Naturally Healthy 4 Life's Blog

A blog about health, nutrition, fitness and wellness

Health is a Choice

“Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”  ~Mark Twain

As we were all groaning upon completing our 30th push up in my yoga practice yesterday, the teacher made the comment that it does take work to take care of our bodies – health and fitness do not come in a pill.  It touched a nerve.

As those of you who know me or have followed my blog may know, my drive for health and wellness started in large part from my parents, who did not take good care of their health – particularly, my mother.  My mother passed away far too young (at 69), due to health problems that were very preventable (type 2 diabetes, heart disease).

After having eight children and entering middle age, my mother struggled desperately with her weight.  She loved food and she hated exercise, so spent much of the rest of her life looking for that “magic pill.”  Sometimes it was literally a pill and other times it was the latest fad diet.  There was even a rubber sweatsuit of some kind that was supposed to sweat off the weight – it just made her miserable (and she looked pretty silly, too!).  She had some success here and there.  A particularly successful diet resulted from her drinking a shake for every meal.  The problem is that most people do not want to forgo real food and drink only shakes for the rest of their lives.  As is the case with most diet and exercise programs, at some point, you attain your desired goal weight or level of fitness and go off the program.  Most people go back to the same lifestyle they had before the program and watch the weight and poor health return (as it was with my mother – time and time again).

Herein lays the problem.  To maintain that weight or fitness level, and to improve health, wellness and longevity, you have to make permanent changes.

It is so true that health, wellness and fitness are a lifestyle that I choose every day.  I do not diet and I do not exercise excessively.  My weight fluctuates very little – maybe 3-4 pounds at the most.  This is not because I have good genes (obviously not the case) or because I am tall (believe it or not, I often get the comment that it is so much easier for me to stay thin because I am tall!?!).

I choose to eat nutritious, whole foods – avoiding processed foods and red meat.  I choose to practice yoga and to work out moderately and regularly.  I choose this lifestyle because it truly enhances my life – I feel better, I sleep better, I cope with stress better, I look better.  It allows me to thoroughly enjoy activities that I adore – biking and hiking, in particular – and to keep up with my very athletic husband.  I am rarely sick.

Yes, I could get run over by a bus tomorrow, but in case I don’t, I plan to do all I can to live and enjoy a very long, healthy life.   Want to join me?

Angela, Wellness Warrior 🙂

References:

  1. Life, baby!

November 4, 2012 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , | 3 Comments

Cha-cha-cha Chia!

I had never heard of chia seeds until I bought some gluten-free bread that boasted chia seeds as one of its fabulous ingredients.  I was curious and looked into this interesting little seed.

Chia (salvia hispanica) is a species of flowering plant that is a member of the mint family, native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala.  It is grown commercially for its seeds.

Some benefits include:

  • Rich in omega-3 fatty acids (seeds yield 25-30% extractable oil, including a-linolenic acid, aka ALA) – omega 3’s protect against inflammation (arthritis) and heart disease.  Chia seeds actually contain more omega-3’s than salmon and flax seeds!
  • Rich in antioxidants (antioxidants block harmful chemical reactions caused by oxidation – they help promote general health and slow the development of many age-related diseases)
  • High in protein (1 ounce contains 4 grams)
  • High in fiber (1 ounce contains 11 grams) – fiber makes you feel full
  • Contains essential minerals phosphorus, manganese, calcium, potassium, sodium

When added to liquid, they form a gel.  Researchers suggest that this reaction also occurs in the stomach, so when ingested, the gel slows the process by which digestive enzymes break down carbohydrates and convert them to sugar.

Chia seeds have a nut-like flavor.  They can be eaten raw as a whole seed (sprinkled on cereal, yogurt, salads), ground into a coarse flour (used in baked goods), soaked and used in gruels, porridges and puddings.  They are even consumed in Mexico as beverage called chia fresca by adding the seeds to water or fruit juice.

I enjoy my chia seeds in my morning smoothie.  The seeds quickly expand and soften as they soak in the liquid (I use coconut milk and almond milk).

And if you decide that chia seeds are not for you, you can always moisten and apply them to a terra cotta figurine in the shape of your favorite pet and… (you see where I’m going with this?)

Angela, Chia Chick 🙂

References:

  1. “Salvia hispanica,” Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvia_hispanica)
  2. “What is Chia?”  Ask Dr. Weil (http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA365093/Chia-for-Health.html)

September 30, 2012 Posted by | Health, Nutrition | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Road trip!

