Monday, November 22, 2010

Ten Simple Rules

I read this today, and loved it for its simple, but profound message.  I thought it was perfect for this week of Thanksgiving.  

Five rules for happiness:
1. Free your heart from hatred.

2. Free your mind from worries. 

3. Live simply.

4. Give more.

5. Expect less.

And because Thanksgiving often revolves so largely around food (and because happy and healthy need to go hand in hand), here are five more to get you from turkey to pie.

6.  Find a way to help 

7.  Eat only what you love 

8.  Eat slowly and with gratitude and mindfulness

9.  Drink lots of pure water

10.  Focus more on the people you're with, and less on the food

I wish you all a happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Coffee - The Good, The Bad, The Delicious

 I love a good cup of coffee. Love the smell, love the taste, love the feeling of the warm mug in my hands. If I were to make a list of my top go-to mood boosters, coffee would forever be near the top of the list. There have admittedly been times in my adult life when I was drinking it excessively, and times when I've stopped drinking it all together. These days I have a cup or two (organic, of course :)) on most mornings, and every now and then a cup in the afternoon as well.

Some people will advise that you should avoid coffee outright - and for certain individuals that is indeed the best course of action - but for most of us, coffee is a perfectly healthy addition to our diet when used in moderation, provided you don't load it up with sugar and/or artificial creamers (more on that later). Its benefits, beyond its taste, are numerous.

Moderate coffee consumption (from 2 to 4 6-oz cups, depending on your source) can:

1. increase alertness and elevate moods

2. improve short-term memory, as well as increase work capacity and the ability to perform intellectual tasks more easily

3. improve physical endurance

4. reduce your risk of developing Parkinson's Disease, Alzeimer's, type 2 diabetes, and dementia

5. deliver heart-healthy antioxidants

6. reduce your risk of certain cancers

7. dilate your bronchial tubes, making it useful for asthma

8. naturally relieve pain, particularly headaches

9. increase your metabolism

10. reduce your risk of gallstones

That's the good news. Unfortunately, some of the very attributes that make it *good* for you can also have the opposite effect. Caffeine is a stimulant, which means that in addition to boosting moods, alertness, and performance, it may also raise blood pressure and respiration rate, and can cause heart palpitations in some people when consumed in excess. It can cause a jittery and anxious feeling. It increases the release of certain hormones. It can contribute to insomnia. And even in moderation it can be habit-forming, causing withdrawal symptoms such as headaches when you stop your use.

Everyone's body is different. As with any food or drug, if your body is telling you it doesn't like it, don't use it!

Avoid it completely if you have hormone imbalances, problems with colitis or ulcers, symptoms of Candida, anxiety or insomnia, or if you are taking contraindicated medications (ask your doctor)

A couple of final caveats:

~ Conventionally grown coffee beans are one of the most heavily sprayed crops, so it is always worth the time and money to find a good organic brand, especially if you drink it frequently.

~ Always use pure, filtered water.

~ Loading it up with cream and sugar not only adds unnecessary calories, but also adds its own health concerns. Non-dairy "creamers" such as Coffee Mate are nothing more than hydrogenated oils, corn syrup, and chemicals. Avoid those completely. The same goes for artificial sweeteners (Aspartame, Splenda, etc) Please don't use them... in coffee, or anything else.  If you really need it creamy, use real milk or half and half, and make it organic.  And if you have to have it sweet, a small amount of real sugar - while not the healthiest choice - is always a better option than its artificial counterparts.  You can also sweeten with stevia, and use non-dairy milks such as almond milk.

If you're conscientious about it, make good decisions and use moderation, then by all means:  drink up and enjoy your morning cup (or two) of java... guilt-free.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hot and Spicy Tofu and Broccoli Stir-Fry

This is one of my favorite go-to vegan dinners. Lots of tender crisp broccoli and a spicy and flavorful sauce. It is also a great introduction to tofu, and one I'd even recommend to those with tofu trepidation. The key is to cook it until it has a skin on it, and is turning a nice golden brown.

The recipe as written does not make very much (2 to 3 servings), so I always at least double it for our family of 6.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 package extra firm tofu, cubed
2 cups broccoli florets
1 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in 1/2 cup room temperature water
2 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
hot red pepper flakes, to taste (we serve it with more at the table too, so people can spice it up as much as they like)
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
2 (or more) cloves garlic

In a medium sized skillet, saute the tofu in the oil over medium high heat until it is lightly browned. Remove from the pan, place it in a bowl, and saute the broccoli in the same pan for a couple of minutes, just till it is bright green and tender-crisp. (You can saute them together, but I like to do it in two steps because it keeps the tofu more intact) Remove the broccoli from the pan. Combine the remaining ingredients in the pan and cook on medium-low heat until simmering one minute. Return the tofu and broccoli to the pan with the sauce. Cook and stir for another 2 minutes. Serve over brown rice.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What's Wrong With Our Food System

We can all learn something from this well-spoken and well-informed 11 year old.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Big Pharma

I have used prescription medications. My kids have used prescription medications. In all likelihood, we'll all use them again at some point in time. I think pharmacology has its place, even for those committed to living a natural, holistic lifestyle, but the business as a whole has turned into something ugly. Prescriptions are far too widely and freely handed out, and people are accepting it as status quo, instead of doing their own research.

What are you prescribing?
Why do I need it?
What are the side effects?
What are the alternatives?

