Salt vs Sodium: Is Either One Healthy? The words "salt" and "sodium" have practically become synonymous, but they're not really the same thing.

When most people refer to salt, they’re talking about table salt, which contains 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride (a mineral). Both sodium and chloride are necessary to good health, but what’s not healthy is the excessive amounts of sodium—not always salt itself—contained in processed foods. Ingredients like monosodium glutamate (MSG), the preservative sodium nitrate, sodium phosphate, and many more all add hefty doses of unhealthy sodium to packaged foods.

The human body needs a certain amount of healthy sodium in order to function properly; the scales shouldn’t be tipped too far in either direction. Whereas the right amount of sodium intake helps to regulate blood pressure, promote sleep, and helps with brain, muscle and nerve functions (among other things), too much sodium can result in such health issues as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

There’s been a war raging against salt for years. It started as early as the turn of the 20th century but hit fever pitch in the 1970s. Salt as a whole has been demonized to the point that some people turned to low-sodium diets that actually harmed their health. Being sodium-deficient has been shown in some studies to cause increased insulin resistance, greater risk of death for those with diabetes or heart failure, an increase in triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, and hyponatremia (particularly for athletes and those on medications or with certain medical conditions).

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Choosing the right type of salt for good health is just as important as getting the right amount of sodium. Table salt comes from underground mines and undergoes heavy processing, during which it’s superheated, eliminating beneficial minerals and altering its chemical structure. Anti-clumping aluminum compound agents are then added to keep it free-flowing, and the salt is also bleached; in some other countries, fluoride is also added to table salt. Although iodine is added, which is necessary to maintain a healthy thyroid, that isn’t a reason to use table salt, since you can use a high-quality iodine supplement according to your functional medicine doctor’s recommendations.

Sea salt has been touted as being healthier than table salt, and largely speaking, it is. Rather than being superheated, the water from which it is extracted is evaporated, so the salt retains its high mineral content. But not all sea salt is equally healthy; there are a couple of things to take into consideration before you buy:

  • Read the label to find out where the salt you’re buying has come from—some sources have pollution issues and salt from these waters should be avoided.
  • Look for unrefined sea salt; Celtic (gray) and Himalayan sea salts are among the best, but check to see if the label lists any additives. Free-flowing, pure white sea salt may have been bleached and contain anti-clumping additives. If sources and/or ingredients aren’t on the label, see if you can find the source and ingredient information online. Typically, companies selling pure sea salt from clean waters are open with this information.

Unrefined sea salt can be found in a variety of colors and is coarse; it may also contain some of its naturally occurring moisture. The coloring, ranging from black to pink to gray, comes from the different types of natural minerals contained in the salt. Among the many benefits of unrefined sea salt are:

  • Great source of electrolytes, which are important for muscle function and the cardiovascular system.
  • Helps your body produce HCL (hydrochloric acid), essential to digestive health, and allows your body to absorb necessary minerals, vitamins and other nutrients from food.
  • Balances fluids and helps you avoid dehydration—it’s only if you overdo your salt intake that your body will start to retain water.

Don’t be deterred by the courseness of unrefined sea salt—there are easy ways to prepare it for daily use. One simple way to turn coarse salt into a much finer texture is to grind it in an electric coffee grinder so you can quickly make it as fine as you like.

By avoiding the unhealthy salt used in packaged, processed and prepared foods and using unrefined sea salt in moderate amounts, you’ll maintain a healthy sodium balance and enjoy its positive health effects.

Dr. Doug Pucci is a functional medicine practitioner who was honored in 2020 to receive both The Best Of 2020 Awards for Functional Medicine in Oradell, NJ, and entry into Trademark Publications’ Who’s Who Directory, Honors Edition, for his pioneering work. He provides comprehensive testing for health biomarkers, advanced discovery into brain/body well-being and personalized nutrition for a diversity of people and symptoms.

For more information, call 201-261-5430 or visit GetWell-Now.com

Stress Eating and Healthy Weight Stress is a part of life—we can’t escape it, but we all react differently to it.

