Five Foods to Beat Breakouts and Relieve Rashes

  • It’s summertime and the living is easy—and sweaty!

For the past two summers, I’ve noticed that random pimples will pop up on my forehead, usually near the hairline. And I’ve had some redness and irritation from constantly shaving my legs (Mama likes smooth legs 😉). I’ve always been prone to skin allergies and rashes, particularly eczema flare-ups, which I talk about here. Thankfully, this isn’t eczema but just your garden-variety hot weather breakout and rashes. Phytonutrients or compounds found in plant-derived foods such as curcumin (turmeric) and polyphenols found in fruits and veggies like raspberries and pomegranates (rich in antioxidant ellagic acid) are wonderful basic methods of reducing skin inflammation and DNA damage from ultraviolet radiation. In addition, those of us who are vulnerable to occasional whiteheads and blackheads may want to increase our intake of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are responsible for skin repair and flexibility. You can read my rundown on this skin mega-nutrient here. That means upping your consumption of foods like flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and hemp seeds. Here are some of other foods that I partake in when I need to banish breakouts and reduce rashes:

Cucumbers

Cucumber isn’t just a summer-refresher veggie because it has a water content of 95 percent. This vegetable is one of the most important weapons against skin inflammation. Cucumbers are full of antioxidants such as beta carotene (the primary precursor to vitamin A) and vitamin C. It also contains B vitamins, vitamin K, flavonoids such as quercetin and luteolin and minerals such as silica. Silica is absolutely necessary when it comes to collagen production. Collagen is a type of protein found throughout the body and is important for maintaining the tone and elasticity of your skin. I tend to go the traditional route when it comes to cucumbers and enjoy them in my salads, but when I want to go all-out I’ll throw them in a big heaping sandwich like this one.

Brown rice

Rice is my go-to meal when I have no clue what I want to eat for dinner. Or when the clock is ticking and I need something quick fast in a hurry. Or when the cupboards are pretty much out of darn near everything else. You get the picture. Before we jump into the benefits of brown rice, I want to address the elephant in the room: arsenic. It has been reported that rice consumption is linked with exposure to low-level arsenic, which may have adverse health effects. According to the authors of a 2012 study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, “At present, the health effects of low-level arsenic exposure are uncertain…” The conclusion is that further research needs to be done. With that said, brown rice is superior to polished or white rice because it has high dietary fiber and complex carbohydrates (a boon for those who have Type II diabetes), vitamin E, B vitamins, low glycemic index, and minerals such as magnesium, thiamine, and iron. It also has selenium, an antioxidant mineral that is essential for wound repair. Selenium plays a role in protecting the skin from excessive UV light damage and preventing skin cancer. I’m not fussy: I like rice with pretty much everything including lentils, chickpeas, veggie sausage, veggie chicken, black beans, just to name a few.

 

Red bell peppers

Peppers are not something I eat often, but when I do, I love to roast them with a light drizzle of olive oil. Red bell peppers are rich in vitamin C. Most of us know that vitamin C is an antioxidant that destroys free radicals that can damage healthy cells. Vitamin C also forms bonds between collagen fiber strands to provide extra stability and strength. But what makes red bell peppers so darn special is that it contains more than 30 different carotenoids (plant pigments with antioxidant properties) including beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, which I discussed here. Bell peppers also have other nutrients such as vitamin E, thiamine, and niacin. So slice open that sucka and grill it, bake it, or chop it!

Pecans

In my pre-vegan and pre-vegetarian days, I used to cap off a long day at work by stopping at a pretty well-known cookie shop for their signature pecan pie brownies. They were just ooey-gooey madness that melted in my mouth. Those were the good old days before I knew what I know now. But we vegans can still enjoy the sweet taste of pecans and its nutrients. Pecans contain vitamin E, folic acid, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Some studies suggest that pecans can help prevent the buildup of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Best of all, these nuts are a really good source of zinc.  Zinc is a vital nutrient for growth and development including proper immune system function and reproduction (affecting both males and females). Zinc deficiency has been linked to conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, taste impairment, and loss of smell. As far as the skin goes, zinc is a crucial component of wound healing because the nutrient is required for the synthesis of DNA and collagen. I still love pecan pie anything like this treat but my snacks have a little less guilt attached to them.

