My name is Lisa Tsakos, Registered Holistic Nutritionist, corporate speaker and author. This blog provides professional advice from a nutrition and weight loss expert (me!) about corporate and family health. Here you'll find recipes and articles that address work-related challenges like eating on-the-go and maximizing your productivity with the right foods. You'll also find out about how you can help your children develop strong immune systems and healthy bodies. As a nutrition instructor, I often found myself thinking, "When I have kids, this is how I will feed them." With two toddlers, I have the opportunity to practice what I have been preaching and to try out my theories. So far, they seem to be working! Follow me on my journey and also on Twitter @NuVitalityHW.

29 May 2013

Treat baby acne with coconut oil

About two weeks after bringing baby Benjamin home, little bumps formed all over his face. By four weeks old, those bumps turned red and inflamed - a bad case of baby acne.

Our midwife, and later, our pediatrician, told us to leave it alone. "Do nothing. It will go away on its own." But as it continued to worsen, and especially when I found myself adjusting the lighting to hide the spots before taking a photo of Ben, I couldn't help myself.

Melting a dab of organic, extra-virgin coconut oil between my fingers, I applied it to Ben's face using a cotton ball. Within a few hours, it was significantly better. The very next day, it had all but disappeared! Coincidence? Perhaps. When the spots reappeared a couple of weeks later, I applied some coconut oil again and got the same results. This time, the acne did not return. I'm a believer!

The lauric acid in coconut oil is a known anti-inflammatory. Studies have shown that it's especially useful for skin conditions.

With that said, however, when Ben developed eczema on his belly and legs over the winter, coconut oil didn't work. Instead, I changed his diet (My bad - I was offering 8 month old Ben 1/2 of Olivia's gluten-free cookies now and then. Soooo bad! The tiny bit of sugar caused the eczema, even though Ben was getting - and still gets - probiotics every day.) and gave him omega-3 fish oil (both topically and internally) and that did the trick almost immediately.

Below is an article I wrote for Naturally Savvy. It reviews some of the benefits of coconut oil, particularly the research showing that it is an effective metabolism-booster.

We use coconut oil often in our cooking and baking. It has a high smoke point, so it's much safer to heat than olive oil and is especially safer than other vegetable oils. It's great in cookies, cakes and breads, too. If you like a little bit of a coconut taste, buy organic virgin coconut oil. If you prefer no taste, choose extra-virgin.

Why Coconut Oil is Good for You

Supermodel Miranda Kerr recently credited coconut oil as one of her beauty secrets, sending sales of the healthy oil soaring in the UK. The Victoria’s Secret angel says that she uses it daily in her cooking and applies it topically to her skin and hair.

Her statements have North American doctors in, well, a Kerr-fuffle. You see, coconut oil is a saturated fat (92% saturated), and aren’t sat-fats really bad for us? It seems like everyone dreads them and those ‘in the know’ about health go to great lengths to avoid them.

Saturated fats have long been picked on as a major factor in the development of heart disease. Looking at coconut oil as just another saturated fat, however, is missing the big picture. The difference between coconut oil and other fats is that about 66 percent of coconut oil is comprised of medium-chain triglycerides (or MCTs), whereas most of the other fats we consume – saturated or unsaturated – are composed of long-chain triglycerides (LCTs). The length of the fatty acid chain is important because the physiological effects of MCTs in coconut oil are very different from LCTs. In fact, it is coconut oil’s MCTs that provide the benefits to health it’s now recognized for.

Despite research showing its effects on health, consumers are most interested in its impact on weight.

A study found that consuming MCTs compared with LCTs resulted in an increased metabolic rate (higher calorie burning) and enhanced fat oxidation in obese women after only 27 days, suggesting that substituting MCTs for LCTs may promote weight control and prevent long-term weight gain.

Kerr, among other coconut oil enthusiasts, claims that consumption of the oil helped her regain her model-figure shortly after giving birth to her first child. Coconut oil proponents claim that taking several tablespoons a day promotes weight loss, not weight gain. The reason for this is because MCTs are quickly metabolized into energy, acting more like carbohydrates than other fats. LCTs, on the other hand, are metabolized more slowly and stored for use as a future energy reserve, causing weight gain.