“The journey not the arrival matters.” ~T.S.Eliot

Road trips are a great way to see the country and (if all in the car are getting along!) it is also a great opportunity for a family to spend some concentrated, quality time together.  Many of us took road trips over spring break (vacations or college visits) and many will take trips this summer.

I live in a pretty large Midwestern metropolitan area, filled with many options when not eating at home – yes, there are a lot of fast food restaurants, but there are also a lot of really great restaurants that serve healthy dishes.  Of course, this is not the case when you hit the open road and can sometimes go several hundred miles between cities that even have restaurants.

What is worse than sitting in a car, unable to move for several hours at time?  For me, it is sitting in a car AND feeling terrible because I ate a bunch of junk for lunch.

So with some recent experience under my belt, I give you a few bits of wisdom.

The number one thing you can do (and it is super easy) is to plan ahead!  The glory of traveling by car is that you can pack extra things in the trunk or in the back of the minivan, such as a cooler.

  • Make sandwiches and/or salads ahead of time.  Important tips:  don’t put tomatoes or condiments on the sandwiches until you are ready to eat (they will get soggy) and don’t forget to pack napkins, wet-wipes, utensils, etc.
  • Pack cleaned and cut up fruits and vegetables.  If you do not want to spend a lot of time prepping, pick up some grapes, bananas, apples, cherry tomatoes or baby carrots, all of which require very little prep – wash and pack.
  • Protein is really important when you are on the road to keep your energy level up (especially if you are the driver!).  Most handy snacks have little to no protein.  Hard boiled eggs are the ideal compact protein source (6 grams) – easy to make and pack in your cooler.  If you don’t like eggs, string cheese, protein bars and trail mixes are also great sources of protein.  However, make sure you read the ingredients on the bars and mixes; many are no healthier than candy bars – a lot of sugar.  Sugar will bring your energy up for only a short period of time and then you will crash.
  • Pack plenty of water.  If you drink water throughout the trip, you will be less likely to be thirsting for some soda pop when you stop at the gas station to fill up.

If you are not able to plan ahead (or just don’t want to plan ahead), look for grocery stores and co-ops along the way.   You could pick up some cheese and crackers, fresh fruit, yogurt, etc.  Grocery stores may also have some prepared foods in their deli area that are not processed, like grilled chicken and healthy salads.   Even some coffee houses like Starbucks® now carry pretty healthy snack packs (like cheese and crackers, fruit).

We have a strict rule in our family:  NO eating or drinking (other than water) in the car.  It helps us keep our car clean and smelling fresh, but it also forces us to stop for meals.  It is nice to take a break and step out of the car – even if only for 20 minutes -and keeps us from snacking for six hours.  When you are done eating, take a few minutes for stretching and a quick walk before getting back in the car.  It will really help your digestion.

Happy and healthy travels!

Angela, Traveling Chick 🙂

April 15, 2012 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The gluten-free life

I am now four weeks into my gluten-free life (see my February 5, 2012 post to see how this started).

Physical changes

Sleep!  I fall asleep easily and stay asleep through the night.  I now understand what it is like to sleep like the dead.

Energy!  I have consistent energy throughout the day.  I used to feel my energy dip every afternoon – I have not experienced that in weeks.  I have more energy during yoga (I attend a 75 minute hot yoga in the evening, after work).

Mental clarity!  In his book “Wheat Belly” (mentioned in my last post), Dr. Davis talks about “brain fog,” which he believes may be attributable to wheat consumption.  Prior to leaving gluten in the dust, I frequently experienced this.  I chalked it up to the aging process, but in the last several weeks, I have noticed that I think more clearly, I am more focused and my memory is sharper.

Tools

I found a few apps for my iPhone that have been very helpful:

  • Gluten Free Ingredients:  It includes a list of ingredients – gluten free and not – that you can quickly and easily check while you are at the grocery store.  It also offers search tools that let you do Google and Amazon searches with “gluten free” attached to the search.

  • Gluten Free Registry:  It helps you find gluten-free friendly businesses (restaurants, coffee houses, grocers, etc.) using GPS.  It provides location information, reviews and website links.

Lessons learned

I did not experience any additional weight loss beyond the first few pounds.  One big lesson learned is that gluten-free is not guilt-free/calorie-free!  You still have to check the other ingredients and make a healthy choice.  (I am at a very healthy, stable weight, and do not need to lose any weight.)