This video is from a former pharmaceutical rep, who talks about the industry and its purpose (hint: it's not to make people well)

This text will be replaced by the player

Monday, August 30, 2010

Vitamin D and the Immune System

I am a firm believer in the power of supplements,  and think it's a good idea for everyone to educate themselves both on the merits and the proper use and precautions of available formulas.  In addition to a good multi, an antioxidant (containing A,C,E and selenium), and an EFA, my kids and I supplement with vitamin D, especially during cold and flu season.  Research is strongly in its favor, as briefly outlined by this short article from

(NaturalNews) A new study out of Oxford University pinpoints vitamin D deficiency as a culprit in serious illnesses like cancer and autoimmune disorders. According to the report, which was recently published online in the journal Genome Research, genetic receptors throughout the body need adequate vitamin D levels to prevent these and other serious illnesses from developing.

Multiple sclerosis, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Chron's disease, leukemia -- these and many more diseases are often caused by a lack of vitamin D. Your genes literally have receptors that need vitamin D in order to properly express themselves. If there is not enough of the vitamin, serious illness is prone to develop.

The Oxford team made specific observations about the importance of vitamin D in the genome regions associated with autoimmune diseases and cancer, noting that the nutrient is absolutely vital in helping to prevent these diseases from forming.

"Considerations of vitamin D supplementation as a preventative measure for these diseases are strongly warranted," expressed Sreeram Ramagopalan, author of the study.

However, current recommendations for vitamin D intake are unacceptably low, and many nations are considering updating their guidelines. The U.S. Institute of Medicine, for example, recommends getting a mere 200 to 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day, an amount far too low to have much therapeutic effect.

Since summer sun exposure creates about 20,000 IU of vitamin D in the skin in just 15 minutes, supplementation with at least 5,000 to 10,000 IU of vitamin D daily, particularly during the winter, is preferable. Healthy blood levels of vitamin D are somewhere between 50 and 80 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), so many natural health professionals recommend having a "25 OH Vitamin D" blood test performed to check these levels.

Sources for this story include:

The original article can be found here.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Homemade Granola

Thanks to my friend Alice for sharing this awesome granola recipe. I followed it as written, except I added a splash of pure vanilla extract and I left out the pecans. DELICIOUS!

Full of fiber, and a good source of healthy Omega 3 fatty acids. Definitely not low calorie though, so go easy if you're trying to lose weight (and don't make it when you're starving like I did!)


5 cups old fashioned whole oats
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup ground flaxseed
1 cup raisins
3/4 cup pecans
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp nutmeg

Spread oats on rimmed baking sheet, bake at 350 for 10 min. Mix all other ingredients in large bowl, add warmed oats and mix well. Spread again on baking sheet and bake 13-15 min. Let cool and store in airtight container in fridge.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Milk Does NOT do a Body Good

In my last post, I mentioned my belief in avoiding dairy.  This video, from a few years ago, mentions just a few of the reasons why. 

Humans are the only mammals who drink the milk of another species, and the only mammals who drink milk at all past infancy/young childhood.  Besides all the other factors touched upon in the video, our bodies just weren't designed to drink cow's milk.

Friday, August 6, 2010

What's in Your Fridge?

My favorite part about shows like Losing it With Jillian is when she goes through their refrigerators and cabinets and starts pitching the bad stuff into a trash bag.  Some of it is obvious... everyone knows that things like potato chips, cookies, and ice cream are not healthy choices.   When it starts getting interesting to me is when she gets to the less obvious items.   A lot of people don't realize that most crackers, cereals, and breads contain ingredients that make them unhealthy as well;  that many traditional juices, yogurts, and granola bars - yes, even things that are marketed as "healthy" - are overly processed and contain high amounts of chemicals, preservatives, additives, high fructose corn syrup, and partially hydrogenated soybean oil.   It actually makes me a little sad to see people clearly trying to make an effort at weight loss, and stocking their cabinets with *diet* products that will not only hinder their efforts, but adversely affect their health as well.

Let's get food back into our houses!

This is my own fridge, after a recent and fairly typical grocery shopping trip.  In the interest of practicing what I preach,  here's what I believe we could change, and where I think we've gotten it right:

On the top shelf is almond milk, organic skim milk, organic cottage cheese, prickly pear lemonade, and orange juice.  Cow's milk is an infrequent purchase for us.  I actually don't recommend dairy at all, unless it's organic, and even then it's best to use it sparingly.  For me, it's just linked with too many health concerns to ignore, and we were really not designed to digest it.  But, we buy it sometimes for various reasons, so there it is.  Almond milk is a great - and yummy - alternative to cow's milk, and it's a staple for us.  The lemonade is not overly healthy, but it is free from artificial colors and high fructose corn syrup, and is pretty much lemon juice and real sugar.  The kids picked it out as a special treat at the health food store, and it is not a typical purchase for us.

The next shelf has grapes, bread, Smart Balance spread, and eggs.  It took us a long time to find a healthy bread that we love.  It's the store brand of our local health food store, and has just a few ingredients - organic whole grains, honey, sea salt and yeast.  We spend way too much money to get eggs that are organic, free-range, and omega 3.  Just like my meat post, those labels don't always mean as much as we would like them to, but they are a much healthier - and tastier! - egg.  Until we find a local supplier that we like, or get egg-laying chickens to raise ourselves (and please, feel free to email my husband to tell him why we need to get chickens!) these are the next best thing.  As for the Smart Balance:  there are health reasons to avoid butter, and even more health reasons to avoid margarine.  I like Smart Balance because it tastes good, is made with (mostly) healthful oils, and is non-hydrogenated.  Earth Balance is another one that I like, and use when I want something completely vegan  (Smart Balance contains whey).  Both are far from a perfect foods though, and should also be used in moderation.  Also somewhere on that shelf are peanut butter - a brand that contains only organic peanuts and salt, and an all-fruit spread.

