We all seem to be a little more environmentally-conscious these days. Even if we aren’t really doing anything to improve our carbon footprints, we at least know what one is.

We’ve heard reports about ice caps melting, we’ve seen crazy weather patterns dumping feet of snow in certain areas of the country (sorry Boston), and we’ve been told that our habits are going to lead to the eventual doom of our planet.

In our day-to-day lives though, it can seem that the problem is too large to solve with a simple switch from paper towels to a cloth towel on your kitchen counter. And while turning off the water when you brush your teeth might help reduce your water bill and help you feel better about yourself, there is one real solution that few people are talking about but could be the key to substantial change.

 

I’m talking about eating less meat.

 

Let me be clear, I am not a vegetarian and I am not asking you to be one either. To me a life without cheese isn’t worth living.

So if you don’t go cold-turkey(less) entirely, will the occasional meatless meal really make a difference? You might be surprised!

Eating meatless just one day a week has a greater impact than eating 100% locally-sourced foods. It is the equivalent to driving 1,000 fewer miles per year. And for those diving in “whole-hog”, going vegan has a greater impact than trading your gas guzzling SUV for a Prius.

Why pick on meat? Meat consumption accounts for 18% of total world-wide greenhouse gas emissions. Producing that steak on your plate takes more land, water, and energy resources than a plant-based protein entrée would. And per calorie, red meat ranks higher than chicken, eggs or fish in its impact on the Earth.

 

All of this mentions nothing about the proven health benefit of a plant-based diet. We know that half of our plate volume should come from vegetables and fruits, but imagine the impact of your health by rounding out that meal with whole grains and plant-based proteins like beans, lentils or nuts. You’d be saving the Earth and rocking your figure at the same time! Go, you!

This approach of not really being a vegetarian but just trying to eat meat less often actually has an official name – it’s called being a Flexitarian. I love this term because it seems so forgiving. You aren’t forced into an all-or-nothing lifestyle to be healthy and make a difference.
You can still have the occasional burger and save the planet too. Graham Hill, founder of Treehugger.com explains his Weekday Vegetarian approach quite beautifully in his TED talk – which happens to be one of my favorite TED talks. If you are still on the fence, check it out.

How does this translate into your daily choices?

Here are some very concrete ways to get started eating in a more flexitarian, Earth-friendly way.

• Make Meatless Mondays a routine in your household
• Consider being a 2-day Veg(itarian) or a Weekday Vegetarian like Graham Hill
• Limit red meat to no more than once a week and opt for pasture-fed or “free range” beef when you eat red meat
• Eat sustainably farmed seafood at least twice a week
• Increase the number of “go to” recipes you have for lentil, high-protein grain, bean and nut-based entrées.
• Start a small garden to promote eating more plants. I built my own and love that my kids think cherry tomatoes are tempting enough to eat straight from the vine as they walk by. You can get my simple construction plan here.
• Eat plants that are in season from your local Farmers’ Market since they are often more flavorful and nutritious when fresh and in season. When produce has to be flown in from half-way around the world, it is often bland and has lost nutrients – not to mention the increased cost!

So challenge yourself to be an Earth Day Flexitarian. Saving the planet one plate at a time shouldn’t feel like the weight of the world on your shoulders. Taking a more flexitarian approach is about making slow, mindful improvements on how and what you eat. The impact on your budget and your waistline are often equally as rewarding.

 

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Photo credit: Creative Commons Cows Grazing author Frank Vincentz

Earth Day Flexitarian pin

Gassiness, bloating, and craziness in the bathroom…it is an embarrassing reality for many people. But you don’t have to suffer in silence.

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Even if your symptoms seem mild in comparison, that annoying feeling of a Monday morning muffin top preventing you from buttoning your favorite pair of pants might be just enough to push you to find a solution.

With the multitude of gluten-free, wheat-free, and dairy-free diet books out there, how are you supposed to know which one is legit? Which one is worth the time and energy of putting your whole household through another diet plan?

