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Social Media; Happiness Hack or Sidetrack?

The word “social” has changed its meaning for most people these days, as social …

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No Mud, No Lotus; 3 Simple Morning Habits to Optimize Your Day

As a busy mom on the brink of menopause and more pointedly, a member …

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Social Media; Happiness Hack or Sidetrack?

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

The word “social” has changed its meaning for most people these days, as social media has leapt from the great unknown to a top-of-mind 24/7 default in the connection stratosphere. No doubt, we’re using it right now to communicate. But is prioritizing social media as your communication default really an even trade off? Before we go further, let’s see what’s really at stake here.

That social connection is critical to mental and physical health is neither new nor surprising. Numerous social psychologists have researched and established this principle, which in some sense proves the obvious. But just how much of an impact does social connection have on day-to-day quality of life?

Studies show, more than you may have realized.

According to a study published in Scientific American; “4775 adults in Alameda County individual’s answers were translated into a number on a “social network index,” with a high number meaning the person had many regular and close social contacts, and a low number representing relative social isolation. The researchers then tracked the health of their subjects over a.nine-year period, those who placed low on the social network index were twice as likely to die as individuals who had placed high on the index but had otherwise similar risk factors.”

I have to admit, they had me at “twice as likely to die”, however, you may find the more uplifting link between social connection and things like happiness and career success more compelling.

If knowing that connection to other humans is linked to staying alive, sane and employed has you relieved that Zuckerberg created social media, here’s the rub. Social media is great for many things, but can we really count on it to meet that health and happiness quotient?

Actually, this time studies show, maybe not.

Here’s the deal; when you use social media to stay in touch to keep established relationships going, with the goal and practice of real, in-person relating mingled in, then, yes. When you consistently use social media as a replacement for actual face-time, then not so much.  Interactions via social media make people feel connected without the emotional component of face-to-face interactions, depriving participants of the opportunity for positive biochemical feedback that comes from personal interaction. In short, social media only offers a partial benefit; better than nothing, but not an equal replacement.

So, whether it’s a longer life you seek, or happiness and career success in the present moment, make connecting to others a key part of your daily routine and watch those health and happiness benefits start rolling in.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/26/opinion/sunday/hello-stranger.html?_r=0

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-06-03/opinion/ct-perspec-0605-metra-20110603_1_commuters-quiet-cars-metra-reports

http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/streams-of-consciousness/the-importance-of-being-social/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201605/the-surprising-benefit-talking-strangers-plane

No Mud, No Lotus; 3 Simple Morning Habits to Optimize Your Day

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

As a busy mom on the brink of menopause and more pointedly, a member of modern civilization, I sometimes get stressed.  And I’m not alone.  Ask anyone you meet how they’re doing and chances are the word “busy” will pop up at least once throughout the conversation, usually within the first 3 sentences.

We live in a caffeinated society, and the pace can sometimes feel overwhelming.  Studies show that more than 40% of adults report chronic insomnia brought about by daily life stress.  Sleep is a huge health predictor, and when you don’t get enough of it, it’s harder to deal with those everyday stressors, which carry over into nighttime when they keep you lying awake yet again.

Eventually you may find yourself caught in a self-defeating cycle that if left unchecked, can result in depression and anxiety.  And while there are sleep aids, both natural and pharmaceutical, to help us manage insomnia,but studies have shown prevention is both more effective and side-effect free.

So then, how do you get through the day without letting stress set your neuroendocrine system all a-flutter?   Of course we’re all maxed out time-wise, and adding more work to you list may seem counterintuitive,  but luckily effective doesn’t have to mean time-consuming.

I invite you to try starting your day off right with these 3 simple habits designed to help keep you even-keeled throughout the day, no matter what life may spring on you.

1. Meditate.  As little as 10 minutes a day can make a world of difference.  And meditation is a surprisingly simple practice.  Find an online resource, or follow these basic steps to get started

  • Create your special space.  Find a peaceful spot, anywhere you can enjoy a few minutes of quiet, uninterrupted time.  Set up a blanket or cushion if you need it.
  • Set a timer so you can focus on your breath without checking the clock
  • Sit up straight and comfortably.  Legs crossed is the classic pose, but worry more about keeping your spine aligned and well-supported, so if you need to lean again something, feel free.  The goal is to be relaxed and alert.
  • Close your eyes and focus on your breath
  • Practice taking deep, 4-5 count breathes through your nose, allowing your lungs to fully expand, then completely empty with each round
  • Focus your attention on your breath, and practice putting aside all the other thoughts that bombard your brain.
  • When your mind wanders, return it to the breath, unfazed.  This is the practice, which when practiced daily, will help you to feel calmer, less reactive and more in control of your emotional self.

2. Enjoy a healthy breakfast.  It can be challenging to rethink our standard notions of cereal and milk, bacon and eggs or nothing but coffee for breakfast, but I invite you to give it a try.  The first meal of the day can set the tone for how the rest of it unfolds.  By setting yourself up with a high-fiber, nutrient-rich and satisfying start, you focus your day in a healthy direction from the get-go.

Leave your notions of time constraints aside for a moment as you envision yourself enjoying hearty fruit and nut oatmeal, Chia Breakfast Pudding or a supercharged smoothie all can be prepped the night before to whip together the next morning in under ten!

3.  Practice gratitude. This simple practice is so powerful, you’ll begin to experience benefits such as increased awareness, a heightened sense of appreciation and focus on the positive soon after starting.  How to do it?

  • Pick up a notebook, plain or fancy doesn’t matter, and create a Gratitude Journal.
  • Take a moment each morning to set an intention to notice moments of gratitude throughout your day.
  • On Friday morning, simply write down five things you experienced in the past week for which you’re grateful.
  • For more tips on gratitude journaling, check out this article on Greater Good.

These little tricks take under 30 minutes combined.  I suggest you try all three, even if it means waking up 30 minutes earlier, as I initially forced myself to do.  Unpleasant as that sounds, I promise you that after a week or so, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner.  In the words of modern day philosopher Thich Nat Hahn, “no mud, no lotus”.

I hope you won’t wait one day longer to prioritize your health and begin moving closer toward living your best life, starting today!

Happier this Holiday; 4 Simple Tips

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

With holidays in full swing, it’s hard to ignore the hailstorm of glittery magazine ads, TV commercials and gift lists.  From Mariah in her Santa cap to every decked out retail storefront, we’re sold on a set of high expectations, very temptingly packaged.  So it’s barely surprising that this time meant for focus on family, appreciation and sharing tends to turn into a combination stressfest and consumption conundrum.

Fortunately, it’s easy to try a different kind of holiday this year, one that involves less over-commitment, guilt and anxiety.  When you focus on giving your attention and intention to the ones you love, including yourself, less stress and more time to enjoy life will naturally follow.

Here are four simple steps toward a less stressful holiday season, no inebriates required:

  1. Make your happiness a priority!

Over commitment is one of the major causes of stress and stress leads to unhappiness.  It’s okay to set limits for yourself and uphold them, which sometimes means having to say no.  As explained in The Happiness Project:  One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy; One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

  1. Presence over perfection.

We’re so bombarded with media images at this time of year, all designed by the best minds in the business to make us feel the need to achieve a certain level of perfection.  Decide what is important for your family and make that the center of your celebration.  When we make a conscious decision to appreciate what’s most important, a lot of the little things that otherwise stress us out become less noticeable.

  1. Meditate, even for a few minutes.

Research shows that meditation, even just ten minutes a day, is one of the most reliable ways to increase our natural tendency toward happiness.  And don’t worry about being good at it  Because even if you are terrible at meditating and your mind races and you struggle to sit still, those few minutes are still beneficial in improving physical, mental and emotional well-being.

  1. Skip the super-size….on everything!

Shop less.  You’ll have more time, extra money and create less waste.  We’re so programmed to believe we have to meet some set of expectations that may not even be accurately understood, we often unnecessarily overdo it.  Communicate with people you’re exchanging gifts with and see if down-sizing is an option.  Or if not, get creative.  Coupons for activities together (your treat), resale gifts or even home-made items make meaningful, less expensive gifts.   There are many ways to reduce spending and save time over the holidays, reducing your consumption is one of them.

So consider adopting even one of these habits this holiday season and see how it goes!  (and of course if you shop local and buy organic, all the merrier!)   However you do it, be present, stay calm and enjoy your holidays!

Byron Katie on Making your Goals a Reality

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

When it comes to things like health, happiness and productivity, we tend to habitually undermine our efforts without even realizing it!

Ask any busy person why they aren’t living their best life; exercising as much as they’d like to, staying in touch with friends, or getting enough sleep and you’ll get the same answer; “I don’t have time”.

We make that declaration without even cross-examining it.

Enter bestselling author and thought leader Byron Katie, who recently addressed a crowd of thousands in San Francisco at Wisdom2.0. Katie’s process, which I first encountered 5 years earlier, is as rock-solid logical as I remember.  It’s amazing to watch a change agent insightful enough to turn disempowering reasoning on its head with one simple sentence; “is that true”?

Plot spoiler; it almost never is.  Katie excels at talking volunteer audience members through what they perceive as their fixed reality, and opens their eyes to new options.  This simple technique is so highly effective I invite you to look at your own “I don’t have time” reality, and see if you can find some room to reprioritize your well-being.

And if you’re still convinced you simply can’t splurge on self-care, you’ll be relieved to know that daily health habits like good nutrition, adequate rest, exercise and meditation actually boost productivity, so don’t worry, you’ll make up for it.

Fortunately basic self-care habits don’t need to be time-consuming. Have you been putting off committing to a regular exercise practice because you don’t have the 90 minutes in your day to devote to a spin class?  Or waiting until your calendar is clear of pending social engagements to being a healthy eating plan?  Is it because you don’t have time?

If the answer is anything other than no, consider the words of Byron Katie, is that true?

Here are 3 simple ways to begin making your goals a reality, starting today!

  1. Think Big, Start Small. Your 5-year vision may place you in a stimulating work environment, a great relationship, a size 5 jean or a regular workout routine, but no matter how big the goal, your first step needs to be a small one.

For example, start with:

  • 10 extra minutes per day of work-related reading
  • Schedule a regular weekly date night
  • One push up per day (there’s an entire book based upon this one)
  • Swapping sugar-sweetened beverage for stevia-sweetened tea

The idea is to choose one simple, sustainable step toward developing a new habit and then integrate it into your sub-conscious routine.  This could take weeks or months, it’s different for everyone, but once it’s ingrained, that’s when you just do it – no willpower required.

From there, you can layer another small step as you move closer to your long-term vision.  And each step, as in any change of motion, becomes successfully easier.  You can do this!

  1. Pre commit, which means set yourself up for success by streamlining your environment for a win. One major barrier to getting started is the procrastination trap.  Your subconscious mind will find any excuse to avoid taking that first step to new habit formation, so remove any obstacles to success or anything that might test your willpower and just get started.

Here are some tips you can use to overcome the motivation trap and set yourself up for success:

  • Schedule your new habit in advance
  • If payment is involved, pay in advance
  • Enlist a reliable friend to join you
  • Join a group
  • Remove or hide any temptations or diversions
  • Keep the choices you want to make the most accessible
  1. Set yourself up for success. Another big barrier to new habit development is keeping your goal top of mind.  Unless we use cues in our everyday environment to remind us, chances are we’ll forget about our goal so often that eventually we just give up altogether.  One effective strategy is to create cues that work for you.

For example, say your regular routine when you come home from work is to drop your keys on the counter and head for the fridge.  Place a cue, like a reminder note in the entryway, put your workout duds near the door, and turn that snack break into a 15 minute walk around the block before you have time to talk yourself of it.

Here are some simple reminder suggestions to keep you on track:

  • Plan ahead the night before
  • Use your cell phone or mobile device to remind you to remember your new habit
  • Post notes in places where you can’t miss seeing them
  • Keep your gear or accessories highly accessible

Change takes commitment, and yes work too; but if you’re not working toward your goals, you’re working against them, so take the time and make the commitment to prioritize you, starting today!

More in Byron Katie and the work at http://thework.com/en.

Insomnia SOS, An 8 Step Action Plan

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

This week’s focus was originally fast and frugal fall foods, but with the sweltering week-long Northern California heat wave I just couldn’t bring myself to post it. At the same time, a bout of insomnia that can only be explained by a combination of heat and hormones had me all a-fluster. After 5 torturous nights I began to see sleep-deprivation for the sanity-testing problem it can become.

When people asked me for sleep suggestions, my advice was simple; regular schedule, no caffeine after noon, unplug at least an hour before bed, you’ll be fine. I had recently even adjusted my regular sleep schedule so I was getting up earlier and getting more done, which was nice. Looking back, I suppose I was feeling pretty smug.

So did I get my words served up on a silver platter when I found myself reduces to tears at 3 am after a week of sleep deprivation.

It was the same every night; falling asleep, no problem. Staying asleep? Bloody hell. I tried all my usual tricks and practiced the deep breathing techniques that typically work. Nothing.

I take my slumber very seriously, and given the studies associating lack of sleep with all kinds of unpleasantness, from weight gain to depression, so I was determined to resolve this, fast.

I found an article written by Dr. Shelby Freedman Harris, Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine program at a highly accredited medical center in New York. Since reliability on these matters can vary and there are dozens of suggestions for cures, I thought Dr. Harris’ advice was both succinct enough to manage and safe enough to trust.  Steps 1-5 of the Action Plan below are based on her suggestions, and I added a few more culled from various sources to incorporate the additional measures that in combination delivered results.

Insomnia SOS, An 8 Step Action Plan:

1. Dim your lights an hour before bed time to start winding down, but not so dim you can’t read (I added that last part). A good magazine is an easy-reading treat if you don’t have a good novel.

2. Avoid looking at anything with a screen. This includes phone and TV. This is the most challenging suggestion for me, since I like to watch videos to relax before bed, which clearly was not the right strategy.

3. Practice a body-scan meditation right before bed to help you to relax. Here is a link to a good one:

4. Focus on your breath as you try to relax and keep ruminations at bay. This can be hard when you’re in an emotional place. Another expert suggests it can help to actually get up and write down your challenge to revisit tomorrow, which sounds like a good one to try.

5. If it’s not working, try getting out of bed and repeat the body-can meditation again. As counterintuitive as it sounds, Dr. Harris recommends staying in your seated meditation until you’re sleepy.

These exercises did help somewhat. But again I found myself up for close to 2 hours over the course of the night.

I knew needed to step it up so I did some more research.

6. This simple yoga pose (see top of post) was featured on Health.com to help with relaxation but will it cure the meno-insomnia blues? Considering I could do it in my pajamas it would be 5 minutes well spent, so I added it to my nighttime routine. I can’t say I noticed a measurable difference in sleep quality, so although I like the notion but the jury is still out.

The following day I recognized another possibility right there in front of me; supplements. I’ve read both positive and negative reviews about the efficacy of sleep supplements, so I thought I’d better review the options. It was hard to find valid research concluding that herbal sleep remedies really work. In fact according to an expert on Harvard Health Publications, the studies are actually inconclusive:

7. Valerian root “Some studies suggest that valerian is mildly sedating and can help people fall asleep and improve their sleep quality. But the evidence is mixed. An analysis of multiple studies of valerian’s effect on sleep published in 2010 concluded that people fell asleep only about a minute sooner than with a sugar pill.”

