No-Bake Granola Bars (gluten-free, low sugar)

No-Bake Granola Bars Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

Wow. Let me just start by saying, it’s been a while. This summer has been absolutely insane, but in a good way! I’m working full time at two different locations (both of which I love), beginning my career as a therapist intern, and still conducting personal research on the relationship between nutrition and mental health. Speaking of which, if you haven’t had a chance to “like” becauseitsgoodforyou’s page on Facebook, you may have missed the link to the article I wrote regarding the relationship between food sensitivities and Autism Spectrum Disorder that was published on Psychologytoday.com. I was working with a mentor for several months to  perfect the article and I must say, I am pretty satisfied with the way it turned out. I also hope I am able to provide a little extra help and insight to those who read the article and are dealing with ASD.

Anyway, on to the good stuff.

No-Bake Granola Bars Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

Although I may not have physically been on becauseitsgoodforyou.com, my heart has still been here and I definitely haven’t stopped experimenting in the kitchen. Some recipes have turned out amazing and some were, well, not so amazing. I’ll try to keep up with posting some of the better ones that I happened to snap pictures of before serving to friends (or devouring myself). The no-bake granola bars you see on this post are somewhat similar to my granola nut cookies that I posted back in April although these are actual granola, as they contain oats, and are slightly healthier in my opinion. The core of this recipe stemmed from another blogger’s granola bars  (see: Coco and Tea) and was adjusted to fit my needs. I’ve been on this low sugar kick for the past month so I opted against adding any additional sugar aside from the natural sweetness of nuts, fruit, and a little bit of honey and vanilla flavoring. The first batch turned out way too crumbly and would fall apart after taking one bite. This batch however, turned out just right! I think the almond butter is the secret to binding everything together in this recipe.

No-Bake Granola Bars Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHAT YOU NEED:

• 1 cup rolled oats
• 1 cup raw mixed nuts (Brazil, pecan, almond, peanut, macadamia, etc)
• 1 cup chopped dried fruit (I used raisins and apricots)
• 1 cup ground seeds (pumpkin, flax, sunflower, etc)
• ½ cup raw, creamy almond butter
• ¼ cup sunbutter
• ¼ cup raw honey
• ½ cup coconut oil
• ½ tsp vanilla extract
• dash of salt
• coconut oil cooking spray
• Optional: Chia seeds and/or coconut flakes and/or protein powder

No-Bake Granola Bars Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

PREPARATION

• Pour oats, mixed nuts, dried fruit, and ground seeds to a large bowl. Toss well.
• Mix sunbutter, almond butter, coconut oil, salt, honey, and vanilla in a small saucepan. Heat on low, stirring often, for about 3 minutes or until mixture is well combined.
• Pour wet ingredients into bowl with dry ingredients and mix with a spatula until the dry mixture is completely covered.
• Lightly spray your hands with coconut oil cooking spray.
• Press mixture firmly into a small baking pan (using your hands is the best and easiest way, hence the coconut oil spray)
• Option: Top with chia seeds, coconut flakes, or sprinkle protein powder for added nutrients
• Place pan in freezer for 20 minutes or until granola hardens
• Cut into rectangles and serve

No-Bake Granola Bars Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHY IT’S GOOD FOR YOU

Grinding these seeds beforehand and keeping the granola bars un-baked were two very important factors when creating this recipe, as it optimizes the amount of healthy, Omega-3 fatty acids your body can absorb from the seeds. Omega-3’s help control the amount of inflammation in our body, lessening the risk of arthritis, diabetes, asthma, and even cancer.  Incorporating a small handful of nuts every day into your diet can help with weight loss, stress-reduction, reduce the risk of lung cancer, lower cholesterol, assist in healthy heart health, and prevent cognitive decline. A study performed by UCLA even showed that a small handful of walnuts per day could assist with men’s reproductive health. In addition, nuts are a great source of dietary fiber, protein, and B-vitamins.

