Saturday, April 28, 2012

Water: the weight loss, skin shine secret

Many of us know we should drink more water. For many of my clients, increasing the amount they drink has dramatic effects on increasing their energy and decreasing their appetite and cravings. 

Water is the stuff of life, I like to say, including your body:
  • Your muscles that move your body are 75% water. 
  • Your blood that transport nutrients is 82% water.
  • Your lungs that provide your oxygen are 90% water.
  • Your brain that is the control center of your body is 76% water.
  • Even your bones are 25% water!
Our health is truly dependent on the quality and quantity of the water we drink...

Drinking Tips for Healthy Hydration:
  • Start your mornings right: Morning is when you are most full of toxins and dehydrated. Reach for a big glass of water first thing in the morning – even before coffee. This water in the morning really gets the blood flowing. Lemon in your morning water will also alkalize your body, helping to flush out toxins and stabilize your cravings and appetite.
  • Take regular water breaks.
  • Avoid relying on juice, soda, coffee and tea to provide your fluid needs, as the other substances in them change the way your body absorbs and uses the water in them.
  • Drink water before and after food; ideally drink a glass of water half an hour before you eat your meal and half an hour after the meal. You can drink water with meals, and drink water anytime your body feels like it.
    Drinking water prior to and after eating supports the digestive process. The stomach depends on water to help digest food, and lack of water makes it harder for nutrients to be broken down and used as energy. Your kidneys and liver both rely on adequate water to function properly. If you are dehydrated, your kidneys turn to the liver for backup, diminishing the liver’s ability to do its main job – converting fat into usable energy. Dehydration thus limits your body's ability to burn fat, remove toxins and supply your cells with adequate nutrients.

  • Keep a water bottle by your side at all the times. Use either bottled water or tap water, and carry it with you everywhere, to the gym, in your car, to your office. Don't wait until you’re thirsty to drink – thirst is an indicator that you are already drastically dehydrated (more on this below!)
How much and when should I drink water?
A good baseline is to drink approximately half of your body weight in ounces. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, you should drink 100 ounces water (3.13 quarts, 2.98 liters, or about 10-12 cups) a day.

Individuals who are physically active or live in hot climates may needs to drink more. Every person has unique needs – this is just a baseline. Start here and observe how you feel.

How do I know if I'm dehydrated?
If you are thirsty, it means your cells are already dehydrated. A dry mouth should be regarded as the last outward sign of dehydration. That’s because thirst does not develop until body fluids are depleted well bellow levels required for optimal functioning. 
Ever see those cute bathroom kids' books "What's Your Poo Telling You"? Well, you can monitor your urine to make sure you are not dehydrated and to get an idea of how well you are doing with keeping your body properly hydrated:
  • A hydrated body produces clear, colorless urine.
  • A somewhat dehydrated body produces yellow urine.
  • A severely dehydrated body produces orange or dark-colored urine.
The effects of even mild dehydration include decreased coordination, fatigue, dry skin, decreased urine output, dry mucous membranes in the mouth and nose, blood pressure changes and impairment of judgment. Stress, headache, back pain, allergies, asthma, high blood pressure and many degenerative health problems are the result of UCD (Unintentional Chronic Dehydration).
Main source: in association with F. Batmanghelidj, M.D.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Play with Your Food: 42 Flowers to Munch on

I love playing with my food. It keeps the experience of making and eating food fun and fresh. I'm all about the small pleasures, so when I discovered an article about 42 different kinds of edible flowers, I got more than a little excited and just had to share.

Last year, I discovered the delight of adding nasturtium flowers into my salads. Have some fun with your food this spring! It's a great way to involve kids and to expand your idea of what "food" is and where it might be hiding out in unexpected places. Sprinkle on the color!

An easy place to start is in your own backyard, especially this time of year. Just make sure you're not eating any flowers or plants that have been contaminated with pesticides or house runoff of any kind. If you have a garden or pots, you can get double the pleasure from your plants - beautiful blooms and tasty garnishes for salads, vegetable dishes, on top of desserts, soups, punches and cocktails...