8. Melatonin has shown some evidence of reducing insomnia in people over 60, yet studies supporting its effect on the rest of the population are inconclusive.

L-Theanine and the other commonly recommended natural remedies fared no better in terms of scientific evidence.

Regardless, I had to give it a fair shake and I purchased a bottle of valerian tablets right away. As I’m posting this, I’ve had 2 successful nights of sound sleep for which I credit my combination of relaxation techniques, including the yoga headstand, and a valerian root supplement. Sometimes it takes a village.

I’m cautiously optimistic, but just to be on the safe side I’ve also gone 100% decaf. I can thank this little experience for teaching me to work a good night’s sleep into my daily routine, because now I know first-hand, few things are as important to happiness and well-being.

Let me know in comments if you have any helpful suggestions for getting good night’s sleep!

5 Fast and Frugal Foods to Fill Your Fridge this Fall

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Fall is beginning to sweep in its sweet breath of transition. Whether you have an altered schedule, different hobbies or new wardrobe, change is happening.  Coincidentally, times of transition happen to be the best time for creating new habits. One new habit worth learning is how keeping a few basic foods stashed in the fridge is a cheap and easy way to go.

For many of us, moving from packaged to home-prepared food is a special challenge, both because it requires some extra energy up front to get into the habit, and because we think we may hate it. So we end up putting off getting started.  So I implore you to start small and keep it simple.

I find that having preparing just a few simple foods will take you a long way over several days’ time, you can use them as side dishes for dinner, main dishes for lunch.  And don’t forget the snack potential.  You’ll end up with more nutritious, lower calorie snack options than the pantry typically offers, but the bigger surprise is how good these foods taste.

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Here are 5 fast and frugal foods to fill your fridge this fall:

Butternut squash:  Simply cut it in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and bake for 45-55 minutes face down at 385.  Use a glass pan for easy clean up.  Add some salt, or a dash of garlic and a tablespoon of tahini for an delicious new twist.

Sweet potatoes:  Wash them well and keep the skins on for extra texture and more nutrition.  Bake them whole or cubed in coconut oil and salt at 385 degrees, for 30 minutes – 1 hour depending on size and preparation.

Garbanzo beans:  Don’t let the dried beans scare you, the overnight soak and 1 hour boil is well worth the simple steps!  Just soak your beans overnight, drain (the following day), fill a pan with water so it covers the beans by 5-6”, and simmer for about 90 minutes (until tender).  Serve with salt and cumin, or add to your favorite salad.

Quinoa:  Similar to rice, but a more complete protein that makes an excellent salad or side dish. Add 1 cup quinoa to 2 cups water and simmer, covered for 25-35 minutes. Drain any excess liquid and add ½ tsp. salt and combine with chopped veggies and fresh salsa, (purchased prepared if needed).

Cabbage salad:  Cabbage is amazing in its longevity, flavor and nutrient profile.  Why wouldn’t you keep it on hand?  It’s simple to sauté in coconut oil and Bragg’s liquid aminos or light soy sauce with a dash of salt and cumin.  Or dice it up and sprinkle with salt, rice vinegar and sesame oil for a yummy salad.

All of these foods can be stored in the fridge for 3-5 days and retain their flavor and nutrition content quite nicely.  Make it easy to snack from the fridge vs. the pantry by treating yourself to a variety of simple, healthy whole foods today, no whole paycheck required!

Feeling Discouraged? Try these 3 techniques to stay on track with your goals

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Recently I was reminded of just how difficult the change process can be.  Ten years ago, I struggled relentlessly with healthy eating and body image.  After devoting the last decade to understanding good nutrition and healthy eating habits, my set of challenges has changed.  My passion for developing effective methods for using this information to help others presents a new set of struggles, and the emotions invoked can be just as painful.

Working toward a goal, whether it’s changing your eating habits, maintaining an exercise program or improving your skillset is always a challenge.  In the age of the iPhone, we tend to live in instant gratification mode.  This is why it’s easy to believe that the short-cut solution to achieving your dreams is out there – you just need to find the right one.

Newsflash, when it comes to changing habits for the long-term, there is no such thing as instant success.  Change is both a process and a struggle, but it’s not one we need to go alone. .As I face the challenges of growing a business, feelings of failure and gnawing self-doubt are inevitable. Unpleasant as they may be, they’re part of the process.  It’s tempting to look at other people who have achieved the goals you’re striving toward with something akin to envy as you wonder how they got so lucky.

Yet what we don’t see when we look longingly at the lives of successful people, is the blood, sweat and tears they put out to meet their goals just like you are.  The difference lies not in your ability, but your willingness to work through the hard times and keep moving forward.

So when the going gets tough, temptation is great and you just feel like giving up altogether, how do you get through the rough spots and stay the course?

Here are 3 techniques for staying on track with your goals:

1. Set a daily intention.  Do you have a wakeup ritual, or a short morning practice you do each day?  It’s a key strategy for super-stars from Tony Robbins to Marie Forleo.  This can take as little as 5 minutes of simply checking in with yourself and envisioning your goal for the day.  This simple practice reminds us to take one day at a time, and stay on track with our intention, even if it’s just for today.

2. Out of sight, out of mind.  If you’re regularly tempted by anything that threatens to stand between you and your goal, it’s time to restructure.

  • Don’t have anything in your fridge or cabinets you don’t want to eat, and if your living situation renders that impossible, at least place tempting foods and drinks out of plain view and swap in some healthier alternatives..
  • If driving by a favorite treat spot is too tempting, find another route.
  • Set up your environment so distractions like the TV, computer or other time-consuming activities are less visible, replaced by the goods that support your new habits – running shoes, meditation cushions, your gratitude journal.  We’re always being triggered by our environment; put your cues to work for you!

3. Find your tribe.   In their bestselling guide to forming new habits, Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success, the authors stress the importance of finding friends vs. accomplices.  Accomplices are those acquaintances that enabled your old habits, whether as participants or encouragers.  Friends are the people who will encourage you to reach your goals.  So even if  you need to join a support group or change who you spend your time with, ultimately this can make or break your success.

Remember, your goals are worth fighting for, and while forming healthy habits is a process and a challenge, when you change your life for the better, you’ll know it was worth every step.

How to Turn Your Summer Fitness Goals Into a Game

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Summer is in full swing!  Pool parties, family vacations and long beach-y days are the stuff memories are made of.  The last thing anyone wants to do in the midst of all this fun is put feet to scale and get a chilly dose of reality.  So don’t!  Fun and health are not mutually exclusive, nor should they be.  Summer is the perfect time to keep your fitness goals alive and well by turning them into a season-themed game.

Gamifying your fitness goals is easy.  And if you can get some family members and friends on board, all the better.   Check out the 7 simple steps below to learn how.

How to Turn Your Summer Fitness Goals Into a Game

1. Choose your goal.  Do you want to get more exercise, or lose a few pounds by improving your diet?  Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  • Take advantage of the warmer weather and focus on goals unique to the season.
  • Early morning walks, afternoon swims or evening bike rides are wonderful this time of year; and easy to track progress using wearable devices or mobile fitness apps.
  • Or focus on nutrition, committing to keep sugar consumption down by swearing off sugar-sweetened drinks or replacing calorie laden desserts with healthier choices.

2. Invite some friendly competitors.  Is there a colleague, neighbor or family member you can enlist to join your challenge?  The more the merrier, and if you have more than 3 people, create some teams.

3. Decide on a start and end date.  Once you have your plan in place, get it going asap, before people change their minds or go on vacation.  A 30 day challenge is a good timeframe;  long enough to see some results but not intimidating enough to keep people from playing.

4. Schedule your plans into your daily calendar and increase your chances of meeting your goals significantly.  Use little cues like leaving your running shoes near the door or stocking healthier foods to keep prominently positioned in the kitchen to help you stay on track too.

5. Stay connected.  Either meet in person on a regular basis, or stay in touch via social media to track progress depending on the nature of your game.  Everyone will benefit from the social support.  If you’re meeting to exercise, it’s a non-issue, but if you’re doing a morning green juice cleanse, stay connected to keep each other on track.

6. Recognize small wins along the way.   Celebrate weekly progress via social media or email if you’re not meeting in person.

7. Keep score and create a compelling incentive for the winner.  Whether you’re competing with just one person, or a whole group, decide at the beginning what the prize will be.  Maybe the winner is treated to a movie, a pedicure or even an Amazon Gift Card by the other players.

Finally, and I won’t list this in the steps since it’s fairly obvious, have fun!  Use the camaraderie and support of your game to outweigh the challenge of learning a new habit.  Go team!!

How to Make Friends with Stress, 4 Simple Tips

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

In today’s busy reality, pressure and stress have become the new normal.   It seems the more energy or effort required of us, the more stressful our lives become.  All of which sounds rather depressing, or at very least more bad than good.

But upon closer examination, how accurate is that assumption?  Research actually shows the opposite is true.  It turns out that challenging or difficult situations actually have a positive relationship to stress.

All of which makes perfect sense when you reframe things slightly.  One popular example is the fact that regular exercise releases endorphins that cause us to feel good.

But even seemingly high pressure situations like preparing for a big presentation, exam or event can be healthy.  Stress and energy are undeniably intertwined, but by channeling the healthy aspects of stress you can boost energy in a positive way.

Here are 4 easy ways to put that stress to work for you.

1.  Breathe You’re probably familiar with the connection between the breath and stress reduction. As it turns out, deep breathing is not only relaxing, it’s been scientifically proven to affect the brain, the heart, digestion and the immune system.

New to deep breathing practices?  Try this simple technique known as Equal Breathing.   Start by inhaling for a count of four, then exhale for a count of four.  Breathe through your nose, which adds a natural resistance to the breath.

Stay with it for at least 6 cycles, breathing in and out with the same goal in mind: calm the nervous system, increase focus and reduce stress.

2.  Pause  Taking intentional time out of a hectic project or during a transition time and stopping for 2 minutes to reconnect with breath helps us to stay present so we can focus on the task at hand.  Boost your focus muscle, which will help to keep you grounded and present.

The habit of taking a step back whenever you have the downtime will help you to be able to stay present and reduce your reliance on mindless behaviors that might not be the healthier ones.

3.  Move  Of course all exercise is a bonus, but even a 10 minute walk can clear your head and boost your endorphins (AKA happiness hormones).  If you have a chance to walk in a scenic outdoor environment, all the better for improving your mood.

4.  Organize and prioritize  Often in our busy lives we keeping piling on tasks to an overflowing list, without stopping to consider how important it really is to complete each and every one of them immediately.

Take the time to re-evaluate and prioritize the truly pressing items.  Reschedule those that aren’t time critical so they’re not looming over you adding additional pressure unnecessarily.

When life demands more than we really want to give it, it’s important to realize these challenges don’t need to drain or weaken us.  We can actually use this impetus to create a result that is not only better for dealing with stressors, but also healthier for us long-term.

 

How My Crime Became a Wake-up Call

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

I count myself among the overcommitted, a condition I’ve learned to accept as a fact of life with kids, work and the rest of life’s demands. So I often flit along in a state of distracted urgency, or that is I did, yesterday when until I ended up in the police station with my 2 kids, no ID, no money, nothing but the clothes on my back (and my cell phone, whew!).

It started with a trip to San Francisco to stay with my husband on the first night of his 3-day conference. The plan was to enjoy the rest of Father’s Day and spend some time in the City. It all sounded great until the day before we were leaving, when I learned the hotel wasn’t actually in SF, but at the airport in Burlingame, 10 miles south of the City. This was much less compelling.

To top it off, I had just been informed that a show I had agreed to appear on the day after our SF return required much more preparation than I had understood, and I was feeling anxious about the prospect.

I began to compare the cost against the benefit of this little foray to Burlingame, and was rethinking my decision. But then the kids chimed in – hotel, pool, captive attention from parents; they wanted to go. And given it was a Sunday and Father’s Day, I suppose I should have wanted to go too. So go we did.

We left our lovely little house in the redwoods and drove an hour to stay in a hotel in full view of the jet tarmac. With few options in walking distance, we took a stroll along the seaside walkway, which framed a body of water so murky pea-green-gray that my 10 year old Talia to compared it to an elephant’s butt. Her 12 year old sister corrected her; “No…an elephant’s butt is nicer”.

That evening the 4 of us squeezed into 2 double beds, the girls bickering while hubby stormed, and when I woke up at 5 the next morning, followed shortly by the rest of the family, I was more than ready to go home. Eager to start on my project, I hustled the kids out of the room and we were on the road by 6 am, the 5 lane freeway already in full swing. I was sleep deprived, cranky and just plain mad, at myself mostly, but that didn’t help the kids much that day.

Needing to let off some steam by the time we drove into my hometown an hour later, I pulled over and parked along the sidewalk near a popular trail-head to squeeze in a morning walk. We piled out and, still on anxiety speed; I announced to my less than delighted children that we were hiking the trail. Complaints and convincing aside off we went, and the walk did me wonders. I had been listening to Mike Hyatt’s Platform audio book, and remembered a key recommendation is to write down your goals, and say no to any obligation not on your list. I hadn’t been doing that and in reflecting on my harried state, suspected I probably should.

So when we got back to town, my girls stopped to use the restroom while I went to unlock the car. It took me a moment of confusion followed by headshaking disbelief before I realized the car was gone. I was in shock, until I began walking over to the place I was sure it had been. Before I even got there a heard a group of men laughing as they walked in front of me “I guess they finally solved the blocked driveway crisis!” one joked. My stomach sank, and sure enough there it was, the empty space where my car had been, right at the end of a clearly marked driveway. By then the girls were standing across the street and I called over to them in distress “our car has been towed”. I had no idea what to do.

A man standing in a nearby doorway sweeping the step looked up and laughed, “we thought whoever did that must have been drunk!” Duly horrified, I snapped “not drunk, exhausted, I just drove back from the City”, then immediately grew more horrified by my jerky response. Seeing my distress he mumbled something unintelligible, clearly sorry he chimed in at all. I asked him if he knew how to find my car. He motioned to the police station across the street and so in a haze of what seemed to be approaching derangement I hurried over, kids in tow.

Two gruesome hours at the police station and $500 later, I had my car back. I drove home in a complete state of emotional turmoil. I was horribly embarrassed by the whole event, now I had to look long and hard at how I could have allowed myself to become so distracted that I would have made such a careless mistake in the first place. And I can tell you it hurt.

It took me a long time to calm down, I meditated and did my best to decompress, then finally needing to find a healthier outlet than blaming myself, I turned back to 2 recent lessons. The first is that every painful event is an opportunity for growth; some would even call it a gift, especially when no one is seriously injured. Yes, this was humiliating and frightening, especially for the kids during the hours we were unable to reach my husband to confirm the car was ours and we were stranded at the police station indefinitely.