 

Oats

Oats are my old standby food when it comes to breakfast. They are dependable, filling, versatile, and always healthy. I talk about some of its attributes here. Oats contain vitamin B1, vitamin B6, magnesium, iron, and wound-healing zinc. But oats also have avenanthramides, which are phenolic compounds that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. Some research indicates that avenanthramides are associated with the cardioprotective effects of oats. In addition, when applied topically, these compounds may alleviate the inflammation and itching that accompany dermatologic conditions such as eczema and atopic dermatitis. If you are going to go the topical route, please use colloidal oatmeal. Colloidal oatmeal is produced by finely grinding the oats and boiling out the colloidal material for usage. Regular oatmeal in your shower drain is not a good look folks.

 

There you have it, my foods for soothing breakouts and itchy rashes. What do you do?

Four Tips to Allay Anxiety

Memorial day weekend is finally here! That means cookouts, family gatherings, and late-night fiestas with friends and long-lost acquaintances. But for some of us more introverted folks, that means a potential case of anxiety. Don’t get me wrong—I love to socialize with my peeps when I get the opportunity, which is far and few between these days. But as a WAHM, I’m used to spending hours alone during the week with random social media breaks then afternoons/evenings with my husband and son. So I look at opportunities for social events with lots of excitement and nervousness. Let me be clear: I am referring to mild anxiety that a person may experience with specific events like starting a new job, meeting a potential bae, or speaking in front a group of people. This differs from social phobia that can prevent you from functioning and meeting basic needs. Please seek the help a physician if you suffer from the latter.

Anywho, one of the first things that I like to indulge in foods that are rich in magnesium, calcium, and potassium since those nutrients tend to get depleted during high anxiety times. Some studies suggest that magnesium deficiency may be linked to anxiety. Magnesium works together with calcium and potassium for optimal health. Fortified orange juice and plant-based milk, spinach, and almonds are some great choices. In addition, some research indicates an association between vitamin C and cognitive performance, particularly in older adults, so definitely boost your intake of those foods such as strawberries, citrus fruits, leafy green veggies, and potatoes. Here are some other things that I include in my diet during those anxious moments:

Vitamin B12

Among the vitamins and nutrients that are decreased during times of stress are B complex vitamins. This is bad, very bad. For example, low levels of folate are linked to depression. And deficiency of vitamin B12 has been associated with age-related cognitive impairment. This is particularly crucial for vegans because most vegan sources of B12 only contain trace amounts or are inactive. You can read this article for further details. And while many fortified foods do contain this vitamin, supplementation is the key. I take a B12 supplement in addition to my multivitamin throughout the week.

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Chickpeas

Chickpeas (garbanzo) are a good source of carbohydrates and protein. This pulse contains dietary fiber, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. Chickpeas are also a high folate food. But more importantly, chickpeas have tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, the good-mood neurotransmitter. Foods with high levels of tryptophan also contain amino acids that all compete for access into your brain so very little of tryptophan gets beyond that blood-brain barrier. Chickpeas are the exception to this crappy scenario. I like chickpeas salads during the warmer weather but I love falafels all day, any day. I enjoy them in salads, tacos, with rice in my own Buddha bowl, whatever floats my boat.

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Walnuts

Walnuts are high in omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. For more on that information, please read here. Some studies have shown links between low levels of omega 3 fatty acids with mood disorders and social anxiety disorder. These nuts contain vitamin E, folate, and fiber. Walnuts also have the antioxidant melatonin, which facilitates sleep. My husband is a real walnut aficionado and he puts them on his morning yogurt. I tend to like them chopped in my baked goods like muffins or other desserts.

