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!!