Keep Your Immune System in Peak Condition

by: Pamela Ballard

immune system

The Great Defender: that's our immune system, uniquely designed to keep us healthy and defend against illness and infection. Made up of organs, including the skin, lungs, and gut, as well as specialized cells, the immune system's job is to remain on alert for disease-causing invaders and to protect our body against them.

Our immune system's first responders are white blood cells (WBC) that are alerted to the presence of an invader. Some WBCs seek and destroy invaders while others have a cellular memory that enables the body to remember and recognize previous invaders and help destroy them. For example, if you get chickenpox, your body develops immunity to the bacteria; if you're exposed to chickenpox again, you won't contract it.

Sometimes the cellular communication goes haywire and the immune system starts attacking healthy cells in the body. This is called an autoimmune response; it can lead to autoimmune disease of which there are many types, such as Hashimoto's. There are also conditions, such as Selective IgA Deficiency, in which some part of the immune response is lacking or not functioning properly.

Each of our immune systems is as unique as our individual family health history, our lifestyles, and the environmental conditions with which we live. Some folks seem to never get sick, while others catch every bug going around. The strength of the immune system also changes as we age. Because the immune system is our greatest defender against disease, it's critical that we keep it strong, healthy and balanced.


Holistic Ways to Boost Immunity

Get Your Zz's. Sleep regenerates the entire body. Research shows that restful and regular sleep generates the hormones that help fight infection, whereas insufficient / poor quality sleep makes us prone to infection and prolongs recovery from illness.

De-stress. Persistent stress raises the level of a hormone called cortisol in the bloodstream. Over time, this creates a cascade of physiological events that result in weakened immunity. Take time out with meditation, yoga, exercise, or some good nature therapy-a walk in nature.

Say No to Sugar. A diet high in sugar interferes with optimal immune system function. Limit your intake of all sweets. Choose organic, dark chocolate if you need to satisfy the sweet tooth.

Crazy 'bout Shrooms. With 38,000 varieties, you're bound to find a mushroom you like! They're versatile in cooking, full of nutrients, and contain compounds that research shows are important to building a strong immune system. Make mushrooms a part of your whole foods diet


The Nutritional Benefits of Mushrooms


nutrition fort collins

Throughout history mushrooms have been regarded as magical and mysterious, a delicacy, and deadly. Foragers put their lives on the line when hunting fungi for medicinal and culinary use. Even today, foraging for wild mushrooms should be done with an expert mycologist by your side! Fortunately, at most local grocery stores you will find a tasty selection of mushrooms that are safe to eat.

Edible mushrooms offer many nutritional benefits including protein, vitamin D, potassium and other minerals, and antioxidants. Mushrooms contain compounds called polysaccharides that promote the healthy function of the immune system.

Many mushrooms have to be foraged by hand, while others can be harvested like a small crop. This results in a difference in price. You may want to occasionally splurge for these varieties of fabulous fungi:

Truffle, crown jewel of mushrooms, is one of the most expensive foods in the world. Trained dogs are required to sniff out truffles from beneath the roots of chestnut and hazel trees. Truffles are used in exotic dishes, side dishes, soups, and dips.

Maitake is a late summer and autumn fungi found at the foot of oak trees, and best harvested when young and tender to retain their flavor. These are wonderful for soups, sauces, and breads.

Chanterelle mushrooms are unmistakable with their cheery yellow-gold coloring. This mushroom has a woodsy, apricot flavor. Found only in the wild, chanterelle's live in a symbiotic partnership with its host tree, allowing it to store nutrients it could not acquire on its own. Chanterelle's pair nicely with eggs and over rice/other grains.

Crimini ("baby bella") and porcini mushrooms have mild flavors and medium texture. Less expensive than the others, these can be used in a variety of recipes, from breads and muffins to sauces and stews.