Let me break it down for you…

 

Gluten-free

This diet plan has certainly topped the popularity charts in the last couple of years. Gluten is a protein that found in certain grains – wheat, barley and rye – and for those with Celiac Disease, it can cause extreme irritation of the intestinal lining, malabsorption of nutrients, gassiness, bloating, diarrhea and weight loss. Yes…I said weight LOSS. Some people actually lose weight when eating gluten because of an allergic-type reaction to it. Not the way you’d want to lose weight!

There are medical tests that can confirm whether you have Celiac Disease or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity, for which a strict gluten-free diet brings welcomed relief. However, I find that many people gravitate toward this trend because they are hoping to lose weight as a result of avoiding these grain-based foods. By following this diet plan many people report feeling better simply because they swap breads for more vegetables. And you know more veggies are always better.

If you feel more bloated when eating highly-processed snack foods or too much pizza, it may have little to do with the gluten. However, if following this plan helps you to make smarter food choices – go for it. Just know that buying super expensive gluten-free rice crackers isn’t going to be the answer to dropping that last 15 pounds.

 

Wheat-free

Similar to gluten-free eating, wheat-free diet plans tend to promote a swap of grain-based products for more vegetables and fruits. Again, that’s an awesome idea any day of the week! Think about the health benefit of swapping the flour tortilla in your next fajita for a lettuce leaf. Of course that is a smart choice and helps you feel better, but is it all about the wheat?

There are again, certainly a group of people that have an allergy or sensitivity to wheat and the myriad of wheat products on store shelves. And since so many food products contain highly-processed grains (look for “enriched flour” in the ingredient list to know if it’s highly-processed), making a swap to reduce or eliminate those items will almost certainly make your gut happy. However, unless you are truly allergic to wheat, eating whole grains related to wheat like Freekeh and other ancient grains can actually be an awesome part of your diet. Don’t forget that high fiber grains help you feel satisfied while trying to keep calories in check and they are full of other great vitamins and minerals too. …which is always a plus.

 

Dairy-free (and alternative milks)

Aside from the calcium debate (that’s a whole other post!), there are some people who suffer from a lactose or milk protein intolerance. You will know if this is an issue for you because you will experience a very clear stomach and gut upset that comes from not being able to digest the sugar or the casein and whey proteins in milk, ice cream, and soft cheeses. Also, many people with Celiac disease or even a gluten intolerance can find they are also sensitive to lactose.

This intolerance is not to be confused with a milk allergy that can cause a life-threatening reaction shortly after consuming milk. Hives or difficulty breathing are cause for real concern – think peanut allergy – and seek medical attention right away.

While there are some lactose-free cow’s milk products available now in grocery stores, many people turn to alternatives to cow’s milk – including soy milk, coconut milk, rice milk and a variety of nut milks. Unfortunately, in the processing to make these milks tasty and have the right mouthfeel, there is often a lot of sugar added as well as thickeners which can cause gas and bloating all on their own.

Even the added soy and milk proteins that can be found in everything from energy bars to breakfast cereals trying to increase sales by advertising more protein, can cause stress to your gut. You have to read labels if you want to avoid all of these by-products too.

 

Low FODMAP

Now here is a diet plan I bet you’ve never heard of before. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligo-di-monosaccharides and polyols. Huh??? No wonder you haven’t heard of this one before! Those ridiculously-complex words are carbohydrates or sugars found in a variety of foods. These carbohydrates are purposely picked on because they tend to draw water into the intestines – often leading to that bloating, uncomfortable feeling and the resulting sprint to the restroom…if you know what I mean.

Unfortunately, the plan for this diet is as complex as the name. Essentially, it encompasses some of the traits of the previous diet plans – avoiding gluten, wheat and dairy, but goes further to limit some fruit, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, beans, lentils and soybeans. While it seems that there would be nothing left to eat, there are amazingly many other foods that remain. Since this one is complex, you would benefit from working with a Registered Dietitian (like myself) or your health professional to give this one a go. Yet since it has shown such promise in helping people, especially those with IBS, I wanted you to know about it.

Tweet: What is often more important than what you cut out of your diet
is what you choose to replace it with.

