Nutrition’s Role in Detoxification: Not just another “fad diet”



The word “detox” is one that has generated a lot of controversy over the years due to many unhealthy and scientifically unsound “fads” that have been promoted by the media. Popular detox diets have included the “Master Cleanse”, also known as the lemonade diet, and various forms of juice cleanses. While these diets do succeed in eliminating unhealthy and processed “junk foods” and may induce short term weight loss, they often deprive the body of vital nutrients necessary for proper detoxification and are not recommended by most Registered Dietitians or other health professionals.

What is detoxification?

Detoxification is a biochemical process in which the body rids itself of toxins from both the environment and those produced within the body (endotoxins). The human body is naturally designed to detox with help from organs such as the lungs, kidneys, skin and liver and does so through processes including urination, bowel movements, sweating, and breathing.

However, despite this innate ability to detox, the body can get into a state of toxic overload, or “oxidative stress”, which occurs when the amount of toxic exposure surpasses the body’s ability to detoxify. When this happens, studies have shown that chronic diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and chronic inflammation can occur. One of the biggest contributors to a toxic overload for the average American is consuming the Standard American Diet that is lacking in key nutrients to support proper detoxification.  Other contributors to this overwhelming toxic load include repeated exposure to pollution, tobacco smoke, pesticides, pharmaceutical drugs, heavy metals and many man-made chemicals found everyday household items. Fortunately, proper nutrition and lifestyle factors can help to both prevent this oxidative stress and aid in proper detoxification processes.

Dietary compounds to support detoxification

  • Antioxidants: True to their name, foods high in antioxidants help scavenge free radicals and reduce the damaging effects of toxins. Foods high in antioxidants include berries, nuts and seeds, leafy green and orange vegetables, coffee, tea, dark chocolate and many spices such as cinnamon.
  • B vitamins: B vitamins are required for the biochemical detoxification pathway that occurs in the liver and without them the liver’s ability to detox is compromised. Some foods rich in B vitamins include whole grains, beans, poultry, dairy, eggs, and many fruits and vegetables.
  • Glutathione: Also necessary for the detoxification pathway in the liver, glutathione is a protein made up of the amino acids cysteine, glycine, and glutamic acid. It also serves as a powerful antioxidant. Consuming foods like whey protein and sulfur rich vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, garlic, onions, etc.) are two ways to boost glutathione levels in the body.
  • Fiber: Both soluble and insoluble fiber help promote regular production of bowel movements, which is a major way the body excretes toxins.
  • High quality protein: Protein provides amino acids, which are necessary for the liver’s detoxification pathway. High quality protein foods include organic meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy and soy.
  • Curcumin: Curcumin, the active constituent in the spice turmeric, has shown protective effects towards the gallbladder in promoting bile flow, another method of detoxification.

Lifestyle factors to reduce toxic exposure

  • Avoidance of following the Standard American Diet (SAD), which includes high amounts of refined sugar, refined fours, artificial ingredients, inflammatory fats and preservatives. Instead, aim to consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, anti-inflammatory fats, and high quality protein.
  • Reduce exposure to pesticides by choosing organic produce whenever possible, specifically of the Dirty Dozen.
  • Reduce exposure to man-made chemicals found in plastics, cleaning products, hygiene products, and many other everyday use items. This can be done by storing food and beverages in glass containers and purchasing cleaning and hygiene products that are made from naturally derived ingredients whenever possible.
  • Reduce exposure to cigarette smoke and polluted air.


While it’s true that the body is naturally designed to detox, following a diet and lifestyle plan that will reduce toxic exposure and aid detoxification may help treat and prevent the conditions associated with toxin buildup. However, rather than thinking of detoxification as a short-term fad diet, viewing it as an everyday lifestyle can help promote longer term and more sustainable health improvements. Working with a Registered Dietitian can help identify sources of toxins in the diet and create an individualized plan to help reduce exposure and promote proper detoxification in the body.

What are your thoughts on detox diets? Feel free to share your comments below.

For more on detox, check out our Archived Webinars, including “Why Detox? Tips and Tools for Guiding Your Patients towards a Healthy Liver” presented by Mary Purdy, MS, RDN.  We’ll also be hosting a Twitter Chat on August 29, 2017 at 8PM ET on “Decoding Detox”, and we’d love for you to join the conversation.

Joanna FoleyJoanna Foley, RD, has been practicing since 2014 and has worked as both a clinical dietitian and, more recently, a renal dietitian. She is passionate about promoting behavior changes that lead to a healthier, higher quality of life using food as medicine. Joanna enjoys experimenting with new recipes, traveling and running half marathons. Connect with her on Instagram (@joannafoleyrd), Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest.


Yoga and meditation for healthier aging

yoga and meditation

Yoga, meditation, and aging

Yoga and meditation have become popular forms of exercise and relaxation, and we continue to learn about even more benefits beyond fitness. Of the people who practice yoga in the US, 21% are over the age of 60. This is the second most popular group of yogis, falling behind the age group 30-39 who comprise 23% of the yoga practitioners. This is important because the aging population faces an increased risk for many conditions and diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, cognitive impairment, loss of balance, and increased respiratory issues.

