detoxification support.

Gut Health and More

It must also be highlighted that gelatin is super soothing to the gastrointestinal tract, which is why it’s often used by those with intestinal permeability, or leaky gut syndrome. It helps to restore healthy mucosal lining in the stomach and enhance gastric acid secretion. Furthermore, gelatin helps to keep fluid in the digestive tract, allowing for nice-n-easy bowel movements. The collagen in gelatin is also helpful for joint and musculoskeletal health. As mentioned, ligaments, cartilage and tendons all contain high levels of structural protein collagen.

Who Should Consider Gelatin

I would recommend gelatin-rich foods for anyone recovering from surgery/injury, dealing with joint conditions like osteoarthritis, or for athletes/anyone who exercises frequently. Additionally, because glycine plays such an important role in building and growing the body, gelatin is important for both pregnant women and children. As pregnancy progresses, the demands for glycine also increase. Children grow at an especially rapid rate, so glycine will continue to play an important role in building a strong body as they get older.

Last but not least, gelatin can be a great dietary supplement for soothing the nervous system. Personally, I’ve found a warm mug of bone broth to be gently grounding and stress-relieving.

Getting it in the Diet

The best way to add gelatin-rich foods to the diet is in the form of slow-cooked bone broths, or by way of supplemental gelatin. I believe bone broths are just now beginning to make their way back into our modern kitchens, and several companies and restaurants are beginning to catch on. While bone broths from pasture-raised animals would be ideal, I’m offering an alternative via Gelatin Gummies! These little gummies are so easy to make and can be less intimidating than bone broth. They’re an excellent treat for kids, as the texture is just like jello and can be sweetened naturally with fruit or honey.

The brand of gelatin I like is Great Lakes, and this is the one that gels nicely for gummies like the ones below. As a note, whole protein gelatin will gel, while hydrolyzed collagen will not gel but can be used to easily add to smoothies, cold liquids, etc.

Simple Raspberry Mango Gelatin Gummies

  • 2 cups raspberries*

  • 1 whole mango, peeled and roughly chopped  

  • 1 cup filtered water

  • 3 tbsp high quality gelatin

  • 1-2 tbsp honey (optional)

1. Blend the raspberries, mango, and water until smooth. *Note: For the raspberries, I just buy frozen ones, then let them defrost before blending.

2. Strain the blended mixture through a fine mesh sieve, or using a nut milk bag, into a medium pot. If you don't mind the tiny seeds from the raspberries, you can skip this step.

3. Gently warm the pot on the stovetop. Do not let it get to a boil. Once warm, whisk in the gelatin 1 tbsp at a time. Make sure the gelatin you've added is thoroughly dissolved before adding the next tablespoon.

4. Pour the gelatin mixture into an 8x8 inch glass pan, or pour the mixture into silicone molds. Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours. Once solidified, cover tightly and keep stored in the refrigerator. Gummies will last 3-5 days.


There are so many variations you can do with this recipe. Try adding in lime, lemon, or ginger juice. Or, use different fruits like orange and pineapple.

On-The-Go Snacks

Rachel O'Reilly

In a perfect world we would all have time to sit down and enjoy our food, but inevitably life gets busy and nourishing ourselves doesn’t get prioritized, especially for new parents. Having on-the-go snacks will keep you energized, inhibit cravings and prevent impulse candy buys in the checkout line. Just a little planning and preparing will go a long way; all of these snacks can be made in one day and last at least a week!


Homemade Coconut Trail Mix

Making your own trail mix is a great idea because most pre-made trail mixes have sneaky sugars (like those delicious M&M's). Or, if purchasing trail mix with roasted nuts/seeds, they're mostly likely roasted in unhealthy oils. This homemade trail mix is simple and the variations are endless. The coconut in this trail mix offers satisfying fats (and toasting your coconut flakes beforehand really adds a nice flavor). 


