Why It’s Important – Vitamin A

Hello all! I’m back from my road trip, which was fantastic. But I’m one of those people who needs to take a little mental vacation after my real vacation in order to transition back into my normal life. So the last few days has been filled with video games, reading, and research (because I’m a geek and I find all that stuff fun to do!).

So, apologies for the lack of a Monday entry. Blame my mom (kidding!). But seriously, I was inspired by a conversation I had with my mom. She asked me for advice on a good brand of Vitamin B-complex, and of course I ask (because I’m nosy), “Why do you take a vitamin instead of getting it from food?” And my mom replied, “How would I get 100% of all the B vitamins from food?”

Challenge accepted.

After spending hours researching all the B vitamins, finding food sources, and creating a one-day meal plan which contains almost 100% DRI/DV of all B vitamins, I decided to start a series about vitamins. I’ve still got a lot more research to do about Vitamin B – there’s a lot of them! And the meal plan I did for my mom contains oats, because that’s what she already eats for breakfast, so I want to figure out a grain-free plan. But so far, it’s been fun and enlightening, and the more I discover, the more I love whole, real food. Today’s entry is a brief look at Vitamin A. And stay tuned at the end of the article for some EXCITING NEWS.

Vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin. Fat soluble vitamins are vitamins that require fat in order to be absorbed in the body. Think of fat like a car – fat globules travel from mouth, to stomach, then to the small intestine. From the small intestine, fat travels through cell walls into the body’s general circulation and finally to the liver, where the absorbed vitamins get dropped off and stored until the body needs to use them. Without enough fat in your diet, you won’t be able to absorb enough fat soluble vitamins, which could lead to critical vitamin deficiencies.

Vitamin A has many functions. It helps eyes adjust to light changes, it keeps skin, eyes and mucous membranes moist, it is critical for bone growth and tooth development, it’s important in reproduction, cell division, and gene expression, and it helps regulate the immune system. Vitamin A deficiency can cause night blindness, very dry and rough skin, slower bone growth, and a weakened immune system.

Vitamin A has a bit of controversy to it. There are some people who believe that there are two categories of Vitamin A: retinoids and carotenoids. Others believe that there is only one usable form, and a precursor form. The research I’ve done makes me lean toward the second perspective. To me, it doesn’t negate the value of the nutrients, but it sheds light on how our bodies might use the nutrients most effectively.

Retinol, a type of retinoid, is found only in animal products, such as fish, eggs, liver, and full fat unprocessed dairy. Notice that the retinol is packaged in foods that have a high fat content? Mother Nature is smart! This is the most effective form of Vitamin A – 80% of natural vitamin A from animal sources is absorbed in the body.

Beta carotene, a carotenoid and a vitamin A precursor, is found in pretty much every orange or dark green fruit and vegetable: sweet potatoes, carrots, cantaloupe, spinach, kale, and other leafy greens. The body needs to convert beta carotene and other carotenoids into a usable form of vitamin A, like retinol. This is important to note: beta carotene does not become vitamin A until it is converted. This conversion is very inefficient, as it takes about 10-20 carotenoid molecules to make one molecule of vitamin A. It’s estimated that less than three percent of carotenoids are absorbed from plants. (I’m curious if the lack of fat has something to do with that low absorption rate – what would happen to the absorption rate if you ate fat with your plants?) If you want the best bang for your buck, animal products are the best source of usable vitamin A, especially if you have a genetic variant that prevents you from converting carotenoids to vitamin A. Carotenoids are still very beneficial, especially for eye health, so go eat your vegetables!

The recommended amount is 700-900 mcg RAE, which stands for retinol activity units. 1 RAE = 1 microgram (mcg) of retinol or 12 mcg of beta carotene. 900 RAE = 3000 IU. Vitamin A becomes toxic at 3000 mcg RAE (not IU – unit labels are very important!). This is very difficult to reach through food, but can happen from a multivitamin if the does is too high (and if you don’t have enough vitamin D – more on that in a second). If you are taking a multivitamin that contains vitamin A, check the type (beta carotene or retinol), the amount and the unit of measure. Signs of toxicity include headache, nausea, and lose of appetite.

