Sunday, December 20, 2009

Wintery Soup

I love soup in the winter! Especially soup that is comprised of local Farmer's Market produce. Here's a recipe that I devised over the holidays. It was a big hit with my girlfriend who came over for dinner and as I told her, it's a super "powerhouse" of antioxidants, all in one bowl!

Kale, Butternut and Bean Soup

Olive Oil

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 large bunch of kale, chopped

½ large butternut squash, chopped into 1-inch cubes

4 cups of broth (vegetable or chicken)

1 cup water

2 cups white wine

2 cans white beans (drained)

Saute onion and garlic in a Dutch oven, using a bit of olive oil, for five minutes. Pour in broth, water and wine. Add any seasonings you like (I used a blend of sage, rosemary and thyme. Bring to boil, then cover and reduce heat for 20 minutes. Add remaining items: beans, kale and squash – uncovered – and cook until squash is softened.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gretchen and Her Gorgeous Food Blog

I haven't had a lot of time lately (hello, it's December!) to do much in the way of healthy cooking and baking and my reading time has been entirely sucked up by "The Help." (Need a good read? This book's a winner!).

So, today I'm sending you off to a fabulous food blog by a talented and sweet young woman who I know from one of the clubs that I teach for. I'm also her Facebook friend, which is a really bad thing MOST of the time because she's always posting about the great recipes she makes up in her kitchen and how wonderful the results are and I'm in constant lust over whatever luscious creation she has going. I wish I knew where she lived. I'd be her biggest stalker.

Without further ado, please go see what's cooking with Gretchen:
http://www.canelaycomino.com/
And be sure to bookmark her blog. She updates it all the time!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Recipe: Low Fat Pumpkin Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

I made these cookies last week, adapted from my friend Bri's recipe, and my son had this comment:

"Mommy, these are not good cookies. Not good at all. Mommy, these are GREAT cookies. No, wait, they are not great. They are AMAZING. Can we have them all the time?"

Meanwhile, my mother's input was:

"Hmmmm. Not exactly what I'd call a dessert cookie. Maybe something I'd enjoy for breakfast."

So, there you have it - two differing opinions, one recipe:

Low Fat Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies

1 28 oz can of pumpkin
3 eggs
2 cups brown sugar, packed
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
4.5 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup canola oil
2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, eggs and oil. Combine dry ingredients in a different bowl. Slowly add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop cookies on a cookie sheet in the shame of a ball or use a fork to flatten them out.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool on pan for 10 minutes before moving to wire rack.

The recipe makes about a thousand cookies. Seriously. I doubled it, not knowing that the result would be plates and plates and plates of cookies. But they freeze very well and now I can send Ben to the freezer for a "good" cookie, rather than to the Oreo package in the cupboard.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lusciously Decadent

My director left me a package of the most amazing cookies today. They are not at all healthy. You're going to have to use butter - the real thing - for these, but they are worth every divine calorie. What makes these cookies interesting is the contrast between the butter, the sugar and the salt. Delicious. She shared a link to the recipe - apparently, there is a Brown Butter Cookie Company somewhere that sells these little cookies - and the recipe has been adapted and posted on the web.


Brown Butter Cookies with Sea Salt


Ingredients:

1 cup salted butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 Tbs sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
Sea Salt

1. In a small saucepan, melt butter on low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned. Stir in sugars and vanilla and remove from heat.
2. Let the sugar mixture cool to room temperature.
3. In a mixing bowl add flour and baking powder. Stir in sugar mixture until combined.
4. At this point I recommend letting the mixture rest for at least an hour to let the flour absorb all the butter. The mixture may be stiff afterwords and crumbly- microwave handfuls of dough for 10 seconds. The dough will be easier to roll.
5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
6. Roll 1 inch balls of dough and dip in sea salt. Place on cookie sheet with sea salt on top.
7. Bake for 15 minutes.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Cookie Obsession

I am obsessed with cookies. When I was a child, I would sneak cookies out of the freezer (where my mother stored them - a not-so-good hiding place!) and hide them under my bed. I would have quite a stash going and then the dog, inevitably, would discover them. My parents called me "Cookie" growing up and still do, to this day.

Times have changed, though. I'm no longer satisfied with an Oreo cookie and Toll House usually doesn't fit the bill either. If I'm having a cookie, I want a good cookie. A Whole Foods cookie. A cookie that has high quality ingredients and isn't too sweet.

Lately, I've been experimenting more than usual in my kitchen with cookies. Recently, I posted a recipe for Chocolate Chip Flax Cookies (see below) which, in my mind, are pretty delicious. I made them again this morning for a friend's birthday and added more chocolate and lots of cranberries. I've already had four. They are addictive.

This week, I made chocolate cookies with white chocolate for my clients. I adapted a Weight Watcher's recipe and I think they came out quite nice. They are light and not too dense. The contrast between the chocolate cookie and the white chocolate shavings makes the cookie interesting. You could easily have more than one and still feel pretty virtuous.

As the holidays approach, I'm going to spend some more time in my kitchen adapting cookie recipes and posting my successes. In the meantime, here is the recipe for the Weight Watcher's cookies:

Chocolate/White Chocolate Cookies

1/3 cup white chocolate shavings (I used Ghiradelli White Chocolate; you could also use white chocolate chips)
2 eggs
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (try a high quality powder for more intense flavor)
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Smart Balance spread (melted)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

In another bowl, beat butter and brown sugar. Fold in regular sugar. Add cocoa and eggs. Gradually add dry ingredients to wet ingredients.

Bake cookies for 10 to 13 minutes. Let cookies stand on cooking sheet, when removed from oven, for at least five minutes. Cool on racks.

This recipe yields approximately 20 cookies.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

What We Do On Wednesday

I'm going to let you in on a great secret: Wednesday night yoga at Del Norte Club!

I have been blessed to have had the opportunity to teach the Wednesday evening yoga class at Del Norte Club for the last two, going-on-three, years. When I started at the club, which was my first teaching gig, we had eight, maybe nine, on a good night - ten, people attending class. Now, we've had as many as 24 yogis practicing on Wednesday night!

Just over a year ago, I approached the management at the club requesting permission to take the class up to a higher intensity, with a Level 2 class title. My request was approved and I've had the chance to move the Wednesday night crowd from simple stretches to more complex poses and sun salutations.

More than anything, we have a kula on Wednesday nights. In Sanskrit, kula means "community." Most nights, class starts at least five minutes late because I'm busy hugging my yogi friends and catching up on each other's lives. Two of the women from class, Briana and Nancy, have become dear friends. One woman had me over to her home for a Greek dinner that involved NINE courses, as a thank-you, just for being her teacher. In the summer months, we designate select Wednesday evenings as "yogi parties." We congretate on the lawn and share food and wine and we learn about each other's lives.

The group feels like home to me. They know my son. They know my mom. They eat my cookies. They are wonderful.

One of the best parts about the Wednesday night class is the price: just $10 for drop-ins! With the going rate for a single yoga class in Sacramento hovering at nearly $17 a class, this is a great deal.

Are you looking for a fun group to practice with? Come join us! I always have guest passes in my bag and you're guaranteed to meet warm people who love to laugh while enjoying the spirituality and the reverence of a deep and connected yoga class.

