Welcome to episode 405 of The Whole View! This week Stacy and Sarah address a listener’s question about the research behind the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and ‘Clean Fifteen’ lists. Learn about pesticide residue absorption and how you can minimize your exposure. Enjoy!

If you enjoy the show, please review it on iTunes!

The Whole View, Episode 405: Is there real science on Pesticides and the Dirty Dozen?

Welcome back to episode 405 of the Whole View. (0:27)

Today Stacy and Sarah are talking about a super interesting topic submitted a listener.

Which, if you didn’t know this already, we love it when you email us.

Sarah shared some behind the scenes information on where listener questions come from.

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There are Stacy’s requests, listener questions, and the really challenging listener questions.

The question in discussion in this episode is one of those really hard ones that has been in the queue for a long time.

Sarah was able to pull together the information for this show because she actually did a lot of research on this topic for her gut microbiome book.

And of course, Sarah did extra research to address the many facets of this challenging question.

Stacy is excited about this science rich show.


Listener Question

Is the EWG’s dirty dozen list based on strong science? (3:37)

My husband listened to two episodes of the Skeptoid podcast on organic vs. conventional farming.

Mr. Dunning said that we are being duped into paying extra for organic produce.

It is sprayed with larger amounts of pesticides than those used in conventional farming and the organic pesticides have been shown to cause disease.

My husband believes Mr. Dunning because he provides references and appears to be liberal and non-biased in other podcasts.

I have been purchasing organic produce according to the Environmental Working Group’s dirty dozen list.

It says on the Activist Facts website that “There’s really only one thing you need to know about the Environmental Working Group when it comes to its studies of toxins: 79 percent of members of the Society of Toxicology (scientists who know a little something about toxins) who rated the group say that the Environmental Working Group overstates the health risk of chemicals.

I am walking around with holes in my shirts, and I haven’t gotten the air conditioning fixed in my car, so that I can afford organic food.

Am I wasting my money?

I feel like I cannot trust anyone but you.



Stacy wanted to refer listeners to listen back to previous episodes for information on how both Stacy and Sarah have evolved the way they purchase and prioritize their own foods within their budget. (5:06)

Neither Stacy nor Sarah buys everything organically.

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Nothing that Stacy and Sarah are going to discuss in this episode is intended to be a judgment on you or your family or what you did in the past or what you are doing now.

This is all education so that you can be empowered to make the choices that are best for your family at the correct time for you.

Where Stacy’s family is today, ten years later, is a lot different than where they were ten years ago.

The goal of this episode is to help you so that you can walk away and ask questions.

There is a larger philosophy that each family needs to adapt to what works best for them.

No one is perfect.

If you are starting in your journey, you don’t need to forego the necessities to have organic food.

There is a way to prioritize your budget in a way that is consistent with what your family believes in.

Healthy living choices are so personal.


Foundational Choices & Next Level Choices

Sarah wanted to emphasize that there are foundational health principles.

Nutrient density diet, eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and living an active lifestyle.

Then Sarah thinks of the next level steps like adding some biohacks, supplements, purchasing grass-fed beef, and organic fruits and vegetables.

We need to first make sure that we are focusing on the foundational principles and adding in the next level choice if and when it makes sense.

Eating organic is beyond the basic principles, but is overall a better choice.

The EWG’s overall approach is in many ways more rigorous than the American regulatory agencies.

The EWG tends to align with the European Union, Health Canada, and these other regions of the world where the criterion for approving a chemical or pesticide is firmer.

In America, the thought process is that chemicals are assumed fine unless proven bad.

In Europe, a chemical is not ok until proven safe.


Conventional Evaluation of Pesticide Safety

The FDA’s safety assessment for chemicals in foods have a variety of criteria. (13:11)

They look at acute chronic and subchronic toxicity, carcinogenicity, genotoxicity, reproductive and developmental toxicity, neurotoxicity, and immunotoxicity.

Pesticides also go through additional impact evaluation on the environment and ecology.

The vast majority of the studies evaluating the effects of pesticides show problems to human health only with occupational exposure, rather than the much lower exposure the majority of us would have simply by eating produce from crops treated with these chemicals.

However, there are some challenges with this.

We can see high exposure in rodents causing all kinds of problems.

The assumption is that acute exposure is not the same as low dose chronic exposure.


Where the Standards Differ

One of the challenges that we have in evaluating pesticides is that our exposure is already so vast.

There are no humans that don’t already have multiple points of exposure to pesticides.

There are studies that are linking the chronic low dose exposure to pesticide residues that have correlated pesticide exposure in the food supply with a number of health issues.

In the United States, there are 72 pesticides that are routinely used that are completely banned or are in the process of being completely phased out in Europe.

Of the pesticides used in USA agriculture in 2016, 322 million pounds were of pesticides banned in the EU.

Twenty-six million pounds were of pesticides banned in Brazil and 40 million pounds were of pesticides banned in China.

Pesticides banned in the EU account for more than a quarter of all agricultural pesticide use in the USA.

It is important to understand that the European Union is looking at the same science as the EPA.

And they are making a different judgment based on the strength of the data.

We have a challenge that our metric is, ‘is it toxic’ and ‘does it cause cancer’.

WHO Guidelines for Safety of Chemicals in Food are much more thorough, and add to the above.

They include general system toxicity, allergy and hypersensitivity, and GI Tract Considerations (includes microbiome).


Pesticides and the Microbiome (Sarah’s Biggest Concern)

Microbial diversity is generally considered to be the most important measurable criteria for a healthy microbiome. (24:31)

The more different species you have, they tend to keep each other in balance.

The bacteria basically control the growth of each other.

We are also looking for the growth of these really important probiotic strains.

In addition, we are looking for completely absent levels of pathogens.

We are also looking at the balance between the two main phylum of bacteria in the gut.

It is important to understand that rodent studies are actually really good studies for understanding the gut microbiome.

We would want to eventually be able to do a similar study in humans.

But what Sarah wants to emphasize is that these rodent studies are a really good model for understanding what is happening in humans.

Let’s go through some of the most commonly-used pesticides in agriculture for food crops.

Permethrin is a broad-spectrum chemical often used as an insecticide for cotton, corn, alfalfa, and wheat crops—unfortunately, it’s also lethal to bees.

It’s also used to treat lice, ticks, and scabies.

For more on this, visit this link here.

PEM has higher antibacterial activity against some beneficial bacteria, (including Lactobacillus paracasei and Bifidobacterium).

Than against pathogens (such as Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli, which only respond to higher concentrations of PEM).

Carbendazim (CBZ) is a broad-spectrum benzimidazole fungicide, widely used in agriculture.

In mice, 28 days of exposure to CBZ resulted in gut dysbiosis.

It suppresses the growth of some of the most important probiotic families while increasing the growth of some problematic families of bacteria.

And it decreases bacterial diversity.

To learn more about this pesticide, see here.

Epoxiconazole (EPO) is a broad-spectrum fungicide often used on grain crops, and that works by inhibiting the metabolism of fungal cells.

It reduces the production of conidia—the asexual spores of a fungus that facilitate reproduction.