Lastly, you might need to increase their vitamin A intake if a you have a fever, cold, or infection to help support the immune system. Excessive amounts of sunlight (and vitamin D intake) will also require more vitamin A. Vitamin A and D frequently occur together in nature, and that’s because they work best in the body when they are balanced with each other. Nutrient synergy is so important, and we get the best nutrient synergy when we eat real food, rather than getting it all from a multivitamin.

Action steps:

  • Eat foods with the highest retinol content: eggs, full fat dairy, fish, and liver (yes, liver can be delicious, especially when mixed with bacon!)
  • Eat sweet potatoes, carrots, spinach, kale, and other orange and green vegetables and fruits with fat (add some butter!) to absorb the most amount of beta carotene possible
  • Improve your gut health, as this will help your body more efficiently absorb all nutrients
  • Balance your meals – fat, carbs (from vegetables) and protein at every meal so that nutrient synergy can occur

Now, I know these science-y entries aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. So I’ve got EXCITING NEWS.

Starting next week, I’ll be posting two entries a week on my new blog!

That’s right, I’m switching to a new blog: http://www.onebiteatatimejourney.com

It’s not completely finished yet, so I’ll be posting the same content on both blogs for a few more weeks. As for writing more, to be honest, I’m a little nervous about taking on too much, with a new day job starting as well. For that reason, I haven’t decided yet which day will be my second post. But ideally, one entry will be more science-y, and the other will be more practical tips/advice and recipes. September will definitely be the trial month.

Until next time, be well!

Eat the Yolks by Liz Wolfe


Travel Tips to Prevent Digestive Distress

Hello all! Sorry for the late post – I started writing this entry from my motel room in Ohio on Sunday, and we were traveling all day yesterday. The BF and I are on a road trip to meet with friends in Ohio and Minnesota this week. It’s a twenty hour drive, so I’m glad I knew how to best prepare my system for the change in routine. The last thing anyone wants on a road trip is digestive distress…the uncomfortable feeling of needing an immediate bathroom, or going days feeling like there’s a rock in your gut…it’s not fun, especially on vacation! (Yes, I’m talking about diarrhea and constipation – just to be clear.) Here are my top five tips to prevent digestive distress while traveling on the road.

1. Try to eat the same (or similar) foods you eat at home.

As tempting as it might be to indulge at rest stop eateries, your digestive system may not be happy with this choice. By being on the road, your body is already in a different environment, so you’ll want to avoid any unnecessary stressors to your system – unless you’re fine with stopping at multiple rest stops due to poor food choices. If your body is not used to eating chocolate at 10 am, for example, don’t buy that candy bar just because it’s available.

Once you’ve reached your destination, continue to respect your system by easing into trying new foods. I know that eggs are a safe bet for me, so I had that at the diner Sunday morning. I wisely chose not to have a milkshake – even though it looked delicious – because I just didn’t know how I would react to it, since I don’t have milkshakes at home. When you do decide to eat away from your norm, make sure you are near a bathroom for 30 minutes after your meal – just in case.

2. Bring your own food.

Not only will this save you money, you’ll have control over the ingredients, and you’ll avoid any negative consequences of being hungry but unable to stop because the next rest stop is 40 miles away. I made a huge chicken salad that the BF and I shared for lunch, and we brought string cheese, tankabars and epic bars, and I brought cans of sardines for myself so I can get a good source of healthy fat. I wish I had thought to also pack grapes and carrots for that first day’s drive – the food I brought definitely lacked crunch – so I made sure to get some for the next leg of the trip. But refer back to the first tip – if you don’t usually eat 1/2 a pound of grapes in one day, for example, and you do that on the road, don’t be surprised if your digestive system becomes unhappy.

