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Love in the Time of Coronavirus – a healing poem

Because there is healing in poetry and the arts, I felt compelled to share this poem written recently by Richard Hendrick in Ireland about the state of affairs right now amidst COVID-19. If I had written this poem, I would have named it Love in the Time of Coronavirus, as it fills me with a sense of optimism and reassurance that everything is just fine and will continue to be just fine – even if we’re a little uncomfortable with all the changes – if we just slow down to Love.

 

Lockdown

 

 Yes there is fear.

 Yes there is isolation.

 Yes there is panic buying.

 Yes there is sickness.

 Yes there is even death.

 But,

 They say that in Wuhan after so many years of noise

 You can hear the birds again.

 They say that after just a few weeks of quiet

 The sky is no longer thick with fumes

 But blue and grey and clear.

 They say that in the streets of Assisi

 People are singing to each other

 across the empty squares,

 keeping their windows open

 so that those who are alone

 may hear the sounds of family around them.

 They say that a hotel in the West of Ireland

 Is offering free meals and delivery to the housebound.

 Today a young woman I know

 is busy spreading fliers with her number

 through the neighbourhood

 So that the elders may have someone to call on.

 Today Churches, Synagogues, Mosques and Temples

 are preparing to welcome

 and shelter the homeless, the sick, the weary

 All over the world people are slowing down and reflecting

 All over the world people are looking at their neighbours in a new way

 All over the world people are waking up to a new reality

 To how big we really are.

 To how little control we really have.

 To what really matters.

 To Love.

 So we pray and we remember that

 Yes there is fear.

 But there does not have to be hate.

 Yes there is isolation.

 But there does not have to be loneliness.

 Yes there is panic buying.

 But there does not have to be meanness.

 Yes there is sickness.

 But there does not have to be disease of the soul

 Yes there is even death.

 But there can always be a rebirth of love.

 Wake to the choices you make as to how to live now.

 Today, breathe.

 Listen, behind the factory noises of your panic

 The birds are singing again

 The sky is clearing,

 Spring is coming,

 And we are always encompassed by Love.

 Open the windows of your soul

 And though you may not be able

 to touch across the empty square,

 Sing.

 

 -from Richard Hendrick (Brother Richard) in Ireland

 March 13th 2020

Immune Boosting Tips

While it’s always a great idea to take exquisite care of ourselves, the worldwide coronavirus pandemic is offering us a stark, in-your-face reminder how important it is not to leave our health to accident. Rather than feeling nervous or overwhelmed as we navigate these uncharted waters, however, my wish for everyone is that we empower ourselves with useful information and resolve to take even better care of our precious selves and loved ones in the days to come.

There’s a lot that feels outside of our control right now, but there are actually many small actions that are totally within our control (beyond hygiene), which can help keep our immune systems strong and ready to fight off viruses. To be human is to get sick sometimes, and when that happens the best we can hope for is to bounce back quickly.

The information below about boosting immunity has been a resource for my clients for years. I’ve reworked it over the last couple of days and included a few more ideas specific to this pandemic. Consider it a care package from me to you during this unprecedented time. I hope each of you finds at least one suggestion helpful (in conjunction with hand-washing, wiping down surfaces, covering your cough, etc):

1. Eat more garlic. Garlic is related to the onion (another valuable immune booster) and contains the active ingredient allicin, which fights infections and bacteria. According to one study, British researchers gave 146 people either a placebo or a garlic extract for 12 weeks; the garlic takers were two-thirds less likely to get sick. Garlic is an easy immune booster to embrace. If you like to cook, simply incorporate garlic into your dishes at the end of cooking for the most immune-boosting impact. Better yet, set aside a couple fresh cloves, crush them slightly, then cut into pieces small enough to swallow. (Swallowing garlic bits, rather than chewing them, minimizes garlic breath.) If you don’t like to cook, simply buy a garlic extract from the health foods store. 

2. Boost your inner sunshine with vitamin D: There’s no denying the piles and piles of research on vitamin D; having adequate vitamin D levels is unquestionably one of the most important things you can do to keep illness at bay and experience optimal health. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, a well-respected, integrative MD, studies show how supplementing with vitamin D can reduce colds and flu by 42%. That’s significant! We all rely on a solid bank of vitamin D, preferably in the 55-80 ng/ml range, which is considered optimal. Vitamin D levels can be ascertained via a simple blood test, but often we need to specifically request a vitamin D test from our physicians. If you’re able to find out your vitamin D levels, talk to your doctor about just how much vitamin D to supplement with to get you into an optimal range. If you don’t know your levels and want to start supplementing immediately, it is generally considered safe to take 1000-2000 IU’s daily (especially for Minnesotans). It’s not uncommon to need 5,000-10,000 IU’s daily in the winter, but everybody is unique.

3. Embrace elderberry. Consuming elderberries to boost immunity is hardly a new concept. Elderberries are loaded with antioxidants and vitamin C, making them an extremely effective immune-boosting tool. The following information, which is quite persuasive, comes from The Healthy Home Economist:

“In one study, elderberry extract inhibited several strains of influenza and reduced symptoms. In another, elderberry syrup flavonoids were found effective against the H1N1 (Swine Flu) virus. In the most compelling study, a randomized trial of 60 patients aged 18-54 suffering from flu symptoms for 48 hours or less received 15 ml (3 teaspoons) of elderberry syrup or a placebo 4x per day for five days. Researchers observed that “Symptoms were relieved on average 4 days earlier and use of rescue medication was significantly less in those receiving elderberry extract compared with a placebo.”