 

Bottom Line Recommendations

Whew! I know this is overwhelming so here is the bottom line to help you know what to do for YOU. Each person and certainly each gut is unique. Only you can determine which foods make you feel good and which foods have you running for the restroom. Undoubtedly, greasy, high-sodium and high-sugar foods wreak havoc on your digestive system – and your whole body. Caffeine, alcohol and {sadly} chocolate can also cause your digestion to ramp up in a negative way.

Yet, the effect of gluten, wheat, dairy, soy or other food components are going to be dependent on many individual factors. The best advice I can give to you is to be your own detective. Start by keeping a food record and making note about the effects on your digestion and energy. Only make one change or choose to eliminate one thing at a time (for example dairy or wheat but not both at the same time) and go cold-turkey for 3 days to 2 weeks. Notice how you feel. Write it all down. Then, add that food back into your daily eating and again take note.

If you need a little help figuring it all out, just ask. I have a minimal number of coaching slots available so if you want to claim a spot or just learn more about what my coaching services are all about – contact me for a free consultation. We can talk about your concerns, how I can help, and see if we are a good match. No obligation or hurt feelings either way.

 

What about Stress?

Keeping track of your body’s reaction to certain foods is essential in pinpointing what foods are best for you. However, I wouldn’t be giving you the whole picture if I didn’t mention stress. There is a HUGE mind-body connection and an even more apparent mind-gut connection that is proven through loads of research. While we all face the reality of stress on a regular basis, common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, upset stomach and gassiness can be directly linked to the amount of worry in our individual worlds. It is essential to find methods of de-stressing to soothe your gut.

Here are 3 simple ways to start cultivating a routine that helps you manage stress.

  1. Practice deep breathing when in a difficult situation
  2. Create a daily practice of meditation – even if for just 10 minutes
  3. Get in the habit of journaling to get worries out of your head and on paper

Practicing these techniques regularly – when you are not stressed – is the best way to build the habit of using them when stressful situations arise.

If you liked the honest breakdown of this health topic and the practical tips for how you can live well, join my VIPeep list! You won’t miss a single bite of delicious news AND you’ll have access to free bonus material only available to my VIPeeps.

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Photo credit: Toilet paper roll Creative Common author Elya

Happy Nutrition Month

Ah…March. For some people March is all about St. Patty’s Day green, libations (yep – I actually used that word) and celebrations. For others March is about spring break or clocks springing forward for more time in the sunshine.

 

For Dietitians however, March is all about National Nutrition Month®.

 

Every year the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – the originators of this monthly observance – introduce a new tag line intended to steer the educational messaging for the month. While my all-time favorite tag line remains “All Foods Can Fit”, I have to admit that this year’s theme “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle” has the same compassionate flair.

 

I know that the constant back and forth of nutrition science and nutrition trends can be exhausting. So it’s nice to hear that a healthy lifestyle can actually be achieved one bite at a time…baby steps.

 

And, it’s always a good reminder that healthy eating really can taste good too. That’s not just something the skinny people tell themselves so they’ll choose carrots over candy bars. It’s all about playing with flavors beyond fat, sugar and salt.

 

And a secret that most people miss in this year’s tagline that ties back to the “big picture wellness” I’m always referring to is that nutrition is part of a healthy lifestyle. To truly live healthfully, you have to balance eating well with being active while not getting so stressed out about every single calorie that you drive yourself crazy. Food is meant to be enjoyed within a healthy lifestyle.

Big Picture Eating quote

So how do you know which diet or way of eating is really best? Fortunately, a team of crazy smart people scour a whole ocean of nutrition research to come up with guidelines that are the best for most people (ages 2 and up)… and the result is the Dietary Guidelines.

 

As sterile as the Dietary Guidelines seem, they are the basis of many of the popular diet plans, programs, and recommendations out there. The guidelines are updated every 5 years and the next update is on the verge of release. In anticipation of the release, the advisory committee recently produced a preliminary report – a sneak peek into this gold standard that will become official in a few short months. While the entire 571-page report is a bit dry, the message is oh so juicy.

 

Like many of you, I live a busy life. So I always appreciate a bulleted list, chart or 140-character summary to serve as a modern day Cliff Notes of what I need to know.

