Don’t Worry, Eat Happy!

With the summer heat coming to a close and the cool autumn breeze fast approaching, it is important for us not to become stagnant in our healthful habits. It might seem desirable to cuddle up on the couch with some comfort food once the temperatures drop, but don’t forget to get in your servings of fruits and vegetables as well. In the U.S., farmers’ markets are still chock full of colorful produce, so be sure to take advantage of the bounty while it’s still there. Besides, September just happens to be “Fruits & Veggies––More Matters” month.

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(image credit: WPR.org)

On average, New Yorkers eat less fresh produce in the fall and even less in the winter, than they do during the summer months, regardless of the fact that NYC has over 139 greenmarket locations within its five boroughs, most of which operate year-round.1 Many of us may feel too overwhelmed by work, bills, and family life, that making sufficient time in our busy schedules to browse through farmers’ markets for fresh produce with limited shelf life feels akin to an unnecessary chore than anything particularly beneficial.

What may limit Americans in creating habits concerning weekly farmers’ markets, and/or grocery shopping in general, is not only a lack of information about how to shop, but also a lack of information regarding what to shop for.2 The abundance of food options may cause a great hindrance to shoppers’ abilities to make significant changes to their food shopping habits. Though the great increase of selections concerning produce is appealing mentally, in practice, however, it may often debilitate shoppers.

In addition, market patrons, who may live with tight financial constraints and are unsure about proper food storage and efficient meal planning may make dietary and food purchasing decisions that are more unhealthy than not. For those that struggle with cooking time/skills or eating similar meals frequently, the added fact that farmers’ market fruits and vegetables have a very limited lifespan may also increase stress around the immediacy of consumption.

In order for food shoppers to develop weekly habits for farmers’ market shopping, and prevent market attendance from waning during the fall and winter months, taking the necessary steps will prevent stress overload and make fresh produce shopping less complicated and more exciting!

Eat Happy pic2

(image credit: Cynthia Moon)

Step 1: Budgeting: How much are you willing to spend?
Buying fresh produce seems very expensive when, in actuality, it is cheaper in the long run. First, determine how much money you’re willing to spend, then calculate how much you normally spend both weekly and monthly, making sure to include how often you dine out or purchase lunch outside instead of taking leftovers to work. Make sure the market you attend receives currency in the form of Health Bucks and/or food stamps if your budget is very tight. Your shopping list must be based on your budget, along with recipe adjustments that will most likely incorporate rotating certain veggies into different dishes.

Step 2: Recipes: Find recipes that you can rotate and use your staples as a base!
What do you cook often? What are your staple foods? Do you like brown rice? Does your breakfast always include bananas because you think they’re the cheapest fruit you can find? Farmers’ market vendors can often suggest simple recipes relating to the types of produce they provide. Allow yourself the possibility of varying your fruits and vegetables. For example, if you are left with a large amount of spinach at the end of the week, you can quickly use it up as a base for a salad instead of your old standby romaine lettuce. Leftover onions and broccoli would be a great addition to your morning omelet or scrambled eggs. If blueberries happen to be the right price and are in-season, buy extra and freeze them to use in desserts or breakfast smoothies at a later date.

Step 3: Meal plan: Start weekly, then make necessary adjustments.
It is important to first calculate your daily energy needs in order to be certain of how much food you need to eat weekly and how much to buy in the first place. Your weekly meals can easily be rotations or variations of your go-to recipes and your produce shopping should be nutritious additions to your staple foods. For example, if you made split pea soup for dinner Monday evening you can use the leftover celery, carrots, and onions from that meal in a tuna sandwich for lunch the next day. Meal plans should incorporate an adequate balance of your essential nutrients according to your specific energy needs and physical lifestyle––such as carbohydrates, proteins, and fats––through a varied diet of whole grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fruits, lean meats, and/or fish.

[Editor’s note: Click here to learn more about meal- and menu-planning and here for some smoothie mix-and-match suggestions (over 3,000 combinations to make sure you get your fruits and veggies on).]

