Ready to Go Flexitarian? How to Start a Flexitarian Diet (+ 4 Key Flexitarian Benefits!)

Finding a diet that works for you is a highly individualized process, one that’s largely based on your biochemical individuality. For example, I’m a vegetarian, and this is based upon numerous factors, such ashow I felt when I ate meat, my dislike for the taste, and learning more about what my body needed from a nutritional standpoint. But my journey to being a vegetarian was a gradual process. When I first cut out meat, I continued to include dairy, eggs, and gluten in my diet. As time went on, I cut out dairy and gluten to better support my individual needs.

You see, I believe you need to find what works best for you. The good news is that if you want to get more health benefits from eating a plant-based diet but you don’t feel that become a vegan or vegetarian is right for you, there’s another option: becoming a flexitarian!

What is a flexitarian? Well, the word is formed by combining two other words: flexible and vegetarian. So, basically it means eating a somewhat vegetarian, or semi-vegetarian, diet. A flexitarian diet still allows for some meat, but it has the potential for a lot more health benefits than a diet that is heavy in meat and other animal products.

If cutting out meat entirely isn’t for you, check out why switching to a flexitarian lifestyle may be a good compromise instead.


What Is a Flexitarian?

The flexitarian diet concept was first formally introduced in 2009 with the publication of The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life, by Dawn Jackson Blatner, a dietitian.

In her book, Jackson Blatner provides a comprehensive explanation of the flexitarian lifestyle and how to transition to flexitarian eating, plus recipes and a flexitarian diet plan to provide guidance on weekly meal planning and so forth.

Similar to the Mediterranean diet and other semi-vegetarian diets, a flexitarian diet calls for a partial vegetarian approach to eating.

Rather than stricter vegetarian and vegan approaches to eating, a flexitarian diet still allows for the consumption of meat and other animal products. But meals are plant-based, meaning that the emphasis is on eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and seeds and limiting meat and animal products.

Following a flexitarian “diet” focuses on the foods you can include instead of what you must avoid. Rather than a diet per se, it’s considered more of a lifestyle choice.

Because of its emphasis on eating healthy whole foods and cutting down on animal products, a flexitarian lifestyle also offers several health benefits.

4 Flexitarian Benefits

You don't have to totally give up meat, but studies show that eating less meat may provide a range of health benefits. I’ve listed four key benefits to eating a plant-based diet below. [1]

1. Lowers blood pressure

Fruits and vegetables contain lots of antioxidants, which help to lower cholesterol and inflammation. By extension, healthy plant-based diets can help to improve blood pressure.

2. Reduces the risk of heart disease

The antioxidant action and anti-inflammatory properties of fruits and vegetables help to protect the cardiovascular system and guard against heart disease, stroke, and arteriosclerosis (hardening of blood vessels).

3. Reduces the risk of diabetes and cancer

Studies show that vegetarian diets containing high amounts of healthy carbohydrates in the form of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains coupled with lower amounts of fat help to increase insulin sensitivity and protect against diabetes and cancer.

4. Supports healthy gut microbiota and lowers gut inflammation

The high fiber content found in plant-based diets helps to increase “good” bacteria in the gut known as lactic acid bacteria and reduce bad bacteria strains. The diversity of healthy gut bacteria helps to protect against inflammation. It also increases the development of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which have many health benefits including boosting the immune system. [2]


Flexitarian - Dr. Piingel


How to Start a Flexitarian Diet

If you’re considering making any major changes to your diet, it’s important to keep in mind that we are all different. Yes, we have similar needs in terms of basic nutrients, but we are all individuals in terms of our genetic makeup, how much we exercise, and our baseline health. For example, someone with diabetes will have different dietary needs than someone who does not have diabetes.

If you have any medical conditions or major health concerns, it’s a good idea to speak with your doctor before making big changes to your eating or exercising habits.

Keeping all of that in mind, here are a few tips to consider if you want to try transitioning to a flexitarianlifestyle.

1. Try “Meatless Mondays.” Start by cutting out meat just one day a week (it doesn’t have to be on Mondays, but you get the idea). For all the meat eaters out there, this can be a way to begin a gentle transition to eating less meat. Then you can slowly start cutting out meat on more days per week. And if you need a little help making the transition, you can try some plant-based meal services, such as Purple Carrot.

2. Add lots of fruits and vegetables to be sure you are eating a healthy flexitarian diet.

3. Eat a salad each day. This is great way to ensure that you’re getting several servings of veggies.

4. Get your protein from mostly plant sources, including legumes, tofu, tempeh, and other meat alternatives and plant-based foods.

5. Try dairy alternatives such as almond milk, almond butter, cashew milk, and cashew cheese.

6. Cut out processed foods and cut down on sugar and sweets. Consider trying natural sugar substitutes such as monk fruit sweetener.