In nursing homes, we see many residents with Alzheimer’s dementia, incidence of falls, and respiratory insufficiency, such as COPD. Many people will spend thousands of dollars on nursing home care including physical, occupational, and speech therapy as well as medication to correct or improve these physical and cognitive declines. Much of the research surrounding disease management is reactive, treating the disease once it occurs. However, a balanced, healthy diet and active lifestyle is beneficial for overall health and can be preventative or at least slow down the progression of many of the above conditions. Yoga and meditation can also have beneficial effects on many conditions in the aging population.

Health benefits of yoga and meditation

New research has shown that practicing yoga and meditation may help with conditions such as attention span, memory, respiratory status, neurogenerative diseases, and cellular aging  in older adults. Studies have shown that meditation reduces certain risk factors for Alzheimer’s, such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Since these are also risk factors for heart disease, America’s leading cause of death, incorporating meditation into a healthy lifestyle may pack more benefits than you think. One study also found that in older participants, mindful meditation improved the thickness of the prefrontal cortex, important in the role of decision making and memory. Yoga can significantly improve pulmonary volumes and respiratory muscle strength in older women as well as balance and mobility. Many of the yoga studies included an 8-12 week yoga program, and many of the meditation studies included meditation for 15-20 minutes twice daily.

Getting started

While the research is growing and more studies are needed, incorporating yoga and meditation into one’s daily or weekly lifestyle can have preventative effects in regards to developing Alzheimer’s dementia and respiratory diseases. Finding a yoga studio in today’s world is easier than ever. If joining a yoga or meditation class feels too intimidating, you can always turn to your smartphone to find an app that will lead you through a peaceful flow at home (App: Down Dog), or guide you through a meditation sequence (App: Headspace) before heading off to dreamland.

How are you incorporating yoga or meditation into your own lifestyle or nutrition practice?  We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

For more on information, check out our other posts on Mind Body Practices.

Olivia MiddletonOlivia Middleton MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian enjoying life in Atlanta, Ga. She is currently employed with Ethica, a long-term care and rehabilitation organization, as a regional consulting dietitian. Olivia studied Dietetics at University of Georgia and proceeded to complete the coordinated program for her dietetic internship and Masters in Nutrition at Georgia State University. Passionate about educating individuals regarding healthy lifestyles and being a support system for all patients/clients she interacts with. Outside of her working life, Olivia enjoys hiking, trying new restaurants & recipes, staying active at her fitness studio, and simply enjoying the outdoors.

Tart Cherry Juice: More than nature’s sleep aid

Tart Cherry Juice Smoothie

Potential Benefits

Tart cherry juice has received a lot of praise in the scientific community for its health qualities in the prevention of chronic diseases and as a natural sleep aid. This juice is packed with antioxidants that have been shown to decrease the incidence of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic inflammatory conditions. Also tart cherry juice may impact muscle repair and sports injuries in the athletic community.


Tart cherries naturally contain a high amount of anthocyanins, a color pigment and powerful antioxidant. Anthocyanins can help improve circulation, decrease the presence of free radicals that cause cellular and vascular damage, and improve nerve function, which is why this juice is much more than a sleep aid.

A Natural Sleep Aid

Insomnia is a debilitating condition that affects more than 30% of the population at some point in their lives. Insomnia not only affects a person’s ability to fall and stay asleep but can affect many aspects of their lives. Many prescription and over-the-counter sleep aids are known to have potential harmful side effects as well as drug nutrient interactions that may lead to more harm than good. Therefore, recommending tart cherry juice as a natural sleep aid may help patients stay clear of potentially harmful side effects and drug dependency.

To help with sleep duration and quality, it is recommended that a person drink 1-2 servings of tart cherry juice per day. Researchers of one study found that drinking two servings of this juice, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, significantly improved sleep duration and sleep quality in subjects.

Getting regular good quality sleep is important for both physical and mental health and may impact weight gain and the onset of chronic conditions.  Sleep health is an integral part of a person’s overall well-being and health and should not be overlooked during counseling sessions.

Tart Cherry Juice

Recipe: Tart Cherry Juice Smoothie

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Yield: 3 servings


  • 1 cup tart cherry juice
  • 1 medium banana
  • ½ cup vanilla almond milk
  • ½ cup frozen blueberries
  • 1-2 Tbsp honey or maple syrup (optional)
  1. Add all ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth.

Nutrition Facts:

Serving: 6 oz

137 calories, 1g fat, 32g carbohydrate (16g sugar, 2g fiber), 1g protein, 54 mg sodium

Morgan GiannattasioMorgan Giannattasio is an outpatient Registered Dietitian in Raleigh, North Carolina. She received her Bachelor’s degree in dietetics from SUNY Oneonta and went on to receive her Master’s degree in nutrition from Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. In her spare time, Morgan enjoys going to the beach with her dog and family.

