Moderation

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“Everything in moderation.”  Indeed, one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, expounded on the virtues of moderation.  But what does “moderation” really mean?

Heart disease runs in my family and everyday, I am reminded of, saddened, and humbled by its ramifications.  We may believe we’re doing everything right–eating a balanced diet and working out–but there is still more confusion and contradicting expert opinions than clear and hard evidence.   How much is related to genetics vs. diet and lifestyle is still unknown.  It is difficult, if not impossible, to surmise what a moderate level of a substance or activity when it comes to certain ingredients in our food supply.

When I lived in New York City, I went to a sushi restaurant in downtown Manhattan with some friends, one of whom claimed that sushi is “healthy” and then emphatically stated, “Everything in moderation.”  I am aware that most restaurants likely are using genetically modified organisms (GMO) and artificial ingredients in their food.  At sushi restaurants, I am especially concerned about GMO salmon, GMO soy-based products, and artificial flavors or colors.  Not to mention that I am even more leery of the freshness and quality of raw fish.  There has also been some news about restaurants swapping tuna and salmon for lower-quality, cheap fish (and a lot of these fish have been farm-raised on GMO feed and antibiotics).  So, while I ate my spicy tuna roll without a peep for the sake of being social, a very small part of my brain was freaking out and quietly screaming, “How can GMO salmon be okay in moderation?  Why don’t people know what is in their food? What is moderation?”

When it comes to most restaurant items, unless the restaurant specifies otherwise, there is no way to determine the quality of the food and whether it has GMOs or artificial ingredients.  These ingredients have been linked to heart disease, cancer and obesity and have zero nutritional value.*  However, there is still much debate on the (1) effect and (2) amount of these ingredients that contribute to disease.

Thus, a “moderate” amount of these ingredients in our diet cannot be reasonably estimated.  In other words, a safe level of consumption (if any) cannot be determined with the current data and research.  We cannot say with any level of certainty that any amount of GMO and artificial ingredients are safe once a week, once a month or once a year.  Given the lack of evidence and varying opinions, my personal stance is that the consumption of any ingredients that may be linked to harm and have no nutritional value is not wise, even in moderation (whatever that entails).

I am not saying “don’t go to restaurants” or “don’t eat sushi.”  I am saying that when it comes to consuming GMO and artificial ingredients (whether in sushi, soda or in any other processed foods), “moderation” is not an excuse.  Perhaps “ignorance is bliss” is a more accurate philosophy because it is up to each individual to make a decision about how much risk is acceptable in keeping ourselves willfully blind of our dietary choices.

Even if a particular food has health benefits or some nutritional content, moderation is different for each person.  One may be able to consume two cups of coffee a day, while another may be unable to sleep at night after consuming half a cup in the morning.  One may be able to enjoy a glass of red wine every night with dinner, but half a glass of wine may be too much for another.

Moderation, it seems, is a matter of individual perspective.  However, if we really wanted to be honest with ourselves, “everything in moderation” is often a guise for masking our own willful ignorance.

*See http://responsibletechnology.org/doctors-warn/, http://enhs.umn.edu/current/5103/gm/harmful.html; but see https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2014/09/17/the-debate-about-gmo-safety-is-over-thanks-to-a-new-trillion-meal-study/#18151f9c8a63; http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/science/2015/07/are_gmos_safe_yes_the_case_against_them_is_full_of_fraud_lies_and_errors.html

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Organic, Local and GMOs! Oh, my!

We live in a world of options and much confusion.  From big life-changing decisions (should I buy that house?) to smaller, everyday decisions (what shoes should I wear today?).

When it comes to eating, we may think about what to eat, when to eat, and whether we want to eat healthy or indulge.  However, there is a vast array of conflicting information in mass and social media about the food we eat.  Should everyone eat organic?  What are GMOs?  What’s the deal with the local food movement?

Use this infographic as a guide to clean and healthy eating.

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Note: This is a simple and general guide on clean and healthy eating.  Individual needs and concerns should be taken into account.  Consult with your doctor, a health coach and use your judgment to decide what works for you.

Lentil Soup

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I love Pret-a-Manger’s lentil soup on a cold or rainy day.  It is the perfect comfort food without being heavy.  I was trying to replicate a cleaner version of the soup sans the sodium, while keeping the process simple by using a crockpot.  Lentils have lots of protein and fiber, while carrots provide Vitamin A and Vitamin C.  Tomatoes are rich in Vitamin, E, folate and lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, which is absorbed easier when the tomatoes are cooked.  Onions and garlic provide an immunity boost, while the combination of spices adds flavor and aids in digestion. This soup is hearty enough to make a complete meal, but light enough to have as a side in a smaller portion.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups low sodium, organic vegetable broth
  • 2-3 cups water
  • 6 oz dried lentils
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 2 large chopped tomatoes
  • 1 small chopped onion
  • 2 large minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp mild curry powder
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1 bay leaf

Directions:

  1. Pour all ingredients, except the bay leaf, in a crockpot.
  2. Lay the bay leaf on top.
  3. Cook on low for 6-8 hours on low heat until almost cooked.
  4. Pour about 1/3 of the soup in a blender (not including the bay leaf) and puree until smooth.
  5. Pour the pureed mixture back into the crockpot and cook for another 1-2 hours on low heat.
  6. Remove from heat, discard the bay leaf, and serve.