At the end of the day though, the important lesson was the importance of slowing down and staying present to make good decisions, no matter what life throws my way. In my haste to hurry home to get to work on my project, I had entirely skipped my 15 minute meditation that morning. My daily intention to stay grounded never happened.

The second lesson is to follow Mike Hyatt’s advice, write down your goals. I had been saying yes to requests that ate up hours and didn’t contribute to anything on my list of priorities, which I finally took the time to sit down and write after I returned from my bout at the police station. I completed the film project by the writing of this paragraph. It was fun and it motivated me to create a new recipe, so it was by no means a waste of my time. In general though, it didn’t move me closer to completing one of my goals, and as hard as decisions like these are to make, this was a huge wake-up call as to how important they are.

But enough about me; let’s talk about how this can apply to you, to helping you to stop the chaos and streamline your own life. Yes life is busier than ever, but we don’t need to get so swept up in the overwhelm that we lose sight of our goals. So I challenge you to take some time to grab a piece of paper, or open up a Word doc., or even find a napkin and a pen and write down your goals. Big or small, short or long-term, what are your most important dreams, plans and ambitions?

Here are a few of mine:

  • Improve my public speaking skills
  • Get my kids acclimated into their new environment before school starts (we just moved)
  • Make new friends in the community
  • Book more speaking engagements
  • Grow my new business
  • Help overly busy people to become less stressed and live a healthier, happier life

As you can see none of these are quick fixes, but I now know I need to confirm that anything I say yes to plugs into one of my overall goals. Place this list where you can see it, add and cross off as often as you need to. This is your roadmap.

And meditate! If you haven’t started a meditation practice yet, what are you waiting for? I only really began making this a daily practice about 6 months ago. I had been dabbling, not really giving it, or myself, a chance to experience all of the benefits I’d heard about. Meditation is scientifically proven to grow the prefrontal cortex, the “willpower” section of the brain. The PFC controls intense emotions and impulses, it is sometimes referred to as the seat of good judgment. I don’t need to refer you to New Age sources for more information here, since Scientific American has all the facts covered if you need more evidence of the power of this simple practice.

Finally I signed up for an online meditation course, which I paid for, but it was worth every cent. I sat through 10 minutes of guided meditation 2 times a day for 3 months, and by the time it ended I was comfortable enough to continue on my own. It’s made a world of difference in my life on every level, and now I only wish I had started sooner. There are plenty of free resources out there too, including one on my YouTube Channel which I highly recommend.

We’re all works in progress, but by progressing mindfully, we can move towards the life we dream of rather than remaining stuck in a status quo that’s too fast-paced to be healthy or enjoyable. My wake-up call was my reminder, and I’ve passed in on to you in the hopes that you won’t need your own to get started today!

Shaping Healthy Habits that Last; Form a Group (video)

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Have you ever noticed that some people seem to have it so easy? They’re naturally fit, endlessly energetic and unusually happy? Sure it looks effortless now, but we don’t always know the back story. In all likelihood, that person had to take the time and make the commitment to shaping their habits into the healthy, happy version you see today.

If you’re like most people, when life starts to get busy, at least some of your everyday self-care habits begin falling to the wayside. Unfortunately, when we feel overwhelmed, things like sleep, exercise, and healthy eating, are usually the first things we downgrade in terms of priorities.

We try to save time by ditching the very habits we need to enforce when the stress hits the fan. This strategy not only backfires, but it eventually leads to symptoms of depression, like anxiety, sleeplessness and irritability.

Before it comes to this, it’s a good idea to revisit our day to day habits to make sure we’re consistently prioritizing those that best match our personal ideals. And the good news is, there are tips and tricks to make it work for you, beginning with revisiting your everyday habits.

The decision to upgrade your everyday habits is one of best choices you’ll make. This notion also may seem too hard to commit to right now; you may not feel quite ready to get started. Well I’m going to suggest that you push those resisting thoughts aside and start today. I’m challenging you to write down one goal and begin with this sure-fire strategy to keep you going.

Today’s key idea for shaping a health habit that sticks is to form or join a group. Studies show that setting a goal with a partner increases your likelihood of success by about 40%.

This can be a virtual group that connects via your favorite communication medium, a Facebook group, a group that meets for real, or any other version you come up with. The idea is to leverage 3 key of the components of goal setting: planning, accountability and feedback.

Group camaraderie also has real fitness benefits. “Research shows people are more successful at reaching their fitness goals with group support,” says Jean Fain, LICSW, MSW, a Harvard Medical School-affiliated psychotherapist and author of The Self-Compassion Diet: A Step-by-Step Program to Lose Weight with Loving-Kindness. They also have fewer major health problems overall, she notes. Psychologically, social exercise also leads to a greater sense of well-being, better self-esteem, improved body image and less depression.

First step, choose your goal.

Before you go the group route, you get to decide which habit to change, and habit is intentionally singular, because it’s a smart idea to start with one. The answer is different for everyone, but the key habits that have the biggest impact on quality of life are exercise, rest and good nutrition, so it’s highly recommended you choose one of these.
If you’re not currently exercising, this is a perfect new habit to adopt, and a great one to create or join a group around, but even adding habits like committing to 30 days of 8 hours of sleep and see who wants to join you in a Facebook challenge is a great way to participate. Not ready to take on that much initiative? No worries, WebMD offers an online Sleep Disorders Community Support Group you can join.

Is your diet in need of a makeover? Enlist your partner or find a colleague to join you in switching from fast food to cooking at home more -which is also a great way to share new recipes and menu ideas.

Second Step; find your tribe.

Remember, a group of 2 is still a group. The goal is to find people who will challenge, engage and evoke a sense of accomplishment in you, so you may want to prioritize quality over quantity.

Third Step; commit to a schedule.

Whether you meet virtually or in person, be sure to find a time that works for everyone to connect at least once per week. More frequently is better, but too much frequency can be intimidating for time-sensitive people, so adapt your plan based on your audience. The important part here is the accountability factor, which is key to keeping you on track with your goals.

However you decide to work it, forming or joining a group is a great strategy to help you form new habits. So commit to changing one habit that you know you’d be better off with (or without), grab your calendar, and schedule in 10-30 minutes to being implementing your group outreach strategy, starting today!!

14 Super Slim-Down Snacks (Slideshow)

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Although it sounds counterintuitive, you can control your appetite by incorporating the right snacks into your daily diet. Experts suggest that two snacks a day, kept to 150-200 calories each, will go a long way toward helping you to avoid overeating. Look for snacks that combine fiber, healthy fats and protein, without added sugar. Follow these simple suggestions for smarter snacking:

  1. Go for whole grain. Whole-grain snacks — such as whole-grain low-salt pretzels or tortilla chips— can give you some energy with staying power.
  2. Overcome your Fear of Fat. Combine a small amount of healthy fat, like peanut butter or avocado, with a larger amount of something light, like apple slices or celery sticks.
  3. Combo snack. Include two or more macronutrients (protein, fat, or carbohydrate) at each snacking session. For example, have a few nuts (protein and fat) and some grapes (carbohydrates). Try some whole-grain crackers (carbohydrates) with some low-fat cheese (protein and fat). These balanced snacks tend to keep you feeling satisfied.
  4. Snack mindfully. Don’t eat your snack while doing something else like surfing the Web, watching TV, or working at your desk. Instead, stop what you’re doing for a few minutes and be present while you snack.
  5. Take it with you. Think ahead and carry a small bag of healthy snacks in your pocket or purse so you won’t be tempted to turn in desperation to the cookies at the coffee counter or the candy bars in the office vending machine.

Looking for snack inspiration? Here are some delicious options to choose from:

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Highly Effective Habits of Super-Fit People

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

I may be dating myself here, but I have to ask; do you remember that self-help sensation of the 90s titled “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”?  With 15 million copies sold, it was the talk of the water cooler for months on end.  Now sixteen years later (the book was actually released in ’89), as I circle back to explore the connection between motivation, willpower and success, the word “habit” always seems to be inextricably intertwined.

Successful people incorporate certain habits into their everyday routines, so they don’t need to rely on willpower alone to reach their goals.

Habits, as author Tynan explains in his bestselling Superhuman by Habit, are the closest thing to a superpower we’re ever going to have. Yet as I’ve learned from experience, simply knowing which habits are healthy isn’t enough to effect change.  So I found myself referencing Steven Covey’s timeless best-seller for further inspiration in teaching health habits that stick.

It turns out that author Steven Covey died in 2012, so a resurgence of interest in the 7 Habits more recently emerged.  Forbes ran an interesting article written by author Eric Jackson focusing on not all of the habits, but the one piece of advice in the book Jackson found most compelling.

According to Jackson, “If you remember one thing and one thing only about the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People book, here it is:

At the start of every week, write a two-by-two matrix on a blank sheet of paper where one side of the matrix says “urgent” and “not urgent” and the other side of the matrix says “important” and “not important.” Then, write all the things you want to do that week.”

When I reviewed the 7 Habits diagram which focuses on productivity goals for career development, I realized it could be an especially useful tool for developing positive health habits that can help us reach our fitness goals.

Here is my updated fitness-focused version of the 7 Habits productivity matrix:

habits

Think of each quadrant as follows:

Quadrant 1: Urgent-Important.  These are the most pressing issues of the week, like taxes or other non-negotiable deadlines.  These are the crises that erupt.   When we do fire-fighting, it’s all relating this quadrant.

Quadrant 2: Not Urgent – Important. These are the things that matter in the long-term but will yield no immediate measurable benefits.  They are things we know we need to get to but are most inclined to procrastinate doing.  It’s starting a mediation program, or committing to an exercise routine.  It’s taking the time to create a weekly menu or shopping list, or making time for people we want to connect with.

Quadrant 3: Urgent – Not Important.  These tasks are the biggest reason we’re not more successful in the long-term.  They monopolize our time but, when we look back at these things at the end of the week, we’ll have to admit this was not time well-spent.  This includes the time we spend habitually checking email, or responding to each and every text message as soon as it comes in.   These are the things we said yes to when we knew they didn’t fall into our priorities category.    These are other activities which we tell ourselves in the moment that we must do but — if we stopped ourselves to really think about — we’d realize they aren’t that important.

Quadrant 4: Not Urgent – Not Important.  These are the things we do when we feel we need a break.  It’s watching a mindless TV show at the end of the day.  It’s checking and rechecking Facebook and Twitter during the day, because we think we might miss something.  It might be mindlessly eating pretzels, even when we’re not hungry.  We prioritize these things in the moment and obviously derive some pleasure from them, but they don’t really serve to rejuvenate us.  Yet, we’d be amazed how much time we waste in a given week on these tasks.

The big idea in 7 Habits, is to make a weekly commitment to prioritize your time addressing your quadrant 2 goals, as in sitting down, deciding what they are, and putting them on your calendar.  If time is your issue, take a look at your 3 and 4 quadrants, and commit to yourself to create some boundaries around these distractions so you can focus on your long-term goals.

Regular exercise, adequate rest and healthy meal preparation are the key fundamental health habits that will pay off in dividends once they become part of your routine.  But if you’re starting at square one, just choose one of these goals and really commit to it, using your weekly matrix to schedule it into your daily routine. By adopting any of these highly effective habits for super-fit people, you’ll be counting yourself among them before you know it!

11 Helpful Tips for Healthy Eating on the Go

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

For those of us who travel for business or even for fun, healthy eating on the road can be a challenge.  No matter where you go, fast food stops and gas station mini marts pervade along the path, with too few healthy options in between.  Hotels and airports can be especially challenging when you’re tired and hungry with no backup plan.  We’ve all be stuck with nothing between us and the $6 bag of gummy worms but a growling tummy, and by then it’s usually too late.

So don’t get caught unprepared, try these 11 helpful tips for healthy eating on the go to carry you through!

  1. Whether you’re flying or driving plenty of water in your reusable bottle. Even if you need to dump it before you get on the plane, the flight attendants can refill it for you during the flight.
  2. At restaurants, avoid sugar-sweetened beverages. Did you know that on average 40% of calories consumed come from a cup or a bottle? Even fruit juice has a high concentration of sugar and calories while it lacks some of the nutrients and other benefits of whole fruit. When one cup of apple juice contains 27 grams (almost 7 teaspoons) of sugar, it’s a good idea to limit quantities to no more than one serving per day and substitute fresh, whole fruit as often as possible. Opt for water, coffee or unsweetened tea to quench your thrist without all the sugar (and salt) most bottled beverages contain.
  3. Eat breakfast. At a hotel continental breakfast, choose, plain Yogurt or hard-boiled eggs are good sources of protein. Avoid sugary yogurts, muffins, sweet-rolls, and pre-sweetened cereal.
  4. At a coffee shop or fast food restaurant, look for light options like breakfast wraps or a breakfast burrito, which usually contains less fat and calories than a typical breakfast sandwich.
  5. Eating lunch and dinner on the road usually means going to a restaurant. Don’t spend too much time at fast food restaurants; instead opt for full-service restaurants that offer more healthy choices.
  6. Start your meal with a full glass of water, even if you’re not all that thirsty. Most of us can use the extra hydration, and the temporary feeling of fullness will help you to keep from overordering.
  7. Decide what you’ll eat before you arrive at the restaurant. If possible, check the menu online or if not, visualize your healthy choice before you let the allure of fancy-sounding descriptions entice you. Just ask your server to suggest 2 or 3 lighter entrees that get the most compliments.
  8. Use the Restaurant Rule of Two; you can order and reasonably healthy entrée you want, but you can only have 2 additional items with it. That could be and appetizer and a piece of bread, or a dessert and coffee, or 2 pieces of bread, you just can’t have it all. Studies show that people who apply this rule of thumb eat about 25% fewer calories. And yes, drinks like wine and beer count as an item.
  9. Recognize that many restaurants serve portions containing more calories than are recommended for one person. Consider sharing an entrée, or asking the server if there is a half plate option. If you end up with a super-sized portion in front of you, ask the server to wrap half to-go before you even get started.
  10. In a restaurant, sit where the slim people sit. Brian Wansink, a food psychologist and Cornell-based researcher reports that people order differently depending upon where they’re seated in a restaurant. In fact people sitting farthest from the door eat the fewest salads and are 74% more likely to order dessert. Set yourself up for success by sitting far from the kitchen or bar, in a well-lighted area, near the window, at elevated tables and far from the TV.
  11. Learn menu code. Menu descriptions are designed to make foods sounds as appealing as possible, but some words are a lot more caloric than others. Researchers matched more than 200 menu descriptions of items from chain restaurants with their calorie content. Here are some high calorie and low calorie words to watch.

High Calorie Words:  Buttery, Creamy, Crispy/crunchy, Smothered, Alfredo or white sauce, Fried/Deep fried/Pan fried, Scampi, Loaded

Low Calorie Words:  Seasoned, Roasted, Light, Fat-free, Reduced, Fresh, Marinated, Broiled

6 Simple Tips for Managing Junk Food Cravings

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Do you ever have days where you can’t seem to stop thinking about something you’re trying to learn to live without, or even just live with less of?  Maybe it’s the fudge brownie you’ve gotten into the habit of sneaking in after work, or the double mocha latte that’s become a daily habit instead of an occasional treat, and it’s placing a strain on both your waistline and your wallet.