Om shanti!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

250. Ouch.

High cholesterol runs in my family. So, despite the fact that I eat virtually zero saturated fat and regularly integrate "good" fats - like nuts, olive oil and avocados - into my diet, my cholesterol keeps climbing.

Last month, my doctor called me with the startling news of the huge increase in my overall cholesterol over the last year. 50 points. I went from 199 to 250 in just under 12 months. Whoa. She then ordered a breakdown and I fasted and did the necessary blood work only to find that I'm no better off with the "good" and the "bad" levels. She then suggested that I contact an internist and get myself on a statin. Soon.

Given the fact that I'm 38 years old and in very, very good health, I was reluctant to go this route. Do a google search on statins and you'll find many reasons to NOT take them. I began to research natural remedies to reduce cholesterol and came up with a list of foods to eat regularly. It looked my weekly grocery list: Oatmeal, nuts, beans, fruits, vegetables. Are you kidding me?

Next, I researched supplements and found some interesting ideas. Co-enzyme Q-10 is supposed to be "the bomb" in terms of lowering cholesterol and it has some nice added benefits such as: increased energy, brain function, and alertness. I'll take all of the above. Problem is Co Q-10 is one of those supplements that requires a huge financial commitment. The generic brands aren't readily absorbed into the body and seem to have no impact on cholesterol, whatsoever.

So I went to see my friends at Elliott's (how much do I love that store?) and posed the question to them. I was immediately steered toward the premium bottle of Co Q-10 that didn't cost quite as much as my mortgage payment, but the amount wasn't far off. At least they were have a sale - 10% off on supplements. I bought a 2 month supply with the idea of re-resting my cholesterol at the end of the year to see what impact - if any- it might have.

My dad also told me about a Costco product called "Cholest-off." He's been taking it for six months now and he's shaved nearly 50 points off his cholesterol. I'm planning on adding that to the regime, as well.

Health is a funny thing. You can exercise like a demon and eat straight from the earth and still wind up on the every-five-year-colonoscopy-AND-mammogram-plan with high cholesterol, to boot.

Times like these, I'm glad I pay the big bucks for my health insurance plan. But I'm still shaking my head in amazement over the 50 point increase from last year. Must have been that one omelet I had.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Recipe: Chocolate Chip Flax Cookies

This last week, I took cookies to my son's soccer game. Thinking that the kids probably needed some good Omega 3s as their post-exercise snack, I tried a new recipe, Chocolate Chip Flax Cookies.

Unfortunately, six-year-olds are pretty savvy when it comes to cookies and the flax cookies were passed up in favor of the giant Peanut Butter cookies that I also provided.

However, I also made a batch flax cookies for the hostess of a lovely dinner party that I attended and the adults devoured them and also asked for (demanded!) the recipe.

Here it is:

Chocolate Chip Flax Cookies

1 cup flax meal (available at Trader Joe's)
1/3 cup butter (I use Smart Balance - it's non-hydrogenated and generally works as a good butter substitute in cookie and muffin recipes)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup milk
1 cup chocolate chips (I use semi-sweet)

Mix flax, butter, sugars, egg and vanilla until well blended. Stir together dry ingredients and add gradually to butter mixture. Fold in milk and chocolate chips. I used a small ice cream scoop to drop dough onto the baking sheet.


Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Let cookies cool for at least 10 minutes on baking sheet before transferring to rack.

The recipe yields about 20 cookies.

Enjoy!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Finishing Touches: The Bad and the Good

Last week, I walked into the locker room of one of the gyms that I work with and was immediately accosted with this:


Really? WTF?

In case you're wondering, the women's locker room was absolutely decorated with posters and laminated signs (which is what I stole to bring you this image, you're very welcome!) promoting a Natomas (oops, now I don't even need to tell you that the gym's name rhymes with the possessive form of "cold") plastic surgeon.

Most of us are working really hard to maintain what we have and it just seems to me that this is inappropriate, especially in a gym setting. If I could have taken all the signage, I would have. And I still might. But in the meantime...

Here is something that will cost you less than plastic surgery and is far less invasive:



This beautiful blush, made by Benefit, is called Coralista and it's the prettiest item in my make-up bag (which isn't saying much because I'm so darn basic (read: boring) when it comes to make-up. Truth be told, the price point is a little (well, a lot, actually) higher than what you might find at Rite Aid but it's worth every penny. And I can't tell you how much it is because my mother reads this blog and I'm sure that if she knew what I spent on this, she would be appalled and would wonder how I can afford a blush like this when I have a mortgage payment that's THIS BIG.

Nonetheless, I get lots of compliments on my blush. Several people have asked if I've had a facial recently, which the answer is always "no" because I have that BIG mortgage payment and I would rather spend my money on Linsey's hands (see below).

The moral of the story is that you can spend a lot on your body and look completely fake or you can put something really flattering on your face that makes you feel fantastic and continue working hard, with the rest of us, on your body.

Now, who's up for a raid in Natomas?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Lovin' Linsey!

One of my students, who is a massage therapist, just gave me a massage last night and I had to post today to let you all know that SHE ROCKS!

I've had less than a dozen massages in my life and my issue with massage in the past has been that the therapist's technique is either too light or too deep. After a massage, I generally feel the same as when I walk in (that's when the pressure is way too light) or I feel completely beaten up (some therapists have honestly made me wince with pain).

What I like about Linsey is that she has a great balance of deep tissue work and relaxation. I felt my back crack, pop, and release in so many spots that I committed on the spot to having a massage every month. I think it's the least I can do for myself, when I demand so much out of my body on a daily basis.

Linsey has a fabulous space in her home with low lighting, lots of candles and a good mix of Enya-type tunes. She'll come to your home but I highly recommend going to hers because of the distraction-free environment.

For a one hour massage, Linsey charges $45.00 and she will customize the session in any way you like. She is available late afternoons, evenings and weekends. Here is her email address: linseydegen@yahoo.com

When I got home last night, I felt really good. Calm, steady, grounded. I could use a little more of that in my life. Thank you, Linsey!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

This Probably Isn't Going To Be Good For Business

...but I had to share this information...it is so so so so so so so SO good!

What I am finding out, vis a vis my own weight and fitness struggles, along with constant reading about diet and exercise, is that good health starts in the kitchen and not in the gym.

Or, let me put it more bluntly: exercise will not help you lose weight. At least not much weight.

You need to read this article:
http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1914857,00.html

It's long, yes, but well worth the time spent. Bookmark it. Come back to it. Reference it. Use it as motivation. But do read it!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Post Work-Out Beverage Choices

When I finish a work-out, I am usually starving. And grouchy. Lately, I've been grabbing quick drinks to re-fuel after exercising. Here are two good choices:

Organic Chocolate Low Fat Milk (one cup or a small "juice box" size portion)
Milk does your body good, especially following a work-out. Recent research shows that low-fat chocolate milk may help replenish tired muscles thanks to its unique carb-to-protein ratio. Chocolate milk contains both whey and casein protein to feed your body what it needs for recovery. And it's also a great source of calcium and vitamins. Sweet!

Zico Mango Pure Coconut Water
I am really hooked on this stuff. Coconut water is simply the liquid extracted from a young, green coconut, not to be confused with its high fat counterpart, coconut milk. This Brazilian treat has been making a splash in the U.S. as a sports drink because it naturally contains electrolytes such as potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and sodium. It's a great drink for non-athletes too because it's refreshing, low in calories and contains only natural sugars. You can buy coconut water at Elliott's or Whole Foods.