Broccoli and Toasted Almond Salad

If you have read my previous posts, you know I’m all about quick and easy recipes. I also eat salads pretty regularly – I pack one up for lunch and bring it to work every day. Usually I use spinach as the base and add various toppings like carrots, cucumbers, fennel, beets, etc., and top it off with some fig balsamic, pomegranate vinegar, or coconut aminos for the dressing. But sometimes I want a salad that has something besides a spinach base, which is why I fell in love with this simple broccoli salad. The only real work associated with making this is toasting the almonds and chopping up some veggies. It can be made in under 10 minutes and is easily transportable. Not to mention, it’s vegan, (almost) raw, paleo, and all that other good stuff. The toasted almonds are definitely the star of this show, so make sure not to skip out on those. This salad is even tastier when you add a little avocado and lemon on top. Also, if you don’t have red wine vinegar, you need to find some. Using RWV for the dressing goes especially well with this dish, although you would be fine using a standard oil/balsamic mix too.

Broccoli Salad Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHAT YOU NEED:

• ½ Red onion, sliced thinly with a knife or mandoline
• 1 bag broccoli florets, chopped
• ¼ cup sliced almonds
• Red wine vinegar, or other dressing of your choice
• 1 Avocado (optional)
• 1 tbsp Grapeseed oil
• salt and pepper to taste

Broccoli Salad Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

PREPARATION

• Pour grapeseed oil into a frying pan on medium heat
• Add toasted almonds to frying pan and toss with oil
• Add salt and pepper while constantly mixing the almonds around the pan. Once they start to darken, take them off the heat and let them cool on a paper towel. Be careful because they will burn quickly!
• Add broccoli, onion, and almonds to a large bowl. Toss with red wine vinegar and top with avocado (optional)

Pretty simple, but oh so delicious!

Broccoli Salad Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHY IT’S GOOD FOR YOU 

Broccoli, in addition to being a great anti-inflammatory food, plays a role in our bodies ability to detox and rid itself of unwanted contaminants. It also contains a strong dose of vitamins A and K, two nutrients that help keep our vitamin D levels balanced. Almonds and other nuts may contain a decent amount of fat, but don’t worry, it’s the good kind. They’re high in monosaturated fats, which are known to reduce the risk of heart disease. Magnesium is also abundant in almonds and helps improve the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the body.

Going Paleo

Most of the recipes I post on this site are either vegan or pesco-vegan friendly, but in all honesty, I follow a mostly Paleo diet. About a year and a half ago, after watching all the plant-based diet documentaries, I decided to cut back on my meat consumption. I went from eating meat twice a week, to once a week, to none at all. Then I began cutting out other things like cheese and cream. I switched to using almond milk in my cereal and tea rather than skim milk or vanilla creamer. Eventually I grew into what I liked to call a pseudo-vegan (I was still eating fish) and began increasing my intake of soy rich foods, rice, legumes, and grains.

Paleo Diet Becauseitsgoodforyou.comIt was fine for a little while, but then I started experiencing some strange symptoms: dizziness, fatigue, mental fog, skin allergies, etc. and I knew something wasn’t right. After sharing these issues with my Naturopathic Doctor, she decided to run a food allergy panel to see if I was allergic to any of the foods I was eating. I also began keeping a food diary and taking note of how I felt, physically and emotionally, after each meal. The food allergy panel came back showing I was in fact showing some allergic reactions toward many of the food items I was consuming on a regular basis. By keeping a food diary, I noticed that many of my physical and mental symptoms I was experiencing resulted after eating a dish with tofu, wheat, rice, or soy. Through drawing my blood, I also learned that I had an O blood type – the most primitive blood type and the type most associated with individuals who thrive off a Paleolithic diet.

According to Dr. D’Adamo, author of “Eat Right for Your Type,” our blood type can help determine what type of foods we should or should not be eating. But he’s not the only one who believes this theory. In Japan, asking someone their blood type is similar to asking someone what their astrological sign is. They believe it not only shows what type of diet you should be on, but it is also an indicator of certain personality traits. For example, an A blood type is said to be creative and analytical, B blood types are known as easygoing and flexible, O’s are objective and practical, and AB’s are intuitive and spiritual. His theory may also explain why many individuals have altered their diet – to either plant-based, lean meat-based, gluten-free, or the like – and seen their medical issues completely reverse. It just goes to show that everyone is unique and what works for one person doesn’t always work for another (you can read how I discovered this notion for myself here).