A change in routine rarely comes without these urges to return to status quo, the habits we’ve acquired to feed a need, but now we’ve decided to try choose new habits which will serve us in a more positive way.  It can be challenging to get through this rough patch.  It takes more than willpower to successfully navigate, but don’t worry, there are ways to make it better without resorting to shock treatment.

Here are 6 simple tips to help you control cravings when they stand to come between you and your goals.

  1. Stay ahead of the hunger curve. Cravings are often triggered by plain old hunger, a biological signal that simply requires calories to stave.  When it’s not immediately addressed however, that signal reaches the thought center of the brain, which superimposes its own notion of what you need, which is not necessarily in your body’s best interest.  By the time you get to the stage where you’re pretty hungry, you’re not in a place where you’ll make your best decisions health-wise, it’s more about finding food, any food…now!  So stop that feeling before it starts with smart snacks* you have readily available for times like these.  You’ve planned ahead and are well stocked with good choices, don’t wait until you’re overly hungry and not using your best judgment, instead stay one step ahead of the curve.
  1. Identify options:  If you hate raw carrots, or find raw almonds completely uninspiring, no wonder you can’t stop thinking about the nacho Cheezits you’ve stashed in the back of the cabinet.   Deprivation never works, so you need to find the sweet spot between refined carbs or sugary treats, and a perfect healthy alternative.  You need a good enough happy medium, like apples and peanut butter, or whole grain crackers and avocado.  Satisfying in terms of protein and fiber content, and delicious tasting too.  See the list below more favorites.
  1. Change your scene.  Cravings pass, and you’ll get through the rough spots more easily is with some good old fashioned distraction.  New studies show that tapping:  your ear, your forehead or your toes can significantly reduce food cravings.  Alternatively, imaging a blank wall can also do the trick.  Worth a try!
  1. Listen to your body. Cravings can indicate a nutritional imbalance, especially if you’re on a restrictive diet.  A craving for ice cream may simply be your body’s way of telling you you’re deficient in healthy fats, in which case some avocado, almonds or Greek yogurt would be a smart and satisfying fix.
  1. Sugar cravings are typically more emotional than physical, and sometimes attempting to stave them only leads to wanting more. Certain dietary supplements may help stop your sugar cravings, or try some stevia-sweetened licorice tea, or a piece of fresh fruit to see if the cravings subside.
  1. Stay strong! Cravings often come with change, as the body and brain adjust, but hand in there!  After the new habit takes hold they generally subside, often for good.  This is the hardest time in the process of creating new habits, but so worth the effort to achieve your long term health goals and enjoy all of the benefits they bring.

Ten Smart Snacks to Have on Hand*

Looking for snack inspiration?  Experts suggest that two snacks a day, kept to about 200 calories each, will go a long way toward helping you to avoid overeating.  Look for snacks that combine fiber and protein, without added sugar.  Here are some good options to choose from:

  • Carrots dipped in 2 tablespoons of your favorite hummus
  • 2 pear halves, topped with 1 rounded tablespoon of cottage cheese, sprinkled with 1 tsp. of nuts
  • 2 crisp bread crackers spread with 1 tablespoon of almond butter. Top with 1 sliced small banana
  • 1 whole grain tortilla cut into chip sized wedges and baked at 350 for 5 minutes to crisp,  dipped in fresh salsa
  • Edamame from the grocer’s freezer section, thawed and sprinkled with salt.
  • 1 whole grain rice cake with a tablespoon of peanut butter, topped with thinly sliced apple
  • 4 cups sesame popcorn; air popped popcorn topped with ½ teaspoon toasted sesame oil and ½ teaspoon sesame seeds and lightly salted.
  • 2 large celery sticks filled with 2 tablespoons of hummus and 1 tablespoon of sliced olives
  • Banana, Kale, and Almond Milk Smoothie; 1 medium banana, 1 cup chopped kale, and 1 cup almond milk until pureed in the blender or food processor until smooth.
  • A handful of raw almonds and a chai latte

Shop Smart, Eat Healthy; Free Resources are Here to Help!

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

The words healthy and inexpensive often occupy opposite ends of the thought spectrum, but maybe it’s time to put that myth to rest.  You may have experienced “Whole Paycheck” sticker shock at some point, or seriously questioned why anyone would shell out twice as much for blueberries labeled “organic”, when they look just like the non-organic option one shelf over.  The good news is, healthy food doesn’t need to be fancy (or pricey) as a smart new shopping guide published by Environmental Working Group (EWG) clearly demonstrates.

If you’re not familiar with EWG, it’s the organization that creates the annual Dirty Dozen list, identifying the top 12 fresh fruits and veggies you’re better off buying organic if you want to avoid the heavy pesticide residue they retain.  This short list reminds us that not everything has to be organic to be healthy, while helping consumers to make smart choices about when paying more for the organic label most makes sense.

EWG offers lots of free, expert-research-based guides for consumers, including their cool new Food Scores app, a free online database which lets you plug in your favorite food products to and see how they score in terms of nutrition, unhealthy additives and processing concerns.  It’s a great way to check what you think you know, and identify new options in the process.

But back to Good Food on a Tight Budget, which is a big concern for many of us these days.  This handy new booklet arrived in my mailbox last week after I donated a nominal amount to help EWG to continue their important work.   I flipped through the pages, which outlined the benefits of planning ahead, shopping the bulk bins, cooking at home with foods in season, and yes, even adding more beans to your diet as a healthy, inexpensive source of protein.

I love that the healthy food shopping basics were laid out in an inviting, illustrated format that doesn’t overwhelm.  The booklet even includes a sample shopping list, easy to use meal planner and food tracker (or diary). Good Food on a Tight Budget is a great reminder that when we plan in advance and keep it simple, we can enjoy all of the benefits of a healthy, delicious diet without having to shell out a whole paycheck, or even shop at a fancy health store.

In the meantime, I invite and encourage you to check out EWG’s super-helpful web site, download some of the free guides offered, and perhaps even enjoy this engaging interview I did with EWG spokesperson Robyn O’Brien, as she shares more about why this work is so important, and what you can do to make healthy eating manageable, even when time and money are at a premium.

Interview with EWG Spokesperson Robyn O’Brien. A former food industry analyst, Robyn O’Brien is an author, strategist and mother of four, dedicated to exposing the impact that the global food system is having on our health. Click here to listen.

Shop Smart, Eat Healthy, beginning today!

4 Simple Tricks to Increase your Inner Strength

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

With the holidays safely behind us and a fresh new year unfolding ahead, you may be thinking about how you want to show up differently in 2015.  This is a beautiful time to step back, reflect, and decide who it is we really want to be going forward.

Maybe you’re still cultivating the seeds of change you planted for the New Year; integrating them into your days with such commitment they’re beginning to form healthy new habits.  Or maybe that first propagation didn’t yield the way you were hoping, so now you’re revisiting your intention to more carefully assess the best way to fulfill it.

Personally, I spend a lot of time in the car listening to psychology lectures, so either way, I have some insight.  In truth, I earned my bachelor’s degree on the subject and have always been fascinated by the study of behavior and motivation.  And lately, the topic of self-control, or inner strength, has been top of mind for me since it’s pretty central to most of life’s resolutions, New Year’s or otherwise.

Why?  Of all of the life goals we can focus on, what makes the practice of self-control so special?  For one thing, self-control can be thought of as inner strength, which is key to the ability to persist in the face of failure.  Inner strength helps us to stick to our beliefs, and to behave in cooperation with our highest selves.  And who doesn’t need more of that kind of mojo?

The beauty part is, there are easy ways to build this characteristic, which as a deplete-able energy source, benefits from our commitment to keep it fueled.  There is no pop-a-pill remedy for cultivating self-control, but there are some scientifically proven techniques that when practiced daily, help us to develop it.

Here are 4 simple tricks to increase your inner strength:

I’ll begin with the easiest one, which may be a given for you, but this might also serve as a good reminder of why it’s so important:  get enough sleep!  7-8 hours of regular sleep time is inextricably linked to higher levels of self-control.  And since self-control diminishes as we become physically or emotionally tired, you’ll probably find yourself more vulnerable to making decisions that don’t serve you as the evening progresses.

Quick tip:  Don’t hit send on that late night email until the next morning!

Snack wisely:   Strong self-control requires energy, and energy requires sufficient levels of glucose in the brain.  Since blood glucose, or sugar levels adjust in direct response to the food we eat, it makes sense to select your snacks accordingly.  Refined foods, whether or not they’re high in sugar to begin with, convert very quickly to sugar, causing the spike and resulting crash in blood sugar levels we inner strength gardeners will want to avoid. 

Set yourself up for success and keep your stash of whole, fiber-rich snacks handier than any packaged foods you can’t otherwise completely avoid.  Need suggestions?   Click here for a list of helpful tips to make selecting smart snacks a breeze!

Daily affirmation:  Taking the time out to reflect on your core values and beliefs and reaffirming why they’re important to you is key to staying on track with your long-term priorities.  I know when I stop and take five to reflect on the importance of staying calm in the face of morning pre-teen insanity making us late for school again, things go much better than if I hop the meditation cushion and head straight for the kitchen.

Just a few minutes of checking in after you wake up will work wonders, and if you really want to take it up a notch, write it down.

Self-monitoring:  Self-control energy is a function of both body and mind.  Plenty of sleep and the right foods help to keep the physical side in check, but diminished mental energy, known as ego depletion, can benefit from a bigger boost.  This explains why the best of intentions to exercise or eat healthy can be sidelines when a big presentation or an intense day at work takes a toll.  Suddenly our inner strength just flies out the window and we find we can’t seem to leave the couch.

This is where a mindfulness practices can help.  Activities requiring intense concentration or focus drain our energy reserves, leaving us feeling on edge and weakening our resolve, but a simple self-monitoring practice can steer you back on track.

When you feel yourself fading, try taking some time out to mentally check in, and monitor your present state of mind. Intentionally stepping back your emotional attachment and simply observing your breath, free of judgment, is a great way to replenish your energy.  Click here for more mindfulness and meditation techniques, or check out this simple meditation video.

4 Mindful New Year’s Resolution Strategies for 2015

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

The transition out of the old year and into the new offers space to take pause.  Lots of us use this time to take stock of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to be. This is a chance to let go of the past as a clean new slate opens up just waiting to be filled.  So can you guess what the number one way most of us want to show up differently in the coming New Year?  The number one resolution this year is the same one most of us made in years prior; weight loss.

Unfortunately the one thing that New Year’s resolutions and diets have in common is that fact that most of them barely make it past the 6 month mark, which doesn’t bode well for next year, or the following; you get the picture.  Clearly something’s amiss.

The upside to all of this is that so many of us are motivated to make positive changes in our health, in addition to weight loss, improved eating habits and engaging in more exercise also made the list.  We want to improve our health and our wellbeing, but we need more than willpower to make what scientists refer to as these “adaptive challenges” stick.

So if willpower won’t cut it, what will?    One answer lies within an increasingly growing trend based on practices thousands of years old; the practice of mindfulness.

In scientific terms, mindfulness is defined as a series of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being  (resulting in such benefits) as calmness, clarity and concentration (Walsh & Shapiro, 2006).

In approachable terms, mindfulness practices span from meditation to gratitude, or any activity that allows you to tune out and tune in.  In other words, taking a break from the noise and confusion as you focus on your breath, or the things in life you’re grateful for.  Mindfulness gives us the ability to just be in the moment, free of judgment or drama, allowing us to step back and objectively observe.  Ultimately the practice of redirecting our attention to a more positive state, allows us to access calm amidst chaos, even when we’re not engaged in practice.

The reality is, most of the time (up to 90%) we’re operating on auto-pilot, simply falling back into old habits that no longer serve us. Developing a mindfulness practice teaches us to step back and calmly assess a situation before we react, giving us space to rethink our automated responses.  And it works!  As a former emotional eater, I ran the exact same pattern when I came home from a stressful day at work – self-soothing with food.

But after years of developing these simple practices, I give myself the option of another choice.  I can head to my meditation cushion and breathe myself into a state of calm in a few short minutes.  Then I no longer feel the need to self-medicate with a sweet treat, a glass of wine, or whatever the go-to happens to be.  I have a great new alternative that doesn’t leave me with a hangover, and instead moves me toward a healthier future.  Meditation is scientifically proven to help practitioners to resolve addictions, lower stress and maintain a positive outlook, as this practice helps build a natural defense against the lure of addictive habits.

Here are 4 Mindful New Year’s Resolution Strategies designed for your busy life, so you can begin reaping benefits that grow with each day. 

Develop a Short Morning Meditation Ritual

Establish a readily accessible space at home where you can set up a cushion and sit comfortably, keeping your spine upright.  Begin your day with a simple breathing exercise, like deep breathing (see below) or basic breath awareness.

Sit comfortably in a chair, or cross-legged on a cushion. Rest your hands lightly on your knees with your palms facing up. Touch the tips of your index fingers to the pads of your thumbs as you create a circle of unity within. Straighten your arms and feel the energy radiating from your heart to your hands.

Gently close your eyes and take a normal breath. Now begin taking slow deep breaths, known as Ujjayi breath.  From the Chopra Center, here is how:

  • Take an inhalation that is slightly deeper than normal. With your mouth closed, exhale through your nose while constricting your throat muscles. If you are doing this correctly, you should sound like Darth Vader from Star Wars.
  • Another way to get the hang of this practice is to try exhaling the sound “haaaaah” with your mouth open. Now make a similar sound with your mouth closed, feeling the outflow of air through your nasal passages. Once you have mastered this on the outflow, use the same method for the inflow breath, gently constricting your throat as you inhale.

Practice this style of breathing as you make every effort to focus on your breath, ignoring the thoughts that will insistently try to distract you.  Every time you feel caught up in a thought, a feeling, or anything other than the present moment, just take your attention back the breath.  And you’ll do this many times, this is the practice.  Sit for 5-10 minutes each morning and discover the benefits throughout your whole day.

Engage in a Deep Breathing Practice (from the Harvard School of Public Health):

To practice this technique, begin by finding a comfortable, quiet place to sit or lie down. Start by observing your breath. First, take a normal breath. Now try taking a slow, deep breath. The air coming in through your nose should feel as though it moves downward into your lower belly. Let your abdomen expand fully.

Now breathe out through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural). Alternate normal and deep breaths several times. Pay attention to how you feel when you inhale and exhale normally and when you breathe deeply. Shallow breathing often feels tense and constricted, while deep breathing produces relaxation.

Continue this for several minutes. Put one hand on your abdomen, just below your belly button. Feel your hand rise about an inch each time you inhale and fall about an inch each time you exhale. Your chest will rise slightly, too, in concert with your abdomen. Remember to relax your belly so that each inhalation expands it fully.

Try to practice this breathing technique for 15 to 20 minutes every day. You might also try shorter bouts lasting a few minutes when anxiety begins to build, to see if this feels calming.