If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on fresh elderberries, try steeping them in boiling water and then drinking as a tea. Elderberry juice is another option, and elderberry syrup is available at most health food stores (I like the Gaia brand), or you can follow this link to find a recipe for homemade elderberry syrup: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/simple-elderberry-syrup-to-boost-immunity/#sthash.yFrI613F.dpuf

4. Breathe through your nose whenever possible to better filter impurities and pathogens. Breathing through your nose – especially while exercising increases the micro-amounts of nitric oxide in your bloodstream – which elevates the white blood cell count, thus boosting immunity. Breathing through your nose while sleeping leads to deeper, more restful sleep, which is always helpful for our immune system. It sounds weird (and even a little scary), but if you tend to sleep with your mouth open, consider “mouth-taping,” which is exactly what it sounds like: grab some medical tape and simply apply a piece vertically from the top of your upper lip to your upper chin. Many clients have looked at me suspiciously when I suggested they try this but then reported back how they did indeed feel more rested in the morning.

5. Take zinc. This trace mineral is well known for its immune boosting properties, and elderly people and vegans/vegetarians are at greater risk of being deficient. Zinc deficiency produces a direct and rapid decline in T cell function. T cells elevate the body’s immune response to viruses, bacteria, and other challenges to one’s health. Pick up a zinc supplement, keep zinc lozenges on hand, or eat zinc-rich foods like oysters, beef, crab, lobster, pork, chickpeas, or cashews to increase your levels. If taking a supplement, simply follow the recommended dosage on the bottle. I like the Mega Foods brand of zinc as well as Country Life.

6. Skip mainstream lines and try a natural, essential oil based hand sanitizer. Rather than arm wrestle somebody over who gets the last mainstream hand sanitizer on the store shelf (especially when we’re not supposed to be touching each other), find a doTerra rep and order some On Guard by doTerra, a more natural antiseptic spray that utilizes essential oils along with ethyl alcohol to kill 99.9% of germs. Sometimes taking the off-the-beaten path is so much less stressful.

7. Outwit bad bugs with an army of good bugs. If you know my work at all, you know I’m a big fan of probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods, like kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Even a tablespoon or two of these foods every day can do wonders for our health.

Most of our good bacteria live in our large intestine, and most of our immune system (70-80%, astonishingly) is found in our digestive tract; therefore, when we build a healthy population of bacteria in our digestive tract, we’re building robust immunity. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, in an 80-day Swedish study of 181 factory employees, those who drank a daily supplement of Lactobacillus reuteri—a specific probiotic that appears to stimulate white blood cells—took 33% fewer sick days than those given a placebo. Any yogurt with a “Live and Active Cultures” seal contains some beneficial bugs, but Stonyfield Farm is the only mainstream US brand I know of that contains this specific strain. Do yourself a favor and don’t get too hung up on whether your probiotic supplement has this specific bacteria though – just make an effort to increase your good bacteria.

8. Drink warm water throughout the day (but especially in the morning) and stay hydrated. Be mindful of this especially in the winter, when the air is dry; our bodies need to be well hydrated to function properly and to keep protective (mucosal) barriers intact. According to Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer, chief of the Dr. James J. Rahal Jr. Division of Infectious Disease at New York Hospital Queens, ”Dry and cold conditions (i.e. winter) are probably more high-risk situations (versus summer) for viruses because of dry mucosa.” The mucosa, she explains, is what lines your trachea, the back of your throat, and your sinuses. Viruses invade the mucosa and start growing, causing your cold. Keeping the mucosa hydrated is a key piece to warding off unwelcome viruses. Remember coffee and other caffeinated beverages don’t count!

9. Don’t even think about eating sugar if you are feeling rundown or after coming into contact with others who are sick. A sugary treat is fine every once in a while, but eating it regularly really taxes the immune system. If your health is compromised in any way, do not eat sugar. Instead try eating gentle sweets like sweet vegetables (sweet potatoes, carrots, squash, red bell peppers), fruit, dates with almond butter, or try drinking kombucha (sparkling, fermented tea) or sweet herbal teas like Good Earth Sweet & Spicey tea or Tazo’s Wild Sweet Orange.

10. Don’t cheat on your food sensitivities. If you know you’re sensitive to a certain food or group of foods, don’t cheat right now. Many people have food sensitivities, whether it be gluten, dairy, eggs, nuts, corn, etc. On a day-to-day basis, most of us can consume things our body doesn’t love and get away with it, but every time we do that it forces our immune system to work harder. My body doesn’t love dairy. As soon as I eat it, I get congested and a little asthma-like cough settles in, so for the foreseeable future, I won’t be cheating on my food sensitivity. I will respect my body’s boundaries.

11. Eat all the colors of the rainbow. Food is our primary medicine. Period. Eat all the colors of the rainbow, which means an array of fruits and veggies. Richly colored fruits and vegetables are chock-full of protective, immune-boosting phytonutrients. Food is our first line of defense – let’s not forget it. 

12. Drink dandelion root tea. This tea aids bile production, which helps create really robust digestion. Additionally, dandelion root tea has been shown to have anti-viral properties and assist the liver in cleaning out toxins, all of which helps boost immunity.

13. Avoid spending all day indoors. Even if it’s cold and yucky out, do your best to get some fresh air for a few minutes. Indoor environments are stagnant and force us to breath in chemicals from furniture, carpet, and cleaners that burden our body. Fresh air is better for our immune system.

14. Chew your food thoroughly. Chewing our food well helps our digestive system do its job more easily and absorb optimal nutrition from the food we’re taking in. When the body has to work hard to digest the food you eat, it taxes your entire system. 70-80% of your immune system is located in and around the digestive system – treat it well.

