Get Back on the Rails with Three Easy Tips

This holiday season I managed to NOT GAIN any weight from Thanksgiving through Christmas. Quite a good accomplishment I would say! And, it is a first! Yes, I indulged and enjoyed treats and special meals but I just didn’t make every moment of every day in December be an excuse to stuff my face with foods I normally don’t eat. In fact, I think this is the first year in a long time that I remained unstuffed and mostly uncompromised during the celebrations. (Patting myself on the back.)

Even so, I certainly did make and eat more than my share of  holiday indulgences. Did you?  Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

“Time to clean up my act!”

What with the cookies, pies, stuffing stuffed in squashes, potatoes, and numerous other carb-loaded meals that seems like it would be the first place to cut back, doesn’t it?

Well . . . yes and no.

This is the traditional post-holiday season for joining weight-loss programs, making fitness resolutions and promising beneficial dietary changes. But that doesn’t mean we should go to the other extreme and attempt to cut out entire major food groups or set impossible and un-maintainable goals for ourselves.

Our bodies work on a basis of homeostasis. (I’m a poet and don’t know it,) The body likes to maintain the status quo. So if you want to make changes, you’ve got to train your body to be able to adjust the way you want it to.

Three easy tips to get back on the rails

1. Whole Grains.  My best advice after all those flour products and simple carbohydrates is NOT TO ELIMINATE CARBS!   Instead, consistently use whole grains and just cut out or cut back on the refined and processed grains.

Whole grains means the entire grain, unbroken and un-made-into-flour, not cracked, not rolled, not processed into any other format than just a grain. Included are things like brown rice, millet, quinoa (really a seed, but that’s okay), barley, buckwheat, wheat berries, whole oats—you get the idea.

HATO MUGI SPRING STEW

 

Pearl Barley with Black Beans and Carrots

Not included would be any breads, pastries, pastas, pizza dough, baked goods etc that are made with refined grains such as white flour. Check it out! “Rye bread” ingredients might say there’s rye flour but also it could say “wheat flour.,” That doesn’t mean whole wheat and probably means white wheat which has already been stripped down before it is even made into flour.  I think most of you know what the difference is between whole unrefined grains and the other stuff.

For the most part—at least for a while—I recommend avoiding or greatly reducing bread, cereal and flour products made from whole grains that were nonetheless cracked or floured, pasta, noodles. Also potatoes.

Some other foods that can help satisfy a craving for refined carbs are beans and squashes.

2. No sugar.   No sugar including honey, definitely no agave syrup (it is like high fructose corn syrup in how it affects your body), brown sugar, molasses, cane-anything and any products that contain these. But does that mean going from Sweets City to desolation? Absolutely not! You can get your whole grains and satisfy your sweet tooth by using whole grain sweeteners such as brown rice syrup and barely malt. These are complex carbohydrates and can be eaten in moderation without throwing your body off. See what I recommended in my top ten Christmas gift for cooks list.

FRESH COLLARDS

 

Collard Greens

3. Eat those veggies!   We all know we should eat veggies, but how much do we really need? I would say as much as you can manage but no less than 40-50% of your food volume. At least while you’re cleaning up your act. And every day this should include dark leafy greens like kale, collards, turnip greens, broccoli rabe, etc.

BEAUTIFUL WARM BRUSSELS SPROT SALAD

 

Warm Brussels Sprouts Salad

Even if you get some of your veggies in a smoothie, that is better than nothing.

 

This is by no means a complete rundown on what to eat to be healthy. There is so much more and so many great books and advices that you can read and follow.

These are, however, my top three tips on getting back into balance after a month-long holiday season of indulgences. This is what I’m doing and I’ll let you know how it goes.,

I’d love to hear what you are doing and how it is working for you!

 

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Food Recalls (Or, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”)

Food recalls can be really scary sometimes, especially if you think you may have the item in your kitchen or pantry or even worse, you may have eaten the suspect product! I haven’t written a lot about food recalls myself, but today I am going to do it if only so you can benefit from my experience.

A recent recall I read about was about 4,000 pounds of beef recalled due to “incomplete processing.”  That just leaves so much repulsion to the imagination that I can’t begin to express it. Downright lurid, that is.

Unfortunately I recall eating a lot of beef in my younger years. For instance my Dad grilled steak every Saturday night for dinner. The accompanying family fun and observing how proud Dad was to provide his family with prime grade-A beef made this seem like a good thing. All that delicious grilled fat with slightly crispy edges! The way the marbling made it taste!

Well, for the first few chews anyway. After that there is really no taste to speak of and I would swallow the rest. Talk about “incomplete processing!” I’ve observed that’s what most people do when eating beef or meat. The first few chews pull out the fat and added flavoring (BBQ sauce, chemical-laden tenderizer, marinade, spice rub, A-1, etc.) and the rest is tasteless and chewy and why bother to continue chewing?