 

So to give you the gift of time, I’ve summarized the key points of the report in this fancy infographic. Pin it, add it to your Facebook feed or send it to your friends but CERTAINLY leave me a comment to let me know if this was a helpful way of simplifying the update. I’d also LOVE to hear what one action you plan to take as a result of reading this. Seriously…doesn’t this simplify things a bit?

 

Dietary Guidelines Infographic

 

If you need a little more information for eating right, join my email subscribers list! You’ll get even more bonus material that I only send to my V.I.Peeps. 

And if you really need some hand-holding… I got you. Sign up for some one-on-one coaching with yours truly. I’ve helped hundreds of others – I can help you too.

Principles to Practice - thanksgiving slider

So often we hear recommendations for healthy living – drink 8 8-oz. glasses of water each day, eat in moderation, exercise for 150 minutes each week, get in 8 hours of sleep…and it goes on and on.

Unfortunately it can be hard to determine how to follow these recommendations in the midst of our busy, real lives.

Helping you take those principles and see how to realistically put them into practice is what this is all about. The nice thing about “practice” is that it means we don’t have to be perfect. In reality, we won’t all get in exactly 25 grams of fiber each day, stand and move around at least 1 minute every hour, or stay mindful each time we eat…and that is ok. Fortunately, our bodies don’t require perfection to be healthy, fit and energetic. Whew! That’s a relief!

Principles to Practice header

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I want to take the opportunity to use the coveted (and feared) Thanksgiving meal as a prime example of how Principles to Practice works. We have all seen the MyPlate visual of how a healthy plate should look. Essentially, the point is that half of the plate is full with fruits and vegetables. The other half is shared by a reasonable portion of protein – which could be meat or a vegetarian option like beans – and grains.

My Plate with Principle Highlights

Now, for all of you gluten-free’ers out there, this can certainly be your place for quinoa or other gluten-free grain. For all of you anti-carb’ers out there, you can add on more veggies if you like but the point is not to fill half your plate with meat.

 

Using those same general principles, which really are based on a lot of research and sound science, this is how you can apply it to Thanksgiving. And look…this plate is still really full with many of your holiday favorites. They might be in a different proportion to what you were used to serving yourself, but that’s the point of the visual!

My Plate Thanksgiving example with highlights

Certainly, you can maximize on other tips such as choosing a smaller plate, eating slowly, and not showing up to the meal starving – a classic mistake!  If you want to enjoy Thanksgiving without being worried about what the meal will mean to your waistline, remember these simple tips for plating a healthy Thanksgiving dinner.

If you found this helpful and think others might too, I’d be so grateful if you’d share the infographic below. Just pin it and let the Thanksgiving begin!

PtoP Thanksgiving infographic long

 

 

The Fall 15

I am not some dedicated gym rat that loves the thought of doing push-ups, burpees, or anything else that sounds like something that will make me want to puke. I am however someone who wants to feel good in my clothes. I’m guessing you and I are alike in that way, huh?

Because I don’t exercise out of the sheer love of exercise, I often approach my workout as business. I know it is good for me, I know I like the look of muscle definition, and I know that once I get started I am proud of every drop of sweat I earn. So, I look for exercises that seem more enjoyable to me and I look for exercises that are intense…because intense means fast.

I don’t have all day to spend at a gym. I want to get in, do my work, give myself a little congratulatory pat on the back (which is usually a quiet “way to go girl” whispered to myself) and then get on with my day.

That is why I am a HUGE fan of interval work outs. Interval workout plans are not particularly difficult to create but in my morning pre-workout stupor, it can be hard to get creative. Those juices just aren’t flowing yet! Having a sample workout or two that I can mindlessly follow – ya know before I think through all of the other things that I “should” be doing rather than working out – helps me to get in, get the workout done, and get out.

The Fall 15 workout was created with cooler weather in mind. What can you do with little to no equipment when you are stuck inside? Kick some serious calories, that’s what!

You got to try it and let me know what you think – deceivingly hard or a feasible way to spend 15 minutes? Let me know!