Where some people feel tired and tend to sleep more during stressful times, other people can’t sleep at all. By the same token, stress can cause some people to lose their appetites while others tend to eat their way through stressful periods. No extreme is healthy; the key is to know why these extremes happen and how to regulate your body when you’re experiencing extended stressful situations.

A study published in Cell Metabolism showed that stress causes the stimulation of a particular pathway in the brain that increases your caloric intake. In the study, mice eating a high-fat diet while experiencing chronic stress tended to gain more weight than mice that were not experiencing stress while on the same high-fat diet. Researchers attributed this to the brain’s neuropeptide Y (NPY) molecules, which drive stress eating (also called emotional eating).

What does this mean for humans? In brief, it means that during stressful times, it’s extremely important to watch what you eat as well as how much you eat.

Here’s the reason. The NPY neurons in the amygdala (the part of your brain that controls fight-or-flight and is part of the brain’s fear circuit) control feeding, and when stress combines with a high-calorie diet, your insulin-controlled NPY expression increases, leading to insulin resistance. The study in Cell Metabolism concludes, “Stress combined with a high-caloric diet causes insulin resistance in central amygdala.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen long lines of cars at fast food restaurants or takeout donut shops during times when society as a whole is facing a crisis of one type or another, let alone when individuals are experiencing their own emotionally stressful situations. Emotional eating typically focuses on comfort foods that are high in fat and/or sugar. Stress eating has even become normalized in television shows and movies as an accepted way of dealing with difficult situations, even if it’s handled comedically. However, in real life, the result of habitual stress eating will result in weight gain (possibly to the point of obesity), diabetes, high blood pressure, fatigue and more. These types of foods will also take a toll on your immune system and make you more vulnerable to diseases.

So how do you get stress eating under control? I have a few suggestions for some stress management techniques that can help to reduce your stress level, which in turn helps stop stress eating, aids your immune system, and is beneficial to your overall wellbeing.

When you feel your stress level rising or you feel the need to indulge in emotional eating, start by doing some deep breathing. When we feel stressed, we tend to do more shallow breathing, which makes our nervous system weaker. To counteract that, take in a slow, steady deep breath through your nose, hold it for four to six seconds, then slowly exhale through your mouth. Do this several times in a row, and repeat it several times throughout the day. At first you may feel a bit lightheaded, but that will pass.

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I cannot stress enough how important movement is—physical activity can’t be an afterthought, it needs to be a priority. Being sedentary in combination with stress and emotional eating is a recipe for disaster, and no amount of vitamin or mineral supplementation will help. Go outside and soak up some sunlight (which helps boost mood and gives you that all-important vitamin D), and take a walk for at least ten minutes, or indulge in any outdoor activity you enjoy. Hiking, shooting hoops, swimming, kayaking—all types of physical activity help both physically and mentally and can get you past the craving for low-value comfort foods.

Tune out the news for a while, and tune in to your favorite music. In the privacy of your home, you can put the popular saying into practice: “Dance like no one is watching”. Not only can your favorite music elevate your mood, dancing is a great form of indoor exercise. When you want to relax, put on some calming music or try meditation; you can find plenty of music specifically suited to relaxation and meditation online if you don’t have it at home.

Proactive measures like these not only help you avoid stress eating, they can also help boost your immune system and keep a positive mental attitude.

Dr. Doug Pucci is a functional medicine practitioner who was honored in 2020 to receive both The Best Of 2020 Awards for Functional Medicine in Oradell, NJ, and entry into Trademark Publications’ Who’s Who Directory, Honors Edition, for his pioneering work. He provides comprehensive testing for health biomarkers, advanced discovery into brain/body well-being and personalized nutrition for a diversity of people and symptoms.

For more information, call 201-261-5430 or visit GetWell-Now.com

7 Best Strategies to Boost Health and Minimize Cravings In this week's article, we wanted to take a step back from our usual material and offer some basic dietary suggestions.

While this is gospel for so many of you it is also a pleasant reminder for friends and family who are less certain of what to do. Instead of arguing it out with them over the holiday table, maybe just send over some ideas for the New Year.