Eventually I found out what happens to un-chewed foods such as meat and beef when you swallow it! Your stomach doesn’t have teeth  ya know!  Yes protein can be broken down but how big a chunk of un-chewed beef do you think your stomach is going to handle and how long does it take?

Not sure of the size limit, but I’m sure the food has to be pretty small to really get digested. As for the time it takes, beef and meat take L O N G and typically putrify before digestion has a chance to be completed.

Luckily our bodies are very survival-oriented and can stow that undigested food out of the way. Well, not exactly out of the way. Ever wonder what that overhanging gut is packing? Not just “fat.” It’s undigested food. And if the undigested food stays there long enough, it gets about as hard and solid and black as the macadam they pave your road with. Not exaggerating. Get out the jackhammer.

How’s that for lurid food recall?  “I recall eating too much meat and ending up with a parking lot paved gut!:”

To add insult to injury, there is the matter of meats such as beef creating an unhealthy acidic condition in your body. There is also the fact that eating a lot of meat easily creates an imbalance that often leads to craving sugar and sweets. No wonder the best part of my childhood Saturday night grilled sirloin dinner was roasting marshmallows over the still-hot grill after we ate!

You know when most people grill steak and other meats outside? In the summertime when the weather is hot and we don’t want to cook inside the house. You know what food can make your body produce heat like there’s no tomorrow? Meat and especially beef.

I mentioned this to someone just yesterday and he responded that he has noticed when he eats meat he sweats more.

Now we all know that everyone has not decided to give up meat. Beef is still “What’s for dinner” for a lot of people. What to do? It is not easy maintaining balance and health while eating beef and other meats but it is easy to start controlling and counteracting the negative effects.

  1. (Obvious if you read this post) Chew your food until it is liquid. This is an old, traditional maxim that people used to know. Know now that it still holds true. Chewing is your first digestive action and is extremely important even if the flavor of your steak has waned.
  2. Cooked food does not have live enzymes to help digest it. So follow this advice too: “Don’t dine without enzymes!”
  3. Portion your meat serving so you are eating twice as many leafy greens plus other vegetables as meat. And the smaller the portion of meat, the better. Do you really need a 12-oz New York strip or would a few slices of very high-quality beef strips in a large veggie salad give you the flavor and satisfy the craving?
  4. Quality counts. It is well-known that animals raised for food production such as beef cattle are fed with GMO feed, antibiotics and hormones. At least buy organic. If organic seems expensive, wait until you find out how expensive those medical bills will be when your heavy and unbalanced, undigested meat eating habits catch up with you!

For more information on making the transition to a healthier diet, contact me directly. (See sidebar)

Balancing with Sea Veggies

I don’t know about you but around here, the long sultry summer has announced its arrival cooking game logoand I’ve been preparing. How? By lightening up my cooking over the past weeks and infusing more fresh, crisp, biting crunch to the menu.

That is one way to be in balance during the hot season. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have some of the old summertime favorites like potato salad. Of course you can! I just make a few changes that lighten it up and let it help me and my family to feel refreshed and ready to play The Healthy Cooking Game despite the heat.

One of the foods I use to create balance in our diet is sea vegetables. They are awesome sources of naturally occurring minerals and trace minerals. By using sea vegetables you can accomplish so much in such a delicious way.

If you are thinking, “Eeeeewe!  Sea Weed?” don’t panic. Yes. I am talking about seaweed–a traditional food in many parts of the world. Sea VEGGIES, as I prefer to call them, are not only great sources of minerals, some are awesome antioxidants too. They help balance excess protein and fat you may have consumed and help the body to get rid of that excess. If you have been indulging in dairy foods, you will find eating sea vegetables will help your body eventually get rid of that excess too.

You may also already know that eating sugar can deplete your body of minerals faster than you can say “Cherry Garcia,” and sea veggies are very effective in getting minerals back in.

Because of these excesses, you may not like the taste of sea veggies now as much as you will when you are more balanced. So here’s a great little purple-red sea veggie to start with.

Dulse is a mild tasting sea vegetable chock full of minerals and antioxidants. Did you ever get a little washed out from sweating in the heat of summer? Dulse will replenish your potassium.

Here’s how I put all this good data to use in my potato salad recipe:

Potato Salad with Dulse

Makes 8 servings

  • 3 pounds of organic red potatoes
  • 2 cups of organic diced celery
  • 1/2 diced organic red onion
  • 1 cup organic parsley, roughly chopped
  • 2 ounces fresh organic lemon juice
  • 2 ounces organic olive oil
  • 2 TBS umeboshi vinegar
  • black pepper
  • 2 TBS dulse flakes

DULSE POTATO SALAD PAINT

Wash, slice and boil your potatoes until they are cooked but still firm and cool them down. Add all the other veggies and whisk up the lemon juice, olive oil, umeboshi vinegar and pepper. (Umeboshi vinegar is both salty and sour so you won’t need to add salt to this. Also there is sodium in dulse.) Dress the salad and mix in the dulse flakes.

