Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Look Back

The common phrase “out with the old, in with the new” is especially popular at New Year’s time. You are ready for change. You want to better your life in some way because you see the mistakes and shortcomings of the previous year. You don’t want to repeat your negative moments, so you strategize ways to turn a new leaf.

I think goals and resolutions are important because it’s your opportunity to improve yourself. Still, it can be easy to look back at the negative moments with more attention than the positive memories. I’m not talking about the positive memories of the cruise you took or the new car you bought, I’m talking about positive moments of success that you accomplished, whether they were recognized by others or not.

Stop for a few minutes this New Year’s time and think of the moments that gave you a boost. Think about the moments you would hope would happen again.

My cousin Laura is one of my closest friends. She once mentioned that every goal I set for myself I was able to accomplish. I chuckled a bit when she said that because I know that there are many goals I set for myself at which I fail miserably, but the compliment she paid warmed me then and has stuck with me ever since.

Now that I am a mom, there are many things that have changed. During what I call my single decade, I used to have a long list of achievements I accomplished regularly. Since my time and attention are now focused almost entirely on my little ones, it’s easy to feel discouraged about my abilities or like a “has been.” Often at these moments I remember Laura’s words and they energize me. If I was successful before, certainly I can find a way through the obstacles I’m up against now.

As you enter this new decade, think about your past successes. You are still that successful person, even if it has been a while. Remembering what worked before is one of the ways you can find a way to make it happen again in 2010.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Resolution Solution

New Year’s Day is creeping up. Have you made a resolution? I recently read that 85% of Americans make a New Year’s resolution, while a whopping 20% end up keeping it.

This statistic reminds me of a riddle I heard recently. There were three monkeys sitting on a log. One decided to jump off. How many were still sitting on the log? The answer is three. Deciding to do something is different from actually doing it, the moral of the story would suggest.

Still, we would never make any improvements in life without a plan. I suggest that everyone should make a resolution this year, but with a few conditions.

First, the resolution should be realistic. Deciding to run a full marathon might be realistic to you if you already run several miles a day, but don’t make such a lofty ambition if your exercise routine has been little to nothing. For most people, a goal of exercising a half an hour at least five days a week would be more attainable.

Second, back your resolution up with accountability. Find a partner who will make the pledge with you and will check in on you. In my case, my sister and I are emailing each other every Friday to account for our week. Having a chance to brag about my healthy choices or confide if things aren’t going as planned will help keep me on track during the tougher moments.

Third, write the decision down. Keep it in a place that you will notice from time to time. Saving it as a document on your computer desktop is a great place. Read it every few weeks to remind yourself what your hopes were coming into the new year.

Chances are by the end of January the excitement for our resolution will have worn off. If we have made a realistic goal and backed it with accountability, I think we’ll be much more likely to say with satisfaction that we are in that 20% who follow through on our New Year’s resolution.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

California Goes Lean

There are foods that are not-so-healthy that I eat occasionally and let my family eat now and then. As I learn more about hydrogenated oil, however, I become more and more afraid to let it enter our bodies at all, especially the foods that are “chuck full” of it.

If you read the health news this week, you will learn that the state of California is banning the use of hydrogenated oils in restaurants beginning January 1, 2010. What does this mean for Californians? Not a whole lot of change, since apparently most of the large restaurant chains have already phased out the use of trans fats. Actually, the restaurants that use trans fats most are bakeries, and they won’t have the new law enforced until 2011.

One of the arguments the California Restaurant Association has against the ban is the fact that most trans fat consumption happens not at restaurants, but in the home. One thing is clear—our watchful eye for trans fats should definitely stay wide open. While Californians may be able to eat out without the worry, hydrogenated oils still clutter the food shelves of the grocery store.

Is a law against trans fat use in restaurants a good thing? There are conflicting opinions when freedom to conduct business and freedom to eat as one chooses are weighed against the danger of using the oils. Is it fair that restaurants have this burden and not the grocery stores? Couldn’t the government make a more logical impact by mandating that people given government-assisted food programs must buy foods without trans fats? They would give business to the companies who make the food trans fat-free while keeping the assisted people healthier, and thus reduce medical bills that will later fall on all of our shoulders….

If I were in charge, I’d have the foods in grocery stores regulated before the food in restaurants. Fortunately, companies are becoming aware of the growing consumer resistance to these oils. You can buy peanut butter that is trans fat-free without paying an arm and a leg for it. Food companies are now bragging that their products are trans fat-free. It takes an effort, but it is possible to avoid the oils and I believe it’s absolutely worth it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Cleaning and Sweeping

With any vacation comes the aftermath of a let-down. One of the biggies for moms can be the amount of housework there is to do. Whether it’s unpacking after a trip, cleaning from company, or simply catching up on the tasks that were neglected during our designated “time off,” we have a lot to do!

