Friday, December 30, 2011

What to drink.......

New Year's Eve is a holiday for drinking it seems, but what should you or shouldn't indulge in?  There's no problem in toasting with some champagne, but there are many other choices to make as well.   Drinking too much alcohol means you'll likely be feeling less than optimal on New Year's Day.  So minimize the alcohol and try some other choices.

Red wine is the one "healthy" choice you can make as far as the alcohol goes.   The antioxidants in red wine are linked to heart health benefits, reduced stress, and even preserving memory.  One to two glasses is plenty.  Better yet, mix a little red wine with some sparkling water for a bubbly mixture perfect for New Year's Eve!

Another idea for mixing with sparkling water is some cranberry or other juice.  Buy the unsweetened version and add just enough for color and flavor.  Mix and match for color and fun!  Depending on the juice you buy, you can have anti-oxidant benefits and the benefits of the fruit's vitamins.  Cranberry juice is great for the urinary system, carrots for vitamin A, lemons for vitamin C....the list goes on.

Make plain, filtered tap water your go to as a fill-in throughout the day and night - try to get in 4-5 glasses.  Flavored sparkling waters are always my beverage of choice as a special treat.  Have different flavors on hand just to try a different one and match up the flavor with a frozen fruit as garnish in the drink.  Try raspberry flavored water and sprinkle in a couple of frozen raspberries.  Or, lemon/lime flavored with a lime wedge.

It's not as hard as we think to enjoy a healthy New Year's celebration!  Check last week's post for advice on healthy eating as well!  Happy New Year and New You!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


One good way to approach New Year resolutions is to utilize visioning.  Visioning is a technique that in action can vary greatly, but in principle is the same - "what is it you want to feel and know within when you reach your future?"  Trying to will ourselves into a goal or a future by simply assuming that goal will make us happier and healthier, is missing a very important aspect of success - your heart and soul - the deep emotions that govern our lives.

Without your heart and soul behind your push toward the future, you won't get there.  Will power isn't enough.  The explanation behind this "heart and soul" concept is really the brain.  We all have a survival mechanism in the brain - I call it the lizard brain as do many others - and this part of the brain is strongly based in memory, the senses, and the emotions (particularly fear).  It has to be - the lizard brain's job is to sense danger and react.  Will power, saying to yourself, "I want to quit smoking" "I will lose 30 lbs." "I will exercise everyday" simply isn't strong enough to overcome the lizard brain.  If you have a survival instinct, a fear response, a deep emotional connection, to smoking, to eating, to avoiding the gym, that instinct, that response, that connection will be stronger than willpower.

How do we make our willpower stronger?  We create emotional and sensory connections to the goal that with time and work become more powerful than the lizard brain.  Sometimes people are able to do this without a lot of time and effort.  This happens when a fear response is strong enough and the lizard brain connects to the change that needs to occur - we see this when people quit smoking easily or when dietary changes are made after a health diagnosis.  Many others can not make these changes and the reasons are complex - the brain is complex!

However, it is possible to retrain the brain in the direction you want to go!  Visioning is a great process.  Begin by identifying your goal, your future.  Then, go deep into what this will feel like, look like, taste like, smell, like - get the senses as involved as possible.  Show your brain how wonderful this future will be, how amazing it will feel......  You can do this with meditation - just sit and create the images and feelings in your head.  You can do this with creative processes - paint, draw, cut out magazine pictures and words, make music, chant.....there are many possibilities as long as the process creates the feelings and images for your brain to know  your future.

Now, you need to do this for 30 days minimum.  That may seem like a lot, but if your brain has been forming deep connections to a habit you want to change, these are going to take time to over-ride.  It doesn't mean you paint a new picture everyday, or create a new song everyday, but you spend time with it and in that state of mind and feeling everyday for 30 days


Share how you will vision your future......

Friday, December 23, 2011

Holiday Eating

One of the most annoying recommendations I read in magazines giving advice regarding holiday eating is "don't go to the holiday party hungry."  What!?  Of course, I am going to the holiday party hungry!  I don't have time to make myself dinner and get everything else done and go to the party!  Plus, why not enjoy some party treats!?  It's the holidays!

So, here are my recommendations:
~  If you need to bring something, make or buy what you bring delicious and healthy.  The 2 can go together, I swear!  Find something you can enjoy and not feel guilty about!
~  Think about your plate or your choices as a pie.  One half of the pie is fruits and vegetables - eat or take these first.  The second half split into quarters - one quarter for proteins such as nuts, meat, cheese or dips (hopefully made from cream cheese, yogurt, or cottage cheese), make the last quarter for breads and crackers or pasta (hopefully, whole grain, but don't sweat it, it's the holidays).
~  Make the dessert choices you indulge in something really special and wonderful and savor every bite.  Don't create the mindset that you can eat one whole serving of everything because it's the holidays.  Create the mindset, that you can enjoy what will give you the most pleasure and choose those treats.
~  Don't overeat.  Give yourself a gift and eat mindfully and with pleasure - not with gluttony, making yourself feel bloated and uncomfortable.  You deserve the gift of feeling great and enjoying!
~  On that same note, don't drink too much alcohol.  You want to feel good, sleep well and enjoy right?!  If you drink too much and regret things later either because you feel physically unwell or because you said and did things you regret, where's the fun in that?

What will you enjoy and savor this holiday season?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Are you sabotaging your life?

There are times when we set out for the day and it seems we hit all the green lights and things go smoothly on the commute and there are times when nothing seems to go our way and every intersection is red.  I have 2 friends who would pipe in on differing ends of the spectrum as to what might be going on.  The first would say, "Everything happens for a reason, there's a lesson for you in that......."  The second would say, "Come on! Life just happens, that's just life!"  So, which friend is right?

I think they both are right!  Life does just happen.  Lights turn red just because they do.  Construction is going on along your route, just because it is.  Copy machines break down, because that seems to be what they do on a regular basis.  Cars, phones, refrigerators, etc. all do the same thing......  We make mistakes, forget, drop things, etc. simply because we're human.  Right?

Well, when does it go beyond that?  When do you begin to create, to ignore, and even to wallow in the annoyances of life and being human?  We're getting into the Law of Attraction territory and this can be pretty tricky, because many would say it's pure baloney.  Maybe, maybe not.  The Law of Attraction states that whatever energy or vibration you put out to the world, you will attract that same energy or vibration.  If I create the energy of lack and fell like I never have enough time, money, love, etc. then that is what is returned to me.  Some of us can believe that and some of us can't - the physicists will have to hash out the science for the doubters. 

Doesn't matter, because there's also some brain science behind this.  Your brain is set up to wire strongly to those things you spend time on.  To make it simple, if you spend time with math, you will have stronger connections and wiring and faster connections and wiring to math things.  Let's take it to the original scenario - if the lights are turning red on your commute and you drop your keys getting out of the car, then bump your head as your stand up  and decide today is going to be a bad day, the things you see and notice will be negative and will back up your position.  Today is going to be a bad day, puts your brain on alert to look for all the bad things it can around you!  Therefore, that is what you perceive.....