In rats, EPO for 90 days decreased the relative abundance of Firmicutes and increased the abundance of Bacteroidetes and Proteobacteria, while also selectively enriching Lachnospiraceae and Enterobacteriaceae.

To learn more about this pesticide, see here.


More Commonly Used Pesticides

Imazalil (IMZ) is a systemic fungicide used to combat fungi on vegetables and fruit (especially citrus), as well as tubers during storage. (30:39)

In mice, IMZ exposure (at doses of 100 mg per kg of body weight daily for up to 14 days) reduced the cecal relative abundance of Bacteroidetes, Firmicutes, and Actinobacteria, while also reducing microbiota richness and diversity.

The IMZ-treated mice also exhibited colonic inflammation.

In another study of mice, low-dose, environmentally relevant exposure to IMZ (0.1, 0.5, or 2.5 mg per kg of body weight daily) for 15 weeks resulted in gut microbiota changes.

These changes included reduced mucus secretion, decreased the expression of genes related to cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CTFR) in the ileum and colon, and generally disturbed intestinal barrier function.

Stacy shared her perspective on how she looks at this information.

Think through the way how these pesticides are more heavily used on grains.

Chlorphyrifos (CPF) is an extremely common organophosphate pesticide used to kill insects and worms, by interfering with acetylcholine signaling and disrupting their nerve processes.

It’s commonly used on fruit and vegetable crops, as well as vineyards.

This is one that was going to be banned in the USA, but Scott Pruitt reversed the planned ban.

You can learn more about this here.

Sarah shared on this study, this study, this study, and this study.

This information should stimulate a reevaluation of the use of these chemicals in the food supply.

Diazinon is an organophosphate insecticide used on a variety of crops—including fruit trees, rice, sugarcane, nuts, potatoes, and corn.

You can learn more about this pesticide here.

It causes different changes in male rodents versus female rodents.

The researchers speculated that these differences—with male mice experiencing the most severe changes—were due to sex-dependent gut microbiota profiles present before treatment.

You can read more about this study here.


Two More Commonly Used Pesticides

Propamocarb (PMEP) is a systemic fungicide used to control root, leaf, and soil diseases caused by oomycetes (water molds) by interfering with fatty acid and phospholipid biosynthesis and therefore changing the membrane in fungi. (41:41)

It can accumulate in fruit at high levels, thus reaching humans.

You can find more information on this pesticide here.

In mice, 28 days of exposure to PMEP (at levels of 300 mg/L in drinking water) induced gut dysbiosis and changes in 20 fecal metabolites, including SCFAs, succinate, bile acids, and TMA.

You can read more about this study here.

Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide that can kill both grasses and leafy weeds.

It works by inhibiting an enzyme (5-enolpyruvylshikimic acid-3-phosphate synthase, or EPSP synthase), which is used by bacteria, archaea, fungi, algae, some protozoans and plants to synthesize folates (vitamin B9), ubiquinone, menaquinones (vitamin K2), phenolic compounds, and the aromatic amino acids tyrosine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine.

The pathway this affects doesn’t exist in animals, which is part of why glyphosate has historically been considered to have low toxicity in animals.

Now that we understand that we have at least as many bacterial cells living within our body as we do human cells and that those bacteria are essential to our health, the relevance of glyphosate exposure comes into focus.

Many bacterially-derived compounds that benefit human health are produced via the shikimate pathway.

One rat study evaluated the impact on the microbiome of two weeks of glyphosate consumption, and showed a dose-dependent increase in fecal pH attributable to a reduction in acetic acid production, implying the metabolomic impact of glyphosate exposure.


More on Glyphosate

It’s not that glyphosate is necessarily directly impacting our cells, but it is dramatically impacting the gut microbiome at levels that we are already being exposed to in the food supply. (48:50)

In studies in poultry, cattle, and pigs, glyphosate exposure increases the ratio of pathogenic bacteria to probiotic microbes, reducing Bifidobacteria, Lactobacillus, and Enterococcus while increasing Salmonella and Clostridium.

In a long-term rat study, the impact on the gut microbiome was evaluated following nearly two years of glyphosate exposure via drinking water at three different doses.

Glyphosate caused a large increase in the Bacteroidetes family S24-7 (associated with obesity and inflammation) and a decrease in Lactobacillus species in females (more modest changes in males).

It also altered the Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes ratio to one more closely associated with chronic disease.

The authors concluded “our data suggests that the exposure to an environmental concentration of [Roundup] residues could have a role in the current epidemic of gut dysbiosis”.

This occurs even at levels well below the US ADI of 1.75 mg/kg body weight /day.

There is no strong dose-response.

Sarah wants to emphasize that our glyphosate exposure in food is quite high.

It is definitely above the cusp for an impact on our gut microbiome composition.

The FDA has a report where they have been mandated to measure glyphosate residue in the food supply.

In their 2016 report they measured measurable levels of glyphosate residues in 63% of corn food crops and in 67% of soybean food crops.

However, they did not say how much residue was there.

The 2018 report goes to a dead link now.

A Swiss study of foods purchased at a grocery store showed that legumes had the highest concentrations of glyphosate residues, up to 2.95 mg/kg.

United Kingdom government testing of glyphosate residues in wholegrain bread showed levels up to 0.9 mg/kg.

A study of foods purchased in Philadelphia, USA metropolitan area showed 59 percent of honey samples contained glyphosate residues, and 36 percent of soy sauce contained glyphosate residues.

Third-party testing of popular breakfast cereals, crackers, and cookies by the Detox Project and Food Democracy Now! showed alarming levels of glyphosate residues in all products.

Roundup Ready GMOs have the highest level of glyphosate residues.

Studies prove that our current levels of exposure are sufficient for measurable amounts of glyphosate to get into our bodies.

One study showed that 44% of city dwellers in 18 countries in Europe had detectable glyphosate residues in their urine, despite Europe’s more aggressive campaign against GMO foods.

A pilot study in the United States of America evaluating 131 urine samples from across the country detected glyphosate residues in the urine of 86.7% of them.

The highest observed detection frequency in the Midwest was at 93.3% and the lowest in the South at 69.2%.


How to Look at this Science

The EWG is looking at this much more broad group of criteria and they are taking a very similar standpoint to the European Union. (58:09)

A small effect is still an effect and we need to be concerned about it.

When Sarah does a deep dive look to look at the impact on the gut microbiome this is where Sarah sees the biggest area of concern.

Sarah thinks it is especially important because it is not currently part of the criteria by the FDA and the EPA for whether or not these chemicals are going to be approved for use.

This is the thing that Sarah really thinks needs to change.

The good news is that a healthy gut microbiome and high fiber consumption can actually protect us from absorbing a lot of these pesticides.

There have been studies that showed that lactobacilli can help reduce how much pesticide on our food gets into our bodies.

There are also studies that show that higher fiber consumption can at least partially reverse the gut dysbiosis.

As we get back to the heart of this question, there are studies that show that the answer is no.

High vegetable consumption is still really important because it does support a healthy gut microbiome, to begin with.