The laundry alone can take a whole day, but what about cleaning the kitchen floor, scrubbing the countertops, and mopping the floor? It can be overwhelming coming back to reality.

You can get a lot of good out of house chores, even more than getting your house clean. Did you know that housecleaning can burn up somewhere between 100 to 200 calories per hour? Some of the best calorie burners are mopping the floor and vacuuming the carpet. Even grocery shopping is a good burner. Maybe all those chores aren’t so bad, eh?

Even though it might feel like we’re stuck with the brunt of the work and slightly overwhelmed for a few days, remember that we’re really getting the better end of the bargain. While the others around us are probably taking in excess calories, we are burning them.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Saturday Superfoods – Walnuts

Walnuts roasting on an open fire. Who eats chestnuts anyway? More likely we coat our cheeseball, sprinkle our desserts, and garnish our buffets with walnuts.

Walnuts have special memories for me during the holidays. Growing up we used to have a dish with walnuts and a nutcracker as part of our Christmas d├ęcor. Later I had a walnut tree next to my house and was able to pick them fresh off the tree during December, along with a bunch of mistletoe.

It is actually a good choice to have walnuts make an appearance during the holidays. According to WebMD Health News, walnuts contain an omega-3 fatty acid similar to that found in fish that helps fight heart disease. A recent study showed that walnuts improve cholesterol levels. Although walnuts are high in calories and fat (one cup chopped has over 700 calories and 70 grams of fat!), they also contain a high amount of protein and dietary fiber.

The best way to get the benefits of walnuts without overindulging is to crack the nuts yourself. That way, you will eat less and experience more. In fact, sitting by a fire listening to carols or watching a movie with a plate of walnuts to crack is a wonderful way to spend an evening, not to mention a good way to avoid other less healthy snacks.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve

It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas makes me think of those little village scenes you see where there is snow everywhere and the whole town is congregating to sing carols. Christmas means seeing family that we haven’t seen all year. Lights gleam up and down the neighborhoods. The UPS truck rings your doorbell with new packages. There are Christmas parties and Christmas pageants. Neighbors stop to say hi and bring cookies. It really is a most wonderful time.

Christmas can also be a very lonely time. I didn’t get married until I was almost 29, so I had a good decade of time alone. I know what it feels like to be separated from family. I know what it feels like to wish I had my own family.

I remember one year at Christmas, my brother and sisters were with their inlaws and it was just my mom, dad and me. I think we were all a little down because we were used to the chaos and enjoyment of our big family. It just didn’t feel the same as it should at Christmas.

My dad got an idea. It was Christmas Eve, and he looked up some places in the city where there might be a Christmas service. We found one. It was a midnight candlelight service at a small church. At 11:30, he and I dressed up, departed into the cold, empty streets, and drove to the church. The service was perfect. We sang carols and held candles. It’s one of my favorite Christmas memories.

If you are lonely this Christmas, find something special to do like my dad and I did. It could become one of your best memories for years to come.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dashing Through the Snow

When I was younger my family used to chase the snow. We would drive up into the mountains until we found a good steep hill to go sledding. Sometimes we went skiing. Now that I’m a mom, I’m proud of myself if I can get out for a small hike. When I think of all the activities my mom did with us as kids, I’m pretty impressed with her.

I have never lived in a place that gets an abundance of snow in winter. The biggest snow I remember was when I was living in Portland, Oregon, and a deep freeze swept through the Willamette Valley for about eight days. Everything shut down in the city, even the airport. At first it was wildly exciting, but after the third or forth day of staying home, it started to drive me crazy. I needed to get out.

Sometimes I feel that way during Christmas when day after day passes without much physical activity. Nothing feels better to me than going on a brisk walk or jog a couple of hours after a big meal. It’s hard to get motivated to brave the chilly night, but once I do, I’m always happier.

Another great way to get some physical movement during Christmas is to find a street with Christmas lights to walk down. It’s festive and invigorating. Don’t just drive down the street if you’re tempted—it’ll be over before you’ve seen everything anyway. Get out of the car and walk. If you’re with the right friends, you could even try singing carols. I did that once with a group of six or seven friends, and a stranger commented that we sounded like professionals!

This Christmas let’s find a fun activity to do that exerts some physical exercise. It will be fun for us and memorable for our children. We will return to our warm houses with a happier glow.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Making a List, Checking It Twice

There’s nothing more hectic than grocery shopping during the week of Christmas. My sister was shopping at a busy store once on Christmas Eve. The checkout lines were jammed with people who were ignoring one another. Suddenly someone from the back of one of the lines yelled, “Merry Christmas, everyone!” A chuckle rippled over the crowd, and everyone loosened up. It was Christmas! A time to celebrate, even in the middle of a hectic shopping trip. Strangers started talking and laughing, and the whole mood of the store changed.