  • unsweetened, toasted coconut flakes

  • sunflower seeds, raw

  • goji berries

  • raw cacao nibs

  • pinch of salt

  • dash of cinnamon


To toast coconut flakes, heat oven to 300 degrees. Spread coconut evenly on a cookie sheet, and toast around 5-7 minutes, checking frequently, until just golden around the edges.

Mix remaining ingredients in a large bowl with salt and cinnamon. Add in any other nuts/seeds or dried fruits you enjoy, such as almonds, cashews, hemp seeds, currants, golden raisins, etc. 

Energy Bars

5-7 servings

Homemade nut bars are a great snack with enough healthy fats to hold you till your next meal. There are several variations to this, so use whatever nuts and seeds you have on hand!


  • 1 cup unsweetened, toasted coconut flakes

  • 1/3 cup cashews or other nut (macadamia, almond, pecan, etc.)

  • 8-10 medjool dates, pitted

  • 1/2 -1 tsp cinnamon

  • pinch of salt


  1. To toast coconut flakes, heat oven to 300 degrees. Spread coconut evenly on a cookie sheet, and toast around 5-7 minutes, checking frequently, until just golden around the edges.

  2. Chop nuts in food process until fine. Remove into a bowl.

  3. Add dates to food processor. Pulse until broken down well, and a ball just begins to form.

  4. Add nuts, coconut flakes, cinnamon, and sea salt to date mixture in the food processor. Pulse again until mixture sticks together.

  5. Remove the mixture from the food processor, roll into a large ball, then place between two sheets of parchment paper and press into a rectangle. You can also place the parchment paper in a glass food storage to make it easier to form. 

  6. Once pressed to desired thickness, remove parchment and cut into squares. If your dates are especially sticky, place in the refrigerator for at least an hour before cutting. 

  7. Store in an airtight container. 

Curry Spiced Cashews

A little goes a long way when it comes to nuts, so just about ¼ of a cup is a good portion. It's also helpful to pair with a piece of fruit, such as an apple, for a more filling sensation in the stomach and extra fiber.


  • 1 ½ - 2 cups cashews, raw

  • 2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)

  • 1-2 tsp cumin

  • ½ - 1 tsp coriander

  • ½ - 1 tsp cinnamon

  • salt, few pinches


Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Melt the ghee in a skillet. Place cashews in a bowl and drizzle the ghee over the cashews. Add the remaining spices and mix with a spatula. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Spread the spiced cashews on a baking tray and place in the oven for 20-30 minutes. Remove and let cool, then store in the refrigerator. To make this recipe even easier, just use curry powder as the seasoning! 

Here are some other simple, no-prep snack ideas. I always recommend pairing a carbohydrate with a protein or fat to make the snack balanced and stabilizing for blood sugar. 

  • Full fat, plain yogurt with seasonal fruit or berries (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries)

  • Dates stuffed with toasted walnuts with a light sprinkle of cinnamon, cardamom and salt

  • Almond butter single squeeze (like Justin’s) with apple or banana

  • Pre-made guacamole with mini bell peppers or carrot sticks

  • Mary’s Gone Crackers or celery sticks with hummus dip

  • Bars with few and recognizable ingredients, such as LarabarsKind BarsPure Bars, or Epic Bars

  • Small handful of olives with cherry tomatoes and basil

Choo Choo! Get Onboard the Meal Train!

Rachel O'Reilly

It takes a village to raise a child.
— African Proverb

After the arrival of a new baby, friends and family will want to know how they can show their love and support. One of the most helpful and appreciated gestures can be providing meals for the thrilled, yet exhausted family.

What’s the best way to go about planning meals after a birth? A meal train. A meal train is simply when friends and family make and deliver meals according to a set schedule. This can easily be done using sites like Much easier than starting an email thread, provides an interactive calendar, email alerts for participants, the ability to list meal preferences, updates for cancellations or additions and much more.

Whether you’re a new mother, or just a friend who wants to provide a meal, you might be wondering what kinds of meals to request or provide.