Check out this article by Dr. Mercola for 42 Flowers You Can Eat!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Amaranth Polenta (kicking up the nutrition!)

Polenta is a wonderful whole-grain base for many meals, pairing well with all kinds of sauces, greens, fish and meat. This recipe uses mostly amaranth, an ancient grain cultivated for over 8,000 years! It is a high-protein, non-gluten whole grain, high in fiber and very rich in vitamins and minerals including calcium, manganese, iron and vitamin B6. (See all of amaranth's nutritional power here.) It's nutty flavors mixes well with other grains - as in this polenta recipe - and is great for thickening soups.

This recipe makes a thick polenta-like grain base which you can use for all sorts of meals. I like it both sweet (for breakfast with nuts and fruit) and savory (with a succotash stew or tomato mushroom sauce). Plus, I find it's easier and faster than traditional polenta.

This is a picture of a giant batch I whipped up for one of the first yoga retreats I cooked for, alongside a summer veggie (sort of) succotash stew. In olive oil, I sauteed onions, summer squash, zucchini, peppers, fennel, and tomatoes until they cooked down into a hearty stew. At the end I threw in some frozen baby lima beans and freshly cut yellow corn for some added protein, sweetness and crunch! SO fantastic.

Amaranth Polenta

1 cup amaranth
½ cup polenta
5 cups water
  • Rinse grains under cool water in a fine-meshed sieve. Soak amaranth for 8-24 hours if desired, then drain off soaking water before proceeding.
  • Bring water and grains to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer.
  • Add salt, cover and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so to prevent it from sticking. Serves 4-5.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Diet drinks and artificial sweeteners WORSE than sugar??

If you're trying to cure your sugar cravings by consuming less sugar, turns out artificial sweeteners are not going to be a help - in fact, they might hurt more.

Mark Hyman, MD on diet drinks:

Seems you can’t outsmart Mother Nature.  Tricking your brain into thinking you are getting something sweet plays dirty tricks on your metabolism.  Artificial sweeteners disrupt the normal hormonal and neurological signals that control hunger and satiety (feeling full).  A study of rats that were fed artificially sweetened food found that their metabolism slowed down and they were triggered to consume more calories and gain more weight than rats fed sugar-sweetened food.

In another alarming study, rats offered the choice of cocaine or artificial sweeteners always picked the artificial sweetener, even if the rats were previously programmed to be cocaine addicts.  The author of the study said that, “[t]he absolute preference for taste sweetness may lead to a re-ordering in the hierarchy of potentially addictive stimuli, with sweetened diets . . . taking precedence over cocaine and possibly other drugs of abuse

The use of artificial sweeteners, as well as “food porn,” the sexy experience of sweet, fat, and salt in your mouth, alters your food preferences.  Your palate shifts from being able to enjoy fruits and vegetables and whole foods to liking only the sexy stuff.

My advice is to give up stevia, aspartame, sucralose, sugar alcohols like xylitol and malitol, and all of the other heavily used and marketed sweeteners unless you want to slow down your metabolism, gain weight, and become an addict.  Some may be worse than others like aspartame that is what we call an excitotoxin that can cause neurologic symptoms like brain fog, migraines or worse.  And some may just give you bad gas because they ferment in your gut, like the sugar alcohols (anything that ends in “ol” like xylitol).  Others like stevia, which comes from a South American plant, may be slightly better and could be enjoyed from time to time, they all keep us yearning for more and more – so our brains get confused, we eat more food and we get fatter.  There are ways to cut cravings by naturally balancing your blood sugar.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Off my shelf: My 3 Favorite Cookbooks

My clients and I are always looking for new amazing, delicious inspiring recipes to help build our cooking repertoire and expand our ideas about what to eat. My home eating is very much based on fresh, simple ingredients. I often tell people: I don't get fancy. I get real.

I'm no cookbook connoisseur, but I've looked at my fair share of recipes both online and in books and have found that there are some sources that are just reliably better than others. What I generally value in a recipe or cookbook is simplicity, taste (deliciousness), time (quick), and use of ingredients that I have on hand or can easily get and continue to use.