And a healthy gut microbiome is going to protect us in a lot of ways.

For example, they can protect us against heavy metals.

Even if we can’t afford organic to not let that dissuade us from eating that high vegetable consumption because of this.

Sarah sees this as an exciting two-way street.

Even though pesticide residues are impacting the composition of our guts, the composition of our gut is influenced by more than just that.

It is influenced by how many fruits and vegetables we eat, mushrooms, nuts and seeds, variety, how much fish, how quality the olive oil is that we are consuming, etc.

All of these things help to determine the composition of our gut microbiome.

Doing all of these foundational things becomes more important when we are not necessarily in a position to be able to seek out and afford the highest food quality.

It is still really important to eat a vegetable-rich diet.

That’s why Sarah wants to classify all of this science as the next level.

The foundational principle is still eating a lot of fruits and vegetables, even if our only access to that is conventional.

Beyond that, yes the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists from the EWG are a wonderful tool.

Not that Sarah agrees with everything the EWG has said, Sarah thinks that these are spot on in the sense of trying to minimize our exposure to pesticide residues.


How to Limit Pesticide Exposure

Stacy feels that the podcast referenced and the information they are sharing aren’t so far apart. (1:02:10)

Sarah and Stacy discussed a point shared in the documentary Food Inc. that really hit this information home.

We do the best that we can with what we can, and become educated on what other things we can do to support healthy living.

Nothing is ever perfect.

Prioritize the foods you purchase and do the best you can.

It is not good to stress about these things.

The dirty dozen list includes strawberries, spinach, kale, nectarines, apples, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery and potatoes

The clean fifteen list includes avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, onions, papaya, sweet peas (frozen), eggplants, asparagus, cauliflower, cantaloupes, broccoli, mushrooms, cabbage, honeydew melon, and kiwifruit.

If you are going to get something off the dirty dozen conventional, look at ways that you can wash that food very well or ways you can peel the food to remove the majority of the pesticide residue.

USDA certification is very expensive, so a lot of small family farms are growing organically, but don’t have the certification.

Talk to farmers and find out how they are growing their food.

Stacy can’t handle the sight of bugs in her fresh vegetables.

Eating fruits and vegetables is a good thing.

Perfection is not the goal.

Neither Stacy nor Stacy eats 100% organic, they both do the best that they can.

Sarah has found that the prices at her local farmer’s market are best.

Develop relationships with your local farmers, and shop at the end of the market.

Stacy subscribes to Hungry Harvest, which has a waiting list right now.

Sarah prescribes to MisFit Market, there is also one called Imperfect Produce.

One of the things that Sarah loves about her subscription is the surprise element of it, which forces her to get creative with her meal planning.

At Stacy’s house they meal plan when their box arrives, based on what they received.

Stacy shared more information on their meal planning process as a family, and how focused they have become to make sure they are not wasting food.

Building relationships with your local farmers is a point that Stacy echoed from Sarah.

Buying things in season or frozen can also be a helpful way to save money.

Stacy’s organic box is at least 30% off had they purchased those items at a grocery store regularly.

The thing that Stacy most loves about Hungry Harvest is that they give back to the community.


Closing Thoughts

Stacy thanked Sarah for all the research she did for this show! (1:23:13)

If you have any follow up questions on all of this, you are welcome to email Stacy and Sarah using the contact forms on their blogs.

You can comment on social media posts as well.

Stacy and Sarah are always happy to hear from you!

If you have been loving this show, please help spread the word to others by sharing a link to an episode you enjoyed with a family or friend, or leave a review.

Stacy and Sarah so greatly appreciate your support!

Thank you again for tuning in!

Next week is another science-heavy show that builds off of this week’s episode.

We will be back again next week! (1:25:57)

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When the backyard giveth rhubarb a plenty, it’s time to make one of the most iconic and all-American desserts with it: Grain-Free Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp! Despite being free of refined sugars, it’s pleasantly sweet and every bit as delicious as you remember.

Worth the wait!

I’ve been eagerly counting down the time to spring and early summer this year and not-so-patiently checking on the rhubarb in the garden because I’ve been dying to share this Grain-Free Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp with you. It’s tart and sweet and the cinnamon-y pecan-studded topping is perfectly crumbly and crispy, and the whole thing just begs to be topped with generous scoops of vanilla ice cream and shared with those you love.

Growing up in Minnesota, everyone I knew had a giant rhubarb plant (or several) in their backyard. And you could always count on a strawberry-rhubarb pie or crisp showing up at a potluck or Sunday dinner with family, so I have a particularly soft spot for this Grain-Free Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp. Every bite takes me ‘home’ and back to simpler times. 

I hope you and your family love this Grain-Free Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp as much as we do!

Ingredients for Grain-Free Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

  • Rhubarb – Available in late-spring and early-summer at farmers markets and grocery stores. Look for stalks that are thin and streaked with red and/or pink. Big stalks are likely to be dry, woody, and past their prime. Rhubarb is easy to grow in your garden or yard and requires very little maintenance.
  • Strawberries – Select berries that are red and juicy with green tops.
  • Lemon juice + zest – Lemon adds an extra element of brightness and 9 out of 10 grandmas will agree that it’s a necessary part of any fruit pie or crisp.
  • Maple syrup – Maple syrup is naturally sweet and refined sugar-free, and it adds the perfect amount of sweetness to the fruit filling and topping.
  • Vanilla extract
  • Arrowroot starch – A gluten-free stand-in for the traditional white flour used to thicken the fruit layer
  • Almond flour – A grain-free alternative to oats or flour.
  • Coconut flour – Acts as a binder to create a crumbly topping without oats.
  • Salt – Enhances the sweetness of the berries and maple syrup.
  • Cinnamon – The ultimate spice for warm and cozy baked goods!
  • Cardamom – While this spice is optional, it’s a lovely compliment to the cinnamon in baked goods.
  • Butter – Butter gives the topping the butter goodness you expect in a fruit crisp, but it can be replaced by chilled coconut oil or vegan butter if you need a plant-based or dairy-free alternative.
  • Pecans – It’s all about that buttery crunch.

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that will not change your price but will share some commission.

How to Make Grain-Free Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

  1. Slice your rhubarb and berries thinly and toss with lemon juice, zest, maple syrup, and arrowroot starch.
  2. Transfer fruit mixture to a greased baking dish. NOTE: A glass baking dish is recommended as the acidity of the rhubarb can react with aluminum pans causing the crisp to turn a funny color and develop a metallic taste (and the pan to rust). 
  3. Make the topping by mixing the almond and coconut flours together with the salt, cinnamon, and ground cardamon.
  4. Cut the cold butter (note, the butter MUST be cold) into the flour mixture using a fork or a pastry blender until it resembles coarse sand with some pebbles in it.
  5. Gently fold the maple syrup and pecans into the flour-butter mixture and fluff with a fork. The mixture will be more wet than crumbly so you’ll need to use your fingers to break it up into small clumps and scatter it over the top of the fruit mixture. 
  6. Place the baking dish onto a rimmed baking sheet to catch any juices that might bubble over the side (because no one likes to clean the oven!)
  7. Bake until the filling is hot and bubbly and the topping is golden brown.
  8. Allow crisp to cool for 15-20 minutes before digging in to allow the fruit and their juices to thicken and to avoid burning your mouth.