It's important to know that taking in too many calories in the form of a recovery meal can undermine the effects of your work-out. A post-workout meal/snack of just 300 or 400 calories, comprised of carbohydrates and protein, is the ideal choice for re-fueling without "over-fueling."

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bread: Not All Loaves Are Created Equal

I love bread. Who doesn't? I've recently been buying spelt bread from Whole Foods which I really like, but I've been uncertain as to whether or not it's a good choice, from a nutrition standpoint.

This month's issue of Vegetarian Times had a great article on tips for buying healthy bread. Here's a recap:

Choose 100% whole grain
Basically, you want to see the word "whole" as the first ingredient in the list: whole wheat, whole rye or whole oatmeal are all good bets.

Know how to spot refined white flour in disguise
Wheat flour is just a code name for white flour. Again, look for the word "whole." Also, anytime you see the word "enriched," know that you're getting white flour, incognito. "Enriching" is a nice way of saying that the flour is stripped of bran and germ to chemically add some B vitamins and iron. I can't say it enough: know the difference between "whole" and "enriched."

Watch out for partial promises
Breads that are "made with whole grains" contain some whole grain but are usually made with refined flour, as well. Same holds true with a "multigrain" label. This is where things can get confusing. Breads that say they are "whole wheat" may or may not be made with whole-grain wheat. I'll say it once more: read the label. Read it carefully.

Give it a squeeze
Ever noticed how, if you put the carton of milk on top of the white bread, it goes as flat as a pancake? There's a reason for that: manufacturers have a hard time making nourishing bread that's also soft and fluffy. So they rely on chemicals. The denser the bread, the closer you're getting to the whole grains that you need.

Double fiber isn't better
We ate the "Double Fiber" bread for a long time. I like the fact that it has a ton of fiber (6 grams per slice) but I don't like the sources of the fiber, which are: soy, oats, cellulose and inulin. These are called "restructured" foods; whole foods are always a more natural choice.

Bread with the fewest ingredients might not be the best choice
I always say: look for the foods with the shortest list of ingredients. But this doesn't have to be a hard and fast rule for bread. A good slice of bread can contain seeds, nuts, and flax.

Sprouted breads are best
When grains are sprouted, the starches are much easier to digest. Sprouted breads offer more essential amino acids, minerals and B vitamins than starndard whole-grain varieties. In fact, ounce for ounce, sprouts are the most nutritious of all goods. A sprouted grain has become, in effect, a vegetable.

In summary, if you want the best bread for your body, head to the sprouted section. You may have to try several varieties before you find one that agrees with your own personal palate, but it's definitely worth the effort.

And, just in case you're wondering, Ben won't even take a nibble off of anything that is whole-grain, let alone sprouted. He eats Sara Lee Whole Grain White, which is nothing short of white bread, sold with the promise of Enriched Bleached Flour. I may as well save my money and buy him straight white bread.

One last tip. When you're out shopping, here's a quick list of the "ideal" attributes of a slice of bread:

Calories: 80
Fiber 3 to 5 grams
Protein: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 15 grams
Sodium: 125 milligrams
Sugar: 3 grams of less; listed after the 5th ingredient

Friday, July 24, 2009

Five Surprising Things That Can Boost Your Health

I came across this information in a magazine today and that it was worthy of sharing. Definitely a couple of surprises here, for me...

What boosts your health?

1. Walking down the aisle.
A UCLA study found that married people live longer than those who stay single. Why? Married people, according to the study, are less socially isolated, they exercise more and they drink less (not so sure about that last point but I'll buy the first two!).

2. Having a furry friend (or two).
A study in Ireland has shown that owning a dog is associated with lower stress levels and fewer serious illnesses. Even if the dog sheds like crazy and you have to vacuum daily (I guess that counts as cardio!).

3. Being a social butterfly.
Australian researchers found that people with a strong social network lived an average of 22% longer than those without one. Cherish your friends! I certainly love mine.

4. Putting your money where your mouth is.
Studies have linked gum disease with heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The simple solution: floss EVERY DAY and see your dentist twice a year for cleanings. I started flossing regularly about five years ago and am religious about it now.

5. Surfing the web.
Researchers from UCLA found that searching the Internet stimulates and preserves key areas of brain activity, helping you stay sharp even as you age. Sweet! My Facebook addiction isn't quite so bad!!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Final Nail(s) In Soy's Coffin

This is my third, and final post about soy. I'm done with it and I think you should be too.

This month, Bon Appetit arrived with a full spread on the downsides of soy. When a publication as worldly as Bon Appetiti strays from its foodie slant to devote a large chunk of its culinary pages to a health cause, I have to take notice.

The article basically reiterated a lot of information that I already know and brought to light a few new facts, as well. We all know that the soy bean has pretty much found its way into everything from peanut butter to canned tuna. We hear of its high protein content and its nearly existent cholesterol and we convince ourselves that it must be a spectacularly healthy choice. Well, we've been duped. And I'm here to tell you today that the jig is up.

Recent research has shown that soy may contain dangerous levels of isoflavones, natural chemicals that are similar to human estrogen. Isoflavones can affect fertility in men and may increase the risk of breast cancer for women. In fact, the Israeli Ministry of Health issued a warning in 2005, suggesting that adults moderate soy intake and that infants not take in soy at all. Oops, sorry about that Ben. If your fertility is affected later in life, you can blame me!

And it's not just Israel taking action. Health officials in France and Great Britain are concerned too. One British author underscored the research done in Israel by saying, "They (Israel) had a committee of more than a dozen distinguished nutritionists, researchers, pediatricians, and toxicologists who looked at the body of evidence and concluded there was risk."

In 1999, the FDA in our own country began allowing companies to claim that foods with soy protein "may reduce the risk of heart disease." Several studies later, the American Heart Association stepped in and clarified: The amount of soy protein consumed to reap the benefit would have to be the equivalent of 1.5 pounds of tofu or half a gallon of soy milk a day. As a result, in 2008, the American Heart Association recommended that the FDA rescind the health claim.

Let's say that, you're like me, and you really don't want to give up your Starbucks Vanilla Soy Latte. Fair enough. Here are the "hard and fast" guidelines for soy:

  • If you're a woman who has been diagnosed with or has a family history of breast cancer, it's probably safest to avoid soy.
  • Men hoping to father children should probably limit the amount of soy they eat.
  • Parents are urged to follow the Israeli suggestions in serving soy to infants, toddlers and small children: try to limit soy unless there is a known allergy to dairy products.
There is breast cancer in my own family, a little too much for me to safely feel good about taking in much soy. That being said, I do occasionally enjoy a couple of tablespoons of Silk Creamer in my coffee. I find it to be a "cleaner" coffee sweetener than many others. I still love a good tofu stirfry or a bowl of edamame, dusted with sea salt. Like everything else, moderation is key.

We've replaced the soy milk in our home with organic cow's milk and vanilla almond milk. I'm pretty smitten with almond milk right now. It is widely available (Trader Joe's has the best value) and it's actually lower in calories compared to its soy counterpart. I've replaced my morning soy protein with whey protein powder and Ben's back on organic yogurt.