Focus on nutrient density. This is a time when mom needs plenty of nutrients to provide her with energy as well as the nutrients needed for breast milk. Women who are breastfeeding should be sure to eat plenty of foods high in animal fats, to get fat-soluble vitamins A and D, as well as minerals like zinc and B12. For those who can tolerate dairy, whole milk is a good option, especially if bought from a local farmer. Lacto-fermented beverages (such as beet kvass, kefir or kombucha) as well as soaked grain porridges are traditionally believed to increase milk supply. 

Whole, unprocessed foods are naturally high in various nutrients. Strongly consider organic meats, vegetables, grains and legumes, with a special emphasis on leafy green vegetables. Dishes that can pack in a variety of vegetables will be excellent, such as soups and stews, which can be extra nourishing if made from slow-simmered bone broths. One-pot meals or casseroles can also be comforting and loaded with vegetables. For meat, poultry, or fish, opt for the highest quality you can find. This means grass-fed beef, pasture-raised chicken or wild-caught fish. A simple example of this is a whole roasted chicken with a side of herb roasted seasonal vegetables and a salad. Stay away from trans fatty acids that are found in margarine, vegetable shortenings and many processed foods.

Mother’s dietary preferences or conditions should always be considered, and sites like will allow for clear specifications on this. If mom didn’t digest beans well before birth, then substitute your multi-bean chili with a meat and veggie-based one instead. Or, if mom was sensitive to gluten, opt for something like this gluten-free shepherds pie with cauliflower topping. 

Here are a few tips for "meal train etiquette":

  • Think of meals that are out-of-the-box ready. At home, your go-to meals may have several parts that need to be assembled or put together. Especially with a new baby, it will be a joy to just open a meal, heat, and eat!

  • If you’re not confident in your culinary skills, consider take-out from the family’s favorite place. Sometimes a whole pizza plus a salad will satisfy everyone’s taste buds, especially if there are other children in the family.

  • Consider including a sweet treat. Homemade pies, fresh fruit salads or chia seed puddings are great!

  • Make it beautiful. Fresh flowers are always a nice addition, or beautiful cloth napkins to wrap things in, along with a hand-written note. Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest difference and will let new mom know she is fully supported.

Baby's First Foods

Rachel O'Reilly

As we’ve mentioned before, breast-milk is the perfect food for a growing baby. It provides all the necessary fats and proteins needed to support rapid growth. But when it’s time to incorporate some solid food, which foods will still be able to support continual growth and mimic the nutrient profile of breast milk*?

When to Wean

The exact month to begin introducing solid foods will depend on the maturity and size of your baby.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for about the first six months of age, and then a combination of breastfeeding and complementary solid foods until 12 months. After 12 months, a continuation of breast-milk can be given if still desired.

In other cultures around the world, mothers continue breastfeeding until the average age of three years old, and UNICEF promotes breastfeeding up to 2 years of age and beyond.

According to UNICEF Data: Monitoring the Situation of Women and Children, “Ideally, infants should be breastfed within one hour of birth, breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life and continue to be breastfed up to 2 years of age and beyond. Starting at 6 months, breastfeeding should be combined with safe, age-appropriate feeding of solid, semi-solid and soft foods.”

If your baby stops pushing his or her tongue out when food or a spoon is put in their mouth, they are probably ready for some small bits of solid food.

Best First Foods

First, understand that your baby’s tiny digestive system is still developing. Infants have the digestive enzymes necessary for breaking down protein and fats (mother’s milk is about 50-60% fat); however, at six months of age, they still lack sufficient amounts of enzymes to break down carbohydrates. So, for example, introducing something like a cereal with a mix of different grains wouldn’t be ideal.  

Because babies still need protein and fats for growth, it’s important to continue with breast milk as you introduce other foods into your baby’s life. Breast-milk will provide the fats and proteins that mashed peas alone can not provide.