Yields: 12 servings

Changing Habits

I often think about habits and the patterns that people subconsciously weave in their lives.  Why are some people prone to unhealthy habits and addictive behaviors while others are not?  What causes some people to change and others to become stagnant?  What makes something healthy or unhealthy?  Could something that is generally considered healthy be unhealthy?  Most importantly, how can we change unhealthy behaviors to healthy habits?

Take, for instance, morning coffee.  Everyday, I see a long line of people outside a popular coffee establishment on my way to work.  Why waste that precious morning time?  I know not to approach one of my coworkers before 10 AM in the morning because she hasn’t yet had her coffee.  Whether coffee itself is healthy or not is controversial, but difficulty functioning without coffee certainly seems unhealthy, right?  What about something that seems healthy like working out?  Could over-working out be unhealthy?  For argument’s sake, let’s just say that almost anything can be healthy or unhealthy.  However, it is 1) the way we approach it, 2) how much we rely on it, and 3) how much it affects our ability to function everyday with normal tasks that can indicate whether or not a habit is healthy unhealthy.

Once a habit has been identified an unhealthy, how can it be changed?

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes that people develop habits because they have an unmet need (or cue), which triggers the brain to start a routine to attain a reward.  This is known as the habit loop.  After a few times of going through the loop, the brain remembers the loop and automatically puts it into action.

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For example, it’s 3:30 PM at your new job and you are feeling a bit restless, but don’t know anyone there.  Your coworker asks you to take a coffee break.  Although you may not feel like having coffee, you go anyway for the company and office gossip and indulge in a double latte.  You come back satisfied.  It’s now 12:23 AM as you stare at the alarm clock and you cannot sleep.  You finally doze off at 2:18 AM.  The next day, you feel a bit groggy.  At lunchtime, however, you start to drag and feel bored again.  At 3:00 PM, your coworker asks you to take a break and you head out for a coffee break with him.  This is how a habit loop works.  Your need for socialization led you to accept your coworker’s invitation to squelch the boredom (the cue) and satisfy your need to socialize (the reward). Although the need to socialize is not unhealthy in itself, taking a mid-afternoon coffee break is unhealthy if it keeps you up at night and affects your productivity the next day.  Eventually, the cue and reward become so intertwined (not taking into account any addictive quality of certain substances) that you associate your need for socialization with that routine.  The habit is formed.

Breaking a bad habit is almost impossible if: 1) you have not identified the true need or 2) there is no perceived reward in a new routine.  If the new routine involves deprivation, the mind and body become acutely aware that the need is not being met and that there is no reward.  For instance, when people try to quit smoking or stop eating unhealthy foods, they may not necessarily know what they are really seeking and often feel deprived when the new routine does not satisfy the need. According to Duhigg, the most effective way to change a habit is not to break it, but to replace the old habit loop with a new habit loop.  This also explains why many people turn to another addiction after getting over one because they’ve simply replaced an old (unhealthy) routine with a new (unhealthy) routine.  This is where first identifying an unhealthy vs. a healthy routine becomes essential. The steps to changing an unhealthy habit to a healthy one are:

  1. Identify the unhealthy habit and the harm it is causing.
  2. Identify the need / cue that the habit is satisfying.
  3. Find a different routine that would satisfy the need without the harm.
  4. Squeeze out the old routine by replacing it with a new cue and routine that still produces a desired reward.
  5. Repeat the new cue-routine-reward loop until the new healthy habit is formed.

A change does not need to involve a major change.  Start small to build motivation.  Often, small changes lead to big benefits.  The best part about making that small change is that it can lead to bigger and better changes that seemed impossible to accomplish before.

Turmeric Hummus

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Turmeric Hummus

I love fresh, warm, smooth, satisfying, creamy, savory hummus.  You can use it as a spread in pitas, eat it with crackers or veggies, or just have a spoonful on its own!  Garbanzo beans are full of fiber and a good source of vegetarian protein.  Soaking dried garbanzo beans overnight cuts down on anti-nutrients and speeds up the cooking time.  Olive oil and tahini contribute to a creamy texture and healthy fats, and using water cuts down on the amount of fat naturally.  Garlic boosts immunity and improves overall cardiovascular health.  Black pepper increases the absorbency of turmeric, which has anti-inflammatory benefits.  Go ahead and give this The Good Life staple a try!