And yes, sometimes I'll splurge and have a soy milk latte at Starbucks. (But I have to draw the line at artificially flavored Frappuccinos!)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Recipe: Light Chocolate Zucchini Bread

I think it's safe to say that the Chocolate Zucchini Bread was a hit among yogis, friends, clients and children. I doubled the following recipe, which yielded four large loaves:

2 1/2 cups flour (I used Trader Joe's white whole wheat)
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup oil (I use Smart Balance)
3 large egg whites
1 egg
1/4 cup plain, non-fat yogurt
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups shredded zucchini
Chocolate chips (as many as your diet or your blood sugar level will allow!)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coast two loaf pans with nonstick spray. Using an electric mixer, mix the sugar, eggs, oil, yogurt and vanilla together. Stir in zucchini. Add the dry ingredients and stir just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips.

Divide batter between the two pans and bake for 50 minutes. Cool loaves on wire racks for 10 minutes then remove from pans and cool completely on wire racks.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Harvest Grains Recipe

I shared a favorite healthy dish with several yogis a couple of weeks ago. I had quite a few requests for the recipe so I thought I'd provide it here.

Trader Joe's has a great dry mix of grains called "Harvest Grains."



It's a blend of couscous, baby garbanzo beans, and orzo. I use the mix as a base but I've also served it as a side dish with Smart Balance butter and a little sea salt. It's delicious and very healthy.

I use the entire package, following the cooking directions. I then add:

Cooked asparagus
2 cans organic garbanzo beans
Feta cheese
Dried apricots
Cashews
Drizzle of olive oil
Cumin, coriander, salt and pepper to taste

There are many, many ways to augment this basic recipe. I've also added tomatoes, broccoli, and/or golden raisins depending on the ingredients I have on hand.

The beauty of this dish is that it can be prepared before an event, chilled, then served. It serves a lot of people and generally is filling enough to be enjoyed as a main dish.

Enjoy!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Refomer #2: Double the Fun!

I had the great fortune of *finally* adding another reformer to my home studio this week! The new machine is in even better shape than my current reformer. It is also a Balanced Body Allegro model (the industry standard for Reformer training).

I am now offering "duet" sessions (2 people per session). The benefits of a shared session include significant cost savings and shared, collective energy that translates into more fun.

So grab a friend and call or email me for available times and pricing.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Figoco Is Yum-O

To borrow Rachael Ray's adjective, I've found something that is really yum-o!

My director gave me a goody bag not too long ago with treats from Trader Joe's and this was one of the items:



Some culinary genius over at TJ's had another ingenious idea when this product was created. Combining figs and cocoa is nothing less than sublime!

I've used this spread on toast (with cream cheese), on crackers, waffles, and even served it alongside Brie cheese the other night. I've also dipped in with just a spoon more than I'd like to admit.

I continue to be amazed at the quality and value that Trader Joe's prides itself on. This product is a shining example of what they do best.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Breaking Up With Soy

My love affair with the soybean is over, I'm sad to say.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I simply can't ignore all the reports on soy's impact on our health and the environment any longer. As much as I've tried to see the redeeming qualities of soy, it would be wrong for me and perhaps somewhat neglectful (since I am, after all, in charge of what my child consumes) to continue stocking our kitchen with all soy products known to Trader Joe's. And that's a whole lotta soy!

I was doing a great job of ignoring the negativity surrounding soy until I opened last week's issue of Sacramento News and Review. I consider the News and Review a great rag (source?) for all things liberal and somewhat saucy, so I definitely took quick notice when their environmental columnist devoted quite a bit of real estate to soy's dirty little secret.

Turns out that Clif Bars have been under close scrutiny lately for claiming that their products are organic when in fact they are using soybeans that are treated with chemical solvent hexane. "What is that?" you're asking.

Hexane is really nasty stuff, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA, certainly a good source for these types of issues, classifies the hexane solvent as a neurotoxin and hazardous air pollutant. Simply stated, you don't want this garbage in your body.

And guess what? All those soy products that you love so much from our beloved TJs, our supermarket staple, Amy's, and the old tried-and-true Gardenburger are all treated with hexane. It gets worse. Before you order that next soy latte or pour your child a glass of cold, vanilla soy milk, consider this: Vitasoy, WestSoy, Soy Dream and Silk are all in on what I call the "hexane hoax."

Yes, we have been duped.

But the bright side is there are some companies that are playing clean in the soy game. They are: Eden Foods, Helen's Kitchen, Tofurky and Wildwood.

So what to do?

We have a case of Silk soymilk that I plan on finishing. And two pints of Silk soy creamer that I'll enjoy. We're all still working on two packages of soy cheese and we just finished the last of the soy yogurt. I finished off the final scoop of my soy protein powder, yet we have two rather big containers of soy shake mix.

My plan is to responsibly use the rest of our soy products and replace them with organic dairy items, rice milk, and almond milk. I won't be buying Amy's items anytime soon, same for Clif Bars, and Gardenburgers are out, too.

It's disappointing to have to part ways with foods that you've grown to love but I'm a firm believer that there are always decent replacements. The threats that hexane present to our bodies and our environment simply cannot be ignored.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Soy Is On My Mind

I am a complete soy girl. I love my vanilla soy milk, my soy coffee creamer, my soy cheese, my soy bars, my soy protein powder, my soy shake powder and my soy ice cream. And edamame, which is soy in its purest form and with a bit of sea salt, is nothing less than heaven to me.

So it's been a little troubling to read about all the dirty soy facts that are now surfacing. Turns out that the innocent soy bean may not be so angelic and might just be downright bad for you.

Even as I write this, I am troubled by misleading health information that we are fed on a daily basis. At one time, soy was the darling of the nutrition world...pure, high in protein, low in fat, a real gem.

Now I'm not so sure.

Given the fact that I eat buckets of soy, I'm reluctantly facing the facts of soy's less-than-pristine profile.

And I'm going to have to get back to you on the findings since the information on soy's bad rap is PLENTIFUL and deserves a careful look.

In the meantime, I'm cutting down on my soy consumption. I think we're bringing organic cow's milk back in the house and cheese, too. We're adding rice milk back in and stocking up on Lara bars, instead of soy bars. I've just bought an ice cream maker so that we can make our own frozen yogurt (with organic non-fat yogurt and agave syrup). I've pushed the protein powder into the back of the cabinet and just purchased whey powder instead.

I'm making these difficult yet necessary choices for myself and for Ben, not because I am paranoid about what I read, but because the evidence that I have read about soy, thus far, has warranted some big changes in our home.

I'll keep you posted as I learn more about the downfalls of soy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Sobering Facts About Red Meat

Anyone who has spent any time with me knows that I am not a big fan of red meat. I grew up with a pasture full of cows, a freezer full of meat, countless dinners of hamburgers and steak. Some would consider us a very lucky household; that is, until my dad became gravely ill with colon cancer at the young age of 46. He was VERY lucky indeed, in that although the tumor was malignant AND roughly the size of a grapefruit, the cancer had not spread to any other organ and he was able to recover without chemo or radiation. He has been cancer-free for over 20 years.

Being the offspring of a first degree relative who has had colon cancer means that I have to undergo a colonoscopy every five years. At least that was the recommendation two years ago, at which point, a polyp was discovered during the procedure and now I am on the "two year plan." But I'm OK with that. I remember my dad's illness as if it was yesterday. I recall how sick he was in the hospital bed, how pale and listless he looked to me. He still loves to show off his scar which absolutely sends me into shudders.