Mushroom selection and storage can vary by type. Generally, mushrooms should be tender but firm to touch, not wet or gummy. Organic is best. Store mushrooms in the fridge in a ventilated package to keep moisture out. Most mushrooms should be used within a week.

Food For Thought...

Organic Wild Mushroom Risotto

fort collins nutritionist

Traditionally an Autumn favorite, wild mushroom risotto can be enjoyed year-round. It's an excellent meal on its own or can accompany a variety of entrees. Use organic mushrooms and brown rice for added health benefit. Be careful not to over season with butter or salt, as the white wine, stock, and garlic will draw out the rich flavor of the mushrooms.

1 tbsp Dried Porcini Mushrooms *(feel free to use a mix: Cremini, Portobello, Shiitake) 
2 tbsp olive oil
1 Onion Chopped
2 Garlic Cloves Finely chopped
15 tbsp Chestnut Mushrooms Sliced
1.5 cups Organic Brown Rice
2/3 ml Dry white wine
4 cups Hot vegetable stock
2 tbsp Fresh Parsley Chopped
1.5 tbsp Butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh Parmesan Grated, to serve


1. Soak the mushrooms in hot water for 10 minutes.*

2. Once soaked, drain the mushrooms well.

3. Gently heat the oil in a large pan, and add the onion and garlic.

4. Fry for 3 minutes or until the onions are softened.

5. Add the chestnut mushrooms and fry for a further 3 minutes, until browned.

6. Once browned, stir in the rice.

7. Add the wine on a gentle heat, constantly stirring until the liquid has been absorbed.

8. Allow the mixture to simmer, and slowly ladle in some of the hot stock while stirring until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is plump.

9. Chop the porcini mushrooms.

10. Add the mushrooms along with the parsley, butter, salt and pepper to the risotto mixture. Shave some Parmesan over the top and serve.

* If using fresh mushrooms, in Step 1, chop and saute in olive oil until nicely browned, remove from heat and set aside. Add the mushrooms in Step 10, once the liquid has been absorbed from the risotto.


Medicinal Mushroom Blend

For thousands of years, practitioners of Eastern Medicine, Native Americans and indigenous cultures have used specific mushrooms for their health benefits. These fungi are often referred to as medicinal mushrooms and like all fungi, contain compounds called beta glucans within their cell walls. Beta glucans provide support for the immune system by activating killer T-cell response to invaders in the body. Other facets of this powerful medicine include anti-cancer properties, antioxidant activity, cardiovascular support (anti-hypertensive and cholesterol-lowering), liver protective, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, and anti-viral and anti-microbial properties.

Mushrooms work synergistically, so a variety is usually blended to provide support to the immune system and natural detoxification. These blends are available in a variety of forms, such as powders, capsules and tinctures. Types of mushrooms you may find in a medicinal blend include:

Cordyceps is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for immune support and to replenish energy. Cordyceps extract is considered the highest class of tonic herbs for balancing the body's internal systems (Yin and Yang energy).

Lion's Mane tea has been used in Japanese herbalism; research indicates extracts may protect and support the immune system and play a role in stimulating nerve growth.

Maitake is used in Japanese medicine for supporting immune health and is noted for its antiviral effects. It contains a variety of beta glucans, minerals, and amino acids.

Shiitake supports the health of the liver and the immune system. It contains lentinan, an active compound associated with a healthy immune response. Shiitake also contains minerals, vitamins, and many essential amino acids.

Reishi, "the mushroom of immortality" is used in both TCM and Japanese medicine as a daily tonic for boosting immunity and protecting against cancer and inflammation. Reishi is not a culinary mushroom because of its tough texture, which makes it difficult to chew.


holistic nutritionist fort collins

For centuries, Astragalus root has been used to strengthen the blood and spleen and - over time - help maintain the strength of the immune system, building resistance to illness and disease.