7. Be sure you are getting all of your vitamins and minerals. Cutting down on meat and animal products can potentially lead to deficiencies of certain vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin B12. You may want to consider a B complex vitamin. Other vitamins and minerals to pay special attention to include calcium, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc.


Key Takeaways

Biochemical Individuality: The Key to Your Unlocking Your Optimal Health 

In our modern medical world, everyone is often treated the same. If you have a certain set of symptoms or certain results in particular lab work, it’s not uncommon for you to receive the exact same treatment as someone else. The problem is that this other person may have a totally different background. After all, everybody has different genetics, different environments, different nutrition, and different external factors such as lifestyle habits. And these different factors result in one unique and vital factor that’s absolutely crucial to take into consideration for your health: your biochemical individuality.

Think about it: No two people are exactly the same. So, why should your medical treatment be? You deserve a treatment plan as unique as you are! After all, what works for one person may not work for you, and vice versa. Let’s take a look at what biochemical individuality actually is and how it impacts your health and treatment plans.


Biochemical individuality - Dr. Pingel


What is Biochemical Individuality?

Think of your body and your health needs like your fingerprint: No one else has ever or will ever have the same fingerprint as you. It’s a marker unique to your body.

Well, think of your biochemical makeup in the exact same way. While your body will have certain nutritional requirements to support your biochemical processes, someone else will have very different requirements. This is known as biochemical individuality, and it impacts every biochemical process in your body—from your body’s stress response to your blood sugar regulation to your immune system response to your thyroid function.

But where did this idea of biochemical individuality come from? How do we know we don’t all share the same nutritional requirements to support our biochemistry? In the 1950s, American biochemist and researcher Roger Williams conducted research and revealed that the recommended daily allowances (RDA) of nutrients weren’t enough to meet bodily requirements of most people’s nutritional needs, though it would meet some. As a result, he became interested in the concept of biochemical individuality and how the body’s nutritional needs for repair and restoration differ. [1]



How Biochemical Individuality Works

The RDAs we see today largely depend on the notion that everyone metabolizes and absorbs nutrients in the same optimal way. Here’s the problem with that: We are all genetically different and come from different backgrounds, so how can we all absorb and metabolize nutrients the same?

Think of all the variables we’ve discussed. Do you remember how stress causes adrenal fatigue and how adrenal fatigue impacts everything from your ability to digest and absorb your foods to your blood sugar levels to your heart health? If someone is under chronic stress, how can he or she possible metabolize and absorb nutrients as efficiently as someone who carries very little stress? They can’t.

Another variable is someone’s predisposition to certain illnesses. If digestive disorders run in your family and you’re unable to find the root cause, it’s pretty safe to say that you won’t absorb the nutrients you need for optimal bodily function as well as someone without digestive disorders. If diabetes runs in your family, your body may be under extra stress to maintain your blood sugar. And when that happens, attention is diverted away from nutrient metabolization and absorption.

The same goes for food intolerances. Do you know someone who’s lactose intolerant or has a gluten sensitivity (or maybe even celiac disease)? Not only are they unable to metabolize and absorb the nutrients from those foods, but the body’s internal stress of trying to do so actually causes inflammation in the body, which further prevent nutrient absorption.

As you can see, your RDAs of different vitamins and minerals are naturally going to be very different from someone else’s. And, as a result, your treatment and personal nutritional goals should be as well.

How Biochemical Individuality Impacts Your Treatment

So, by now, you’re probably thinking, “OK, Dr. Pingel, I get that I have unique nutritional needs, but what do I do now if I can’t depend on the USDA’s RDAs? Where do I start?”

I get it … it can be a bit overwhelming to process this information. After all, it likely goes against everything you’ve been told your entire life, right? But you can’t quite let it go, either, because it makes too much sense. Things are starting to click, like why a certain diet that worked for other people didn’t work for you. Why certain exercises don’t help you or keep you motivated. Why certain medications didn’t help you like your doctor said they would, perhaps even causing side effects that were “very rare” or “unlikely to be from this medication.”

Here are the top action points I want you to take away from the concept of biochemical individuality: Have an honest conversation with your doctor about your desire to not simply “treat the symptoms.” (Click here for more tips on how to cultivate a strong doctor-patient relationship that will help you to have these conversations.)

Explain to your doctor that you want to be treated as an individual and your desire to conduct a full investigation of your symptoms to get to the root cause. You want to leave no stone unturned. You don’t want to assume you have a certain illness or condition simply based on your symptoms. Instead, you want to uncover the root cause so you know exactly what areas of your body need the most support.