I stopped eating red meat regularly in college. I knew that there is a direct correlation between red meat and colon cancer and even the site of a steak was enough to take me back to that time when my dad was so ill.

Recently, my doctor told me that my iron was too low and rather than augment my diet with an iron supplement, she preferred that I have at least one serving a red meat a week. I started buying the Raley's/Bel Aire "Full Circle" brand of hamburger. The package states that it is organic, antibiotic free and 90% lean. And let me tell you, it is really, really good. One hamburger a week turned into two. Then an article came out in this week's Sac Bee that caused me to take a careful look at my own red meat consumption.

You can pull up the article in its entirety from the Sunday, May 17th Health issue. Let me give you the gist of it...

Now a new study of almost 550,000 American has provided the best evidence yet that our affinity for red meat has exacted a hefty price on our health and limited our longevity. The study found that, other things being equal, the men and women who consumed the most red and processed meat were likely to die sooner, especially from one of our two leading killers, heart disease and cancer, than people who consumed much smaller amounts of these foods.

Results of the decade long study were published in the March issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. During the study, nearly 71,000 of the participants died and the researchers kept track of the timing and the reasons for each death.

The findings suggest that over the course of a decade, the deaths of 1 million men and perhaps a half-million women could be prevented by simply eating less red and processed meats.

The recommended allowance is as follows: people should a small hamburger only once or twice a week, a small steak no more than once a week and a hot dog every month and a half.

This last bit of info is a lot to digest, particularly if you have a small child, like mine, who loves his daily hot dog and a mom who loves her big, organic hamburgers.

The article went on to underscore the environmental impact of our dependence on livestock, which, as we all know, is not good. Erosion process, applied pesticides, consumed antibiotics and discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus to surface water; in a nutshell: yuck, yuck, yuck, yuck.

To make things even worse, once meat is cooked at high temperatures, carcinogens can form on the surface of the meat and increased consumption of carcinogens is definitely a direct tie-in to higher rates of cancer.

There are many, many sources of protein and iron that are not in the red meat family. If you must have that weekly hamburger, try to choose an antibiotic free label of meat and on the days that you don't eat meat, utilize poultry, seafood, and beans to fulfill protein needs. If your children love hot dogs, try and offer them as a treat rather than a mainstay.

Also good to know: if you have a first-degree relative who has had colon cancer, your check-ups (and I'm talking full-blown colonoscopy here) should begin ten years prior to the age that the parent was when initially diagnosed. My dad was 46; thus I began my colonoscopy regime at age 36. And I'm glad I did...even one polyp is a little too dicey for my comfort level. But not quite enough to get me to give up my weekly hamburger!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Food: What Children Need Each Day

I read an alarming article today about the specific nutrient requirements for small children. Based on the new MyPyramid for Preschoolers, the daily food requirements for three-year-olds are significantly beyond what my own 5-year-old is currently getting. Here is the breakdown:

1,400 calories a day (more if the child is active and plays sports)

No more than 170 calories of "fun" foods: Anything such as sweets, chips, juice, sweetened yogurt, and all "snack" foods that do not contain whole grains, such as animal crackers, pretzels, etc.

4 teaspoons of healthy oils: Olive oil, canola oil, avocado. Peanut butter would also qualify, providing that it is not Jiff or Skippy or any other variety that is made with hydrogenated oils.

5 ounces of whole grains: 100% whole grain breads or pasta, crackers or oatmeal. "Kid" cereals, even those without sugar (like Rice Krispies) are not considered to be whole grain.

1.5 cups of vegetables: Varied colors, such as orange, red, yellow and green.

1.5 cups of fruit: Choose whole fruit instead of juice, use fresh whenever possible, avoid dried fruits (even raisins)

2 cups of milk: Low fat cheese and plain yogurt (unsweetened) are also good dairy options.

4 ounces of meat/beans: Consider chicken, seafood, eggs and nuts.

These are the guidelines for 3-year-old children and are considered an absolute minimum for children over three. Shocking? It was to me, too. Rest assured, my son Ben, who is five, is definitely falling short in at least two of the above categories and far exceeding the recommendations for daily "fun" foods. We could stand a little progress in the vegetable and protein areas, for starters and I could definitely back off on offering a juice box each day after school.

I always think that it's a good idea to give our kids healthy eating tips from a young age. It took me 30 years to figure out how to eat well, but I've always been appreciative to my mother for at least taking the time and effort to ensure that I was eating a variety of foods from a young age.

Recently, I began to give Ben multivitamins from Trader Joe's. They sell a decent "gummy style" children's vitamin that is given twice a day. Ben thinks that he is getting a gummy treat at breakfast and dinner and I'm feeling better about his nutrient intake. It's a win-win! Now, as for the vegetables...

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Have A Sore Back? Want Great Abs? Look No Further...

I spent my Saturday in training on a fabulous piece of pilates equipment called the ARC.

The Pilates ARC is a lightweight piece of equipment that can be used on its own or in tandem with the Reformer. And it is quite possibly the greatest thing since sliced bread.

The ARC's design allows for:

  • Increased core strength and stability (my abdominal muscles were sore after just one work-out!)

  • Improved mobility of the spine

  • Upper body strengthening and conditioning

  • Better balance and coordination

Plus, it's completely fun and totally different from other typical pieces of exercise equipment!


The ARC can be used by novice and experienced Pilates practitioners and is available online (with an instructional DVD) at http://www.pilates.com/


If you are a current client, get ready for a whole new work-out on the ARC!


Monday, April 13, 2009

Recipe: Cooking Light Butterscotch Bars

This month's issue of Cooking Light has Butterscotch Bars as the feature recipe. I baked the bars and ate my way through at least a quadrant of the pan on Easter. It's a winner. Here's the recipe:

Butterscotch Bars

1 cup packed brown sugar
5 tablespoons butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
2 cups flour
2 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup fat-free sweetened condensed milk
1 1/4 cup butterscotch morsels
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine sugar and butter in a large bowl. Stir in vanilla and egg. Combine flour, oats, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and baking soda in a bowl. Add oat mixture to sugar mixture, stir with a fork until combined (mixture will be crumbly). Place 3 cups oat mixture into the bottom of a 13 X 9-inch baking pan coated with cooking spray; press into bottom of pan. Set aside.

Place condensed milk, butterscotch morsels, and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a microwave-salt bowl; microwave at HIGH 1 minute or until butterscotch melts, stirring every 20 seconds. Stir in walnuts. Scrape mixture into pan, spreading evenly over crust. Sprinkle evenly with remaining oat mixture, gently pressing into butterscotch mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until the topping is golden brown.

Calories per serving: 148
Fat per serving: 5.1 grams

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Avoid Tendinitis, Check Your Tennis Shoes

Last week, I got out of bed unable to walk due to a sharp and stabbing pain that started in my ankle and eventually traveled up to my knee. The only way I can explain the severity of the pain is shin splints times 100. At times, the sensation felt so "nervy" that it took my breath away.