Step 4: Shop!
Find farmers’ markets that you know will provide the necessary foods you need for your meal plans, are budget-friendly (like the Fresh Food Box offerings in most NYC neighborhoods), and are closest to you. Take hold of the wonderful abundance of food options we have in our city during the cold season to come. As a result, not only will your health benefit from a nutritious and varied diet, but you will be contributing to a greater, environmentally sustainable cause, and without breaking the bank.3

[Editor’s note: Click here to find a farmers’ market in or near your zip code and here for more tips on shopping at your local farmers’ market.]

References:

  1. NYC.gov. (2017). Farmers Markets in New York State.
  2. Graffagna, S. (2014). “10 Healthy Habits for Fall.” Superhero You website.
  3. Tufts University. Health & Nutrition Letter. (2016). “Eat Your Fruits and Vegetables to Help Fight Frailty.” Tufts.edu website.
Abigail Ortiz Author Pic

Guest post by Abigail Ortiz, nutrition student

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.]

A Salad a Day

Eating healthfully does not have to be a difficult feat of strength and will. In fact, I encourage you to create a simple salad every day based solely on ingredients you have in your house or can easily grab at your local grocer and dump into a bowl.

I have been having so much fun with Mason jar salads lately. (Yes, food nerds like me think salads are fun.) Originally, my meal planning and prep work used to take up half a day every Sunday. I would divide all my ingredients into their own containers so I could mix and match and assemble a variety of veggie-friendly meals for myself during the week. But, lo and behold! I became a Mason jar salad convert.

Mason Jar Salad

My Mason jars are extra large (32 oz) and light green, but you could go for the clear, smaller version if you’re slowly working your way into the meal prep and veggie lifestyle. Assembly is easy, but requires some thought as you don’t want your fragile, leafy greens sitting in a puddle of dressing for three days. HurryTheFoodUp shows you how to properly structure your salad and TheMuse gives you lots of ideas about the kinds of foods you can integrate into your salads, so play around and experiment with different flavors each week. Try to always have a protein (chicken or chickpeas), a carb (sweet potatoes or carrots), and a fat (avocado or walnuts) in your combo. When you’re ready, you can simply shake up your salad and eat directly out of the jar or shake, dump everything into a bowl, and toss in a handful of croutons. Ta da!

Mason Jar Avocado

For more information and ideas about how to get lots of veggies and other yummy, good foods into your daily meals, check out my previous blog post “It’s Easy Being Green…” And please leave a comment below and share with us what’s been working for you or what you’re struggling with. We’re here to help make healthful eating as easy as possible!

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.

Get Your Macros Here!

Macronutrients—proteins, carbohydrates, and fat—are vital to health and well-being. Regardless if you are a meat-eater or follow a plant-based lifestyle, it is important that you get the full range of what your body requires to function properly.

Macronutrients

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) create dietary guidelines for Americans, listed on the Nutrition Food Labels on packaged foods and also found online at Health.gov. These amounts are fairly arbitrary—not to mention often confusing—and do not take into account a person’s life stage, level of physical activity, or existing chronic conditions, so understanding your own habits will help you make the eating choices that are best for you.

Proteins, which break down into amino acids when eaten and serve to function in metabolism and immunity, are critical components of all tissues in the human body. Protein is in everything from lean, ground beef (22g/serving), skinless chicken breast (29g), and plain yogurt (13g) to tempeh (18g), kidney beans (8g), and oatmeal (6g). Diets with too little protein can lead to low energy and illness; too much protein may worsen chronic diseases like osteoporosis and kidney failure. Protein functions best with adequate amounts of carbohydrates and fats.

Carbohydrates are mainly found in plant foods and break down into sugar molecules (most abundantly, the monosaccharide glucose) during digestion. Carbs are the primary source of energy for the body’s red blood cells, brain, and other nervous tissues. They also deliver fiber, which may reduce the risk of some cancers, prevent digestive problems in the colon, and provide satiety. Fiber can be found in foods like navy beans (10g/serving), blackberries (8g), broccoli (6g), and whole-wheat bread (2g). Too few carbs in the diet can lead to ketosis, an unhealthy metabolic state; too many carbs—especially if the food is considered “high-glycemic” as in white starches, candy, and dried fruit—may cause spikes in blood sugar levels, especially detrimental for anyone with diabetes.

Fats (and oils) turn into fatty acids when digested, provide the body with energy, transport the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K to cells, and are found in everything from butter to walnuts. The main issue with a low-fat diet is that the fat, which contributes to the flavor and texture of food, is usually replaced with sugar or salt to make the food more palpable. High-fat diets, especially in saturated or trans fats, can lead to obesity and heart disease.