Some folks try this - they wake up in the morning and say today is going to be a good day and they think they are telling the brain to see the good in the day, but they don't really BELIEVE it.  Sometimes, it's too big a jump, too big a change to get yourself to believe in seeing the good, the positive, the fun, the loving, etc.  You might need to take baby steps and just say, my time with so-and-so will be fun, after work will be peaceful for me, when I no longer have to drive I will find calm......  As you get used to doing this, it will become easier until you can believe that you are setting your mind up for just seeing good things - you will find then that when life happens and the red light stops you, or the copier breaks down, you are less likely to feel upset or angry or frustrated.  You are able to shrug it off!  You might even be able to laugh about it!

How will you stop sabotaging yourself this week?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Feeling stuffy? Update!

I recommended using the neti pot recently for stuffy noses, colds, preventions of infection, etc.  There has recently been a story about 2 people who died using the neti pot.  The story is that tap water can contain an amoeba which can cause a very rare infection that affects brain tissue.  This can also occur using recreational pools and lakes where the amoeba can be ingested through the nose.  30 people have died from this infection - almost all through recreational swimming sources.  If you are concerned about this possibility when using the neti pot, use sterile water (can be purchased as water safe for infants) or boil your water ahead of time.

I also recently read about this same problem occurring when using tap water to rinse contacts and contact storage devices.  A very rare infection can occur if the eye is exposed while the contact is in use.  They recommend not swimming, bathing, or showering with contacts in.  Again this is VERY rare and pre-boiled or sterile water can be used instead - as well as saline, of course.

I do not take back my recommendation to use the neti pot or the steam method.  Should we all stop swimming?  Should we all wear protective goggles and nose protection when showering or bathing?  My recommendations are for quality of life, so make your individual choice based on risk and based on how you want to live and what you want to worry about - that's what good health and wellness is all about.  Keep yourself informed, look at your sources, learn who and what source to trust, and move forward.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Dairy is very......healthy?not healthy?confusing?

There are a lot of mixed messages out there regarding dairy.  Bottom line on the question of dairy being healthy or not is losing the either/or labeling.  It is a complicated food category and there are things to consider in choosing to keep it in or out of your diet.

Let's start with the cons:  Non-organic milk is filled with hormones and antibiotics.  This is true.  They load up the cows for the greatest levels of production in the least amount of time and the most cows they can squeeze into one space - this means the cows are heavily medicated to keep them healthy and these all transfer to the milk.  I will not consume non-organic dairy unless I am assured it is hormone and antibiotic-free.

In addition, there is a lot more intolerance and allergy-like symptoms in people than is being diagnosed or that we are as yet capable of clearly diagnosing.  Some symptoms include mucus production which, for some, may lead to sinus, nasal, and ear discomfort, illness, infection, etc.  Gas, bloating, digestive discomfort including diarrhea and constipation, are also well-known symptoms.  Inflammation causing general aches and pains can also be present.  Again, this is more common than we think it is - it's not just lactose intolerance, but a more general lack of ability to tolerate dairy.  The only way to really know if you have symptoms is to stop ingesting dairy for a couple of weeks and see your results.  There is some allergy panel testing that can be done, but it is not as conclusive.

And, what about the fat?!  Dairy products can be consumed in a low-fat or no-fat version.  If you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol or have heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. it is best to avoid the fat in dairy products.  Otherwise, moderation is always the key!

Pros:  The nutritional value of dairy is strong and this is where the mixed messages come in.  When we study the nutrition in a food and don't study the ingestion of the food, we see benefits as they might be rather than as they actually are.  This occurs with all foods.  Yes, there's a lot of calcium in that glass of milk, but what does it turn into when I consume it?  Am I absorbing it?  If I am, is my body using it to create strong bones?  This is what our researchers are now able and beginning to do.  It seems to me the country that consumes the most dairy in the world should have the lowest or one of the lowest rates of osteoporosis and yet that is not the case.  Might be due to other dietary factors......we just don't know for sure.

However, that being said, you need to have all the info. to make your decision:  Organic milk is able to provide omega-3s which are really important and lacking in our diets.  Kefir which is a milk product similar to drinkable yogurt contains really good and healthy bacteria to the gut.  It can be drunk as it is or used as additive to soups, smoothies, cereals as you would use milk or yogurt. Yogurt also has good bacteria. Cottage cheese is high in protein as is Greek yogurt, a version you'll see more and more of in your dairy section.  The process of making Greek yogurt is slightly different, so there's less liquid whey and more protein, you'll find the taste similar.  Chocolate milk is getting some attention lately. If there is a choice between the chocolate milk and the Gatorade, I'll take the milk - it is restoring protein and carbohydrates after a workout and is not empty calories.  Most other products have little value nutritionally - they just add taste and texture.

Make this decision with information that fits your individual body and lifestyle needs.  This is not an either it's healthy or it's not kind of food category.  Consider your options and choose wisely.  Try dairy substitutes - there's a dairy substitute for almost all dairy products now - some better than others and some better than the actual dairy (coconut ice cream is AMAZING).  Experiment and try things out, get to know your body after consuming dairy and make the right choice for you!

What dairy substitute will you try this week?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Feeling Stuffy?

Getting a cold or flu at this time of year is no fun.  Oftentimes, we get past the aches and pains only to find ourselves miserable with the stuffy nose and the post-nasal drip.  Yuck!  There's not a lot you can do, because this is your body's way of expelling germs and bacteria.  You have to let it do so!  Those over-the-counter antihistamines are doing you no good, if you are trying to stop the mucus.  They only stop the natural process the body takes in making you well.

You can help the process, however, and work with your body.  First is to drink lots of fluids.  This helps your body create that nice moist environment and gets the mucus moving - which is what you want - move it and the germs and bacteria OUT!

Second, try a bit of steam.  Boil some water on the stove, adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil or peppermint oil.  These can be bought in many health food stores, co-ops, bath stores, and pharmacies.  Take the water off the stove and hold you head over the pot at a comfortable distance.  Place a towel over your head as a tent to hold in the steam and inhale through the nose.  Keep your eyes closed and don't try this if you have asthma.

Third, take a bath.  Place some peppermint oil (5-6 drops) in the bath, close the door or curtain and breathe in the steam.  Also, this allows you to relax the muscles which will create some space and ease in breathing, allowing the mucous membranes to release and move the mucus out.

Fourth, try the neti pot - not a spray, a pot.  A neti spray may shoot the bacteria and germs into the system, rather than expelling.  Use the pot 2-3 times a day and help the mucus move out!  Mix an 1/8 to a 1/4 tsp. salt with your water.  This process can be gross, but mucus is not pleasant, so sometimes the solution is not pleasant, but works well!