While clinical research on Astragalus is in the early stages, researchers are currently examining how it may help prevent the common cold and also be useful as a complementary treatment during chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immune deficiency syndromes. Meanwhile, laboratory studies and a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine and botanical medicine indicate how Astragalus may help fortify the immune system: 
Astragalus contains polysaccharides, which enhance the ability of white blood cells (instrumental in immune function) to eliminate foreign substances from the body. 
Saponins found in Astragalus are known to protect the liver and stimulate the release of cytokines, chemical messengers in the immune system. 
With its antioxidant properties, Astragalus facilitates the breakdown of free radicals, thus reducing free radical damage in the blood system. 
Astragalus supports the liver, which plays an important role in detoxification. 

Astragalus is native to the temperate areas of the Northern hemisphere. It takes a full two years of growth before the plant develops roots sufficient for harvesting their medicinal properties. Supplements are available in capsule, liquid, tincture, injectable, and extract. This herb is commonly used in combination with other botanicals. It may also interact with other medicines, including herbal medicines. Your holistic health practitioner can determine the best way to take Astragalus to support your health and well being. 

Can the Tunes boost Your Immunity?

You don't have to be a neuroscientist to recognize that music has an effect on your mood. Music evokes memory, inspires creativity, alleviates boredom, lifts spirits, and enhances motivation during a workout. But can listening to music boost your physical health and, in particular, your immune system?  The answer appears to be a resounding yes.

For decades, scientists have been exploring the power of music from various angles: How does music affect everyday tasks? Does music influence states of arousal? Can music alter the response to stressors? Does music improve depression and anxiety? Can music improve recovery from surgery? Does type of music make a difference?

One of the largest studies determined that music has an impact on social bonding and management of mood; additionally there appears to be a unique relationship between stress, music, and immunity. It goes like this: frequent stress raises the level of the hormone cortisol in the bloodstream; too much cortisol deteriorates the immune response, making us more prone to illness and certain chronic diseases. Listening to our favorite "uplifting music" calms the mind and body enough to lower levels of cortisol and raise the levels of antibodies associated with fighting infection.

Because musical preference is such a personal matter, it's difficult to study all the different styles and the impact on individuals. However, we can do our own research: experiment with the types of music you're listening to and record the results. Before and after listening, measure your heart rate or blood pressure and keep a journal of your mood.

Researchers are examining the healing effects of music composed specifically in tune with physiological measures and brain wave patterns. If you have specific health concerns, consider having a music therapist design a customized program for you. Ask your natural medicine practitioner for a referral.


6 steps for becoming alkaline

by: Pamela Ballard
Your pH says a lot about the state of your health.  pH stands for power of hydrogen, which is a measurement of the hydrogen ion concentration in the body.  The total pH scale ranges from 1 to 14, with 7 considered to be neutral.  A pH less than 7 is said to be acidic and solutions with a pH greater than 7 are basic or alkaline.  Our ideal pH is slightly alkaline, 7.30 to 7.45.

The symptoms of an overly acidic body are weight gain, decreased energy, inflammation, increased toxins, mental fog, heartburn, digestive issues, acid reflux/GERD, cancer, gingivitis and osteoporosis.  When we maintain proper pH levels, injuries heal faster and health challenges improve more quickly.

The Standard American Diet is an overly processed diet full of acid-forming foods such as "polluted" meat, pasteurized dairy, genetically-modified modern wheat, foods with chemicals, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, sugar and non organic foods full of pesticides.

Stress is also a huge contributing factor to having an overly acidic condition. 

Do you have any of the above symptoms or health concerns?

6 Steps for Becoming Alkaline:

The goal is to get your morning urine pH between 6.5 and 7.5.  You may be surprised to find that some of your favorite foods are actually acid-producing and the ones you think are acidic really aren't.  Additionally, your pH will vary depending on the time of day, what you ate or drank the day before and even your stress levels.

1. Pump up your produce intake.
2. Ban bread.
3. Chuck the condiments.
4. Boost your beans and seeds.
5. Get rid of artificial sweeteners.
6. Reduce alcohol, dairy (cheese too) and coffee.