From the Chair: Why I Love the Heck out of Grocery Shopping

Healthy Grocery Shopping

I adore grocery shopping. One of my ideal Saturday night plans is lingering amidst the lemons, ambling around the apples, perusing the pickles and zoning out by the zucchini. Shopping for food is more like a hobby than a chore.  It’s like a little trip to a food museum, and on a Saturday night, I don’t have to rush.  I don’t have to get back to anything except for…the rest of Saturday night.

Normally on a quick weeknight shop, I have to stay on the route, focused and predictable, purchasing the necessities: kale, lemons, garlic, cilantro, quinoa, carrots, sweet potatoes, apples, oranges, almonds and sunflower seeds, cans of chick peas and black beans, tortillas, and don’t forget the salsa, yells my husband, Keith. (Or the coconut milk!)  I have the list down pat in my head. I know what we need for a typical week of meals so that we’ve got enough balance, bounty, color, fiber, sweet, sour, plain and fancy….but…. Saturday night at the Pacific Central Food Coop in Seattle, the world is mine. I can spend time reading labels and comparing ingredients, (wow, this brand has guar gum while this one uses carrageenan), discover new products, (There are 19 different brands of mustard!), sneak a taste of something in the bulk bin, (what exactly is in those gritty little chunks of brown marbled nuttiness?) look at products in the freezer that I’ve never seen (frozen chicken gizzards?  Eek!).

It’s an adventure and I get to take something home afterwards!  That doesn’t happen at a museum.  You cannot actually remove anything from a museum without causing a pretty big ruckus. (Trust me, my mom touched a painting once in a museum in New York City and almost got escorted out by a guard.) But grocery stores let you both touch and take items, historical and modern, out of the building and into the comfort of your own pantry where you can put them on display for your family members and guests, who can look at them and then devour them.

I am also at home in a grocery store. I appreciate the comforting familiarity of what I see as I stroll: my favorite box of flax seed crackers peeking at me from the shelf.  I remember those, my tummy chimes.  And now, look, they come in new flavors.  “Rosemary”!  Heavenly!  “Savory”? Well, I’ll be damned.  “Cinnamon Raisin”! Un-heard of!  Crackers with cinnamon and raisin in them.  Who thinks of these creative combinations?

Mary PurdyI clip coupons as a warm up: my grocery shopping foreplay.  I don’t care if it’s 35 cents, goshdarnitt, I’m determined to spend less than I did at the last trip.  I get high off of savings.  When I start flipping through those little coupon books and realize I have already save $3 and haven’t even started putting things in my basket, my heart rate starts rising (not in the “your Aunt Thelma has high blood pressure” kind of way, but rather in the “I just won the raffle prize” kind of way).  It’s like I am suddenly holding a 3 dollar bill in my hand, which makes me feel powerful, not because 3 dollar bills don’t exist, but because that was $3 that I got paid for no other reason than I picked up a little booklet of coupons and looked through it.  As I hand over the flimsy 2 by 2 paper cut-out to the cashier, I have this gratifying sensation that I just got something for nothing.   Basically, someone just gave me 65 cents to help me buy a jalapeno hummus that I was going to buy anyway.  I scour the aisles for sales (more savings!) – denoted by a bright orange sign – and grab those items off the shelves with extra spirit.  And I’m not too proud to say that yes, I wait for the sales and then buy several tubs/bags/cartons of that item.  Bam!  Just saved (or made) four dollars and 98 cents. And it’s not going to take me all that long to go through those 4 cartons of almond milk.

On Saturday evenings at my local store, the patrons seem to fall into three categories: 

The First: The market lovin’ foodie folks, coupons peeking out of their pockets, (hello, moi) taking the time to choose the perfect tomato, studying labels and relishing in a chocolate-covered coconut chunk they snuck from the bulk bin. (Yes, that would be me again).

The Second: Couples on a dinner-making date buying the ingredients for their meal – the older ones quibbling, the newer ones trying to be as agreeable as possible – “Um, sure!  I’m fine with any of the different types of pasta.  You choose!”.  We all know that’s not true.  I have been that person and found myself very disappointed with penne when what I really wanted were spirals – the naturally superior choice.

And the Third: The solo shopper, shoulders slightly hunched, staring blankly at the ice cream in the freezer section.  I have also been in category number three on nights when a Mint Galactica Coconut Bliss Ice Cream appears to have the utmost of potential to solve the world’s problems – or at least put them on pause for a moment.  Our current political turmoil immediately seems insignificant when ladling a scoop of Salted Caramel Chocolate Chunk directly onto your tongue.

I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t still have the occasional crazy Saturday night out smoking hookahs and going to a hard rock concert.  I do.  (Minus the hookah, and ok, exchange “hard rock” for “singer songwriter” at an intimate tavern on a quiet street in a quaint part of town.) But I have learned to find delight (or perhaps accept the delight that I naturally feel) in a simple evening of mingling with the miso paste at the community market. I am as comfortable in a grocery store surrounded by leeks, lemons and legumes as I am at home with my books, bed and bathtub.  When you feel connected to food, spending precious time with it feels less like a chore and more like a gift that offers both culture, entertainment and experiential learning – especially when you partake of as much “secret sampling” as I do.