Take care of yourself and your body will do the same.  Work with the body, not against it.  How will you keep yourself well this week? 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Soup's on!

How about taking all the very nutritious and delicious vegetables we’ve discussed in past weeks (or some of them) and throw them into a big pot, add liquid and voila!  You have soup.  It can be nearly that easy.  Soup recipes are sometimes complicated, but I have learned to just wing it and use what’s in the pantry, the freezer, and the crisper.

It starts with the base to the soup.  My favorites for making a homemade base which I often do, because they are THAT good, come from The Moosewood Cookbook.  I have a few, but the best for soup recipes is Moosewood Restaurant Daily Specials – only soups, salads, and breads.  Each recipe has suggested combinations with a salad and a bread.  The soup base or broth recipes are just as good as the full soup recipes themselves.  If I am really looking to make my life easy, I skip making the broth and use V8 juice (usually a spicy version).

Simply pour some oil – a tablespoon or 2 into a soup pot, sauté your hard to cook vegetables like carrots, onions, celery, and add garlic at this time as well.  Then, the other veggies like mushrooms (I almost always add, just because they are so flavorful), green beans and zucchini.  I then add canned tomatoes (in their liquid), the V8, and if I want a less tomato-ish sauce, some broth made with a powder I buy in bulk – any broth you favor will do.  Once things get to simmering, I’ll add sliced cabbage, kale, spinach or chard.

Once all the veggies are cooked, you can add pre- cooked beans, rice, pasta, or other grains and proteins.  Once I make this very veggie base, I change it up throughout the week, depending on my mood.  When I heat up a meal, I can add frozen corn, cumin, chili pepper, and a tsp. of lime and broken tortilla chips to make a southwestern soup.  I can add some basil, pasta and kidney beans with a sprinkle of parmesan for minestrone.  I can add chili beans, chili pepper, some fake meat, rice and shredded cheddar cheese for a bowl of chili.

All of the goodness of the vegetables as they cooked stays right there in the pot.  All the delicious flavors mingle and meld.  The warmth of a bowl of soup can create a filling, low calorie, very healthy meal.  You don’t have to worry about whether you are getting this vegetable or that – they’re all right there!

What kind of soup will you try this week?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

News! Fast!

We are a society with news and information literally at our fingertips 24 hours a day.  Does this make us well-informed, smarter, wiser?  Why have such easy access to so much of the news - just because we can?  Why watch it, seek it out on our computers, and phones as often as we do?  Why read it, listen to it, watch it at regular intervals on a daily basis?  What aspects of the news are actually important to know?  What details?

I ask people these questions often - usually in reaction to their shock that I do not watch the news, I do not read the news, and I don't often seek it out on my computer or phone, although occasionally, I do.  I ask them "why do I need to know that?" when they inform me of some tragic accident, a brutal rape, a horribly sad story of addiction and subsequent death.  Because it's important...  Because it's necessary to be informed...  Because I need to know what is going on in the world...  I get these and other similar responses.

So why do I choose to live this way?  It started over a decade ago when I read Spontaneous Healing by Andrew Weil.  In his weekly recommendations toward health and wellness (an 8 week plan, also included in 8 Weeks to Optimum Health), he recommends a news fast.  In this case, for this week, it was really strict and I adhered to absolutely NO news for one week.  It stuck!  I liked it.  Short news clips of tragic events and negative discussions left me feeling heavy with negative emotions, hopeless, and often lacking faith in my fellow human beings.  Efforts to make the news positive and tell stories of the good going on in the world were often sappy and did little to alleviate the negativity of the rest of the news cast.  Same for the newspaper and radio.  I felt better when I avoided the news.

According to Weil, "taking periodic breaks from the news can promote mental calm and help renew your spirits. In this way, the anxiety and over stimulation catalyzed by the media may be minimized, and your body will function better." The affects of thinking in a negative direction, be it anxiety, depression, sadness, etc. are increasingly being proven as deleterious to health - the immune system is weakened, healthy cardiac functioning is decreased, digestion is affected, and much more.

The idea is not to become uninformed and ignorant, the idea is to understand how you are affected and what you can do to control the amount of news you are exposed to and in what fashion you are able to hear it, read it, or see it.  Start by doing a few days or a week without news and then add in some things you think you can handle - experiment with yourself!  We do things so unconsciously, we don't notice the effects until we start to make changes.

I know there are rapes, killings, tragedies, wars, and natural disasters everyday, all the time.  The details of which I can live without.  How I keep informed is multi-faceted.  If there is something going on nearby that directly affects me, my house, my safety, there is always a neighborly discussion to inform me of what I need to know.  If there is a city-wide or state-wide discussion of an issue happening, I will over-hear it or be included in it and can then make a decision to access a news source or 2 for the information I want.  If I want to be up to date on politics (rare indeed!), I usually listen to or watch a comedy news source or an informational news program on NPR which is more likely to discuss rather than report the news.  If I care about a sports score, I can look it up on my computer.  If I need to know the weather, I look it up. I also read books and magazines on the topics I choose to be exposed to......There are so many ways to stay informed at a level that I control.
How will you experiment with your level of news exposure this week?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Ogres are like onions!

After a discussion yesterday regarding the fact that some things (including Shrek) are layered and much more complicated and deep than their surface may at first appear, I have been inspired to write about onions this week.  Recently, I wrote about leeks which are in the same family (the alliums) and have the some of the same benefits, although to a lesser rate because leeks are less strong.  The stronger the allium in taste and smell, the stronger the benefits.

Yes, as Donkey in the first Shrek movie states, onions are smelly and they often make us cry.  These are good things in that the smell and the chemicals that make your eyes water are sulfides - compounds believed to lower blood lipids and blood pressure.  You can chill the onion for 30 min. before you cut it to decrease the smell and the eye watering.

Onions are great cancer fighters.  The risk of stomach and esophageal cancers are lowered with onion consumption.  Have you heard of the Vidalia onion?  The rule is that one can only be called a Vidalia only if grown in Vidalia Georgia.  These sweeter and often eaten like an apple onions are consumed in this area at greater quantities than in the normal population.  The result?  Vidalia, GA has a 50% lower stomach cancer mortality rate than the rest of the nation - likely due to those stinky, layered veggies!

A more surprising benefit to onions is that it seems to help build stronger bones.  Further study is needed to see how many onions would create this benefit, but eat up in the meantime!  Onions also help with heart health - decreasing mortality from heart disease by 20%!

Onions contain quercetin.  This chemical is in the flavonoid family and these are being researched more and more for their great health benefits in many important areas - heart health, cancer-fighting properties, immune function and more.  It is likely that it is because quercetin and flavonoids in general have anti-inflammatory affects.  Reducing inflammation also will help with asthma, allergies and chronic pain.