15. Take time to relax and do absolutely nothing. When we pack our schedules so full that there is no time left for rest, our health suffers. There’s a reason most religious traditions advocate for a Sabbath. Make sure you take breaks from all electronics too, including computers, TVs, and phones to allow your body and mind to relax fully. Perhaps this time of self-isolation and social distancing is an opportunity for some deep restoration of our health (ironically) from generally too-busy lifestyles.

16. Prevent the intrusion of pathogens through visualization. It may sound bizarre, but science has proven the powerful health benefits associated with visualization. And really, what harm could come from trying it? Simply imagine your body full of bright light. Start at your head and move slowly down to your toes, filling your body, section by section, with awareness and love. Then flood your entire body with this bright light of awareness for a full two minutes. This will charge the body with a heightened awareness, which will support the body’s immune system.

17. Smile and laugh as much as possible!

18. Get enough sleep. Ample sleep is a miracle worker for our immune systems. Seriously consider shutting down the TV and computer 2-3 hours before you plan to turn in, giving your brain and your nervous system a chance to calm down. You might also try moving electrical alarm clocks, phones, or other equipment away from where you sleep (at least 3 feet away).

19. Go easy on pesticides. Choose your foods carefully and learn which ones are important to buy organic. Pesticides weigh down our immune system and make our bodies work much harder to keep us healthy. Human beings were never meant to ingest the volume of chemicals we take in as a result of living in the 21st Century.

20. Load up on vitamin C. The jury is still out on whether or not vitamin C helps prevent the common cold, but study after study has proven that vitamin C helps reduce both the severity and duration of a cold or virus if you happen to catch one. Vitamin C rich foods include oranges, peppers, strawberries, pineapple, and cauliflower.

Please feel free to share this information with your loved ones. For my fellow health practitioners, also feel free to share, though I would simply request that you give me credit for compiling. Thank you!

Lemony Chicken Vegetable Soup

Various versions of this lemony chicken vegetable soup seem to be floating around the internet lately, as if back in fashion – and for good reason; it’s easy, flexible on ingredients, super flavorful, and generally inexpensive to make, like many soups. What’s not to love?

I can’t remember where I got the original version I began working from, which called for orzo, but like most things I cook, I began experimenting and working off-the-cuff pretty much from the start. I suggest you do the same. Orzo is certainly tasty and adds a fun chewy texture to the overall dish, but it is a pasta containing gluten and isn’t tolerated well by many. If that’s you, or if you generally try to avoid over-consuming gluten like I do, then try adding cooked rice (white or brown – your choice) at the end of cooking instead. Rice is a beautiful substitute.

Though this recipe – with its main ingredients being chicken, leek/onion, and celery – isn’t necessarily a spring soup, the addition of the lemon at the end keeps it super fresh and bright tasting, which does feel springy. I could also see wilting some spinach or arugula in at the end of cooking to up the nutritional value.

I’ve found that it tastes best if each eater adds freshly squeezed lemon to his/her individual bowl rather than finishing the entire pot with lemon before serving. In case you have leftovers, it just doesn’t taste right when reheated if the lemon is already added. This soup reminds me how simple cooking can still deliver really beautiful flavors.

 

Lemony Chicken Vegetable Soup

Yield: 6-8 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium leek, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick

1/2 cup yellow onion, chopped

2 celery stalks, sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick

1 clove garlic, minced

12-16 ounces skinless, boneless chicken thighs, depending on how meaty you want your soup

12 cups chicken broth, depending on how thick you want your soup

kosher salt, to taste

freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup cooked white Basmati rice or brown rice (or 1 cup uncooked orzo, if you digest gluten okay)

1/4-1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped

lemon wedges, for serving

optional: chives or parsley, for garnish

 

If using rice rather than orzo, cook rice according to package directions or using a ratio of 2 cups water to 1 cup of rice.

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add leek, onion, celery, and garlic and saute until the vegetables are soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add chicken thighs to the pan, arranging on top of the vegetables, then add the broth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, then reduce heat to low and simmer until chicken is done, about 15 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and allow it to cool until it can be handled, then shred into bite-size pieces.

If using orzo, bring the broth back to a boil, then add orzo and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.

Remove pan from heat, then add shredded chicken, dill, and rice, if using. Taste and adjust seasonings. Add optional parsley and chive garnishes, then serve with lemon halves for squeezing over each individual serving. 

Prescribing a Different Kind of Medicine: Food

Doctors are taking a new approach to get to the root cause of some costly illnesses.

(This article by Fenit Nirappil originally appeared in the Washington Post.)

 

Adrienne Dove pulled up to the checkout line of the Giant grocery store in Washington with a cart filled with cabbage, bananas, and bagged string beans. The register rang $20.60. Instead of cash or card, Dove paid with a Produce Rx voucher from the store pharmacy. The Giant in the most impoverished part of the District of Columbia is the latest frontier in the “food as medicine” movement.

 

Hospitals and  local governments across the country have been writing and filling prescriptions for healthy food in an attempt to address the root causes of diabetes, hypertension and other costly illnesses. The federal farm bill that was passed late last year included more than $4 million in grants for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to distribute to governments that run prescription produce programs, but the money has not yet been distributed.

 

The goal, backed by some research, is to improve health and reduce costs by subsidizing fresh produce such as broccoli and grapefruit in addition to insulin and beta blockers. “What we are hoping to find is there is a return on investment for the health-care system: a reduction in ER visits, medication compliance,” said Lauren Shweder Biel, executive director of DC Greens, a nonprofit group that is managing the District’s Produce Rx pilot. “That’s the holy grail for systems like this.”