3. Watch your fiber intake. 

Buying grapes, carrots, and Terra chips was a huge help for the 2nd leg of the trip – it felt great to have real food to eat on the road, and fiber definitely can help you stay regular. But I neglected to remember what eating A LOT of fiber-rich foods can cause: flatulence. The fix? Make sure you also add some protein and healthy fats to your snacks. The balance of macro-nutrients will help ease any flatulence issues, and it will also keep you satiated and focused for your drive.

4. Supplements

One thing that made a huge difference for me was to continue to take probiotics. I have found the probiotics keep my digestive system consistent. Full disclosure: I often become constipated on road trips that last for more than a few hours. There’s something about sitting in a car for numerous hours that my digestive system just doesn’t like. But on this road trip, I increased my probiotic intake, and that, along with the first two tips, has helped keep me regular. So, if you aren’t taking a probiotic yet, go start – but make sure you begin at least a few weeks before your trip so your system can acclimate.

5. Stay hydrated – drink water.

It can be tempting to drink coffee, soda, or energy drinks while on the road, but it definitely won’t be kind to your digestive system! Hydration is crucial to preventing constipation, so bring that water bottle! Caffeinated drinks often cause dehydration, so try to limit your intake to one cup in the morning if you must have a little caffeine to avoid withdrawal.

Bonus tip: Already constipated? Try walking around.

Sitting for long periods of time can affect the flow of the digestive system. Moving the body, such as exercising regularly, also keeps the digestive system regular. But it’s quite difficult to exercise when spending the day in the car. The fix: when taking breaks at rest stops, devote some extra time to walking around. Even a 10 minute walk every 2-3 hours can help relieve constipation.

Got a travel digestion tip? Leave a comment to share!

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Recipe: Smoky Maple Mahi Mahi


This week has been busy, but full of good food, including:
– crock pot chicken – no more need to buy a roasting chicken from the grocery store anymore! My absolute favorite way to cook chicken when I have no time.
– Paleo Naan. 3 ingredients only: almond flour, tapioca flour, and cocinut milk. Oh my goodness, if I hadn’t added too much coconut milk, it would have had the perfect texture. I got a new shipment of my bpa-free canned coconut milk…totally making more tomorrow.
– liver, bacon, and onions – I will forever thank my mom for introducing me to liver when I was a child, because it’s delicious when prepared correctly.
– a daily green smoothie – It’s fun to try new recipes, but not yet sold on the amount of fruit that these smoothies require. Just seems like a lot of sugar to me, even though it’s from whole food. I also recently learned that people with adrenal fatigue may have issues with a lot of raw fruits and veggies, and that cooking some of the ingredients of a green smoothie might help with energy levels. I haven’t noticed any negative energy effects yet, so the jury’s out.
– And tonight’s dinner: Smoky Maple Mahi Mahi!

Mahi Mahi is one of the more “meatier” fish, in my opinion – not as strong-tasting as salmon, but not light like flounder and tilapia. I wanted some boldness tonight, so after a quick internet search, I blended a few different recipes together.

1 pound mahi mahi
Coconut oil or olive oil to coat bottom of pan (I start with a tablespoon and add more as needed.)
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon seasoning of choice*
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

There was a lot of variety in seasoning choices. They all had an element if smoke or spice: chipotle, Cajun seasoning, cayenne pepper, etc. I can’t handle that much heat, so I went with a Penzey’s blend called Northwoods (salt, paprika, black pepper, thyme, rosemary, garlic, and chipotle).

1. Mix spices and syrup together in a bowl.
2. Brush mixture on both sides of your fish.
3. Place oil of choice in pan on medium heat.
4. Once pan is heated, place fish in pan. 5. Cook for 3-5 minutes per side. Depending on thickness, it might need a bit longer, like mine did. It is done when it easily flakes when cut with a fork.
6. Enjoy!