So, how do you conduct this investigation? You start by asking your doctor to conduct a thorough exam and order thorough lab work and genetic screening. If your doctor doesn’t support your efforts to truly achieve your best health, it may be time to consider finding a new one—or seeks a function medicine physician or naturopathic physician to assist your efforts.

After all, simply being handed a medication for symptoms without taking your unique body—your biochemical individuality—into account is like being just another number. And aren’t you and your health worth more than that?


Key Takeaways

What is a Liver Detox? (+ 5 Foods for Detoxing Your Liver)

Did you know that your liver is one of your most vital organs—playing a role in virtually every system within your body? From cleaning your blood of harmful substances to supporting your immune system in defeating viruses or bacteria to aiding digestion, your liver plays many crucial roles. In fact, the liver is so important that it can actually regenerate itself after injury! And since everything must pass through the liver before reaching its destination, when there’s a problem with your health, it’s typically involved somehow. That's why it's so important to detox your liver and keep it as high-functioning as possible.

Doing a liver detox isn’t that difficult. In fact, there are actually several foods for detoxing your liver that you likely already enjoy eating! So, let’s take a few minutes to review what your liver does, what a liver detox entails, how it benefits your overall health, and the top foods for detoxing your liver.


The Role of Your Liver

You may be surprised to learn that your liver is considered as part of your gastrointestinal system. But its functions aren’t limited to the digestive process, as it has a role in virtually all of your body systems.

As I mentioned above, it’s responsible for cleaning your blood of harmful substances and routing clean blood to other organs for use. It also aides in the removal of immune threats to your body, such as viruses or bacteria. Finally, it produces bile to help facilitate digestion. When it comes to your bodily processes, there’s actually not much that doesn’t involve your liver. Think of your liver like like a colander—straining out particles to be utilized, stored, or removed from your body.

Now, your liver actually is one of five organs that assist in eliminating toxins from your body. The other four are your skin, lungs, kidneys, and colon. One of your liver’s unique jobs is to determine that a substance is harmful and begin to facilitate its removal. And while your body can easily remove water-soluble substances, fat-soluble toxin removal is a different story. These toxins must be “manually” broken down into safer byproducts and water-soluble substances before they can be removed from your body as waste. This manual breakdown is exactly what your liver does.

Given all of these responsibilities, I often equate the liver to a receptionist, sitting at her desk. Her phone is ringing, someone walks in the door with a delivery, and clients are waiting to be seen. Meanwhile, the boss comes along and dumps a stack of papers on her desk to be sorted, faxed, and filed. Which task does she complete first?

Your liver similarly has multiple tasks to complete at the same time. It must decide which tasks are the most life-threatening and which can be saved for later. Then, your liver handles those tasks in order of priority.

How Stress Impacts Your Liver Function

Your environment and lifestyle constantly drop more work onto your liver’s “desk,” and stress is just another contributor. Why? Well stress causes stimulation in your sympathetic nervous system, which activates to prepare your body to enter the fight-or-flight mode. But your liver does most of its everyday work in parasympathetic mode, or during your calmer moments.

So, what does this mean? When stress alerts your liver to the presence of a new “bear,” your liver must put aside its everyday work, such as toxin removal. Then, it has to shift its focus toward creating energy from your stored sugar so that you can react to the stress, or “run from the bear.”

Every responsibility placed on your liver must be handled at some point. Temporarily, this “to-do later” pile is fine. But imagine that you’re regularly stressed out, so you make a habit of indulging in a margarita or two each day. Plus, your diet typically includes a lot of take-out, which consists of fatty or processed foods that are more difficult to break down.

Your liver’s “to-do later” pile can quickly become a more permanent fixture. If it never gets resolved, your body will eventually experience mass chaos. And this is precisely why it’s so important to keep your liver from getting bogged down.


What is a Liver Detox?

When you think about doing a liver detox, do you imagine that you’re simply ridding your liver (and your body) of harmful environmental substances such as drugs, food colorings, preservatives, alcohols, air pollution, fumes, etc.? While this is partially true, your liver is also responsible for dealing with toxins created within your body. Think of these “in-house” toxins as your body’s “leftovers,” such as excess hormones and dead red blood cells.

Your liver will always prioritize tasks with immediate risk, shuffling the rest to its “to-do later” list. So, in order to be able to produce energy (a “to-do later” item), your body must first clear itself of potentially harmful substances. That’s why so many complaints of low energy or fatigue can be traced back to your liver.

Detoxing your liver can actually help to rid your liver of the toxins it stores throughout the filtration process. As a result, your liver is able to work more effectively and support your overall health.

