Do you love your breakfast? Do you have a short list of “go-to” recipes? Do you need a bit of inspiration to start eating breakfast again?
Getting some protein at each meal can help with blood sugar management, metabolism and weight loss. This is because protein helps you feel fuller longer and uses up a bunch of calories to absorb and metabolize it. So I’m going to show you how to get the protein, as well as some veggies and healthy fats for your soon-to-be favourite new “go-to” breakfasts.
Breakfast Food #1: Eggs
Yes, eggs are the “quintessential” breakfast food. And for good reason!
No, I’m not talking about processed egg whites in a carton. I mean actual whole “eggs”.
Egg whites are mostly protein while the yolks are the real nutritional powerhouses. Those yolks contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and healthy fats.
Eggs have been shown to help you feel full, keep you feeling fuller longer, and help to stabilize blood sugar and insulin.
Not to mention how easy it is to boil a bunch of eggs and keep them in the fridge for a “grab and go” breakfast when you’re running short on time.
And…nope the cholesterol in eggs is not associated with an increased risk of arterial or heart diseases.
One thing to consider is to try to prevent cooking the yolks at too high of a temperature because that can cause some of the cholesterol to become oxidized. It’s the oxidized cholesterol that’s heart unhealthy.
Breakfast Food #2: Nuts and/or Seeds
Nuts and seeds contain protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Nuts and/or seeds would make a great contribution to breakfast.
You won’t be fooled by “candied” nuts, sweetened nut/seed butters, or chia “cereals” with added sugars – you know I’m talking about the real, whole, unsweetened food here.
Nuts and seeds are also the ultimate fast food if you’re running late in the mornings. Grab a small handful of almonds, walnuts, or pumpkin seeds as you’re running out the door; you can nosh on them while you’re commuting.
Not to mention how easy it is to add a spoonful of nut/seed butter into your morning breakfast smoothie.
Hint: If you like a creamy latte in the mornings try making one with nut or seed butter. Just add your regular hot tea and a tablespoon or two of a creamy nut or seed butter into your blender & blend until frothy.
Breakfast Food #3: Veggies
Yes, you already know you really should get protein at every meal including breakfast; but this also applies to veggies. You know I would be remiss to not recommend veggies at every meal, right?
Veggies are powerhouses of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals, fiber, and water. You can’t go wrong adding them into every single meal of the day so if you don’t already you should definitely try them for breakfast!
And no, you don’t need to have a salad or roasted veggies for breakfast if you don’t want to but you totally can! You wouldn’t be breaking any “official” breakfast rules or anything like that.
Adding some protein to leftover veggies is a great combination for any meal. Including breakfast.
I’ve included a delicious recipe below for you to try (and customize) for your next breakfast.
Recipe (Eggs & Veggies): Veggie Omelet
1 teaspoon coconut oil
1 or 2 eggs (how hungry are you?)
¼ cup veggies (grated zucchini and/or sliced mushrooms and/or diced peppers)
dash salt, pepper and/or turmeric
Add coconut oil to a frying pan and melt on low-medium heat (cast-iron pans are preferred).
In the meantime grab a bowl and beat the egg(s) with your vegetables of choice and the spices.
Tilt pan to ensure the bottom is covered with the melted oil. Pour egg mixture into pan and lightly fry the eggs without stirring.
When the bottom is lightly done flip over in one side and cook until white is no longer runny.
Serve & Enjoy!
Tip: Substitute grated, sliced, or diced portion of your favourite vegetable. Try grated carrots, chopped broccoli or diced tomato.
You knew there was a bit of an over-emphasis (borderlining obsession) about cholesterol, right?
Before we jump into some myths let’s make sure we’re on the same page when it comes to what exactly cholesterol is.
Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is cholesterol
While cholesterol is an actual molecule what it is bound to while it’s floating through your blood is what’s more important than just how much of it there is overall. In fact depending on what it’s combined with can have opposite effects on your arteries and heart. Yes, opposite!
So cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood. These compounds contain cholesterol as well as fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.
They’re grouped into two main categories:
- HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.
- LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) that transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence their “badness”).
And yes, it’s even more complicated than this. Each of these categories is further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured in a blood test.
So “cholesterol” isn’t simply cholesterol because it has very different effects on your body depending on which other molecules it’s bound to in your blood and what it is actually doing there.
Myth #2: Cholesterol is bad
Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce critical things like vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, your sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile to help you absorb dietary fats. Not to mention that it’s incorporated into the membranes of your cells.