Start a Gratitude Journal

By taking some uninterrupted time each day to really reflect on what you’re grateful for, you actually help your brain to reframe the rest of your day in a more positive light.  It can be as simple as recording 5 things you feel grateful for in a journal, which you update on a daily basis, or a deeper reflection on one of your gifts, where you really ruminate on all of your reasons for appreciation.

If you really feel inspired to embrace this practice, try the challenge below:

14-Day Gratitude Challenge (from Personal Excellence)

  • Day 0: Start a Gratitude Journal
  • Day 1: Write 10 Things You are Grateful For in Your Life
  • Day 2: Give Thanks for Your Food
  • Day 3: Write a Gratitude Note to Someone
  • Day 4: Reflect on the Meaning of Gratitude
  • Day 5: Identify 3 Things to Appreciate about Your Adversary Day 6: Give Thanks for Your Life
  • Day 7: Give Thanks to Yourself
  • Day 8: Transform an Ungrateful Thought
  • Day 9: Share Something You are Grateful For with Someone Day 10: Give a Gratituity Tip
  • Day 11: List 3 Things You Tend to Take For Granted (and What You Plan to Do About Them)
  • Day 12:  Take Action on Your Plan from Day 11!
  • Day 13: Do a Gratitude Meditation
  • Day 14: Give Thanks for Your Mistakes

Try a Body Scan Meditation: (based on the work of John Kabat-Zinn)

Find a quiet space where you can close your eyes for 5-10 minutes to engage in this simple practice, designed to reduce reactivity and stress in everyday interactions.

Steady your breath by slowly and consciously breathing in and holding  at the peak of the inhale for a second or two.  Repeat on the out breath, holding briefly at the peak of the exhale before repeating.  Take a few minutes to slowly scan your entire body, starting at your toes.  Notice any sensations in your body without trying to change them.

If you prefer a guided practice, try this 8 minute seated body scan:

If you’re new to the concept of mindfulness, you may try adopting the practice that sounds easiest to incorporate into your day.  Personally, I keep my meditation cushion at the foot of my bed, so if I don’t stop and sit first thing in the morning, I’ll trip over it.

Learning to slow down and live more mindfully will affect every aspect of your being, so whatever your resolution this New Year, using meditation to improve the quality of your mental state will have a positive effect on your entire life.

Diet Trends, How to Separate Help from Hype

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Today I received a new book I ordered online, The Bulletproof Diet: Lose up to a Pound a Day, Reclaim Energy and Focus, Upgrade Your Life. Sounds amazing right? While I don’t need to lose a pound a day right now, I do try to keep up on new diet trends. Since this book has some great reviews, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on some helpful new tips and information to share with my audience.

So as soon as the book arrived I immediately tore it open and began skimming through. Pretty quickly I discovered this author’s views were extreme (a bad sign in my book) and differed extensively not only from my own, but more importantly, from the many experts whose researched-based work I closely align with.

This initial scan landed me on a page listing the only fruits the author considered healthy as berries and pineapple, both unavailable to most people throughout most of the year except from the freezer, which first caused me to take pause. Frozen fruit is actually much higher in sugar than fresh, and often ends up used in smoothies, which unless tempered with the right ingredients are essentially sugar bombs. But I moved on.  Then I hit the part where he suggests that all rice is bad except for white rice I and I stopped and raised an eyebrow, maybe both.

‘Just who is the author of this revolutionary new dieting advice?’ It belatedly occurred to me to wonder. Turns out he’s a Silicon Valley millionaire who lost a substantial amount of weight using these tactics, and who also spent some time in the Himalayas, which was listed in his bio apparently to convey further credibility. Now he’s designed his own line of supplements and special coffee that he claims will do all of the things he promotes in the title of the book, you just have to buy the products.

And herein lies the problem with diet trends. Many of them were started by people just like this author, who combine a tantalizing promise with the means to fund a large outreach and suddenly we’re all gluten-free, even though we may not be sure why. After all, anyone can all themselves an expert, including yours truly! This is why you need to know how to separate diet hype from help before you waste time or money on trendy gimmicks.

Diet fads make it seem as though good nutrition and healthy weight management are a mystery waiting to be solved, and they’ve uncovered the magic key; avoid gluten! While highly credentialed nutrition experts like Marion Nestle, Dr. Walter Willet and the 25 US News and World Reports Best Diet Rankings experts base all of their recommendations on years of sound scientific research instead of their personal experience or intuition, this information isn’t considered trendy or sexy.  So while their findings are always accessible, you have to look for them as opposed to the other way around.

Essentially, crazy restrictive, single nutrient-demonizing or other extreme dietary measures seldom work long-term. But that doesn’t mean you have to count every calorie and follow some denial-based regime to get your eating habits under control. In essence, changing eating behaviors takes a combination of physical, psychological and environmental measures into account in order to be successful long-term. None of this is a mystery, although no one diet works for everyone.

The point is there is no magic weight loss bullet, and when diets become so trendy that there are publications, specialty food products and entire aisles of the grocery store devoted to them, take note. These trends have become a multi-billion dollar business that vendors will keep promoting, because that’s what they’re in business to do.  And as long as they keep drowning out the (fact-based) naysayers, they’ll continue to get the attention and sale they’re after, regardless of how well the programs work.

In fact, I’ve seen highly credentialed experts dismiss the Paleo diet in blog posts that were then so engulfed flames by angry readers they quickly removed the article. Some of these trend-followers are downright rabid, but it’s important to remember that shouting the loudest doesn’t make someone right.

When you consider a new trend like Paleo, gluten-free or low fat, do your independent  using independent expert theory checked against findings by institutions like Harvard Institute of Public Health, Yale’s Rudd Center or Cornell Division of Nutritional Sciences, it’s important to consider your source.  While you’ll find products and promotions for diet trends everywhere, including your favorite health stores and workout studios,  they’re simply responding to customer demand, which keeps them in business.  Conversely none of the independent health and nutrition institutions advocate any of the aforementioned trends. In fact the US News Best Diet Rankings listed Paleo as one of the least effective regimes all-around for the 2nd year in a row (when it’s been trendy enough to make the list).

The bottom line is, in this day of self-pronounced experts, you need to weigh credentials and do your diligence to separate the diet trend help from the hype. It may take a little extra time, but considering you’ll save money and possibly health problems in the long term, it’s well worth it.

Think Gluten Free is Good for You?  Think Again!

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

With the gluten-free trend still in full swing, it’s hard to know where to stand on the wheat issue.  Wheat has been red-flagged, and most of us still aren’t sure why.  If you’re among the 1% of the population with celiac disease, of course avoiding wheat, rye and barley makes excellent sense, but for every one American diagnosed with celiac disease, 20 others are eating gluten-free foods just because they think they should.

A new study shows that most people who believe themselves sensitive to gluten, actually are not.  Gluten-free diets can be deficient in fiber and a host of other vitamins and minerals, and are not advisable without an expert recommendation.

Whole grains on the other hand, fall cleanly into the good health category.  And eating a variety of grains is the best way to get you to the 25 grams of fiber recommended for adults per day, a number rarely seen by most of us.  While you would need to up your produce intake dramatically to get there, you can simply opt for a dish made from bulgur or wheat berries, and meet 25-30% worth of your daily  fiber recommendation in one satisfying sitting.

Grains deliver more fiber than any other food, contain protein in amounts that vary from modest to substantial, and are loaded with micronutrients as well.

Of course refined wheat products are a different case entirely.  White flour, the main ingredient in most packaged foods, has had all of the vital nutrients removed during processing.  While this makes for a much longer shelf life, combined with preservatives we’re talking years here, the resulting product is so broken down it affects your system the same way as sugar does, in that it digests quickly and causes blood sugar to fluctuate disruptively.  Think carb crash, headache and hunger pangs just an hour after you filled up on that 500 calorie cinnamon raisin bagel with low fat cream cheese, shheesh.

A diet rich in fiber is also shown to be more satiating than a refined carb version (white flour, white rice and white sugar favoring), all else being equal.  Whole grains can even make you happier.  In fact, Researchers at the University of Melbourne found that women who ate a diet rich in whole grains and plant-based proteins were 30% less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety as opposed to those eating a Western diet.

So don’t assume all wheat products fall into the empty carbs, or dietary devil incarnate category.  Refined wheat products, or white flour based empty carbs, are definitely on rank low on the list, but whole grains, those without the fibrous outer layers removed, are a delicious addition to your dietary repertoire.

Since most women consume only about half the 25–35 grams of fiber most experts recommend, you may want to think about making the switch to whole grains, the more intact the better.   Look for bread that lists whole wheat, whole rye, or some other whole grain as the first ingredient. Or, even better, buy bread that’s made with only 100% whole grains, like 100% whole-wheat bread.

The less widely used grains offer an entire new experience in flavor and texture.  It’s easy to substitute healthy and delicious whole wheat berries, hulled barley, farro, spelt and quinoa for refined processed grains in breads, cereals or other packaged foods.  Whole grains cook much the same way as a pot of rice, it just takes a little longer depending on the variety.   The more you experiment with these new (to you) alternatives, the easier they become even easier to prepare as you discover countless ways to enjoy them.

Start simply, with recipes like Minted Quinoa Tabouli, Super Energy Breakfast Bars or Orange Fennel and Kamut Salad, and you’ll discover whole new favorites to replace those refined wheat products and fiber you up right!

Think Gluten Free is Good for You?  Think Again!  Sources:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/rosspomeroy/2014/05/06/are-you-really-gluten-intolerant-maybe-not/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/most-people-shouldnt-eat-gluten-free/

http://wholegrainscouncil.org/

10 Tips for Making Mindless Eating Work for You

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

If you’re anything like 90% of us, you think you’re doing a pretty good job with your eating choices.  Granola over cookies, juice or tea over soda, hold the mayo on that whole wheat sandwich.  But do you really know for sure?  As recent studies show, probably not.

Research shows that people make an average of 247 food related choices per day, yet are conscious of only about 5% of them.  And according to a recent Consumer Reports study, 9 out of 10 of us think our choices are good.  But by adapting your everyday environment to help you adopt new behaviors, you can turn mindless habits into healthy ones!

Brian Wansink, Ph.D and author of bestselling Mindless Eating has generated a new science from this very phenomenon.  Shifting mindless eating habits from bad to good is really doable.  And none of us, regardless of how well we know the pitfalls, is truly immune to mindless eating.  Our ever-present food environment makes sure of it.

The good news is, we can take steps to avoid having to remain constantly vigilant to the lure of temptation in the first place.  It’s called creating an environment for success, and you’d be surprised at the difference a few simple changes to your routine can make, without you even noticing never mind feeling deprived or dissatisfied.

Of course there are those times you have no choice but to eat on the go, even if you know you should sit down and enjoy every bite.  When you’re too rushed in the morning (or afternoon), to sit down for the short time it takes to spoon down some oatmeal, you’d rather not miss the boat altogether.  And then there are other times, when you might want to veg in front of a movie and snack on some popcorn, even though this falls squarely into the mindless eating category.

Then there are all the rest of the times when you don’t even know you’re doing it, hence the unmistakably descriptive term.  For most people mindless eating is a habit that could benefit from some fresh visitation, but even the best of intentions probably won’t produce a complete turnaround starting now.  It will be a transition process, a journey worth making for a personal transformation capable of affecting everything from weight loss to energy level.  These simple tips can help you along the way, and after you’re up to speed on conscious food choices, they’re good guidelines to live by.

10 Tips for Making Mindless Eating Work for you

  1. Adjust your go-to snack plan.  When you dip into the cabinet or hover in front of the fridge, you’ll often grab the first easy-to-much option, so this is not the best place to leave the cheese puffs. Keep pre-cut veggies readily available for your next mindless munch out, and you’ll benefit from the extra fiber and nutrients these healthy snacks provide.
  2. Read labels, always.  Studies show that women who read nutrition labels are an average of 8 pounds lighter than non-label readers.  And “label” doesn’t refer to the promo on the front of the package that says “low fat”, you need to turn to the fine print on the side panel.  Even if you have to squint, and don’t know what all of the numbers mean, be sure to always check the number of serving sizes, it’s often surprising!  Then move on to read the ingredients list, and if it contains items that sound like chemicals or other foreign objects, know you’re better off without it.
  3. Prioritize fiber foods  Studies show a strong association between an increased consumption of refined carbohydrates in the form of corn syrup, a decreased consumption of dietary fiber, and an increased prevalence of type 2 diabetes in the United States.  Despite what you commonly hear, protein is not the dietary shortfall, fiber is.  Choose whole grains instead of refined and select packaged snacks with at least 4 grams of fiber per serving.
  4. Keep serving dishes off of the table.  Most of us eat more food than we think.  You can avoid doing this by putting a single serving of food on a plate, forcing yourself to leave the table to refill instead of continuing to eat after you’re satisfied (a common problem when good food is within reach).
  5. Never nosh straight from the package.  I’m sure you’ve heard this one before, but it may be time to revisit it.  Measure out a portion according to the label on the side of the package, put it on a plate, sit down and enjoy every bite!
  6. Use the power of illusion to feel satisfied, not overstuffed.  Studies show that people eat 25-30% more food off of large plates than they do off of small ones, but feel equally full.  Therefore, use smaller plates!  We’ve been doing this at my house for years, works like a charm!
  7. Skip the diet soda. New studies find artificial sweeteners actually linked to obesity.  While it makes sense to keep sugar at a minimum, Nutrasweet is not your best option.  Stevia, on the other hand, is a naturally derived herbal sweetener that has no dubious ties to medical conditions.  Give it a try!
  8. Replace, or reduce don’t deprive.  Take the time to try out healthier alternatives to what you’re currently eating until you find ones you like as much as your former go-to favorites.  In the case of the plate, just redistribute your proportions to 50% veggies, 25% starch and 25% protein (plant-based where possible).  You’ll still enjoy the same volume of food, and the additional fiber will keep you satisfied.
  9. Start with small changes, 3 goals for better food choices is the number experts recommend initially adopting, until you find yourself comfortably acclimated and ready to take on more.  This is a plan for life, so slow going is recommened.
  10. Interested in weight loss?  Keep a daily food journal and lose 2x the weight.  Just the act of writing it down produces results.  Successful food journals ask you to record everything you eat, at the time you eat it, including portion sizes and calorie counts.  The best ones ask to you record hunger levels, related emotions, cravings and food triggers.  Here is a free one from food psychology guru, Dr. Brian Wansink, or there are dozens of programs and apps to choose from.  However you do it, record your data!

Congratulations for beginning your journey to a healthy new you.  Make your mindless eating habits work as a cornerstone of your transition from our refined carb culture to real, nourishing food choices, beginning today!

Get Your Bake On!

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Another summer officially comes to a close, can you believe it?   East Coast roots and all, the weather in my hometown Santa Cruz keeps me a bit askew – Spring, Summer and Fall all kind of blend together into one long fog and sun-filled haze.