I do not miss bread as much as I thought I would.  I hardly think about it, but I do notice when I go out to eat that there are very few dishes that are not made with bread, that are not breaded or that do not come with bread.  I tried a few gluten-free breads and I am not impressed; they do not come close to the flavor and texture of bread made with wheat or rye.  Meh…not the end of the world.

I found some great gluten-free pasta!  I tried De Boles Multi Grain Spaghetti Style Pasta, made with rice, quinoa and amaranth.  It is really good (especially with my homemade sauce)!  Interestingly, pasta without gluten does not expand when you cook it, so the noodles are very thin, but very tasty.

Unfortunately, I think it is close to impossible to find gluten-free pasta in a restaurant, so I will likely be avoiding most Italian restaurants (however, Biaggi’s in the Twin Cities has a gluten-free menu – see image above from my iPhone).  I am finding that many, many restaurants have gluten-free options on their menus.  I visited Pizza Luce over the weekend.  I had a gluten-free margherita pizza that was delightful.  In fact, my very picky eater (my 16 year old stepdaughter) tried it and actually preferred it to her own pizza (which was made with a regular wheat crust)!

The most interesting thing I learned is that gluten is hidden in many foods that I would never suspect contained it.  I went to dinner with a friend who ordered edamame.  I am used to edamame being steamed, salted and served – there is no gluten in edamame, right?  However, they had a “gluten-free” edamame on the menu.  Well, I discovered that the restaurant adds a sauce to their edamame that contains gluten.  Additionally, a lot of candy contains gluten.  Another friend gave me a bag of candy for Valentine’s Day.  Since I am still in the learning process, I decided to check the ingredients of the various treats.  SweeTart Hearts Gummies contain wheat, as do a lot of chocolates – even those that appear to be just a straight piece of chocolate may contain malt (Hershie’s Miniatures, for instance).

Everything I have read thus far about giving up gluten stresses that it may be months before I see the full effects of being gluten-free.  But I must say – so far, it has all been good!

Angela, Gluten-free Goddess 🙂

References:

  1. “Wheat Belly,” William Davis, M.D.

February 21, 2012 Posted by | Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Cutting out the wheat

“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts.”   ~James Beard

“Gluten-free” is trending big right now in the U.S.  Those with gluten allergies/sensitivities or celiac disease are very familiar with the term.  However, most of the rest of us do not really have a good understanding of what gluten is or why we would or would not want it in our diet.

According to the dictionary, gluten [French, from Latin gluten, glue] is:

1. The mixture of proteins, including gliadins and glutelins, found in wheat grains, which are not soluble in water and which give wheat dough its elastic texture.

2. Any of the prolamins found in cereal grains, especially the prolamins in wheat, rye, barley, and possibly oats, that cause digestive disorders such as celiac disease.

In addition to wheat, gluten is found in rye, spelt, barley, triticale, bulgur and kamut – all less common than wheat.

I have been extremely curious about gluten for a few years now, but fear of living without bread and pizza (which has gluten in the crust), both of which I love, has kept me from venturing into the gluten-free world….until now.   A few weeks ago, I started reading a book, “Wheat Belly,” by William Davis, M.D. (a really interesting, enlightening book that I recommend reading).  Davis is a cardiologist who claims that a wheat-free diet is associated with:

  • Weight loss
  • Alleviation of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes
  • Recovery from intestinal issues (ulcerative colitis, celiac disease)
  • Improvement in overall cholesterol and LDL counts
  • Improvement in bone density and reversal of osteopenia
  • Cessation of skin conditions like psoriasis, oral ulcers, hair loss
  • Reduction of inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis pain

As he points out in his book, the wheat we eat now is very different than the wheat we consumed 40 years ago.  In the 60s, scientists started genetically modifying the wheat to make it grow faster and stronger, make it easier to harvest, better for baking, etc.  Davis claims that our bodies process the “new” wheat very differently than the old.

As those who read my blog know, I am a health nut (healthy diet of whole foods, organic, lean proteins and regular exercise), but I am always curious about new ways to improve my health and longevity.  Fortunately, I do not have celiac disease, but I do have some lingering health issues (nothing serious) that I would like to remedy and a family history of health issues that I would like to avoid altogether.