So, how does it work? Well, it’s actually pretty simple. You focus on eating foods for detoxing your liver and drinking water to help clear those toxins via your kidneys. And since some of these top foods are not only tasty but also filled with the vitamins and minerals you need to support whole-body health and fight conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, adrenal fatigue, and more, you’re really setting yourself up for success! Now, let’s dive in and take a closer look at some of the top foods for detoxing your liver.

Top 5 Foods for Detoxing Your Liver

Here are five of the top foods for detoxing your liver, along with a few recipe and/or meal suggestions.

1. Beets

Beets are one of the top foods for detoxifying your liver. They not only help to decrease inflammation, but beets also contain betalain, a methyl donor and type of amino acid, which increases your enzymes to support detoxification. [1] Not only that, but beets have also been found to help thin the bile in your liver, which supports better digestion. Why is this important? Well, inadequate bile flow is linked to poor liver detoxification. [2]

If you’re not used to eating beets, they can be great additions to smoothies or salads. You can also roast them to bring out the naturally sweet taste.

2. Dandelion greens

Dandelion greens are another one of the top foods for detoxifying your liver, as they are also known to promote the flow of bile. But they actually have a protective effect on your liver as well. A 2017 study revealed that the polysaccharides in dandelion can protect the liver from acetaminophen-induced hepatic injury. [3] Moreover, dandelion greens have been shown to act as a diuretic, increasing urinary quantity and frequency, which helps your body to flush out toxins. In fact, according to a 2009 study, subjects who consumed dandelion extract experienced increased urinary frequency within five hours. [4]

When it comes to eating dandelion greens, two of the easiest ways are to add them to a salad or steam them. Be sure to drink a lot of water when consuming dandelion greens.

3. Kale

Kale and other cruciferous vegetables account for more of the top foods for detoxifying your liver. Why? Well, studies have shown that isothiocyanates (small molecules derived from the glucosinolates, or sulfur-containing compounds, found in kale and other cruciferous vegetables) increase the detoxification of carcinogens in the body. This means that kale can actually help to regulate the detoxification activities in your cells! [5]

Kale’s high concentration of chlorophyll is another reason this nutrient-packed food made the list of the top foods for detoxifying your liver. It’s actually well-documented that chlorophyll can purify your blood as well as assist with liver function in both humans and animals. [6]

I love to include kale in my salads, but it’s also a great ingredient in soups, stews, and this White Bean Chili recipe. I also love to use it in many other recipes, such as my Sweet Potato Black Been Enchiladas.

4. Garlic

The health benefits of garlic are likely too great to fully discuss here, but this health food actually contains anti-fungal, antibacterial, and anti-viral properties. [7] In addition, garlic aids your liver in activating certain enzymes to help eliminate toxins from your body. Not only that, but garlic is full of selenium, which is known to support liver health and even aid in liver cleansing. [8]

The beauty of garlic is that you can use it in almost any savory dish. But if you’re looking for a few new ideas, you can try these Golden Garlic Smashed Potatoes or this delicious Wild Rice Soup.

5. Walnuts

Walnut consumption has not only been found to improve liver functioning in those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, but it’s also linked to improvements in overall inflammation levels. [9] They’re not only high in amino acids, but are a great source of  omega-3 fatty acids and glutathione, which are known to support natural liver and bile acid detoxification. [10]

You can eat walnuts alone or on top of salads or other meals. Personally, I love to throw a handful of walnuts on many of my dishes, including these amazing Vegan Stuffed Sweet Potatoes.


Foods for detoxifying your liver - Dr. Pingel



If you’re interested in detoxing your liver, the most important thing to remember is that you need to support the detoxification process not only with foods for detoxing your liver but also by drinking plenty of water. You can also add certain herbs and spices know to aid detoxification, such as turmeric, for additional support.


Key Takeaways

What Is Mushroom Coffee? Is It Just Hype? (+6 Potential Mushroom Coffee Benefits)

I have to admit that the first time I heard about mushroom coffee I was a little skeptical. Mushrooms floating in my coffee? That did not sound appetizing. But I gave it a try and guess what? It turns out that not only is mushroom coffee actually quite tasty (it tastes a lot like regular coffee), but there are also several potential mushroom coffee benefits. Who knew?!

While some of you may have heard of mushroom coffee, this may be something brand new to others, as it was to me. Either way, I wanted to share with you some of the facts and potential health benefits of mushroom coffee. Find out if you’re ready to try trading in your regular cup of joe or morning latte for some mushroom coffee!


What Is Mushroom Coffee?

Mushroom coffee consists of dried, ground mushrooms blended together with ground coffee. But these aren’t just any old mushrooms (and they aren’t psychedelic mushrooms, or “ ’shrooms,” either!). Various medicinal mushrooms are used to make mushroom coffee.