Talk about an important molecule!
The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) isn’t nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood.
While way too much LDL cholesterol as compared with HDL (the LDL:HDL ratio) may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease it is absolutely not the only thing to consider for heart health.
Myth #3: Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol
Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver. It’s actually not from the cholesterol you eat. Why do you think cholesterol medications block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact)? ‘Cause that’s where it’s made!
What you eat still can affect how much cholesterol your liver produces. After a cholesterol-rich meal your liver doesn’t need to make as much.
Myth #4: Your cholesterol should be as low as possible
As with almost everything in health and wellness there’s a balance that needs to be maintained. There are very few extremes that are going to serve you well.
People with too-low levels of cholesterol have increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers, as well as suicide.
Myth #5: Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol balance
Don’t start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.
And while drugs can certainly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol they don’t seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol all that well.
Guess what does?
Nutrition and exercise!
One of the most impactful ways to lower your cholesterol with diet is to eat lots of fruits and veggies. I mean lots, say up to 10 servings a day. Every day.
Don’t worry the recipe below should help you add at least another salad to your day.
You can (should?) also exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better quality fats. That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil. Ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats.
The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we’re learning more every day. You may not need to be as afraid of it as you are. And there is a lot you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve your cholesterol level.
Recipe (Dressing to go with your salad): Orange Hemp Seed Dressing
Makes about ¾ cup
½ cup hemp seeds
½ cup orange juice
1 clove of garlic, peeled
dash salt and/or pepper
Blend all ingredients together until creamy.
Serve on top of your favourite salad and Enjoy!
Tip: Store extra in airtight container in the fridge. Will keep for about a week.
Have you said “bye bye” to sleeping through the night?
Are you feeling exhausted or “running on stress hormones” all day?
Do not fear, I have some great tips (and an amazing recipe) for you!
The science of sleep is fascinating, complicated and growing
Sleep is this daily thing that we all do and yet we’re just beginning to understand all of the ways it helps us and all of the factors that can affect it.
Lack of sleep affects just about everything in your body and mind. People who get less sleep tend to be at higher risk for so many health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer; not to mention effects like slower metabolism, weight gain, hormone imbalance, and inflammation. And don’t forget the impact lack of sleep can have on moods, memory and decision-making skills.
Do you know that lack of sleep may even negate the health benefits of your exercise program? (Gasp!)
OMG – What aspect of health does sleep not affect???
Knowing this it’s easy to see the three main purposes of sleep:
- To restore our body and mind. Our bodies repair, grow and even “detoxify” our brains while we sleep.
- To improve our brain’s ability to learn and remember things, technically known as “synaptic plasticity”.
- To conserve some energy so we’re not just actively “out and about” 24-hours a day, every day.
Do you know how much sleep adults need? It’s less than your growing kids need but you may be surprised that it’s recommended that all adults get 7 – 9 hours a night. For real!
Try not to skimp!
(Don’t worry, I have you covered with a bunch of actionable tips below.)
Tips for better sleep
- The biggest tip is definitely to try to get yourself into a consistent sleep schedule. Make it a priority and you’re more likely to achieve it. This means turning off your lights 8 hours before your alarm goes off. Days. A. Week. I know weekends can easily throw this off but by making sleep a priority for a few weeks your body and mind will adjust and thank you for it.
- Balance your blood sugar throughout the day. You know, eat less refined and processed foods and more whole foods (full of blood-sugar-balancing fiber). Choose the whole orange instead of the juice (or orange-flavoured snack). Make sure you’re getting some protein every time you eat.
- During the day get some sunshine and exercise. These things tell your body it’s daytime; time for being productive, active and alert. By doing this during the day it will help you wind down more easily in the evening.
- Cut off your caffeine and added sugar intake after 12pm. Whole foods like fruits and veggies are fine, it’s the “added” sugar we’re minimizing. Yes, this includes your beloved chai latte. Both caffeine and added sugar can keep your mind a bit more active than you want it to be come evening. (HINT: I have a great caffeine-free chai latte recipe for you below!).
- Have a relaxing bedtime routine that starts 1 hour before your “lights out” time (that is 8 – 10 hours before your alarm is set to go off). This would include dimming your artificial lights, nixing screen time and perhaps reading an (actual, not “e”) book or having a bath.
So how many of these tips can you start implementing today?