Top, Serve, and Savor

How you top your Grain-Free Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp is up to you, but here are few ways that we’ve come to love:

  • Vanilla ice cream – Our go-to is Alden’s Organic Vanilla Bean because it’s made with organic ingredients and it’s egg-free. Dairy-free options are also delicious: we like So Delicious, Alden’s, Nada Moo, and Larry & Luna’s, to name a few.
  • Whipped heavy cream – Sweetened with just a tiny splash of maple syrup, a dash of vanilla extract, and a pinch of salt, it’s a heavenly accompaniment texture-and flavor-wise to this Grain-Free Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp
  • Yogurt – Swapping out ice cream for yogurt makes this dessert ‘breakfast legal’ at our house.

Make ’em mini

Want to get fancy? Don’t want to share?

Try making this Grain-Free Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp in 1-cup ramekins for cute individual servings. Not only will everyone get their own mini-dessert, but they’ll also bake faster (read: you’ll be enjoying dessert faster).

Hungry for More? Subscribe to get our newsletter delivered straight to your inbox! And be sure to stay in touch on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.

Let’s Get Cookin’

Grain-Free Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

  • Author: Jessica Beacom
  • Prep Time: 20 mins.
  • Cook Time: 18-27 mins.
  • Total Time: 40-50 mins.
  • Yield: Serves 6 1x
  • Category: Paleo, Egg-Free
Grain Free Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp topped with vanilla ice cream


For the Filling:

  • 2 cups thinly sliced rhubarb
  • 3 cups sliced strawberries
  • Zest + juice of ½ lemon (~ 2 tsp. juice)
  • 2 Tbsp. maple syrup
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. arrowroot starch

For the Topping:

  • ½ cup + 2 Tbsp. almond flour
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut flour
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¾ tsp. cinnamon
  • ⅛ tsp. ground cardamom, optional 
  • 3 Tbsp. cold butter, cut into small pieces (substitute chilled coconut oil for dairy-free or vegan)
  • ¾ cup chopped pecans (raw or toasted)
  • 2 Tbsp. maple syrup

For serving: Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, or non-dairy whipped topping, if desired


  1. Preheat the oven to 350℉. 
  2. Grease six (6) 1-cup ramekins or an 8×8-inch glass baking dish with coconut oil or butter. Set aside. 
  3. Add sliced rhubarb and strawberries to a medium bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon zest, juice, maple syrup, vanilla, and arrowroot starch. Pour over the berries and rhubarb and toss to coat evenly. 
  4. Divide filling among the ramekins or pour into the baking dish. Set aside while you prepare the topping. 
  5. Wipe out the bowl you just used for the filling and combine almond flour through cardamom. Add butter pieces (or chilled coconut oil) and using a pastry blender or a fork, cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse sand with some pebbles. Be careful not to overmix to the point that you have a paste—but if you do, don’t panic, it will still turn out well. 
  6. Stir pecans into the flour mixture then drizzle with maple syrup. Toss everything together with a fork. The topping will be more sticky than crumbly at this point. 
  7. Using your fingers, divide the topping evenly amongst ramekins or spread in a single layer over filling in the baking dish. 
  8. Place the ramekins or baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any liquid that may bubble over) and bake 18-22 minutes for ramekins and 22-27 minutes for the baking dish or until the filling is hot and bubbling and topping is lightly browned. 
  9. Remove from the oven and allow it to stand 15-20 minutes before serving. 


  • Serving Size: 1/6th recipe (without ice cream, etc)
  • Calories: 221
  • Sugar: 13g
  • Sodium: 104mg
  • Fat: 15g
  • Saturated Fat: 4g
  • Carbohydrates: 20g
  • Fiber: 3g
  • Protein: 3g

Pin it now & Make it later!

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All photos and content are copyright protected. Please do not use our photos without prior written permission. If you wish to republish this recipe, please rewrite the recipe in your own unique words and link back to the source recipe here on The Real Food Dietitians. Thank you!

About Jessica Beacom

Jessica is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist living in Boulder, CO with her hubby and two daughters. She’s been described as a ‘real food evangelist’ and loves sharing her knowledge with others to help them break free of the diet mentality and find their own food freedom. In her spare time she enjoys CrossFit, telemark skiing, mountain biking, teaching herself how to play the banjo and camping out under the stars.

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Do you need to improve your digestion? If you’re experiencing trouble digesting, like bloating, constipation, abdominal cramping, gas, or diarrhea on the regular, then those are a few signs your digestion could use a little support.

Your digestive system is exceptionally important for your overall health. It’s responsible for processing the food you eat, absorbing the nutrients you need then excreting the waste that no longer serves a purpose.

Unfortunately, many people are experiencing daily signs of discomfort due to disrupted digestive systems.

Discomfort as a result of poor digestion can cause frustration and confusion. It can sometimes even become such a nuisance that it can begin to impact your daily life.

Sometimes digestion complications can be the result of more serious conditions such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease, Diverticulitis, and more. Yet an otherwise perfectly healthy person can often experience digestive issues simply due to poor diet or lifestyle choices.

In this article, you’ll learn some of the causes of digestion problems, how the digestion process works, and what you can do to improve digestion.

What Causes or Contributes to Poor Digestion?

When it comes to poor digestion, there are quite a few possible culprits that may be to blame. Poor digestion is really common if you’re not eating the right combinations of foods or you don’t know how to prepare those foods in a way that aids digestion.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just about what you are eating, but also how you are eating and how you are feeling.

Let’s dive into what those diet and lifestyle choices may be.

Inappropriate Fiber Intake

Almighty fiber, the king of digestion.

Insoluble fiber is responsible for aiding GI motility; it essentially helps to keep things moving in a timely manner. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, turns into a gel-like substance in the digestive tract to help slow down digestion.

It also promotes the growth of healthy bacteria that helps us to digest appropriately. When we don’t have enough fiber in the diet, we can experience constipation, gas, or diarrhea.

On the other hand, what many people don’t know is that if we suddenly increase our fiber intake substantially overnight, this can also be just as troublesome. Constipation and bloating almost undoubtedly will follow.

Inadequate Water Intake

Water is another key player for healthy digestion. When we’re either mildly or severely dehydrated due to a lack of water intake, symptoms of constipation, diarrhea, bloating and even malabsorption may occur.

Water helps break down food items to promote optimal digestion, and also softens the stool.

Excessive Intake Of Processed Foods

When too many processed food items are consumed frequently, a perfect storm is created in the digestive tract.

Processed food items are void of fiber, water, vitamins, and minerals, yet packed with sugar and artificial ingredients.

Our digestive tract is lined with “good”, healthy bacteria that help us to digest appropriately. Unfortunately, an excessive intake of sugar from processed food items can lead to an inadequate amount of healthy bacteria, which ultimately results in poor digestion.

Acute And Chronic Stress

Stress has the ability to wreak havoc on the body.