The mushrooms typically used in mushroom coffee include one or more of the following: Lion’s Mane, Reishi, Cordyceps, and Chaga mushrooms. These mushrooms have a milder, “earthy” flavor compared to many other kinds of mushrooms, which helps them to blend in better with the coffee flavor.

A few other quick facts about mushroom coffee:


6 Potential Mushroom Coffee Benefits

If you’re a regular coffee drinker, drinking mushroom coffee on a daily basis may have several added health benefits for you.

The medicinal mushrooms blended into mushroom coffee contain significant amounts of antioxidants, plus they are a good source of several vitamins and minerals including selenium, potassium, and copper. They also contain calcium, which helps to support bone and joint health. [1, 2, 3]

Many claims have been made about specific health benefits of medicinal mushrooms and mushroom coffee. In general, the high volume of antioxidants found in medicinal mushrooms provide the foundation for many of their potential health benefits. [4]

Keep in mind that mushroom coffee has not been evaluated by the FDA, and the majority of studies available are lab and animal studies. More clinical studies on humans are needed to verify these health benefits for humans.

Current research shows that medicinal mushrooms—and by extension, mushroom coffee— may help to provide the following health benefits:


1. Possibly provide anticancer benefits

Many studies have shown that some medicinal mushrooms, particularly Reishi mushrooms, may provide some preventative and inhibitory anticancer benefits. In fact, there is even a growing area of cancer research known as “cancer fungotherapy,” which focuses on developing antitumor therapies from mushrooms. [5, 6]

A Japanese study showed promising results for using Reishi mushroom extracts to help treat colorectal adenomas. Study participants treated with the extract showed fewer and smaller adenomas than the control group at 12 months after receiving the treatment. [7]

Other clinical trials have shown that Reishi may be helpful as a complementary therapy used in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Treatments that included Reishi extracts were 1.25 times more likely to result in a better tumor result than those in control groups. Reishi extracts also helped to provide immune system support during cancer treatment. [8]

Most current research is focused on lab and animal studies and more clinical trials are needed to draw better conclusions about how medicinal mushrooms can provide anticancer benefits.


2. Improve the gut microbiota

Studies have shown that several medicinal mushrooms, especially Reishi, Chaga, and Maitake, can help to provide important prebiotic material for the digestive system. The high nutritive content of these mushrooms plus antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties appear to help to support the good bacteria in the gut microbiota and promote healthy digestion. [9]


3. Support the immune system

Many of the same properties found in medicinal mushrooms that allow them to help create a healthy gut microbiota also in turn help to support the body’s immune system. They also contain important minerals for proper immune function.


4. Improve the cardiovascular system

Of the medicinal mushrooms often found in mushroom coffee, Cordyceps and Reishi mushrooms, in particular, have been shown to help support cardiovascular health in both animal studies and some limited clinical trials. Studies have shown that medicinal mushrooms may help to limit inflammation, reduce atherosclerosis (hardening of the blood vessels), and lower blood pressure. [10, 11]


5. Protect the liver

Several studies have shown that many medicinal and edible mushrooms can help support liver health and reduce liver damage. The medicinal mushrooms that have these properties and are also often found in mushroom coffee include Reishi and Cordyceps mushrooms. [12, 13]


6. Boost energy levels

If you’re struggling with fatigue, medicinal mushrooms, and mushroom coffee, may be able to help. In fact, when I drank mushroom coffee for the first time, I felt like I had more sustained energy throughout the day than my usual cup of joe. Many of the properties of medicinal mushroom extracts that may provide other health benefits can also help to provide antifatigue effects as well. The “antifatigue activities” of medicinal mushrooms within the cardiovascular system and immune system, plus antioxidant and hormonal effects may provide a boost in energy levels. [14]


Key Takeaways

You might also enjoy: What Exactly Is Monk Fruit Sweetener? (+4 Monk Fruit Benefits)

What Exactly Is Monk Fruit Sweetener? (+ 4 Monk Fruit Benefits!)

Several years ago, I was attending a dinner party at a friend’s house. It was an enjoyable evening and the food was absolutely delicious. At the end of the meal, my friend served everyone a slice of homemade pecan pie—and it was incredible! I was naturally curious, because my friend is very health conscious, and pecan pie isn’t exactly known for being a healthy dessert. So, I asked her how she made it. Her reply? “Oh, I substituted the less healthy ingredients with healthier alternatives—like monk fruit instead of sugar.”

I must have looked confused, as I’d never really heard of monk fruit sweetener. Agave, sure; maple syrup, of course! But monk fruit? That’s the night I learned about monk fruit and how it's a great alternative for white sugar. So, I decided to look into it more and see what makes it unique. And what I discovered about monk fruit benefits surprised me: Not only is monk fruit a great substitute for sugar, but it’s even been shown to contain anti-tumor properties. Intrigued? Take a look at what all I’ve learned and see if monk fruit sweetener may be something you’d like to try!