Consider the following:

  • What are the primary foods you’ve been eating? Were there plenty of proteins, but not enough nutrient-dense carbs? Did your lunches consist only of what was in your office mate’s candy bowl.
  • Check your plate and be sure each macronutrient group above is represented in some way. Add what’s missing or include it as a snack in between meals.
  • Every season, replace the foods you seem to be eating most often with others that you haven’t tried yet.

Everything you eat plays a role in running—or ruining—your body. Incorporating varied, balanced, and high quality forms of energy is the best path toward a long and healthful life.

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on September 28, 2014.]

Image credit: Fitnut

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.]

A Spring Cleaning for Healthful Eating

Life is busy, and before you know it, priorities—like eating healthfully—go out the window. The key to success is to have a plan and do your best to stick to it. Keeping on track is easy when you already have a weekly menu lined up and good foods in your home; otherwise, you risk impulse eating something not-so-great and regretting it.

You might think advance planning requires adding time to your already busy schedule. According to wellness pioneer Dr. Frank Lipman, though, research shows that the average American watches more than five hours of television each day, yet spends barely half an hour on food preparation. Take a good look at your less-than-productive hours and put them to better use by developing a smart and manageable food strategy.

Plan and make meals to get you through the week by mixing and matching what you have on hand—whole, healthful foods in a variety of colors—with supplements from the grocery store. Be creative, but don’t overburden yourself trying to whip up something too fancy or intricate. Instead, spotlight one ingredient in multiple ways throughout the week. For example, grill up some chicken to use one night for dinner and on another day for lunch, shredded in a whole grain wrap. Hard-boil enough eggs to have for breakfast one day and to toss into a mixed greens salad a couple of days later. Cut up a bunch of carrots into sticks; put half into snack bags and cook up the other half into a simple glazed carrot side dish.

Consider the following:

  • Check your calendar every week and mark off the days where you will realistically be able to grocery shop, cook, eat dinner at home, or bring leftovers with you for lunch at the office.
  • Inventory your kitchen by writing down everything in your fridge, cabinets, and pantry, and grouping like items together on your list (meats, veggies, nuts, etc.). Toss any item that’s expired. Based on your calendar and kitchen inventory, design meals to last you the entire week. There are plenty of websites and smartphone apps like Supercook and BigOven that can generate recipes based on what you already have on hand. Shop for any items you need to add/replace. Click here for *FREE* downloadable templates to help you with inventorying, shopping, and meal planning.
  • Cook for the week. Prepare what you can in bulk—a pot of chili, steamed string beans, mashed sweet potatoes. Divide everything up into small containers or snack bags and freeze/refrigerate them. All you have to do from this point forward is refer to your weekly meal plan each day or the night before, then defrost, reheat, or assemble your meals accordingly.

Planning ahead and preparing meals for yourself or with your family not only puts your mind at ease, but guarantees nourishment for your body as well. Regularly inventorying your kitchen, planning a weekly menu, and having a shopping strategy will save you frustration later on, so honor and appreciate the time and effort that went into creating your healthful and delicious meals.

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on May 25, 2014.]

What’s Eating You?

While the human body needs proper nourishment to survive, nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all concept. A healthful diet can prevent or reduce the risk of certain diseases and chronic illnesses, but sometimes, certain foods can cause adverse reactions. Not everybody consumes, digests, metabolizes, and stores food in the same way.

If you notice that, within minutes of eating a particular food, you have a specific, physical reaction, you probably have a food allergy and should ask your doctor for a diagnostic test to confirm. However, if you have general bouts of lethargy, are in a constant state of fogginess, or always feel bloated and uncomfortable, you might have a food intolerance. In this case, an elimination diet can help determine sensitivities and may make a noticeable difference in your overall health and well-being.

Food allergies and intolerances may sound interchangeable, but they are actually quite different. An allergy is when your immune system reacts to an ingredient in food and fights against it. These reactions can be as mild as an itchy mouth or as severe as shortness of breath leading to anaphylaxis. The eight most common food allergies are eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat. (Click here to learn more about food allergies and product labeling.)