1. Stabilize your blood sugar

Creating a morning ritual that includes alkalizing your body upon waking with a green drink, a morning tonic, or ginger tea (or similar). Quickly followed by that, within a half hour, you want a small amount of protein. The lack of adequate protein creates an insulin surge and reactive glycemic state that contribute to further fluctuations throughout the day that are difficult to overcome. Lack of focus, “brain hunger,” poor decision making, and so on, ensue. Even for people with no appetite, a bone broth or similar can be sufficient. Throughout the day small regular meals at two to three hour intervals are required. When your last meal of the day is at 6pm and you don’t eat again till 10am (or later), your brain and your body suffer.

2. Eliminate pro-inflammatory foods

For at least thirty days, eat only animal protein, including fish and shellfish, vegetables, herbs and spices, a handful of nuts and seeds (preferably soaked and sprouted), healthy saturated fats, including pastured eggs, citrus, and berries. These should be whole, live foods prepared mostly by you. To restate this, you want to eliminate processed foods and foods that contain harmful components that are inflammatory to your system. To the greatest extent practicable you want your vegetables to be free of genetically modified organisms and pesticide residues (organic), your protein sources to be free of antibiotics and growth hormones. 100% grass fed is preferred, and you want to forever eliminate food additives like sweeteners, food dies, and other additives that are neurotoxic to the brain.

3. Increase essential fatty acids and healthy fats

Healthy fats include coconuts and their by-products like coconut manna, avocados, oils that are from tree nuts (e.g. macadamia oil), tree fruits (e.g. coconut, olive, avocado oils), clarified butter, called ghee, and 100% grass fed or pastured butter, and nut or seed butters (e.g. flax seed and cashew butters). Essential fatty acids like omega oils are also readily available from oysters and other shell fish that feed on algae, and micro-greens that convert the suns energy directly into food. All these help reduce inflammation by supplying the cells in your body, which are a self-contained life form themselves, with much needed nutrients.

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4. Increase pre-biotic and probiotic foods

…and particularly those that are lacto-fermented or cultured. These are foods that utilize a culture starter or fermentation process that predigests the naturally occurring sugars and also create a thriving environment for healthy bacteria to flourish. These are foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, pickled ginger, chutneys. It also includes kefirs, buttermilk, and crafted yogurts (that are from 100% grassfed cows, sheep, or goats). Prebiotic foods are your bitter leafy greens like dandelion greens, watercress, and asparagus.

5. Minimize legumes

Beans, lentils, and peanuts are designed by nature to be difficult to digest. For many they contribute to gassiness and bloating. Now, a few beans in an otherwise well prepared meal are fine for most people. That said most cooks do not take time to adequately soak, sprout, and slowly cook their beans which will easily convert to a starch and lose the quality protein that is otherwise available. If you are relying solely on beans (and nuts and seeds, and plant proteins) for your nutrients, careful preparation is a must!

6. Eat more raw dietary fiber

Particularly in the form of leafy green plants. There is a myth that abounds that leafy green plants, particularly the cruciferous vegetables like Brussels sprouts, arugula, broccoli, and kale will somehow steal away precious iodine from your body, especially the thyroid gland. Or that high-oxalate content foods like spinach, Swiss chard, and beet greens should be avoided because of the risk of kidney stones. If these cases exist at all, the probability is so incredibly rare, that I can safely advise my patients to eat these at every meal.

7. Hydrate!

Not only is good water a primary source for trace minerals and nutrients it’s essential for ridding the body of unwanted wastes. Very often, even though my patients are drinking lots of water, the water is not making it inside the cells. One of my suggestions is always to add a pinch of sea salt. Make sure the one you have on hand for this purpose is produced by the process of evaporation of salt water bodies only.

Dr. Doug Pucci is a functional medicine practitioner who was honored in 2020 to receive both The Best Of 2020 Awards for Functional Medicine in Oradell, NJ, and entry into Trademark Publications’ Who’s Who Directory, Honors Edition, for his pioneering work. He provides comprehensive testing for health biomarkers, advanced discovery into brain/body well-being and personalized nutrition for a diversity of people and symptoms.