I often post a favorite recipe, but onions are a part of so many tasty dishes.  They are seasonal now as they are easily stored and can handle cold.  Make onions a part of as many meals as you can throughout the day - cooked or raw.

How will you eat your onions this week?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Laugh it up!

Laughter really is the best medicine - at least one of the best.  Each week I post something funny on my FaceBook page and there's good reason for that: laughter is really good for your health and can increase longevity.  This has got to be the easiest and most fun way to make a healthy change in your life, right?!

First off laughter releases endorphins - those wonderful chemicals that makes us feel great - think "runner's high" and orgasms, these give a big boost of endorphins.  Because of this great feeling, we are less likely to feel negative emotional states and less likely to feel pain.  Our tolerance of pain goes up and some is even eliminated.

While laughter triggers the release of endorphins, it turns off the release of cortisol and epinephrine which are stress hormones, causing us to decrease our stress response.  A decrease in stress response is linked to increased immune function, lower blood pressure, less tension (fewer headaches and general aches), higher muscle function, etc.  Low stress also reduces the negative affects of high cholesterol.

Laughter in and of itself increases immunity by increasing the production of killer T-cells in the body.  These cells fight viral infections and also free radicals roaming around wreaking havoc when given the chance.

Laughter (and singing or humming) relax the endothelium, the lining of blood vessels, and this makes blood flow easier.  The obvious benefits are that blood pressure is reduced and blood flows easier even when cholesterol is present.  This has been shown to be a 15% improvement in flow after watching a funny movie or show!

Want some easy exercise?  You use 40 calories with a good belly laugh AND it just might be the easiest abdominal workout there is!

Mental health-wise good laughter is an excellent coping skill.  It creates a positive mental response when life is hard and it allows in a ray of hope and enjoyment of life.  If the laughter is positive - not the nasty kind that takes thoughts in a negative direction, laughter can be the best mood booster of all!

How will you find humor this week?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Tiny Cabbages - yum!

Brussels sprouts are not loved by many, but those of us who enjoy them, really love them and this is the time of year to do so!  The problem with Brussels sprouts is buying them out of season and then cooking them all wrong!  You wind up with nasty cabbage-flavored mush with a bitter edge no one can enjoy.

Brussels sprouts at this time of year have been touched with a bit of frost and like spinach, this bit of frost sweetens them up.  Buy them fresh from the farm market or grow them yourself.  They are cheap and plentiful right now, so it's a perfect time to try them.

Brussels sprouts are at the top of the veggie nutrition pile with carrots and broccoli.  They are part of the cabbage family and therefore contain lots of cancer-fighting nutrients (as do all cruciferous vegetables). They are especially helpful with colon cancer prevention due to the chemical that creates the odor Brussels sprouts produce.  Other chemicals help with fighting free-radicals in the system for other cancers.  They contain lots of vitamins C, K, A and some B.  Also, iron, potassium, and plenty of fiber.

To make sure you get fresh and tasty sprouts, look for tight heads that have no yellowing or brown leaves.  Cut the woody stems down and remove the loose, life-less leaves.  I like to slice a small line at the base - like the head of a screw for ease in cooking.  You can boil your sprouts or steam, but I wouldn't recommend it - this is how they end up like mushy heads of bitter tasting green stuff!  Plus, you loose vitamins in the water.  Roasting is my favorite (and most others I know who love this veggie also roast).  However, they can be stir-fried - cut in half or quarters first and use your favorite recipe for stir-fry.  I like to just make it simple with garlic and soy sauce and eat over rice.  You can braise them - again in half or quarters, with some dried fruit and nuts.  I also love pickled Brussels sprouts, although have only eaten these pre-packaged.  Follow the recipe below for roasting!

How will you try Brussels sprouts this week?

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sesame Seeds

1 lb. Brussels sprouts
2 TB olive oil
salt to taste
2 TB sesame seeds
2 TB Tamari or soy sauce
2 tsp. honey

Preheat the oven to 400.  Trim the stems from the Brussels sprouts and cut an X into the base, about 1/8 inch deep. Mix the sprouts, salt and the oil in bowl until well coated.  Roast about 15 min. - looking for a bit of browning on the edges.  In a bowl, mix the honey and tamari together.  Pour over the sprouts and mix well to coat (some will sit on the bottom of the roasting pan, no worries).  Sprinkle the sesame seeds over the top and put back in the oven for 3-5 min.  Take out and stir well, scraping the sauce from the bottom and put back in for another 3-5 min.  Watch to make sure the edges are not getting too brown!  Stir and serve.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Being Gratitude

We have a holiday in the USA for giving thanks.  So let's learn more about why giving thanks or being grateful can be a beneficial practice and how to practice more often than once a year.

When we open our hearts and minds to gratitude, we open a whole lot more than just feelings of thankfulness.  We create a connection to the positive - "Wow, look at all this wonder and joy in my life!"  Rather than the thought patterns we are so good at, "Wow, this job sucks, my co-worker is annoying, my house is a mess, I never have enough time......"  There's some neuro-science behind our negativity.  A mind that can focus on the negative (think evolutionarily in terms of poisonous plants, deadly predators, signs of natural disaster) is a mind that survives.  We just might be hard-wried toward negative thoughts.

That being said, we can over-ride that wiring by changing what we spend time thinking about.  The more time you spend thinking about what's going well in your life, the more you will see what's going well.  Also, you will see more ways to create more and cause more great things to happen.  Gratitude creates feelings of inter-connectedness.  You appreciate the work that others are doing in the world so you have all the things that surround you.  You feel supported by this, rather than focused on the politician who doesn't seem to be working in the direction you want or the drivers who are constantly creating danger on the road with bad behavior.  Not to mention there's a sense of relief in seeing what is possible in life rather than in always worrying about what's not going well.

There are many spiritual traditions and teachers that say to be thankful for all that happens, because unknown blessings lie in everything.  We may not believe this or know for sure that it's true, but you can be sure that if you believe something is horrible and continue to focus on the horrible-ness of the situation, then horrible it will be.  Seeing aspects that one can be grateful for will allow you to find a way out, a solution, some supports, and all that might be possible. 

This was the case for Matt Long who after a devastating bike accident with a bus, allowed himself to wallow in the misery of his recovery which was grueling and overwhelming and at time, not very hopeful.  Once he decided to change his focus - he saw the amazing supportive people in his life, the potential unknowns that might be possible, the models of healing he had not other-wise noticed in life and the formerly great love of life he held, then he began to heal his mind and soon after his body.  Gratitude for what he had made him see what he could have with some hard work (really, really hard work in this case).

There are studies being done on gratitude at the University of CA, Davis, and elsewhere finding that students who keep gratitude journals also report sleeping better, exercising more, having fewer health issues, and having an overall more positive and satisfied outlook on their lives.  This is all about perception.  Change your perception of your life and you will change your life!