Acute stress is essentially short-term stress, think of that pit in your stomach you feel when you’re nervous about meeting a work deadline or about giving a speech in public.

Chronic stress, on the other hand, is long-term stress. This is the stress that is experienced over a prolonged period of time rather than simply situationally.

Acute stress can cause a lack of appetite and slow down digestion, while chronic stress can cause more severe issues such as constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal cramping. This can also eventually result in a diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Movement is key for optimal digestion.

Our digestive tract is one big muscle. When we’re sedentary and not exercising, that muscle often isn’t as stimulated to push our food through the various stages of digestion.

This can result in constipation, gas, and even bloating.

Not Eating The Right Balance Of Foods At Each Meal

Our bodies require a combination of what we like to call the Foundational Five — protein, starchy carbohydrates, non-starchy carbohydrates, healthy fats, and the flavor factor.

While the flavor factor is simply for taste, the previous four components are essential for proper digestion. Each macronutrient serves a purpose, when one or many of them are consistently missing, your digestion may start to show signs of distress.

Overeating Or Under Eating

Finding the right amount of food for your body is also important for proper digestion.

If we under eat and don’t give our body the proper nutrients it needs, we may start to experience, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea.

The exact same goes for the opposite scenario. If we overload our digestive system to the point where it becomes overwhelming, the chances of it being able to digest appropriately are slim to none.

Food Intolerances

Food intolerances present themselves differently in each and every individual. With that being said, abnormal digestion is one of the most common signs.

Continuing to eat food items that your body is intolerant to can also lead to long term complications, depending upon the severity of the intolerance and what it is that you are intolerant to.

What You Need to Know About the Digestion Process

It’s important to understand the basics of the digestion process in order to appropriately address digestive issues.

Digestion is the act of consuming, breaking down, processing, and utilizing food for energy. There are two ways food is digested: mechanical digestion (when food is chewed and physically broken up into tiny little pieces) and chemical digestion (where food is broken down into even smaller molecules with the help of natural digestive enzymes).

The process of digestion starts in the mouth. Mechanical digestion is conducted by the act of chewing food. Chemical digestion also begins here with the release of the enzyme amylase, which is responsible for digesting carbohydrates.

Our food next travels through the esophagus to the stomach where chemical and physical digestion continues. Gastric juices are released to further break down the food item, while the stomach itself contracts and churns to mix everything up and push the food forward. These contractions are referred to as peristalsis.

Everything then makes its way into the small intestine. This is the first part of digestion where nutrients begin to be significantly absorbed. The liver and pancreas also help out here by secreting enzymes that further the chemical digestion.

Lastly, after the food has passed through the small intestine, the large intestine absorbs all remaining nutrients but mostly any remaining water. This is how stool is formed that then passes out of our bodies via the rectum.

How You Can Aid Your Digestion

Now that we understand how the process of digestion works and how it can be disrupted, let’s dive into some ways you can improve your digestion.

A lot of the members of the Method Membership have digestion problems when they first join, but through learning what to eat, how to optimize digestion (especially when eating plant-based foods), and how to tune into the signs their body is sending them, they’re able to make changes that work specifically for them.

When we work on digestion inside of the Method Membership, it’s a process with small changes that add up and shift things overtime.

These tips below are a good starting point, but keep in mind that learning how to support your own unique digestion is a process and it will take some time to fully figure out what works for you.

Eat Enough Fiber

It’s recommended that men and women receive about 25-30 grams of fiber per day. You can get fiber in your diet from whole foods such as beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

If you’re not used to consuming these fibrous food items daily, take it slowly. Add in a small amount of these items daily and work your way up. You don’t want to overload your digestive system.

Additionally, if you find that you’re specifically having trouble with beans or legumes, feel free to soak these before preparing them to aid digestion even more.

Eat Foods That Improve Digestion

There are several foods that can support digestion for different reasons! If you’re finding yourself having trouble digesting, try incorporating some of these fruits for digestion and vegetables for digestion into your week and noticing if they help aid digestion.

Drink Plenty of Water

As a general rule of thumb, aiming to consume about half of your body weight in fluid ounces per day is a good place to start.

Depending on the amount of physical activity you are participating in, you may need a bit more or less than this number. Always know that you can consult a registered dietitian to determine your individual fluid needs.

Reduce Processed Foods

Processed foods should play a very small role in your diet to promote optimal digestion.

Opt for whole foods that are naturally packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals as much as you can. From whole-grain varieties to lean protein, nut butter, seeds, fruits, and vegetables, there are so many options out there for you to incorporate.

Practice Stress Management for Better Digestion

Finding a stress management routine that works for you can do wonders for not only your digestive health but also your mental and physical health.

Stress management activities can be anything that works for you – from face masks to bubble baths, exercise, socialization, or reading, the options are endless.

If you find that you’re struggling to create a routine like this on your own, know that you can always reach out to a wellness coach or a mental health counselor to help you cope with stress.

Movement Aids Digestion

Movement can be an exercise class you take, a walk around your neighborhood, a yoga flow at home, or a bike ride with friends.

Any movement is good movement!

Eat Balanced Meals to Ease Digestion

Whenever your preparing or purchasing a meal, aim to get a combination of protein, healthy fat, starchy carbohydrates, non-starchy carbohydrates, and a flavor factor.

This will help to keep you feeling full after meals, energized for your day, and will improve your digestion.

Eat The Right Amount For Your Body

Learning to understand your hunger and satiety cues can be exceptionally helpful with this. The more mindful you are with your eating, the better you can nourish your body and nurture your digestion.

Registered dietitians can also be a great help with this. Sometimes acclimating yourself to your hunger and satiety cues just isn’t as easy as it sounds. Dietitians can help you to do this in a healthy, realistic way.

Identify Food Intolerances

If you find that your digestion is only disrupted after certain meals or when you eat specific food items, food intolerance may be to blame.

A great way to determine whether or not you have a food intolerance is to use a food journal. This will allow you to track your signs and symptoms in accordance with your intake.

Over time you’ll be able to find patterns. Once established, you can perform an elimination diet to determine the root cause of your digestion issues.

Add Digestive Enzymes

If all else fails, digestive enzymes in the form of a supplement can be quite helpful. For example, many can’t digest beans and legumes very well and there are many supplements on the market that help break down the polysaccharides in legumes that can be difficult to digest. There are also some foods that contain natural digestive enzymes that are more “powerful” than most other whole foods like pineapple and papaya.

You don’t necessarily need to take digestive enzymes to optimize digestion. But in some cases, they can help alleviate gas and bloating. Always check with your doctor before taking a new supplement. It might interact with other medications or not be right for your body.

How to Put This Into Practice to Improve Your Digestion

Now that you have some ideas to get you started, focus on one tip that you think will make the biggest impact for improving your digestion.

Testing one thing at a time will help you see what works best for you and give you time to try it out in your life.

If you’re also looking to improve your eating habits to support your digestion, download the free guide for creating healthy eating habits. It walks you through the steps and practices you need to create healthy eating habits in your daily life that help you feel your best every day.