The orthopedic physician diagnosed acute and severe tendinitis of my anterior tibialisis (think front of the ankle). The interesting thing is that tendinitis in this area is highly unusual and generally only seen in athletes who participate in high intensity sports, which is definitely not me. The physician was surprised to learn that I walk and practice yoga for exercise, thinking that I must be a high endurance athlete to have this type of tendinitis. He got a good laugh out of my definition of "regular"cardio: vacuuming my house twice daily to stay on top of the dog hair!

So I'm walking around now in a huge boot that looks like something that Luke Skywalker might wear. My son, B, thinks its very cool.

I am scheduled for a MRI next week and physical therapy later this month. In the meantime, I'll be doing lots of yoga (one legged Down Dogs and planks!) and modifying Reformer exercises to incorporate upper body and abdominals.

As I was cleaning out my gym bag this morning, I took a good, hard look at my exercise shoes and wondered why in the world I've continued to use the SAME shoes for the last year and a half. I'm sure you've seen them...the light blue, split toe Nikes that offer virtually no support whatsoever. I wear them all the time. And I definitely know better.

Truth be told, I became very lazy about my footwear, thinking that my low intensity style of exercise didn't warrant a pair of decent shoes. I've logged a lot of miles on the treadmill, on the streets with the dog and on the elliptical. Far too many for my old Nikes to support the repetitive impact.

The lesson here is quite simple. Avoid injuries of any type by upgrading your exercise footwear at least twice a year. Consider doing this more frequently if you live in your tennies, like I do.

You can bet that when this tendinitis is healed, I'll be at Fleet Feet treating myself to a more-than-decent pair of shoes.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Best Oatmeal Cookie Ever" Recipe

My friend, Shelley, a self-proclaimed critic of all things healthy, recently tried this recipe and raved about it. She went on to make another batch (with some chocolate chips thrown in) and was kind enough to send a few along to me. They are, indeed, delicious and worthy of their name: "Best Oatmeal Cookie Ever." In fact, I hid the cookies from my mother and fed B Oreos all week so that I could hoard the stash. Print this one out and file it away. It's a keeper!

Best Oatmeal Cookies Ever

1 mashed banana
1 cup of brown sugar
1/4 of a cup of regular sugar
Slightly less than 1/3 of a cup (about 1/4 of a cup plus 1 teaspoon) of oil
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1 1/2 cups of flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 of a teaspoon of salt
2 cups plus one my-sized handful (about 1/4 of a cup) of oats
3 tablespoons of water plus maybe a few more drops

Directions:Mix the brown sugar, sugar, oil, and water. Add the banana and vanilla. then mix in the already pre-mixed together mixture of flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Stir in the oats. If it is too thin, let stand a bit so the oats can absorb the excess liquid. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 13 minutes. To check if they are done, flip one over and it should be browned. Rip off a chunk to see it it is still raw. I usually let them sit a bit before I take them off the cookie sheet because they finish cooking outside of the oven. I should mention to drop them by the tablespoon.For the whole recipe: calories = 2,967/fat = 74.1/fiber = 28.1. ...so for one cookie it is about 82 cals and 2 grams of fat.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Healthy Recipes: Appetizer, Main Course & Dessert

This last Saturday night, we had an informal dinner party with another couple. I tried three new recipes, all of which are relatively healthy, and I think that they turned out quite well. On the menu...

Goat Cheese, Cranberry & Walnut Canapes (from Eating Well magazine)
Seafood Lasagna (from Cooking Light magazine)
Mocha Fudge Pie (from the Complete Cooking Light Cookbook)

Here are the recipes:

Goat Cheese, Cranberry & Walnut Canapes

24 walnut halves
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cinnamon
24 thin slices of baguette (I used sourdough from the Country Club Mall Farmer's Market)
8 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup dried cranberries
t teaspoon chopped fresh thyme for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. On a baking sheet, toss walnuts, olive oil and cinnamon. Bake until golden, 4 to 6 minutes, then set aside to cool. Spread baguette slices on baking sheet and toast on each side. Remove from oven and spread goat cheese on each slice. Top each with cranberries and a walnut halve. Garnish plate with thyme and serve.

Seafood Lasagna
(Note from Cooking Light: This shrimp and scallop filled lasagna is refined enough for a dinner party. The rich, mellow flavor and creamy, mouth-filling texture of this seafood lasagna demands a white wine that's soft and full on the palate. Chardonnay is a great answer.)

1/3 cup flour
3 cups 2% reduced-fat milk
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
2 cups grated Parmisan cheese, divided
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups thinly sliced onion
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup low-fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup half-and-half
3/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled and coarsely chopped
3/4 pound scallops, coarsely chopped
3 large eggs
1 (15 0z) carton low-fat ricotta cheese
12 no-cook lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup. Place a large saucepan over medium heat and add flour to pan. Gradually add milk to flour, stirring constantly with a whisk until smooth; cook 1 minute. Stir in butter, thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cook 5 minutes or until thick; stirring constantly. Remove pan from heat; stir in 1 cup of Parmesan. Set cheese sauce aside.

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion and saute for 4 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Remove from heat. Add cream cheese, stir until cheese melts. Stir in half-and-half, shrimp, and scallops. Whisk eggs and ricotta together in a separate bowl until smooth. Add ricotta mixture into seafood mixture.

Spoon 1 cup of cheese sauce into bottom of a 13X9-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Arrange 4 noodles over sauce; top with half of ricotta/seafood mixture. Repeat layers with 4 noodles, remaining half of ricotta/seafood mixture, and remaining 4 noodles. Pour remaining cheese sauce over noodles, sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until lightly browned.

Let stand at least 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 12 servings.
Calories: 383
Fat: 12.9
Protein: 31.5

Mocha Fudge Pie
(Note from Cooking Light: Featuring a thick brownie crust, a filling made of creamy mocha pudding and for the crowning touch - a coffee and Kahlua whipped topping, this pie is deceptively light.)

1/3 cup hot water
4 teaspoons instant coffee granules, divided
1/2 package of 20 ounce low-fat fudge brownie mix (about 2 cups)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
2 large egg whites
3/4 cup 1% or 2% low-fat milk
3 tablespoons Kahlua
1 (3.9 ounce) package chocolate instant pudding mix
3 cups frozen reduced-calorie whipped topping, thawed and divided
Dark chocolate shavings (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine hot water and 2 teaspoons coffee granules in bowl. Add brownie mix, 1 teaspoon of vanilla and egg whites; stir until well-blended. Pour mixture into a 9-inch pie plate coated with cooking spray. Bake for 25 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Beat milk, 2 tablespoons Kahlua, 1 teaspoon coffee granules, 1 teaspoon vanilla and pudding mix at medium speed for one minute. Gently fold in 1 1/2 cups whipped topping. Spoon pudding mixture onto brownie crust; set aside.

Combine 1 teaspoon coffee granules and 1 tablespoon Kahlua in a bowl; gently fold in 1 1/2 cups whipped topping. Spread whipped topping mixture over pudding mixture. Garnish with dark chocolate shavings.

Makes 8 servings.
Calories: 297
Fat: 6.5

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Healing With Honey

The ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks and Romans all considered honey a basic component of any first aid kit and today, we're hearing more and more about honey's healing power, from helping to suppress a child's cough to aiding in weight loss.