Coconut oil’s MCTs, including lauric acid, capric acid, caprylic acid and myristic acid, have been shown to improve immunity, having antimicrobial and antifungal properties. Lauric acid, the primary MCT in coconut oil, is an important component of breast milk. In fact, it’s been added to infant formulas, as well as to nutrition formulas created for hospitalized patients for decades – which means that the medical community has been well aware of the health-promoting, easy-to-digest fat for a long time.

In 2010, researchers in Thailand found that coconut oil can relieve pain associated with inflammation and has anti-inflammatory properties. This might be useful for those with arthritis, heart disease, and other inflammatory conditions.

Choosing the right coconut oil
The type of coconut oil used in food manufacturing is processed and does not provide benefits to health; actually, the “refined, bleached and deodorized,” or RBD oil can be detrimental and should be avoided. Look for organic extra-virgin or virgin coconut oil at natural product stores and most supermarkets. It’s perfect for cooking and baking, and can be easily slipped into a smoothie... and while you’re cooking, rub some into your skin and hair for super-moisturizing during the cold, dry winter months.

While Miranda Kerr finds that four teaspoons a day in her salads and meals is “personally beneficial,” up to four tablespoons a day have been recommended by health experts – at least by those who have updated their understanding of fats.

St-Onge MP, Bourque C, Jones PJ, Ross R, & Parsons WE., (2003) “Medium- versus long-chain triglycerides for 27 days increases fat oxidation and energy expenditure without resulting in changes in body composition in overweight women” Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 27(1):95-102.
Intahphuak S., Khonsung, P. & Panthong, A. (2010) “Anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and antipyretic activities of virgin coconut oil”Pharmaceutical Biology. 48(2):151-157.

Previously posted on Naturally Savvy

27 May 2013

Organic wine

I love red wine (who doesn't?) and the fact that it's loaded with the super-antioxidants resveratrol and polyphenols (yeah, quercetin, baby!) makes it taste sooo much better. (Organic wines average 32% higher resveratrol levels than non-organic wines!).
organic wines average 32 percent higher resveratrol levels than conventional wines. - See more at: http://www.naturallysavvy.com/healthy-eating/drink-in-the-benefits-of-organic-wine#sthash.msqTndVu.dpuf

Here's some info about the health benefits of red wine from my 'Superfoods' seminar: 

"The wine-loving French suffer 1/3 of the heart attacks North Americans do! Research shows that 1 to 2 servings a day can lower heart attack risk, reduce cholesterol, decrease the risk of some forms of cancer, and may even improve bone density."

What I don't love about red wine, though, is the yeast, the sugar, and the pesticides sprayed on the grapes used to make it. Thankfully, organic wine is widely available. 

A few years ago, I wrote an article called Drink in the Benefits of Organic Wine for Naturally Savvy. The Examiner quoted the article in one of their own (below). 

Pour yourself a glass of wine, take a deep breath, and enjoy the article: 

Understanding Organic Wine. Why to drink it and where to buy it

Green eating is among the most popular food trends today, so it’s no surprise that in our quest to eat “real” we are not only examining what we eat, but also what we drink, particularly in the world of wine. Like most types of farming, the ancient art of grape growing has organic origins, but most vineyards today are so heavily sprayed that grapes comprise some of the most chemical-laden produce available.

According to Lisa Tsakos in her article, "Drink the Benefits of Organics Wine," and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN), almost 21 million pounds of pesticides were used on California grapes in the year 2003 alone. Given the tremendous impact this has on human health, as well as the health of the soil, wildlife, and even weather patterns in and around vineyard-populated areas, it’s no wonder more and more wines are cropping up with organic labels.

But how does a conventional wine drinker go about picking out just the right bottle of organic Chardonnay or Cabernet, especially when organic varieties inevitably come with a higher price tag? In terms of flavor, one way is by reading wine reviews before-hand, such as those you’ll find on the Organic Wine Review and Organic Wine Journal.