A word of advice: make sure you have enough mixture to coat BOTH sides of the fish. Make more mixture if you need to! The picture above has it only on one side (slightly charred, oops) and it wasn’t that flavorful. Quickly made some more mixture and slathered it on (slather is a fun word). It was then delicious. Then I realized I had two pounds of fish, not one, and totally should have doubled my own recipe. Duh. So learn from my mistakes.

This recipe was quick to make…maybe 15 minutes from start to finish (and a few minutes extra to make/add more syrup mixture, which hopefully won’t be an issue for you. It would pair well with roasted or sauted zucchini, cauliflower rice, or any vegetable you will eat (remember, corn is NOT a vegetable!).

I love leftovers, but I know not everyone likes to eat the same thing for numerous meals in a row. So I made “tuna” salad with some homemade mayo, just to see if it would work, and it was yummy! I plan to add some celery, carrots, onions, and tomatoes tomorrow for lunch. I imagine it would work well in fish tacos, but I’ve never had them before. If you try it, let me know how it goes!

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend! My mom and I are going to get our favorite gluten-free pizza at our favorite restaurant, Wheatfields. I haven’t had pizza in forever! What will you be doing this weekend?

Until next time! Be kind to yourself!

Love and Fear

I’m feeling a bit contemplative tonight. I hope you don’t mind. Next week I’ll have a sweet treat for you!

I would have written last night (I try to post every Monday night), but the Future of Nutrition Conference started yesterday, and there are not enough hours in the day to listen to everything! Seriously, you need to check it out. Videos are free, but are only up for 24 hours. I’ve been listening to a lot of people: Mark Hyman, Kathie Swift, Sayer Ji, Sara Gottfried, Gundi Gunnarsson, Jonathan Bailor, David Perlmutter…the list goes on. And I’m so enthralled by these minds that know SO MUCH about their field of study, and yet can make it relevant and meaningful to the listener.

I really wanted to write this week about my experience with The 21 Day Sugar Detox, but that will have to wait, because I feel like I’m on the verge of having some kind of revelation of some sort regarding all the lectures I’ve listened to, and I need to let my thoughts simmer, like a good pot of chili.

Gudni Gunnarsson spoke today about the difference between nourishment and feeding is love and fear. My summary: When we love ourselves – truly love ourselves: for who we are as a human being; for where we are in life, even if it’s not where we want to be; for how we physically look – we will then nourish our bodies with wonderful food due to that love. If we beat ourselves up about how we are now, if we keep thinking about how much better our future selves will be “when I lose weight” or “when I get a job” or “when I get married,” and if we don’t forgive ourselves for things in our past, we’ll only feed into the fear of never being good enough, and that food is then often low-quality. We must have compassion for ourselves in order to fully nourish ourselves with good food. The mind-body-food connection is incredibly powerful.

This idea is resonating so strongly in me right now, and I’m struggling to find the words to explain why.

I’m currently in a place in my life where I often think about my future self and “how much better life will be” when I have a full time job. And I’m realizing now that when I get to focused on that, I lose what I thought what motivation to eat well. But what if it’s not lack of motivation, but lack of love and compassion for myself?

I love parts of me. I love my thirst for knowledge. I love the strength in my body. I love the interests that make me happy and fulfill me. But do I truly love the entire being that is me?

What would happen if I completely love myself right now, as I am and where I am in life? What would happen if I was more kind and compassionate to myself? What would happen if I let the fear go?

I could move mountains.

With that much positive energy, how could I not?

First Entry

It’s 2014! Woohoo! Instead of a New Year Resolution, I’ve decided to take on a project, and this is that project. Welcome to itsaladafood, home of the blog “One Bit At A Time: A Journey of Clean Eating”. (It’s a lot of food…get it?)

A bit about me: I’m 29 (for 10 more days), I live in New York’s Capital Region, and I LOVE FOOD. My other love is teaching. This blog will allow me to combine my loves: to teach and share all that I’ve learned about food, nutrition, and how to live better.