Recently, my son had croup. Actually, we were struck with it twice this winter, along with a slew of cold viruses. I had read that honey is an effective alternative to cough syrup for children and I decided to give it a try. Of course, he was thrilled to have a big tablespoon of honey (squeezed right out of the "honey" bear) and it really did seem to help his cough.

Researchers at Penn State tested honey against dextromethorphan - the active ingredient in cough medicines - as a cough suppressant for children and found honey to be more effective. It seems that honey's "sweetness" is its active ingredient for coughing. "The brain part that registers sweet tastes and the part that causes coughing are located near each other so sensing the sweetness may affect coughing" states the author of the study. The research went on to be published in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. The only caveat to this is the age of the child. Honey should never be given to a baby less than a year old due to the risk of botulism.

The verdict is still out on this next "sweet" honey benefit but the research has been published. A 2008 study in the Journal of Food Science linked honey to weight loss! Scientists reported that rats that were fed a honey-sweetened diet gained 23% less weight than those that ate foods spiked with refined sugar. The rats were tracked for one year. The lead researcher did add that the honey that was used for the study was high in antioxidants. Most of us use the most common honey - clover. The clover "honey" bear is quite cute, particularly for children, but this type of honey doesn't have many more antioxidants than refined sugar.

We live in one of the best parts of the country for honey. There is simply no reason to buy honey at our grocery stores when it is produced locally. Try a new variety for yourself and for your child (for medicinal or just enjoyment purposes!). The downtown Sunday Farmer's Market (located under the freeway) has a great honey vendor who has several varieties of local, luscious honey (and he even has bear shaped, plastic containers!).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wordle Strikes Again

My newest obsession, http://www.wordle.net/ apparently is not as smart as I thought. My "healthy" blog is, by wordle's standards, apparently not-so-healthy. Check out the superstar of the image:



Wordle: luscious blog




Splenda? Are you kidding me??

At least my girl Natalie scored a decent font size. She certainly deserves it more than Splenda.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pass the wine, but hold the decaf

Wine lovers and coffee drinkers rejoice! Both are good for you, provided that you're drinking the right stuff. Here's the scoop:

Drinking red wine has some great health benefits. Moderate amounts have been shown to boost HDL ("good") cholesterol, thin the blood and potentially lower the risk of both cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. Red wine is rich in resveratrol, which is a plant chemical that helps to prevent blood clotting. There is also some research that suggests that resveratrol may help prevent cancer and increase longevity.

As for regular coffee, it's full of antioxidants and may help ward off several diseases, especially type 2 diabetes. However, if your drink of choice is decaf coffee, you should know that the decaffeination process is poses several health problems. Two of the chemical solvents used to remove caffeine in most decaffeinated coffee brands are considered harmful; one is a suspected carcinogen. There is also research that shows that the "buzz" you get from regular coffee could be cleaner than the after effects of a decaf drink. Ever feel a little irritable after downing a decaf latte? Many people have a sensitivity to the chemicals used in decaffeinated beans.

So the bottom line is this: On alcohol, moderation is always key. Dr. Oz suggests one to two drinks a day, as a social ritual. I wholeheartedly agree with this prescription. And, if you want to avoid caffeine, certainly don't rely on decaf coffee. If you must have a decaffeinated coffee drink, look for brands made with safer decaffeination methods, such as the Swiss water process, and be prepared to spend a lot more. These beans are often labeled with a logo on the packaging but can generally only be found at high end grocery retailers. Sadly, Starbucks and Peet's have yet to jump onto the "clean decaf" band wagon.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Get Healthier Almost Instantly

It's as easy as opening the door and stepping outside, that is, if you live in California.

Just fifteen minutes of direct sunlight at least three times a week will help your body produce all the Vitamin D it needs. And we definitely need it, considering the fact that not one, not two, but five just-released studies found that Vitamin D has wide-ranging benefits , from keeping your bones and heart healthy to reducing the risk of breast cancer and colon cancer.

If you can't get consistent direct sunlight, consider taking a supplement. Experts agree that D3 is more easily absorbed by the body than regular Vitamin D. You can find D3 at any health store. I buy mine from Elliott's here in Sacramento. A 90 day supply is less than $10.00 You can also get a good dose of Vitamin D from salmon. Just be sure it's wild and not farmed (more on this topic in a future post).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Good Hair Days

I am often stopped in the middle of my day, generally by a perfect stranger, to talk about my hair. It's not that I have great hair, it's just that my style is distinctive and some might say, a bit edgy. And it definitely meets my "good hair" criteria of being somewhat easy and very current. I also have the ability to go a few days between washing and blow-out also which some might think is a huge advantage while others might be completely disgusted.

My search for the perfect hair stylist has taken me all over Sacramento and has resulted in a huge investment just in hair cuts and some not-so-good outcomes. So I was thrilled, a year ago, to meet the lovely and very talented Natalie at Sanctuary Salon in Citrus Heights. My only disappointment was when she left me to go have a baby and take a few months of maternity leave. I once again made the somewhat painful trek of searching for someone who could replicate my beloved cut and I definitely noticed a sharp decline in inquiries about my hair.

So I'm using my blog today to tout Natalie and to tell you that no, she is not expensive (think $35.00 for a hair cut that she will spend LOTS of time on) and that no, the salon she works in is not pretentious, and finally, you don't need to book an appointment weeks in advance. She's also very sweet, very engaging, and probably one of the most positive people I know in the service business.

One of the things that I love about Natalie most and the trait that I believe makes her a great stylist is the fact that she is honest and upfront about the type of cut that she believes will work for a client. As an example, if you go in and ask for my cut, she'll probably tell you that I have masses of hair and that unless you want to spend at least 30 minutes a day with a hair dryer and develop a huge bicep in your right arm from wrestling with said blow dryer, you may want to consider something a little more of the "wash and go" variety. Or, you can just skip the 30 minutes and go days without washing!

Lastly, I'm not getting a kick back from Natalie by plugging her on my blog; I just happen to think that she's great and I hate to see people disappointed by bad hair cuts.

Here is her contact information:

Natalie Bitz
Sanctuary Salon
916.967.1212

The salon is located next to Target on Sunrise, in the Birdcage Shopping Center.

Note to Natalie: If you get pregnant again, I'm going to have to find out where you live. I'll even forgo the magazines to hold the baby while you cut my hair!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Splenda: My Tummy & I Aren't Fans

Splenda is EVERYWHERE. I have a very hard time avoiding it. My favorite Starbucks concoction, the Mocha Frappuccino Light, is loaded with it. As is Danon Light yogurt and Diet Pepsi. And a lot of other so-called "diet" foods.

I genuinely try and keep Splenda out of our home except for my once-a-week splurge treat at Starbucks...the aforementioned Light Frappuccino. But lately, I've noticed that my super sweet, low calorie and highly caffeinated beverage has been giving me a very, very bad stomachache. So I decided to do a little more investigation into the wildly popular Splenda sweetener and figure out what the possible connection could be between it and my not-so-happy belly.

The first thing I found out is that Splenda has been basically feeding us a big 'ol line with the claim of "Splenda is just like sugar." Truth be told, Splenda has completely different molecules than sugar. Without getting too scientific, there are no natural compounds in Splenda while sugar is produced naturally. Note to the marketing department at Splenda: it's disingenuous (and downright wrong) to compare Splenda's properties to the properties of sugar, even at the atomic level!