 

Improved diet is also a target.

 

“I was trying to manage my patients’ diabetes and high blood pressure, but when they were telling me they were eating Top Ramen, doughnuts, and bagels because it keeps them full, all I could say was ‘That’s too bad, here’s some more drugs,'” said Rita Nguyen of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, who oversees an expanding produce prescription program.

 

In the nation’s capital, the Produce Rx program provides 500 Medicaid patients $20 weekly vouchers for produce at the Giant in Ward 8 through the end of the year. Ward 8 is the poorest, sickest part of the city and has the highest rates of death for diabetes and heart disease. It’s also a food desert, and the Giant is the only full-service grocery store.

 

The Produce Rx program, which includes the cost of vouchers and evaluates patient outcomes, has received $500,000 from the District government and about $150,000 from American Health Caritas, a Medicaid-managed care organization. Dove, 43, found out about the pilot program at a health clinic. Medical professionals often urged Dove to eat better, but she was surprised when a clinic official called the grocery store pharmacy to secure produce vouchers for her the same way doctors would call in a prescription for drugs. “I grew up on McDonald’s and I got high blood pressure,” she said. “Now I tell my son, ‘don’t be like Mommy,’ and he asks for broccoli and spinach.”

 

One of the biggest challenges for programs is ensuring that access to healthier foods will make a difference in what a person chooses to eat. Ciera Price was on her first shopping trip after her doctor wrote her a prescription for the produce program when she met the supermarket’s in-house nutritionist, Jillian Griffith, and scheduled a free consultation. “When they tell you to eat healthy, what does that mean to you?” Griffith asked Price. Price winced. “Leaving everything that I love and sticking to the greens.” Griffith offered a more optimistic answer. “Maybe you can learn to love new things,” she said. “We want to be in the middle and mindful of the things we are eating and how to eat foods that make us happy.”

 

In 2001, Boston Medical Center launched one of the first food pharmacies with its food pantry in the basement of the safety net hospital, which treats patients regardless of their ability to pay. Nguyen said proponents are still trying to figure out the best way to set up such programs. “We don’t know what dose of food is enough to make a difference,” Nguyen said. “Is food by itself enough? Or do you need the nutritionist, do you need the cooking supplies, the recipes?”

 

In Pennsylvania, the Fresh Food Farmacy initiative by regional health insurer and provider Geisinger provides produce, cooking demonstrations and diabetes management lessons to 700 patients. In the first two years of the program, officials found that diabetics who received food saw their blood sugar levels decline, as opposed to those who were not given any. Allison Hess, a Geisinger executive, said the Fresh Food Farmacy costs about $3500 per family annually, and drops in blood sugar would result in greater savings from less medication. “It’s kind of a no-brainer,” Hess said. “We are going to either pay for this medical expense or pay for this food and education that’s going to be more of a lifelong benefit.”

Minty Pea Spring Soup

This recipe comes from my favorite cookbook du jour: Dishing up the Dirt, Simple Recipes for Cooking Through the Seasons by Andrea Bemis. If you like cooking with whole, seasonal foods – which I hope you do – this is an invaluable resource to have. All the recipes I’ve tried so far are easy, tasty, and healthy. Win, win, win. An added bonus are the intimate stories at the beginning of each chapter, endearing accounts that detail the author’s experience as half of the farm team at Tumbleweed Farm in Oregon. Honestly, the whole book is a thing of beauty.

 

It is about this time of year (April/May) when I start noticing mint pea soups showing up on seasonal restaurant menus. Along with fresh taste of greens, mint and peas are two of the flavors I most look forward to in spring. The bright flavors and color always make me happy. I recently made the recipe I’m posting from Andrea’s cookbook below, and last week I also ordered a pea mint soup at a farm-to-table diner in Minneapolis. That soup used a small dollop of creme fraiche instead of the coconut milk that Andrea calls for, and the chef also drizzled in a swirl of chili oil before serving to give it a nice zip. Since I don’t plan on getting tired of pea mint soup anytime soon, I’m also going to experiment a little and see if I can recreate something similar to what I tasted that day at brunch with my friend.

 

Spring will be here for a couple months; I’m going to make the most of it by enjoying a parade of flavors I’ve waited for all winter. This soup reminds me how sometimes the simplest foods can be the most satisfying.

 

Minty Pea Soup

Serves 4-6

1 Tablespoon coconut oil

1 medium-sized yellow onion (or other onion), diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

3 cups fresh shelled peas or thawed frozen peas

1/4 cup firmly packed fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

1 14-ounce can full-fat coconut milk (make sure to use full-fat coconut milk for the creamiest texture)

fine sea salt

lemon wedge

freshly ground black pepper

extra-virgin olive oil for serving

thinly sliced radishes for serving

fresh dill for serving

 

Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium. Add the onion and garlic. Saute until the pieces are soft but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add the peas, mint, coconut milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 1/2 cups water. Bring the mixture to a low simmer, then turn off the heat. Working in batches, transfer the soup to a high-speed blender and process until smooth. Add additional water to thin if necessary. Taste and adjust salt as needed.

 

Serve the soup warm or at room temperature with a tiny squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a sprinkling of pepper, a drizzle of olive oil, a few radish slices, and a sprig of dill.