Grocery shopping is one kind of shopping that can’t be done early. While some of my family might have their Christmas presents purchased and wrapped by July, the groceries can’t be rushed. At some point we have to face the crowds and long lines if we are going to eat.

I need a list before I go shopping or I usually buy things I did not intend, and forget the things I need. This year, I am adding a few healthy items to the Christmas grocery list. Don’t get me wrong—I like to load the table with sweets and meats at Christmastime as much as the next person. Still, sometimes we eat what is before us simply because it’s there. If we are given some healthy choices, it can only help, can’t it?

Sliced cucumbers are a nice refreshment on a Christmas Eve buffet. When you’ve had one piece of fudge too many, cucumbers cleanse the pallet and help dilute the simple sugar spike in the blood. Olives are good for satisfying a fat-craving as naturally as possible. They are also a crowd-favorite. Baby pickles are good nibblers for some tangy salt without the fat. There are many other nutritious foods that are very tasty. Can you think of some?

This year when you make out your grocery shopping list, add a few nutritious favorites. You might be surprised how good those healthy snacks will taste after consuming the rich holiday food.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Over the river and through the woods...

Today is the first day of winter, although in truth I’ve been proclaiming us in the middle of winter for weeks now. It’s chilly and foggy where I live, which can make for questionable driving conditions. Still, not even ice or snow is going to keep most people from traveling to see loved ones during this time of year.

It’s exciting to get an early start to a trip. We’re up at the crack of dawn and manage to leave even earlier than expected—right? More likely, it’s two hours after our scheduled departure and we’re still trying to arrange luggage and presents in the car. But finally we pile into our vehicles and set out for the many hours of driving. Well, after we stop for Starbucks and fast food. When we finally hit the road, it’s with a sigh of relief. It calls for an Almond Roca and peanut brittle celebration.

The excitement of the trip can quickly wear off. As we watch the miles slowly creep by, it’s easy to consume more than an adequate amount of fat and calories. Not only that, but we’re sitting for hours. By the time we reach our destination, our eyes are glazed over, our bodies are sluggish, and it’s not just from driving all day.

There must be a way to feel better at the end of the road. How about playing travel games when we need to stay awake instead of eating. Keep crunchy veggies on hand for when the eating starts to become an automatic motion. Also, drink plenty of water, even though it means stopping often. In fact, stopping isn’t a bad thing. It’s good to stop every two to three hours for a stretch and short walk anyway. One of my family’s favorite places to stop is in Redding, California. There is a walking bridge two minutes off of the freeway. It has a terrific view and our daughter appreciates the chance to run wild in a safe place. It’s refreshing for us.

If we think about being healthy, even when we’re starting a much-anticipated vacation, we’ll stay feeling better. I don’t know about you, but I want to make the most of my vacation by feeling the best I can for it!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Saturday Superfoods

Some people love ‘em, some people hate ‘em. But it just wouldn’t be Christmas if there weren’t a casserole dish with sweet potatoes on the dinner table. While my mom is a big fan, my husband would be happy to never see another sweet potato again (except for sweet potato fries perhaps).

Everybody has to love the nutrients packed into the sweet potato, however. Indeed they have a low calorie count and a reputation as one of the most densely nutritious foods on the market. One potato has nearly eight times an adult’s daily need of vitamin A, a vitamin that is deficient in many Americans. Vitamin A is fat-soluble rather than water-soluble so the body can actually store it for later use. Sweet potatoes also contain high amounts of calcium, iron, vitamin E, and a generous amount of protein.

Sweet potatoes are good for you—before you add all the butter, sugar, and marshmallows of course. Who would have ever thought that a campfire treat would make a good topper for a winter side dish anyway?

A few years ago I tried an alternate recipe (below) for sweet potatoes at Christmas. The result was very rewarding. In fact, it added such a zing to the meal that I received more compliments from my family than any dish I have ever contributed.

Sweet Potatoes and Raspberry Casserole

• 6 large sweet potatoes
• 1 teaspoon salt
• ¼ cup packed brown sugar
• ¼ cup butter or non-hydrogenated margarine, softened
• 1 (10-ounce) package frozen raspberries, thawed and undrained

Cook sweet potatoes in boiling salted water until tender (20 to 25 minutes). Drain and cool. Peel and cut into 1 inch cubes. Arrange sweet potatoes in a lightly greased 13 by 9 inch casserole dish.

Combine brown sugar and butter in a small bowl, mixing well. Spread brown sugar mixture over sweet potatoes. Top with half of the raspberries and juice.

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, spooning remaining raspberries and juice over potatoes occasionally until they are gone. Serve and enjoy!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Healthy Mathematics

Did you enjoy math when you were in school? I did and I didn’t. It really depended on the teacher. I remember doing very poorly in math when I was a sophomore in high school, and then turning around and getting straight A’s in math when I was a junior.

It turns out I’m pretty good with numbers, at least on a conceptual level. I really can’t remember what makes a shape congruent or how to use the Pythagorean Theorem, but I might be able to solve a puzzle that involves mathematics.