Robb Wolf is a huge advocate for the Paleo diet. He was a research biochemist who traded in his lab coat to write “The Paleo Solution,” a book that made the New York Times Bestseller’s list. He’s also a strength and conditioning coach, a blogger, public speaker, and has a podcast, all devoted to living a Paleo life. He describes the Paleo diet as the healthiest way we can eat- because it’s the way that our ancestors ate. The Paleo diet is sometimes called the Paleolithic diet, the Caveman diet, Hunter-Gatherer diet, or the Stone Age diet. It’s derived from the principle of consuming an ancient diet of wild plants and animals that hominid species consumed nearly 10,000 years ago, before the agricultural revolution and the production of man-made grains. The basics of it are as follows:

Paleo Diet Becauseitsgoodforyou.comFoods to Eat: Lean proteins such as beef, chicken, duck, lamb, turkey, organ meats, elk, eggs (all must be organic/antibiotic free, grass-fed, and free-range), fish that is low in mercury and caught in the wild or from a company that uses sustainable farming methods, plenty of vegetables, most fruits (low glycemic is best), nuts (except peanuts), seeds, and healthy fats (avocado, coconut).

Foods to Avoid: Dairy, grains, processed foods and oils, sugars, starches, legumes, and alcohol.

The trick to this diet is knowing what to use as a substitute. Coconut milk is a great substitute for dairy products and is a good source of healthy fat. Almond milk also works well as a “creamer” for coffee or tea. Coconut flour and almond meal can be used for baking or “breading.” Extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil is encouraged over vegetable oils or seed oils (corn, canola, safflower). Once you get the hang of it, eating Paleo is pretty easy. For those of you who are interested in switching to a Paleo lifestyle, stay tuned! I’ll be sharing recipes in my next post to help get you started on your journey.

The Paleo diet also contains many positive anti-inflammatory properties. Studies show that an anti-inflammatory diet has helped many individuals suffering from a variety of health issues including asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s and autoimmune disorders. Inflammatory foods not only affect the body, but also affect the brain. Inflammatory responses have even been linked to symptoms of Asperger’s and Autism. For further information on the role of inflammation in the body, you can check out this post here.

Now that you know the ins and outs of going Paleo, do you think you’ll try to make the switch? Or have you tried living Paleo before and found that maybe it wasn’t the right fit for your blood or body type? I would be interested to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. And don’t forget to check back for my future post with some tasty Paleo recipes!

Green Coconut Smoothie

Green Coconut Smoothie Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

Todays post is going to be short and sweet (literally).  If you read my previous post you know that I’ve been experimenting quite a bit with coconut lately, and I’m so excited to share this amazing coconut smoothie recipe that I finally feel like I’ve perfected. I’ve made many a’ coconut smoothie in my day – coconut milk, kale, and blueberries; coconut milk, peaches, and spinach; coconut milk, blueberries and spinach (you get the idea) – but none of them were anything to write home over. The great thing about this recipe is that it has coconut meat in it, which is the best part of the coconut for you. I guess it was about time to overcome my fear of cracking open an actual coconut, because it was the secret to this drinks delicious success!

Green Coconut Smoothie Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHAT YOU NEED:

• 1 Young Thai Coconut
• 1.5 cups coconut milk
• 1 tbsp organic raw honey
• 1 tbsp coconut oil
• 1 large handful spinach/kale/baby kale

Green Coconut Smoothie Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

PREPARATION

Serving size: 2 full pint glasses

Crack open coconut with a sharp knife by “hammering” on all sides and twisting to pop open (be careful!). Drain water from coconut into blender. Scoop out coconut meat with a spoon and place into blender. Add honey, coconut oil, and greens. Blend well.

And that’s it! This smoothie is so good you’ll be craving it every morning (I know I do)!

Enjoy!

Green Coconut Smoothie Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHY IT’S GOOD FOR YOU

Young Thai Coconut meat contains only 65 calories and is a good source of manganese, potassium, and magnesium. Coconut water contains electrolyte levels similar to those in our blood and was even used for blood transfusions during WWII – It was known as the “fluid of life” among soldiers and medical staff. In addition, it’s also packed with B vitamins as well as calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Everything You Need to Know About Supplements

Although flu season should be over, the ugly little virus is still making it’s way into many of our homes and bodies and holding on to this season as long as it possibly can. I’m sure many of you have been frantically running to your local drugstore to stock up on Emergen-C, Airborne, or the generic brand of 1,000mg vitamin C tablets to help boost your immune system. I bet you’ve even been super diligent about taking your One-A-Day or Centrum multivitamin lately, just to be safe. I also bet you didn’t know that many of the vitamins you are consuming actually contain much less of their stated active ingredients, are rancid before they hit the shelves, contain genetically modified materials, or contain traces of pesticides, mold, and salmonella. Maybe you are one of the more health conscious people and only buy your vitamins from Whole Foods or a similar natural foods store, but did you know that even some of those “healthy” brands don’t test for the presence of genetically modified materials and may contain other unnatural binders and fillers? Does this surprise you?