Remember to take it slow. Your baby’s tolerance to food will be completely unique, so introduce one new food at a time, and wait at least 3-4 days to look out for any reactions, such as diarrhea, rash, or vomiting.

Some good starter-foods for babies include:

  • Cooked vegetables such as zucchini, squash, sweet potato, carrots or beets. Can be plain, or with small amounts of breast milk, which may help baby recognize the flavor and make a smooth transition into eating foods

  • Cooked, pureed fruits such as organic apricots, peaches, pears, apples and berries.

  • Raw mashed fruits such as banana, melon, mangoes, papaya or avocado.

  • Pureed meat, such as lamb, turkey, beef, chicken, liver or fish.

  • Organic chicken liver or duck liver, cooked and pureed.

  • Bone broth added to pureed meats and vegetables, or alone.

  • Egg yolk** (not egg whites) from pasture-raised chickens, lightly boiled and salted.

Always talk to your doctor about when to start introducing solid foods. Many people have different opinions about what foods are best to introduce first, but what most can agree on is that it’s best to introduce whole, real foods that are already a part of your family’s diet. Most importantly, pay close attention to how your child reacts.

* If you struggle with breastfeeding, you are not alone. Learn more about breastfeeding challenges (and solutions) here.

** It is often recommended not to introduce eggs to children until after at least one year of age due to their potential to be an allergenic food (additionally, avoid honey and nuts). However, according to Sally Fallon Morell and Thomas S. Cowan, MD, of The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care, egg yolks from pasture-raised chickens provide an excellent source of choline, cholesterol, and arachidonic acid (as well as vitamins A, D, iron, and folic acid) which are excellent for a baby’s brain development. A mother can try just a ¼ teaspoon from her own lightly cooked egg breakfast and see how it is tolerated.

Avoiding "Hanger" While Breastfeeding

Rachel O'Reilly

Hanger (noun) / Hangry (adjective): an overwhelming sensation of hunger that leads to anger and frustration.

You may have been there before, even prior to getting pregnant; you wait too long to eat, then suddenly it feels like the world will end if you don’t get food into your body immediately! 

This can be a common experience while breastfeeding, especially if the diet is made up of refined carbohydrates and low-fat foods. To supply your body with the extra 300 - 500 or so calories needed to produce breast milk and maintain enough energy to care for yourself and babe, focus on whole, energy dense foods.  

During lactation, mothers should continue to eat special nutrient and energy dense foods, which is very similar to eating before conception and during pregnancy.

Healthy Fats for Energy

Energy dense foods can easily be attained in the form of high quality fats. While the suggestion to eat fats may sound alarm bells in your head, especially with a desire to lose pregnancy weight, consider that not all fats affect the body in the same way. Fats are actually the body’s preferred energy source, and when you eat the ones your body was designed to use, fats offer healthy skin, hair, body temperature, immune function, and also aid in the absorption of fat soluble vitamins. Additionally, fats are super satisfying. Not only do they make food taste great (which is why bacon in anything tastes great), but fats are also crucial in suppressing hunger via hormonal pathways between the gut and brain. A meal with sufficient amounts of healthy fats will provide more energy and satisfaction, especially in comparison to a high carbohydrate meal or sugary snack, which will leave you hungry in a hour or two.

Healthy fats should come from pastured animal meats, coconut oil/meat/butter, oily fish like salmon or sardines, avocado, macadamia nuts, whole milk (if tolerated) and fermented dairy products, eggs and their yolks, butter and ghee -- just to name a few.

Example Day of Energy-Giving Fats:

  • Breakfast: Pastured eggs prepared how you like them, with no-nitrate, grass-fed bacon and fresh seasonal fruit

  • Snack: Smoothie made with full fat coconut milk and frozen berries

  • Lunch: Homemade soup made with bone broth, served with a side of sourdough bread topped with grass-fed butter or avocado 

  • Snack: Sweet potato/egg/avocado stacks (pictured above, with cubed red bell pepper)

  • Dinner: Meat/organ meat with side salad and roasted sweet potato topped with coconut oil and cinnamon 

Bone Broth: The "Superfood" Trend You Should Actually Take to Heart

Rachel O'Reilly

By: Erica Favela

Mark my words: bone broth is the new green juice.