More important, though, may be understanding what each health label really means. Wine simply labeled organic, for instance, indicates that the wine must be made with organic grapes. These wines are free of pesticides, but may or may not contain added sulfites, or sulfur dioxide, a preservative that causes allergic reactions and breathing problems in some individuals. Those sensitive to sulfites may want to consider looking for wine with a certified USDA organic label, which is different from other organic wine in that it must not contain any added sulfites. Since sulfites occur naturally as a by-product of the fermentation process, no wine is completely sulfite-free, but the sulfite level of USDA organic wine is less than 20 parts per million, as compared to 10 parts per million in other wine.

Humans have been enjoying the bold flavors of wine for millennia, and finding a good organic variety really allows people to receive the most health benefits possible from their beverage of choice. The Organic Consumer Organization cites that organic wine contains an average of 32 percent more resveratrol (the antioxidant found in red wine that helps prevent heart disease and cancer) than conventional wine. This leaves the health conscious population with one last indulgence they can feel really good about, in moderation of course.

Previously posted in The Examiner 

15 May 2013

Banish Bowel Back-Up Naturally

Life tends to get backed up. We get stuck in traffic, fall behind on e-mail, and fret over mounting paperwork, but the bowels are no place for a backup.
Constipation is the most common gastrointestinal complaint in the United States. About 4.5 million Americans report being constipated most or all of the time.

Women, pregnant women, children, and adults age 65 and over most often complain about difficulty eliminating, resulting in around two million visits to the doctor annually.

While experts disagree on what defines constipation, Adina Niemerow, a Sausalito-based holistic chef and author of "Super Cleanse: Detox Your Body for Long-Lasting Health and Beauty" (HarperCollins) believes that a bowel movement after each meal, that's up to three a day, is essential. Surprised? It makes sense. After all, you'd be concerned if your dog didn't poop for a week, wouldn't you?

So why do we have such trouble staying regular? Niemerow suggests that it's all in what we eat.

"Our bodies have a hard time digesting processed flours and refined sugars, oils, and salts, so that food ends up clogging our intestines, severely impairing our bodies' ability to efficiently absorb nutrients and void waste," Niemerow says. "This toxic food weighs down the body in disease."


So it's not surprising that Americans spend $725 million on laxatives annually in an effort to try to 'unclog' our plumbing. Others turn to stool softeners, stimulants, and bulk formers.

While increasing fiber intake from plant foods -- whole grains, beans, vegetables, and fruit -- to 35 grams or more is critical for regularity, some of us need more help.
Niemerow says that there are "several options out there to help you stay regular." Doing an intestinal cleanse is a great first step.

She also suggests drinking plenty of water and taking your favorite fiber supplement. Stool bulking agents like Benefibre, Metamucil, Fiber-Sure, and FiberSMART are widely available and easy to incorporate. Take caution, however. When introducing a fiber supplement, begin with half the amount recommended on the label and increase your intake of water; otherwise, you may experience a worsening in bloating and abdominal pain.

For a more thorough scrub, Niemerow recommends periodically using an intestinal cleansing formula, such as Cleanse Smart and Cleanse Move from Renew Life or Swiss Kriss, all of which are available at local health food stores.

"At bedtime, take a natural laxative such as magnesium oxide or drink a laxative tea," Niemerow recommends. "Products containing pure aloe, aloe leaf, slippery elm, flax seeds, marshmallow root, triphala, yellow dock, and psyllium husks all help move the bowels."

For stubborn cases, Niemerow suggests a more immediate fix. "Go the enema or colonic route. They're the quickest way to move the toxins out of the body and they can also provide fast relief from detox symptoms, such as headaches, throbbing joints, constipation, and body aches."


"You can find do-it-yourself formulas at your local health food store, or go to a licensed colon hydrotherapist. Ask your physician or naturopath for a referral if you don't know of a therapist in your area."

While these remedies are appropriate during a cleanse, Niemerow cautions against becoming dependent on them to ensure regularity. "On an ongoing basis, a balanced, healthy diet should be what you rely on to avoid constipation."

Previously published in the Chicago Tribune