The Great “Hyperpalatable” Food Hoax

Hyperpalatable.” Have you heard this word before? It’s somewhat new to our modern day vernacular, used to describe all sorts of super sweet, salty, and fatty foods engineered to deliver a wallop of flavor that far surpasses the flavor available in natural foods (fruit, veggies, grains, etc.). Hyperpalatable foods are addictive and keep us reaching for more cookies, more chips, more fries, or more of that luscious, rich cheese dip even when our bellies are full and our minds say, “no more.”

 

These engineered foods can keep us stuck in a pattern of overeating because it’s quite challenging to stop eating them once we start. In fact, they are designed to be difficult to stop eating, and it has very little to do with willpower. These junk foods either possess excessive amounts of salt, sugar, or fat or they’ve been engineered to have just the right ratio of sugar/fat, salt/sugar, salt/fat. In either case, the eater gets a nice hit of dopamine – the “feel-good” neurotransmitter associated with bliss, euphoria, concentration, and motivation – with each bite. This trains our taste buds to not only receive less pleasure from the subtle but delicious flavors of whole foods but to desire and seek out hyperpalatable foods instead. These cravings can then lead to food addiction.

 

To reiterate: food chemists intentionally suffuse food products with increased levels of fat, sugar, salt, flavors, and food additives to tap into and train our brain’s reward system to desire and consume these engineered foods. I hope you find this information as creepy as I do.

 

David A. Kessler, author of The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite has reported that restaurant chains like Chili’s cook up “hyper-palatable food that requires little chewing and goes down easily.” He uses the Snickers bar as another common example of a hyperpalatable food, describing it as, “extraordinarily well engineered.” He writes, “As we chew it, the sugar dissolves, the fat melts and the caramel traps the peanuts so the entire combination of flavors is blissfully experienced in the mouth at the same time.”

 

Wow.

 

The intense flavors we experience when we eat these junk foods are simply not available in natural foods. An apple is sweet, and pineapple is really sweet, but neither holds a candle to the utterly intense sweetness of an Oreo or a Girl Scout cookie, in which oodles of sugar are paired with just the right amount of fat. It’s no wonder some people can plow through an entire sleeve of cookies before realizing what has happened. The pleasure center of our brain lights up as dopamine is released and we feel happy and calm after bingeing on those cookies. Pizza, chips, and french fries top the list of super salty hyperpalatable foods; cheeseburgers and bacon are other examples of that irresistible and exquisite salt/fat combo. When faced with the choice between a bowl of lightly salted brown rice, roasted and salted potatoes or sweet potatoes, or salted vegetables versus any of the aforementioned super salty addictive foods, I think we all know what’s going to win. It’s no wonder many people can’t stop at one or two pieces of pizza, even if it means their bellies hurt afterwards and they have to unbutton their pants when all is said and done. Again, that pizza is engineered to keep us eating it long after we’re full.

 

Your willpower muscle will likely be a pretty weak muscle around hyperpalatable foods. Remember, these foods are designed to be addictive, so it’s far less about willpower and more about the way your brain has been conditioned to crave and enjoy these foods. Unfortunately, we live during a time when we are surrounded by hyperpalatable foods; therefore, my best advice is to simply limit your exposure to them. Don’t bring these foods into your home regularly. If they are not in your house, you are far less likely to eat them. If you’re at a social gathering and find yourself faced with a big bowl of chips or sweets, do your best not to start eating them. If you start, you’ll struggle to stop. Seek out anything resembling a whole food instead and save yourself both the remorse and bellyache later.

 

Staying clear of hyperpalatable foods will mean avoiding most chain restaurants and packaged foods in the grocery store, especially packaged snack foods like cookies, crackers, chips, breakfast cereals, muffins, soda, and everything else I’ve already mentioned. You can Google “hyperpalatable foods” to find online lists if you still feel unsure whether or not something might fall into that category. I will never forget how one of my nutrition professors told us very matter-of-factly, “If something has a label, think twice about eating it. If you don’t understand the ingredients, don’t even think about eating it.”

 

In summary, it might work best to think about ending the consumption of hyperpalatable foods as a break-up. There will be a period of mourning. You will miss them, even if it was a one-sided relationship. And you may even feel crummy for a while while your body detoxes and goes through withdrawal. But the other side of this break-up will be a fresh start complete with taste buds that can actually taste and enjoy the natural sweetness of an apple, appreciate the rich, uncomplicated flavor of raw nuts, and feel satisfied with roasted Brussels sprouts or sweet potatoes as a snack. I know it sounds weird now, but it’s possible. And the rewards are far greater than a short-lived dopamine hit. 

March Madness: Shaking up Your Life

March Madness is here. No, I’m not talking about the NCAA tournament; I’m talking about cabin fever, the deep longing for spring, the burning desire to feel the sun’s warmth as we enjoy long walks outside without fear of slipping on the ice and breaking a bone. Mother Nature dealt Minnesota and much of the U.S. a winter fit for the history books, which has made many of us (even those of us who “love” winter) feel like we’ve come down with more than a mild case of madness. 

March is also my birthday month. March Madness indeed. People close to me know I tend to go somewhat crazy with birthday festivities, but this year I’m approaching the month more intentionally than past years. I’m being extra choosy about where I spend my time, energy, and money. I’m sure I’ll enjoy a few glasses of wine over various birthday excursions, and I’ll likely indulge in a substantial piece of flourless chocolate torte with raspberry sauce and hopefully a few fresh mint leaves (not that I’ve given it much thought, of course), but aside from those indulgences I’ve decided this year’s March Madness is dedicated to pushing me forward and closer to the best version of myself I can be.

After all, the best way to honor the gift of another year of life would be to honor and take excellent care of this life and body I have now.