For most of the country though, the onset of Autumn means chilly air, crispy apples and the smoky scent of hearth fires burning.   Fall is the time for baking.   If you either rolled your eyes after reading this, or immediately envisioned the Pillsbury logo, here’s a quick reframe:  baking does not need to time-consuming or complicated.  Here is a short list of negative adjectives often associated with baking from scratch:

  • Time consuming
  • Messy
  • Fattening
  • Sugar-laden
  • Complicated

And it’s true, most baking recipes can be categorized as some or all of those things.  But this is the stuff that gets me going in the morning – it doesn’t have to be.  So I’m asking you to revisit the idea of baking with some new descriptors:

  • Short prep time
  • Requires few dishes
  • Requires few ingredients
  • Sugar free
  • Nutrient dense

And then there’s the one attribute shared by both types of baking:  delicious, which is undoubtedly the best reason of all to get your bake on!

So check out 2 yummy new recipes:  Breakfast Bread Pudding and Savory Harvest Veggie Bake (gluten free), and discover for yourself how easy, healthy and delicious baking from scratch can be!

Mama Bear’s Top Ten Tips for Happy Healthy Eaters

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Most of us moms are familiar with the scary stats on rising rates of obesity in the US, it’s true.  Yet in between the constant stream of homework, play dates and little league, it’s not something we generally worry about day-to-day.

But here’s the troubling thing; certain influential entities are lurking and we parents need to stay on our toes. Now that might appear accusatory and even sinister coming from a cheery gal like myself, but I’m talking about corporations that are actively targeting their junk food ads to kids.

Sound crazy?  Think again; food industry CEOs aren’t forking out their billions (yes that’s billions with a b) in annual advertising strategies aimed at our children for nothing.  And they’re lobbying Congress like crazy to make sure nobody stands in their way. (more…)

10 Minute Farmer’s Market Chick Pea Salad

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

This mouthwatering salad assembles harmoniously with the seasonal produce so abundant at the height of summer. Just a quick trip to the market turned my plain garbanzo beans into a flavor extravaganza for under $5. It’s no accident that Mother Nature provides the best ingredients for the job just when we need them, a cooking lesson we too often forget. As good fortune would have it, fresher means more nutritious too.

But what about all the hard work it takes to make food from scratch when it’s so easy just to pick up a package? The fact is, the only way to really know what you’re eating is to make it yourself. Packaged food, even the “healthy” kind, usually contains preservatives, colorants and other additives used to keep it looking and tasting fresh.

The quality of your diet directly correlates to your health, so it’s time to rethink the convenience factor, especially when home cooking doesn’t have to be difficult and time consuming! My delicious Farmer’s Market Chick Pea Salad came together in less than ten minutes, including cleanup. I had the beans already prepared, another easy DIY method that takes little hands on time for the most delicious results.

Here are the ingredients I used:

  • 3 cups pre-cooked garbanzo beans
  • 1 large handful or 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup shelled walnuts
  • 3-4 small tomatoes, diced (dry farmed are especially good here)
  • 3 small zucchinis, diced

Check out the process below:

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First, I washed, then diced my zucchini and put it right into a large saucepan with ¼ cup water.Then I covered it, put it on the stove and turned the stove to medium high.While steaming the zucchini for 2-3 minutes, I washed and chopped the tomatoes. 

I turned off the zucchini then, and left the pan covered on the stove.

 

Next I rinsed the basil and added that and the olive oil, walnuts and salt to a mini food processor I love to use, but you can use a blender or Vitamix too. I let it blend everything but didn’t pulverise it like I usually would a pesto.

 

I opted for a chunkier texture since I knew the final result would be lovelier color-wise, but you could even use pre-made pesto here to save a step.

 

I added the basil blend to the steamed zucchini. If there is water left in the pan, you can stir that in too.

 

Finally I added the garbanzo beans and tomatoes and gently stirred them in.

 

This is what the final salad looks like. It tastes amazing too! Serve room temperature or chilled. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.

3 Simple Tips for Reducing Sugar without Feeling Deprived

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Did you know that on average 40% of calories consumed come from a cup or a bottle?  From healthy-sounding fruit drinks to refreshing iced teas and fun flavored coffees, excess sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are usually lurking behind the scenes.   The problem is, these devilish drinks, however delicious, have no nutritional value and don’t fill you up, so those excess calories don’t give you a whole lot of value for your sip.

Even the vitamin-enriched versions provide little to no more benefit than regular water, often adding calories and even sodium where it’s not really necessary, especially when you have other options.  In fact, the sugar and nutrition profile of many popular beverages is shockingly similar to that of your favorite dessert, especially if it’s ice cream.

Sugar-sweetened beverages are also the largest source of added sugars in the diets of kids in the US.  With new studies showing among kids, even toddlers and preschoolers, children who drink at least one sugar-sweetened beverage per day , as most do, have a 55% increase in odds of being overweight or obese.

Fruit juice also has a high concentration of sugar and calories while it lacks some of the nutrients and other benefits of whole fruit.  When one cup of apple juice contains 27 grams (almost 7 teaspoons) of sugar, it’s a good idea to limit quantities to no more than one serving per day and substitute fresh, whole fruit as often as possible.

On average, we’re over-consuming more than three times the daily recommended amount, which  for a normal weight adult is about 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, per day.  Of course making the switch from your favorite beverage to something a little less sticky sounds hard to start.  But habits are best changed through favorable alternatives than cold-turkey, so trust this former junkie when I say it really is doable.

And kids are malleable too.  I gradually weaned mine off of fruit juice many years ago and we’ve never looked back.  High sugar consumption is associated with weight gain, heart disease and behavior issues, especially in kids, so managing intake makes sense.

Here are 3 Simple Tips for Reducing Sugar without Feeling Deprived:

  • You can start by simply diluting juices with water, a trick that also works well with kids, especially when done on the sly.  Gradually you’re sensitivity to the sweet stuff will increase to the point where you want and need less of it.  Eventually you may decide fruit is best enjoyed as a whole, when it contains half of the sugar and calories as the liquid stuff.
  • Naturally sweet stevia is one of the few sugar substitutes that doesn’t affect blood sugar levels the way most other sweeteners do, including honey and agave.  Although it does have a bit of an aftertaste, you might try using to sweeten lemon water, since it’s best enjoyed with citrus.  A little goes a long way.
  • Or trade your regular pre-sweetened or diet beverages for sugar-free tea, preferably the kind you brew yourself.  You’ll gain health benefits without the risk associated with high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.  Try green tea for extra antioxidants, ginger tea to sooth the stomach or mint to add a skip to your step.  Or check out Any way you steep it, tea tops those premade packaged beverages every time.

 

Unbottled!  4 Delicious DIY Sugarfree Tea Recipes

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

On these hot summer days, you deserve some sweet refreshment without the sugary side-effects, so why not give these healthy, invigorating and delicious drinks a try?  And if you’re short on time, you’ll love my overnight tea trick. Be sure to have a stainless steel tea strainer or infuser and some large mason jars on hand to make this so simple that bottled beverages will no longer have the edge on ease of use in your house.

4 Delicious DIY Sugarfree Tea Recipes your body will love:

Hibiscus Sun Tea

The beautiful hibiscus plant makes a wonderfully tart and delicious tea, especially when sweetened with stevia.  The health benefits of this vibrant plant have been celebrated for centuries in cultures all around the world.

With studies linking the acids contained in hibiscus to lower blood pressure, this healing plant also contains phytochemicals like quercetin, shown to reduce inflammation and support kidney health, and antioxidants known to reduce the effects of aging*.

This simple recipe is perfect for steeping, no heat required.  It’s a beautiful thing to wake up to, with plenty more for all day enjoyment.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of water
  • 1/3 cup hibiscus tea leaves
  • Juice of 1 lemon or lime
  • 1-3 tablespoons of stevia (to taste)

For stovetop or microwave:  heat water until it reaches the point of simmering.  Remove from the heat and using your tea strainer, steep the tea for about 20 minutes while it cools.  Remove tea bags and continue cooling until it reaches room temperature.

Overnight or sun tea method:  Pour the water into a mason jar or pitcher, depending on what type of strainer you’re using.  One that fits inside the mouth of the mason jar is perfect for this, see below.

For either option:  Add remaining ingredients and serve iced or hot. May be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

*While hibiscus tea is completely safe for most people, if you’re currently using prescription medications, be sure to check with your doctor before enjoying too much of this potent tea. 1-July Food Pix 023

Spicy Ginger Ade Ginger tea is as flavorful as it is invigorating; enjoy it either hot or cold.  Either freshly grated or loose dried ginger pieces are perfect for this simple brew, but pre-bagged plain ginger tea is nice too.

Ginger also offers some great health benefits;  helps with digestion and reduces inflammation, and this zippy lemon flavor combination is a delicious way to enjoy it.

Ingredients

  • 8 cups of water
  • 2-3 tablespoons grated fresh or dried ginger, or 5 or 6 bags of ginger tea
  • Juice of 2 large lemons (about ¼ cup)
  • 1-3 tablespoons of stevia (to taste), optional

For stovetop or microwave (best for fresh ginger):  heat water until it reaches the point of simmering.  Remove from the heat and using your tea strainer, steep the tea for about 10-15 minutes while it cools.  Remove tea bags and continue cooling until it reaches room temperature.

Overnight or sun tea method:  Pour the water into a mason jar or pitcher, depending on what type of strainer you’re using.  The type that fits over the mouth of the mason jar is a good choice.

For either method:  add remaining ingredients and serve iced or hot. May be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

Minty-Lime Cooler While not forgoing the bottle entirely, this fizzy summer drink is sugar-free and perfect for kids craving something bubbly.  The tea may be brewed overnight, then topped with the sparkling water right before serving over ice for a refreshing summer beverage.

Ingredients

  • 5 cups of water
  • ¼  cup fresh, chopped mint leaves or 2 tablespoons looseleaf mint tea (2 tea bags may be used here too)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1-2 tablespoons of stevia (to taste)
  • 1 42.3 oz. bottle of sparkling water, unflavored or lime
  • Ice cubes

For stovetop or microwave:  heat water until it reaches the point of simmering.  Remove from the heat and using your tea strainer, steep the tea or leaves for about 5 minutes while it cools.  Remove tea bags and continue cooling until it reaches room temperature.

Overnight or sun tea method (not recommended for fresh mint):  Pour the water into a mason jar or pitcher, depending on what type of strainer you’re using.  The type that rests on the mouth of the mason jar is perfect for this.

For either method, add remaining ingredients except for the sparkling water, and let the tea chill to room temperature (it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week).  Serve ½ and ½ quantities of tea and sparkling water over ice and enjoy! 1-RI Visit 2014 038

Iced Chai Latte Chai is one of my favorite beverages.  It’s so spicy and satisfying, I look forward to it every morning, especially because I steep it overnight so it’s ready to simply heat and serve, no brew-time required.

Prepare it from scratch using a 1 quart mason jar and this delicious recipe, or use your favorite loose leaf chai (preferred) or pre-bagged if you find some you like.  I generally find home made or loose leaf chai to be much more flavorful than the kind that comes in a box. Combine it with your favorite plant or dairy milk, for a rich, delicious way to satisfy your thirst any time.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups of water
  • 1/4 cup  homemade or loose leaf chai, or 4 pre-packed tea bags
  • 3 cups oat, almond, soy or dairy milk
  • 1 teaspoon stevia (optional)

Overnight or sun tea method for steeping (using a 1 quart mason jar:  Fill your stainer with chai, or place your tea bags into a your mason jar.  Pour room-temperature water into a 1 quart mason jar fitted with a stainless steel strainer  that rests on the mouth of the mason jar or use your favorite infuser.  Let sit overnight or for at least 8 hours, until fully steeped.

Pour equal amounts of chai and milk into a glass.  Mix in 1/4 teaspoon stevia, add a few cubes of ice and enjoy!

Strategies for Healthy Eating When Organic Isn’t an Option

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Pesticides in produceFast fact:  nearly one half of people polled in a 2012 survey believe it’s easier to do their taxes than it is to eat healthfully.  I’m guessing there are some stellar accountants comprising the other half, because on this processed food planet, healthy eating really can be intimidating.

Truthfully, after scrutinizing enough health news to warrant a certificate in Plant Based Nutrition to keep it all straight, I’m still slightly confused by tofu.  In our information-overloaded society, the last thing we need is more nutrition nuance to sort through.

The good news is when it comes to healthy eating, you don’t need to stress over every detail.  While a perfect diet is a noteworthy goal, the mere concept is so out of reach for many of us (hello parents!), it’s tempting to tune out entirely.  But please don’t, because whether its availability, time or budget you’re challenged by, you really can keep your food rules simple and still stay healthy.  Your version may look different than organic, home-made perfection, and that’s perfectly okay.

Recently I found myself facing this very dilemma. I count myself lucky to live in Northern California, a health food nirvana by most standards.  Local, organic food prices are only slightly higher than conventional, and we’re never far from a health food store.

When I visit my parents in small town Rhode Island each year however, the reality is very different.  Organic food prices there are double or triple the cost of conventional, and they’re not necessarily even local.  Much as I wanted to, I found I just couldn’t pay up for organic when it was overpriced and over-packaged.  So inspired by the challenge, I left the organic section and scoured the grocery store for my go-to travel foods; beans, grains and the makings for fresh cabbage slaw.

As I’ve learned from my years of rural summer vacations, when organic isn’t an option, healthy eating simply requires a little extra creativity.  So don’t let a lack of access to organic or even locally grown foods stop you from enjoying a delicious, healthy diet.

Here are a few simple strategies for healthy eating when organic isn’t an option:

Know which foods don’t need to be organic:  Two-thirds of produce samples in recent government tests had pesticide residues, so it’s important to know what you’re eating.  In independent consumer group EWG’s Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides in Produce lists the cleanest and dirtiest conventionally-raised fruits and vegetables to help you make informed choices, including avoiding over-paying for organic if you don’t have to.

Buy local and eat in season.  This may be a given, but also a good reminder that the more recently harvested the food, the tastier and more nutritious it is.  Visit farm stands and markets, or frequent grocers that carry local goods.  You may pay a bit more than you would for mass-produced monoculture foods, but for flavor and nutritional value, it’s worth it.

Go for Frozen.  When fresh organic fruits and vegetables are too expensive or unavailable, frozen makes a great option.  Conventional berries, especially strawberries, retain high amounts of toxic pesticides.  Frozen organic berries are loaded with antioxidants and wonderful in smoothies, oatmeal or baked goods.  Frozen organic corn is wonderful added to rice dishes and steamed green beans are a great alternative out of season.

Read the label!  Polls show that most people find it easier to do their taxes than to read nutrition labels!  Yet at the same time, studies show that women who read labels on a regular basis weigh an average of 15 pounds less than people who don’t.

Bottom line; although the print is tiny and it’s annoying to take the time to try to decipher it, you’ll probably be surprised by what you’ll find, even on products that say “healthy” or “natural”.  And you only need to do it once to know whether that product belongs in your kitchen.

Be on the lookout for high levels of sugar, more calories than you expected or chemical preservatives you’re better off avoiding.  The important thing is to weed out the bad stuff; high fructose corn syrup, transfats, food dyes, unpronounceable ingredients.

You don’t have to know what all of the numbers mean, just checking the ingredients, sugar level and calories counts should tell you all you need to know.