Bone broth is an ancient food that has made its way back into the spotlight. It’s popping up in packaged form at Whole Foods and other natural foods stores, butchers are now selling it in hot containers like coffee, and broth bars like this one are emerging onto the scene.

And although you should look at most health fads with a skeptical eye (e.g. products labeled as “superfoods”), the re-emergence of bone broths should be greeted with a warm welcome. Similar to the way fermented and probiotic-rich foods (like kombucha and sauerkraut) have been making great headway due to their impact on promoting a healthy gut, the nutritional benefits of bone broth also deem it worthy of a place in the modern kitchen.

What Is It?

Bone broth is simply a stock made from the meat and bones of animals, most commonly chicken and beef, as well as lamb or fish. The bones, joints, and other parts with cartilage are cooked over low simmering heat, in order to extract gelatin and other nutrients.

Stock or Broth?

Technically, broths and stocks are different. Broths refer to the liquid made from meats, vegetables, and other seasonings (not bones). Stocks, on the other hand, refer to liquids made from slow simmered bones, and they’re often unseasoned. However, when making a stock out of bones, there’s often meat still on the bones, which crosses it over into the broth category. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to use the words broth and stock interchangeably, since we’re addressing the healing properties of slow cooked bones (a stock) but also want the flavor typical of broths (from meat, vegetables and other seasonings).

Nutritional Benefits  

Bone broths are helpful for strengthening bones, cartilage, tendons, and connective tissue for both a pregnant mother and her baby.

By slow-cooking the bones and marrow, collagen and healing amino acids such as proline, glycine, and glutamine, are released. Bone broths also contain essential minerals, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, and sulphur. These nutrients are easily digested and have been found to significantly improve gut and bone health, joints, and the immune system.

Consuming broth during pregnancy is especially helpful in providing extra glycine. While a mother can make enough glycine for survival, sufficient amounts of glycine are needed for fetal growth. The fetus can access glycine from the mother’s blood, or manufacture it with sufficient amounts of folate, a vitamin, and serene, an amino acid. A mother can ensure she gets adequate glycine by consuming bone broth daily.

Collagen is what solidifies and creates the jello-like gelatin. Collagen is found in bones, marrow, joints, and tendons, and offers a diverse array of health benefits, including:

  • Can protect and smooth the lining of the digestive tract and can aid in healing or reducing symptoms of IBS, Crohn’s Disease, ulcerative colitis, and reflux. The hydrophilic colloid found in gelatin attracts and holds liquids and digestive juices and supports proper digestion. Collagen also helps break down proteins, which can be useful for those with leaky gut syndrome.

  • Contains amino acids glycine, proline, and arginine are anti-inflammatory. Glycine is also calming and can promote better sleep.

  • Helps promote probiotic balance and growth.

  • Builds connective tissue, which can prevent bone loss and relieve joint pain. It can also help reduce joint pain and inflammation due to the healing properties of chondroitin sulphates and glucosamine. These compounds are extracted from the boiled down cartilage.

  • Supports the regeneration of connective tissue in the skin, which can reduce the appearance of wrinkles and cellulite. Additionally, the gelatin is supportive of healthy hair and nail growth.

Make Your Own Bone Broth

Bone broth can be easily made at home, which will far outweigh the nutrient content of typical boxed broths, which often contain MSG or other synthetic flavors.

Bone broth can be made with bones and cartilage of chicken, beef, fish or lamb, and sometimes includes a small amount of meat. Since the nutrients will be excreted from the bones of these animals, it’s important to purchase pasture-raised, grass fed, organic and local whenever possible.