For more information, call 201-261-5430 or visit GetWell-Now.com

Gaining Weight, Eating Too Often, and Still Craving the Wrong Foods? 5 Popular Dietary Strategies That Trigger Weight Gain and Cause Metabolic and Hormonal Stress

One of the traps people often fall into is diving into new healthy-sounding diets they hear about from Dr. Google, friends, or family members, but they’re jumping in with only superficial knowledge of that particular dietary lifestyle. The concepts and buzzwords associated with these diets are reinforced while grocery shopping, when they see labeling and buzzwords such as “gluten free”, “keto-friendly” or “paleo” without really understanding what those dietary choices mean.

We’ve compiled the five biggest misconceptions people have when trying a new type of diet based on hearsay and generalities.

Mistake #1: Gluten Free is Grain Free

Just because packaged foods are marked “Gluten Free” doesn’t mean they’re healthy; in fact, most have added sugar and are heavy in processed grain flours. These wheat flour substitutes can still be reactive for gluten-sensitive people, causing similar immune system reactions to gluten. In addition, processed grains are still carbs and are converted to sugar in the body, causing the same kinds of insulin surges as sugars. So even though cookies, breads, and snacks are labeled gluten-free, it doesn’t mean they’re healthy choices.

If you have celiac disease or you’re trying to remove gluten from your diet altogether, you need to remove all gluten-containing grains and processed grain foods. There are some seed-based alternatives like flax and hemp, but for the most part, it’s best to move away from any type of processed grain.

Mistake #2: Not Watching Your Keto Carbs

Like other diets, if you want to get the benefits of a keto diet, you need to adhere to the guidelines. Unfortunately there are a large number of people who think they’re doing keto but are actually doing a modified paleo diet mixed with a few keto concepts. Without a full understanding and adherence to every aspect of keto, you won’t reach your objectives and you’ll most likely gain weight.

Many people make the mistake of not sticking to the fat requirement (70-80% of your daily caloric intake), and even more people eat too many carbs, which can come from less obvious sources including starchy vegetables like corn, potatoes, squash, and peas. Carbs should be limited to 5-10% of your daily caloric intake.

Another key mistake people tend to make is becoming over-reliant on processed meats: bacon, hard salami, chicken sausage, luncheon meats, cured and salted meats, etc., which can drive up your histamine response and heavily increase your sodium intake, possibly leading to hypertension.

The point of the keto diet is to push your body into ketosis, which is a higher fat-burning state.
You can think of keto as an adjunct to an otherwise already healthy Mediterranean diet.

Mistake #3: Paleo = Bacon, Bacon, And More Bacon!

The paleo diet is another misunderstood dietary choice, mostly because articles about paleo can be illustrated with images of piles of meat, giving the impression that you have a green light to freely consume lavish amounts of bacon and hamburger.

This couldn’t be further from the concept of true paleo, which is focused on an understanding of our ancestral diet driven by the hunter/gatherer lifestyle and, like with keto, does not embrace processed meats. For example, major components of the paleo diet are nuts, berries, seeds, mushrooms, and in-season fresh vegetables including micro greens in spring. When it comes to meats, it’s about the whole animal including and especially organ meats and bone broth, as well as wild-caught fish and pasture-raised animals.

More than a diet, paleo can be thought of as a lifestyle: think farm to table or forage to table. Paleo supports the concept of foraging—eating smaller meals more often throughout the day to help stabilize blood sugar. A great book that explains this well is Nom Nom Paleo by Michelle Tam and Henry Fong, in which they demonstrate how paleo is beneficial for the whole family as opposed to other diets that are more isolationist or exclusionary.

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Mistake #4: Intermittent Fasting (IF) Is Good For Everyone

Intermittent fasting has received a lot of attention and has become a sort of dietary buzzword that has generated quite a bit of interest. The basic idea is to concentrate your caloric intake to a shorter period of time (typically an 8-hour period), then allow your body to rest and process food overnight.

Unfortunately, people often use IF as an excuse to skip breakfast and have a big dinner; this isn’t the point of IF—in fact, having breakfast and skipping dinner is a better option. Indulging in a big or heavy dinner defeats the purpose, since your digestive process slows down at night while you sleep. To get the benefits of IF, move your higher caloric intake to the earlier part of the day and use intermittent fasting no more than two or three days a week, eating regularly on other days.