SO…I have taken the gluten-free plunge in a rather unscientific way – I am only tracking the changes I see and feel in my body.  I won’t be doing any blood tests, checking blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

I am now two weeks into the process.  Interestingly, other than doing without whole-grain bread and pizza, my diet has not changed much.  I thought about bread and pizza a LOT during the first week (like any addiction, you find yourself obsessed with what you can no longer have!).  However, by the second week, I did not think about it much.  Other changes:

  • Decreased appetite, decreased cravings for carbs
  • The painful twing that I have been feeling in my hip on and off for the last few months is gone
  • More energy, especially in the afternoon (when I usually have a little energy slump)
  • Better digestion
  • I am sleeping more deeply
  • I am less bloated, puffy
  • The keratosis pilaris (little bumps) on the backs of my arms have diminished
  • I lost 3 pounds (without any other changes to my diet and no change in the amount of exercise)!

My next step is testing new products and trying some new recipes for replacement of things that I miss, like sandwich bread, wraps and, of course, pizza crust!

I will post updates in the coming weeks…

Angela, Wheat-free Woman 🙂

References:

  1. “Wheat Belly,” William Davis, M.D.

February 7, 2012 Posted by | Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Achoo! Still no cure for the common cold, but….

I am one of the many that is battling a head cold this season.  Grrrr.

While usually not debilitating, colds are a nuisance.  You cannot breathe, you are constantly sneezing and blowing your nose.  Your eyes are watery and your throat is sore.  It keeps you up at night and leaves you looking pretty awful – bags under the eyes, big red nose.  Yes, that is me right now.

We all know there is no cure for the common cold.  Obviously, the goal is to try to avoid getting one in the first place.  But if we DO get a cold, what can we do to treat it and get rid of it quickly?

Why me???

The common cold is a virus.  The virus is most infectious in its first three days.  It is spread by people’s hands, and carried to their eyes, noses and mouths, where the virus settles in for its 7-10 day run.  Ugh.  Despite what Grandma told you, you can NOT catch a cold (or any virus) by being wet or cold.  We are more prone to colds in the winter because we spend more time indoors, we are in closer proximity to others, and the low humidity in the winter increases viral transmission rates, allowing the viral droplets to disperse further and stay in the air longer.

Prevention

The smartest way to treat a cold is to not get it in the first place.

  • Keep your immune system healthy!  Exercise and eat healthfully on a regular basis.  Get enough rest and fluids.  Control stress levels, as stress has a huge affect on your immune system function.
  • Wash your hands well and frequently.  Always use soap and warm/hot water, and suds up for at least 20 seconds (try singing “Happy Birthday” – to yourself, of course, rather than out loud – people may think you are a bit nutty if singing out loud).
  • Use antibacterial gels.  You can easily find great little containers and sprays at the drugstore that you can keep in your purse.  Look for gels that contain moisturizers like aloe vera and vitamin E, as these gels can be very drying to your hands.
  • Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth (this is a good tip for your skin, as well – touching your face can make acne worse).
  • Stay away from those that are sick.  Since the virus is more of a nuisance than a sickness, and lasts for several days, most people do not quarantine themselves while the virus runs its course.  You will find people sniffling, sneezing and coughing all around you.  Keep your distance.
  • Stay away from others if YOU are sick.  If you are the one that has the cold, PULLEASE wash or use antibacterial gel on your hands after blowing your nose, always cough into your elbow, NOT your hand, and keep your distance from others.

Treatment

Viruses can NOT and should not be treated with antibiotics.  Antibiotics have no effect on viruses.  A virus just needs to run its course.  So here are some ways to make the symptoms less obnoxious, help you more easily rest and hopefully, make the virus leave more quickly.

  • Drink as much water as possible.
  • Take an antihistamine (for runny, itchy nose and eyes, sneezing).
  • Take a decongestant (for nasal and/or chest congestion).
  • Drink hot tea with lemon and honey (very soothing on your throat, sinuses).
  • Take a hot bath (the steam will clear your head).
  • Irrigate your sinuses with a netti pot (it is uncomfortable at first, but really clears your sinuses).
  • Use a humidifier/vaporizer, especially at night (dry air makes you more stuffed up, making sleep more difficult).

Several talked about remedies/treatments are unproven and studies have shown they have little effect, such as Vitamin C (in fact, juice contains a lot of sugar, which is not helpful to your immune system), zinc, echinacea, and nasal sprays (which are actually very irritating to your sinuses).

Obviously, if symptoms worsen or do not improve in a week, then you should see your doctor.