There is a show on TV that I watch sometimes called Numbers. It’s decent, although I get a little overloaded with the many math lessons and have found myself rolling my eyes more than once. Math geeks are sure entertaining all right.

Let’s do some math of our own that might help us with our physical health. If you’re anything like me, one of the most painful things about changing eating habits for the better is the “denying yourself” part. Taking away or subtracting good things from my diet makes me want it all the more! It’s excruciating when I want that piece of chocolate and I know I can’t have it.

Here is something I have found that might work for you as well: when you subtract something from your diet, replace it by adding something else. For example, adding exercise to my daily routine actually works in easing my food rationing. So does adding vegetables at mealtime, and adding a food journal to track calories. Other good additions are fitness magazines, motivating books, and of course a good health blog.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Don’t Top It Off

I grew up in Oregon where you get to sit in your car and have friendly guys in baseball caps fill your gas tank. They even wash your windshield and check your oil sometimes. My parents moved to California when I was 19 and I visited them from time to time. I usually tried to fill my tank just before leaving Oregon so that I didn’t have to fill it myself. I could make it to my parents’ house and almost back, but just shy of the Oregon border on the return I usually had to refill it. I confess I had to ask for help more than once.

Now that I’m living in California, I’m an old pro. In fact, I kind of like how fast I can do it myself. Now when I visit Oregon I have to mentally stop myself from jumping out of the car at a fill-up station, especially if the service is slow.

One of the tips I’ve learned from my husband, a California native, is not to “top it off.” Topping off the gas is done by people who like the cost to be a round number. I used to always top off the gas because I figured the more gas I loaded into the vehicle, the less often I would have to stop for more fuel. Jay is the one who told me that topping off the gas costs me the extra money, but doesn’t actually inject any more fuel into the car. So I’m literally paying for something I don’t get. Apparently the cars reject fuel after they reach a certain level, which is why the gas pump automatically stops in the first place.

I can’t help but think about eating and how true this is when we top off our food. When we keep eating even after we’re full, we pay for calories that we don’t need nutritionally. The cost is more fat on our bodies. Hey, I’m the first one guilty of this. I love to eat! In fact, I love to overeat! But perhaps if I apply a little logic, like I do now with filling the gas tank, I can save myself from paying too high a price.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Daily Avocado: The Dentist Chair

I recently had dental work done. The dentist office is probably my least favorite place on earth. I get shaky; I get anxious; I get too hot or too cold. I lie back in those almost-comfortable seats, a bright hot light glaring down at me, and I can’t stop clenching my fists. I’d be clenching my teeth too if they’d let me. But no, the demanding “Open up!” is said more times than necessary while the hinges of my jaw feel like they are going to split open. And while the teeth-jarring screech of a drill goes off in my mouth, I can’t help but think, this horrible experience is just not worth it. There has got to be something I can do to keep me from coming back here again.

Why am I so cursed with bad teeth? My cousin hasn’t had a filling in her life that I know of. Some of it is genetics, so she must get her teeth from the other side of the family. Still, perhaps there are things I can do to improve the health of my teeth. Anything to reduce the number of times I have to go through this torture.

Incidentally, there are some things that can help the teeth. Crowning the list of course is brushing and flossing regularly. Another big preventer of plaque and decay is drinking lots of water. A while ago I started keeping a glass of water by my bed. Now I can’t sleep without one. Whenever I wake in the night I take a drink, and first thing in the morning a full glass goes down. My teeth have remained healthier because of it.

There are also foods that can help the teeth. Calcium-rich foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, and nuts are good. Fiber-rich raw foods help massage the gums and clean the teeth. These foods include apples, carrots, radishes, cucumbers, oranges, pears, and watermelon. Sugary foods are ones to stay away from, since they invite those plaque organisms to build a house on your teeth and stay for a while.

I may be paying now for the lack of care I gave my teeth 15 years ago, which means more trips to the dentist. Still, I’m convinced that it’s not too late to make my teeth healthy teeth. Just thinking about one less trip to the dentist makes me all smiles.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Daily Avocado: Java, Java, Java

This morning I went to my sister’s house, where Eden played with her cousin and we sat down with coffee to plan the food for Christmas week. Our entire family is coming to town this year. To date, there are 26 of us: my mom and dad, five of us brothers and sisters, along with five spouses and 14 little ones. A small nation altogether!

My sister did most of the organizing, which was good because I had a bit too much coffee and started to get rather shaky. I either needed to go outside on a run or eat a really big meal to dilute some of the caffeine! Neither solution was practical of course, and I continued to get more shaky and light-headed.

Do you ever drink too much coffee or some other caffeinated beverage? It can give you quite a lift, and then quite a crash. Or perhaps you are immune to drinking too much caffeine because you drink so much that your body hardly notices another cup.