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Minestrone soup is unaffectionaly sometimes referred to as the kitchen sink soup…meaning you can put just about anything in it! To me, it’s a God-send for staying within a food budget AND eating healthy. That combination isn’t something you come across every day.

Minestrone soup is essentially a broth-based soup with lots of veggies. You can add just about any vegetables you have on hand, or even better, use all of those veggies in the produce drawer that are on the verge of going bad. You can also make this soup on the fly, since frozen veggies work great too. For a little added protein, beans are a common ingredient, but I also added some leftover cooked chicken for this round. Leftover rotissere chicken or that half serving that won’t be enough for a complete meal are easy add-ins for this dollar-saver.

As with so many soups, you start with sauteeing the standard trio – diced onion, celery, and carrots. Feel free to add garlic to this combo too.  Once soft, it’s down to adding broth (vegetable or chicken work well), your veggies and protein. Canned tomatoes are another common go-to for this soup. I prefer diced tomatoes with garlic, basil and oregano, but fire-roasted can be awesome too. Sprinkle in any spices at this point. I prefer oregano or a bay leaf, but let your tastebuds guide you. Bring all of this to a simmer for at least 30 minutes so the flavors can marry – a fancy way of saying “makes it yummy”.

While there are many variations to this soup, here is the general recipe I use.

Easy Minestrone Soup

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1/2 onion, diced

4 stalks celery, diced

3 carrots, diced

2 gloves garlic, chopped

1 32 oz. container low-sodium chicken broth (can substitute vegetable for vegetarian option)

2-3 cups of vegetables, cut into bite-size pieces (Examples: zucchini, green beans, squash, broccoli, fresh spinach, mushrooms)

1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes with basil, oregano and garlic

1 15 oz. can canellini beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup chicken, cooked and shredded (optional)

Season to taste – salt, pepper, oregano

Warm oil over medium to medium high heat in a stock pot. Add onion, celery, and carrots and sautee until slightly softened. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add broth. Then add vegetables, tomatoes, beans, chicken and seasoning. Stir to combine. Cover pot and bring to a simmer. Cook for 30 minutes.

Serve with a salad, whole grain crackers, cheese toast or all on it’s own. Enjoy!

I am a lucky girl. I have a wonderful family, comfortable home, amazing friends and yet I struggle with the same pull for perfectionism as many of you.

Yet, my luckily life brings me harsh lessons at seemingly perfect times. This week I had the great fortune of meeting Glennon Doyle Melton, the refreshingly honest blogger behind Momastery.com. Glennon makes speaking from the heart seem effortless and comical and essentially sweet all at the same time. Thanks to my friend Laurie and an amazing (spontaneous) group of women, we formed a “book club” that allowed us to meet Glennon from the comfort of her closet…I mean, how could you NOT love this lady?

Book Club with Glennon

In the midst of our conversation about her book, it’s raw and revealing stories, and her underlying message of love I was struck by her pull to start a blog so that she could write about the truth…well, actually the “truthiest truths” as she calls them. Those messages that are at the heart of every one of us.

It was a slap to the face for me, because that is EXACTLY what I wanted to do with this blog – except with a health spin.

I have worked for years in health care, helping people to find wellness through better nutrition, physical fitness, and healthy ways of managing stress. Yet, it was the struggle and feeling of futility in the quest of many following fads diets and trendy programs that made me want to help people see the TRUTH of living well.

Lately, I have been in a state of apathy over my blog, not “feeling it” anymore because it didn’t feel like a reflection of what I wanted to do. It seemed too pretty, too perfect and that was certainly not the expectation of nor the pressure I wanted to add upon my readers. Thanks to Glennon, I have remembered my original pull to write!

So my lovely readers, I am going back to telling the truthiest truths about health. You will see some changes coming with the layout and hopefully the “flair” in which the information is presented. And in the spirit of truth, I’m going to be honest…I’m no techie, so this transition may take some time. Hang with me and I promise, I’ll help you find the truth about how you can live well – not perfect, but well.

And feel free to share what you want to see on this blog too. It’s intended for you, after all. Let’s get to the truth together!