Truly yummy!

The Healthy Cooking Game is a series of posts about finding what is right for you to eat so you can achieve your dietary goals. It is not about making anyone’s diet wrong or telling you what you have to eat to be healthy. It is a guide for creating balance in your menus and being able to make the changes you want to make. The Healthy Cooking Game is a project that I have undertaken with my friend, Kate Ryan, who is a truly talented cook and food consultant.

The Healthy Cooking Game

It’s Breakfast Time

The Healthy Cooking Game

In the healthy cooking game, there is no such thing as “running out of ideas for meals.” cooking game logo

When I look at the various ways people eat, one of the first things I notice is that when you include or base your meals on whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables, there is an infinity of things you can create. I myself have not eaten the exact same dinner twice in decades except for a few favorites that I intentionally repeat.

Seem like an exaggeration?  It’s not! I Googled “how many edible vegetables are there?” Most sites I found such as Ask.com and wiki.answers just said “thousands” as in—too many to count. One website points out that there are over 4,000 varieties of tomatoes alone.

The point is that you will never run out of interesting and unique combinations of grains, veggies, fruits and beans. (Ask.com says over 400,000 varieties of beans) You’ll never run out of new ways to put foods together!

Just for comparison I checked how many types of animals for eating there are. Couldn’t find a definitive answer or even an estimate. Did find a lot of places where the discussion was mainly cows, pigs and lambs chickens, turkeys, plus dog, horse, guinea pig, rabbit, squirrels, buffalo, elk, deer and I’m sure there are others. But the fact that I can pretty much list them out here should tell you something. There are quite a few more edible fish and sea life and that extends the list of choices much further.

The different preparations and cooking methods also have to be considered as do the use of seasonings, spices and herbs which change the taste and presentation of food. (By the way, when I say “cook,” I’m really saying “food preparation”: and I include raw and fermented foods in “cooking.”)

No matter what kinds of food you are eating—meats, no-meats, vegetarian, vegan, etc.—eating a wide variety of foods made different ways has never been easier.

In the cooking game, the freedoms we have are enormous. One freedom is that we have fast shipping of foods from any part of the world. If it is winter in your hemisphere, you can get summer fruits and veggies from the other hemisphere.  It’s right there in your food store.

SPONGE GOURDAfrican Sponge Gourd

The ability to procure foods from anywhere in the world seems so convenient.  Except that it makes it so easy to ignore an important condition for healthy cooking:

BALANCE

There’s a lot of ways to look at balance. In the healthy cooking game, it means that you are  choosing, preparing and eating food in the best possible way in order to fulfill your goals and purposes for eating.

Say what?

That is a very broad statement, I know. But the concept of “balanced diet” or “balanced cooking” covers every aspect of this part of health and living. Balance is something to achieve no matter what kind of food you choose to eat. I will talk about balance more but for now I’m talking about choosing which of the gazillions of possible foods, combinations, seasonings and cooking methods should you use for “balance?”

Think about how things were less than 100 years ago. We could not easily get foods from other parts of the world. We did not go to SUPER markets to shop. Most people had their own garden, access to locally grown foods only at their market, and what was there to purchase was also in season.

If you lived in Minnesota and it was January, you didn’t see fresh pineapple in the market or growing outside in your garden. And if you did get hold of some tropical foods and eat them in Minnesota during the winter, you would have a harder time staying warm. Because tropical fruits balance the hot climates in which it grows. They make one cooler!

Why would you start eating foods that for the most part are in season and grow in your area or climate and forego the flown-in rambutan from Queensland? Because foods that grow in your area and in season are already naturally balanced for your environment! How much easier could it be to know what foods are generally in good balance with your climate where you are living?

rambutan 2

Rambutan is a tropical fruit is native to Southeast Asia.

 

In the Healthy Cooking Game, we have the freedom of an international selection of foods at our fingertips and we have the challenge of balancing our food choices so we make the most of our ability to create the effect we desire with our meals.

More to follow.

Are You a “Meat and Potatoes” Type of Vegan?

I seem to be a “Meat and Potatoes” type of vegan!

I want to talk about a concept that is emerging in my own universe lately. The concept is “concentrated foods.” By that I mean, foods that are extremely nutrient dense and  packed with a large amount of macronutrients in a relatively small portion.  (Macronutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, fats)

I bring this up because despite eating very healthfully for nearly forty years—mostly vegan but a few of those years not so much—I have always struggled with my weight. It was because of this that as a young girl I began seeking to understand how the body works and what foods were best for it. I have written many times about those journeys so I won’t do that again here.