VitaminE Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

Unfortunately, supplements are not required to be regulated for product quality the same way pharmaceuticals are. The FDA devotes so much more time, energy, and money toward testing pharmaceutical drugs that it seems as if they barely pay any attention to what supplement companies are putting into their products and selling to the public. That’s not to say that the FDA doesn’t ever check supplement companies for quality assurance. They routinely issue warning letters to various pharmaceutical and nutraceutical companies and list it on their website which you can view here. However, during the production and packaging process, just like with food, these supplements may be exposed to harmful chemicals or lose some of their nutritional value. This is one of the reasons it’s important to buy from companies that test not only their raw materials, but also test the finished product to make sure the product actually meets the label claim. In other words, if you buy a vitamin bottle that says each capsule contains 10,000 IUs of Vitamin A, you want to be sure you’re actually consuming 10,000 IUs of vitamin A. Like I mentioned earlier, companies that don’t do rigorous testing on their products may be selling items that have little (or no) nutritional value and may even be rancid by the time they hit the shelves and sold to the public.

   If by now, you’re on the verge of warding off nutraceutical companies altogether – don’t. You just need to do a little homework before you go out and buy your next bottle of vitamin C. Talk to the staff when you go to Whole Foods, Sprouts, or any other natural foods store. Ask them what products they use and if they have seen good results. Talk to your Naturopathic Doctor or other licensed alternative health specialist about what products they use for their patients and ask for recommendations on where you can find these products (if they aren’t sold in-office). While doing your research, a good website to check out is ConsumerLab.com. There, you’ll find a huge list of results from tests and product reviews on supplements and health products. You can also be on the lookout for a “USP” stamp on vitamin bottles, a label that means it has been tested and approved by the United States Pharmacopeial Convention. If you’re really dedicated to your research, you can even call the supplement company directly and ask for someone who can answer some product quality questions for you. If they are a good, honest company, they will gladly offer the information. Ask them what kind of tests they run on their products. Ask if they work in an FDA inspected facility, if they ever reject their products due to negative test results to protect the consumers, if they check for the presence of herbicides, fungicides, or heavy metals, if they have independent labs complete objective tests on their products, or if they use exipients (any binders or fillers) in any of their products. To make things a little easier for you, I’ve also listed below some basic rules to follow when trying to find good quality supplements in your local health/natural food store. When it comes to your health – a little research goes a long way!
Supplements Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

SUPPLEMENT RULES
• Buying vitamins in liquid form is always your best bet
. Liquids are typically more pure and you’re more likely to get maximum absorption. The next best thing is to buy the vitamin in a powder, or dry form. Vegan capsules are also great and sometimes more convenient if you’re in a rush or need to take it to go. Tablets should be your last resort as they tend to have artificial binders in order to hold everything together.
The darker the packaging, the better. During shipping, vitamins have the potential of being exposed to a variety of weather conditions such as extreme heat, cold, or light, all of which can compromise the integrity of the product. Typically, supplements that have a dark brown or tinted casing means that the company who produced it is attempting to keep everything temperature controlled to prevent rancidification.
• Unless you’re on a 20-vitamin-a-day regimen, opt for taking your vitamins individually over taking a multivitamin. Yes, that means if you want to take vitamin B, calcium, zinc, magnesium, vitamin C, and vitamin A every day, then you will be taking 6 different vitamins from 6 different bottles, daily. Multivitamins are still beneficial, but ingesting these nutrients individually allows for a greater chance of absorption.
• If you are planning to take a high dosage of a vitamin or are trying a new herb for the first time, always discuss your plan with a professional first. Although “overdosing” on vitamins is incredibly rare, it can send your body into detox mode and you may experience some unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects. As stated earlier – do your homework and talk to people who specialize in this subject.
A good fish oil is a refrigerated fish oil. Anything you buy on a shelf is rancid or artificial. Enough said.