But what really interested me is what happens once Splenda enters the body. I was disheartened to discover that Splenda is not easily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. Instead, it hangs out in the gut and keeps the intestinal tract from finishing up its work. In fact, as much as 85% of the sweetener ingested stays in the gut, which throws the normal bacteria off-balance and results in digestive upset.

One study fed adult male rats a "normal" dose of Splenda. The rats had significantly less digestive bacteria present in their GI tracts and they had increased weight gain.

While Splenda may look like a dieter's dream, this information underscores the fact that it is not a natural product, and, in turn, is not friendly to the body, overall. It's hard enough for the body to keep its "good" bacteria levels in balance, particularly given a typical American diet of empty calories, but it can be equally difficult to replace the good "bugs" in your gut considering the treacherous route Splenda must take through your digestive system.

My advice? Use "real" sugar, in moderation. Buy plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself with honey, agave syrup, or organic fruit preserves. Ditch the diet soda. Use sugar and cream in your coffee, in smaller amounts. As for Starbucks? Avoid any "Light" or "Sugar Free" drink there. Once a week is not too frequent to enjoy a smaller version of your favorite coffee drink, even if it is a Frappuccino...I think I've even finally convinced myself!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I'm So Tired & Why Can't I Stop Eating?

It's no secret that I am an insomniac. I've struggled with sleep, or lack of sleep, for most of my adult life. Recently, I've been noticing a direct correlation between being tired and being hungry. And not just "normal" hungry, more like ravenous.

Take yesterday for example. I was going on just a few hours of sleep and running through my day at warp speed. I had clients at home, clients at the gym, and little clients in B's classroom (I teach the yoga segment on Fridays). Then there was the usual slew of errands...Trader Joe's, the bank, the grocery store, etc. I was also trying to squeeze a workout in and catch up on paperwork. Oh, and the house needed to be cleaned, as well. You get the point.

I noticed early on in the day that I was feeling more tired than usual. Not the yawn-a-few-times-an-hour-and -rub-your-eyes-kind of tired; more like the, "I keep calling this client by the wrong name" and "Oops, was that a stop sign?" kind of tired. Not good.

Sometime in the mid-morning hours, I realized that my high calorie breakfast had worn off completely. I started snacking and continued to be amazed all day long that despite eating high protein, "good" fat items, I was still hungry. I ate nearly a whole avocado and a cup of raw almonds. And that was after a big lunch. "What is going on?" I kept wondering, as my stomach continued to growl.

I decided to do a little research on the rumored connection between weight and sleep habits. And what I found was a bit unsettling.

Sleep deprivation can cause hunger and lower your metabolic rate, even if you are exercising regularly. This is because the body is trying to conserve energy. The hormone "cortisol' is released to counter the stress of being sleep deprived.

If your body is lacking sleep you may not be able to metabolize carbohydrates effectively. This results in more of your food being stored as fat. The level of sugar (glucose) in your blood stream may increase leading not only to weight gain but other diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Also, when the total hours of sleep are decreased, the body spends less time in the deep sleep phase. Deep sleep is where the repair on the body takes place and growth hormone is released. Growth hormone is a protein which regulates fat and muscle proportion. A lack of growth hormone can lead to poor muscle development and an inability to shed fat.

So what's the answer? Obviously, to most people it would be simple: get more sleep. But if you're like me, and you're healthy on all fronts except for the sleeping, the solution is a bit more elusive.

I'd love to sleep more but until I actually do, I'm realizing that I have to be super conscious about what I eat. That is, if I want my clothes to continue to fit.

Knowing this, I had a new mindset for today. Yes, I am still tired. But I did get more sleep last night and feel better, overall, than I did yesterday. I made food selections based on what I know is filling for me: oatmeal with protein powder, sweet potato with walnuts and lentils, whole grain toast with peanut butter, and big pieces of fruit from the farmer's market.

It's also interesting to note that a hangover has the same effect on your body as lack of sleep, in terms of appetite (not that I would know this from personal experience!).

So the takeaway here is this: If you're trying to lose weight or just trying to maintain your current jean size, be cognizant of your level of fatigue and the food choices that you make when you are tired, or for that matter, hungover.

Monday, January 12, 2009

What Is Pilates & Why Is It So Darn Popular?

I get asked all the time: "What exactly is Pilates?"

The easy answer is that Pilates is an extremely popular way of exercising. Consider this recent tidbit from the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association: North American participation in Pilates has grown from 1.7 million in 2000 to 10.6 million in 2006. That's more than 600% growth in just a few short years. It's also a lot of job security.

What many people don't realize is that Pilates is a valuable therapeutic tool for many ailments. Since it is easy on the joints and can be modified to meet the needs of various populations, Pilates is now being used to help sufferers of a wide range of maladies including scoliosis, osteoporosis, autism, Parkinson's disease, and cancer.

Pilates is effective because it provides a "work around" when there is an injury or other condition (i.e. hip or knee replacement) in the body. It's the basic idea of homeostasis at work: The body is self healing and if you create a steady-state in the areas of the body that are not injured, you likely will support the healing within an injured area. Thus, an injured area can be re-integrated into a person's whole body.

But what if you're not injured? What can Pilates do for you?

Besides gaining improvement in muscular strength and endurance, most Pilates practitioners notice that their posture is enhanced (I hear people say, "I feel so much taller" after nearly every session), they also have increased range of motion and their body awareness is improved significantly.

But not all Pilates classes are created equally. Most classes are "mat based," meaning that no equipment, other than a yoga mat, is used. In a mat class, a participant's own gravity supplies the resistance. While this is great in theory, mat classes are generally held in a group setting and it's almost impossible for an instructor to correct form and offer individual guidance.

I teach exclusively on the Pilates Reformer because I believe that it is a much more effective way of working the body. The Reformer has a gliding carriage, attached to rails inside a rectangular frame. The carriage is connected to various springs, pulleys and ropes. Users can lie on the carriage, sit or kneel, and push and pull off the foot bar using the arms, legs, wrists and ankles. Participants truly get a full body work-out during a Reformer session.

Joseph Pilates, creator of the Reformer, said it best:

"After 10 Reformer sessions, you'll start to feel different. After 20 sessions, the people around you will notice a difference. After 30 sessions, you'll have a whole new body."

Need more convincing? Check out Faith Hill's new physique. At 40, she and her 6-pack abs graced the cover of Shape magazine in a revealing bikini. Her work-out of choice? You guessed it: the Reformer.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Yoga Class Added!

Effective THIS Sunday - 1/11/09 - I'll be adding another yoga class to my schedule. Please join me at My Yoga Lounge at 5pm for a 75-minute Vinyasa Flow class. All levels are welcome, including beginners.

My Yoga Lounge is a beautiful studio, located in Arden Park, at Watt and Fair Oaks. Unlike the gym environment, the space is distraction free, climate controlled and very much geared toward a peaceful and restorative yoga practice.

Complete details, including pricing and directions, can be accessed at the studio web site: www.myyogalounge.com

I'm excited to begin teaching on the studio circuit again and look forward to seeing you on Sundays.

As for other public classes, I'll continue to teach at Del Norte Club on Wednesdays at 7pm (this is a Level 2 class) and two Mondays a month, also at Del Norte, at 7pm (Mondays are Level 1). Guest passes for Del Norte are available for $10.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to send me an email.

Namaste.