Do you have a favorite grocery shopping experience?  Share in our comment section below.

To dig a little deeper, you may want to check out our Archived Webinars including Culinary Nutrition: from science to plate or The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen in the Members-Only section of our website.

Mary Purdy, MS, RDN, works at the Scientific Wellness company, Arivale, in Seattle, as Clinical Training Lead and Coach providing nutrition and lifestyle counseling to clients using personalized genetic data and functional labs to help them improve their health. Before that she was in private practice for 8 years. She was adjunct professor at Bastyr University for three years and spent five years as a clinical supervisor at their teaching clinic The Bastyr Center for Natural Health. She taught an online module on therapeutic diets with the IFNA Academy and has provided numerous webinars and workshops for nutrition professionals and the public. She has been interviewed on Seattle’s Public Radio and on local Seattle TV, and quoted in numerous magazines and websites including Prevention, Today’s Dietitian, Experience Life, and Natural Health. She has served on the DIFM board for several years as Communications Chair and is the Past President of the Greater Seattle Dietetic Association. She also co-authored the Diet Appendix for The Anti-Inflammatory Diet chapter for the 14th ed. of Krause’s Food & The Nutrition Care Process and is the host of the online web series and podcast, “Mary’s Nutrition Show.”

Featured DIFM Member: Rita Kashi Batheja, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND

Rita Kashi Batheja DIFM Member

Rita Kashi Batheja (left) and Sister Shivani, Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organization (right)

We are honored to highlight Rita Kashi Batheja as our Featured DIFM Member for August.  Passion for people drives Rita to provide personalized Integrative & Functional Medical Nutrition Therapy in her private practice in Baldwin Harbor, Long Island, NY. This nationally and internationally recognized RDN was instrumental in the formation of DIFM in 1998. Rita enjoyed serving on its Executive Committee (EC) since its inception by playing a key role as Nominating Committee Member, Member Services Chair, Reimbursement Chair, Public Policy Chair and Diversity Chair. Currently she serves as a Diversity Committee Member. She also initiated DIFM’s Standards of Practice and Standards of Professional Performance (SOP/SOPP) for Registered Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine.

How would you best describe what you do in a nutshell, including how you incorporate integrative and functional nutrition into your work?

Everyday is a different day for me. Every patient has been evaluated utilizing Integrative and Functional Medical Nutritional Therapy and the IFMNT Radial. I also lead patients to the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) website to look at the AAPI’s free ebooks on functional medicine and nutritional genomics.

Everybody has stress, so one priority is making patients feel at ease in whatever their belief is! As we all know almost everybody believes in integrative therapies, and I extend the conversation to let patients know about functional medicine, its principles and evidence-based practice.

What do you love most about integrative and functional nutrition?

I come from a country where Mahatma Gandhi was born. He believed in nonviolence, peace, yoga and Ayurveda. All these originated from India, and these are some of the modalities of integrative therapies. Spiritualism is rooted in me, and evidence-based practice of Western countries makes the best of East and West. I love to go to the root of the problem rather than treating symptoms. I love meeting like-minded clinicians around the world.  I always liked the supplement part of functional medicine and incorporate high quality supplements in my practice.

Where have you completed most of your training in integrative and functional nutrition?

As a member of DIFM DPG, I learn about integrative and functional nutrition from the state of the art listserv and newsletter. I also associate with registered dietitian nutritionists on DIFM’s executive committee. By volunteering for DIFM, I’ve made friends for life and what I’ve learned from them is unmatched. I shall continue to volunteer and learn from the younger generation, moving into social media with the speed of light.

I volunteered my time going the extra mile and throughout my journey met best practitioners, like Ruth DeBusk, PhD, RD, Dr. Jeffrey Bland, and Diana Noland, MPH, RDN, CCN, LD at various events, such as Food as Medicine, Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice (AFMCP), and the Integrative Healthcare Symposium (IHS).  I took a course on Ayurveda at Columbia University with Dr. Vasant Lad, Founder of Ayurvedic Institute from Albuquerque, NM, and then attended Dr. Deepak Chopra’s session in New York City.

I became a member of The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM) and listen to once a month grand rounds by experts from the Cleveland Clinic. Besides attending one or two webinars to increase my knowledge, I started to attend free summits by experts on a daily basis.

Rita Kashi Batheja DIFM Member

Rita Kashi Batheja (left) at AAPI with renowned yoga guru Baba Ramdev (center)

What advice would you give anyone interested in learning more about integrative and functional nutrition?

My advice for people is they cannot afford not to be a member of DIFM no matter what setting they work in! You need to be prepared to answer consumers when they ask you questions since we are considered nutrition experts who provide quality nutrition advice and protect the public. The IFMNT Radial says it all, and one needs to study it thoroughly and watch the video on DIFM’s home page. DIFM RDN’s have written five invaluable modules as an online training program, which are available from the Academy’s store.