Under that is baby carrots, more eggs, and shredded cheese.  I already gave my opinion on dairy, and am noticing there's an oddly high amount of it in this picture!

The drawer below that generally holds tofu and whole wheat tortillas.  Like the bread, it took us a long time to find the tortillas.  Virtually every brand in the grocery store is bad news.  I have made them myself, but have never liked the finished product as well as the kind we get at the health food store.  I'll leave those up to the professionals for now.

The silver bowl is chilling cookie dough.  Yeah that's right :)

There are so many advantages to baking your own treats from scratch!   It's fun, especially with the kids;  they taste better;  and you have total control of the ingredients.   There are no preservatives or chemicals or artificial junk unless YOU add them.  You can make them healthier with whole wheat flour, less sugar, more favorable fats, etc, but even a white sugar/white flour/full fat variety is infinitely better for you than its store-bought counterpart.   They're still not nutritional superstars though, so they're not everyday items.

The rest of the fridge is fresh produce.  A lot of what we buy depends on availability, season, and price, but typically we have a few kinds of leaf lettuce, baby spinach, brocolli, cauliflower,  tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, green peppers, onions, apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, berries.   The more produce in our fridge, the happier I am. 

The biggest thing I'd get rid of, or at least reduce, is the dairy.  I suppose you could take the cookie dough away too, but I'm pretty sure you'd like me a whole lot more if you left it.

**Edited because my husband just pointed out the bottle of beer on the door.  It's not mine.  It's his, all his.  I don't like beer, but if I did, I'd place it in the cookie category... a treat to be had in moderation.  I also don't drink a glass of wine (who me?) a few times a week, and I definitely, definitely don't enjoy a margarita every now and then.**

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Understanding Meat Labels

I am a vegetarian at heart. I've been a vegetarian off and on for most of my adult life, and while I'm not currently eating a completely vegetarian diet, I'm still fully convinced of its benefits... benefits to health, the environment, and of course to the animals themselves. Our household eats mostly vegetarian, and we are happy and healthy doing so.


We do eat meat occasionally, and what I eventually came to realize is that the majority of issues I had with meat eating (mainly those pertaining to non-humane treatment of the animals) could be remedied by eating the right kind of meat. The right kind of meat is also far healthier than traditionally raised meat, it is better for the environment, and it is more socially responsible.

So what IS the right kind of meat? Labels are confusing, and largely misleading. You may pay far too much for a cut of meat because it claims to be "all natural" or "organic" or "grass-fed." Depending on where you buy it, and where it originally came from, these labels can mean - or not mean - very different things.

Here are a few things to know if you're buying beef at a grocery store:

Organic - Beef that is labeled organic is not allowed to have been given antibiotics. It can, however, have been given other drugs. It could have been treated inhumanely, and fed corn and other materials outside of its natural diet. It could be shipped from other countries, and it could have been fed animal by-products. Its production could have used environmentally harmful practices.

Humane - Just as the label implies, beef that is marked "humane"  did not receive any inhumane treatment.  It was not restricted access to free range roaming and feeding, and it was not fed animal by-products.  It could still have been given antibiotics and other drugs.  It could have been fed corn.  It could have been from foreign countries, and had multiple ownership.  Its production could have used environmentally harmful practices.

Grass Fed -  Unless you know where it's coming from, and are aware of the source's practices, grass-fed means just that - it's from cattle that are fed grass (which is what cattle are designed to eat!), and not allowed corn and other non-native materials.  They could still be treated inhumanely, given antibiotics, restricted access to free range, had multiple owners, participated in environmentally harmful practices, etc.

Natural -Natural beef is not allowed to be given antibiotics, nor fed animal by-products.  It could still have been fed corn and other non-native materials (including grain treated with pesticides and herbicides), treated inhumanely, restricted free-range access, be from foreign countries, etc.

Antibiotic/Hormone/Pesticide Free -  This label simply means they weren't given whatever drug is stated.  Any or all of the other harmful, unnatural, or inhumane practices could still have taken place.

Any of the above labels could be meeting the criteria for healthier, natural, more humane meat, but the problem is that the labels as they stand do not require them to do so... which means that you really don't know what it is you're getting, no matter what the packaging says.

So where DO you want to buy it?  Locally!   A local farm or ranch that raises its animals from birth to slaughter the old-fashioned way:  100% grass fed and free-range, with no antibiotics or other drugs, no corn, and no animal-by products.  Animals that are treated humanely their entire lives.  Farms that do not use practices that could harm your environment, and farms that directly benefit your own local community.  Farms that you let you visit!

A good farm or ranch will be able to answer "NO" to all of the following:

  • Antibiotics
  • Pesticides and Herbicides
  • Fed corn and other non-native materials
  • Inhumane treatment
  • Feed-lot finishing
  • Prolonged restriction to access to free-range
  • Multiple ownership before slaughter
  • From foreign countries
  • Fed animal by-products
  • Environmentally harmful practices
  • Practices that don't directly benefit the local economy
Buying local, 100% grass-finished meat is the best way to know that you are getting meat that is healthy, as well as environmentally and ethically conscientious.  Buying locally also ensures you know exactly where your meat is coming from.  The ranch that just sold us our beef will, upon request, give you the number of the actual cow your cuts of meat came from.   That's a big deal, especially to a former/quasi-vegetarian like me.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Fudge Brownies

I couldn't imagine living in a world without brownies!! This version is from Jillian Michaels, and it uses honey and applesauce instead of refined sugar, whole wheat flour in place of white, and olive oil instead of butter.