How to begin?  The easiest method is to simply meditate on all you have to be grateful for daily.  This means a review of the day or the previous day - "I am grateful for.........."  This can also be done in a journal  (if you'd like a copy of a gratitude journal page, let me know).  Another simple method is to create a grateful feeling in the mind and body and simply stay there as long as you can - mindful gratitude.  Someone recently told me she has the intention to list something every day - something NEW every day.  How many would you come up with?  100? 500?  1000s?  Finally, there is the practice of acknowledging an annoying, troubling, disturbing situation and then saying but I am grateful for......  This would look like this:  "It is annoying that that driver can not drive safely, but I am grateful that others are being safe."  "I am so frustrated with her!  But, I am grateful I have him to make me laugh about it."

How will you be grateful each day?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Begin well with breakfast...

You've heard it before - breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  And yet, most of us ignore that advice.  If you want to control your weight or lose weight, it is the most important meal of the day.  If you want to decrease your likelihood of diabetes, it is the most important meal of the day.  If you want to keep a stable mood throughout the day, it is the most important meal.  If you want to learn and keep your mind clear and focused, it is the most important meal.  I'm sure there are more I could come up with, but you get the point.  There's lots to be gained by paying attention to and taking time for this important meal of the day.  Our usual choices - refined cereals, bagels, pancakes and waffles are not serving us well at all.  For any of the above goals, you'll have to start the day with more protein, healthy fats and maybe some whole grains. 

What we eat for breakfast (means breaking the fast from the night's sleep) gets the digestion and metabolism started and working for the day.  If you start off with cereal or cereal bars made from mostly refined grains and laced with sugar, you might as well have the danish and a glass of milk.  Same process will occur in your body - the sugar and the refined grains metabolize quickly - like within 2 hours and you plummet - energy and mood, making you willing to shove in that candy bar or birthday cake your office mate brought without even thinking.  You also crave more carbs. and more sweets and it starts a roller coaster ride of a day.  Weight gain, risk of diabetes, and mood swings can all be controlled in part by avoiding sugar and carbohydrates for breakfast, as can keeping a clear mind and being able to focus.  Having something for breakfast will help with this one - studies show that kids who do not eat breakfast, do poorly on tests and have more behavior problems at school.  When they are served a healthy breakfast, there is great improvement!  Also, those who eat whole grains at breakfast are happier throughout the day!

So, we should pay attention to this first meal of the day.  The RealAge folks have been talking about this topic for quite some time now.  They recommend eggs for breakfast or any high protein choice.  Proteins take longer to digest and keep you from getting hungry for longer periods and also do not cause those blood sugar drops that cause the mood swings and the cravings.  If you don't get a certain amount of protein each day, especially in the morning, your appetite will roller coaster along cravings for snacks and sweets. You'll tend to eat high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar snacks and foods.  If you skip breakfast, your body will go into storage mode which makes it harder to lose weight and it sets you up for hunger later in the day.

Good choices for breakfast?  Eggs and oatmeal are a  #1 choice from just about any expert I've found.  I often have both - a simple scrambled egg and a bowl of oatmeal cooked with fruit (usually dates) rather than a sweetener.  Whole grain cereals with a high protein yogurt like a Greek yogurt are great as well. Check both for sugar on the label in the form of fructose, sucrose, and cane juice.  Add your own sweeteners with fruit instead.  Whole grain breads with nut butters (again check labels for sugar) are also good choices.  Or, make yourself a breakfast sandwich with an egg on whole grain toast or in a whole grain tortilla wrap.  Quinoa and Kashi can also be whole grain, high protein options you can experiment with.

How will you improve your life and start your day well this week?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Meditation - focused awareness

This week in my classes I am focusing on awareness.  Awareness is one of the best lessons to learn from your yoga practice and it is what meditation is all about.  Most of us think meditation is about making the mind be quiet, but it's not actually that at all.  Of course, getting practiced with meditation makes a quiet mind easier to accomplish and it is definitely a benefit.  However, meditation is creating awareness and focus to some mantra, to the breath, a visual such as a candle, etc. With this awareness the mind quiets, but it is the practice of focusing the mind that creates the benefit.

The best lesson I learned in trying to meditate - something I struggled with literally for years - was being told that meditation is the act of hearing, seeing, knowing thoughts and just keeping one's self separate from them, just observing with detachment.  Here is an example:  when I would meditate prior to this realization, the garbage trucks would come through and immediately I would think "how can I meditate with this noise?!"  I would allow myself to be affected by the awareness of garbage truck noise.  Now, I hear the garbage trucks, but because I am focused on my breath or my mantra, my awareness doesn't shift to the noise, it stays focused, despite distractions.  Distractions only happen if you let your mind and your attention to shift toward them.  Meditation helps us to learn to not make that shift.

Some of the benefits of meditation, according to Dr. Andrew Weil:  lowering blood pressure, decreasing heart and respiratory rates, increasing blood flow, enhancing immune function, reducing perception of pain and relieving chronic pain due to arthritis and other disorders, maintaining level mood, and bringing awareness and mindfulness to everyday aspects of life.  I can vouch for the last 2 benefits.  They have literally changed my life.  The healing that occurs when you create a time for your awareness to be in a healthy and positive direction undo so many negative influences life throws at us daily.  The ability to stay present and not wander into the past or the future with worry and stress and regret is an unfathomable gift.

I can not say enough about how meditation has changed my life - my ability to cope, my emotional stability, and my daily focus on living joyfully are all enhanced by my meditation practice.  It never stays the same.  It changes and differs depending on what my needs are in life.  I use this amazing tool in whatever way I can!

How will you try to incorporate meditation in your life this week?

Friday, November 11, 2011

What the heck is quinoa? And how does one even say it?

Seems some of us shy away from quinoa, because we don't even know how to pronounce the word, none less create something edible with it.  Here, I will answer these and other questions about this not so exotic and strange food and hope to convince you to try it.

Quinoa is actually pronounced keen-wa.  It is sometimes put in the grain category, but it's really a seed, usually smaller than the size of a sesame seed.  However, it can be used like a grain or mixed in with a favorite grain such as rice or barley.  The Incas are said to have called quinoa the mother of all grains.

Why?  Because it is so nutritious.  It is high in protein and that protein is higher in quality than what grains and cereals typically contain.  It is a balanced protein, so it can be used as a complete protein by vegetarians and vegans.  It also contains a great deal of lysine which is an amino acid not usually found in such high quantities in vegetarian sources.  It is a good source of calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese, and zinc.  It also has a hefty dose of iron and fiber.  What's not to like about that list!?