Two of DIFM’s past chairs and one past EC member have come up with their own programs which are a good place to start: Susan Allen-Evenson’s Next Level Functional Nutrition and Sheila Dean’s and Kathie Swift’s IFNA program. Jaime Schehr, RDN, ND teaches a one day course in New York City, Long Island and Westchester, NY. You can also check on DIFM’s website in the resources section. The Asian Indians in Nutrition and Dietetics Member Interest Group (AIND MIG) of the Academy is offering almost all webinars on integrative and functional medicine topics at no cost. All Academy members are welcome to attend.

I always surround myself with chiropractors, naturopathic physicians, aromatherapists, kineseologists and massage therapists for their expertise. Keep an open mind, and it will be a very fulfilling experience.

Thank you for sharing a wealth of information with us, Rita!

Are you ready to join DIFM?  Learn more here.  Would you like to explore educational opportunities in integrative and functional nutrition?  Check out our free Functional Nutrition Tool Kit.

DIY Nut Butters

Nut Butters

Advantages of Making Your Own Nut Butters

Why take the time to make your own nut butter? Commercial nut butters often contain hydrogenated oils, added sugars/salt, and additives needed to enhance shelf-life and act as emulsifiers/stabilizers.  With the aid of a food processor, making your own nut butters is a quick and easy task.  When making your own nut butter at home, you have more control in regards to the ingredients (example: amount of added sugar/salt/oil, choice of flavorings, addition of heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids such as flaxseeds or flaxseed oil, etc.) and the source of nut (example: country of origin, organic nuts vs. non-organic nuts, single type or multiple types of nuts, etc.).

4 Easy Steps to Make Your Nut Butters

  1. Go Nuts!Select Your Nut: If you can locate them at your grocery store or food retailer, try using shelled green or raw nuts and roasting them for optimal flavor. Another way to experiment with flavors is to try making nut butters with one variety or a blend of nuts.  Because cashews are more expensive per pound, I love making peanut-cashew butter!
  2. The Toast: By toasting nuts in the oven, their natural, often buttery flavors are more enhanced. To toast, spread nuts evenly on an unlined baking sheet.  Roast on 400 degrees F for about 5 minutes.  Stir nuts halfway through cooking to ensure even baking.  Alternatively, you can toast your nuts on your stovetop.  To do so, pour nuts into skillet and place on stove.  Heat skillet over medium heat.  Spread nuts into single layer.  Toss nuts to make sure they are toasted and fragrant, approximately 5 minutes.
  3. Blend It Up: Using a food processor, blend your choice of toasted nuts and oil together! I recommend using canola oil since it is cost-effective, mild flavored, and helps give nut butters a desired smooth, shiny consistency.  How long you blend your nut butter for will depend on your texture preferences. Less blending will produce a chunkier nut butter, but more blending will give you a smoother, creamier nut butter.
  4. Nuts About Flavors: Got a sweet tooth? Need just a pinch of salt? Craving a spicy kick? You decide what and how much spices, dried herbs, natural extracts, added sugar, and/or salt to add to your nut butters.


  • 2 cups peanuts, unsalted, dry-roasted
  • ½ cup cocoa
  • ½-¾ cup powdered sugar*
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp canola oil

*Note: I like to use ½ cup of powdered sugar in this recipe for my family.  However, feel free to adjust based on taste preferences.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Spread peanuts in an even layer on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Roast peanuts about 5 minutes, stirring them halfway to toast evenly.  Pulse peanuts in a food processor until they create a paste. Scrape down the sides on the food processor.  Continue to pulse until peanuts reach desired creamy consistency.  Add cocoa, sugar, salt, and oil.  Process until well blended.  Stir down the sides on food processor again, if needed.

Honey Cashew-Peanut Butter

  • 2/3 cup cashews, unsalted, dry-roasted
  • 1/3 cup peanuts, unsalted, dry-roasted
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Pinch of chipotle chile pepper
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Spread cashews in a single layer on an ungreased baking sheet. Roast cashews for 5 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking time to toast evenly.  Once cooled, process cashews in food processor until ground.  Add honey and spices.  Continue to pulse till mixed.  Scrape down sides on food processor, if needed.  Add melted coconut oil and process until desired consistency is reached.

Do you make your own nut butters?  Share your favorite recipe in the comments below.  For more information on how to include more nuts in your diet, check out our blog post on 5 Tasty Ways to Get Your Daily Dose of Nuts.

Mary WhiteMary White, MS, RD, LD is a registered dietitian residing in Travelers Rest, SC.  She is currently a program guide at Children’s Museum of the Upstate.  Mary studied Food Science at Clemson University and proceeded to complete her dietetic internship at Texas A&M-Kingsville University.  Passionate about cooking and children’s programming, she loves working with kids and designing nutrition education programs integrating play and active learning strategies. In her spare time, Mary enjoys yoga, cooking, kayaking, and cuddling with her dog, Maggie.

4 Things to Know About the “New Gluten”: Lectins

legumes lectins

By now, most of us are aware of the growing trend of going gluten-free. More recently, a “lectin-free” diet is being promoted. This diet suggests that we should avoid whole grains, legumes, seeds, nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, etc.), out-of-season fruit, dairy and eggs. You may be thinking, “what can you eat?”. While some people truly need an avoidance diet for specific conditions, any diet that eliminates so many nutrient-rich foods should be critically and fully explored before jumping on the bandwagon.

