Cool as a Cucumber

Summer in northeast U.S.A. is the go-to season for healthful, colorful, and delicious fruits and vegetables and a time when families and friends tend to gather regularly for graduations, weddings, picnics, and backyard barbecues. What better way to celebrate being in the company of people you love and feeding yourself well than planning a party of your own?

Living Room Picnic

Creating a menu doesn’t have to be stressful or sinful when you dish out whole, fresh ingredients—served buffet-style—with homemade dressings and dips on the side. Not only will your plates be visually appealing and packed with high-quality nutrients, but you won’t have to break a sweat putting everything together.

Much like designing any healthful meal, the same rules apply: more variety and colors mean more vitamins and nutrients. Include a mix of animal- and/or plant-based proteins (skinless chicken breast, tenderloin, lentils, black beans, and tofu are great options), carbohydrates (brown rice, corn, and quinoa are versatile grains; Swiss chard, beet greens, and eggplant are nutrient-rich vegetables), and healthy fats (think walnuts, ground flaxseed, and olive oil).

Avoid heavy sauces and let the natural goodness of your bounty speak for itself. To start, make a light, but flavorful, marinade or rub for your protein dishes from a complementary blend of dried and fresh herbs and spices like cumin-chili-cilantro or dill-mustard-yogurt. Next, toss up a simple salad of different colored veggies like thinly sliced summer squash and heirloom tomato over leafy greens. Whisk together a light dressing of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper. For dessert, consider macerated fruit like peaches and blueberries drizzled with honey and white balsamic vinegar. (Check out Foodily or Yummly for other great recipe ideas.) This entire combination of foods alone offers a beneficial dose of many vitamins and minerals—like manganese, vitamins C, K, and A, dietary fiber, iron, and antioxidants—to support your body systems.

Consider the following:

  • Plan and prepare accordingly by asking your guests or estimating of the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending your party.
  • Serve ingredients separately to accommodate those who may have special diet requirements so they can build their own meals. Label each dish so guests don’t have to guess or ask, “What’s in this?”
  • Provide take-home items. Leftover containers will encourage your guests to continue eating healthfully after they’ve left your party. Stack printouts of your recipes on the buffet table so they can try their hands at creating their own versions at home or include recipe links in a thank-you e-mail a few days after the event.

When the party’s over, revel in the fact that, quite possibly for the first time for many of your guests, nothing was off-limits. Not only will you have enjoyed great company, but you will have served healthful fare to your grateful guests who may want to know when they can come back for more!

[Versions of this article were written for and published on YoffieLife.com on September 1, 2014 and DishWithDina.com on August 13, 2015.]

Boiled Over

It’s fitting that April is Stress Awareness Month, being that I, along with so many of my friends, classmates, and colleagues, are suffering from anxiety and malaise lately. For me, it’s the perpetual reprioritization of school assignments and business ventures, both time-sensitive, that have me shirking my self-care. I also thrive on sunshine and all we’ve had lately here in the northeast has been clouds, rain, and more clouds and rain. Being in the health and wellness field doesn’t mean I don’t suffer the same triggers and effects as the rest of the population when it comes to mindlessness and emotional eating. In fact, that sometimes adds to my stress because I should know better and do better and be the example to my clients and everyone else in my circles, but I’m only human.

I realize it’s easier said than done, but reading the research and other information that’s out there lets me know I’m not alone and has helped me gain control––even if only temporarily––over some of my knee-jerk reactions when it comes to dealing with stress. I’m sharing the following with you in hopes that, if you are dealing with stress in your life, this might help quell your angst as well.

When it comes to overall wellbeing, I believe four factors play a role: food, mood, sleep, and exercise. Stress can affect any one of those and when one falls down, they all fall down. In regards to hunger, specific hormones like adrenaline, cortisol, insulin, and ghrelin are responsible for the food choices we make1. Being stressed also tends to leave us sleep-deprived and unmotivated to exercise (or motivated to drink alcohol), which can contribute to weight gain2.  But, when we overeat, comfort eat, and/or deny ourselves sleep and physical activity, we end up feeling guilty and, most likely, more stressed for having made poor decisions, falling off the wagon (if we were on one to begin with), and needing to start all over to get back on track to health.