How to Know if Your Digestive Issues Are Serious

It’s always important to touch base with your health care practitioners to rule out any serious digestion complications or conditions, especially if you’re experiencing digestive issues on a daily basis.

Be sure to seek out your primary care physician for guidance. They’ll be able to properly diagnose and treat you if a serious condition is present.

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Keep your skin healthy and youthful with these tips.

We spend so much time dedicated to taking care of immune systems that it’s easy to let skin care fall by the wayside. That doesn’t make it OK, however – our skin is the largest barrier to infection. That means if you don’t put in the effort to keep it in top shape, your risk for illness and disease exposure goes up. Paying closer attention to skin care is key, especially with the thousands of toxins we’re exposed to on a daily basis.

If you want to take better care of your skin without using harsh chemicals, consider a natural approach with these tips:

Reduce Stress Levels
You’ve likely heard that high stress levels have a negative impact on the condition of your skin. But why? According to dermatologist Richard Fried, M.D. Ph.D., it’s all about hormones.

“So many [skin conditions] are related to an inappropriate release of inflammatory chemicals,” he told SELF magazine. “Stress is a general trigger that can make the skin misbehave in whatever way it’s prone to misbehaving.”

While life can throw mysterious curve balls that lead to inevitable encounters with stress, do your best to find ways to reduce anxiety whenever possible. Make time for yourself, relax, find a new hobby or spend weekends surrounded by loved ones as a way to cope with and prevent feeling overly stressed. Your skin will thank you.

Girl in a field, reading a book.Set aside time to relax during the day.

Drop Unhealthy Habits
Smoking is dangerous for your general health, but it makes a particularly significant impact on your skin. This bad habit narrows the small blood vessels in the outer layers of your skin, which can deplete the skin of its oxygen and make it more pale. Smoking also harms the collagen and elastin in skin, two fibers that make skin strong and reduce your chances of developing wrinkles. Dropping this unhealthy habit early in life is one of the easiest ways to ensure a healthy complexion as you get older.

Use Natural Skin Care Products
While beauty advertisements plastered across your television set claim to provide a product that promotes optimal skin health, it’s important to pay attention to the ingredients. Many skin care cleansers and lotions are loaded with toxic chemicals that can harm the body when absorbed through the skin. To avoid this issue, start shopping for natural skin care products and makeup.

Stay Hydrated and Follow a Plant-based Diet
By drinking plenty of water throughout the day, you can help your skin from becoming dry, itchy and dull-looking. Replacing sugary juices and sodas with water can also reduce your chance for dealing with adult acne flare-ups.

Beyond drinking water, hydrate with a primarily raw, plant-based diet. The Hallelujah Diet can provide your body with the antioxidants and nutrients it needs to thrive. A variety of fruits, vegetables, organic whole grains, nuts and seeds will reduce inflammation in your skin and fuel it to look radiant and youthful as you age.

As we age our skin slowly becomes depleted of silica, leading to thinner skin and loss of elasticity. Using the right form of silica, like the Hallelujah Diet Collagen Booster with Silica  can help produce collagen and elastin fibers to give your skin a more youthful elasticity and flexibility.


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Dr. Donaldson shared his research about how beneficial alkaline water can be, just so long as the alkalinity is in tact.

A few weeks ago, we started the discussion about alkaline water, detailing how its popularity has consumers wondering in what way alkaline water compares to a glass straight from the tap. This special type of water is said to buffer acids in the blood like lactic acid produced during hard exercise, however, it can only do so  effectively when the water is high in alkalinity. But what exactly does that mean?

Our own health expert Dr. Michael Donaldson, Ph.D. shared his research about how beneficial alkaline water can be, just so long as the alkalinity is in tact.

Alkaline vs. Alkalinity: What’s the Difference?
Simply put, alkaline water is less acidic than regular tap water. Alkaline water is produced by passing water through an electrolysis chamber and enriching part of the water with hydroxyl ions (OH-), making it higher in pH. A waste stream is also created that is acidic. Alkaline water may or may not have alkaline-rich compounds, such as calcium, silica, potassium, magnesium and bicarbonate in it, depending on the source water. Alkalinity is defined as the water’s capacity to resist changes in pH that would make the water more acidic. Dr. Donaldson explained that it’s critical for consumers to understand this difference if they want to get the most out of their water.

“It is important to distinguish between alkaline and alkalinity,” said Dr. Donaldson. “Alkaline refers to pH, but alkalinity refers to the ability of the water to resist change in pH when acid is added (a buffer). Alkaline water could be high in pH, but low in alkalinity if it is low in alkaline minerals and bicarbonate. This kind of water neutralizes very little acid.”

Water glassAlkalinity is most important.

To better explain what defines a buffer and the importance of bicarbonate, Dr. Donaldson compared its association with pH as the same action of temperature to an HVAC.

“Your house HVAC system buffers you from the outside temperature, always keeping it comfortable,” he said. “Bicarbonate does that for the blood, always keeping it at the correct pH so that the body functions normally, comfortably.  If your HVAC system is undersized, it may put out ice cold air, but it won’t be enough to cool down your house. If you don’t have enough bicarbonate, you won’t be able to buffer the acid from the diet very well.”

Alkalinity is More Important
At the end of the day, it’s not enough for water to simply be alkaline. Alkalinity is far more important because it doesn’t only depend on pH levels. Bicarbonate neutralizes acids in water, giving water higher alkalinity and making it the preferred form of hydration. According to Dr. Mark Sircus, OMD, DM, water treated with magnesium bicarbonate is the most beneficial. Using a reverse osmosis water system with magnesium bicarbonate restructures and neutralizes water to ensure your body gets the nutrient-rich, natural medicine it deserves.

When you drink water that’s high in alkalinity, blood can flow more easily throughout your body and guide oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. This, in turn, can improve circulation, increase hydration, regulate blood sugar and enhance your internal system overall.

Try our HydroBoost Kit
Drinking distilled water isn’t enough. To further the benefits and improve your overall health and well-being, we recommend trying the Hallelujah Diet HydroBoost Kit. With this product, you can upgrade your distilled water, providing alkalinity that can offset harmful acids, enhance mineral absorption and improve hydration. Additionally, the HydroBoost Kit can improve the taste of your water, making it easier and more satisfying to consume all day.

Learn more about how to use your new HydroBoost Kit today.

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Tea is one of the most versatile and well-loved beverages out there! It can help us kickstart a sleepy morning, or it can keep us company on a cold winter day. In the 4000-plus years since its origin, tea has become one of the most popular beverages in the world (second only to water). And, it just so happens that tea is just as health promoting as it is delicious!

“True” tea—opposed to herbal infusions we sometimes call tea (such as chamomile tea or rooibos tea)—is made from leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, an evergreen shrub native to China and Southeast Asia. Depending on how these leaves are harvested and processed, we end up with one of five different types of tea:

  • White tea, which is made from young tea leaves and unopened buds that are picked and allowed to naturally dry.
  • Green tea, which is made from leaves that are picked, withered, heat-treated (steaming or firing) to prevent oxidation, and rolled.
  • Oolong tea, which is made from leaves that are repeatedly rolled and oxidized many times over the course of hours or even days.
  • Black tea, which is made similarly to oolong tea but is allowed to oxidize more completely.
  • Pu-erh tea, which is made from leaves that have been prepared similarly to green tea, but also fermented and aged.