Recipe (Caffeine-free latte for your afternoon “coffee break”): Caffeine-Free Chai Latte
1 bag of rooibos chai tea (rooibos is naturally caffeine-free)
2 cups of boiling water
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon almond butter (creamy is preferred)
2 dates (optional)
Cover the teabag and dates (if using) with 2 cups of boiling water and steep for a few minutes.
Discard the tea bag & place tea, soaked dates, tahini & almond butter into a blender.
Blend until creamy.
Serve and Enjoy!
Tip: You can try this with other nut or seed butters to see which flavour combination you like the best. Cashew butter anyone?
Sometimes those holiday feasts are just amazing.
And it’s not just the abundance of delicious food but also the people, the decorations, and the ambiance.
It is way too easy (and common) to indulge on those days.
But it doesn’t always stop there.
Sometimes we overeat on regular days. Or at regular meals. Or All. The. Time.
Here are three tips to avoid overeating at meals.
(Psst, turn these into habits and ditch the willpower!)
Tip #1: Start with some water
When your stomach is growling and you smell amazingly delicious food it’s too easy to fill a plate (or grab some samples with your bare hands) and dive into the food.
But did you know that it’s possible to sometimes confuse the feeling of thirst with that of hunger? Your stomach may actually be craving a big glass of water rather than a feast.
Some studies have shown that drinking a glass or two of water before a meal can help reduce the amount of food eaten. And this super-simple tip may even help with weight loss (…just sayin’).
Not only will the water start to fill up your stomach before you get to the buffet, leaving less room for the feast but drinking enough water has been shown to slightly increase your metabolism.
Tip #2: Try eating “mindfully”
You’ve heard of mindfulness but have you applied that to your eating habits?
This can totally help you avoid overeating as well as having the added bonus of helping your digestion.
Just as being mindful when you meditate helps to focus your attention on your breathing and the present moment being mindful when you eat helps to focus your attention on your meal.
Do this by taking smaller bites, eating more slowly, chewing more thoroughly, and savouring every mouthful. Notice and appreciate the smell, taste and texture. Breathe.
This can help prevent overeating because eating slower often means eating less.
When you eat quickly you can easily overeat because it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to know that your stomach is full.
So take your time, pay attention to your food and enjoy every bite.
Bonus points: Eat at a table (not in front of the screen), off of a small plate, and put your fork down between bites.
Tip #3: Start with the salad
You may be yearning for that rich, creamy main dish.
But don’t start there.
(Don’t worry, you can have some…just after you’ve eaten your salad).
Veggies are a great way to start any meal because they’re full of not only vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and health-promoting phytochemicals but they also have some secret satiety weapons: fiber and water.
Fiber and water are known to help fill you up and make you feel fuller. They’re “satiating”.
And these secret weapons are great to have on your side when you’re about to indulge in a large meal.
Have your glass of water, eat mindfully, and start with your salad to help avoid overeating at meals.
Recipe (Water): Tasty (and beautiful) Pre-Meal Water Ideas
If you’re not much of a plain water drinker or need your water to be more appealing to your senses here are five delicious (and beautiful looking) fruit combos to add to your large glass of water:
● Slices of lemon & ginger
● Slices of strawberries & orange
● Slices of apple & a cinnamon stick
● Chopped pineapple & mango
● Blueberries & raspberries
Tip: You can buy a bag (or several bags) of frozen chopped fruit and throw those into your cup, thermos, or uber-cool mason jar in the morning. They’re already washed and cut and will help keep your water colder longer.
Everything You Think You Know About Healthy Eating is Wrong and it’s Making You Fat and Tired
Oh my gosh – nutrition and diet info is everywhere!
And each expert and association tries to lead you in their direction because they know best and their advice is going to help you. Right?
Everyone has heard (and maybe lived through) the intense focus on how much you eat. This has gotten way too much attention because while this does affect your weight and energy level, it’s certainly not the “holy grail” of health.
Let’s focus a bit more on the often overlooked (and proven) benefits of what you eat and drink and how you eat and drink it.
What you eat and drink
The “calories in, calories out” philosophy (i.e. how much you eat) is being drowned out with research on other factors that may be just as important. Don’t get me wrong limiting calories, carbs or fat can certainly help you lose weight but that’s simply not the only factor for long-term weight loss and maximum energy for everyone
When the intense focus on how much we ate didn’t work in the long-run it wasn’t really a surprise. We kinda knew that already, didn’t we?
You can certainly still continue to count your calories, carbs, and fat but don’t forget to also pay attention to what you eat.