I hope your New Year is a healthy, virus free one!

Angela, Sniffling Soul 😦

References:

  1. “Common Cold,” Wikipedia.org

December 30, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s the holiday season…

Happy holidays!  This time of year is filled with holiday parties, eating out, cooking and baking holiday foods.   If you are anything like me, it seems that everywhere you look is another tempting treat – candy, cookies, bread, cocktails.  And for many of us, it is a busy (and cold) time of year, so we are not working out like we did a few months ago.

Here are my top tips for navigating healthfully through the season.

Food

Obviously, avoid the high calorie items like cheese, cream sauces, gravy, butter and whipped cream.  But if you simply cannot resist, try to limit how much you eat and use some of the following “tricks.”

  • Eat something healthy and filling before you leave the house. You will be less interested in the decadent foods or you will eat less of them.
  • Nothing good to eat at home?  Load up on the crudités (raw vegetables) first.  Raw vegetables have high water content and are high in fiber, so they will make you feel fuller longer.
  • Use a small plate, take your time and do not go back for a second helping.  Using a small plate is tricks your brain – it sees a full plate (even if it’s small) and you will likely eat less.
  • Be a food snob.   Do not sample everything – rather, choose those foods that are not always available to you and savor them.  Skip foods that you can eat any other day of the year.

Cocktails

It goes without saying that you should always drink responsibly, including a designated driver, if necessary.  In addition to lowering your inhibitions, alcohol lowers your cortisol (the “stress hormone”) levels.  We need a sufficient release of cortisol to make us feel hungry, so when it drops, we feel hungry and we eat more than we should.

  • Avoid specialty drinks that are made with syrups and/or liqueurs (which are often made with cream and added sugar).  These cocktails go down easily and are  unbelievably high in calories.
  • Dilute the alcohol.  Mix hard liquor with a low-sugar mixer or drink wine spritzers.  (Using soda pop as a mixer is a bad idea – very high in calories and loaded with corn syrup and additives.  And don’t be fooled by “sugar free” – artificial sweeteners actually increase your appetite.)
  • And if you decide to imbibe, always make sure you are drinking plenty of water so you don’t get dehydrated.  Alternate each alcoholic drink with at least one full glass of water.

Find time for some exercise

In addition to helping maintain your weight, exercise will help you cope with the stress you may feel during the season.  If your workout schedule is kaput during the holidays, be creative.

  • While you are running all of your errands, walk as much as possible.  Use the stairs, walk extra laps in the mall, take the dog for walks, etc.
  • Shovel the snow (instead of plowing it).
  • If you are traveling over the holidays, note that most hotels now have fitness centers.  You can also pack fitness equipment in your suitcase – resistance bands, a workout DVD (if you have a laptop that plays DVD), running shoes, yoga clothes, etc.

Enjoy the season.  See you next year!

Angela, Party Grrrl 🙂

  1. “Alcohol Can Impact Your Appetite,” MedIndia, August 27, 2009 (www.medindia.net)
  2. “Alcohol Metabolism,” Dr. Dan Rutherford (www.netdoctor.com)
  3. “Calories in Popular Alcoholic Drinks & Alcohol Calories Chart” (www.fatburn-secrets.com)

December 11, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

You are what you eat – beauty foods

“Beauty is the first present nature gives to women and the first it takes away.”  ~Fay Weldon

When I was a little girl, my grandmother, watching me eat a bunch of carrots, told me that I had better be careful, because eating too many carrots would make my skin turn orange!  It sounds a little crazy, but just like everything else your grandma tells you, there is usually a bit of truth to it.

Carrots contain fat soluble pigments called carotenoids, which account for the deep orange color.  Lycopene (another carotenoid) is responsible for the red color in tomatoes, and there are green pigments in spinach, broccoli and other green veggies.  Indeed, eating too many carrots can cause a slight change in the color of your skin – it is harmless and temporary, subsiding when you reduce your consumption.

We know that carrots are a healthy food that is very good for us in many ways, and in moderation, eating carrots can also add a healthy glow to your skin.  This started me thinking about other foods that we consume that are not only good for our bodies, health and well-being, but that actually improve our appearance:  “Beauty Foods.”

Angela’s Top Ten Beauty Foods

If I had to pick just ten, I would suggest the following:

10.  Carrots.  They improve the appearance of the skin, hair, nails.  Carotenoids give the skin a healthy glow.  They contain beta carotene, a strong antioxidant.