So, what should you do with it?  Quinoa is cooked by boiling it like rice or oatmeal.  You can buy quinoa flours for baking as well.  Depending on the type you buy (there are red quinoas and others, so experiment with them for taste and texture - red is my favorite), it takes about 15-20 min. to prepare.  I typically just throw quinoa and some extra water in with a batch of rice and cook them together.  You can also just use it in place of rice, couscous or any other grain.  Whatever you plan to use it with, add to the water.  For example, to use with a Mexican dish, I add cumin and oregano amongst other spices.  For breakfast, I add cinnamon and vanilla to the water.  It's very versatile and your own creativity will be the judge of how far you can incorporate this nutritional super seed into your diet!

I am not going to spend anymore time trying to tell you all the ways to use quinoa.  I hope I have convinced you to do so, but there is a website dedicated solely to this subject and I now direct you to it!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Set a Daily Intention

I begin each yoga class I teach with an intention - what are we here for and how will we accomplish it?  Sometimes the intention is purely physical - let's open those hips!  Sometimes it is mental - finding a sense of gratitude.  Sometimes its spiritual - connecting to one's deepest sense of self.  Many times its a combination of all three. 

What the intention does is set a purpose for the class and that purpose is shared by the group in that moment.  It also lets the group know a direction, an idea of what's to come in the practice.  It is like an introduction to a paper or a book -"here is what I plan to share with you in my writing......."  it creates the feeling and the mindset right off the bat.

An intention is like a resolution, but very different.  A resolution requires strong acts of will toward a purpose.  While an intention is a gentle mindset toward a purpose.  A resolution is focused on a future outcome.  An intention is focused on the present. 

When you set an intention, you create the mindset you wish to cultivate, you create the emotion you want to feel, you find the connection to spirit needed.  If you desire a happy life, you set the intention to be happy - right now, you create the mindset immediately.  What we create in the present, creates the future.

But I can't be happy the way my life is now, I will be happy when...... I lose 15 lbs., I get a new job, I am done with this training and get that promotion......  It goes on and on.  The problem is we don't get happy.  We find another requirement to our happiness and always a new requirement after that. 

An intention comes from an internal space.  When we create what we are seeking from within - without requirements from the outside world - we won't be disappointed.  Yes, we are human, so we will fail sometimes and lose track of our intentions, but continually practicing, continually setting intentions trains our brains, our nervous systems, our spiritual presence, and our thinking patterns into an automated mode that returns to the intention regularly and with increasing speed as we practice.

Set your intention daily:  Sit quietly with some music that sets the tone for your intention, if desired.  Close your eyes and let yourself feel the intention - I want to be happy with my body - don't talk yourself out of it, just feel the happiness, not judging or criticizing.  All we're doing here is creating what it is you want to feel and let yourself feel it, know it, soak it in!  I want to be successful - let yourself feel success, know it, soak it in!  Do this for a few minutes to longer each and every day.  If you'd like, you can set the daily intention in the morning and then sit with it at night seeing how the day went.  Give the practice a month and notice how life changes for you!

What intentions will you set for yourself each day?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Soy - it does a body good, or does it?

Soy has been labeled as a health food since it first was introduced in its many forms decades ago.  It comes as a bean that can be boiled in and eaten from the pod (edamame).  It's proteins have been isolated and powdered as a food additive (smoothies, etc.), especially for body builders, athletes and vegetarians.  It has been made into curd and then formed into tofu.  It's liquids have been extracted to create "milk" and all of the other "dairy" products have followed.  Other isolates have been used in preserving food and in so many other ways as part of our pre-packaged food culture I can't possibly mention them all here.  Read a nutrition label and you are likely to find soy in some form.

Is it still a health food if we have taken it apart into so many pieces, it barely resembles the initial product - a soy bean?  This is the current controversy.  So what should we do?  Products that keep the bean whole - meaning there is no chemical and over-processing involved to extract some part of the bean, such as soy milk, tofu, or the beans themselves in either a roasted snack form or the boiled bean (edamame) are great.  The rest, including protein powders, really should be avoided as much as possible - soy protein bars included.

Soy has a lot of isoflavones which act like estrogen.  There's cancer protection in those isoflavones!That's a good thing, but for some involved with a breast cancer diagnosis, check with your doctor.  Soy is also a complete protein - it contains all of the essential amino acids.  However, soy is a pesticide heavy crop, so use an organic brand.

Experiment with soy!  I use silken tofu - sold right on the shelf in the Asian food aisle - in smoothies and puddings.  I use the extra firm tofu for just about anything - grilled, sauteed, salad addition, soup addition, etc.  Tofu just has to be marinated or cooked in way so it soaks up the flavors around it.  I use the soy bean (edamame) in salads or in anything as a substitute for peas.  I also eat tempeh which is a fermented soybean product that is delicious grilled and made into a faux chicken salad.  The following recipe is an absolute favorite!

How will you try soy this week? 

Edamame Salad w/ Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

4 lg. salads

1 head garlic or less, if desired
1 TB extra virgin olive oil, approximately
6 TB red wine vinegar
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp red pepper flakes

1 lb. or 3.5 C edamame, fresh or frozen (taken from the pods) I buy 2- 12 oz. bags in pods
2 C corn, fresh or frozen
1 lg. cucumber, quartered and sliced chunky w/ skin
2 stalks celery, diced
¾ C walnuts, toasted and chopped
½ red onion, thinly sliced
2 TB fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
2 oz. feta, crumbled or diced

Optional:  Lettuce leaves and a whole wheat tortilla or pita

  1. Take the center from the head of garlic, then chop off the top of the head getting each clove.  Place the garlic on a small piece of aluminum foil and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast in the oven on 350º for about 30 min.  You can then squeeze the garlic out onto a board and mash it smooth.  Do the roasted walnuts at the same time, but roast only 3-5 min.
  2. Put the rest of the dressing ingredients in a jar with 2 tsp. olive oil and the mashed garlic.  Shake well.
  3. If you buy edamame pre-cooked and steamed, you are set to go with that.  Otherwise, boil water and place the edamame in the water to cook for about 7 min.  Test one to see if it is cooked.  Rinse under cold water and then shuck into the bowl.
  4. Boil the corn for just a few minutes, rinse under cold water and drain.  Mix with edamame.
  5. Toss in the cucumber, onion, celery, parsley, feta, and dressing.  If you are not planning to eat all of the salad immediately, add the walnuts as you eat.
  6. The salad can be served as is.  Or, serve on top of you favorite lettuce.  Or, serve as a wrap or a pita sandwich with lettuce (my favorite is the wrap).

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Prepare and Sleep Well!

Daylight savings begins this weekend and it's the perfect time to prepare.  This week set a good sleep routine.  Most of us are less affected by the "fall back" hour change, but there is still a chance for some long terms consequences.  Try to go to bed and get up at the same time for the rest of this week and take advantage of the "extra" hour on Sunday morning.  Then, do the same, if you can next week.  This will minimize any negative effects on your normal sleep rhythms.  It's always good to stick with a good sleep routine, keeping to the same bedtime and wake time as much as possible anyway, but when making a change it can be especially helpful.