Here are 4 things you should know about lectins:

1. Lectins are a type of protein, which exists in many different forms and have many different functions, both good and bad.

Lectins are a group of proteins that bind to carbohydrates and exist in most plants. They can have both beneficial and harmful effects. Lectins are naturally used by plants to protect themselves from predators and cause unpleasant symptoms to deter those predators. They also exist in the human body and function as a helpful member of our immune system. The harmful effects of lectins have been the focus of the lectin-free diet.

 2. Some lectins are toxic, such as in raw or undercooked kidney beans, but proper cooking reduces this toxicity significantly.

Many lectins in our diet are harmless because they are denatured during cooking... Click To Tweet

Many lectins in our diet are harmless because they are denatured during cooking and broken down by our digestive system. Eating raw or undercooked legumes (beans, lentils, etc.) can cause symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea, but when was the last time you had raw beans? The reason uncooked lectins are more dangerous is because they are very stable to proteases in the body. When cooked, they are more easily digested by these proteases. According to this study, most, if not all, lectins can be removed by boiling beans for 30 minutes. Soaking beans will also help remove lectins, but they should still be boiled for 30 minutes when cooking. Canned beans also have very low lectin levels due to the canning process.

Grains contain lectins, but we also boil our grains before eating them. Other ways to reduce lectin levels in foods include fermenting and sprouting – another great reason to eat those delicious probiotic-rich foods! Steaming and cooking vegetables also reduces lectin levels, if you are concerned about the lectin contents of these foods.


 3. Proponents of a “lectin-free” diet claim that lectins may cause digestive issues, leaky gut, bloating, nausea, gas and diarrhea, but the cited study (Peumans & Van Damme, 1995) only states that these effects occur in humans when consuming raw or undercooked beans.

First, these symptoms could be caused by a variety of reasons, not just lectins. Second, the research that this is based on is from 1995 and only mentions the harmful effects of lectins on human consumption only when consuming raw or undercooked beans. Another study states that foods with high concentrations of lectins, such as beans, cereal, grains, seeds, nuts and potatoes, could be harmful if consumed in excess if uncooked or improperly cooked. The effects of consumption include nutritional deficiencies due to their anti-nutrient properties and immune reactions. Again, this is regarding consumption in excess and of uncooked or improperly cooked foods.

 4. The majority of lectin studies have been conducted in isolated lectins rather than real food and on animals or in test tubes, not people.

In addition to this, research has also shown beneficial effects of lectins due to their antimicrobial, anticancer and immune system properties. A fair amount of research is currently showing that plant lectins may be a potential tool against cancers, especially digestive cancers. Because of this, it’s difficult to know how various types of lectins affect the human body after they are cooked and digested from real foods. Many of the high lectin foods, such as cereals and whole grain products, have also been shown to significantly reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, and help with long term weight management. These benefits of high lectin foods are better established than the effects of lectins after cooking in humans.

Conclusion –

While lectins do exist in many of the foods we eat and some do have toxic effects, most of these effects are eliminated by proper cooking and are safe for consumption in normal amounts. Legumes and whole grains are rich sources of B vitamins, iron and fiber while vegetables and fruits are powerhouses for a wide variety of micronutrients. Although avoidance diets may be necessary for some people with specific conditions, they may not be the best for the general public. If you are seriously considering an avoidance diet, it’s always best to consult with a Registered Dietitian to avoid any nutrient deficiencies, which could cause a multitude of other problems.


What are your thoughts on the rise of lectin-free diets?  Please share in the comments below.

Anna Pashkova, ACSM EP-C is a medical dietetics student in the coordinated master’s degree program at The Ohio State University. Anna earned her bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science at Gardner-Webb University where she also played volleyball and found her passion for food and nutrition. Her interests include plant-based nutrition, using food as medicine, nutrigenomics and food sustainability. In her free time, Anna enjoys trying new recipes and local food restaurants, practicing yoga, playing volleyball and finding the best local coffee shops in every town.

Nutrition for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome


Myalgic Encephalomyelitis / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS) affects millions of Americans and has devastating symptoms. However, it is poorly understood, and effective treatments have not been established. Despite this, there is good news on the horizon. Research is elucidating several of the underlying pathologies, including dysfunctions of the mitochondria, the intestinal barrier, the gut microbiome, and the immune system. Based on this research, it is clear that ME/CFS is a complex disease that requires a multifaceted treatment approach, and there are a variety of nutrition interventions that may be useful for improving care.

What is ME/CFS?

ME/CFS is found in all ages and demographics. It affects many systems of the body and has a wide range of symptoms. It is commonly triggered by a bacterial, viral, or parasitic infection. Other possible triggers include chemical exposure, physical trauma, and psychological trauma, although sometimes there is no apparent trigger.