 

Quest for the Best: Granola (part 1 - store bought)

 

 

I just love granola. And not because I now live in the Pacific Northwest. Yes, I know the stereotypical visions of people eating a snack with all of the flavor of cardboard as a survival tactic while on long hikes, stopping only to hug a tree or two along the way, right? Far from it!

For me, granola conjures up the comfort of a warm bowl of oatmeal in my grandma’s kitchen, the sweetness of dried fruit that I loved snacking on as a kid and the surprise of various spices that keeps my adult palate intrigued. It is filling without being fussy.

As a Dietitian, I find the idea of mixing whole grains with fruit and nuts or seeds as pure genius. Essentially, granola is a rare food that can combine sweet, savory, and crunchy while supporting the plant-based way of eating that is undeniably proven to promote health.

Yogurt parfait

So yeah, I’m a fan. What’s even better is the many forms and flavors that granola can take on.  That’s why I’m on a quest to find the best!

Today, I’m taking on granola in its pure form – loose, like a cereal. While I love combining the individual raw ingredients and custom making a granola to suit my mood for the day, there are times when I have to get real. I (and you) don’t always have time to make things from scratch. So, I wanted to test some of the pre-made granolas on the market.

Granola in bowls

Fortunately, I had this idea formulating when I was sent a free sample of Ladera Granola (no, they didn’t pay me to write a review, only to enjoy a free sample their product – no strings attached). To be fair, I added a few other granolas to the taste test – one that is a local granola from my closest farmer’s market, and two others that you can find on many store shelves nation-wide.

Sotre-bought granola brands

Along with a discerning taste panel (my kids), we had a blind taste test – well, not blind to me, but my kids had no clue which brand was in each bowl. While all of the granola samples were tasty enough, we found a clear winner. Here’s what our taste buds thought and how we chose to rank the four brands.

Number 4Bear Naked – I’ve long been a fan of this company and their granola, but I have to admit that this particular flavor ranked lowest. The granola had a very plain flavor punctuated with sweetness from cranberries. Bear Naked has recently introduced this higher protein line, which derives its extra protein from soy protein isolate – not the natural source I would have liked to see in a granola. Because of this and it’s lackluster flavor, it gets the lowest rank. This variety contributes 140 calories per 1/4 cup with only 6 grams of protein and 6 grams of sugar. I have seen this brand available in most major grocery stores, even Target, at a range of price points. This 11-ounce bag was priced at $4.88 (that’s $0.44 per ounce, which is the cheapest of the sampled granolas).

Number 3Hammer and Tuffy’s – This is a farmer’s market favorite for me. But before you start to leave a comment in vain, you can order this granola online too. I added it to the taste panel because I wanted to compare the flavor and texture of commercial granolas made in large-scale processing plants versus a small-scale variety like this one; the kind you would envision made with the attention to quality that you might think the big name guys wouldn’t be able to have. Surprisingly, the difference wasn’t as significant as I would have thought. Of course, I like the idea of supporting the local guy who supports my farmer’s market too. The Red Tractor Blend flavor is $9.95 for an 16-ounce bag (that’s $0.62 per ounce) and  runs 130 calories for 1/4 cup with 3 grams of protein and 7 grams of sugar. It has an added benefit of using gluten-free oats, if that’s your thing, and some organic ingredients. The flavor is slightly nutty with a hint of salt. Overall, a really nice balance of wholesome goodness.

Number 2Kind – I’m a big proponent of Kind granola bars, not just for their yummy taste, but mostly because they have limited ingredients, all of which are pronounceable real food items. The granola we sampled was their Oats and Honey Clusters variety and it was most noticeable that this granola was definitely in bigger “cluster” pieces and super crunchy, making it a much easier snacking option than the rest. It seemed to have a real nutty, almost peanut butter flavor, which is something I liked. This brand is also very easy to find at major retailers with a variety of pricing as low as $5.99 for the 11-ounce bag (that’s $0.54 per ounce). While the nutrition facts label reflects a 1/3 cup serving size, I’ll keep the comparisons the same by giving you the stats based on a 1/4 cup serving – which would be 98 calories, 2 grams of protein and 5 grams of sugar – impressively light compared to the rest.

