Author Archives: Alison Boden MPH, RDN

About Alison Boden MPH, RDN

Alison is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist- a food and nutrition expert educated and trained in using food to prevent, reverse and manage disease. She earned a Master of Public Health and the qualifications to sit for the national Registered Dietitian exam from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and is currently working toward a Doctorate of Clinical Nutrition in Functional Nutrition at Maryland University of Integrative Health. Alison is a member of Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine and Dietitians for Professional Integrity. Visit http://nourishingradiance.com

Summer Produce Obsessions

Published: July 24, 2016 | By Alison Boden MPH, RDN

I’m loving my summer produce these days! Although if you live in San Francisco like me, “summer” is a relative term 😉 Still, living near so many organic small farms in Northern California, there’s an abundance of delicious summer produce at my fingertips. And then in my face.

Below is a list of some summer staples I receive in my farm box, and their health benefits. With a women’s health spin of course. Enjoy!

Corn— Corn gets a bad rap. Yes, high fructose corn syrup and other super processed derivatives are to be avoided, and corn is one of the heaviest GMO foods, but fresh organic corn on the cob is a great summer addition to your plate. Though the starch content resembles that of a grain rather than a vegetable, corn boasts B-vitamins, fiber and the carotenoid beta-cryptoxanthin a phytochemical (aka plant superpower) that is a wonderful antioxidant. My favorite way to enjoy corn is grilled on the bbq with a squeeze of lime.

Cucumbers – Not only are cucumbers refreshing because of their high water content, but they are also good sources of magnesium, fiber, vitamins C & K and silica – a necessary component of bones and collagen. Silica works together with calcium and strengthen bones, and can potentially help keep the elasticity firm in your skin. For maximum nutrients, leave the skin on the cucumber and wash thoroughly to remove the waxy coating.  Thinly slice cucumbers and marinate in a bit of rice vinegar mixed with water for a light and delicious side dish.

Tomatoes – Available year round but most delicious when local and in season.  There’s more to the tomato than the typical beefsteak variety – heirlooms in particular come in all shapes, sizes, colors and flavors.  High in vitamins C, A, and K, tomatoes are probably best known for their lycopene content which becomes more concentrated when the tomatoes are cooked.

Squash – Zucchini, crookneck or pattypan, summer squash offers an abundance of nutrients for very little calories. A great source of fiber, beta-carotene, antioxidants and even anti-inflammatory properties, squash is brimming with health benefits.  Most of these compounds are found in the skin and seeds, so make sure to consume in its entirety.  Summer squash like zucchini is particularly helpful for those struggling with insulin resistance, PCOS, or gestational diabetes as you can use it in place of higher glycemic ingredients like noodles (they call them zoodles! get it?). This gadget is a wonderful addition to any kitchen.

Basil – Typically considered a spice rather than a vegetable, basil actually brings a host of health benefits to the table.  Basil’s essential oils have shown to have both anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, and can also prevent cooking oils from oxidizing.  Animal studies have displayed positive effects of basil on blood pressure and blood sugar- great for anyone especially pregnant mamas looking to prevent gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia.

Eggplant—Also known as Aubergine, the flavanoid anthocyanin gives eggplant its characteristic purple color and also its health benefits ranging from antioxidant activity to combating chronic inflammation.  To reduce the sometimes tough, spongy texture, I cube or slice mine and simmer in some home made broth until they become soft. Eggplant cooked in this way is one vegetable that my little guy will ALWAYS eat.

*Fun fact! Even though we consider these vegetables from a nutrition perspective (with the exception of corn) did you know that some of these above are actually botanically categorized as fruits? Pop over to my instagram to tell me which one(s).

Getting to the Root of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

Published: July 15, 2016 | By Alison Boden MPH, RDN

Are you one of the 5-10% of women diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)? If so you are in good company, as this is by far the most common reproductive disorder I see in my practice.