Give it a try for just one week and see if you feel any shifts in your health and energy levels.  Contact Pamela via EMAIL or (303) 378-2689 for a consultation and help with your diet today!


Playing Safe in the Outdoors

Warmer temperatures, stronger sunshine, water sports, mountain play and more is upon us and it's important to be prepared as the temperatures shift and we start acclimating to the new environment.  Below are some tips to keep you on the pleasant road during all of your outdoor excursions:

Stay fully hydrated. Hydration is one of the most important elements of optimal performance and reaching fitness and lifestyle goals.  Thirst normally doesn’t show as a symptom of hydration until the body is already significantly dehydrated.

  • Pre-exercise:  Have at least 8oz of water within 30 minutes before your ride to start off well hydrated.

  • During: Take in approximately 16-24oz of water an hour (more or less for sweating).  Aim to take sips frequently! Try not to take large gulps, as it is harder for your body to absorb. Shoot for approximately a 6-8% dilute carbohydrate and water solution to maximize absorption rates.

  • Post-exercise:  Drink a minimum of 8oz of water afterwards to aid in proper recovery. If water weight was lost post-exercise, replace with equivalent oz of water (1lb = 16 oz) over time (remember larger quantities are harder to absorb).

Eat for success. Another essential component to optimal performance is your nutritional status.  It is important to eat before, during and after exercise to ensure physical capacity and recovery. 

  • Pre-exercise: Eat a normal meal 2-3 hours pre-activity.  Approximately 30 minutes before your excursion have a small carbohydrate rich snack to slightly increase blood glucose to preserve your muscular glycogen (energy) stores for later in your activity.

  • During Exercise: Have approximately 150-300 calories of carbohydrate/hr (1g carb = 4 calories) while exercising after your first hour (remember some of this is coming from your drink).

  • Post Exercise: Eat carbohydrates and proteins after your outdoor play.  It is important to have both for maximal recovery and replacement of muscle glycogen.

Protect your skin and eyes. Your skin is the largest organ of the body and protects your from microbial attacks at every given moment. Your eyes are the portal between you and perceiving the world around you in a visual nature. It is vital to protect these two organs to ensure longevity, avoid unnecessary cancers and surgeries, and enjoy the rest of your day and week without potentially serious pain.

  • Wear SPF 15 at minimum.  There are many commercial and organic options out there. Find one you and your skin love and lather up frequently. If you are into water or sweaty sports, look for one that holds up to fluids and remember to reapply after toweling off or wiping the sweat down. 

  • Wear a hat and or sunglasses at high hours of the day. Consider a pair of sunglasses that has some sort of filtration for harmful rays, especially if you plan on spending time on the water.

Avoid overexposure to the sun. The sun can lead to horrible illness and even death in the forms of heat cramps, heat stroke, heat exhaustion,  and heat rash outside of the traditional sunburn. 

  • Recognize the signs and symptoms and seek medical attention if necessary. Always enjoy shade when possible if you are out in the sun for long periods of time to decrease body temperature and especially if you experience any of the following symptoms.

  • Heat Rash: Pink or red rash usually found where the body is covered with clothing. This is usually caused by blocked sweat ducts and should be watched for progressing infection.

  • Heat Cramps: Painful, involuntary muscle spasms or cramps associated with exercising in the heat. Cease activity immediately until the cramping stops and do not resume for hours after relief if possible. Drink fluids containing a balance of electrolytes. Once the cramps stop, you can use gentle massage and stretching to relieve and flush the area. If they do not stop, see a doctor immediately.

  • Heat Exhaustion: Excessive thirst, confusion, dizziness, weakness, muscle cramps or spasms, nausea, vomiting, pale skin, rapid pulse, and/or loss of consciousness. Remove oneself from the heat as soon as possible, remove tight clothing, drink cool fluids, apply cool liquids via shower or towels and rest. If symptoms do not cease, see a doctor immediately.