Obviously, focusing on a healthful, balanced, nutrient-dense, mostly plant-based diet can help support us in times of stress and in general as some anti-oxidant foods can also act as anti-anxiety foods3, but how do we get to that mindset when we’re already so far down the rabbit hole?

One small step you can make is to clear the clutter, both figuratively and literally. Stop to reassess the true problem at hand, take a breath and step aside for a moment to get your thoughts together and decide what the next step should be, focus and figure out if there’s anything you can do to get rid of the stressor(s) in your path, forward plan to be sure you’re getting enough breaks during the day and the week so you can enter into challenging situations with a clear head to begin with instead of an already muddled one, watch a funny show, reach out to friends who can talk you down from the ledge you’re on and help put things back in perspective, meditate for 10 minutes or go punch something (preferably an actual punching bag) for 20, tell someone you love them, and, while you’re at it, tell yourself the same.

References:

  1. Lebre, M. (2016). Stress and weight management — Learn about the body’s physiological responses to stress and effect stress has on weight managementToday’s Dietitian, 18(4), 42.
  2. How stress can make us overeat. (n.d). Harvard Health Publications website.
  3. Naidoo, U. (2016). Nutritional strategies to ease anxietyHarvard Health Publications website.

Summertime…and the Eating Is Easy

There’s always a great reason to be in the company of friends, but summer is the go-to season for healthful, colorful, and delicious fruits and vegetables, so why not plan a party to celebrate both?

Living Room Picnic

Creating a menu doesn’t have to be stressful or sinful when you dish out whole, fresh ingredients—served buffet-style—with homemade dressings and dips on the side. Not only will your plates be visually appealing and packed with high-quality nutrients, but you won’t even have to break a sweat putting everything together.

Much like designing any healthful meal, the same rules apply here. Be sure your party menu includes a good mix of proteins (skinless chicken breast, tenderloin, lentils, black beans, and tofu are great options), carbohydrates (brown rice, corn, and quinoa are versatile grains; Swiss chard, beet greens, and eggplant are nutrient-rich vegetables), and healthy fats (think walnuts, ground flaxseed, and olive oil). More colors mean more vitamins and nutrients.

To start, make a marinade or rub for your protein dishes from a complementary blend of dried and fresh herbs and spices like cumin-chili-cilantro or dill-mustard-yogurt. No heavy sauces here. Next, toss up a simple salad of different colored veggies like thinly sliced summer squash and heirloom tomato over leafy greens. Whisk together a light dressing of freshly squeezed lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. For dessert, consider macerated fruit like peaches and blueberries drizzled with honey and white balsamic vinegar. This entire combination of foods alone offers a beneficial dose of so many vitamins and minerals—like manganese, vitamins C, K, and A, dietary fiber, iron, and antioxidants—to support many of your body systems. (Check out Foodily for some other great recipe ideas.)

Consider the following:

  • Plan and prepare accordingly by asking your guests or estimating of the number of vegetarians and non-vegetarians attending your party.
  • Serve ingredients separately to accommodate those who may have special diet requirements so they can build their own meals. Label each dish so guests don’t have to guess or ask, “What’s in this?”
  • Provide take-home items. Leftover containers will encourage your guests to continue eating healthfully after they’ve left your party. Stack printouts of your recipes on the buffet table so they can try their hands at creating their own versions at home or include recipe links in a thank-you e-mail a few days after the event.

When the party’s over, revel in the fact that, quite possibly for the first time for many of your guests, nothing was off-limits. Not only will you have enjoyed great company, but you will have served healthful fare to your grateful guests who may want to know when they can come back for more!

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on September 1, 2014.]

It’s Easy Being Green…and Red and Orange and Purple

Here in New York City, we have had (too) many weeks in a row of freezing temperatures, falling snow, and fluffy winter coats; but, alas, today brings us the unofficial beginning of spring: Daylight Saving Time. We may have lost an hour of sleep, but we’ve gained back hope and optimism now that sunnier, longer, and warmer days are just around the corner. Is that the inspirational, motivational sound of a bird chirping in the distance telling me anything is possible? I think so!