Simple Homemade Bone Broth Recipe

  1. Place bones in a large stock pot or slow cooker and cover with water.

  2. Add 2 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar to help excrete the important nutrients from the bone.

  3. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer (if using a slow cooker, turn on high for 1-2 hours, then back down to low for the remaining time).

    1. Fish stock: at least 4 hours, up to 24 hours

    2. Chicken: at least 6, up to 24 hours

    3. Beef/lamb: at least 12 hours, up to 72 hours

  4. Add vegetables and/or seaweed in the last hour of cooking.

  5. Strain and store in glass jars in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze for later use.

  6. Enjoy as soup, in stews, sauces or stir-fries, or sip as-is, seasoned with herbs and spices.







Bauman E. NC 2010. Musculoskeletal Health. [Power Point Slides]. Retrieved from

Cowan, T.S. & Morell, S. F. (2005). The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Childcare. Washington, DC: New Trends Publishing, Inc. 

Mercola, DO (2013). Bone Broth: One of Your Most Healing Diet Staples. Retrieved from <>


How to Utilize Nutrition Labels

Rachel O'Reilly

My approach to food isn’t one that includes reading nutrition labels. I don’t count calories or track grams of fats and carbohydrates. Instead, I try my best to eat a mostly whole foods diet (foods that don’t even have a nutrition label), and cook as much as possible at home.

But I’m not a perfect human, so I don’t always eat foods cooked from scratch, and sometimes I need uncommon items or treats, especially in a pinch. Packaged bars (great for traveling), milk alternatives, marinades or sauces can be lifesavers on busy days. For foods like these, I always read labels and do my best to make a good choice.

But with all the numbers, weights, and percentages, nutrition facts labels can be confusing. The intention of the label seems to be showing helpful information, but what exactly should we be looking for? Here’s the scoop on just three things to look for in order to make an informed choice.

What am I looking at?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has helpful articles on how to analyze nutrition facts labels. You can download this PDF of the below graphic with added information about each section.

3 Main Things to Look for

1. First, go straight to the ingredients list. Skip all of the strategic marketing that went into how an item was packaged and forego any special claims made on the front. Instead, head straight to the raw ingredients that were used. The ingredients are often listed just below the nutrition facts label. Note that ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, so the ingredients listed first will make up the largest portion. For instance, if bread is labeled as “whole wheat” but has the ingredient “enriched bleached flour” listed first,  it means there’s more enriched bleached flour than wheat flour.

Often what’s listed on the ingredient list is enough to tell you whether or not to put the item back on the shelf. My simple rule of thumb is this: eat foods with few ingredients, and make sure those ingredients are recognizable. If I turn around a package to find a long list of multisyllable words that sound like they came straight from a lab, I stop and reconsider if I really need all those things in my body. More times than not, I convince myself that I can make the item at home with way healthier ingredients.

Tip: Whenever I buy milk alternatives, like almond, I always look for just one word: carageenan. Studies on carageenan have mostly been administered on lab animals and the jury is still out on its safety. Animals studies, though, have shown carageenan to be disruptive to digestion and potentially pro-inflammatory.

2. Sugar. Sugar is one of the main culprits behind overeating, weight gain, cardiovascular disease, many chronic inflammatory diseases and more. And if you thought you read the ingredients list without coming across the word “sugar,” chances are it was disguised under another name. Learn more about that here

The less sugar the better, so compare brands or choose one that has no sugar at all. Foods like yogurt, nut butters and milk alternatives often have non sugar variations. Just two teaspoons (about 8 grams) of sugar is enough to throw off our body’s ideal level of blood sugar, so eat sweets as part of a main meal, or eat consciously and enjoy every morsel.

3. Serving Size. Lastly, if an item has gotten ‘cleared’ on ingredients and sugar, make sure to check the serving size, especially if trying to practice portion control. Some foods will have a small serving size that is hardly comparable to how much you actually eat, such as cookies or chips. These are delicious tasting foods that are easy to overeat!  Some people do really well with portioning, and others (including myself) do not. If I find myself looking at a serving size, it’s usually another clue that the item will have to be limited in some way, so I may as well just put it back or look for a smaller amount (like those single-serving packets of nut butters). 