Number 1Ladera – I have to say that I was surprised. I’m not easily swayed by the samples that I often receive on my doorstep, however this surpassed many homemade granolas I’ve tasted in the past. In fact, that was my comment after my first bite – that it tasted so fresh and homemade. This granola was distinctly loose, making it suitable for topping on yogurt or eating as a cereal, but a little messier to snack on…although I wasn’t afraid to try! The flavor profile was more complex than some of the other granolas, showcasing the natural goodness of the oats with a perfectly paired cinnamon finish, not to mention the caramelized almonds and pecans. With slight embarrassment, I had to admit that this granola was better than some of the home-made versions my kitchen has produced in the past. I haven’t gone so far to caramelize nuts in my own granola recipes, but after tasting this granola, I’m thinking it might be worth it! My son even said “kids don’t always like oats, but this will make them like it.” Since this is a relatively new brand, it might be a little harder to find. Of course, you can order directly from their website and if you are lucky enough to live in California, you can check out the store finder on their website to see which stores near you carry the granola. It costs $8.99 for a 12-ounce bag (that’s $0.75 per ounce; note online orders require a min of 4 bags per order) and weighs in a 150 calories for 1/4 cup serving with 4 grams of protein and 4 grams of sugar. Delicious!

If there is a brand that you have found in your own quest, I’d love to hear about it. If you are still on the hunt, I encourage you to try one of the brands listed above. I think you’ll be happy you did!

As for the homemade variety, I’m excitedly testing some recipes now. If you’ve got a recipe that you think is among the best (loose granola, bar or ball), let me know. Even if it isn’t featured in the my Granola Part 2 post- all about homemade granola, I’d be happy to add any (healthy) recipes to my Granola Pinterest board.

What's Hot about Hot Yoga

It’s clear…yoga is hot! In almost every city you can find a multitude of yoga studios; many of them are offering hot yoga.

Hot yoga is basically the practice of yoga in a hot, humid room; generally between 80-95 degrees. The twist on this centuries’ old practice is intended to help warm your muscles so that you can more easily stretch and hold postures that you might otherwise have difficulty holding. I personally think the trend is particularly hot because we are moving into an era of extreme sports.

Whether pushing ourselves to extremes through programs like Insanity, participating in races like Tough Mudder, or even turning up the heat in your traditional yoga class, it seems that we have a real thirst for our exercise to be intense, challenging, and far from boring.

So I decided to give hot yoga a try. Luckily, I have a friend who opened an adorable new studio (shout out for Twist Yoga @TwistYogaLO) which made it all the more alluring to test out this trend. While I have long been a lover of yoga – although not always consistent in my practice – hot yoga is a variation that seemed a little intimidating to me. So I called a friend and experienced yogi to join me in my initial try.

Twist Yoga

To start, I wanted to make sure I was clear on what I was signing up for. Some yoga studios offer Bikrim Yoga, which is a specific class with a set series of postures that happens to take place in a hot studio. “Hot Yoga” as a more general term, can mean any form of yoga, just in a hot space.

Walking into the room for the first time, it felt as if I’d open the door to the beach. Warm, humid air hit me immediately and I felt instantly relaxed. It didn’t take long into the class for that relaxed feeling to wane into a serious workout. If you’ve never taken yoga of any kind, you’d be mistaken to think it is only about touching your toes or twisting like a contortionist. Sure, there is a great deal of flexibility that comes into play, but the strength needed to hold certain postures is the real secret. It wasn’t long before I was dripping with sweat. Ah, like a free facial!

Our instructor, Kristin Fondran, would add absolutely motivating statements such as “breathe in what you need (.ie. strength, confidence) and breathe out what you don’t (i.e. self-judging, worries).” This is where the mind part of this mind-body exercise becomes so addictive. Every “practice” (a great reminder that you don’t have to be perfect at this) ends with a relaxation that involves lying on the floor. To me it is the absolutely reward for the hard work you just put in.