So I scheduled a few 1-on-1 strength training appointments in addition to my group sessions at Discover Strength since staying strong as I age is paramount. I also booked a couple bodywork sessions to reward myself for my planned extra physical activity. I’ve already had a fun night out dancing with a friend, and I have another March dance date on the calendar because dancing makes my soul swell in a tsunami of joy.

My whole point in sharing all this is to stir up a little curiosity in you: what could you do for yourself this month that would be extra loving? Real self-love and self-care is about giving our body, mind, and spirit what it needs. What could you commit to for a month? What would make your soul swell in a tsunami of joy? A month is simultaneously a manageable AND significant amount of time in which to make powerful changes. Don’t hesitate. Just go for it. Be brave and shake up your life a little.

 

Love,

The Birthday Girl

Pomegranate Pear Salad

There’s simply no excuse for a boring salad.

 

Today I’m sharing a winner of a salad recipe I’ve personally tested with three different groups on three different occasions with overwhelming success each time. It’s an inventive crowd-pleaser, and I suggest you tuck it into your back pocket so you’re armed and ready the next time you’re asked to be the salad guy or gal for a gathering.

 

The first time I made this Pomegranate Pear Salad was for a holiday celebration on my dad’s side of the family. Let’s just say we have lots of “conventional American eaters” in this group – peeps who load up on meat and dairy and go light (or totally skip) the veggies and anything else they deem “new or exotic.” This group wants their food familiar, hearty, and not necessarily healthy. But at least half of the group tried my salad and loved it. Several of my cousins and aunts asked for the recipe after commenting on the bright, interesting flavors – the ultimate compliment. Success!

 

Since then I’ve made it for two distinctly less fussy groups of friends, all of whom strive to eat healthy. I was pretty confident they’d enjoy it, but even so you can never be sure that salad is going to go over well on a cold winter’s day. I’m happy to report it ended up being a delicious complement to chili  one day and to roasted chicken and sweet potatoes another day. I think the palate cleansing flavors and the natural sweetness in the fruit and dressing hit those taste buds that didn’t get satisfied by the spicy and savory flavors in the rest of the meal.

 

The original recipe came from the Salad Girl blog, a resource I share with all my clients. If you tend to think of salads as boring, your assignment is to browse that lovely site. I’ve used it as a resource over a dozen times and haven’t been disappointed yet. It’s a reliable source of inspiration. I ended up making some tweaks to the original recipe this time. Below is my spinoff:

 

Pomegranate Pear Salad

Yield: 6-8 servings

 

8 oz fresh mix of local baby greens

1 cup pomegranate seeds (fresh are better for the fun “pop” they give, but frozen will work if that’s all you can find)

2 ripe pears, thinly sliced or diced

1 cup chopped pecans (I use unroasted, unsalted pecans)

1/2 cup – 1 cup white cheddar shavings or Peccorino Romano, depending on how much your audience likes cheese

1/2 cup red onion, sliced paper-thin

Salad Girl Pomegranate Pear Salad Dressing (widely available at Lunds, Byerly’s, Kowalski’s, Twin Cities Food Co-ops, Whole Foods, etc.)

 

When ready to serve, simply add salad fixings to salad greens and toss well. I typically let each individual dress her own salad with the Pomegranate Pear Dressing, but feel free to dress the salad just before serving, if you think that will work better for your group.

Becoming a Batch Cooking Boss

I changed my life dramatically when I began batch cooking. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this term, “batch cooking” is the practice of spending a few hours one to two times a week prepping, cooking, and properly storing food so you have ready-to-go healthful meals at your fingertips. This is a practice I loosely began in college, mainly because most of my friends were busy watching football on Sundays (a sport I don’t like), and I often had no one to hang out with. Somehow I got the idea to spend my Sundays cooking, which resulted in me feeling rewarded with a fridge full of healthy meals I could eat throughout the week. In the decades since, I’ve become much more practiced and savvy at batch cooking, and I believe it is one of my keystone habits that helps my entire week unfold somewhat predictably and flow smoothly.

Everyone’s lives are a little bit different, but I believe batch cooking is the key to consistently eating healthy for most people. I believe this because most of the reasons people give me for not eating well or “slipping up” sound something like this:

  • “There was nothing in the fridge.”
  • “We didn’t have enough time to make anything; we only had 30 minutes before it was time to take the kids to dance/piano/violin lessons.”
  • “I didn’t have anything to pack for lunch and the only place near work is (insert xyz fast food restaurant).”
  • “We’re just so tired when we get home from work; cooking feels like too much after a long day.”
  • “We’re ravenous by the time we get home. It’s easier just to stop somewhere quick and grab something.”

You get the idea. I’m guessing you’ve heard yourself saying something similar. Heck, I’ve said a couple of these things before, but those occasions have been rare because I’ve established the keystone habit of batch cooking.

Home cooking is essential to health, but it’s a skill that, unfortunately, many people have lost. You and your family will eat whatever is readily available in the refrigerator or cupboards. If you don’t cook regularly, you’ll rely more on processed foods and restaurant food, which are usually not the best choices for our health. There’s nothing wrong with having these things sometimes, but I discourage people from eating this way daily. I’m excited to help rekindle the art and joy of cooking in your life.

Let’s walk through some potential obstacles/excuses you may have to home cooking, and see if we can clear some space in your life for this essential habit to emerge:

The #1 reason people give for not cooking is a lack of time.