What is Monk Fruit?

Monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii) is a small, round, green melon-like fruit native to southern China and northern Thailand. It’s also known as luo han guo.

It’s been used medicinally for centuries in Eastern medicine, and now it’s used as a sugar substitute worldwide. You can find packaged monk fruit at the supermarket in the baking aisle as monk fruit sweetener. Interestingly, it contains antioxidants called mogrosides that cause it to taste much sweeter than sugar. So, if you decide to use it, remember that a little goes a long way! You can use it in baked goods or add it to your beverages, yogurt, salad dressings, and sauces. Basically, you can use it as you would normally use sugar. [1, 2] This makes it a nice alternative to chemical sugar-free sweeteners used in recipes geared towards insulin resistant diabetics.

Monk fruit and monk fruit sweetener, or extract, are safe to eat. And while research is ongoing to better understand the nutritional properties and benefits of this humble little fruit, there are definitely some monk fruit benefits you’ll want to know about.

4 Monk Fruit Benefits

Monk fruit extract is relatively new to the sweetener “scene.” You may have read about a lot of pros and cons about monk fruit online or heard your friends in “keto” and “paleo” circles talking about it. The fact is, some of these rumors about the fruit are true, some are questionable, and some are just inaccurate. Because it’s important to me to share with you only the most trustworthy and useful information available, I have focused on four key monk fruit benefits I think you’ll be most interested in.

1. Contains zero sugar, calories, fat, and carbohydrates!

Monk fruit is a natural sugar substitute that doesn’t affect the glycemic index, making it a potential sugar alternative for people with diabetes. Meanwhile, many of the artificial sugar alternatives on the market are filled with chemicals known to cause cancer. So, in this respect, monk fruit is a fabulous replacement. With zero fat and zero carbs, it also can be a natural way to sweeten your food (in moderation!) without worrying about extra carbs and sugar content. [3, 4]


Monk fruit benefits - Dr. Pingel


2. Comes with no side effects

To date, researchers have not discovered any negative side effects from using monk fruit sweetener, which is a natural sugar substitute. On the contrary, some artificial sugar substitutes have been found to have negative side effects. Just as a side note, monk fruit is a member of the gourd family, so if you have allergies to pumpkin, squash, cucumber, and melons you may also be allergic to monk fruit. That being said, if you have monk fruit allergies or gourd allergies, don’t use a monk fruit sweetener.

3. Contains possible anti-cancer properties

Monk fruit compounds and extracts have been found to be nontoxic with no negative side effects. Lab and animal studies have also revealed that monk fruit may have some anti-tumor benefits, particularly in preventing and suppressing the growth of colorectal and throat cancer cells. While this study is promising, further research is needed. [5]

4. Contains anti-inflammatory properties

Finally, monk fruit has also been shown to help fight inflammation. In fact, according to a 2011 study, scientists believe that these anti-inflammatory actions may be responsible for the anti-tumor and anti-diabetic properties in monk fruit! [6]

Monk Fruit Vs. Other Natural Sugar Alternatives

Some of the other natural sugar alternatives available on the market include agave syrup, maple syrup, and stevia. While agave syrup is high in antioxidants and has a low impact on blood sugar levels, or glycemic index, it actually contains higher levels of fructose than plain sugar, which can lead to insulin resistance if consumed in large amounts and increased risk of heart disease. [7]

So, what about maple syrup? Although it contains high levels of antioxidants and research has shown that it may have anti-tumor benefits, it still contains high amounts of sugar. If you are diabetic or you are watching your sugar intake, maple syrup is probably not for you. [8]

Honey has been used over the centuries for many medicinal purposes and has many health benefits. That being said, honey is still a form of added sugar and it does contain carbs and calories. [9, 10]

Another natural substitute on the market is stevia. Stevia is made from the leaves of a plant that is in the same family as asters and chrysanthemums. It’s similar to monk fruit because it doesn’t contain sugar, carbs, or calories. That said, it’s much sweeter than sugar and some people don’t like the taste. [11]

3 Things to Keep in Mind

While there are some definite monk fruit benefits, there are also a few things to be aware of before you try it.

1. Don’t let a zero-calorie sweetener be a license to eat loads of desserts and baked goods! Even though you don’t have to worry about calories or carbs or sugar when you use a monk fruit sweetener, you don’t want to get carried away with eating lots of treats. Baked goods still contain carbs in the form of flour or gluten-free flour, plus other ingredients. I’m not saying you can’t enjoy a dessert now and then, but the best rule of thumb is to practice moderation.