Now, what to do about the increasing darkness?  This "fall back" an hour is an almost guarantee for most of us that we will be waking in total darkness and soon there-after, the evenings will be dark as well.  This means for many that we leave in the morning in darkness and return home in the evening in darkness.  For many, this is debilitating, causing symptoms of "SAD" or seasonal affective disorder with symptoms similar to depression.  The majority of us will feel some symptoms - lethargy and lack of motivation, being most common.

Stick to a good sleep routine and maybe let yourself have an extra half hour of sleep during these dark months of winter.  And, keep your normal exercise routine.  If you currently exercise for an hour day, keep with that, no matter what.   If you currently exercise 30 min. a day, stay with it! If you don't have an exercise routine, create one - 15 min. of walking daily over your lunch hour will do just fine. The daylight outdoors will be a big benefit.  If you currently are always exercising indoors, get outside for 15 min. a day or try an outdoor activity as part of your normal routine.  You'll need to create some time for exposure to daylight by getting out there when the sun is out and mid-day is the best time to do so.

To get through this round of Daylight Savings and the upcoming shorter daylight hours due to winter - keep a good sleep routing, get some exercise, and get outdoors!  How will you fare?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Try a delicious LEEK!

Sounds like a spooky food for a Halloween dinner - a leek.  But really it's a nice sweet version of an onion.  They can be used in place of onions for a milder and sweeter flavor.  And, they are part of the onion family, along with garlic and shallots.  What we think is a bit (or sometimes a lot) stinky about all of these is actually what makes them so darn good for us - it's the sulfur. 

Still sounds a bit on the scary side I guess!  However, not scary at all - sulfides help protect us against cancer.  They block hormones that promote and make it easier for cancer to develop and thrive.  Also, these same sulfides make it difficult for blood clots to form reducing our risk for stroke and heart attack.  I'm not stopping there!  They also reduce the bad LDL cholesterol levels and blood pressure.

Don't just use the white bulb at the end (same for those green onions).  The whole plant is good food!  Even the little mop head appearing roots at the end.  Just be sure to soak and get the dirt out.  The roots are filled with minerals.  As most vegetables that get on the super healthy list, leeks contain some carotenoids, specifically lutein and zeaxanthin - great for preventing macular degeneration.  Leeks contain lots of fiber, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, vitamin K, and vitamin A. 

That should be enough to convince you!  If you are a gardener, they look wonderful in the garden and from experience are much easier to grow than onions.  Also, they don't mind the cold, so it's a plant you can leave in the ground even after the first snow (you'll have to thaw it before use).

I use leeks in stews and soups and also stir-frys.  Leeks and potatoes and leeks and lentils are favorite combinations.  Make this recipe, combining lentils, mushrooms and leeks and you've got yourself a great meal for health and it's tasty too!

Lentils and Mushrooms in Red Wine
If you like, this can be served over rice.
Prep time:  15 min.
Cook time:  25 min.

1 lg. leek
½ clove garlic
1 C fresh mushrooms
1 TB Olive oil
5 TB red wine
1 ½ TB chopped fresh parsley
½ TB chopped fresh thyme (or use 1 1/2 tsp. dried)
½ tsp Dijon-style mustard
3 TB tomato puree (just mash up a tomato w/ a fork or in a food procesor)
1 TB Worcestershire sauce (or soy, if needed)
2/3 C dry  lentils or 2 C from a can, drained (any color, pick your favorite)
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Chopped fresh parsley as garnish

1.       Combine lentils and 1 1/3 C water in a pan.  Bring to boiling and reduce heat.  Cook covered – 5 min. for red lentils, 10-15 for green or brown lentils.  Some lentils take longer – go for a solid, but soft texture – not mush.

2.       Slice the leek and then rinse in cold water and drain.  Mince the garlic and slice the mushrooms (not too small – they are delicious in large chunks).

3.       Heat oil in a sauce pan over medium heat.  Add the leek and the garlic and cook 3 min., until the leek softens.

4.       Stir in the mushrooms, turn up the heat, stirring until lightly browned.

5.       Stir in the wine,  parsley and thyme, mustard, tomato puree, and Worcestershire sauce.  Bring to a boil, then simmer 10 min., stirring occasionally.

6.       Stir in the lentils and simmer another 5-10 min.  Turn up the heat to boil off any extra liquid, if needed.  Add salt and pepper and parsley to flavor.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mindfulness retreat - daily!

The benefits to being mindful - and I'll define this soon- are becoming a big area of research and each study seems to confirm what yogis have known for hundreds of years: mindfulness makes for a healthy mind, body, and spirit. 

Mindfulness is a form of meditation - the most basic form.  It simply means keeping the mind on the present experience.  Mindful breathing means that your mind remains focused on the inhale and the exhale.  Mindful eating means taking in the sights, smells, textures and tastes of your food with each and every bite.  Mindful walking means noting each and every step and being aware of the body in motion.  Mindfulness can be applied to every activity you perform throughout the day.  Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, has written of the joy and the art of making mindfulness a way of life in every day activities - answering and talking on the phone, doing dishes, washing clothes, etc.

So what are the benefits?  Mindfulness eases stress which benefits the heart, immunity, and digestion, just to name a few.  It also reduces inflammation which is now being studied as a cause to heart disease, obesity, diabetes, aging and chronic pain.  Dr. Andrew Weil has focused much of his recent research efforts on creating an anti-inflammatory diet - inflammation is that important to our health and well-being.  Not only that, but mindfulness changes your brain - it makes it bigger!  You create more connections, a better memory and increased learning.  Our reverence of the multi-tasker in Western society actually is backward.  Multi-tasking makes our brains less efficient and our bodies feel more stress.

What exactly should you do to begin to practice mindfulness?  Start with 5 minutes a day and work your way up......
~ Choose a space and time- a daily routine is best, but success is possible in any form.
~ Make sure you are alone and the house is quiet.
~ Let yourself relax throughout the body - maybe roll your shoulders and neck. 
~ Every time you begin to hear thoughts try to interrupt your experience, bring your mind back to what you are doing (the breath, the pad of your foot hitting ground, the warmth of the dish water, etc.).

Allow yourself this gift of health and wellness, allow yourself this daily mindfulness retreat.  Once you become more able, you will find mindfulness taking over the multi-tasking brain. 

Friday, October 21, 2011

Eat (or drink) your Vitamin C!

Vitamin C is a great immune system booster.  It's also a vitamin that you really can not ingest too much of - ok you could, but it would mean crazy amounts.  Vitamin C is water soluble and is therefore pretty safe to increase your intake of without much concern. I once read Dr. Andrew Weil say that he recommended folks who felt a cold or flu coming on supplement with Vitamin C until they felt flatulent.  This would be the amount of C your body can process and hopefully the maximum immune benefit.  Then, stop supplementing or you will go from there to diarrhea.  Also, because it is water soluble, spread your intake throughout the day.  Otherwise, you will eliminate the excess with fewer benefits.