Many of us have allowed our lives to become very busy and fast-paced. In fact, it takes solid boundary setting skills and clear intentions to NOT allow our lives to become overbooked. Take a few minutes now to evaluate when you could set aside 3-4 hours to cook during the week (you’ll likely become faster the more you practice). If 3-4 hours is a stretch, find 2 hours. You can get a solid start in 2 hours. As I mentioned above, Sundays are usually a great day for me to knock out a bunch of meals. If I make other plans on Sunday, then I immediately figure out an alternate time to cook; sometimes it’s Saturday, sometimes it’s Monday late afternoon/evening. Just like anything else that’s important to you, you will need to schedule it in order for it to happen, and you might have to say no to something else in order to squeeze your cooking in.

The #2 reason people give for not cooking is that they don’t know how.

Cooking is a skill just like any other skill, so if you don’t know how to cook there is simply no way around the learning process. Start with a simple recipe and give yourself the space to learn and make mistakes. Everybody burns things and attempts a recipe or two that doesn’t turn out. Every mistake gets you that much closer to figuring it out next time! Consider taking a knife skills class or a Cooking 101 class to help get you started. Keep track of your questions and lean on me, or ask a friend who likes to cook to come over and show you some easy tricks. You can also ask Google or tap YouTube for how-to videos about anything you find confusing.

The #3 reason people give for not cooking is that they don’t enjoy it.

 One common reason people don’t enjoy cooking is they’re too busy and don’t give themselves the time to cook a nice meal – so it becomes a stressful activity. Nobody enjoys that. A second common reason is that they simply haven’t practiced enough so they lack confidence. We already addressed these two obstacles above. The other reason I hear somewhat frequently comes from people living alone who say, “It’s no fun to cook for myself.” My response is always, “Let’s explore why that is.” To cook for oneself is to love oneself. You are worthy of quality, home-cooked meals. You are worth the time and effort. It might feel like a chore, but it is one of the most important things you can do to take care of yourself, so I encourage you to start dismantling that story you have.

All of that said, I empathize with people who don’t want to cook because, believe it or not, there are days when I don’t feel like cooking either. If my week has been unusually busy, I’ll definitely feel resistance to spending my afternoon doing this weekly chore, but because it’s become a strong habit I rarely give myself the option of not doing it.

I’ve also figured out how to increase the batch cooking “fun factor” by:

  • Playing music I love while cooking. I have so much fun pulling out old CD’s and jamming out while preparing our food for the week.
  • Playing Ted Talks or other YouTube videos on topics that interest me. If you’re into a TV or Netflix show and you have the means to play it in your kitchen, watch/listen while you cook. Nobody said we have to chop, prep, and cook in silence.
  • Cooking with a friend. Try inviting a friend over to batch cook with you. Several of my clients have played with this and have had a lot of fun combining their weekly meal prep with some social time. Instead of going out for a happy hour, knock this task off your to-do lists together and catch up while being productive.

Becoming a Batch Cooking Boss

Cooking once and eating once is a recipe for spending a lot of time in the kitchen. Batch cooking allows you to make several meals at a time, speed through your clean up all at once, and will then give you several days or more away from cooking (depending on the size of your family). Also, if you’re someone who makes several trips a week to the grocery store, you’ll likely cut that back to one or two bigger trips.

Steps for Batch Cooking

  1. Choose meals you would like to make for the week and the day(s) and time(s) you will prepare them.
  2. Use a grocery list tailored to your family’s needs.
  3. Shop once a week.
  4. Batch cooking includes making your meals and also cutting up your greens, veggies, fruits and preparing any snacks for the week.
  5. Keep a well-organized paper or electronic copy of your recipes. Make notes after making a new recipe that you enjoy so that you feel confident making it again.

(If you do this, eventually you’ll have a resource binder full of recipes you love and feel confident making.)

  1. Tip: I always double a recipe. If it ends up making more than we can comfortably eat, I store a few portions away in the freezer immediately so I don’t have to worry about it going bad. Having prepared food in the freezer is as good as money in the bank.

An Example of my Weekly Batch Cooking/Meal Prep:

Though the food I make varies each week, below is an example of what my batch cooking might look like:

  • 1 big pot of soup
  • 1 big batch of brown rice or quinoa (about 2-3 cups cooked)
  • 1 roast or baked hash/casserole (a bunch of vegetables combined with some meat and broth)
  • 1 vegetable egg bake (sort of like a quiche but without the crust)
  • a bunch of washed and chopped up veggies, ready to stir-fry or snack on at any point during the week (broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.)
  • In addition, we also buy plenty of fruit and a big pre-washed tub of salad greens

(Remember, you could start with just one of these items; you don’t have to become a batch cooking boss on your first try.)

Stephanie Meyer, a Twin Cities food photographer, stylist, and author who offers meal planning subscriptions, bases her subscriptions on the following template, which may be helpful to emulate (or you could buy her subscription for a while to get a jumpstart):

  • Saturday or Sunday (Batch Cook Day): Classic Roast Dinner
  • Mondays: Pastas/Casseroles
  • Tuesdays: Tacos/Wraps
  • Wednesdays: Hashes/Stir-fries
  • Thursdays: Entree Salads
  • Fridays: Soups/Stews

The Benefits of Batch Cooking:

 

  1. Life goes much smoother.
  2. You reduce stress because eating is no longer an afterthought.
  3. You and your family become more efficient in your work because you’re running on high quality fuel at regular intervals.
  4. Your thoughts improve because what you eat plays a very significant role in your thoughts. Anxiety levels will drop.
  5. When your thoughts improve, your mood improves.
  6. When your mood improves, you feel more confident and can move forward in your life in a much more positive, productive way.

You will need to feed yourself for the rest of your life. Consider investing more time in food planning, cooking, and learning what foods your body feels best eating. It’s a skill that will repay you for the rest of your life.