* Olive oil spray
* 2/3 cup mild honey, such as clover or orange blossom
* 1/3 cup natural, unsweetened cocoa powder
* 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
* 1/4 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder
* 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/4 teaspoon salt
* 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1 large egg, at room temperature
* 3/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spray an 8" square pan with olive oil. Set aside.

Place the honey in a large glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until the honey is runny and just bubbling, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the cocoa and stir with a fork until well combined. Let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, place the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Whisk until well combined.

In a large bowl, combine the applesauce, oil, egg and vanilla. Whisk together until well blended. Add the honey and cocoa mixture, then whisk until smooth. Add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture and stir until no traces of flour remain. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until the surface looks dry around the edges of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it, about 25 minutes. Do not overbake. Place the pan on a cooling rack and let cool completely before slicing into 16 two-inch squares. Store the brownies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

High-Fructose Corn Syrup

Just in case you haven't seen the recent ludicrous commercials promoting high fructose corn syrup as something "all-natural and fine in moderation," here is one of the ads:

I think what bothers me the most about these commercials - among many things - is that there are people out there (and these are the people they prey on!) who will see it and believe it. Hey, great! High fructose corn syrup is fine, nothing to worry about. We just have to eat it in moderation.

The truth is, it is not fine. High fructose corn syrup is a highly processed, chemically and genetically modified non-food. It is an ARTIFICIAL sweetener. It goes directly to your liver, and releases enzymes that tell your body to store fat. It can elevate triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels. It tricks your body into thinking you are still hungry, and can lead to over-consumption, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. It can also cause:

Lower IQ
Learning difficulties
Premenstrual syndrome
Accelerated bone loss
Insulin resistance
High blood pressure

And guess what? If you're not reading labels and making a conscious effort to avoid it, you are most definitely NOT eating it in moderation. If you buy most traditionally processed and packaged crackers, cereals, juices, syrups, cookies, spaghetti sauces, salad dressings, ketchup, yogurt, and just about every other processed food, you are eating high fructose corn syrup, and in vast quantities.

The good news is that it can be avoided! Our kitchen is HFCS-free. Buy more fresh foods and shop the perimeter of the grocery store. If you do buy something boxed or processed, read the label. Read the label, read the label, read the label. There are a growing number of great brands out there that do not use it. Will you pay a little more? In most cases, yes. Is it worth it? YES.

And finally, here's a cute little rebuttal I found, and wanted to share. It's great to see that people are keeping their kids informed too.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Kale and White Bean Pasta

I was looking for a recipe to use the big, beautiful bunch of kale we got in our produce basket last weekend. This is my adaptation of one that pairs kale with pasta and white beans, one of my favorite combinations. It is fresh, satisfying and delicious. This recipe made enough to serve my family of six, with leftovers, and it was great cold the next day too.

A few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced
2 (or more) cloves of garlic, minced
1 bunch kale, chopped into bite sized pieces
Two cups chopped tomatoes, OR canned diced tomatoes
1 can white cannellini or Great Northern beans
1 pound whole wheat pasta
salt and pepper, to taste
crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
grated parmesan cheese, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions and reserve some of the cooking water. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet or wok. Cook onions until soft. Add garlic and kale, and cook until garlic is fragrant and kale has wilted. Add tomatoes, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Cook and stir until simmering, adding a bit of water (you could also use wine!) if it is not saucy enough. Add white beans and stir. Cook till combined and warmed through. When pasta is done, add it to the sauce mixture, and mix well. Add some of the pasta water if needed to loosen up the sauce. Adjust seasonings, and serve with plenty of fresh parmesan and more red pepper flakes.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Cleansing 101

Walk down the health and beauty or natural foods aisle of any drug store, and you'll be met with dozens of products promising to cleanse, burn, and detox. For just $29.95 (and up) you too can experience the renewed health, energy, and vigor that a good cleansing program can bring.

While there are absolutely many natural herbs and supplements that are beneficial for cleansing and detoxifying (dandelion, yellow dock, garlic, burdock root, goldenseal and kelp, for example), you can also do an effective cleanse at home, on your own, without buying any fancy or expensive products.

Below are several "levels", or methods, of cleansing that anyone can do.

1. Drink More Water
One of the simplest, gentlest, and cheapest things you can do start the process of ridding your body of toxins is drinking more pure water, at least two liters a day. Water is vital for ALL your body processes, and is particularly important for proper digestion. It also aids in flushing, naturally increasing elimination of waste and harmful chemicals.

2. Elimination
Ideally, you would eliminate all harmful foods, including white sugar, white flour, caffeine, alcohol, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, flavors, and colors, anything with preservatives, etc. But let's be real for a minute. If you're eating the average American diet, replete with its fast food, fried food, packaged food, and soda, your first reaction to such a suggestion might well be, "Are you kidding me?" You can start small! Whatever your vice is, whether it's pizza, soda, Big Macs or Skittles, give it up for a month and see how you feel. Then give up another one. Your body will thank you.

3. Clean, whole foods
For those who are ready to take elimination to the next level, strip your diet of everything but fresh organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains such as brown rice, oats, and quinoa; unprocessed nuts and seeds; and lean organic sources of protein. Eat mostly vegetarian, and if you want to include animal foods, choose only those that are grass-fed, free-range, and free from antibiotics and hormones.