But why supplement?!  You can eat your Vitamin C all day and it'll be tastier!  Vitamin C fruits and veggies are amongst my favorite.  Right now, is not a good season for our Vitamin C filled fruits - they like it warm.  Most of us know about oranges and grapefruits, but kiwi are even higher in Vitamin C content.  Strawberries are also high, so maybe some frozen berries in a smoothie are in order?  Vitamin C filled fruits are very acidic, so spread them out or you'll wind up with a sore mouth.  If you plan to drink your Vitamin C, make sure you've got limited sugar content (so, it's not the first or second ingredient- sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup, etc - on the label). 

Right now is a good time for Vitamin C filled veggies, however!  Broccoli, and Brussels sprouts are good Vitamin C sources and perfect side dishes this fall.  Butternut squash is a soup favorite and is delicious in curries.  Bok Choy can be yummy in a stir fry (broccoli as well!).  Bell peppers are one of the highest Vitamin C veggies and can be added to just about everything you prepare as a meal or a snack.  Kale and Swiss chard can be chopped and eaten as greens, in rice dishes, soups, and pastas. 

Finally, there's our fruit/veggie - the tomato.  It IS a fruit, technically, but the government called it a vegetable way back, so it could bypass taxes on fruits and now it's stuck with the misnomer.  It  really doesn't matter if this one's in season, because cooked tomatoes with some olive oil mixed in, have been found to be more nutrient rich to the human system than raw (especially, those mealy, colorless ones available in winter months).  So, make your favorite soup, sauce, etc. all winter and keep the Vitamin C plentiful!

Don't just focus on the Vitamin C when you feel sick, keep this focus throughout the cold and flu season. By easily incorporating Vitamin C rich foods or juices to your 3 meals a day, your immune system will get the boost it needs to keep you healthy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Exercise - not as hard as you might think!

You don't have to hit the gym for an hour a day of cardio-vascular work.  You don't have to sweat your way through an hour long aerobics class.  You could just get 150 minutes a week and your heart will benefit.  That's just a 20-25 minute walk each day.  Or, just 30 minutes of stationary biking 5 days per week.  If you exercise more than that, the benefits increase, but the biggest benefits occur at this level.  If you are currently stationary, 20-25 minutes a day will create heart healthy benefits, reducing your risk of heart disease by 14%.  5 hours per week equates to 20% improvement.

I know it's been said before, but you can do this without scheduling a daily workout or signing up for a class or a gym membership.  Walk the stairs, park further away, walk to the bus stop and take the bus to work, bike to work.......the list goes on.  Just finding 4-5 five minute exercise activities a day can create heart healthy benefits!  Be sure you are doing cardio or aerobic exercise - the kind of exercise that gets your heart pumping and your breathing challenged - walking, running, biking, jumping jacks, stair climbing, rowing, etc.  Other exercise - strength training and stretching is necessary too, but the benfits are different from cardio-vascular benefits.

How are you getting your 150 minutes this week?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Eat your chard!

Each week I post info. regarding a healthy food and why it's so healthy, but not just that - how to enjoy it!  Healthy foods are often given the reputation of being not as tasty as our over-processed, fat and sugar-laden foods.  My response to that is from experience - the more healthy I ate, the more it became difficult to go back to those over-processed versions of "food."

With that being said, this week how about trying some Swiss chard?  Swiss chard is shockingly high in nutrient values.  In just 1 cup of cooked chard you can find plenty of fiber, calcium, potassium and vitamin C.  Beyond that the carotene and vitamin A levels are plentiful. 

I first fell in love with this delicious green when I planted it in my garden.  It grew into a beautifully colored plant that added to the aesthetic value of the garden.  But, better than that, I cut the greens for a recipe and found they came back in about 10 days.  It's the plant that keeps on giving!  It's beautiful in pots as well- with your favorite flower mixed in.  Chard likes the cool of spring and fall, so can be planted early and you can keep harvesting late into fall/winter.

Recipes often suggest separating the soft greens from the ribs of the leaf.  I had a hard time leaving behind those ribs - seemed wasteful, since those were the colorful part of the leaf and often the more colorful the plant, the more beta-carotenes are in there.  So, I sauteéd the ribs with some cayenne pepper and mixed them in with rice.  This is a new food staple in my house.  There are recipes that keep the leaf and stems/ribs in tact as well.

Suggestions for using chard:  Use just as you would spinach in your favorite soup, pasta, or salad recipes.  Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.  Chop and saute to serve with pasta.  Swiss chard can also be easily frozen and used all winter long.

My favorite recipe:


in Greek: σπανακόριζο or σπανακόρυζο, pronounced spah-nah-KOH-ree-zoh

This is an adaptation of a traditional Greek spinach recipe. Try topping with a sprinkle of crumbled feta or Parmesan cheese.
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 35 minutes Total Time: 50 minutes
Serves 4-6


  • 2 1/4 pounds of chard, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 1 1/3 cup of water
  • 1 1/3 cups of brown basmati rice
  • 5 1/4 cups of water
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)


In a stock pot, sauté the chopped spring onion in the oil over medium heat for 8-10 minutes. Add the chard and 1 1/3 cups of water and cook until the chard wilts, about 5-7 minutes. Add rice and 5 1/4 cups of water, bring to a boil, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in lemon juice and salt, cook for another 5 minutes and remove from heat. Stir, cover, and let sit for 20 minutes until the dish "melds."
Serve with freshly ground pepper and garnish if wanted with feta or Parmesan.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A tip for wellness! Find some freinds and have some fun!

More and more studies are coming out showing that friendships create good health.  Why isn't exactly clear, but I have a few theories. 

First, is that laughter is proven to be a healthy activity - it opens up blood vessels, decreases inflammation, releases hormones that feel good, and it improves immunity.  So, it makes sense - we laugh when we are with our friends and therefore friendships make us healthier! 

Second, there are hormones that are released when we care deeply about someone.  These hormones make us feel good, needed, capable, and connected ( all necessary for the tribe's survival, if you are thinking in evolutionary terms).  They force us to get out of our heads and into our hearts (metaphorically speaking).  Our thinking causes stress and tension and the resulting problems, but feeling love for another allows us to focus elsewhere and therefore keeps us well!

Third, friendships get us out of the house and involved in the world around us.  We have things to discuss, experience, do with each other.  This allows the brain and the body to get out of patterns that are unhealthy and repetitive.  The brain is actually supposed to find patterns and make them easier to use (think learning to drive- practice makes it less and less necessary to think each step of the process, until much of it becomes automatic).  When we get ourselves out there and experience the perspectives and lifestyles of others we grow and evolve ourselves!

So, what are you planning with your friends this week and how will you be creating a happier and healthier you!!