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Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are probably one of the top sources of omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. What’s more, these seeds contain B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron, and manganese. Some studies have shown that flaxseeds are an anti-inflammatory beneficial in combating cardiovascular diseases and an antioxidant with some anti-cancerous properties. Also, some research indicates that flaxseeds may be effective in conditions such as blood clotting and regulating reproductive function and insomnia. I’m really feeling this flax cracker brand as a snack during my hectic anxiety-provoking afternoons.

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Special note: I absolutely believe in the concept of self-care and highly encourage others to engage in it. So if you need to, take a break from whatever you are doing, breathe, and do what you need to do when you need to do it. Enjoy a safe, happy, and healthy holiday!

Four Tips to Tame Muscle Tension

For the last few weeks, I’ve had some lower back pain. I’m not the most physically active person, in fact, if you looked up the word “sedentary” in the dictionary, there would probably be a pic of me with a big cheesy grin on my face. So one of the first things I like to do is to move my behind out of that chair! Take a walk, do a few stretches, but something to provide oxygen and energy to my body. Chronic stress can be linked to tension and pain in certain muscles groups within the body. Another suggestion is to create a center of calm. This might mean upping my minutes for my morning meditation or canceling an hour of social media/TV during the week. The point is to nurture and mentally heal so that you can physically heal. When I’m dealing with muscle pain, I like to use anti-inflammatories. Why? The reason is that once the inflammatory pathway is stimulated by injury, arachidonic acid is released then transformed into hormones that can induce pain, fever, and inflammation. Anti-inflammatories work to stall enzymes that change arachidonic acid into those pro-inflammatory hormones. And we are all about stopping the pain! Let me share some of the ways I do that:

 

Turmeric

What makes turmeric so special is its primary constituent curcumin. Numerous studies have noted curcumin as a potent antioxidant and an antimicrobial. But curcumin has strong anti-inflammatory properties that have resulted in various clinical trials to study its effects on conditions such as ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, ocular disease, and cancer. And a 1999 study has linked curcumin with possible muscle regeneration after injury. I like to put turmeric on tofu and bean dishes but sometimes I like to put some in my morning chia pudding if I feel very achy. Please, please don’t judge me!!

 

Avocado

If you are a real plant-based eater, then avocado is your darn best friend—for real! Avocados contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), dietary fiber, lutein, and contains antioxidant vitamins A, C. and E. In addition, this fruit stabilizes blood sugar, raises good high-density lipoprotein (blood cholesterol) levels, and provides glutathione to cleanse the liver. Most importantly, it is rich in magnesium that enhances muscle strength and endurance. I eat a lot of frigging avocados because I love them that much! The creamy texture of this fruit is guaranteed to enrich dishes like chocolate cake, pesto sauces, tacos, and risottos.

 

 

Tempeh

I spoke previously about my love of fermented foods here. And tempeh is probably at the top of the list. Soy is considered a high-quality plant-based protein because it contains all essential amino acids. Amino acids are needed to maintain and build muscle. Tempeh is fermented soy, which means that it is free from enzyme inhibitors and those gassy phytates that prevent protein digestion. When it comes to tempeh, I like this brand and this one too. I like to make tempeh reuben sandwiches on Saturday mornings or have tempeh with salad, rice, pasta, or quinoa during the week.

 

Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are another great source of plant-based protein with all essential amino acids that aid in muscle recovery. What’s more, the seeds are enriched with polyunsaturated fatty acids such as linoleic acid (omega 6) and alpha linolenic acid (omega 3) that provide a 3:1 ratio of those fatty acids that is optimal for human health.  That makes the seeds a potent antioxidant. One important omega 6 fatty acid is gamma linolenic acid (GLA), which has been used to treat PMS symptoms, atopic dermatitis, eczema, and diabetic neuropathy. One more thing about fatty acids: foods that are high in essential fatty acids like hemp are important because the body does not manufacture these acids independently. EFA foods boost the body’s immunity and brain function, and can be converted into easily digestible energy. Hemp seeds also contain zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium. I like to sprinkle hemp seed on my morning avocado toast or a lunch salad for an early boost of energy.