Ideally, you need a varied diet full of minimally-processed foods (i.e. fewer “packaged” “ready-to-eat” foods). This simple concept is paramount for weight loss, energy, and overall health and wellness.
Every day this is what you should aim for:
- A colourful array of fruits and veggies at almost every meal and snack. You need the fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
- Enough protein. Making sure you get all of those essential amino acids (bonus: eating protein can increase your metabolism).
- Healthy fats and oils (never “hydrogenated” ones). There is a reason some fatty acids are called “essential” – you need them as building blocks for your hormones and brain as well as to be able to absorb essential fat-soluble vitamins from your uber-healthy salads. Use extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil, eat your organic egg yolks, and get grass-fed meats when possible. You don’t need to overdo it here. Just make sure you’re getting some high-quality fats.
How you eat and drink
Also pay attention to how you eat and drink.
Studies are definitely showing that this has more of an impact than we previously thought.
Are you rushed, not properly chewing your food, and possibly suffering from gastrointestinal issues? Do you drink your food?
When it comes to how you eat let’s first look at “mindful eating”.
Mindful eating means to take smaller bites, eat slowly, chew thoroughly, and savour every bite. Notice and appreciate the smell, taste and texture. Breathe.
This gives your digestive system the hint to prepare for digestion and to secrete necessary enzymes.
This can also help with weight loss because eating slower often means eating less. Did you know that it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to know that your stomach is full?
We also know that more thoroughly chewed food is easier to digest and it makes it easier to absorb all of those essential nutrients.
And don’t forget about drinking your food.
Yes, smoothies can be healthy and a fabulously easy and tasty way to get in some fruits and veggies (hello leafy greens!) but drinking too much food can contribute to a weight problem and feelings of sluggishness.
Don’t get me wrong a green smoothie can make an amazingly nutrient-dense meal and is way better than stopping for convenient junk food – just consider a large smoothie to be a full meal not a snack. And don’t gulp it down too fast.
If your smoothies don’t fill you up like a full meal does try adding in a spoon of fiber like ground flax or chia seeds.
Consider not only how much you eat but also what and how you eat it.
Recipe (Smoothie meal): Chia Peach Green Smoothie
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1 chopped peach
1 cup unsweetened almond milk
Add ingredients to blender in order listed (you want your greens on the bottom by the blade so they blend better and have the chia on the bottom to absorb some liquid before you blend).
Wait a couple of minutes for the chia seeds to start soaking up the almond milk.
Blend, Serve and Enjoy!
Tip: Smoothies are the ultimate recipe for substitutions. Try swapping different greens, fruit or seeds to match your preference.
Bonus: Chia seeds not only have fiber and essential omega-3 fatty acids but they contain all of the essential amino acids from protein.
This word “metabolism” is thrown around a lot these days.
You know that if yours is too slow you might gain weight. But what exactly does this all mean?
Well technically “metabolism” is the word to describe all of the biochemical reactions in your body. It’s how you take in nutrients and oxygen and use them to fuel everything you do.
Your body has an incredible ability to grow, heal, and generally stay alive. And without this amazing biochemistry you would not be possible.
Metabolism includes how the cells in your body:
● Allow activities you can control (e.g. physical activity etc.).
● Allow activities you can’t control (e.g. heart beat, wound healing, processing of nutrients & toxins, etc.).
● Allow storage of excess energy for later.
So when you put all of these processes together into your metabolism you can imagine that these processes can work too quickly, too slowly, or just right.
Which brings us to the “metabolic rate”.
This is how fast your metabolism works and is measured in calories (yup, those calories!).
The calories you eat can go to one of three places:
● Work (i.e. exercise and other activity).
● Heat (i.e. from all those biochemical reactions).
● Storage (i.e. extra leftover “unburned” calories stored as fat).
As you can imagine the more calories you burn as work or creating heat the easier it is to lose weight and keep it off because there will be fewer “leftover” calories to store for later.
There are a couple of different ways to measure metabolic rate. One is the “resting metabolic rate” (RMR) which is how much energy your body uses when you’re not being physically active.
The other is the “total daily energy expenditure” (TDEE) which measures both the resting metabolic rate as well as the energy used for “work” (e.g. exercise) throughout a 24-hour period.
What affects your metabolic rate?
In a nutshell: a lot!
The first thing you may think of is your thyroid. This gland at the front of your throat releases hormones to tell your body to “speed up” your metabolism. Of course, the more thyroid hormone there is the faster things will work and the more calories you’ll burn.
But that’s not the only thing that affects your metabolic rate.