To make your life a lot easier and avoid having to analyze labels, switch to a mostly whole foods diet. When at the grocery store, stick to the perimeter of the store where most of the fresh produce and food lives. When buying foods like whole fruits and whole vegetables, or meat/seafood from the butcher, you don’t have to wonder about weird ingredients or numbers. Instead, food coming in its unadulterated, straight-from-the-earth form will be naturally satiating and nutritionally balanced. Calories, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, etc. will all take care of themselves when delivered via Mother Earth’s natural creations.


Best Foods for Labor

Rachel O'Reilly

Keep these snacks on hand or in your birth bag. Most can be found at a local natural foods grocery store: raw nuts,  peppermint tea , honey sticks,  grass-fed beef bone broth,   coconut water,  and 80% dark chocolate&nbsp;

Keep these snacks on hand or in your birth bag. Most can be found at a local natural foods grocery store: raw nuts, peppermint tea, honey sticks, grass-fed beef bone broth, coconut water, and 80% dark chocolate 

When thinking about what to pack in your birth bag, don’t forget about food and snacks! Everyone’s labor process is different, but having energizing foods on hand will prepare for a potentially early or long labor.  

If you’re having a home birth, stock the fridge with your normal routine foods. Simply make extra servings and store them in the freezer. If birthing at the hospital, bring some previously frozen foods to the hospital room if there’s a small refrigerator. Some women experience heartburn during pregnancy as a natural side effect of hormonal and physical changes. For this reason, avoid acidic foods, or any other food you know that causes digestive distress (such as citrus, spicy foods, heavily seasoned foods or fatty/fried foods). 

Here are some simple snacks to easily store in your to-go bag ahead of time:

  • nuts/trail mix - energizing early labor snacks

  • soup and/or bone broth - nutrient-dense, easy to consume

  • peppermint and ginger tea - nausea

  • honey sticks - sugar spike

  • 80% dark chocolate - energy

  • coconut water and other electrolyte filled drinks -  a very long labor can be compared to running a marathon!

Foods/Drinks to avoid:

  • Orange juice or lemonade - while in active labor it is common for the mother-to-be to vomit, therefore it is best to avoid drinks and food that are very acidic

  • Coffee - caffeine could be useful after a very long labor (dark chocolate, iced black tea) but coffee could affect the mother’s blood pressure, and is also dehydrating, so best to avoid it

It’s also a good idea to pack a snack that you’ve been craving throughout your pregnancy. Many times, if a mother-to-be attempts to eat while in early labor she goes for her favorite “snack” - peanut/almond butter and honey on toast, a smoothie or a fruit popsicle, for example. She probably won’t eat the entire portion, especially if in active labor, but it could be the first thing she’ll want to devour once her baby is in her arms.

Lastly, don’t forget to pack a bottle of champagne (or a six pack of your partner’s favorite beer)! Your baby’s arrival is a cause for celebration!


Hidden Sources of Sugar

Rachel O'Reilly

Here’s the bitter truth: sugar has no nutrients. And even though many of us think we don’t eat much sugar, upon closer look, we may be eating far more than our recommended daily value.

Many people are shocked to learn where sugar really hides. Some of the most unassuming foods, like salad dressings, meats or “healthy” bars are laced with added sugar. Additionally, sugar is often listed under unrecognizable names, like dextrose for instance, or added in just the right amount per serving so that it’s not listed on food labels.

Why Am I so Addicted to Sugar?

As humans we are naturally hard-wired to seek and enjoy sugar. Biologically, sweet tastes trigger “feel good” chemicals like dopamine and endorphins, which make us feel fantastic and want more sweet things.