Here are my top 3 cookbooks from my own shelf at home:

Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source (with more than 200 recipes for a health and sustainable you) by Terry Walters. Why I love it: the layout follows the seasons, the flavors are simple and beautiful (think fresh modern California mingles with some Asian), she's got kids to please and still features tons of veggies! The cuisine is definitely Asian-influenced - though don't be afraid that you don't have all the ingredients, most are easily substituted with others that you already have (ie. rice or white wine vinegar in place of mirin) without . Plus there are some great staple recipes in here that I go to all the time: Baked Maple Mustard Tempeh, Savory "Unbaked" Beans, and Maple Nut Granola (the foundation for my Christmas gifts one year). Make sure to try the Mochi Dumplings (especially if you love dumplings and want a healthy make-at-home version as much as I do) and the Warm Greens with Citrus Dressing and Pomegranate. All recipes are vegan and gluten-free but can easily be adapted if you'd prefer or are used to having other ingredients on hand. Her follow-up book, Clean Start is supposed to be just as amazing...

Complete Vegetarian Kitchen: Where Good Flavors and Good Health Meet by Lorna Sass. This is a book I sometimes gift to my clients because it is so accessible and appeals to almost everyone. Why I love it: the clean and healthy but familiar melting pot spread of American recipes always turn out great, the recipes are simple (it has lots of "basics" recipes that are sooo handy to have around for reference when cooking almost anything) and use ingredients I know and often already have on hand. Most of her recipes offer standard stovetop and pressure cooker directions and cook times. I don't own a pressure cooker (yet!) but have to say that every time I look at the difference in cook times, I feel like I'm missing out. If your kitchen already sports one, don't wait another moment to get this book! It's been in print for a while (some editions have different covers) and is one I can often find at second-hand book stores.

D.I.Y Delicious: Recipes and Ideas for Simple Food from Scratch by Vanessa Barrington. If you love sumptuous food pictures, this one's for you (also check out her website and blog - she's a SF Bay Area local!). Why I love it: thanks to this book, I now make my own kickin' grainy mustard (sooo easy!), I've made my own cultured butter, yogurt, and creme fraiche (also way easier than you might think and such an incredible treat - and savings - to have home-made). It's been a seriously simple education as to how to make all kinds of simple food pleasures and staples a part of my life: butter, yogurt, crackers, granola, mustard, ketchup, sourdough starter, sauerkraut and red wine vinegar. AND then she gives tantalizing follow-up recipes to show you how to make the most out of the basics. Fantastic book for anyone who loves to say "I made that!" and know that it tastes 100 times better and more authentic because of it. If you want to slow down and get in touch with the simple pleasure of food and cooking, this is the one.

I get stuck sometimes looking for new recipes and inspiration too, though! What are your favorite cookbooks? What do you love about them?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Watercress, Daikon and Avocado Salad

It's spring and talk of cleansing is in the air! Plus many of us are fighting off (hopefully the last!) of the colds. This salad is perfect for lightening up, purifying, de-junking and energizing the body. This is one of my favorite salad's from the spring section of Terry Walter's Clean Food cookbook.

The key players:

Watercress: while not an everyday green for most, if you're a fan of the pungent and spicy arugula, make this your next move. Watercress is one of the most nutrient-dense (if you shop at Whole Foods, you might recognize it from the top of their ANDI ("aggregate nutrient density index") score list. It's an effective blood purifier that helps remove toxins from the body, high in vitamin A, chlorophyll and calcium - great cooked or eaten raw.

Daikon radish: maybe you've seen these over-sized white carrot-looking roots in the store and wondered what they were! Daikon is a Japanese radish with a very mild taste that is known for helping the body break down mucus (especially in the lungs) and is excellent for lowering cholesterol. Because of it's large size, I love to use sliced rounds of daikon in place of crackers for snacking!

Terry says: "Watercress and daikon make this salad super cleansing and heart-healthy, and their bitter flavors and crisp textures are balanced perfectly by the smooth richness of avocado and mustard. I like to use the stems and leaves of watercress and remove only the dried stem ends (or the wet root ball if it is hydroponically grown)."