Would you believe that it takes about 2,000 tea leaves just to create one pound of finished tea?!

While green tea and black tea have been the most extensively studied, research has shown beyond a doubt that tea supports our health. For example, green tea consumption is associated with lower all-cause mortality and potentially weight loss, and both green and black tea have been associated with LDL cholesterol reduction, lower blood pressure, reduced risk of stroke and heart disease, potential reduction in dental plaque formation, and even a lower risk of certain cancers. And unlike coffee which benefits some people but causes inflammation in others (see Coffee and Autoimmune Disease and Coffee as a Mediator of Health & Longevity), all types of tea offer unique benefits across the board!

Tea Polyphenols

Tea owes many of its effects to its phenolic composition, which varies depending on the type of tea (see also Polyphenols: Magic Bullet or Health Hype? and The Amazing World of Plant Phytochemicals: Why a diet rich in veggies is so important!). The main benefits of green tea, for example, are attributed to its catechins—in particular the well-studied epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), which is the most abundant and active compound in green tea, as well as epicatechin (EC), epicatechin-3-gallate (ECG), and epigallocatechin (EGC). Green tea is so rich in these catechins that it’s between 20 and 45% polyphenols by weight!

Research has found numerous benefits associated with EGCG. For example, EGCG has been shown to exert anti-cancer properties by regulating enzymes involved in the cell cycle, resulting in inhibited cell proliferation, cell cycle arrest, and apoptosis. This catechin also has antimicrobial activity against pathogens via a variety of mechanisms—including damaging the cell walls of bacteria by interacting with surface proteins, causing oxidative stress to Gram-negative bacteria by producing hydrogen peroxide, and binding directly to exposed peptidoglycan layers in Gram-positive bacteria (see also What Is the Gut Microbiome? And Why Should We Care About It?). Studies have shown that EGCG prevents the cytotoxicity of Shiga-like toxin 1 from E. coli, and also inhibits the growth of E. coli 0157:H7, Salmonella typhimurium, Salmonella enteritidis, Listeria monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus, and Bacillus cereus. EGCG also has high antioxidant activity, protecting against oxidative damage in cells and tissue by inhibiting pro-oxidant enzymes like cyclooxygenase, xanthine oxidase, lipoxygenase, and inducible nitric oxide synthase. It’s been studied for a potential role in treating rheumatoid arthritis due to its strong anti-inflammatory properties. And, EGCG has been shown to have neuroprotective effects, including for Alzheimer’s disease and HIV-associated dementia.

Although green tea tends to steal the spotlight due to its EGCG, black and oolong teas have some unique components of their own! Both of these teas contain theaflavins, which are antioxidant polyphenols that get formed during the oxidation of tea leaves (more specifically, from the condensation of flavan-3-ols contained in those leaves). One study compared the theaflavins in black tea to the catechins in green tea and found that theaflavin-3,3’-digallate had even higher antioxidant activity than any of the green tea catechins, and other theaflavins were likewise comparable to green tea catechins in their antioxidant potency.

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Given the above, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that theaflavins have been associated with many of the same health benefits as EGCG—including protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer, reduction in blood pressure, and reduction in LDL cholesterol. However, it’s also worth noting that even if catechins and theaflavins have similar effects in studies, the phenolic content of green tea is overall higher than in black or oolong teas—giving green tea a leg up in terms of benefits on a per-cup basis.


Tea is also rich in a unique amino acid called L-theanine, which has been shown to modulate some aspects of human brain function and promote calmness—particularly by affecting neurotransmitters (see also How Stress Undermines Health). For example, L-theanine has a similar structure to the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamic acid, and is able to both blockade glutamate receptors and inhibit glutamate reuptake. L-theanine is also associated with higher concentrations and release of dopamine concentrations, increased GABA concentrations, decreased norepinephrine levels, and suppression of the general release of serotonin.

Research has shown that the amount of L-theanine found in just two cups of black tea (about 50 mg) is enough to increase brain activity in the alpha frequency band, indicating relaxation without drowsiness. (It only takes about 30 minutes for L-theanine to cross the blood-brain barrier and start influencing the central nervous system, and reaches maximum levels at about five hours after ingestion—explaining the long-lasting soothing effect we feel after drinking tea!) And, it appears that L-theanine can help counteract some of the effects of caffeine (another component of tea)! One study found that combining L-theanine with caffeine (in amounts and ratios similar to a cup or two of tea) eliminated both the behavioral effects and blood-pressure-raising effects of caffeine. On the whole, it seems theanine in tea may play a beneficial role in cognitive performance (due to increasing monoamines), anxiety (due to its effects on serotonin and GABA), and neurological health (due to antagonizing the effects of glutamate).

But, L-theanine has other potential benefits as well! One in vitro study found that L-theanine was able to attenuate or prevent a number of effects of the neurotoxicants rotenone and dieldrin, including DNA fragmentation, apoptotic death, the upregulation of heme oxygenase-1, the down-regulation of extracellular signal-regulated kinase1/2 phosphorylation, and the down-regulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor. All of this suggests that L-theanine may be neuroprotective, including against toxins related to Parkinson’s disease, and may help explain tea’s apparent protective effects against this disease.

And it doesn’t end there. Theanine has been shown to alleviate some of the toxic side effects of anticancer drugs, suppress elevated cholesterol levels (by increasing bile acid excretion and helping eliminate cholesterol from the body), inhibit tumor growth (by targeting several growth factor receptor signaling pathways), improve memory, protect cardiovascular health (by increasing the production of nitric oxide and enhancing artery vasodilation), reduce alcohol-induced liver injury (by increasing the activities of alcohol dehydrogenase and aldehyde dehydrogenase and lowering cytochrome P450 CYP 2E1), and improving immunity in certain circumstances (especially when combined with L-cystine, which together enhance levels of serum IgG and antigen specific IgM, as well as protects against extreme exercise-induced alterations in immune response). Is it any wonder that drinking tea is associated with so many health improvements?!

Tea and the Gut Microbiome

Another way tea benefits us is through its impact on the gut microbiota (see What Is the Gut Microbiome? And Why Should We Care About It?). Because the polyphenols in tea aren’t completely absorbed in the GI tract, they can reach the microbiota in the colon and get metabolized by bacteria there, leading to the release of important metabolites. Along with antimicrobial activity against the previously mentioned pathogens, tea polyphenols and their metabolites have been shown to selectively repress the growth of Clostridium difficile, Clostridium perfringens, and some species of Bacteroides—all while sparing beneficial commensals such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. (What’s more, green tea has been shown to actually increase the proportion of Bifidobacterium in the microbiota!) This suggests that tea polyphenols can help modulate the gut bacteria through their prebiotic activity.