  • Heat Stroke: Body temperature reaches 104 degrees or higher. Symptoms appear first as heat exhaustion, but can shift to dry skin that feels hot to the touch, rapid breathing and death. It is important to get to an emergency department as soon as possible so organ damage does not occur and death is prevented.

Good luck and enjoy your outdoor activities! Please leave your questions and comments below or feel free to contact me directly via or our Contact page!

Vegan Cooking Recipe

vegan chocolate mousse

Ever get stressed when you know your vegan (or egg and dairy free) family member, friend, etc is coming over for dinner and dessert or wonder how to cut out a LOT of calories from one of the classics-chocolate mousse? Make it vegan and you'll cut out the worry and less than half of the calories from cutting out all of that milk fat! I've tested this recipe out on the most pro-animal product individuals I know, including some southern bred-Texans and not one person was able to guess it was a vegan recipe. 
     1 Package Silken (Or Soft) Tofu
    1.5 cups Dark (or your choice) Chocolate Chips
    1/2-1 cup Almond Milk (Or that of your choice)
    1-2 Tbsp Vanilla Extract
    1-2 Tbsp Almond Extract (Kahlua? Amaretto?)

Mixing Instructions:
    1 - Drain the tofu and place in blender
    2- Melt chocolate chips with a double boiler and add almond milk until smooth and    
    3- Pour chocolate concoction into the blender
    4- Add extracts to taste
    5- Blend and Aerate until silky smooth
    6- Refrigerate until set - either in the blender or in desired serving dishes; 1-3 hours
    7- Serve and enjoy!

Serving suggestions: 
    1 - Add some of your favorite fresh fruit and/or a sprig of mint for garnish!
    2 - For a bigger group, double the recipe!
    3 - Before refrigerating pour into your favorite crust (nut and coconut crusts are
         delicious to make this gluten free!)
    4 - Layer with fruit or cake for a parfait - gorgeous and delicious!

If you're still a little unsure, in the words of Dale Carnegie, "Take a chance! All life is a chance.  The man who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare." Enjoy take a leap into the world of vegan cooking and enjoy the decadence!

The Sweet and the Sour of Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial Sweeteners

Recently there has been some controversy around the addition of artificial sweeteners to our milk products as well as the removal of labeling calling milk "reduced calorie".  All the hub-bub and controversy falls around the International Diary Foods Association (IDFA) and the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) filing a petition with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to amend the current regulations in order to allow the use of non-nutritive sweeteners, including aspartame, and the removal of "reduced calorie" labels so milk will be more appealing to the market.

What do you think about this? 

From the industry standpoint, the desire to use non-nutritive sweeteners is appealing because they are lower in cost, they minimize additional caloric intake and there have been some studies to cite their addictive nature.  The removal of the "reduced calorie" labeling further supports their bottom line to increase sales, as their argument is that something with the above label makes those items less desirable to young children, whom are their target consumers.

From a consumer standpoint, this is an outrageous request. It seems to promote teaching our kids to choose things that are further from the pure food source (what mother nature gave us to consume) and that sweeter is better, especially when it has less calories than the real food (plain sugar).  Due to this, it could also would limit the discrimination and self-control we need to be teaching our kids from day one and create additions to fake food, which in turn increases health risks such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and overall poor-self esteem and depression. 

Take a look at these statistics from Harvard's leading Health Blog:

"Participants in the San Antonio Heart Study who drank more than 21 diet drinks per week were twice as likely to become overweight or obese as people who didn’t drink diet soda."

" In the Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, daily consumption of diet drinks was associated with a 36% greater risk for metabolic syndrome and a 67% increased risk for type 2 diabetes."

"In studies of rats who were exposed to cocaine, then given a choice between intravenous cocaine or oral saccharine, most chose saccharin."