4. Raw Foods
While there are many people that incorporate a raw, or semi-raw diet into their everyday lives, it is also an extremely beneficial practice even on a short-term basic. A few days or weeks of raw eating can help improve your immune system, your digestion, your skin, your hair, and your energy levels. There are many reasons for the healthful advantages of eating raw, but a brief explanation is this: heat and cooking destroy enzymes, vitamins and minerals. It also causes the production of free radicals, which can contribute to a host of diseases and health problems. Eating food raw delivers many times more nutrients, enzymes, and disease-fighting antioxidants. You can read more about raw eating here Raw Food Life

5. Cleansing Fast
At the most extreme end of the scale is the cleansing fast. Just like it sounds, a cleansing fast is a fast - a period of time with no, or limited, solid food - for purposes of cleansing. A fast can last one day, a few days, or several. It can consist of simple waters, juices, raw foods, or a combination. A few benefits of fasting is that it can effectively rid your body of toxins, break addictions to substances such as caffeine and sugar, give all of your body systems a rest, flush your digestive tract, eliminate retained water, alleviate constipation, bloating and other digestive symptoms, improve skin and hair, increase energy, and kick-start a healthy weight-loss program. Side effects? The first few days can be rough, especially if you were a regular user of things like caffeine, alcohol, and sugar. You can experience headaches, nausea, dizziness, joint pain, and other flu-like symptoms as you go through detoxification and withdrawal. Also, the worse your diet was prior to the fast, the worse your side effects will likely turn out to be. The end result - a stronger, healthier, body - is well worth it.

If you would like to try a cleansing fast, one popular method is with lemonade. There are several variations, but the basic recipe is as follows:

Juice of 1/2 a lemon
8 oz water
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1-2 TB organic honey or maple syrup (to taste)

Drink 6-8 glasses throughout the day, along with pure water, and a glass of a natural fiber supplement such as psyllium seed husks. That's it! The cayenne pepper is beneficial for cleansing largely because it helps with circulation, but if you have trouble with the taste, you can use less, or leave it out altogether.

You can drink the lemon water on its own for up to ten days, or you can use it as a stepping stone to beginning a less-restrictive fast. The key is to add foods back in slowly to give your body time to adjust.
The following is a schedule that I personally used, which incorporates both the fast, and several elements of the other cleansing methods.

Days 1-3: Drink 6-8 glasses of the lemon water, plus one glass per day of fiber drink

Days 4-5: Discontinue the lemon water, and drink as much as wanted of pure vegetable and fruit juices.

Days 6-7: Add raw fruits and vegetables, and continue to drink the whole juices

Day 8: Add lightly steamed vegetables and brown rice

Day 9: Add raw, unsalted seeds and nuts

Day 10: Slowly begin adding other foods back into the diet

Whether you do a full fasting cleanse, or just start by cutting out your daily cup of cappuccino, cleansing on any level is an essential first step towards better health. Pick a path and just do it. Today.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

I'll have some sodium with a side of preservatives and trans fat

Last week, I watched Jamie Oliver's new reality show, Food Revolution. The premise of the show is simple yet genius. He travels to Huntington, West Virginia - which has been called the unhealthiest city in America - to try to get better foods into schools, homes, and individuals. He spends time working in an elementary school cafeteria (where he is met with much resistance) as he cooks, educates, and works to open their eyes as to how they are slowly killing their children. That city, along with most of the rest of the country, is in dire need of CHANGE, and he is trying to help facilitate that change.

What I loved about the show, besides his earnest desire to make a difference, is the fact that what he's advocating isn't a "diet" with crazy rules and restrictions. All he's advocating is eating real food. What a concept!

No one is eating real food anymore. Even worse, no one is feeding their kids real food anymore.

I have to admit, it hurts my heart a little bit every time I'm at the grocery store and see overweight and/or generally unhealthy children walking alongside a grocery cart filled with what amounts to nothing more than sodium, preservatives, sugar, artificial colors and flavors, and trans fats. And the worst offenders seem to be the products that are specifically aimed at children! What are we doing to our children?

A friend of mine recently related to me how many parents had packed Lunchables for their kids during a school-sponsored trip. I think a lot of what parents feed their kids leaves a lot to be desired, but Lunchables are in a class all their own. Here are the ingredients in a basic pack of turkey and cheese Lunchables:

Ingredients: Roast White Turkey – Cured, Smoke Flavor Added: White Turkey, Water, Potassium Lactate, Modified Corn Starch, Contains Less Than 2% Of Salt, Dextrose, Carrageenan, Sodium Phosphates, Sodium Diacetate, Sodium Ascorbate, Smoke Flavor, Sodium Nitrite, Natural And Artificial Flavor.
Pasteurized Prepared Cheddar Cheese Product: Milk, Whey, Milk Protein Concentrate, Milkfat, Sodium Citrate, Salt, Lactic Acid, Sorbic Acid As A Preservative, Oleoresin Paprika (Color), Annatto (Color), Cheese Culture, Enzymes, Whey Protein Concentrate, With Starch Added For Slice Separation. Contains: Milk, Wheat
Crackers: Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate [Vitamin B1], Riboflavin [Vitamin B2],Folic Acid), Soybean Oil, Whole Wheat Flour, Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Salt, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Leavening (Baking Soda, Calcium Phosphate), Whey (From Milk), Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier)

That's not food!! Neither are the chicken nuggets, hotdogs, tator tots, boxed macaroni and cheese, and Goldfish crackers that make up the standard kids' fare. People are feeding this stuff to their kids day in and day out, and whether they see it immediately or not - its health consequences are huge and far-reaching.

And I can never help but wonder if they honestly don't know any better, or if they just don't care?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Top Foods to Buy Organic

In a perfect world, I'd have jillions of dollars to spend on food. I'd buy only the finest and freshest organic foods possible. Or better still, I'd have a big beautiful organic garden of my own - and someone to lovingly tend it for me, as plants tend to die in my care - and I'd personally grow everything I needed.