First of all, coffee, in moderation, is good for you! (We’ll discuss pop—AKA soda—some other time.) Coffee has all those antioxidants that help your blood cells, and it can help you concentrate, give you an energy boost, and even lift your spirits for a while. Too much coffee, on the other hand, can make you shaky, like me today, give mood swings and depression, dehydrate your body, give headaches, insomnia, and numb concentration. Too much coffee can also lead to weight gain, since most people like to add a little cream or sugar or both.

My sister and I got through the planning with record speed, which was a definite plus. But I will probably pay for all that caffeine I consumed when later I have the caffeine crash. My best option I think is exercise. When you drink too much, exercising can help diminish some of the negative side effects of shakiness, insomnia, and depression. Now, where did I put that exercise video?

Monday, December 14, 2009

My Daily Avocado: The Laundry Cycle

My kids are sleeping and I have a chance to relax. Or I could do what I really need to do and get the laundry folded. I have kept up with the washing and drying, so it’s not like we lack clean clothes. The problem is that I didn’t fold the laundry yesterday. Or the day before. Now there is really no satisfaction in getting today’s laundry washed because there is already a mountain of clean clothes waiting to be folded, and I am way behind.

Our entire lives run like an unsuccessful laundry cycle at times. The unsuccessful laundry cycle works like this: we put the clothes into the washer and dryer, then the clothes sit on the couch, unfolded. For days.

Likewise our lives might run like this: we eat breakfast; we eat lunch; we eat dinner. Then we sit on the couch. For days.

Okay, we might not be sitting on the couch. In fact, we are probably very busy with many things! But have we gone on a walk? Stretched our muscles? Done some aerobics?

Let’s think of exercise as folding the clothes. It’s that final step we need to take that will keep our lives in order. As we keep eating, our bodies are longing to be worked physically. Yet one day goes by, and then another, and food keeps going in but the calories are not burned off. It’s like that mountain of laundry that keeps growing. Soon it’s overwhelming to even consider doing an exercise routine.

Don’t be discouraged. Even if you can daily slip in five minutes of jumping jacks, it’s better than none. The key is, do something. It’s especially difficult on cold winter days, but the neat part of exercise is that it gives back to you—you will gain more energy by exercising. In fact, by exercising, you will probably get the energy you need to fold the clothes!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

My Daily Avocado: Sunday Reflection

This past week we talked about foods that are not-so-good for the health of our bodies. Today let’s think about how we can use this information to improve our health and find a way of eating healthy that works best for us.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Daily Avocado: Saturday Superfoods

Did you know that there is a holiday food that is really good for you? Can you guess it? Here are some of its benefits:
• It’s full of antioxidants
• Drinking its juice can prevent urinary infections
• It can prevent plaque formation on the teeth
• Consuming the juice for months can kill the H. pylori bacteria, which can cause stomach cancer and ulcers
• Daily juice consumption may increase levels of HDL (good cholesterol) and reduce levels of LDL (bad cholesterol)
• It may prevent tumors from forming or rapidly growing
• Extracts of chemicals found in it prevent breast cancer cells from multiplying in a test tube

Have you guessed it? It’s cranberries! While I don’t encourage eating it from a can (it doesn’t even taste good from a can!), cranberries and cranberry juice, sweetened with natural sugars or without sugar, are extremely beneficial! Below is a recipe for some tasty, natural, cranberry sauce.

Honey Cranberry Sauce
1 package (12 oz) fresh cranberries
¾ cup honey
1 cup orange juice
2 apples, pealed, cored and diced
¼ teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes or until berries pop. Remove from heat and cool. Cover and refrigerate for up to four days. Place on the Christmas dinner table and enjoy!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Some Food for Thought

I’ve included a link today—The 7 Foods Experts Won’t Eat posted by Yahoo. These are definitely something to think about. Here are 3 of the 7 in a nutshell. You decide.

Microwave Popcorn
According to Olga Naidenko, a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group, the lining of a microwave popcorn bag contains chemical compounds that are possibly linked to infertility. In animal testing the chemicals also caused cancer. Apparently when the bag is microwaved, the chemicals vaporize and enter the food. Once the food enters the body, it stays and there for years. The solution: make your popcorn the old-fashioned way or use a popcorn maker.

Nonorganic Potatoes
Jeffrey Moyer, chair of the National Organic Standards Board
, says root vegetables absorb pesticides and other chemicals that run-off into the soil. Potatoes, for instance, are treated with fungicides during growth and herbicides before and after harvesting. Washing and peeling the food does not remove the chemicals that have been absorbed into the flesh. The solution: purchase organic roots. This potato information caught me by unpleasant surprise. I am thinking that I need to make organic potatoes a priority.