   Hopefully these guidelines help you in your journey toward finding good quality supplements, staying healthy, and keeping those colds away!

Juicing 101: Behind the Scenes

juice cleanse becauseitsgoodforyou.com

There were several pro’s and con’s to my 3-day juice cleanse experiment. On the one hand, I realized that multi-day juice cleanses weren’t for everyone because I didn’t quite feel all the positive effects that I read about in the testimonials. On the other hand, I did learn a lot of delicious juice recipes and even began creating some recipes of my own! My juicing has definitely been up since the cleanse and I even find myself occasionally craving an 8oz glass of nutritional gooddness. While my last post documented my juicing experience, this post is dedicated to sharing some of the recipes I made (drank) over the cleanse. I started out the weekend following the recipes listed in the back of Zoe Sakoutis and Erica Huss’s book, “The 3-Day Cleanse,” but about halfway through the second day I began experimenting with my own recipes (mainly because I a) started running out of ingredients and b) have a difficult time following recipes exactly). For more juice and meal recipes, definitely check out Sakoutis and Huss’s book. It’s an easy read and has a ton of nutritional information that anyone can benefit from. But anyway, enough with the rambling and on to the recipes!

*If you feel a bit lost after reading that paragraph, take a look at my previous post: Accomplishing Some Things and Failing at Others: Juicing 101 –  here

I’ll start off with my favorite recipe, the tastes-like-you’re-drinking-ice-cream, CASHEW MILK. This was always the last drink of the day, to prevent you from waking up starving the next morning.

WHAT YOU NEED:

• ½ cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 1 hour (in 1 cup water)
• 2 cups filtered water
• 1 ½ teaspoon extra virgin coconut oil
• ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
• 2 teaspoons agave nectar
• pinch of sea salt

PREPARATION:

Drain the nuts and combine all ingredients into a blender. Blend well, until completely smooth. Store in a refrigerator and shake well before use.

BLUEBERRY PEACH – This is another easy recipe you can make in your blender. It’s great as a breakfast smoothie or mid afternoon snack.

Blueberry Peach Juice becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHAT YOU NEED:

• 1 cup frozen blueberries
• 1 cup frozen peaches
• 1 ½ cups rice milk

PREPARATION:

Place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth.

GREEN JUICE – This one you need a juicer for, but it’s still super easy. There may be a lot of greens, but the apples make it sweet.

Green Juice becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHAT YOU NEED:

• Large handful of spinach
• Large handful of kale
• 2 Apples (I used Golden Delicious)
• ½ large cucumber
• Small handful of parsley, stems removed
• 1 lemon

PREPARATION:

Wash all ingredients. Cut the peel from the lemon. Cut cucumber into pieces that will fit through a juicer. Core the apple and cut into pieces that will fit through a juicer. Run ingredients through the juicer. Scrape pulp from sides and run back through juicer if needed.

SPINACH BLUEBERRY APPLE JUICE 

Spinach Blueberry Juice becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHAT YOU NEED:

• Small handful of spinach
• 10 oz blueberries
• 1 Granny Smith apple
• 1 lemon

PREPARATION:

Wash ingredients. Core apple and cut into pieces that will fit through a juicer. Cut peel from the lemon. Run all ingredients through the juicer. Scrape pulp from sides and run back through juicer if needed.

CRAZY JUICE – This is where things started to get crazy (obviously)

Crazy Juice becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHAT YOU NEED:

• Large handful of kale
• Small handful of parsley
• 1 cucumber
• 2 carrots
• 1 lemon

PREPARATION

Wash all ingredients. Cut stems from parsley. Cut cucumber and carrots into pieces that will fit through the juicer. Cut peel from lemon. Run all ingredients through juicer. Scrape pulp from sides and run back through juicer if needed.

There you have it. Five delicious juice recipes to get you started on your juicing journey. Do you have any favorite recipes? Or have you completed a juice cleanse and experienced similar, or different, results? If so, please share!

Happy juicing!