Alas, this is the real world. I have a finite grocery budget, and all that currently grows in my backyard is grass (and honestly not a whole lot of that.) Eating well and eating within the parameters of a budget requires some compromise, and it helps to have some knowledge of where its prudent to spend a little extra money, and where its okay to be more frugal.

Here is a list of the foods that are most important to buy organic whenever possible, because of heavy contamination; followed by a list of those foods that are generally "clean," and which you can feel good about buying non-organic if money is a concern.

Buy these foods organically grown:

Meat - If you're buying conventionally raised meat, you're also buying the hormones they were given for growth, the antibiotics used to resist disease in their poor living conditions, and the pesticides and fertilizer used to grow the grain they're fed. Additionally, it uses much more water and energy to raise a meal's worth of meat than it does one of grain. Meat that is Certified Organic is raised on organic feed, and was not given hormones or antibiotics. Your best choice when it comes to meat, both for health and the environment, is meat that was grass fed, and preferably local.

- I don't regularly purchase milk, or any dairy, but if your family (and especially your children!) drink a lot of it, it is worth the extra expense to buy organic. Traditional cow's milk is going to contain the pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, and other chemicals that they've ingested. Organic milk comes from cows that are not fed grains grown with pesticides, nor given antibiotics or growth hormones. Again, your best option is to find a local, organic dairy where you can actually SEE their operation, and see how the cows are treated. Know where your food comes from!

Coffee - Most of the coffee we buy comes from countries that don't regulate the use of chemicals. Look for the USDA Organic label to ensure that the beans were grown organically. You can also look for a Fair Trade Certified marking, which ensures that the farmers are paid - and treated - fairly.

Apples - Apples are treated with a lot of chemicals to ward against everything from insects to fungi. Scrubbing, and even peeling doesn't get all of these off the fruit.

Peaches, Nectarines, Pears
- These are treated with lots of pesticides, and their very thin skin is easily permeated.

Celery - Celery has NO skin to protect against the poison they're grown with

Strawberries - Like celery, they have no skin to act as a barrier. Avoid conventionally grown strawberries, particularly if you're buying out-of-season when they're most likely to be shipped from other countries with less regulations on pesticides.

Sweet Bell Peppers - Peppers are typically very heavily sprayed, and they are very thin-skinned.

Cherries - Treated with many chemicals.

Kale - While this green provides lots of health-boosting vitamins and minerals, it is also traditionally grown with a lot of chemicals.

Leafy Greens - Like Kale, these are an important part of the diet, but are also found to have high levels of residue. Our health food store has very reasonably priced organic mixed greens, grown without any chemicals, that are washed, packaged, and ready-to-go.

Grapes - Imported grapes grown in countries with lax regulations are the worst offenders, but grapes grown in the United States are typically high in residue as well, due to the heavy use of sprays and their very thin skin.

Carrots - Europe will be banning the use of pesticides on carrots, parsnips, and other similar foods in the next decade, but the United States currently has no such plans.


The Clean List:

The following foods have thick and/or tough skins, so any chemical residue is discarded with the skin. Of course you should always rinse your fruits and vegetables before you eat them, whether you're consuming the skin or not.


Sweet Corn



Sweet peas





And these have little threat of pests and other problems during their growth, so the use of chemicals during the growing process is generally unnecessary and slight:





And finally, two vegetables that were previously on the "dirty" list and were recently found to be clean (for reasons that the Environmental Working Group are not sure of) are potatoes and tomatoes.

When in doubt, and if money is no object, of course buy the organic versions! But if you're like me, and sometimes have to choose between making the healthiest choice and, well, paying the mortgage, then being careful and informed can go a long way to ensuring that you're taking the best path possible.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Homemade Vegetable Stock

I love homemade soup. It's comforting, nourishing, and pretty hard to screw up. I love that I can make it with just about anything I have on hand, and I love that it's an excuse to use up vegetables that might otherwise go to waste.

Which is why I have absolutely no idea why I haven't made my own broth until now! It makes no sense to use fresh vegetables, organic whole wheat pasta ..... and canned stock?!

So this weekend, I finally decided to make my own. It is so easy, almost embarrassingly easy. I used garlic, onions, celery, carrots, and parsley, but you can use almost anything you have on hand - skins, peels and all.

Put it all in a big pot with a gallon of water and plenty of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, and simmer for a couple of hours. Drain, adjust seasonings, and voila! Healthy and delicious vegetable broth.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Let's Get Physical (Part Two)

A couple days ago, an acquaintance said, "I don't feel like I've gotten a good workout unless I've worked so hard I feel like I'm going to throw up." Besides the rather graphic and disturbing image it brought to mind, it struck me as wrong somehow. Is a good workout really supposed to be so... unpleasant? Tired, yes. Sweaty, sure. A bit sore, ok. I'm actually pretty sore myself today from an intense upper body workout I did yesterday, and I love that feeling. But I strongly believe that exercise, just like eating, should be if nothing else, enjoyable. What have you really gained if you're forcing yourself to eat bland, boring food, and enduring painful and miserable hours of physical exercise??

Living in a large city, I see a lot of people out jogging on the sidewalks. Some of them *look* like runners... they have slight bodies, long and lean muscles, and look completely effortless and at ease. They're clearly running because they love running. I can understand that (as much as a non-runner can understand I suppose). What I can't understand is the many many people I see who look completely MISERABLE. They look like they're dreading each and every stride as they thump, thump, thump down the street. I always want to roll down the window and ask them WHY they're running. If they're running because they have a genuine interest, and are just new to the sport, then I will be supportive like crazy. But I can never help but wonder if some of them are running simply because they want to lose weight/tone up/improve health, and think that running is the way to do that... even if they hate it. Which is odd to me, because it's just one of umpteen thousand ways of getting exercise!