PCO-what?
So what is PCOS? First, it is not a disease but a syndrome – meaning there are several symptoms that tend to collect together to cause malfunction. With PCOS, the most common symptoms are:

Menstrual Irregularities – this ranges from long, heavy periods to irregular and scant to no periods at all (amenorrhea). This can lead to fertility trouble when trying to conceive, as ovulation is typically absent as well.

Hormonal imbalance – Elevated levels of insulin, and androgens lead to high blood sugar levels, facial hair growth and acne.

Difficulty with weight – Not that weight loss is ever easy, but PCOS ladies tend to have even more difficulty losing weight if overweight, and tend to collect fat around the belly at a faster rate.

Ovarian cysts – as the name suggests, some women have cysts on their ovaries that can be small and painless, or large and painful and potentially dangerous. Not all women with PCOS actually have cysts, in fact most of my patients do not.

Getting to the root
Insulin resistance with high blood sugar is understood to be one of the main drivers of PCOS. Put simply, higher than normal levels of insulin negatively impact the ovaries leading to irregular levels of hormonal output causing the symptoms listed above. So, to control this and improve ovarian function the typical lifestyle change is to limit carb intake, exercise and work on weight loss. Metformin is a diabetes drug that is commonly prescribed to bring down blood sugar as well.

That’s cool, but…. let’s dig a little deeper. PCOS isn’t just about carbs. Why does one become insulin resistant in the first place? There are a few likely scenarios…

Chronic Inflammation
Low grade inflammation is at the heart of many chronic conditions (think heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc) and PCOS is among those. We know this because women with PCOS tend to have high levels of certain blood tests that indicate chronic inflammation. Inflammation is the set of events that are triggered by some type of injury or insult to the body, with the ultimate goal of healing. If you cut your hand while cooking, immune system “healer” cells travel to your injury to work on fixing it, and you may notice the typical signs of heat, redness, and puffiness to the affected area. Chronic / low grade inflammation is the same process, except on a less dramatic and visible scale. In chronic inflammation the injury to the body is constant but small, and the inflammatory response never turns off.

What types of injury contribute to this inflamed state? A bunch! Too much sugar and refined grains and oils, not enough colorful vegetables and omega-3 fats, smoking, excessive drinking, infections, obesity (especially around the middle), as well as the state of our digestion (see below). These habits and conditions generally lead to a state of unwell, and PCOS can start to brew.

Stress
Stress is an extremely under-appreciated element of wellness and health. When we are constantly worried, stressed, anxious we are releasing the stress hormone cortisol from our adrenal glands. This hormone is essential under acute stress (like running away from a tiger), but starts to cause havoc when elevated for too long. Longterm high cortisol output leads to high blood pressure and blood sugar, weight gain around the middle, carbohydrate cravings, decreased libido and immunity. So this stress can drive the impaired immunity and insulin resistance related to both chronic inflammation and PCOS. Full circle.
It’s important to note here that stress doesn’t just mean feeling “stressed out.” Other habits also cause the body to be in a stressed state – most noteably lack of sleep- measured in quality or quantity. When we aren’t getting enough hours (7-9 hours nightly) or those hours are very interrupted, we will also be in a state of chronic stress with the same symptoms outlined above. Similarly, excessive high volume and intensity exercise not balanced with enough restorative movement and sleep falls in this same category.

Gut health
The gut microbiota (aka the “good” bacteria that reside in the large intestine) is a hot area of research and nutrition right now. Dysbiosis of the gut – too many “bad” bacteria and not enough “good” bacteria is usually caused by a low fiber diet and/or overuse of antibiotics. Not only can this lead to a lot of digestive symptoms, but also activate the immune system that regulates inflammation and contributes to the whole cycle of inflammation – insulin resistance – hormonal disruption.

Phew. That was a brain-full. Stay tuned for part 2 of PCOS where I discuss foods to include and avoid, and a bit about meal timing.

Want more? Follow me on Instagram and join my exclusive PCOS Facebook Group “Cysters.”