Suffice it to say that I learned a lot, became much more healthy as years went by, strengthened my immune system, found out how to use foods as medicine and overall became much more in control of things.

But darn it! It is still so very easy for me to put on too much weight!  I know many people who do not eat a Standard American Diet and who try their best to choose healthier more nutritious foods and even some who are vegetarians, vegans or macrobiotic who, like me, still struggle with this problem.

So I started looking at the broad sketch of how I have approached food and spotted something very interesting. No matter what I was eating, what  program I was following, or dietary lifestyle I was living including all the years I was macrobiotic I have always gone for the dense, concentrated foods and eaten too much of them. That worked fine when I was a young, busy nursing mother with two other toddlers to chase after but that’s the only time that worked for me.

Mochi

Mochi (Photo credit: Nikki_Bees)

There are gradients of how concentrated foods can be. It’s just common sense.  For example:

  • Peanut butter – concentrated fat and some protein. Easy to slather a heap of this stuff onto each cracker, rice cake or slice of bread.
  • “Healthy” breads. Not knocking them, No Sireee. But have you weighed some of these lately? They can be concentrated, condensed slices, can’t they? A vegan Triple-Decker Club sandwich made with this bread could sink a ship!
  • Brown rice mochi – very concentrated whole grains (sticky, sweet brown rice mashed down into a concentrated form and then often fried.) But how many of those do you need at one time? Especially in an Udon Noodle Soup with Tofu Broth?
  • Almonds. Innocent, wonderful Almonds. A great snack! But you’re not running a marathon or working the farm each day, exactly how many of those do you need for your mid-afternoon pick-me-up?
  • Rice and beans – probably about in the middle of the scale. But the whole-grains-and-beans thing can indeed be overdone if it isn’t balanced with veggies and other necessary dietary components.
  • Vegetables – mostly light. But watch this—do you head for the winter squashes, potatoes and the heavier vegetables more than the leafy greens?
  • Oils – yup, they’re concentrated aren’t they? How many olives does it take to make a tablespoon of olive oil, I wonder? (Estimates are 20-40 olives depending on their type and size.) How many sesame seeds to make that teaspoon of toasted sesame oil that I love to cook my mochi in?
  • Fruits – mostly pretty light but what’s the difference between say a banana and an apple or between grapes and dried fruit? Dried fruit is concentrated and pack a lot in a small portion. That’s why it is so easy to overeat them.
  • Some of those avocado-based mousses I’ve been making—Do I eat the same size slice of that as I would an apple pie? Hmmmm, I think not!

Please, please, please! I am not saying any of these foods are bad or shouldn’t be eaten.

My point is simply this:  Even if virtually all the food you eat is organic, plant-based very nutritious and good for you, you can still eat too much of the concentrated foods and too little of the lighter ones. That’s all I’m saying. That is what I’m looking at.

Why do you think the bloggers posting all the casseroles, rich desserts and thick hearty soups and stews are so popular? Because that’s what we like and that’s what we probably all overindulge in if we’re honest with ourselves. Okay, I’ll cut you a break. I’ll say, “If I’m honest with myself!” I love these recipes and try out many of them at home. But if they use dense or nutrient-concentrated foods, it is so easy for me to over do it.

When I’m not paying attention, I go for the concentrated food and skimp on the lighter ones. I can so easily fall into being the “meat and potatoes” type in the world of vegan food.

It all has to do with the question of balance. I learned how to eat a balanced diet but it seems that over the years with changes in my body and my age and other things, I’ve lost my balance and now I know I need to find it again.

I don’t know why this is exactly—this indulgence in concentrated foods. I have heard and read many explanations that I don’t find all that helpful or workable. Do we really have to be semi-experts in hormones? I don’t think so. I could just as well say it’s “The American Way” as an explanation.  I just know that I’ve spotted for myself a major underlying concept about how I have chosen to eat all my life no matter what the cuisine was.

This is a concept I can work with. This is a good beginning.

So for now, my own decision has been to eat at least 50-60% vegetables daily. That is a guideline I have set up for myself and I’m not saying that is what you need or what you should do.

And, I’m going to follow up with many more posts showing recipes and how-to’s for vegetables. Let’s see what I come up with!!!

In the meantime I would really love to know what your experiences are with this. I’d like to know:

1) What do you see as being an ideal way for you—as an individual—to eat and is it easy for you to be that? (i.e. be vegetarian, be vegan, be omnivorous, etc.)

2) Do you follow some kind of diet or weight-loss plan or do you “wing it?”

3) Are you successful with what you do?

4) What exactly are your successful actions?

5) If you have a “downfall,” what is it?

6) Do you encounter a similar problem of overindulging in the more dense, concentrated foods and skimping on the lighter ones?

7) What would you like to know or learn most about including a bigger percentage of actual vegetables in your daily diet?

8) What vegetables would you like to have more recipes or preparation ideas for?