I'm not a runner for a few reasons (not the least of which is that I trip a lot) but I love to exercise. My favorite form of exercise is actually incidental exercise, the kind you get the old-fashioned way... hiking, working outside, playing with the kids, even cleaning the house. Beyond that, I like to try almost anything, with one criteria: I have to LIKE it! I'm not going to force myself to do something I hate just for the sake of exercising. Maybe it goes without saying, but vomit-inducing would be a deal-breaker for me as well. I get bored very, very quickly so I never really liked exercise tapes (even though I've bought several of them). I do them a few times, or until I feel I've mastered them, then ditch them for something else. The same holds true for exercise bikes, skiers, rowers, treadmills and ellipticals. I do some yoga nearly every day, because I love the way it makes me feel, but otherwise I'm all about variety. The advent of all the exercise programs for the Wii was a God-send for someone like me, who needs things constantly changed up. Upper body one day, lower body the next. Cardio on Tuesday, core work on Wednesday.

I really look forward to exercising, and I miss it when I have to skip a day. I think that should be the goal when starting any sort of exercise program - to find something that you love so much you just don't feel right when you have to miss it, whether it's kickboxing or tai chi, yoga or spinning classes, dancing or tennis lessons, martial arts or pilates, jogging or ice skating, weights or ellipticals. Or something else entirely! It always makes me laugh a little when people say things like "I don't like vegetables." I think that just means you haven't tried the right kinds of vegetables. I believe it's the same with exercise. If you're someone who says you just don't like it, you just haven't found the right kinds of exercise.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Let's Get Physical (Part One)

Several years ago I was a distributor of nutritional and weight loss supplements - for a company that shall remain nameless, because it's not something I'd recommend anymore - and one of the questions we got a lot was "Do I have to exercise to lose weight?" We were instructed to tell people that no, they didn't have to exercise, that as long as they were following the program and eating right, they would lose. Diet was the most important thing, and if they didn't have the time or inclination to exercise... oh well. And while that's true, sort of, it's only half the story. Exercise can, and SHOULD, play a huge role in losing excess weight, gaining necessary weight, and just improving overall health.

Here's the deal with exercise vs dietary changes:

If you want to lose weight, and you have to - HAVE TO - choose between one or the other, you will see results more quickly with diet. It's a simple matter of science. If you 1) consume less calories or 2) burn more calories, you will lose weight. It's a relatively easy thing to cut unnecessary calories out of your diet, especially if your diet is poor to begin with. If you're a soda drinker for instance, you can shave hundreds of calories (and by extension, lose weight) just by giving up that one habit. Two 20 oz cokes have about 500 calories, about a quarter of an average person's caloric needs for the day! By comparison, in order to burn 500 calories, you would need to do some heavy-duty aerobic exercise, such as running, for around an hour. It takes much more time and commitment to stick with an exercise program, and it's all too easy to burn out and give it up.

(By the way, I know I said in my original post that I wouldn't advocate calorie counting... but I needed to mention calories in this instance for the sake of my illustration. No one should be drinking 40 ozs of coke every day anyway. ;-)

But here's the thing. Setting aside the context of weight loss for a minute, exercise is hugely important because it:

~strengthens cardiovascular health and reduces your risk of a heart attack
~reduces the risk of developing diabetes
~reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure
~reduces the risk of certain cancers
~helps build and maintain healthy muscles, bones, and joints
~reduces feelings of depression and anxiety, and promotes psychological well-being
~increases strength, flexibility, and agility

This is just a partial list! In addition, if you add exercise to a good clean, diet, you will lose weight more quickly, because not only does it burn calories in and of itself, but it also helps to increase your metabolism even when you're at rest. Bottom line is, if you're trying to decide which one to do -either diet or exercise - choose BOTH.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Easy Garlic Vinaigrette

Super, super simple; a million times better than anything you can buy in a bottle; and made with ingredients you can pronounce!

A few whole garlic cloves, minced
Extra virgin olive oil (about a tablespoon per person)
Balsamic vinegar (to taste; about a teaspoon per person)

Heat the oil over med-low heat in a skillet. Add as much garlic as you'd like, and heat till it gets aromatic, starts to sizzle, and begins to turn golden. I smash it with a fork to infuse the oil even more. Remove from the heat, cool back down to room temperature, and whisk in the vinegar. You can add any herbs you'd like too, but I think it's simple and delicious with just the three ingredients.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Comfort Foods

My husband grew up in a traditional Italian family. Every family get together was centered around food. Whether it was a wedding, a funeral, a Superbowl party, or a Tuesday... there was food, and lots of it. Food was for socializing, celebrating, and mourning. In times of stress, he'd turn to heavy, rich food that usually involved something that had a face at one point.

I grew up with a freezer full of icecream. Not just a little refrigerator freezer, but one of those big, chest freezers. Ice cream sandwiches, bars, and cones. I remember these wonderfully huge ice cream bars that had vanilla centers, a big, soft layer of caramel, and were wrapped in a thick, crunchy layer of chocolate. They had nuts on top - something I never liked with my sweets - and I'd painstakingly break them off one by one, careful not to lose even a morsel of chocolate. Yes, in times of stress, I'd turn to sugar, in all its glorious forms.

Together we made quite the pair.

The problem with both of these kinds of comfort foods is that while they may feel or taste good the moment (and good taste is a relative thing) they're not doing anything remotely kind to your body, and they make it oh so easy to over-indulge. I've heard them called "wood-chipper" foods. You eat one bite, then two, and before you know it you've followed them with twenty more. You end up feeling worse than when you started: tired, sluggish, bloated, achy, and just all-over YUCK.