This innate love for sugar was once critical for our survival. Long ago when we were hunters and gatherers, our lifestyles were active and we needed the dense calories found in sugar. The taste of sweet was also an indicator of something to be non poisonous. Back then, sugar was scarce, and the wild fruits that contained sugar were much smaller and less sweet than our fruits today.

Sugar’s Impact on the Body

Refined white sugar has no redeeming health benefits, period. A simple google search for “sugar health risks” will pull up plenty of articles on this, but below are some of the main points. Personally, the main reason I do my best to steer clear of sugar is for my daily sanity. I find that once I start eating sugar, all I can think about are other sweet foods. Then I’m dealing with cravings, like a nagging monkey on my back, constantly clamoring for my next sugar fix!

Too much sugar …

  • is damaging to the liver, the main organ used for detoxification

  • can be de-stabilizing to hormones like insulin and leptin which are important for healthy metabolism and weight

  • causes an unhealthy balance of gut flora

  • is pro-inflammatory

  • is associated with common health problems including type II diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension

  • can cause negative psychological responses, stimulating the reward/pleasure part of our brain that makes us want more sweets, leading to cravings and unhealthy habits with food

Be a Sugar Detective

It’s pretty obvious that sugar is found in foods like pastries, cereals, and beverages, but some of the less common foods with added sugar include:

  • salad dressings

  • ketchup and BBQ sauce

  • gum

  • canned soups

  • nut butters

  • yogurt

  • dried fruit

  • “healthy” bars and granola bars

  • granola

  • sausages

  • beef jerky

  • tomato sauce

  • many fat-free processed foods

The best thing to do when looking for sugar in a food product is to go straight to the ingredients list. Forget what it says on the packaging and nutrition label. Even foods that say “0g of sugar" in the nutrition label can contain sugar, and in many cases, the per serving amount is much less than what is typically consumed. When reading ingredient lists, look for:

Typical sugar words: cane sugar, brown sugar, beet sugar, high fructose corn syrup, malt syrup, rice syrup, agave nectar

Other words that mean sugar: fruit juice concentrate, corn sweetener, maltodextrin, evaporated cane juice/syrup

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols come from plant derivatives and typically have fewer calories than table sugar, or sucrose. Many foods labeled “sugar-free” have these alcohols. In some cases, they have fewer calories simply because the body can’t absorb them and they often have a laxative effect. However, these sugar alcohols have the same effect on the body as regular sugar: 

  • sorbitol

  • xylitol

  • mannitol

  • ribitol

  • arabitol

  • glycerol/glycerin

  • isomalt

  • maltitol

Words ending in -ose:

  • fructose

  • ribose

  • sucrose

  • dextrose

  • lactose

  • maltose

What About Fruit?

The main problem with sugar is really added sugar, artificial sweeteners, or refined white sugar - not sugar naturally occurring in whole foods like fruits. Fruits do indeed contain sugar; however, they also contain other vitamins and minerals, and most importantly fiber. Fiber slows down the release of sugar into the bloodstream, and also makes us physically full, preventing us from eating too much. Sugar, naturally occuring in food the way Mother Nature made it, is not something to be concerned about the way man-made, refined sugars are.

You may be thinking, “Oh great, sugar’s in everything! How am I supposed to stay away from it?” Once you develop the awareness about what ingredients, like sugar, are in your foods, you can make informed decisions for yourself and your family. You can look twice at your child’s snacks, or stay mindful of sweet cravings by asking yourself if you’ve had other sweet things the previous couple days. The reality is, it’s really hard to go 100% sugar free all of the time in this fast-paced, modern world, and it’s up to you to determine how much sugar is okay in your diet. This will depend on your current health condition, as well as how much time, energy, and resources you have to make your own food or buy the more natural options. If making a sugar-free marinade from scratch feels completely out of your range of possibilities, then by all means buy a pre-made one so that you can feed your family a delicious dinner! Or maybe instead of using artificial sweeteners, like Splenda or Equal, try using natural ones like honey, maple syrup or dates. Stay mindful and informed, and do the best you can!