A food intolerance, on the other hand, relates to how your digestive system reacts when something in food cannot be properly digested. Lactose intolerance is the most common one—which occurs in individuals who lack the proper enzyme, lactase, needed to break down the disaccharide sugar found in milk—but, there can also be much less common intolerances involving spices like paprika, dill, and ginger; vegetables like asparagus and bell pepper; and fruits like banana and mango.

Consider the following:

  • Track your meals and moods. For an entire week, take note of every single food item you eat, read the ingredients list on all labels, and log how you feel after eating. Are you bloated and gassy? Do you have less energy? Are you unable to focus?
  • Make adjustments. Now that you have an idea of which foods may trigger which symptoms, entirely eliminate one of those items from your meals for an extended period of time—three to six weeks—or make a smart replacement. For instance, if dairy is the culprit, try almond or rice milk instead. If sodium is doing you wrong, add a squeeze of citrus or a flavorful dried herb where you normally would use salt.
  • Be patient. It can take up to three days to notice if symptoms have been alleviated, so continue to track your foods, moods, and other signs during the elimination. If you find the eliminated food is unlikely to be the problem, try not to add it back until you have tested some of the other trigger foods on your list or slowly integrate it back into your regular diet and pay close attention if any symptoms act up again.

You know your body best. If you have puzzling symptomatic issues over months—or perhaps years—of your life, you might find an elimination diet brings to light unfavorable reactions to food(s) you consume regularly. With that finding, you can make informed decisions about what you eat going forward.

[A version of this article was written for, and first appeared in, YoffieLife.com on July 27, 2014.]

For starters: 7 steps to meal & menu planning

One of the keys to healthful eating and the best way to stave off boredom and hunger pangs is to be prepared. Spending a few hours at the beginning of your week doing the following things will save you tons of time and frustration later on:

  1. Get busy! A couple of days before—or the morning of—your food shopping day(s), inventory your kitchen to avoid duplicate or impulse buys when you’re in the store or at the market. Write down everything in your fridge, cabinets, and pantry, including oils and spices, and keep like things grouped together on your list (meats, veggies, nuts, etc.). Toss any item that’s expired or compost rotting foods.
  2. Get creative! Based on your inventory list, start thinking of meals you can make to get you through the week. Mix and match what you have on hand to be most efficient. There are plenty of websites like Supercook.com and smartphone apps like Whole Foods Market Recipes that can help you generate recipes based on what’s already in your kitchen…or be inspired by other people’s recipes…or try a simple Leftovers Salad.
  3. Get crackin’! Write down your weekly meal plan. Now that you have an idea of what to make, start plugging in your meals. Be creative, but don’t overburden yourself with anything that’s going to require too much prep or cooking time or will force you to track down ingredients from more than one or two stores. Save that for special occasions. Instead, spotlight one ingredient in multiple ways throughout the week. For example, can that chicken in the freezer be used in one night’s dinner and another day’s lunch? Will the eggs in your fridge be just as good for breakfast one day and in a lunch sandwich wrap the next?
  4. Get ready! Highlight ingredients/supplies you are missing from your inventory—or running low on—and create a shopping list.
  5. Get moving! Go shopping or place a delivery order from your local online grocer, like FreshDirect. Do not overbuy if you don’t have a plan on how to use the extra goods. Stuff is on sale all the time, so be a savvy shopper and use your coupons if you got ’em, but forego any in-store specials if it means you’ll be taking home things you don’t need.
  6. Get cooking! Once you’re home, or your grocery delivery has arrived, immediately unpack everything and refer to your meal plan to start prepping what you can. Now is the time to start divvying things up into smaller packages or snack bags and freezing/refrigerating them. Start that pot of chili, begin steaming the string beans, mash up those sweet potatoes. And if there are folks in your house you can recruit to help you out, DO IT. It’ll make things go quicker and everyone will appreciate the time and effort that went into feeding them such healthful and yummy food.
  7. Get some rest! Now that you’re done and everything is cooked, labeled, packed up, and put away, take some time for yourself or with your family and congratulate yourself on a job well done. All you have to do from this point forward is refer to your weekly meal plan every day or the night before, then defrost, reheat, or assemble your meals accordingly.

Keep motivated by what you’ve just read and download one of my *FREE* templates below. Feel free to add a comment with your successes, challenges, or other helpful strategies.