How big you are counts too!
Larger people have higher metabolic rates; but your body composition is crucial!
As you can imagine muscles that actively move and do work need more energy than fat does. So the more lean muscle mass you have the more energy your body will burn and the higher your metabolic rate will be. Even when you’re not working out.
This is exactly why weight training is often recommended as a part of a weight loss program. Because you want muscles to be burning those calories for you.
The thing is, when people lose weight their metabolic rate often slows down which you don’t want to happen. So you definitely want to offset that with more muscle mass.
Aerobic exercise also temporarily increases your metabolic rate. Your muscles are burning fuel to move so they’re doing “work”.
The type of food you eat also affects your metabolic rate!
Your body actually burns calories to absorb, digest, and metabolize your food. This is called the “thermic effect of food” (TEF).
You can use it to your advantage when you understand how your body metabolizes foods differently.
Fats, for example increase your TEF by 0-3%; carbs increase it by 5-10%, and protein increases it by 15-30%. By trading some of your fat or carbs for lean protein you can slightly increase your metabolic rate.
Another bonus of protein is that your muscles need it to grow. By working them out and feeding them what they need they will help you to lose weight and keep it off.
And don’t forget the mind-body connection. There is plenty of research that shows the influence that things like stress and sleep have on the metabolic rate.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to metabolism and how so many different things can work to increase (or decrease) your metabolic rate.
Recipe (Lean Protein): Lemon Herb Roasted Chicken Breasts
2 lemons, sliced
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon thyme
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
dash salt & pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive old
Preheat oven to 425F. Layer ½ of the lemon slices on the bottom of a baking dish. Sprinkle with ½ of the herbs and ½ of the sliced garlic.
Place the chicken breasts on top and sprinkle salt & pepper. Place remaining lemon, herbs and garlic on top of the chicken. Drizzle with olive oil. Cover with a lid or foil.
Bake for 45 minutes until chicken is cooked through. If you want the chicken to be a bit more “roasty” then remove the lid/foil and broil for another few minutes (watching carefully not to burn it).
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can add a leftover sliced chicken breast to your salad for lunch the next day!
A favorite in vegan and omnivore cuisine, eggplant can be baked, roasted, grilled, used as a pizza topping or in stir-fry recipes. It has a pleasantly bitter taste and spongy texture that may vary depending on the color/variety of eggplant selected. Dress your cooked eggplant with herbs, sauces, and condiments and you’ll be sure to please even the pickiest guest at your dinner table.
Eggplant contains a phytonutrient (plant chemical with nutritional benefits) called nasunin. Nasunin acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage. In addition, eggplant contains a wealth of other antioxidants that support brain and heart health. In research studies, one variety of eggplant – called Black Magic – was found to have three times the antioxidant properties compared to several other types of eggplant. It’s also a terrific source of dietary fiber, copper, potassium and B vitamins.
It’s best to buy eggplant in-season during the months August through October. It comes in all sorts of shapes (baseball size to a thick crescent) and a cornucopia of colors such as lavender, jade green, and yellow-white. Choose eggplants that are firm, vivid in color, and heavy for their size. The skin should be smooth, shiny and without damage.
To test for ripeness, press your thumb into the eggplant. If the skin doesn’t “spring back,” it’s not ripe. Eggplant is highly perishable so don’t cut it before storing. Keep it stored in a food crisper or on the shelf in the fridge for a few days.
Satisfying and versatile, eggplant can handle a variety of flavorful accompaniments, several of which give a kick to this Sicilian favorite. The tomato base is spiked with anchovies, garlic, and capers, creating a mouth-watering aroma and a burst of flavor in every bite. Serve as an appetizer, a main dish or as a side with your favorite fish.
Makes 4-6 Servings
- 2 large Italian eggplants, peeled and cut into medium dice
- 2 Tbs kosher salt
- 5 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 red onion, thinly sliced
- 4 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 4 celery stalks, thinly sliced on an angle
- 2 anchovies, in oil
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup capers, in brine
- Peel and dice the eggplants, peel and slice the onion, peel and slice the garlic, slice the celery.
- In a large bowl, toss the eggplant with the salt. Transfer the eggplant to a colander to drain for 2 hours. In order to facilitate the draining, top the eggplant with a heavy weight, such as a dinner plate topped with full cans.
- Heat 3 Tbs of the olive oil over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and celery and sauté for 5 minutes more, or until the garlic softens but does not brown. Add the anchovies and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the tomato paste and stir to thoroughly combine. Cook for 2 minutes, or until the paste turns a deep red, almost brown, and starts to stick to the pan. Add the vinegar and sugar and stir until the mixture thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat.