9.    Milk.  It contains calcium, phosphorus and protein, which lead to healthy teeth, skin, hair and nails.

8.    Strawberries and other berries.  Berries contain a huge dose of vitamin C, which is the building block of collagen.  Collagen is the principal protein of the skin, tendons, cartilage, bone and connective tissue.  Collagen is also responsible for the strength and elasticity of the skin.  Degradation of collagen leads to aging and wrinkles.

7.    Broccoli.  It contains alpha lipoic acid, which prevents collagen in the legs from hardening, which is one of the main causes of cellulite (yuck!).

6.    Salmon.  It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which keep the skin looking young, supple and radiant.  Salmon also contains astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.

5.    Walnuts.  They contain alph-linolenic acid, which is an omega-3 fatty acid.  It lubricates the skin, keeping it moist and supple.

4.    Olive Oil.  The fatty acids in olive oil protect the skin from ultra-violet (UV) damage.  Essential fatty acids (EFAs) are part of the cell membrane that helps hold in moisture and keep the skin supple.

3.    Tea – green tea, in particular.  It contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is rich in antioxidants, decreases inflammation, protects the cell membrane, and reduces sunburn damage.  It is 200 times more powerful than vitamin E in fighting free radicals (key in anti-aging)!

2.    Kale and other dark green leafy veggies.  Dark green, leafy veggies contain phytonutrients, which help to fight off free-radicals (for more on free-radicals, see my 10/24/2010 blog post, “The War on Free Radicals”).  Kale, in particular, is very high in calcium, which makes the teeth, skin, hair and nails healthy and vibrant.

And my number one suggested beauty food (drum roll please)…..

1.    Water!  Water is the natural body purifier.  It carries nutrients to every cell in your body, flushes out toxins, and improves circulation and blood flow, all of which adds to our outward beauty.  Water also hydrates the skin, leaving it lustrous, supple and radiant.

So instead of putting a lot of money into creams and lotions (which provide only temporary beautification), invest in some really good food instead.  You will help your health AND your good looks.

Angela, Beauty Food Junkie 🙂

References:

  1. “Eating advice from Dr. Nicholas Perricone,” www.epicurous.com
  2. Andrew Weil, M.D.,www.drweil.com
  3. Cooking Light, www.cookinglight.com
  4. “Nosh yourself gorgeous,” www.ivillage.com

October 29, 2011 Posted by | Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New Superfood to Try: Fabulous Flax

Flax, grown for both its seeds and fibers, has been used to make fabric, dye, paper, medicines, fishing nets, hair gels and soap.  It is the source of linseed oil, which has been used for centuries as a drying oil in paint and varnish.

What you may not know is that flax is also an amazing super food!  It has a similar vitamin and mineral profile to grains, but is much higher in fiber, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids.

The flax facts

  • It contains high levels of dietary fiber (can be used as a laxative).
  • It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids (omega-3’s fight inflammation, which is the root of many diseases – heart disease, arthritis, asthma, diabetes – to name a few).
  • It is very low in carbohydrates.
  • It is high in most of the B vitamins, magnesium and manganese.
  • It is high in phytochemicals, including antioxidants.
  • It is helpful in weight loss and weight maintenance (due to a nice combo of high fiber and healthy fat).
  • It contains lignans (a plant estrogen and antioxidant, which converts in our intestines to substances that balance female hormones).  Some studies indicate a reduction in frequency and intensity of hot flashes in menopausal women with just a few tablespoons of ground flaxseed a day.
  • It may lower cholesterol levels, especially in women.
  • It may lessen the severity of diabetes by stabilizing blood sugar levels.

It is important to note that flax seeds must be ground to make the nutrients available (or they will simply “pass through” your body).  It has a mild, nutty taste and is easy to add to smoothies and salads, and to sprinkle on cereal and yogurt.  (I add a heaping tablespoon of ground flax to my smoothie every morning.)

The oil in flax is highly unsaturated, which means it will go rancid if not store properly.  They are best stored as whole seeds, grinding them as needed.  (You can use a spice grinder, blender or coffee grinder for this.)  Flax seeds stay fresh for up to a year if stored correctly (dark container, cool temperature, dry location, away from light).  Ground flax or flax meal can go rancid in as little as one week.  It should be purchased from a source where you know there is rapid turnover, it should be in an opaque, vacuum packed container, and stored in the freezer.