Milk Produced with Artificial Hormones
Finally, Rick North, project director of the Campaign for Safe Food, says that milk producers treat their dairy cattle with a growth hormone (rBGH or rBST) to increase milk production. The hormone is known to increase udder infection and can cause an excretion of pus into the milk. It also may contribute to breast, prostate, and colon cancers when the milk is consumed by humans. The solution: purchase rBGH-free (rBST-free), hormone-free, or organic milk. My husband and I especially think this important for our kids.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Is Perfect Nutrition Realistic?

When I was in my mid-twenties, I started eating a vegetarian diet that excluded meat. I felt wonderful. There may be various reasons I felt good, but I can say from my own experience that my body does not tolerate meat as well as grains and vegetables. Each person reacts differently to different foods, so I do not believe that one diet fits all.

For example, I once tried the high-protein, extremely low-carb Adkins diet. Within 24 hours I was sick in bed with illness and extreme weariness. I never stay in bed with illness, so this was a strong reaction for me.

The vegetarian diet agreed with me. Perhaps there were reasons it worked, beyond the simple fact that my body does not digest meat as easily as other foods. When I was on the vegetarian diet, I was very health-conscious and carefully monitored my protein, carbohydrate, and sugar intake. I ate many vegetables, usually three different sides of veggies with each meal. Since eliminating meat took a certain amount of determination, I was more focused on my dietary habits and it affected my whole life, from the boost it gave to my exercise to the disinterest I had in unhealthy snacks. I also felt better both physically and psychologically, which gave me better will-power to stay in control of my eating.

If it worked so well for me, why am I not a vegetarian today? The reason is simple: I am no longer single. No, my husband does not insist that I eat meat, so you can’t blame him that I am no longer a vegetarian. It more has to do with the difficulty and cost of making two kinds of meals when we eat. Perhaps someday when my kids are older, I’ll do it again.

As easy as it is to talk about healthy ideals, every day life is seldom if ever conducive to the perfect ideal. Why do I bring this up? I bring this up because I do promote healthy living in the most ideal form possible, but I’m the first to admit that you have to find a way to be healthy in your daily living that is practical for yourself and your family. Be informed and make an effort, but don’t set unreasonable expectations that you can’t keep. Healthy living is about being sensible and finding what works best for you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Margarine of Error?

Of all the cautions out on particular foods and how bad various products can be for us, one in particular has caught my attention. That one is hydrogenated oil, from which comes trans fats and margarine.

Hydrogenation is the process of heating an oil and passing hydrogen bubbles through it. The fatty acids in the oil then latch onto some of the hydrogen, making it denser. If it was fully hydrogenated, it would become a solid fat, but by stopping partially through the process, a semi-solid is created that has a consistency like butter.

What are the benefits to hydrogenated oils? The process to create hydrogenated oils is cheaper than producing natural butter. Some people claim that margarine gives a lighter texture in baking. The hydrogenation process creates a higher melting point and also gives the product a longer shelf-life.

What are the health-risks to hydrogenated oils? The high-heat process that transforms the oil into a thick buttery substance has actually altered its chemical bonds. Although research is still determining all its effects, studies have shown that there are possible dangers associated with the oils. Some scientists think that the body is unable to metabolize and dispose of the oils, making them permanently clogging the insides. Consumption of the oils is believed to elevate the risk for coronary heart disease. Other possible effects are Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, liver dysfunction, and infertility.

My husband and I do try to avoid bringing hydrogenated oils into our home, but every once in a while we forget to read a label, or we really long for a particular snack that has it. Food companies are slowly starting to move away from using hydrogenated oils, but it is not easy to avoid it entirely. My goal is to try to avoid it, but provide myself a little wiggle room. I just don’t want to wiggle too much.

One source I read says that during the last stages of refining, the oil is distilled by steam, which removes its odor. Apparently, hydrogenated oil is much like rancid butter, and reportedly smells even worse. I wonder if we could actually smell what it truly is, would that fast food fried in gallons of hydrogenated oil be as appealing? Perhaps we should ask the processing plants to skip that step for the good of us all.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Define it

The topic of health foods is like a tree. At the trunk of the tree it seems simple perhaps, but when you start looking into it, it branches off in all sorts of directions. It’s not so much healthy versus not healthy, but somewhere in between. It can be overwhelming to research and even more so to understand. We will try to take one branch at a time.

In order to understand all the products on the food market, it is important to understand—or at least sort-of-understand—a few terms. To start with, we will look at all-natural, whole, and organic foods.

All-natural foods, according to one website I read, are foods that are “fresher, minimally processed, and safer.” It’s vague, I know. According to the dictionary there are 15 different definitions of the word natural. The FDA has no official definition of the term “natural.” It does, however, have a policy for the use of the term: namely that a natural product is one that has not had any artificial or synthetic substance added that would not normally be expected in the food, such as artificial flavors or colors.