In a study of mice, both green and black tea polyphenols altered the ratio of obesity-associated bacteria to leanness-associated bacteria, indicating prebiotic activity with potential benefits for weight regulation. Black tea polyphenols, specifically, also appear to be less readily absorbed than the polyphenols in green tea, allowing them to spend more time in the GI tract (where they can interact with the resident microbes!). Research has shown that black tea polyphenols increase the abundance of the Pseudobutyrivibrio (which is associated with energy metabolism) as well as the formation of beneficial short-chain fatty acids, helping explain the mechanism behind black tea’s health and weight loss benefits.

In mice fed high-fat diets, supplementation with green tea powder along with a single probiotic strain (Lactobacillus plantarum DSM 15313) dramatically increased the diversity of the gut microbiota, and more specifically helped the Lactobacillus strain flourish compared to mice given the probiotic but no green tea powder. This suggests a fascinating relationship between tea and beneficial microbes, with tea potentially enhancing the proliferation of probiotics we ingest from elsewhere!

In a mouse model of colitis, supplementation with the tea polyphenol EGCG not only inhibited carcinogenesis in the mice’s colons, but also counteracted other cancer-related changes in the microbiota profile. In particular, EGCG prevented the rise of potentially carcinogenic bacteria (including some members of Bacteroides) while also counteracting the decrease in beneficial butyrate producers such as Clostridiaceae and Ruminococcus. And, in rats, long-term consumption of green tea polyphenols was able to increase levels of Bacteroidetes and Oscillospira (which have been linked to the “lean” phenotype in both animal models and humans) and deplete levels of Peptostreptococcaceae (which has been linked to a colorectal-cancer-prone phenotype)—all in a dose-dependent manner.

And, what about in humans? Tea is no less beneficial for our gut health than it is for lab animals! One trial tested the effects of 10 days of green tea consumption on human fecal microbiota, and found that the tea increased the proportion of Bifidobacterium, one of the most well-studied probiotic groups. Using in vitro experiments with human gut bacteria, tea polyphenols have also been shown to enhance the production of SCFAs, inhibit the growth of potentially pathogenic members of Bacteroides-Prevotella and Clostridium, and encourage the growth of beneficial species. A similar study looking at growth responses of human gut bacteria to green tea extracts found that the green tea selectively inhibited some species of Clostridium, including C. difficile, C. perfringens, and C. paraputrificum.

Although teas other than green and black have been less thoroughly researched, we still have plenty of evidence for their benefits, too! For example, oolong and Pu-erh tea have both been shown to increase microbial diversity in the gut and reduce the ratio of Firmicutes to Bacteroidetes. When obese mice were fed an extract of ripened Pu-erh tea, they experienced reduced weight gain, lower adipose inflammation, less fat accumulation, and reduced endotoxin levels in the blood. And, when feces from Pu-erh treated mice was transplanted into recipient mice, it protected against metabolic syndrome and weight gain—suggesting an anti-obesity effect from microbiota-modulating compounds in Pu-erh tea. Likewise, polyphenols in Pu-erh tea have been shown to promote the growth of Akkermansia muciniphila, a potential probiotic that can improve metabolic health and immunity.

All of these findings point in a remarkably consistent direction: tea, regardless of the type, can help improve our gut health by enhancing populations of beneficial microbes and suppressing some potential pathogens—leading to benefits for our entire body.

The Impact of Brew Method and Steep Time

Intriguingly, the effects of tea can also differ based on how it’s brewed—including length of steep time, and whether it’s brewed hot or cold!

One study looked at eight different black tea brands steeped for up to 30 minutes, and found that the teas generally had an increase in total phenolic compounds (including catechin, gallic acid, propyl gallate, and rutin) until 5 minutes of infusion time, followed by stabilized or decreased phenolic compound levels until the 7.5 minute mark, followed by another increase until 15 minutes of infusion time. This unusual pattern was due to the way the water temperature affected the solubilization of tea compounds as it cooled down from its initial 100°C. And, what that means for us is that when we make tea, we can maximize the good stuff it contains by steeping it for either five minutes or for longer than 7.5 minutes—at least when it comes to black tea!

But, hot versus cold brewing matters, too. In one study, cold white tea infusions (infused at room temperature water for two hours) were shown to have higher antioxidant activity than hot infusions as well as a greater content of phenols, flavonoids, and catechins.

One study also tested hot steeping (75 – 90°C for 3 – 4 minutes), cold steeping (4°C for 720 minutes), and an unconventional method combining both: brief hot infusions followed by the addition of ice to speed up the cooling process. For green and black tea, the hot-cold method resulted in the highest overall extraction of compounds (caffeine, theobromine, and theophylline, epicatechin, epigallocatechin, and gallic acid), followed by cold infusion, and with hot infusion yielding the least. By contrast, for oolong tea, cold infusion yielded the highest level of total compounds—a difference that was due to the shape and dimension of oolong tea leaves: the longer exposure to water (720 minutes for cold steeping opposed to 4 minutes for hot and ice) caused the oolong tea leaves to unroll and expose greater surface area, allowing for more migration of their compounds into the water. In general, the lower levels of compounds in the hot-steeped tea compared to other methods may be due to high heat exposure degrading those compounds.

Another study tested five loose tea samples made with hot infusion (90°C for 7 minutes) or cold infusion (room temperature for 2 hours) and found that cold-steeped teas were better inhibitors of in vitro formation of LDL conjungated dienes, and in the case of white tea (but not other teas) also led to higher antioxidant activity.

What does this mean for us? If we’ve got the time, and if maximum phytonutrient intake is our goal, cold steeping is superior to hot steeping our tea. And if we don’t have time, we can add some ice to initially hot-steeped tea to prevent important compounds from degrading! Studies have also shown that cold water steeping has the added benefit of providing lower caffeine levels, higher aroma, and reduced bitterness.

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How Much Tea to Drink

So, how much tea should we drink to reap its rewards? Although there’s no exact answer, even one cup has been shown to offer benefits in some studies, and drinking five or six cups (or more) has fairly consistent benefits for a variety of health conditions. In observational studies, consuming three cups of tea daily has been associated with a 11% reduced risk of heart attack, with some studies showing up to a 70% reduction in risk for the same quantity of tea; drinking at least two cups of tea per day has been associated with a 30% lower risk of ovarian cancer in women; drinking more than four cups of tea per day is linked to significant increases in bone mineral density; consuming at least four cups of tea daily has been associated with reduced risk of depression; drinking more than three cups of green tea each day is associated with reduced risk of recurring breast cancer in women; drinking at least six cups of green tea per day is associated with a 33% reduction in diabetes risk; drinking at least five cups of green tea per day may reduce the risk of prostate cancer in men; and drinking at least three cups of tea per day may lower risk of stroke and heart attack.

Taken together, it’s a safe bet that three or more cups of tea each day could bring significant benefits!

Looking for a specific recommendation?  My preference is the  Numi loose-leaf teas (my favorites are Jasmine Pearls, Oolong, and Breakfast Blend], which I brew in a teapot with a stainless steel infuser insert for tea leaves. I also have a small stainless steel tea ball infuser for when I want to make a single cup!


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