My Story: I was overweight growing up. I was “the fat one” among my group of friends. I’m 5’1, and the heaviest I remember seeing on the scale was above 160. I was wearing 14/16 clothes, and in high school they were starting to get too tight. But no one could get through to me that I needed to lose weight until I saw a picture of myself. I didn’t recognize myself due to how swollen my face looked. It was the wake-up call I needed, and so my mom and I joined Weight Watchers. At the time I thought it was fantastic to be able to use their mathematical formula to figure out what foods to eat to lose weight, and I did lose weight – 25 pounds. Yay!

But then college started. And I gained it all back.

By grad school I was back to my pre-Weight Watchers weight, but I discovered I had a gluten-sensitivity, and so by not having breads, pastas, and other baked goods – only eating meats and veggies – I lost weight. Cool!

And then gluten-free products started to actually taste good. I could have my beef stroganoff again, and pizza, and bagels. So I did have them…and the weight went back on.

Fast forward a few more years to April 26, 2011. I’d been feeling pretty crappy about myself: No job, guy I was dating stopped returning my texts/calls, and physically I just felt awful. A friend on Facebook had posted a link to a website called http://www.whole9life.com, and while her purpose was to share an article about cutting out TV for a month, I saw the Whole30 challenge: cut out the poor-quality foods for just 30 days. Eat all the meat, veggies, and nuts you want, eat a moderate amount of fruit, and that’s it! No grains, legumes, added sugars, dairy, or alcohol.

If that sounds daunting to you, I totally get it because I felt daunted by the limitations at first, too. But it was another wake-up call about what I was putting into my body. The first thing I had in the morning was a coffee with loads of non-dairy creamer and two packets of Splenda. I had at least three TABLESPOONS of sugar in my coffee! The American Heart Association recommends that for women, we should have no more than two tablespoons a DAY, and here I was, having more than that in my morning coffee. I learned that I was basically setting my body up for failure by doing that: I have no energy and my sugar cravings were out of control. I was addicted to sugar.

So I did it. Cold turkey. 30 days. No cheating. (And boy, those sugar withdrawal days were ROUGH). I think I lost between 12-15 pounds in that first month from only changing my diet. And what I gained was huge: I had energy to spare at the end of the day. Foods that I hadn’t liked before I now could enjoy because my taste buds weren’t always expecting sugar and sweetness. I learned that tomatoes and carrots taste sweet!  I learned the joy of cooking, and how easy it is to cook and create when all the ingredients are real foods. Not only is food fuel, but it’s an art. And it’s delicious!

I felt so good after that month that I kept going, with a little bit of “off-roading” here and there (I hate the word “cheat,” which I’ll explain in a later entry). I slowly re-introduced some foods that I missed, like cheese and popcorn. I learned that I could listen to my body and understand it’s signals: I will feel bloated after eating too much cheese, and popcorn make me itchy and twitchy. So, I eat what makes my body feel good. I treat my body like a good friend…I don’t want to make my body feel bad. If I know the food I eat is something that will make it feel really bad, I try not to eat it. This new relationship with my body makes me love it, and me, more.  My total weight loss was 30 pounds, and I’ve kept most of it off since then.

In the last few months I attended a few online conferences on nutrition: Underground Wellness’s Real Food Con, The Paleo Summit, and Dr. Tom O’Bryan’s The Gluten Summit. The results of the research from the last 10 years is astonishing, and so many doctors have not learned about the research unless that doctor takes it upon him/herself to stay up-to-date. That means we have to be proactive over our own health, and we need to question if what we’ve been told all lives is, in fact, healthy. I hope that by sharing what I’ve learned you’ll start to ask yourself some questions and gain a better understanding of your own health.

But don’t forget about the food. I’ll be posting recipes, and I’m looking forward to sharing all the yummy goodness with you!