- In another large sauté pan, heat the remaining 2 Tbs olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the eggplant and carefully toss it in the oil, letting it sear before stirring. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the eggplant is translucent and soft.
- Transfer the eggplant to the caponata mixture and cook over low heat for 3 minutes, until the flavors combine. Add the capers and their brine and stir to incorporate.
- Serve warm or at room temperature accompanied by toast points or crostini.
Laughter might be the perfect antidote to stress! In one study when people watched a funny movie, their blood flow increased by 20%!
Secrets to a Healthy Heart
Long before the ancient Greek surgeon Galen carried out meticulous dissections of the heart, the Egyptians wrote about health and disease in relation to how the heart “speaks in vessels” with the rest of the body. Today, physicians may not associate the heart with the soul (or soul mates), but many credit early Egyptian medical knowledge of the heart as a precursor to modern cardiology.
The Heart: Powerful, but Vulnerable
A key element of a healthy body is a healthy heart. The heart is the center of our cardiovascular system and beats an average of 100,000 times per day supplying oxygen rich blood to the whole body. Every day we make choices that have a profound affect on the health of this vital organ. Most heart disease (HD) is linked to risk factors such as lack of exercise, obesity, smoking, stress, and poor eating habits.
One major condition that can develop with these risk factors is Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Often called the ‘silent killer’, Hypertension can cause significant damage throughout the cardiovascular and other body systems and ultimately results in over 80 million deaths each year.
The Silent Killer
Blood pressure is the amount of pressure exerted on the inside of blood vessels as the heart pumps the blood through the body. When there is resistance in the vessels, the pressure rises and hypertension results. The longer hypertension goes undetected and/or uncontrolled, the greater the damage to blood vessels and other organs. Hypertension can lead to heart attack, stroke, ruptured blood vessels, kidney disease or failure, and heart failure.
Warning signs for high blood pressure are rare but can include headaches, blurred vision, lightheadedness, shortness of breath and nosebleeds. However, there are typically no warning signs or symptoms for hypertension, which is why it is called the silent killer.
Hypertension is diagnosed by looking at 2 numbers in your BP reading: Systolic pressure (the top number) is the pressure in your arteries when the heart beats (contracts). Diastolic pressure (bottom number) represents the pressure in your arteries between beats.
- Normal blood pressure is below 120/80
- Prehypertension is 120 – 139 systolic or 80 – 89 diastolic.
- Hypertension is 140/90 or higher
The Potassium Secret for a Healthy Heart
You’ve no doubt heard the best thing to do when you have hypertension is to reduce the amount of salt/sodium in your diet. Did you know the average adult needs 4,700 mg of potassium daily compared to only 200 mg of sodium. Unfortunately for most of us, our eating habits give us way too much sodium – 3,300 mg a day – and not nearly enough potassium. This imbalance can increase your risk of developing hypertension.
What’s truly important for your heart, and a more accurate strategy to prevent high blood pressure, is to balance the relationship between potassium and sodium (salt) in your daily diet. Proper sodium-potassium balance is necessary for nerve transmission, muscle contraction, fluid balance, and the optimal health of all the cells in your body. In regard to the heart, potassium is particularly important for regulating heart rhythm and maintaining blood pressure.
By reducing your sodium intake, you are often correcting the sodium-potassium imbalance without realizing it. To further support your heart health, eat more potassium-rich foods such as sweet potato, spinach, banana, peas, legumes, apricots, avocados, halibut and molasses.
More Healthy Heart Tips
Heart-Healthy Diet Do’s: Eat a variety of fresh fruits and dark green veggies daily. Use plant-based oils for cooking. Eat mindfully, not on-the-run. Reduce or eliminate packaged foods, sugar, and red meat.
Walk, No Need to Run: 30 minutes of daily, brisk walking lowers your risk for hypertension.
Be Calm: Learn to manage stress with healthy coping techniques, such as, deep breathing, yoga, meditation, gratitude journaling, and getting quality sleep.
Supplemental Support: Nutritional supplements shown to support heart health include Hawthorn CoQ10, Essential Fatty Acids, Magnesium, Garlic and B-vitamins. Supplements you might have heard about–Natto-K (nattokinase), Guggul, or Niacin–should not be taken without the supervision of your health practitioner.