Can’t find Grass Fed?  Go for plant based proteins.  Most animal products sold in the US contain growth hormones, which are administered to animals to cause them to grow faster or produce more milk.  This practice frequently causes them to get sick more often and need antibiotics.

These hormones and antibiotics are passed onto us through the meat and dairy products we consume, and the results of these fairly recently introduced practices are still largely unknown.

Fortunately we have plenty of options to hormone and antibiotic-laden meats.  Beans and lentils are an excellent source of protein, with added fiber and no saturated fat.  They also contain key nutrients like zinc and iron in a nutritional profile similar to seafood and poultry.  But that’s not all, beans are an excellent sources of dietary fiber and other key nutrients such as potassium and folate, so in that way they rank among vegetables.

But the best news is, beans are simple to make, incredibly versatile and very delicious.  So start whether you jump right into bean-based cooking using the Bean Cooking Chart and Guidelines below,  or begin with programs like Meat Free Monday and work your way up to the four servings recommended per week from there.  However you decide to do it,  start today!  Your body will thank you for it!!

Cooking dried beans from scratch is easy! Refer to the handy chart below for cooking and soaking times for your favorite beans and legumes:  Click here for a handy Bean Cooking Chart

Sprout it! Sprouts abound with antioxidants; they’re full of protein, chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. And talk about good for you:  ounce for ounce they provide more nutrients than any other whole food known.  Sprouts also contain beneficial enzymes, requiring less digestive energy so they actually invigorate you while your body processes them.

Your home grown sprouts are up to the minute fresh (they grow until ready to eat) and delicious.  Grow them right in your kitchen using just seeds, jars and screens, here’s how!

Avoid processed meats  More than just the nitrates used to preserve them,”Multiple studies have found a relationship between processed meat intake and increased risk of colorectal cancer,” says Amanda Cross, an investigator at the National Institute of Health. One possible explanation: “In addition to nitrate and nitrite, it is possible that there are other components of processed meats that are responsible for the associations observed with colorectal cancer.”

What can you do?  Opt for a non-meat alternative.  Avocado, grilled eggplant or baked Portobello mushrooms make wonderful sandwich fillings.  Otherwise look for meats labeled “preservative or nitrate-free” and avoid cooking nitrate-dense foods like bacon at high heat, which can cause form carcinogenic nitrosamines to form.

In short, enjoy the season’s abundance! When you rely upon fresh, whole foods and avoid those too heavily sprayed or chemically enhanced, you can’t go wrong.

Guest Blog by Evie Borchard- Children and healthy eating: take away the chemicals, not the calories

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

We’re talking about growing kids here; kids whose metabolisms are likely going at record speeds (perhaps to our envy).  Unfortunately, it’s almost common belief that they should be able to eat all the fast food they want while they can “afford” to. After all, why should we parents deprive our children of the Poptarts, Chicken McNuggets, soda pops, and cheesy fries that all the kids at school enjoy regularly? Don’t they have the rest of their lives to worry about illnesses like type II diabetes, obesity,  and heart disease?

However, the connection between children and healthy eating is huge. It used to be unheard of for kids to be at risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease at their young age, but when living on a western diet packed with trans-fat, high fructose corn syrup and other artificially calorie-dense foods, our children are ballooning to abnormal weights and becoming susceptible to health problems associated with the adult population. Indeed, healthy eating isn’t only for grown-ups. 

And although childhood obesity is on the rise,  overweight children aren’t the only ones at risk:  all young’ns who are eating  Mickey D’s and Ho-Hos regularly are increasing their chances of encountering future health problems.  Yup, this means the “skinny kids”.  Parents of these kids tend to receive conflicting messages regarding what their kids should be eating.  Despite common belief-and even certain doctors’ orders- you don’t need to be feeding your kids Happy Meals to fatten them up (like my parents did).  These pseudo-foods will leave your children prone to developing diet-related illnesses and could cause them to develop a taste for junk food, making fast-food-eating a habit manifesting through adulthood.  Surely there must be a method for safe and healthy weight gain in children.

Basically, the salty, mouth-watering, artificially-spiced fast food a young child is consuming actually has addictive properties, which causes healthier alternatives such as fruits and vegetables to taste blander.  For example, the overconsumption of high fructose corn syrup-filled candies may cause fruits to taste strange and less sweet, while regular Happy Meal consumption might make vegetables and beans seem yucky in comparison.  It is pretty self explanatory why this may cause problems down the road. A lack of fruits and vegetables in a child’s diet can cause deficiencies in both macro and micronutrients, and whether or not your child is overweight, the weakened immune system caused by poor nutrition leaves him or her susceptible to various infections and health problems.  For this reason, it’s important for parents to guide children towards developing a taste for healthy and wholesome foods without depriving them.

Instead of looking at healthy eating as deprivation, try to think of it as “crowding out”; you are “crowding out” your children’s typical junk food diet with more wholesome alternatives so there is no longer room for them! Now you might wonder,  “but how in the world will my kids get the calories they need for growth without eating at least some junk food?!” Fortunately, you can try these more calorie-dense healthy options:

1.  Saute and cook vegetables in olive or coconut oil

2.  Add some dried fruits to your kid’s granola or whole-grain cereal to make it more calorie-dense

3. Serve whole-grain crackers with nut butter as a snack: a good source of healthy fats

4. Make vitamin-packed fruit smoothies with nut butters and agave nectar, a low-glycemic sweetener

5. Starchy vegetables are more calorie dense: try making sweet potato fries to replace regular French fries

6.  Bananas and dates are more calorie-dense than most fruits and contain many antioxidants

7. Hemp or soy milk is more calorie-dense than most other types of milk

8. Create your own healthy trail mix with a variety of nuts, dried fruits, and even some organic chocolate chips

9. Here’s a recipe for some super-energy breakfast bars

10. A healthy alternative to Poptarts: Fruit and Nutty Breakfast Bars

 

 

Deconstructing Oprah Chai

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

To be sure, I’m as enamoured with Oprah Winfrey as the rest of the country – I really didn’t even have to spell out her last name, Oprah’s nothing shy of a living legend.  I’m also quite a chai fan.  It’s been my morning bev of choice ever since will-meaning coworkers suggested that unleashing my morning coffee energy in the space of our small office was a little scary (paraphrasing here to preserve my dignity).  I like to be a team player, so now chai it is.

So I was thrilled when my dearest friend shared a cup of the newly released Oprah Chai she’d just bought.  It was as amazing as you’d expect from Oprah, and I was immediately smitten.  And when I learned a portion of the proceeds go to charity, I was off to Starbucks in search of my own contribution.

Since I don’t happen upon the big S all that often for a variety of reasons, nearly a week went by when I was finally able to get my hands on some. By that time the anticipation was so great I barely flinched at the 14.99 price tag.  In fact I’d suspected something similar after seeing that lovely, fancy box.

When I got home that afternoon with my exciting new purchase, I couldn’t wait to rip it open and replace my now lackluster morning blend with the new Oprah Chai.   I eagerly unpacked the sturdily constructed, double-walled box, then  pried open the specially embossed tin, only to find a small, crunchy plastic bag nestled at the bottom.  I have to say for a moment I was speechless.  All that fanfare for a little plastic bag?  Worst yet, all that wasteful packaging!  I felt a little sick.

Oprah Chai was calling me out!  I like to think of myself as the person who actively participates in No Impact Week every year, who will skip a trip to the juice bar if I’ve forgotten my own reusable bottle.  And now here I was, facing down the Oprah Chai in what was rapidly approaching an existential crisis.  I wanted that chai, but I hated that packaging.  Now please understand, this isn’t an Oprah bash, she didn’t design the package, she was focused on creating a great-tasting tea that supports a good cause, which she did.

I also understand the need to focus on product presentation, but, as our population increases and our limited resources continue to deplete, we need to look beyond the package at the larger impact of our choices.

Now I’m not saying I’m perfect, I use disposable things too.   It’s part of our culture and largely unavoidable.  I just try to limit them to the best of my abilities.   And since the trend I’ve seen since I launched a business selling reusable products 10 years ago is toward more reuse and less waste, it seems other people are starting to think that way too.  Even Starbucks upholds a commitment to environmental responsibility in their mission statement.

And this packaging was just so gratuitous.  They could have done either the fancy box or the fancy tin.  They could have reduced the package size by half and done the same job very nicely.  The packaging could have been made from recycled materials.  And why would they need to use a plastic bag inside of a sealed tea tin?  These questions plagued me;  yet a portion of the proceeds goes to charity, I reasoned.  I had to walk away to let it all sink in.

It took me 2 hours of grappling to figure out what to do – it was way too much packaging for me to feel good about – I’d find myself trying to creatively reuse it, which ultimately just leads to the accumulation of more unnecessary stuff;  wrong direction.  On the other hand, I didn’t really want to deal with returning it.  So finally I arrived at a compromise; I’d gift it.

Hopefully my third-grade daughter’s teacher will be able to enjoy her new tea without all of the hang ups.  For me it’s too late for Oprah Chai, but that doesn’t mean I can’t go ahead and do what I do best;  make it myself (and for 1/10th the price).  And so can you!  Here’s my version of delicious, Almost Oprah Chai.  Enjoy!

(To donate to one of Oprah’s favorite charities without having to deal with all of the packaging, click here.)

Sprout into Spring for DIY Superfood

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Spring is the perfect time to sprout.  With most local produce still garden-bound, we don’t need to wait for fresh, energy-boosting foods as summer rolls around.  Hang on!  Before you click off in search of health food you’ll actually eat, you may want to check this out.

Sprouts aren’t just for salads anymore, and there as so many sproutable foods aside from good ole alfalfa!   Most people think of sprouts either as a throwback to the 70’s or something to eye suspiciously at the salad bar, but there are dozens of seeds, beans and grains you can sprout right in your kitchen.  And since they’re grown hydroponically, it’s a dirt-free low maintenance process.  Sprouts are easy to grow yourself, and you can’t get fresher, more local ingredients for enlivening wraps, rolls, stir fries and smoothies so readily available right when you want them.

What makes sprout so super?  For one thing, they can contain up to 100 times more essential enzymes than whole fruits and vegetables.  The nutrient content increases dramatically during the sprouting process, and the minerals present become increasingly easier for your body to assimilate.  High in protein, B vitamins and fiber, they’re the ultimate super food!

What can you sprout?  Well since sprouting is simply seed germination, any seed, bean or grain is sproutable, although methods vary.  I find the hydroponic jar method to be the easiest way to sprout, since it’s the least messy, and produces consistently great results.  Alternatively, you can grow your sprouts in dirt, as is required for sunflower seeds and wheat grass, or use a tray for chia or quinoa sprouts.

The jar method is perfect for sprouting tasty seeds like broccoli , radish and clover, which are all great beginner varieties.  Or start with legumes!  Lentils, mung beans, garbanzos are all easy to sprout with lots of savory options. And wheat berries are simple to sprout and make delicious high-protein energy bars and breakfast cookies.

Dr.Mercola calls sprouting “undoubtedly one of the best ways to increase the nutritional content of your veggie intake even further”. 

The more I’ve learned about sprouting, the more I’ve grown to appreciate this lost art of kitchen food growing.  I’ve always got something sprouting in my kitchen, and I love sharing this simple practice with others.  And of course the more sprouts I grow, the more I eat and the more nourished I feel!

I regularly experiment with new recipes, feeling so lucky to enjoy the delicious results afterwards.  If you’re into healthy eating, I highly recommend giving this simple practice a try.    Click here for a simple step by step sprouting guide, or try using a GreenSproutKit for an all-in-one option for getting your green on today!

10 tips to streamline your kitchen time and improve your daily diet

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Whether you want to lose weight, stabilize your energy or improve your health, eliminating pre-packaged foods from your diet is the best place to start.  And one major factor in transforming your diet is doing more cooking at home.  For many of us, that mere idea can be scary, but with strategies for success in place, you’ll enjoy the benefits of home cooking without the aggravation.  And believe it or not, when done right, cooking can be fun and creative as well as healthy and delicious. Whether you’re a stranger to your kitchen or simply wish you were, try these helpful tips to streamline the process.  You won’t believe the difference you’ll experience when you can focus on getting your creative juices ready to whip up something fabulous, minus the headache.  Here’s how:

  1. Keep it simple.  Maintain a 1 dish breakfast and lunch, and a 2-3 dish dinner.  Cooking from scratch gives you the opportunity to whip up delicious recipes using less than 5 ingredients, but that combine important food groups.  Oatmeal with fruit and walnuts for breakfast, a quinoa salad for lunch followed by a bean and green sauté over brown rice all give you a huge nutritional hit in one satisfying dish, perfect for maintaining balanced energy all day long.
  2. Strive for satisfaction on 5 ingredients or less.  Look for a cookbook or website that features simple, whole foods cooking and find 2-3 recipes that sound good.  Mark your pages or print the recipes, highlighting what you need to purchase so you don’t have to reread anything to remember.
  3. Get organized! A pre-written grocery list, whether compiled by a healthy foods expert or one you create for yourself, is key to cooking success.  Keep your list near the fridge or on your mobile device so you can keep it current.
  4. Label bulk foods or even bagged rice and beans with listing cooking times and water-to-grain ratio so you don’t need to consult a cookbook ever time you want to prepare them.
  5. Group complementary objects.  If there are ingredients you always use together, store them together for easy access.  For example if you only use oatmeal with raisins, group them side by side even if they’re not your traditional “like-objects”.
  6. Set up to streamline.  Whether you’re working from a recipe or making a favorite you know by heart, take out everything you’ll need to use before you start to streamline the process and save time.   Place foods where they’ll be used, like on the cutting board, next to a bowl or pan.
  7. Grouping tasks saves time.  Wash your produce all together, then take a moment to check out your recipe or think through your plan.   Make sure all of the chopping, peeling and cooking happens simultaneously, store prepped food on dinner plates if you need the work space, you can simply wipe them down and reuse them to avoid more cleanup.  You’ll be amazed by the time difference this can make.
  8. Prepare ahead.   Washing your lettuce or bulk greens as soon as you get them home, then store in a covered glass bowl or green produce bag.  Cook bulk beans or grains (except for rice) that you plan to use within 3-4 days over the weekend or after dinner.  Most need to cook for an hour or more, but require little to no maintenance during cooking, so when you have a stretch of time, take advantage of it.
  9. Skip unnecessary steps.  Carrots, apples and parsnips don’t need to be peeled, nor does garlic that will be used in a press.  Use your kitchen scissors to chop fresh herbs directly into your dish- no cutting board required.  Serve cooked foods in attractive glass storage bowls to avoid unnecessary transfers and dishes.
  10. Enlist a friend.  Take turns bringing lunch to work, set up a weekly pot luck night or trade favorite recipes and cooking tips.  This helps you save to time, but the real benefits are shared experience, camaraderie and good, healthy food.

This may sound like a long list of instructions, but the idea is to adopt the ones that feel right for you, and practice them until they become routine.  Then add on from there.  Gradually adopting new habits will not only help to refine your palette to enjoy less processed foods more, you’ll find preparing them much easier too.  So choose your favorite, add it to your to-do list and take the first step towards healthy eating today!