Whole foods are anything that is produced with all its edible elements still intact for the most part, little or nothing is added, and it is processed very little (again, vague). Here is an example of one of my favorite whole foods: whole wheat flour is a whole food because it is ground into flour after being harvested, but no other process has taken place, such as striping the wheat germ and bran away.

Organic foods are any food that is grown or produced without the use of additives, hormones, or pesticides. Organic milk, for instance, comes from cows that have not been hormone-injected and feed off grain that is grown pesticide-free.

While the definitions are a bit vague, it seems as though going with all-natural, whole, and organic foods is a step in the right direction. Still, I have more questions than answers at this point.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Week Two

Life used to be pretty simple as far as food went. The early pioneers of America may have had to work harder at making a meal, but it was simple. The finished product was much less varied than it is today. Over the past century, modern appliances have enabled us to make meals quickly; fast global transportation has enabled us to eat some pretty exotics foods; factories have pre-made foods so all you have to do is heat to eat; and chemicals have allowed food to be preserved, taste-enhanced, and cheaper.

There has been a backlash in pre-made products across our country after the highly-processed food started getting a pretty bad wrap from nutritionists. In the eighties, the word “lite” started showing up on the former-fattening items. More recently, the term “all-natural” is seen. This is good, right?

Take our own pantry. We try to buy healthy food and eat healthy in our daily lives. Still, there are various items in our pantry that make me wonder—just how healthy are we? We have cheese puffs that boast that they are “all-natural.” My husband Jay likes to drink 7up, which claims it’s made from all-natural ingredients. I buy low-fat and high-fiber frozen dinners made by a famous weightloss company. We buy lite ice cream….

Here are some questions that I have: Just what does the term “all-natural” mean? Are all foods that claim to be all-natural actually good for you? Do “lite” foods really help with weightloss? Are they healthy? Are vegetarian products and organic products always good for you? If we stay away from pre-made foods, are we the paragon of healthiness?

Over the next few days we will be focusing on all-natural foods and what it means to be all-natural from a marketing standpoint. We will also explore diet foods and other so-called health foods. The more we know, the more likely we will make the kinds of decisions that will keep us feeling good and living long lives.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sunday Reflection

Each week this day will be designated for reflecting on the past week. What worked? What did not? Is there something hindering you? Think about it and write down your thoughts if you choose. Taking time to pause and think can be enlightening and a great way to focus the mind for the week ahead.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Saturday Superfoods

I recently walked out to my backyard to check on my gardens. This time of year they look rather pathetic because I haven’t had the time or the heart to tear out all the dying plants. Sure enough, the tomato vines are yellowed and the peppers droopy. My basil plant looks like a bouquet of sticks.

There is one tree, however, that is bearing rich, plump fruit. My orange tree. The oranges are still a pale orange with a tinge of green. About the time my twelve nieces and nephews come for Christmas, they should be ripe enough to be picked.

This tangy-sweet fruit of the citrus family is native to Southeast Asia. It is considered to be an ancient cultivated hybrid between pomelo and tangerine. Today it is cultivated in most warm climates world-wide.

Probably everybody knows that oranges are rich in vitamin C, which helps boost the immune system. Did you also know that they are rich in calcium, helping your bones and your teeth? Oranges also contain a very powerful antioxidant, beta-carotene, that protects our cells from damage, and some nutritionists believe it can help prevent cancer. In addition, oranges contain folic acid, potassium, magnesium, and iron, all having great health benefits.

My experiences show that the more nutritious foods we eat, the less unhealthy foods we will want. The next you are shopping for groceries, load the cart with a bag of oranges. Or you can always stop by my house for one fresh off the tree.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Remember the Good

Part of being healthy is having healthy thoughts. There are some days when I can’t stop thinking about mistakes I have made in the past. There was that time when I hurt so-and-so, or the time I ruined a special moment because I acted before thinking, or I made a fool of myself…. The list really could go on and on. Those memories have a way of sticking around. Sometimes they are more potent than all my successes added together!

Negative memories can help us to learn from mistakes, so I’ve never been one to say, “I live my life with no regrets.” There is, however, a danger is letting negative moments in our past overshadow our good moments, and ultimately leave us feeling rather bleak. We can begin to think dangerous thoughts, like “I always make mistakes” or “I can’t get anything right.” Once we start heading down that road, very quickly we can start believing we are a failure, and then easily become just that.

Let’s try a mental exercise to deal with our not-so-nice memories. When something from the past comes to mind, think about something good that has come from it. If it is a positive memory, it’s easy. But what about the negative memories? Can we think of good that came out of those?

I’ll try the exercise myself. I once house-sat for a family and accidentally spilled candle wax on their carpet. To this day I feel bad about it. So how can good come from it? Well, through that incident I learned that the people who owned the house are kind and forgiving people. I learned that there are good people who understand when we make mistakes and who forgive us.

