Food can be a very powerful tool not only for combatting disease, but also for feeling energized, pain free, and happy in our lives. Most of the chronic diseases that plague our world today are completely preventable and maybe even reversible if we ate (and lived) to nourish our bodies instead of only our taste buds. Our bodies are made of millions and millions of cells that depend on very specific nutrients to survive. When the diet contains too many unnatural or overly processed foods, our cells not only miss out on the nutrients they need, but they are also damaged by the toxins we ingest. If our cells aren’t healthy, our bodies cannot be optimally healthy. Sometimes this means we are diagnosed with a medical disorder, but other times it means we just don’t feel as good as we could. Either way, eating to improve our cell (and therefore body) function is an important part of maximizing wellness.
As great as it sounds to eat a wholesome, nourishing diet, I realize it can often be a daunting task. Our society is relatively obsessed with food. From advertising campaigns to talk show topics to social media posts and even our own day to day conversations, food is often the focus of our attention. Opinions, tips, new fads, and marketing ploys bombard us each day and can overwhelm us to the point of giving up on trying to eat healthfully. While talking about food and nutrition are important, information overload can be costly. One article says don’t eat too much fruit while another says eat nothing but fruit. Your best friend swears carbs are bad while your doctor says to eat whole grains for heart health. Some experts say give up all animal products while others recommend eating meat 3 meals a day. Meanwhile, we’re left second guessing all of our food choices, getting frustrated, and feeling guilty about eating almost anything.
Let’s go back to the basics and simplify our food rules. I think Michael Pollan said it best in his book In Defense of Food: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” So, eat food that comes from Mother Nature, not a big factory; eat only as much as you need to feel comfortably full; and consume the majority of your calories from various kinds of plants. These are food rules upon which even the experts (except those who are paid by the processed food companies!) can agree. Try not to let marketing gimmicks and contradictory media stories confuse you. Most of these are indirectly trying to sell you something anyway.
However, we still have some confusing decisions to make: should I eat meat? dairy? carbs? How about grains or corn? Answering these questions is where different diet philosophies come into play, and each of them will tell you something a little bit different. In March's edition of "The Wellness Word" newsletter, I take some time to describe some of the most popular diet styles, discuss their specific pros and cons, and talk about a few things they all have in common. My hope is that by understanding the basics about each dietary philosophy, you can better interpret the food information you receive and, therefore, make more educated and confident choices for yourself.
We’re becoming more accustomed to reading the ingredient labels on our foods to avoid things like partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose, but what about your other household products? The ingredient labels on everything from beauty care products to cleaners can be just as scary. The chemicals in these products can be harmful to our bodies, our families, our belongings, and our environment. By learning to make your own products using simple everyday items you can minimize the amount of exposure you and your family have to these chemical. This also means dealing with fewer side effects which can be anything from residue buildup on your hair and skin to chemical and hormonal changes in our bodies that have been linked to a variety of diseases and disorders.
Making your own household products also minimizes environmental waste by eliminating the need to by a new container each time you run out of something. You can buy a few household staples in bulk, and refill old bottles as you make new batches. This can also be very cost effective! For example:"
With these 3 products, you can make a wide variety of self- and home-care items! For some simple ways to use these ingredients that will save you money and reduce your exposure to chemicals, check out the December issue of the Peak Wellness newsletter, "The Wellness Word."
As with most things related to nutrition, there is considerable debate amongst experts and lay people alike about snacking. Is it good or bad? Should you eat 8 small meals a day or fast all day and eat only 1 large meal? All sides can find some “scientific research” to support their beliefs, and while they continue to hash it out, the rest of us are left thinking, I don’t know what’s right, but I’m hungry!