According to the Canadian Consensus Criteria, a diagnosis can be made based on four primary symptoms:

  • Debilitating fatigue that is not explained by other factors, and lasts for at least six months.
  • Post-exertional malaise and fatigue after any type of exertion, whether mental or physical.
  • Sleep dysfunction, unrefreshing sleep.
  • Pain such as muscle pain, joint pain, and headaches,

as well as:

  • Cognitive/neurological dysfunction
  • Autonomic nervous system dysfunction
  • Neuroendocrine dysfunction
  • Immune dysfunction

Underlying Pathologies

Research is currently focused on three major areas of underlying dysfunction: mitochondrial, gastrointestinal, and immunological. Let’s take a closer look at each.

Mitochondrial dysfunction

  • The inability of the mitochondria to produce energy is key to the fatigue seen in ME/CFS. Research has shown that ME/CFS patients have metabolic abnormalities that are associated with a hypometabolic state, impaired glycolysis, and increased oxidative and nitrosative stress. Specific biomarkers of mitochondrial dysfunction include altered levels of CoQ10, NAD, L-carnitine, amino acid metabolites, phospholipids, and lactate. However, there is not one universal metabolic biomarker for the disease.

Gastrointestinal dysfunction

Immune dysfunction

  • Immune system dysregulation involves both under- and over-activation. The immune patterns are not specific to ME/CFS, but key features include flu-like symptoms, an imbalance of Th1 and Th2 immunity, low natural killer cells, changes to cytokine activation, elevated viral antibodies, and elevated autoantibodies.

Nutrition Interventions

There is currently no established treatment for ME/CFS, and efforts to find treatments have not been successful. Thus, current care is focused on management of symptoms. However, research suggests several targets for nutritional interventions, as follows:

Address overall diet and nutritional deficiencies.

  • It may be impossible for patients to access, prepare, or even eat food. Therefore, patient and caregivers may need guidance on accessible food options.
  • Due to poor overall diet quality, increased needs, and/or malabsorption due to GI disorders, a multivitamin and other supplements may be warranted. Possible recommendations include nutrients involved in mitochondrial and immune function such as B vitamins, selenium, zinc, and magnesium. Some studies have shown that CoQ10 and NADH may help improve symptoms. When adding supplements, it is recommended to “start low, and go slow”.

Improve gut health and reduce oxidative stress.

  • A 2008 study found that improving the mucosal gut barrier and reducing oxidative stress reduced symptoms of ME/CFS. For 10-14 months, participants were put on a “leaky gut diet” that was dairy-free, gluten-free, and low-carb. They also took antioxidant substances such as L-carnitine, CoQ10, lipoic acid, and N-acetyl cysteine, as well as substances to support the gut barrier, such as glutamine. Twenty-four out of 41 patients showed either significant improvement or remission, with better results in those who were younger and who had had the disease for a shorter period of time. Improvements in symptoms were paralleled by improved markers of gut barrier function and inflammation.

Support mitochondrial function.

  • A study published in 2013 showed promising results from a protocol focused on supporting mitochondrial function. The protocol includes eating a paleo-inspired diet, getting adequate sleep, taking selected nutritional supplements, and balancing activity and rest. This was a study of patients at a private practice, and not a strictly controlled trial. Yet, they found that all 30 patients who followed the protocol significantly improved in both symptoms and mitochondrial markers, and these 30 patients were some of the more severely ill ones.

Moving Forward

There is a need for more research into ME/CFS, as well as a need for a shift in focus. It is straightforward to study one mechanism or nutrient at a time, but it is impossible to do randomized, controlled trials of treatments that are multifaceted and individualized. Yet, this is exactly what complex chronic diseases require.

The successful interventions mentioned above are linked by their comprehensive approach – they address diet, supplements, and lifestyle, they are tailored to the patient, and they last a year or more. Nutritional approaches like these are powerful because they can address the root causes of disease, even if the causes are not clearly understood. Treatments that consider the many features and pathologies of ME/CFS as part of an integrated system hold the most promise for improving care.


What nutritional interventions have worked best in the care of your clients with ME/CFS? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Ready to learn more about integrative and functional nutrition? Check out the Certificate of Training Program in Integrative and Functional Nutrition.

Janie JacobyJanie Jacoby is a graduate student in Nutrition and Dietetics at Colorado State University. She is passionate about functional and integrative medicine, and is founder and president of the CSU student organization Holistic Health Alliance. She also works for the CSU Extension Office, where she writes and develops nutrition education materials. When not working, Janie can often be found concocting something in the kitchen, practicing yoga, or hiking and camping in beautiful Colorado. Her sporadic blog posts can be found at

10 Ways Dietitians Can Get Involved in Policy and Advocacy (Infographic)

As a dietitian, have you ever wondered how you can get more involved in policy and advocacy to support important nutrition and health issues?  Check out this list of practical ways that you can take meaningful action on those matters on the local, state, and national levels!

10 Ways Dietitians Can Get Involved in Policy and Advocacy

10 Ways Dietitians Can Get Involved in Policy and Advocacy [Infographic]

  1.  Read!

    • Examples: read the news; sign up for newsletters with relevant organizations
    • Pros: be informed about issues that could affect you, your business and your clients
  2. Write!