Hearty Lima Bean and Barley Chowder

Bean and Barley Soup. Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

Several months back I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives and I immediately had to buy the cookbook.  For those of you who are not familiar with Forks Over Knives, it’s a documentary that shares success stories of individuals with major health issues (heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol) who have seen their illnesses literally reverse by becoming vegan and eating only whole or plant-based foods.  Personally, I’ve recently become more of a believer in the “eat right for your blood type” ideology (more about that concept in a future post), but that doesn’t mean it’s not a great documentary with some amazing stories shared by people who have integrated healthy eating into their lifestyle and seen incredibly positive results.  Also, studies show that Americans typically eat way more meat and dairy than we should be eating, so incorporating more whole foods and veggies into a diet is never a bad thing.  Another pro is that the recipes taste good. I’ve tried a handful of Forks Over Knives recipes and I must admit, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of them.  The only negative aspect of the book are the lack of food photos, so I figured I’d share a couple of my own.  I made this soup last week when we had a whole two days of rain and I felt like eating something warm and hearty.  Now we’re back to 90 degree heat and I’m back to eating salads.  California weather is always a surprise.

Bean and Barley Soup. Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

*Note: This recipe makes A LOT of soup. Unless you are making it for a dinner party, or plan on eating it for 3 days in a row (like I had to), I would recommend cutting the recipe in half. 

WHAT YOU NEED:

• 8 cups water or vegetable stock ( I used 4c water, 4c stock)
• 1 cup dry baby lima beans
• 1 cup chopped white or red onion (I used white)
• 1 cup chopped carrot
• 1 celery stock, finely chopped
• 1/2 cup pearl barley
• 1 tbsp crushed garlic
• 1 teaspoon thyme (or another herb. I used parsley)
• Salt and pepper to taste

BEFORE: Soak lima beans in water overnight then drain.

PREPARATION:

1.  Place water and lima beans in a large pot and bring to a boil.

2.  Add onion, carrot, celery, pearl barley, crushed garlic, and thyme.

3.  Bring back to a boil.

4. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for about 2 hours, or until the broth is creamy and
the barley and beans are tender.

6. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

OPTION: The next day I decided to sauté some mushrooms, garlic, and kale before adding the soup to reheat.  I topped it with a little Sriracha and the juice from a couple lemon wedges – It tasted even more delicious than the first time!

WHY IT’S GOOD FOR YOU:

Barley may be used to help in the prevention and management of diabetes by slowing glucose absorption.  It is a great source of dietary fiber. Barley also contains phytochemicals which may reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases, as well as antioxidants, iron, magnesium, zinc, and other vital nutrients.

Lima beans are also a high-fiber food. They’re considered to be heart-healthy because they are low in fat and contain no cholesterol. Lima beans are a good source of protein and aid in digestion.

Enjoy!

Makeover + Big News!

If you haven’t noticed, Because It’s Good For You just got a makeover! Big thanks to Hak Lonh of Champion & King for his amazing photography skills and help in adding a little life to this website. Also, thanks to the fruits and vegetables for being such amazing models! Who knew produce was so photogenic? I mean, just look at this artichoke!

artichoke becauseitsgoodforyou

Beautiful, right?! And check out these berries:

berries becauseitsgoodforyou

That just goes to show that the best looking things are natural, not artificial!

ALSO- Because It’s Good For You is now on Facebook! Anything I post on WordPress will automatically be linked to both sites, but I’ll also be adding extra health-related news and fun facts only on Facebook – so please follow both to stay informed! You can find the “Like” box in the upper right hand corner of this page, or you can find a link to it here.

Tumblr, Twitter, and (maybe) Instagram are soon to come as well! Stay tuned!

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Food; Is There a Relationship?

In the months following my undergraduate graduation I did what any normal recent grad would do: I looked for a job.  I was still unsure of whether I wanted to continue on toward a master’s level education, but more unsure of whether I could even find a decent job with only a B.A. in psychology (it’s not easy).  Through hours of searching through Craigslist and other various job search engines, I began to notice a trend:

“Behaviorist Needed for After-School Program for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder;” “ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) Specialist Needed for Non-Profit Company Working With Children with Autism;” “Tutor/Nanny/Daycare Personnel Needed to Work with Children on the Spectrum.” 

Line after line showed similar results.