I like to know the answers. Black and white facts. But I’ve realized that whether we’re talking about healthcare, nutrition, or wellness in general, black and white doesn’t exist. So, I don’t know the answer to the is snacking good or bad question, but I have a few thoughts. First, we’re all different with unique needs. Rarely is any answer going to be one size fits all. If you wonder whether snacking works for you or if you’re better off eating only 2-3 meals per day, try your own experiment. Keep in mind that your answer will not be clear in a day. If you’re significantly changing your eating style, give yourself several days to let your body adjust. Pay attention to how you feel after each meal/snack and throughout the day in general. Feeling tired, sleepy, bloated, gassy, light-headed, or constipated are signs that your food (what you’re eating as well as how often you eat) are not ideal for you. So, before you reach for the tums or pepto, consider making a change in what and when you eat.
Also, before snacking maybe we need to ask ourselves why we are eating. So often food is an easy, short-term fix for other things in our life, and no matter who you are, eating when you’re not really hungry because your significant other is a jerk is not healthy. Ever wonder why after eating everything in sight all day, you’re still hungry? It could be that your body really did need more calories that day, or it could mean that you were craving something other than food and you still haven’t satisfied that need. So, before reaching for a snack, stop and really listen to your body. Are you hungry? Are you angry, sad, anxious? Is food what you need, or do you need to take a walk, read a book, meditate or pray, or have a conversation with someone?
For those times when your tummy is rumbling and asking for food, my recommendation is start small. Eat a little and don’t consider eating more for at least 20 minutes. If you’re still legitimately hungry after this time, have another small snack.
Finally, make it healthy! Often our bodies crave what we’re depleted in nutritionally. You’re more likely to feel full if you match your snack (or your meals for that matter) with what your body needs. That doesn’t mean if you’re craving something sweet, eat some cake. There are other ways to fill a sweet craving.
For some healthy snacking ideas to match your cravings (complete with some simple recipes), check out the November issue of "The Wellness Word" newsletter:
This treat is quick and easy to make! The flavor will vary based on the type of milk you use and how much sweetener you add in the form of dates and bananas.
Ingredients: (to make about 4 servings)
Combine all the ingredients in a high powered blender and blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to one container or individual serving dishes and refrigerate for about 4 hours or overnight.
NOTE: The chia seeds will tend to keep the final product a little “lumpy” but you can blend it a bit longer to make the final product smoother if you prefer
For the hot days of summer, this is a great way to cool down with a sweet and crunchy snack or dessert.
Place fruit in a bowl and allow it to sit about 15 minutes so it slightly softens. Top with the coconut and your favorite crunch. Enjoy!
For those mornings when you don’t have much time, this breakfast is easy to prep ahead of time. You’ll be energized for your busy day!
Combine the oats, buckwheat groats, and chia, hemp, flax mix. This can be made ahead of time and stored in airtight containers until you are ready to use it (the flax and hemp are supposed to be stored in the refrigerator so may either want to leave these ingredients out if preparing the mix in advance or store it in the frig). The night before you plan to eat this, add any of the optional mix-ins you’d like and add the milk. The mixture should seem extra watery at first so don’t be afraid to use a little more than you think (this will all soak in overnight). Place the mixture in the refrigerator overnight and it will be ready in the morning!
NOTES: The optional ingredients can be added for soaking or in the morning before eating. For more versatility, play with adding your favorite spices and maybe even cocoa powder!
The sweetness and creaminess of bananas mixed with the richness of avocados creates a smooth delicious base for this breakfast treat.
This is an all-time favorite of mine. Very simple but so satisfying as a sweet, rich treat:
Peel the banana and place it in a freezer safe container. Spread a thin layer of nut butter over the top 1/2 of the banana then sprinkle any optional add-ons you'd like so that they stick in the nut butter. Place in the freezer for at least 1 hour or up to a month. Remove the banana from the freezer about 15 minutes before eating to let the ingredients slightly soften. Savor and enjoy! :)
Notes: you can also cut your banana into "pennies" for smaller sized servings, or cut the banana in half and put a pop-sickle stick in one end to make a banana pop.
I teach, write, and talk a lot about wellness and try to live as an example. But the truth is that we all live in the real world where making healthy choices is not easy. Implementing changes into real life is hard. This blog is a compilation of recipes, tips, and tools to help incorporate wellness into daily life. Some come from my own personal wellness journey while others have been shared by clients, friends, and family. We're all learning together so please share your own tips as well!