You read those quotations correctly. The use of non-nutritive sweeteners to make your food lower calorie actually can be tied to the increase of the same diseases that the industry is claiming to try to avoid. Plus, highly illegal substances (cocaine) are shown to be less addictive than one of the non-nutritive sweeteners they are petitioning to be able to use, saccharin. The chemical release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters promoted by the fake sugars create a mini-high in the body (note, real food does this too but gives us the calories to stay satiated and not need to grab another dose). The more we are exposed to that high, the more we want it to continue. The more we give in to that want, the higher the potential caloric intake. 

What ever happened to farm-to-table and the idea of giving our kids real food? Why the need to add on additional ingredients and make things more appealing? The more we alter the sources, the more confused our physiological responses will be because we literally are changing the feedback loops in our bodies to enhance the temporary "high" of a fake substance. If they wanted to add cocaine back into substances, would there even be a debate? I didn't even start to brush the number of countries that have these substances banned for the health of their people due to animal studies linking theses substances to certain cancers...we'll save that for another time.

All in all, this makes me believe that the dairy industry is hurting and in order to boost and save profits the IDFA and NMPF wish to be able to use cheaper resources and get their market literally addicted to their products. 

I think I'll go have a glass of water.

Yoga for Your Plate: Mindful Eating

by: Pamela Ballard

*adapted from  Ballard Nutrition Blog

Fort Collins Nutritionist

The race is on: Cooking, cleaning, hosting, visiting, and tackling a holiday shopping list that is growing faster than last summer's weeds. Before you know it, the table is set and you're serving the holiday meal. This year, though, is going to be different--you're going to sit down and savor the abundance of flavors and the good company at your table. 

The art of Mindful Eating, with roots in Zen teachings, aims to reconnect you more deeply with the experience of eating and drinking. It's the process of deliberately paying attention to what is happening both within yourself and in your environment during mealtime. When you eat mindfully, you are in tune with where your food came from and with the aroma, taste, and texture of food. You become much more aware of your appetite - just how hungry are you? And, you become more sensitive to the feeling of fullness, so you'll be less likely to overeat. Mindful eating brings enjoyment back to mealtime.


1. Pause & Connect. 
After you give thanks for your meal, but before you pick up your fork, take a moment to connect with your appetite. How hungry do you feel? Of all the glorious food on the table before you, what are you truly hungry for? What flavors will nourish you and replenish your energy? Try not to choose foods out of habit. Fill your plate first with the foods your body is saying it most needs. Then, embellish your plate with smaller amounts of those traditional holiday favorites. 

2. Clear Digital Distractions. 
Although it's less likely at holiday time when family and friends gather from near and far, it's easy to forget to turn off the digital devices that are such a huge part of our lives. Sure, someone will complain about missing a "key play" in the big game, but what's more important? Everyone at your table should be in the moment for the main part of the meal and free of distraction. 

3. Take Bites, Not Gulps. 
Instead of shoveling food into your mouth, take smaller bites and focus on chewing and tasting it. Digestion begins with the act of chewing. Salivary enzymes break down food the moment it enters your mouth. Your taste buds awaken to flavors as you chew. Pause between bites to set your utensils down and breathe. 

4. Engage All the Senses. 
The taste of food is just one way to appreciate it. Throughout your meal, notice how food smells and how it looks on the plate. Notice the colors and the textures. Consider the nutrients that the food will provide for you. Appreciate every aspect of eating (and celebrating) the holiday meal. 

5. Be a Nonjudgmental Diner. Being a nonjudgmental diner is about paying attention to your needs for nourishment and not the person's next to you. And if you feel yourself on the verge of overindulgence, make it a conscious choice. Choose your favorite holiday treat and bring a focused awareness to eating it. Almost certainly, you'll so enjoy and be satisfied by that first piece of pie, you won't feel the urge for seconds.

Contact Pam to set up your consult today if you have questions or need a little guidance!