2. More research is needed. Even though researchers have discovered a lot of monk fruit benefits, there are still a lot of unknowns. For example, researchers don’t know for sure how monk fruit may impact gut microbiota. Again, as with most things it’s best to take a balanced approach. [12, 13]

3. You may have to adjust to the taste. Some say monk fruit has an unpleasant aftertaste, so experiment with the amounts so that you fight the right ratio for you.


Key Takeaways


You might also enjoy: A Root to Lift Your Mood & Decrease Stress! (3 Amazing Rhodiola Benefits)

Foods for Stress Management: Why Stress is The Ultimate Nutrient Thief

Let's talk about the best foods for stress! One of the lesser-known effects of chronic stress (and the resulting adrenal fatigue!) is its ability to prevent your body from absorbing the nutrients you should be getting from your food. And this leaves you at risk for nutritional deficiencies.

Why does this matter? It matters because you need vitamins and minerals for energy, rest, proper cognitive function, overall wellness, and for your entire body to function properly. Simply put, nutrition and stress management are key to your health and well-being.

That's why you need to make sure you're eating certain foods for stress—foods rich in the nutrients your body is naturally depleting, especially during times of extreme stress.

In fact, I remember that when I was suffering from a bout of adrenal fatigue after I lost my mom, clumps of my hair were falling out. I would almost pass out after riding a roller coaster. My mood was indifferent and I was far too thin. I was too exhausted to keep up with my kids. I was so stressed, and the resulting adrenal fatigue was causing me to be malnourished—preventing my body from absorbing nutrients I needed from my food.

Does any of this sound familiar? If you, too, are experiencing symptoms like these, I urge you take a look at your nutrition and stress management and consider not only how how they may be linked but also how eating more foods for stress could benefit your overall health.

So, let’s discuss most important vitamins and minerals impacted by adrenal fatigue and review some of the best foods for stress. It’s time to reclaim your health and live your best life again!


Nutrition and Stress Management

I always refer to adrenal fatigue as a nutrient thief because that’s exactly what it does—it steals the nutrients your body needs to thrive and be well. But how do chronic stress and adrenal fatigue prevent you from being adequately nourished? Let’s take a closer look at the physiology behind this connection.

So, we’ve discussed that in order to achieve true health, your body needs to be able to fully absorb the nutrients in your food. Here’s the problem: When you have adrenal fatigue, your system goes into a constant state of fight-or-flight mode. This ultimately affects your ability to absorb nutrients from the foods you eat, leading to nutritional deficiencies.

Considering that your adrenal glands function as your body’s control center, is it any surprise to learn they also regulate much of your body’s nutrients? Your adrenal glands require sufficient nutrients not only to function, but also to control electrolyte and mineral balance. But they also manage how your body uses nutrients to regulate your thyroid, sex hormones, neurotransmitters, blood sugar, and blood pressure. It’s a catch-22.

Imagine a manufacturing assembly line. There are several individual parts arranged in a specific order to produce a final product. Well, think of the individual parts as nutrients and the final product as your body’s ability to function properly. For example, you may know that vitamin B12 helps your body produce energy, and that’s a crucial part of your well-being. But it’s important to also recognize how your body absorbs and utilizes vitamins and minerals. Here’s why.

Let’s take a look at an example involving the neurotransmitter serotonin. Your body must have adequate amounts of both vitamins C and B6 to produce serotonin, a hormone related to your mood, appetite, memory, sleeping habits, and more. If you have adrenal fatigue, you will likely be deficient in these nutrients, meaning all of these important functions will be impacted. In fact, one study revealed that participants with low levels of vitamin B6 were more likely to experience symptoms of depression. Furthermore, the researchers hypothesized that vitamin B6 supplementation may help improve these symptoms. [1]

So, how do you counteract this? By replacing processed, innutritious foods with foods containing vitamins B6 and C, you’ll better support your adrenal glands during times of stress and support those important functions. (And as a bonus, eating vitamin-rich foods is a great alternative to using antidepressant drugs full of side effects!)

This is just one example of how understanding the connection between nutrition and stress management, and particularly the nutritional impact of adrenal fatigue, is critical not only for healing your adrenal glands, but also for resolving your symptoms.


Foods for stress - Dr. Pingel


A Crash Course in Vitamins and Minerals

The nutrients your body needs to remain healthy are broken into two categories: vitamins and minerals. And all vitamins and minerals fall into one of two categories: water soluble and fat soluble.