It has been a process, to be sure, but my comfort foods have changed. Now nothing makes me happier than when I'm chopping up a huge pile of vegetables for a homemade soup or salad. Everything from the feel of the heavy knife to the fresh smell to the crisp cutting sounds are all part of the experience, even before I eat. I love homemade vegetable soups; I love brown rice piled with chopped tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and salt and pepper; I love whole wheat pasta tossed with tons of tender crisp vegetables or white beans, tomatoes and fresh herbs; I love dark leafy salads with homemade dressing, chick peas, and avocados. I love that I actually feel better instead of worse after I eat any of the above.

Don't misunderstand, I still love my sweets! And sometimes, well sometimes those social situations are made even better by their presence. We had friends visiting from out of state last year, and I remember with such fondness chatting, laughing, and making and eating chocolate chip cookies at 2 A.M. Surely the company was more important than the cookies, but somehow I just don't think it would have been the same if we'd whipped up a big salad instead. These days I'm experimenting with making healthier versions of old favorites. Alicia Silverstone's book, The Kind Diet, has some insanely delicious dessert recipes, and I'm working my way through, trying them all one by one. I've already made the brownies twice, we sucked down the chocolate chip crispy bars, and I'm just waiting for a good excuse to make the peanut butter cups again. I love trying new recipes, whether it's from a book, a friend, or the internet, and I like knowing that I can make healthier versions of nearly everything.

Yes, sweets still definitely have their place, but I'm infinitely glad to also have an arsenal of good, whole "comfort foods" that are healing for both body and soul. If you don't have such a repetoire to choose from, just start with ONE! It's not overwhelming that way, and will almost instantly start you on a path to better health. You can start with a fruit or veggie you already love, and experiment with new ways to make it. When you're feeling more adventurous, you can try something you think you don't love. If you're someone who says, "I don't like spinach." Or brussel sprouts. Or asparagus. Or whatever it is... Find a different recipe! There's a world of difference between a vegetable cooked to mush and placed in a steaming heap on a plate, and one that's been lightly roasted with garlic and olive oil, bright and green and crisp. You can try new vegetables in sandwiches, salads, and soups. They're good with pasta, and awesome on pizza. I have a friend who makes smoothies with lots of fresh and frozen fruit and a handful of spinach. To hear her tell it, she's the last person you'd expect to be drinking such a thing, but tried them, experimented to find what worked best, and was hooked. It's all about finding what you love.

I was going to post a recipe for an easy, homemade salad dressing while I was on the subject, but dinner calls. It can wait for tomorrow.

Yay, FOOD!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Vegan Pancakes

I love breakfast. All kinds of breakfast. I've never met a breakfast food that I didn't like. The kids and I usually have oatmeal during the week, but Sunday morning in our house has always been spelled p-a-n-c-a-k-e. This is my current favorite , tweaked by yours truly until I got it exactly the way I like it. If you are someone who wants to try animal-free cooking, but thinks that you need eggs or milk for good taste or texture, this recipe is the perfect place to start. These pancakes are easy, fluffy and delicious. You can make them with either all-purpose or whole wheat flour, but you need to increase the liquid a bit when using whole wheat, so the batter doesn't get too thick.

1 cup flour
1 T sugar*
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup soy, rice, or almond milk (experiment to find your favorites!)
2 T vegetable oil
splash of vanilla

Mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients in separate bowls, then mix together until thoroughly combined. Cook on hot griddle until golden, and eat with maple syrup :)

*Regular white sugar, because it's so refined and depleted (along with a host of other problems) isn't my first choice for a sweetener, though I'd choose it over an artificial sweetener such as aspartame every time! Agave nectar, which you can find in most grocery stores, is my favorite natural sweetener. It's mild, smooth, works well anywhere you'd use sugar, and doesn't give you the sugar "hangover". Brown rice syrup is another sweetener to experiment with, as is pure maple syrup. You could also leave the sweetener out altogether, especially if you use a sweetened & flavored milk.*


Saturday, February 13, 2010


The other day I went to Barnes and Noble to browse with my sister. Right inside the front door, front and center, was one of those huge circular displays, covered with dozens of diet books. It made sense, given that it was only shortly after New Years, and the store had to market to all the people who'd resolved that 2010 would be the year that they'd finally lose weight and get healthy.

As I read through the titles, I was struck - and honestly, kind of disgusted - by two things. One, they were all filled with flash, gimmicks, and complicated rules (eat this, not that; diets for divas, for women, for men; Hollywood secrets; diets to train your brain, shrink your waistline and flatten your stomach. This went on and on and on...) And two, they all contradicted each other: Eat more protein. Eat less protein. High carbs. Low carbs. Full plates. Tiny portions. Calories! Points! Fiber! Fat!

And the grocery store is even worse. We've got Weight Watchers, South Beach, and Atkins. There's protein shakes and energy bars. Vitamin water and soda with antioxidants. 100 Calorie Snack Packs. Fat free, sugar free, carb-free.

Is it really any wonder that so many people are overweight?!

I started this blog because I wanted to cut through all of that confusing hype and just talk about good health and good food. By good health I just mean bodies and minds that are balanced and strong. By good food I mean food. Real food. Food that grows in the ground, not something that comes in a box or a can or a cellophane wrapper in the cracker aisle.

So my promise to you, and myself, is that this blog will NOT advocate, endorse, or mention

Fad diets
Calorie restriction
Point counting
"Diet" foods
Diet supplements
Packaged, processed, non-foods

I will share healthy tips, healthy information, and vegetarian recipes that have not only been tested and approved by me, but also by my former meat and potatoes husband. Real food, and real information.