1 large bunch watercress, chopped
1 large daikon, peeled and julienned
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
1/2 cup toasted pumpkin seeds

1 tablespoon yellow mustard seeds
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon light miso
1 tablespoon brown rice syrup (I've used maple syrup)
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

In a large bowl, combine watercress, daikon, avocado and pumpkin seeds.

In a dry pan, over medium heat, toast mustard seeds until they start to pop. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

In medium bowl, whisk together remaining dressing ingredients. Stir in mustard seeds, pour over vegetables and fold gently to coat evenly. Serve at room temperature or chilled (if serving chilled, chill vegetables and dressing separately and toss together just before serving).

Serves 4.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Food Tools: Your Ultimate Shelf-Life Guide

Ok. So a large part of feeding yourself healthy food is planning and shopping a little bit ahead so that you have good food on hand when you're hungry.

But how long does lettuce last? How should you store asparagus? Can you put hot food straight into the refrigerator? What do you do with the rest of that gigantic bunch of parsley when your recipe only calls for a few sprigs??

All of your answers: (got an iphone? check out their app.)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

How much caffeine is in that?

A question I often find myself wondering, and a question we don't often get answered. It's something we guess at when we order our coffee. It's a number the barrista doesn't usually know either.

Fact is, caffeine is a powerful stimulant and it effects our body, mood and energy in very profound ways (whether we are a lover of its awakening effects or find that it doesn't agree with us). Whether we're looking for a jolt or making sure we're not going to be awake all night, I think we can all agree that there is power in knowing what it is we're putting into our body.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest released this listing in 2007 of the Caffeine Content of Food and Drugs.* Take a look... some of the numbers are surprising, some beverages (tea and coffee notably) have quite a range, based on production and preparation methods.

Caffeine has both its perks and its quirks - get in tune with both how it serves you and how it doesn't.

  • Improves alertness, focus, and concentration
  • Performance endurance: one study has shown that 3-9 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight consumed 1 hour prior to exercise increases endurance
  • Constricts blood vessels and helps the body absorb some medications more quickly (which is why it is added to some pain medications)
  • Mood-booster: at 200 mg, people report an overall increased sense of well-being, happiness, alertness and sociability

  • Cardiovascular problems: increases heart rate and elevates blood pressure; both decaf and regular coffee
  • Stress and emotional disturbances: caffeine stimulates the excretion of stress hormones, producing increased levels of of anxiety, irritability, muscular tension, indigestion, insomnia and decreased immunity; depression may occur as part of the letdown as effects wear off
  • Memory: decreases blood flow to the brain by as much as 30%, negatively effecting memory and mental performance
  • Weight gain and blood sugar swings: stimulates a temporary surge in blood sugar, followed by an overproduction of insulin, causing a blood sugar crash within hours - this roller coaster is a leading cause of weight gain since insulin's message to the body is to store sugar as fat
  • GI problems: increases risk for ulcers and creates a highly acidic environment in the stomach, which can lead to heartburn and acid reflux disease
  • Nutritional deficiencies: inhibits the absorption of some nutrients and causes the urinary excretion of calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and trace minerals

Dehydration myth: Contrary to popular myth, nothing I have read convinces me that caffeine or coffee itself is dramatically dehydrating. That being said, coffee is slightly diuretic (meaning it causes you to urinate more, excreting some vital nutrients with it) and does often trigger bowel movements - both of which take water away from the body. It does also have many dramatic effects on the body's metabolism, hormones and chemistry (it is very acidic). Water is one of the most powerful tools for helping our body to process and cleanse out what we put into it. Please do consume adequate fresh clean water. Adding lemon to your water can help to balance some of the acidic effects of coffee (as lemon has alkalizing effects in the stomach and body).

If you feel like the amount you consume in a day may be excessive, think about why you feel the need or desire for so much of it (it is a drug substance - and addictive - after all) and what might be missing (sleep, energy, nutrition).

*Note that: "Most information was obtained from company web sites or direct inquiries. Serving sizes are based on commonly eaten portions, pharmaceutical instructions, or the amount of the leading-selling container size. For example, beverages sold in 16-ounce or 20-ounce bottles were counted as one serving."