 

These are some of the ways I recover from muscle tension. What are your favorite tips?

Five Foods to Sharpen Your Focus

Usually, I’m a pretty detail-oriented person. Maybe that’s part of being an introvert. But there are days when every little thing in the world distracts me and my brain is like a freaking hamster on a wheel that fell off the spikes. You know how it goes: you want to finish an assignment by a certain time but then the mind minutia rolls in. Did I pack everything for my son’s lunch? Did I put away that thing before I left the house this morning? Do I have time to do that thing in the evening?

What I’ve found is that it is helpful to give myself little ten-minute breaks throughout the day. Then I’m able to refocus and follow through on my main priorities. The other thing is just to appreciate small things in nature. It sounds corny as hell but sometimes just staring at a succulent plant or listening to a bird chirp for a couple of seconds can provide newfound energy for anything that you need to do. Most importantly, don’t forget to hydrate yourself with water throughout the day. Dehydration has been linked to poor mental performance. Here are some other things that helped me to firm up my focus:

Rosemary

I love the smell of rosemary. During the Thanksgiving season, I love to put huge amounts of fresh rosemary on my stuffing. But I usually settle for dried rosemary during the rest of the year. Some studies suggest that rosemary is a powerful antioxidant and antidepressant. In addition, some research indicates that the aroma of this herb may enhance alertness and cognitive function. I like to toss some rosemary on a bowl of potatoes when things start getting a little tense during the afternoon or evening.

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Cashews

Cashews, like many nuts, are rich in the antioxidant vitamin E. Cashews are also a great source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid that serves as a precursor to the production of that feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. Diets that have a significant level of antioxidants and tryptophan may have a positive impact of mood and cognition. My husband and I love to snack on cashews. They are creamy and buttery delicious. Also, we enjoy Miyoko’s Creamery cheeses*, which are made primarily from cashews. For those of you who are newly vegan, I implore you to please, please try her products because some vegan cheeses can be scary and just…meh. This cheese is the truth. When I first tried Miyoko’s, I got really scared because I thought I ate dairy. It’s that good, ladies and gentlemen.

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Lentils

Lentils are one of the best plant-sourced proteins that you can get. These legumes also contain magnesium, which along with folic acid and vitamin B12 helps the amino acid tyrosine to increase in the brain. Tyrosine is eventually converted to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which promotes mental energy and alertness. Lentils are a staple on my weekly dinner menu. Why? Because they are hella-easy to prepare. Red lentils do not require any soaking at all and take out thirty minutes in the rice cooker if I’m in a hurry. But other times, I will pick up prepared lentils from the supermarket and use them for lentil tacos.

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Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are chock full of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) the precursor to omega-3 fatty acids. ALA is converted to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). You can read more about it here. DHA is essential for brain plasticity, maintenance of learning and memory and neurological development. Some studies indicate that low levels of DHA may be linked to cognitive decline in older adults. So we want to consume as many healthy fats like this one (BTW: walnuts and flaxseeds are wonderful sources too). My all-time number one breakfast is chia pudding because it is so simple to make. I mix in things like oats, pumpkin seeds, pineapple—you name it, if I want it, then it’s all up in there! On days when I really need that extra boost of energy, I will throw in a little protein powder like this one.

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Broccoli

Broccoli was one of the few vegetables that I liked eating as a kid. I remember my mother would buy the frozen rectangular packs from the supermarket for our side dishes during the week. You know the ones where the broccoli is drenched in cheddar cheese sauce because that was the only way that my brother and I would eat it. It took me many years to really learn how to prepare and appreciate this wonderful vegetable. Broccoli is high in vitamin C, the antioxidant that has free radical scavenger properties and promotes brain function. Despite my scary introduction to this vegetable, I am blessed to say that I am now mature enough to enjoy broccoli without a darn thing added to it.

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Those are just some of the foods I enjoy for boosting my mental energy. What are some foods that enjoy?

*Please note the opinions are my own. I was not paid to plug Miyoko’s cheeses.