And then I moved on to graduate school to attain a M.A. in Clinical Psychology and again, began looking for a job.  The results were practically undistinguishable from the ones I found nearly 3 years earlier; except there were more positions opening!  Even the graduate school I attended was in the midst of developing an entire floor of the building dedicated to their new ABA program, a fast growing field in the realm of psychology (Although ABA is not solely dedicated to individuals on the autism spectrum, it is a large focus of the major.  Their method lies in behavioral techniques and modification – altering behavior based on reward, positive reinforcement, and the like. Emotions are not at the forefront of treatment like it would be in a clinical psychological setting).  I had come in contact with children on the spectrum throughout the course of my traineeship as a middle school counselor and had several acquaintances with siblings or children on the spectrum, but I had never received advanced training in the area.  But obviously, this was a big deal.  I couldn’t help but wonder, ‘what causes this developmental disorder? Why is this becoming so prevalent now when it was barely recognized 50 years ago?’

My parents and grandparents didn’t know any elementary school classmates who had autism or asperger’s.  And today, they don’t have any friends or know of anyone their age who are on the spectrum.  So what’s going on?

In talking with peers, professors, and other individuals about the topic, I’ve heard just about every theory in the book:

“We are in the midst of an evolutionary process.  The human brain is evolving to disregard emotional and social cues and focussing solely on intellectual and logical processes;” “Autism Spectrum Disorder has always been around. We just never noticed it before because it didn’t have a name;” “There must be something in the water.” 

Sure, these are all possible reasons, but there’s something to be said about the last theory.  There may not be something in the water, per say, but there definitely is something in the food that we eat.  Especially with all the changes and “advancements” we’ve seen in farming and agriculture in the last century.  Cancer rates have also increased over the last century.  See a relationship?  Maybe.

An article published recently in The New York Times by Moises Velasquez-Manoff proposed an even bigger theory: that a third of cases of autism appear to be the result of an inflammatory response that occurs while the child is in the womb.  The immune system produces an inflammatory response when it feels like it is under attack by something foreign in an attempt to return to homeostasis.  In autistic individuals, the inflammatory response overpowers the anti-inflammatory response and is heightened at varying degrees, hence the reason autism is viewed as on a spectrum. The article goes on to discuss animal studies performed to support this idea, such as injecting “autistic antibodies” (that bind to fetal brain proteins) into the wombs of an experimental animal group and noticing marked autistic behaviors in their young such as repetition and social withdrawal. The question now is, what are our bodies trying to protect us against? Why are these inflammation responses occurring?

Duane Law, L.Ac. has done a bit of research on inflammation, allergies, and the stress response.  In one of the chapters of his book, Before Meds After Meds: Complimentary and Alternative Medicine for Anxiety & Depression, he discusses how food allergies occur.  Our digestive systems are not always able to properly break down some of the foods that we eat and, thinking we may have just swallowed a foreign substance, sends the body in to a protective mode and causes inflammation.  If it’s serious enough, our fight-or-flight response kicks in, stress hormones are released, and sugar is poured from cells into our blood stream to make sure we have enough energy to run or fight against the hypothetical danger.  An increase in blood sugar levels results in an increase in dopamine, the reward neurotransmitter (the same neurotransmitter that accounts for addictive behaviors) and causes us to feel cravings.  So basically, the foods that we so often crave, like refined sugar and sweets, are the things that we are allergic to because our body cannot naturally process them.  Let’s break this down a bit more. If we abide by the standard American diet, we are constantly eating foods we are allergic to without even realizing it.  Think about it – You can go weeks without eating fast food but the second you put your mouth around a Big Mac, you want another one.  Same with sweets – the more chocolate cake you eat, the more you crave it.  People who suddenly quit drinking Coke or Diet Coke get headaches, irritability, intense cravings, and moodiness – all because our body is stuck in this vicious cycle of addiction and inflammation.

This idea opens so many doors of possible answers to many every-day health problems.  If our stress response is being kicked and inflammation is occurring every time we eat something that is unnatural, what other kinds of effects do you think that has on our organs? Our moods? Or even on our brain?  Could it have something to do with the inflammation response that occurs in the brain of individuals with autism, as discussed in the article?  These are all questions that have yet to be researched and answered.  But I do know one thing – it should definitely make us think twice about the things we put into our bodies.

For more information on autism spectrum disorder, including resources, please check out:
http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism or http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/asd.cfm