Keeping Calories on the Clock

My hubby reads our local paper’s Health + Science section religiously and often finds nutrition articles he wants my take on. When he handed me this one, Keeping Calories on the Clock, which discusses the impact our circadian rhythms have on metabolism, he didn’t merely suggest I read it – he insisted. Good call, Honey.

 

Circadian rhythms are fascinating. According to some quick research I did, it appears scientists first began studying circadian rhythms in the 1970’s, thanks to some interesting mutations they observed in the lowly fruit fly that led them to identify an internal 24-hour “rhythm” or “biological clockwork” within each of us. But even though scientists have known about these internal 24-hour rhythms since the 70’s, many mysteries have remained regarding the impact and influence circadian rhythms have on our health.

 

Fast forward to the year 2017 and you may remember the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine went to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for their discoveries of “molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm.” It turns out those fruit flies had some very important teachings for us.

 

Most people already know that circadian rhythms seriously impact sleep cycles and the quality of our sleep, but this “clockwork within our cells” impacts much more than just sleep. The article I’m sharing with you discusses how circadian rhythms also impact our metabolism. For those of us in nutrition, this is important news to share with the world. It reinforces what we’ve know for a long time – it’s not just about “what” you eat, “when” you eat also matters. If we don’t fall into step with the rhythm our body has set for us, we could be sabotaging our efforts at maintaining a healthy weight.

 

It’s a pretty quick read. Enjoy.

 

Keeping Calories on the Clock:

We’re hard-wired to eat at key times; Ignoring that can raise health risks.

By Melissa Healy, of the Los Angeles Times, reprinted in Star Tribune

 

Next time you stagger into a Waffle House in the wee hours of the morning and order the Texas sausage egg & cheese melt (1,040 calories), consider this new research finding: At roughly that hour, the most basic operations of the human body throttle back their caloric needs by about 10 percent compared to the rate at which they will burn calories in late afternoon or early evening.

 

Maybe you’d prefer to come back around dinnertime.

 

This pattern of calorie use doesn’t significantly vary based on whether you’re the server working the graveyard shift, or a 9-to-5er stopping in for breakfast after eight hours of shut-eye, the researchers found. Humans’ “resting energy expenditure” – the body’s use of calories to power such basic functions as respiration, brain activity and fluid circulation – follows a predictable cycle that waxes as the day progresses and wanes as night sets in.

 

The study, published in the journal Current Biology, offers evidence that circadian rhythms dictate not just when we feel the urge to sleep but how complex mechanisms like metabolism operate across a 24-hour period. It may help explain why people who keep irregular sleep schedules, including swing shift workers, have higher rates of obesity and are more likely to develop metabolic abnormalities such as type 2 diabetes.

 

And it demonstrates that whether we hear it or not, our body’s clock is always ticking, locating us in our daily cycle with uncanny precision.

 

At “hour zero” – roughly corresponding to somewhere between 4 and 5am – our core body temperature dips to its lowest point and our idling fuel use reaches its nadir. From that point, the body’s “resting energy expenditure” rises until the late afternoon/early evening. After reaching its peak at roughly 5pm, the number of calories we burn while at rest plummets steadily for about 12 hours.

 

And then, we start again.

 

These new findings are a reminder that no matter how 24/7 our schedules have become, our bodies were built for a slower, simpler world in which humans moved around all day in search of food, ate while the sun was up, and slept when the sky was dark.

 

Today, our appetites and the all-night availability of food may induce us to eat well after sundown. And our jobs may demand that we sleep during the day and care for our patients or drive trucks through the night. But our bodies still adhere to their ancient, inflexible clocks.

 

The findings also come with an implicit warning: When we disregard the biological rhythms that rule our bodies, we do so at our peril.

 

Resting energy expenditure accounts for the majority of the minimum calories we burn in a day. Just to spend a day eating, sleeping and breathing uses 60 to 70 percent of our “resting energy expenditure.” So a serious mismatch in the time when calories are consumed and the time when most of them are burned could prompt the body to make decisions – like sorting calories as fat – that aren’t necessarily healthy.

 

The study adds to a growing body of evidence suggesting that a good 12-hour fast, when aligned with darkness and our bodies’ nocturnal response, may be a way to prevent or reverse obesity. In lab animals and a growing number of people, Salk Institute researcher Satchin Panda has demonstrated the impact of dietary obedience to our circadian rhythms.

 

Others have demonstrated the power of timing by showing how readily it can be disrupted. In a 2014 study, 14 lean, healthy adults agreed to turn their days upside-down over a six-day period. Fed a diet sufficient to maintain their weight, the subjects quickly adapted by turning their thermostats down. Compared to the baseline readings taken upon their arrival (when they were awake by day and asleep eight hours at night), the subjects burned 52 fewer calories on day 2 of their swing-shift schedule, and 59 fewer calories on day 3 of that schedule.

 

Do that for a couple days and you might feel a little off. Do it for months, years, or a lifetime and the result could be metabolic processes that go haywire.

 

“One takeaway is indeed that for optimal health, including metabolic health, it’s best for us to have a regular schedule seven days a week – getting up and going to bed at the same time and eating our meals at the same time, “ said senior author Jeanne F. Duffy, a neuro-scientist and sleep specialist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. “We have these powerful clocks in ourselves.”

 

When we sleep late on weekends, hopscotch across time zones, or work on schedules that have us up all night then back on the day-shift, “we’re disrupting our clocks and making our metabolisms inefficient, and in the long term, that will lead to disease,” she said. “Staying on the same schedule is the best way to prevent that.