You CAN have too much of a good thing

Like everything else in life, moderation is the key.  A few things to consider:

  • It has very high fiber content.  Start with a small amount to avoid an extreme laxative effect.  If you tolerate it well, increase the amount gradually.  Drink plenty of water, as well, to avoid constipation (it is a soluble fiber).
  • As noted above, it is important to store flax seed and flax meal properly to avoid oxidation and rancidity.  If it has any bitterness to the taste, it is bad.
  • Lignans contain phytoestrogens, which thus far, have been shown to be beneficial.  However, it is unknown what effect high doses of phytoestrogens may have on one’s health.
  • Flax contains very small amounts of cyanide (as do cashews and some beans).  Our bodies have the ability to neutralize a certain amount of these compounds.  Studies have shown that up to six tablespoons of seed per day is still safe (and that’s a lot of flax!).

Flax seed is inexpensive and relatively easy to find (in stores and online).  A simple online search will net dozens of recipes for what to do with it.

You have nothing to lose by trying it, eh?  Except maybe weight, inflammation, cholesterol points, hot flashes….

Angela, Flax Freak 🙂

References:

  1. “Flax Seed:  The Low Carb Whole Grain,” by Laura Dolson (about.com)
  2. Flax (wikipedia.org)

September 7, 2011 Posted by | Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A smooth start to the day

No time for a healthy breakfast?  How about a smoothie?

My kids love smoothies, but not all smoothies are created equal.  Most smoothies that you pick up at your local coffee shop or fast food joint contain a ton of added sugar and no protein.

I like making them at home, so I know what goes into them.  During the work week or before a morning yoga session, my breakfast of choice is a berry banana smoothie.  It takes about five minutes to make, it is light, yet contains everything I need for a balanced breakfast:  lean protein, good fat and carbohydrates.

Breakfast is so important.  People who eat breakfast eat more nutrients, vitamins and minerals, eat less fat and cholesterol, and have lower cholesterol levels.  As many studies have shown, children who eat a healthy breakfast concentrate better, have better  problem-solving skills, have better hand-eye coordination, and are more alert, creative and more physically active.  Breakfast eaters tend to weigh less than breakfast skippers.  Eating breakfast reduces hunger throughout the day.  People who eat a healthy  breakfast are less likely to binge the remainder of the day and skipping meals has been shown to slow the metabolism.

First, if you do not already have one, I highly recommend an immersion blender.  It’s an inexpensive handheld blender that is perfect for making smoothies (among many other things) and is much easier to use and clean than a standard, full-sized blender.  (You can find several models between $20 and $40 on Amazon.com.)

Berry Banana Breakfast Smoothie

  • 1/2 cup frozen mixed organic berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, marionberries or any combination thereof)
  • One medium sized ripe banana (no need for organic with bananas)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 scoop vanilla bean whey protein powder (one scoop contains 17 grams of protein!)
  • 1/2 cup organic whole milk plain yogurt (Stonyfield makes a wonderful organic yogurt)

Put ingredients (easier to blend if added in this order) into a large cup or cylinder (the immersion blender will come with one to use), blend at a setting of “7” until smooth (usually about 20 seconds), and enjoy!

Ingredient specs

Why organic?  Some foods are more vulnerable than others to the addition of pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, etc. – including (and especially) berries and dairy products.  You can download a “pocket guide” to for help in choosing organic at http://www.ebfarm.com/Products/PocketGuide.aspx (you can even download it to your cell phone).

Why not non-fat or low fat yogurt?  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults get 20%-35% of their calories from fats. At a minimum, we need at least 10% of our calories to come from fat.  Not all fat is bad for us.  Unsaturated fats are the “good” fats and include polyunsaturated fatty acids and monounsaturated fats.  When consumed in moderation and in place of saturated fats, they can help lower cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.  When you get enough good fats, it’s easier to avoid the bad fats because your body will crave less (fats make you feel satisfied, as well).  Without enough fat, the body craves carbs because it turns carbs into fat.

Why a ripe banana?  It’s safe to eat a green banana, but they don’t taste very good!  The skin of a perfectly ripe banana will be yellow, with several brown spots.  A ripe banana also has more nutrients.  Believe me, a ripe banana will taste much better in your smoothie.

Angela, Smooth Operator 🙂

References:

  1. Department of Health and Human Services, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 (http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines)

July 9, 2011 Posted by | Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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