Fat-soluble nutrients are harder for your body to break down, so they have a higher risk of causing toxicity in your body. Alternatively, if you consume too many water-soluble nutrients, they will simply be eliminated through your urine and have a low risk of causing an overdose. Water-soluble vitamins include all of the B vitamins, vitamin C, and most minerals. (Note: Some minerals, such as iron, are water soluble but can cause toxicity. So, be sure to discuss any new supplements with your physician.) Fat-soluble vitamins include vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Your body utilizes each of these vitamins and minerals to cause a physiological response, such as releasing estrogen or stimulating your thyroid. Here’s where a problem can arise: Your body can’t effectively make hormones, for example, without adequate amounts of vitamins and minerals. So, when you’re nutrient deficient, your body will adapt and divert nutrients to where they are needed most. This is exactly what happens in times of stress. When you’re faced with a stressful situation, the nutrients you have on hand are utilized to deal with the stress, leaving your hormone production behind to struggle. The result? You begin to develop hormone-related symptoms.

So, let’s use your thyroid as an example. Your thyroid requires the mineral iodine to function. But if your body is lacking in iodine, it will either will find an alternative for energy production in place of your thyroid or it will shut down the function of your thyroid altogether! In fact, numerous studies have shown that an iodine deficiency has been linked to an increased likelihood of developing thyroid disorders. [2]

Alternatively, your body could pull iodine from another place within your body (if its available) to resume thyroid production, or it could simply shift focus and start a different process in your body. Crazy, right? Remember, your body is like a map—containing many “routes” full of freeways and overpasses and exits. Any detour on the road will still get you to the same destination; it may take an alternate route to get there. Your body is no different!

Vitamins and Minerals Affected by Stress and Adrenal Fatigue

Now that you know how nutrition and stress management are related, here are the primary nutrients impacted chronic stress and the resulting adrenal fatigue.


Foods for stress - Dr. Pingel


Nutrient Deficiency and Adrenal Fatigue

People often ask whether nutritional deficiencies occur because of adrenal fatigue or cause adrenal fatigue. The answer is: both are true. How? Well, if your body can’t do what it needs to do, it becomes stressed. Likewise, if your body has experienced years of constant external stress, it loses nutrients due to both malabsorption and pathway overstimulation utilize leftover nutrients. It’s another catch-22! And this is yet another reason why understanding the link between nutrition and stress management and eating the best foods for stress are so critical. It is a perpetual hamster wheel that can seem impossible to jump out of!

The good news? Regardless of the cause, the treatment involves replenishing lost nutrients by eating top foods for stress and providing additional support for the pathways in your body currently being affected.

The Best Foods For Stress + How to Prioritize Your Nutrition and Stress Management

The great news here is that you can support your body’s response to stress by prioritizing your nutrition and stress management and eating the best foods for stress management. Here are four ways to do just that!

1. Eat a nutrient-rich diet filled with foods for stress.

When you’re focusing on your nutrition and stress management, one of the most important things you can do is to eat a diet rich in nutrients that will support your adrenal gland health. After all, remember that your adrenal glands are your body’s control center. That's why eating foods for stress is so important!

Focusing on plant-based foods is a great place to start. I recommend filling your plate with at least 75 percent plants, as they offer the most nutrients. And studies have shown that eating a nutrient-rich diet supports both your body’s ability to adapt to stress and its ability to minimize the effects of stress. [3]

For a list of the most nutrient-rich foods you can eat to support your nutrition and stress management, click here. But if you're looking for a quick cheatsheet, here are some of my top foods for stress management:

And if you find you’re experiencing any stress-related digestive difficulties, you may want to try specific digestion-promoting herbs or even apple cider vinegar. Keep in mind that your ability to digest your food is critical for your body to adequately absorb nutrients and support proper stress management.

2. Take stress-fighting herbs and supplements.

To aid both your nutrition and stress management, you’ll need to consider additional nutritional support. Remember, your stress levels impact both the availability and absorption of your nutrients.

In addition to taking adrenal-supporting herbs, you’ll also want to consider the following:

3. Incorporate stress-reducing movement into your daily routine.

Depending on your current level of fitness, you have a wide variety of exercises to choose from when you’re looking to support both your nutrition and stress management. The following exercises have been shown to support stress management:

And here are some additional fun ways to help relieve stress as well, because you should enjoy regaining your health.

4. Focus on the mind-body connection.

We’ve discussed how nutrition and stress management are linked and specifically how stress and adrenal fatigue can rob your body of the nutrients it needs to function. So, learning how to have some down time and relieve your stress is key for supporting your overall health and well-being.

If you’re looking for ways to enhance the mind-body connection, I suggest journaling or meditating to help you become centered and calm. You can also try to reframe any negative situations you may be dealing with by making a list of the things you love most about yourself for an instant pick-me-up. Just remember to take some time for yourself and focus on the best parts of your life. The bonus? While doing so, you know you’re on your way to a healthier, happier you!


Key Takeaways