Rainbow Plate

Spring also brings with it a bigger and better variety of fresh, in-season produce*, which means it will be even easier to “eat the rainbow,” a great way to ensure you’re getting optimal nutrition in each meal. Every beautiful, bright pigment of a fruit or vegetable indicates what the plant is carrying on the inside. The technical term for these pigments and chemical compounds is “phytochemicals” which play a role outside the usual nutrients and vitamins by acting as antioxidants, protecting cells, and disabling cancer-causing substances. Instead of trying to remember the amount of servings of fruits and vegetables you should be getting each day, it might be easier to focus on color.

Blue or purple foods—think blueberries, plums, and eggplants—contain anthocyanin which supports a healthy heart, blood pressure, and circulation and offers anti-inflammatory benefits. The dark green colors found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale stem from chlorophyll, indoles, and isothiocyanates, which encourage the liver to remove any potential carcinogenic substances and may lower the risk of breast and prostate cancers. Lutein supports eye health, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, and is found in yellow-green-colored foods like kiwifruit, avocado, and pistachios, while lycopene—found in red plant foods like tomatoes, watermelon, and cranberries—promotes cancer protection and may lower both low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol and total cholesterol. Red foods also boast flavonoids which carry anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and may help prevent coronary heart disease and cancer. Orange-yellow foods like carrots, pumpkins, apricots, and mangos contain beta-cryptoxanthin and beta-carotene, which convert in the body to vitamin A, another key component for healthy vision and immune function.

Consider the following:

  • The next time you’re at the supermarket, let nature do the shopping for you. Allow your eye to fall on the most vibrant of fruits and vegetables in the produce section, then buy a mix of those.
  • Before you eat a meal at home or take one with you to work, count your colors. Try to have at least three differently colored foods on your plate.
  • Be adventurous. Add fruits and vegetables to dishes you normally might not, like strawberries to your salad, collard greens to your quinoa, or peas to your pasta.

Eating a variety of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis helps you create the right mix of nutrient profiles. When you stock your refrigerator regularly with colorful fruits and vegetables—or have a plan to order these when eating out—you not only establish lifelong habits, but you also lower your chances of obesity, cancer, and other chronic diseases.

*If you can’t find fresh produce, frozen or canned works fine, too. Just be sure to check the Nutrition Facts Label and ingredients list to avoid added sugar, salt, or fat.

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on October 26, 2014.]

So juicy.

I don’t think I’ve ever blogged about juicing before, so today’s your lucky day, reader!

A few years ago, the bf bought me this monster chomper and, while I don’t use it as often as I’d like (hello, sinkful of dirty dishes and compost bucketful of discards), when I do, it makes me feel like I’ve done something good for myself.

Everyone I know right now is sick with the flu or some other gross, disgusting, mucus-y illness.  I refuse to fall prey to these germs as well and I believe juicing helps me through these seasons because there’s no way I could eat a bushel of oranges (or however oranges are sold) in one sitting in order to get all of the vitamins and nutrients needed to fight a cold, but I can definitely drink the juice of a bushel*.

The other day I juiced up a bunch of kale, an apple, and a lemon**.  Today, my juice is pictured here: quite simply, a couple of carrots, a couple of oranges, and a pink grapefruit.  Could you imagine eating all of that stuff in the “before” photo…together…in a row?  Enter, the lovely, whirled-up concoction on the right.

Fun facts:

  • Kale – provides comprehensive support for the body’s detoxification system; high in Vitamins K, A, and C
  • Apples – help regulate blood sugar (I use this to cut the bitterness in my green juices)
  • Lemon – good source of Vitamin C, which is vital to the function of a strong immune system
  • Carrots – protect cells from damage; high in Vitamin A (beta-carotene)
  • Oranges – super high in Vitamin C
  • Pink grapefruit – high in Vitamin C

*Disclaimer: I have no idea what a bushel of oranges looks like, so this might be a lot of big talk, but you get my point.
**Normally, I would also add ginger and parsley to this mix, but I was out of both that day.