Karma shirt

Overall, I would say that hot yoga may help you to feel a little more limber as compared to regular yoga. Any yoga practice should be a progression and if you don’t like it at first, give it a few more chances before you throw in the yoga mat. You should dress appropriately (cropped yoga pants and athletic tank are good…remember no shoes), bring plenty of water, and you may want a yoga towel to cover your mat – because you are going to sweat! And in ANY kind of exercise, you have to listen to your body. If you feel dizzy, lightheaded, or in general not right – just come to your mat. Yogis are extremely forgiving.

If you are a complete newbie, get there early, tell the instructor you are new and let her know of any injuries you may have. Blocks and straps are helpful yoga tools that help you achieve poses if you aren’t quite flexible enough. Humility is another great tool to bring. Leave your self-judging at the door and understand that it is ok if you don’t get everything right. You may be tempted to look around the room, but realize there might be people in the class who have done yoga for years – so don’t compare.

I have never once regretted the time I’ve taken to be at a yoga class. It really is one of those exercises that makes you feel good in body and mind. It is refreshing in a way that the treadmill is not. I don’t consider myself an expert yogi by any means and I certainly like the variety of many different kinds of exercise in my fitness plan, but yoga has stood the test of time for a reason. Hot or not, I encourage you to give yoga a try.
photo credit: Amber Karnes via photopin cc

Creamy Squash and Carrot Ribbons

 

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent which is the 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter.  Lent is supposed to be a time of reflection and preparation for Catholics, but for my entire life it has always meant answering the dreaded question “what are you giving up?”

While I prefer the idea of doing something good in preparation of Easter, and that is still something I promote with my children, my Catholic guilt always brings me back to picking some kind of sacrifice.

So, my dear readers, I’ve picked something this year that I think might benefit you in the long run. I’ve decided to give up meat. Yes, that’s right, I will avoid eating all beef, pork, chicken and turkey…although I will be able to eat fish. And since I’m not going vegan, I can still eat eggs and dairy products. I also will allow beef broth for soups, etc. because I think this is going to be change enough and I don’t need to be a purist to feel the challenge.

Now, some of you who are vegetarian might think this is no big deal. But I also cook for a family who is not taking on this same challenge, so I say “oh yeah, this is a sacrifice.”

On the upside, I’ll be sharing some of my meatless meals with you. Even if you have no interest in ever giving up meat, going meatless two or three days a week can not only be healthy, but it can be less expensive and kinder to the environment.

One of my favorite TED talks is Graham Hill’s speech about becoming a 2-day Veg(etarian). Even Meatless Mondays have become a trend that some families adopt as a way of easing into the notion of serving a meal without the need for meat.

And most recently, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that a vegetarian diet is beneficial at reducing blood pressure, a leading risk factor for heart disease. With the anticipated rise in meat prices predicted this summer, this might be the perfect opportunity to keep your grocery bill in line while improving your heart health.

So join me, or experiment with going vegetarian just one or two days this week. Either way, I’ve got some yummy recipes to share that will keep you satisfied and not missing the meat at all.

 

Creamy Squash and Carrot Ribbons

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ medium onion, chopped

4 large carrots, cut into ribbons using a mandolin

2 summer squash (can substitute zucchini), cut into ribbons using a mandolin

Salt and Pepper

Pinch dried basil

3 ounces neuftal cheese (light cream cheese)

3 tablespoons vegetable broth (more if you prefer a thinner sauce)

¼ cup pine nuts

 

Carefully cut the squash and carrot ribbons using a mandolin. If you don’t have a mandolin, thin slices work fine too.

Squash and Cucumber ribbons

Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until softened. Add squash and carrot ribbons, salt and pepper, and bail; sauté until softened.

Saute vegetable ribbons

 

Remove the squash and carrots from pan. Add the cream cheese and broth to the pan, stirring to help the cream cheese melt. Add more broth if needed.

Melt cream cheese

 

Once the cream cheese has softened, add pine nuts to the pan. Heat for a minute, then return carrots and squash.

Add pine nuts

 

Fold to coat the vegetables in the cream sauce. Serve immediately.

recipe

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