Because some blood pressure medications affect the potassium level in the body, be sure and discuss the best strategy for making this adjustment with your Holistic Doctor.
Mighty Pomegranate (Punica granatum)
Inside a lumpy, thick-skinned pomegranate you’ll find a treasure of jewel-like arils-ruby seeds surrounded by sacs of flavorful juice. Pomegranate is both richly sweet and tart and exceptionally refreshing. Savor the flavor by eating the arils by the spoonful, adding them to salads or to a bowl of Greek yogurt. Any way you choose, you’ll reap the health benefits of this exotic fruit.
Pomegranate is native to the mountainous regions along the Caspian Sea, near northern Iraq and northwest Iran. For centuries, cultures around the world have used all parts of the tree-roots, bark, flowers, peel, seed and seed oil-medicinally to treat a range of health concerns, from digestive disorders and dysentery, to fever and heart ailments. In the West, the fruit and seed are typically used in medicinal preparations. Modern research indicates that pomegranate may be beneficial for reducing risk and supporting treatment for arthritis, certain types of cancers, erectile dysfunction, and heart disease.
A compound found only in pomegranates called punicalagin is beneficial to the heart and blood vessels. Punicalagin is responsible for pomegranate’s antioxidant effects. In fact, pomegranate has more antioxidant power than red wine and green tea! Preliminary research shows that drinking unsweetened pomegranate juice helps lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, improve blood flow to the heart, and may help protect against the formation of blockages in the arteries. Further research is needed to determine how much pomegranate juice (or as a nutritional supplement) is beneficial for different people and for different health concerns.
When buying pomegranate, don’t shy away from a fruit that isn’t perfectly round or feels heavy. Unusual shape, and weight indicate a fruit that is plump with arils and juice. Pomegranates do not sweeten once picked, so you’ll want to avoid fruits that look dried out.
Winter Pear, Pomegranate & Spinach Salad with Hazelnut
If you’re looking for the perfect starter to a romantic dinner, or simply want to treat yourself to a festive salad robust in color, crunch and flavor, then this winter salad is the one for you. Pomegranate seeds add beautiful color against the dark green and nutrient rich spinach. Not to mention, the uniquely tangy-sweet pomegranate is an excellent source of antioxidants. The juicy strips of Bartlett pear provide a sweet balance to the radicchio. The entire salad is complemented by the crunch of toasted hazelnuts and a lemon-thyme based dressing. The result is super-nutritious and super-delicious!
- 3/4 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons roasted hazelnut oil or extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 5 ounces spinach leaves
- 3/4 cup finely shredded radicchio (from 1 head)
- 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds*
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts
- 1 large firm-ripe Bartlett pear
- In a small saucepan, boil pomegranate juice until reduced to 1/4 cup, 5 to 6 minutes. Let cool. Whisk in lemon juice, oil, salt, thyme, and pepper.
- In a salad bowl, gently mix spinach, radicchio, pomegranate seeds, and hazelnuts with dressing. Divide among 6 plates.
- Quarter pear and core. Thinly slice crosswise, then stack slices and cut in matchsticks. Arrange pear on salads.
*Helpful Hints for Extracting Pomegranate Seeds
No Muss, No Fuss: An Easy Way to Extract Pomegranate Seeds (video)
Cut a pomegranate into chunks. Put chunks in a bowl of water, and, working underwater, use your hands to break seeds free from pith.
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 cornucopia of flavors and the good company at your table.
The art of Mindful Eating, with its 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 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.
5 Ways to Slow Down and Savor Your Holiday Meal
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.
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–free of distraction.
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.
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.
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.
“Take care of your body with steadfast fidelity. The soul must see through these eyes alone, and if they are dim, the whole world is clouded.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Don’t Let Food Labels Give You Indigestion
When you are cruising the grocery store aisles, you probably flip over a few items to scrutinize their nutrition labels. But do you understand what you’re looking at? The government is working on updating the label to reflect today’s nutritional concerns and include more realistic serving sizes, but until that happens, use the diagram included with this article to help make quick, informed food choices that contribute to a healthy, balanced diet. Also, remember these helpful tips:
- Nutrition information is provided for one serving of a food or beverage. Many products contain more than one serving. If a serving size is one cup, and you eat two cups, then you must double the calories, fat, sugar, and other ingredients to get an accurate estimate of how much you’ve eaten. If you’ve eaten a smaller portion than what is on the label, calculate accordingly.
- Pay special attention to the amount of sugars (including carbohydrates) in one serving. This is especially important if you have diabetes (or other health concerns) that require you to monitor sugar intake or the glycemic index of foods.