Ingredients:

  • 5 oz garbanzo beans (+ a few extra for garnish), soaked overnight, rinsed and cooked
  • 1 oz olive oil (or a little less if using water from cooking garbanzo beans. + more for garnish)
  • 1 tbsp tahini
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1/2 inch of fresh turmeric or 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp paprika (+ more for garnish)
  • Pinch sea salt

Directions:

  1. Blend all ingredients together in a food processor.
  2. Adjust for desired taste and texture.
  3. Spoon the mixture into a bowl.
  4. Garnish by sprinkling black pepper and paprika and extra garbanzo beans.  Drizzle olive oil on top.
  5. Serve warm or room temperature with crackers and cut veggies.  Lasts approximately one week in the fridge.

Yields: 6 servings

 

 

Neti-Pots

Why You Should (and How To) Use a Neti Pot

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When I first saw my mom’s yoga teacher use a neti-pot, I thought “Eww, gross, I am NEVER doing that!  Who puts water up the nose?”

Fast forward several years.  I now use a neti-pot regularly – usually every Sunday before I drink hot lemon water and sometimes mid-week, as needed.  While the actual process isn’t the most pleasurable (at least not for me), I breathe noticeably easier immediately after and (maybe I am just imagining it) my nose looks slimmer after all the gunk is out.  When I skip a week, I can see and feel a change.  The process becomes more comfortable if done regularly.

Narcissism aside, using a neti-pot has several benefits, including relief from nasal and sinus congestion without the use of drugs.  This is especially beneficial for those suffering from seasonal allergies.  It is also relatively easy to incorporate in your weekly routine and is inexpensive (neti-pots range from $10 to $30).

Using a neti-pot is very simple (once you get the hang of it) and its benefits are tremendous (and this comes from a person who thought “eww, no way” the first time she heard of it).  It’s best done at least once a week, or more as needed.

Here is what you do:

  1. Clear your nose out as much as possible before using the neti-pot.
  2. Dissolve about ¼ teaspoon salt in lukewarm water in the neti-pot.
  3. Lean your head forward over the sink, with your chin slightly down toward your chest.  Insert the neti-pot spout at the entrance of your right nostril.  The positioning is different for each person, so experiment to see what works for you.
  4. Tilt your head to the left until water starts pouring into the nostril from the neti-pot.  Keep your mouth open and breathe through your mouth (don’t inhale through your nose).  Allow the water to pour in between your nasal passage and drain out the other nostril, taking out any excess mucus and gunk.  It may feel a bit funny (it tickles the back of my throat), but continue on until you have drained the pot.
  5. Blow out any excess water.
  6. Repeat the process with fresh water and salt for the other nostril.
  7. Use a mild soap and warm water to clean the Neti-pot, and let it air-dry.

More Tips:

  • Use warm boiled and distilled water.
  • Use sea salt or a salt designed for use in a neti-pot.
  • After using the neti-pot, insert a few drops of sesame oil or coconut oil inside the nostril to moisturize.  Dabbing a Q-tip with oil and using it to coat the inside of your nostrils works well.

If it doesn’t work the first time (and it didn’t for me), don’t give up.  Practice again until it feels comfortable.  Try and let me know how it goes!

Chocolat Pot De Creme

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Wow your guests with this surprisingly decadent and chocolatey dessert!  It requires minimal preparation and is surprisingly easy to whip up.  Cacao powder and cacao nibs are full of antioxidants and maca powder is great for energy and balance, while coconut oil and cashews add healthy fats.  No wonder this amazing dessert is one of my very favorites for clean eating and healthy living!

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup cashews, soaked 4 hours, rinsed and drained.
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1/4 cup melted coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup raw unfiltered honey
  • 1/8 cup cacao powder
  • 1/8 cup maca powder 1 tsp milled or ground chia seed powder
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp almond extract
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp pink Himalayan salt
  • crushed walnuts (optional for topping)
  • chocolate chips (optional for topping)
  • shaved chocolate (optional for topping)
  • cacao nibs (optional for topping)

Directions:

  1. Combine cashews, almond milk, coconut oil, honey, cacao powder, maca powder, chia seed powder, vanilla extract, almond extract, cinnamon, cardamom and salt in a blender until smooth and creamy.
  2. Pour into ramekins or small glass bowls.
  3. Chill in the fridge for at least 4-6 hours.
  4. To serve, garnish with shaved chocolate, crushed walnuts, chocolate chips or cacao nibs.  In a pinch you can also sprinkle some extra cacao powder or maca powder on top.

Yields: 4 servings