Go ahead and try it. When you’re done with the exercise, don’t let yourself think of the negative memory for the rest of the day. Chances are it will not return to haunt you tomorrow or ever again.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Eat in Heavenly Peace

Our house is beautiful right now. Our Christmas tree is decorated with lights and ornaments, and swooping up the stairway hangs a thick evergreen garland with more twinkling lights. Four festive stockings hang above fireplace. Before my husband Jay gets home from work, I try to remember to turn on the ipod to Christmas music and light candles on the mantle. Everything is warm and cozy and magical.

And then dinner begins. My daughter is throwing her food and screaming, “All done!” My son is begging for more milk, or spitting up, or both. My husband asks if we could turn off the music because it really is just more noise at this point. The kitchen floor looks like a garbage heap. I start wolfing down my food just to get dinner over with.

Dinner is not always an easy time to be thinking about nutrition or portion control, is it? More likely, we just stuff the food in like it’s our last meal. Or we don’t eat enough. Or we skip the vegetables and go for the comfort food because we need it and we deserve it!

Each of us reacts differently to stress. For some, it makes us lose our appetite. Others cram a week’s worth of carbs down in five minutes. Either way, it is bound to result in unhealthy habits.

Stress is unavoidable for everybody. Here are some reminders for handling stress specifically during meals.

Eat a bite or two to quench the craving, then wait until the chaos has quieted before taking another bite. Even if it means asking our spouse to take the kids for ten minutes so we can eat in peace, it will be worth it. If we are absent-mindedly stuffing the food down, we will have a difficult time recognizing when we’ve had enough.

If we have lost our appetite, save the food we would have eaten on a plate and store it in the refrigerator for when we get hungry later. Skipping dinner can later lead to snacking, which is usually unbalanced nutritionally and can be higher in calories.

Breathe deeply throughout the meal. Also, drink plenty of water.

In a way that works best for you and your family, try to deal with the stress using your own “bag of tricks.” In our case, asking our daughter to count to ten helps distract her and calm her down.

Finally, enjoy the chaos as much as possible. Someday the memories of these moments will bring a smile.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Boss

A little over two years ago I gave birth to an adorable little angel, Eden. Today, I’m not necessarily calling her angel all the time, but she is a huge bright spot in our lives. She is sweet and affectionate, but she also tests my husband and me by the hour.

One of our battles with her is regarding what she eats. Eden loves food. She could eat from the time she crawls out of bed until bedtime almost without pause—as long as the food is something she likes. Fortunately for us, she is not very picky. Our job is to moderate her eating, making sure it’s nutritious and that she doesn’t eat too much.

There are many times when she wants more fruity snacks or more pretzels and we simply have to put our foot down. She can’t eat all the time, and she can’t always have her first choice. As much as she begs and fusses, the answer is still no. We have the power to keep her from having anything at anytime.

Sometimes I wish I had my own mother hen looking down at me and saying “no more” when I’ve had enough—and enforce it too. Would I be whining and begging like Eden for more? Probably!

Being the boss of our own lives means we have the power to give in to our spontaneous desires and unbalanced wishes. What if we were to be as strict with ourselves as we are with our kids or those who work for us?

You’ve probably recognized that we’re talking about self-discipline. The crucial time we need to have self-discipline is when we are only accountable to ourselves. Let’s start the self-discipline today by stating our personal expectations and then putting our foot down when we might want seconds on those “fruity snacks.” Our bodies could use a little mothering.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Don't Give Up

Cookies from your neighbor; caramel popcorn from your aunt; don’t forget the fudge you’re making for the party next Friday night. Thanksgiving is over and we are officially into Christmas—the season of sweets!

Without batting an eye, those calories that have been carefully counted throughout the year are disregarded with relish. We do unheard-of things, like eat apple pie for breakfast and put peppermint ice cream in our coffee. All done because it’s the happy holidays.

Our thinking is probably this: “Why should I even try to eat healthy during the month of December? I’ll never succeed.” So you attack those buffet tables with the enthusiasm of a prisoner let out on parole. Hello, eggnog! Welcome, gingerbread! Nice to see you, pumpkin cheesecake!

As extreme as this sounds, you might relate to it just the tiniest little bit. Sure, we are going to eat differently this month than the rest of the year, but I’d like to suggest a new motto for this season: Don’t Give Up.

If your motto is Don’t Give Up, it means you are aware that it does matter what you eat for breakfast, regardless that you’re having a dinner party in the evening. Don’t Give Up means it does matter that you limited the intake to 2000 calories on your splurge instead of 5000.

It is tempting to adopt an all-or-nothing attitude about eating healthy or not. However, my definition of being healthy is simply this: being more sensible than less sensible. Every little effort really does count. If you’re convinced that it’s better to give up for the month, you probably will let yourself go out of control.

The Don’t Give Up motto will let you savor every moment of high-caloric pleasure, then put you right back onto normal, sensible eating. Not only will you curb the seasonal weight-gain, you’ll also feel better throughout the month.

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