  3. Speak!

    • Examples: participate in action alerts; share on social media; tell your friends!
    • Pros: help raise awareness and build support for issues that matter to you and the profession
  4. Volunteer with an existing program in your community (local)

    • Examples: food bank, food pantry, or soup kitchen; farmer’s market SNAP program; gleaning program; schools; civic organizations
    • Pros: learn about what’s happening at the local level; network; help others
  5. Start a new program in your community (local)

    • Examples: community garden or school garden; gleaning program; grocery store tours; cooking classes
    • Pros: create greater access to and knowledge of food and nutrition; build leadership skills; increase access to healthy foods
  6. Join a board or political organization (local, state)

    • Examples: school board; government board or committee (i.e. board of public health); non-profit; neighborhood association; health or nutrition coalition
    • Pros: Networking; professional development
  7. Get Involved (local, state, national)

    • Examples: attend a town meeting, public hearing, or advocacy day; volunteer on a campaign; provide expert commentary or testimony
    • Pros: Learn about important issues that affect you, your business and your clients; learn about the political system and how you can make an impact
  8. Meet your officials (local, state, national)

    • Examples: schedule a visit with your local, state or federal legislators; host a site visit for government officials; offer to assist with researching or drafting policy
    • Pros: Increase awareness of and advocate for the profession and your role or business
  9. Start a movement (local, state, national)

    • Examples: start a petition; organize for a cause
    • Pros: advocate for issues you care about; build leadership skills
  10. Be the Change (local, state, national)

    • Examples: run for a government office or position; propose a new policy (see for model policies); offer to serve as an expert for your local government on nutrition-related issues
    • Pros: professional development; make a direct impact

Ready to take action now?  Go to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Advocacy: Action Center at and take action on the legislative alerts with just a few simple clicks! Watch and share our video below to help others learn how to get more involved in policy and advocacy, too! We’d love to hear how you are or how you plan to get involved in policy and advocacy, so please leave us a comment below!

Thank you, Christine Benson – DIFM Policy Advocacy Committee Member, for creating this helpful list!

Chris BensonChristine Benson completed her Bachelor of Science in Nutritional Sciences from California State University Los Angeles in 2015. She is currently a graduate student and dietetic intern at the University of Washington completing a Masters in Public Health Nutrition. Christine is also working with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on topics including the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the School Food Modernization Act and Healthy People 2030.

Featured DIFM Member: Kendra Tolbert MS, RDN, CDN, CLC

We are so excited to launch our monthly Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Nutrition Featured Member series.  Our featured member for July is Kendra Tolbert MS, RDN, CDN, CLC.  Kendra is a registered dietitian, certified aromatherapist, and certified lactation counselor specializing in women’s health. Her website, Live Fertile, is packed with fertility, pregnancy, and women’s health and wellness information. She currently lives in Alexandria, VA where she can usually be found taking a yoga or belly dance class.

How would you best describe what you do in a nutshell, including how you incorporate integrative and functional nutrition into your work?

I meet with women virtually to improve their reproductive health. We focus on blood sugar balance, eating healthy fats (so important for our hormones), and getting in those shortfall nutrients.

I also write about women’s health, nutrition and aromatherapy for my own blog and other sites.

So often, I think folks believe integrative and functional nutrition is all about using using herbs and supplements. While they certainly have a place, a high quality anti-inflammatory eating pattern, simple stress management techniques, good sleep hygiene, and enjoyable movement are the true foundation of integrative nutrition and medicine. And that’s what I focus on with clients and in my writing. 

What do you love most about integrative and functional nutrition?

I love that integrative and functional nutrition empowers people to take good care of themselves... Click To TweetI love that integrative and functional nutrition empowers people to take good care of themselves and gets to the root of health concerns. Integrative practitioners equip clients with information and tools they can use for the rest of their lives to not just manage symptoms, but to actually achieve optimal health.

Where have you completed most of your training in integrative and functional nutrition?

Most of my training has come from self study (PubMed and books are my best friends), continuing ed through DIFM and Dietitian Central, Susan Allen’s Foundation course, The Herbal Academy’s Herbalism courses, The Integrative Women’s Health Institute, and The New York Institute of Aromatherapy.

What advice would you give anyone interested in learning more about integrative and functional nutrition?

Join DIFM. Seriously, it’s the best place to start. The listserv gives you access to some of the best and brightest in the field who are happy to answer your questions and share resources. And the webinars and newsletters are full of valuable information.

I would also say, don’t be afraid to venture outside of the RD world for training. Yes, you still want to make sure what you’re learning is evidence based, but some of the best teachers I’ve ever had were herbalists, aromatherapists, functional physical therapists, and MDs who really know their stuff.

Thank you for sharing your insights and inspiration with us, Kendra!  

Are you ready to join DIFM?  Learn more here.  Would you like to explore educational opportunities in integrative and functional nutrition?  Check out our free Functional Nutrition Tool Kit.