- Check out the amount of fat, especially saturated fat, in one serving. Fats contribute to many chronic health problems. Trans fats are also labeled because they are known to contribute to “bad cholesterol,” which contributes to heart disease. Choose foods that are low in these fats. However, some foods, like nuts, have high fat content, but the source of fat is actually good for the body–it’s not a saturated or a trans fat.
- Be aware that “0” does not mean zero! It means less than 5% per serving!
- In addition to understanding the nutrition label, take a look at the list of ingredients. If you cannot pronounce the words that are listed on a food label, it’s likely coming from chemicals and processed (unnatural) elements that are not healthy for the body. Some of the items you want to avoid include:
- Preservatives including BHA, BHT, brominated products
- GMO – genetically modified organisms, common in corn and soy derivatives
- Xanthan gum
- Hydrocarbons (pesticides PCB, DDE, DDT)
- Soy and cottonseed oil
- Dyes (e.g., yellow dye no. 5, tartrazine)
- MSG – monosodium glutamate (common in canned foods and Asian cooking)
- Food allergens – if you or family members have a known allergy to peanuts, wheat, soy, or gluten
If you are in a hurry and can’t take the time to read labels, be sure to avoid packaged (bag, box, or bottle) foods. Instead, buy fresh foods and “eat a rainbow everyday” (e.g., fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, cheese, yogurt). Also, choose water, tea, or juices with no sugar added.
Finally, pay attention to what’s happening in the news … in July 2015 the government proposed a new nutrition information panel for food labeling. The public is invited to provide comment.
Food for Thought. . .
“Variability is the law of life, and as no two faces are the same, so no two bodies are alike, and no two individuals react alike and behave alike under the abnormal conditions which we know as disease.”
– William Osler
From Shakespeare’s reference to “pumpion” in The Merry Wives of Windsor to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, pumpkin is woven into the fabric of history and cuisine. Native Americans roasted long strips of pumpkin over an open flame and ate them. Colonists made pumpkin pie by slicing off the pumpkin top; removing the seeds; filling the rind with milk, spices, and honey; and then baking the pumpkin over hot ashes. And we all know pumpkin transforms into Jack-o-lanterns for Halloween decor. Today, we appreciate pumpkin not just for culinary traditions, but also for its abundance of nutrients and versatility in healthy meal preparation, such as soufflés, soups, bread, jam, butter, and desserts.
A member of the Cucurbitaceae family of vegetables (along with cucumber and squash), pumpkin is cultivated around the world for both its fleshy vibrant orange meat and seeds. It is a naturally low calorie (49 calories per one cup serving), yet filling food that offers the following health benefits:
- Pumpkin contains no saturated fats or cholesterol. It is rich in dietary fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and many antioxidant vitamins, including A, C, and E.
- It is also an excellent source of many natural polyphenolic flavonoid compounds such as beta-carotenes, lutein, and zeaxanthin. Carotenes convert into vitamin A inside the body. Zeaxanthin is a natural antioxidant that may offer protection from age-related macular disease.
- Pumpkin is a good source of the B-complex group of vitamins including niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), thiamin, and pantothenic acid.
- It is a rich source of copper, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.
- Pumpkin seeds provide dietary fiber and pack a powerful mix of protein, minerals, and vitamins: 100 g (1 cup) of pumpkin seeds provide 559 calories, 30 gm of protein, plus folate, iron, niacin, selenium, and zinc.
Spiced Pumpkin Bread
Adapted from Bon Appétit Fast, Easy and Fresh cookbook
Yield: 2 loaves
Preheat oven to 350°F
Butter and flour two 9x5x3 inch loaf pans
- 1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour mix)
- 1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour (or gluten-free flour mix)
- 1 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 c. raw sugar (or raw honey)
- 1 c. sunflower oil
- 3 large eggs (room temp)
- 15 oz. (1 can) pure pumpkin
- 1 c. chopped walnuts (optional)
Sift first eight ingredients into a large bowl. In second bowl, beat sugar and oil to blend, and then add eggs and pumpkin. Mix well. Stir dry ingredients into pumpkin mixture in two additions, just until blended. Add nuts, if desired.
Divide between loaf pans. Bake approximately 1 hour 10 minutes, or until tester inserted into center comes out clean. Transfer to racks and cool in pans for 10 minutes. Cut around sides of pan with a knife to loosen. Turn loaves onto rack to cool completely.