Intermittent fasting can help you achieve results such as reducing insulin resistance, weight loss, inflammation reduction, and helps the body initiate the cell waste removal process, among other things. Certain cardiometabolic patients, like those with type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or who are overweight have benefitted from IF. Like keto, IF is a strategy that can be incorporated periodically—hence, the “intermittent” part of the term.

Intermittent fasting is a viable strategy for some people but not for everyone, particularly if you’re hypoglycemic. If your blood sugar drops in the morning, or if you skip a meal and your blood sugar drops causing anxiety, panic, heart palpitations, or feelings of anger or irritability, IF is not a strategy that would work for you.

Mistake #5: Vegan Is Another Word For “Healthy”

Veganism is a vegetable-based diet in which all protein consumed is from plants, including soy. However, plant proteins are generally incomplete proteins (except for soy and hemp) and lack important amino acids, so most vegan diets need to be supplemented with amino acids as well as other essential vitamins and nutritional supplements, like B-12 and CoQ10.

It’s incredibly labor-intensive to eat a strict vegan diet and get the required nutrients and calories you need throughout the day. The reason some celebrities are able to follow veganism successfully is that they have knowledgeable chefs preparing their food on a regular basis.

There are several major problems with veganism that I have frequently encountered in my practice. These include:

  • People with exceedingly low cholesterol, which contributes to an overall low hormone profile (testosterone and progesterone).
  • Vegans tend to eat too many carbs because of the difficulty in preparing vegan foods; at the same time, very few vegans regularly eat enough healthy fats (like nuts and seeds) that are critical for many bodily functions.
  • It’s rarely sustainable for growing children who need a full range of healthy proteins, including those from eggs, fish, fowl, shellfish, and so on, in order to support brain and hormone development.
  • Over-reliance on soy as a “meat-like” food (i.e., hamburger-like substitutes and cheese-like replacements) which is unhealthy when it comes to the endocrine system; soy is actually estrogen proliferative.

Plus, A Reminder to Not Overlook Reading the Labels

The most important thing you can do for your health and to reduce inflammation in your body is to stick with a whole foods diet—eating fresh food that you prepare at home rather than buying processed and packaged foods. A lot of people look for general terms on packaged foods like “gluten free”, “keto-friendly”, “low carb”, “vegan”, or “paleo-friendly” and assume the products are healthy and fit their dietary choices. If you find yourself doing this, next time make sure you look carefully at the nutrition information.

For the most part, packaged foods contain excessive amounts of sodium and added sugar and can contain other unhealthy ingredients as well. A typical mistake is buying gluten-free chicken sausage—the package may even say “minimally processed”, making it sound even better, but read the label well and you’ll find that each link has 500mg of sodium. To make that even worse, it’s not unusual for someone to have two links with breakfast. Also, packaged food companies very often strip out nutrients in order to make their products shelf-stable.

Anyone avoiding dairy to focus on more plant-based foods might think Chobani extra creamy oat milk would be a good milk replacement, but each serving actually has 18g of added sugar. With the glut of packaged products trying to attract consumers looking for fast, ready-to-eat foods, desserts and snacks that appear to fit their dietary lifestyle, it’s extremely important to read labels carefully and not make assumptions or believe marketing hype.

The one sure way to follow an anti-inflammatory diet is to buy whole foods and prepare them at home, where you can be sure of every ingredient. Simpler eating that includes more healthy fats, fish, fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, microgreens, herbs and spices and follows the basics of the Mediterranean diet is the best way to eat healthy and get the nutrients your body needs naturally.

Dr. Doug Pucci is a functional medicine practitioner who was honored in 2020 to receive both The Best Of 2020 Awards for Functional Medicine in Oradell, NJ, and entry into Trademark Publications’ Who’s Who Directory, Honors Edition, for his pioneering work. He provides comprehensive testing for health biomarkers, advanced discovery into brain/body well-being and personalized nutrition for a diversity of people and symptoms.

For more information, call 201-261-5430 or visit GetWell-Now.com