3 Quick and Nourishing Weekday Breakfasts

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

IMG_3399AI know, I get it, you don’t have time for breakfast.  You feed your cat, your kids or your goldfish first, then before you know it, it’s time to go, and feeding yourself fails to happen, again.  So by 10 o’clock you’re starving and off to the nearest Starbucks for a not-so-good-for–you morning fix.  Well guess what, Sugar?  You have to plan ahead to stay ahead, so read on to empower yourself to get started.

As you may already know, the average adult only consumes an average of ½ the recommended daily allowance of dietary fiber they need each day.  And eating breakfast within 60 minutes of getting up correlates to lower caloric intake throughout the rest of the day.

So here’s your chance to start the day in the right direction.  A low-sugar breakfast rich in fiber and protein is linked to mental acuity, stable blood sugar for sustained energy, and long-term weight loss.  And believe it or not you can get it together in less time than it takes to score a bowl of cereal: with more fiber, protein and nutrients to keep you going all morning long.

Check out these three 3 quick and nourishing weekday breakfast options to pump up the protein and fiber without the sugar or saturated fats usually found in breakfast foods.  Yes, you’ll have to set aside a few minutes to prep them the night before, but you’ll find it’s time well spend after discovering the difference a consistently healthy morning start can make. Here are some of my go-to food staples:

These Super Energy Breakfast Bars really are all good; high in nutrients, fiber and protein with very low sugar and no saturated fat.

chia puddingChia Berry Breakfast Pudding is a luscious and nourishing choice for breakfast.  I blend mine smooth using frozen fruit, banana and/or avocado for the creamy texture and good monounsaturated fats that round off this brain food powerhouse.

This amazingly easy Overnight Oatmeal recipe takes the cooking time out of steel-cut oats on a busy morning.  You’ll love the less mushy texture too, almost like oatmeal is supposed to be made.1-Sprout Kit 033

Nourish yourself every morning because you deserve it.  What better way to begin a day?

5 Overlooked Reasons to Eat Plant-Strong

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine predicts today’s kids to be the first generation to experience a shorter life expectancy if the rising obesity rates don’t begin to reverse.  Scary stuff to be sure.  Yet while growing diet-related disease rate is the most obvious result of a standard American diet, it isn’t the only issue at stake.

There are so many smart reasons to improve your eating habits beyond just the amazing personal health benefits.  Issues involving water conservation,  greenhouse gas emissions, and even the national economy are becoming more prominent as new societal challenges emerge.  All of these issues connect back to the food on your plate.

So why not start making changes that make sense not just for your health, but for everyone on the planet?

Here are 5 great reasons to go meatless:

  1. Conserve water!   The amount of water required in beef production drastically outweighs all other foods.1-NyAoyj4flmnD1WRwm
  2. Fight global warming!  18% of all global human-induced greenhouse gas emissions come from animal product production.
  3. Reduce your risk of some major diseases.  Meat and meat products are linked to a variety of health problems. And, according to the American Dietetic Association, “a vegetarian diet may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases.”4
  4.  Fight pollution!  Factory farm animal waste and runoff (water contamination from the thousands of pounds of manure produced each day are a major source of air and water pollution.  Just drive along some highways in California and you’ll encounter miles and miles of firsthand experience of the air pollution part.
  5. Get healthy!  A 2010 American Society for Nutrition report shows that 96% of us are fiber-deficient, eating too few legumes and whole grains while surpassing recommended daily allowances on meat and dairy products for optimal health.

So take a stand!  On Monday, April 21st, join  me and 5,000 other Americans in taking the US VegWeek 7-Day VegPledge.  You’ll be in good company:  65+ federal, state, and local elected officials — including US Senator Cory Booker and 14 US Representatives — are taking the pledge too. Vegan athletes such as Olympian Seba Johnson and NFL player David Carter are also on board to keep you inspired.

Join the fun, after all, it’s just a week… – Click here to take the pledge!

Sprout Your Own Superfoods in 7 Simple Steps

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

We’re celebrating our exciting Food52 Green Sprout Kit launch this week with a quick review of all the reasons we love these superfoods.  Sprouts are just your everyday seeds, beans or grains taken to the next level in term s of nutrition and deliciousness just by soaking, rinsing and allowing a few days to germinate (sprout) before eating.   While you can find many sprout varieties at most health food stores, growing them yourself is fun, easy and much less expensive.

Sprouts abound with antioxidants; they’re full of protein, chlorophyll, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. And talk about good for you:  ounce for ounce they provide more nutrients than any other whole food known.  Sprouts also contain beneficial enzymes, requiring less digestive energy so they actually invigorate you while your body processes them.

Your home grown sprouts are up to the minute fresh (they grow until ready to eat) and delicious.  Grow them right in your kitchen using just seeds, jars and screens, here’s how!

Getting Started

Beginner Varieties

Any seed, bean or grain is sproutable, but some take a bit more know-how.  Easy and tasty seed choices are alfalfa, mustard, radish and clover.  Or start with legumes!  Lentils, mung beans, garbanzos and green peas are all good choices to start with.

Sprouting Seed and Bean Selection

Choose your seeds base on taste preference.  If you like the small spouts like alfalfa, which are often used in salads, sandwiches and spring rolls, start with seeds.  If you prefer legumes (beans, lentils, peas), which make a killer stir fry, hearty salad or wonderful soup, start there.  Sprouted legumes require much less cooking time than dried and are also more tender.

The legumes you use should be “seed quality”, which are generally recommended for sprouting, as compared to “food quality”, which are intended for cooking.  Seed quality legumes are cultivated for sprouting, while food quality are meant for cooking in their dry, unsprouted state, and tend to have a lower germination rate.

Fortunately it’s becoming easier to find seeds, beans, and grains specifically grown for sprouting. These can be found in most health-food stores, often right in the bulk bins or specialty shops, and are also available online.  Once you have your seeds in hand, store them in airtight containers until you’re ready to use them, glass jars work well for this purpose

Setting Up

Growing Supplies

  • Wide mouthed mason 1 – 1.5 quart mason jar with 2 part lid.
  • Stainless steel screen or fiberglass mesh to cover the mouth of the jar
  • Sprouting bag or towel to cover your sprouting jar
  • Dish rack or flat shallow containers for the jars to drain into.

Finding Space

During the germination process sprouts, like most seeds, prefer a dark, temperate (60-85°) location away from drafts and direct heat.   You can sprout right on your kitchen counter by just covering your jar with a sprouting bar or towel to keep the light out.

Sprout Your Own Superfoods in 7 Simple Steps

1. Measure out your seeds or beans.  In general 1 oz. of seed yields about 1 cup of spouts, so ¼ cup (for a 2 cup yield), seems to be a good starting point for small seed sprouts since they have a short shelf life.  Soaked beans and legumes expand to 3-4 times when sprouted, so plan accordingly.

2. Place seeds in a mesh strainer or in your spouting jar and rinse tap water water, then drain.

If you used a strainer for rinsing, pour seeds or legumes into your mason jar.  Fill the jar ¾ with water, cap with mesh screen and lid and let soak overnight (if prepared in the evening) or for the following times:

  • Small seeds 3-8 hours
  • Larger seeds or legumes 8-16 hours
  • Grains 8-16 hours

3. After soaking, drain the water and rinse the seeds thoroughly.  The soaking water is said to contain natural toxins released from the seeds during germination, so a 2-3 time daily rinse is recommended.

4. After each rinse, place the jar upside down and tilted at a 45° angle in the spot you’ve selected and cover with a sprouting bag or towel.  The goal is to keep them damp but not soaking in water until they sprout.  The warmer and darker the location, the faster they’ll sprout.

5. Let the spouts germinate for the suggested number of days (see chart below). Sprout most seeds 1-2’, grains up to 4’, and beans ¼ to 1”.  You may want to very growth time depending on plans for use.  Shorter sprouts are great for eating whole, you’ll want then longer if you plan to juice.

6. Small seed optional (skip this step for legumes).  Once seeds have sprouted, place the jar in strong, indirect sunlight for the 2 – 3 days after to develop some nutrient-rich chlorophyll.

7. When the jar is full and the sprouts or legumes are ready to use, store in with the sprouting cap intact in the refrigerator for use within 3-5 days.  Be sure the sprouts are not stored in airtight containers and  have drained for at least 5 hours before storing, too much moisture can cause spoilage.

  • Small seeds 4-6 days
  • Larger seeds or legumes 3-5 days
  • Grains 3-5 days

It is recommended that small seeds be hulled, as in shells of the seeds removed, before placing in the refrigerator.  It’s easy to do by soaking in a large bowl of water where hulls will float to the top for easy removal.

Once you get the hang of it, sprouting can be rather addictive.  It’s amazing to watch a tiny volume of seeds grow into a jar full of fresh, antioxidant-packed sprouts in a few days.   You’ll find new ways to enjoy sprouts just so you have an excuse to keep them growing.   Sign up to receive delicious recipe ideas at ElizabethBorelli.com.

Bittman, Beans and 7 Simple Tips for Expanding Your Culinary Horizons

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Suppose you were planning a trip alone (with your family) in a remote Wi-Fi free yurt and you could only bring with you one lifeline to sanity, what would you choose?  This time I chose NY Times food writer Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”.  Already smitten, this book swept me into a whole new level of appreciation for Bittman’s understated culinary genius.

I recall once watching Cybill Shephard’s stern TV reenactment of Martha Stewart cooking her way through Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”, which at the time struck me as extreme, if not borderline insane.  Now years later, wading through Bittman’s 997 pages of hardbound goodness gave me a new perspective.

Of course the opening line in the chapter on beans almost made me cry; “I adore beans and have cooked with them regularly for my entire adult life” confesses Bittman.  “As I’ve traveled, as I’ve experimented, as I’ve discovered new varieties and the joys of fresh beans, I’ve grown to love them more and more”.  For me those words and the many that followed offered a fresh surge of inspiration to get back into the kitchen with renewed vigor.  I left that yurt with a plan in mind and a shopping list in hand, recharged and super excited to try on some interesting new dishes made with beans and grains I don’t typically use.

It’s rare to find a man who loves beans as much as I do.  And Bittman’s casual, use-what-you-have-on-hand cooking style is a perfect fit for busy people who enjoy healthy eating as much as he does.  If you can get past the looming structure of it, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian takes the mystery out of many foods mistakenly assumed complicated.  And in case you’re worried about how to adapt to all this new fiber, Bittman tackles that topic as well- beans don’t have to be associated with gas!

In typical plain-talk style he suggests maintaining a healthy level of fiber in your diet to promote digestive efficiency and free you from issues of gastric distress.  He bluntly concludes; “If you’re uncomfortable after eating legumes, see your doctor”.  While the extremity of this advice did make me chuckle, it’s out of context here and perhaps even in the original text.  Most Americans are so fiber-deficit that people do associate beans with gas, often as a point of concern.

So how does one build a healthy fiber intake without the, um, gastrointestinal issues?  The key is a slow transition; this will minimize any digestive issues as your body relearns how to process real food. Work your way up to a healthy fiber intake by making the switch from refined grains to whole ones and incorporating the recommended intake of at least four servings per week of beans into your diet.

This is a relatively quick process, a matter of weeks should suffice.  Embrace this opportunity to discover a whole new world of under-appreciated yet thoroughly delicious healthy, whole foods.

Here are 7 simple suggestions to help you expand your culinary horizons:

  1. Select one new whole grain you’d like to try:  faro, wheat berries, hulled barley and quinoa are all good choices for flavor and versatility.
  2. Choose one bean variety you’d like to try: cooking from scratch.  Garbanzo or cannellini beans are a great place to start since they’re readily available, much more delicious fresh than canned and very versatile.
  3. Schedule a time when you know you’ll be home for a couple of hours to do your cooking.
  4. The day prior, soak your beans in enough water to cover them by at least 4”
  5. Cook your beans and grains according to instructions
  6. Drain grains after cooking to store covered for up to 5 days in the fridge, or 2-3 months frozen.
  7. Store beans in their cooking water in the fridge for up to 5 days or 2-3 months frozen.

For perfectly cooked beans:  add 1 tsp. salt and 2 tbsps. lemon juice to beans after they begin to tenderize during cooking, about 45 minutes.

For easy weekly menu planning:    Cook enough beans and grains to serve for several meals during the week, then freeze the rest in family serving-sized containers.  I love glass jars for this, but be sure to leave the lid slightly askew during freezing to allow for expansion.

Whole foods are the gateway to good health so getting to know them better holds no shortage of reward.   And reading through a master work like Bittman’s HTCEV (or similar) can get even the most competent cook inspired.  So take a moment to pick up a great cookbook and really give it your attention.  Read the recipes, envision the process and embark on a brand new culinary adventure today!

Fiber Up to Skinny Down

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

And boost energy, digestion and satisfaction in the process

Whether the latest diet debate centers around gluten-free or Paleo, carbs are a hot topic these days.  The problem is, the discussions typically cluster all carbs into one category:  bad, and thus all grains are also labeled.  The reasoning goes like this: all carbs, and therefore all grains, are unhealthy, fattening and strictly to be avoided, to the point where some shoppers will shell out $10 a package for Paleo Wraps.    The fallout of this oversimplification  keeps a lot of us steering clear of a really important fiber and nutrient source.

Carbohydrates are the starchy and sugary parts of food that break down into glucose, the sugar your body needs for fuel, so they do have their uses. And combining glucose with lots of plant fiber is the best way to keep blood sugar levels steady and long-lasting.  So as you may have guessed, neither all carbs nor all grains are created equal.

So what does all this have to do with fiber?  Well for one thing, we need to be eating a lot more of it.  The general recommendation for adults is 25 grams per day.  We’re currently coming in at around half of that.  Whole grains, which are made up of complex carbohydrates, which are naturally low in calories and high in fiber.  Along with plenty of plant-based whole fruits and veggies, grains are an important part of a healthy diet.  The fiber contained in complex carbohydrates, gives us the feeling of fullness that keeps us from overeating in addition to all the health benefits it offers. And researchers have linked high fiber consumption with a lower risk of both cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Then there are the other carbs—the simple or refined carbohydrates contained in white bread, white rice, pasta, pastries, crackers, most juices, and breakfast cereals. These are grains that started out whole, but then had the fibrous coating removed, so your body barely has to work to digest them.  Refined carbs enter the blood stream in a surge, leading to a spike in insulin that leads to a kind of roller-coaster effect on blood sugar: way up, then way down. Insulin surges can create a cycle of hunger and overeating in the short term, and long-term are associated with weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and other health problems.  To your body, refined grains like white rice are treated essentially the same way as a teaspoon of sugar: quick to convert to glucose, then leave you feeling hungry all over again.

Whole grains—as oats, quinoa, bulgur, brown rice, and wheat berries, fall into the complex carbohydrate family, and have a more leveling effect on blood sugar and insulin than do foods like white rice or pasta. Since most women consume only about half the 25–35 grams of fiber most experts recommend, you may want to think about making the switch to whole grains, the more intact the better.   Look for bread that lists whole wheat, whole rye, or some other whole grain as the first ingredient. Or, even better, buy bread that’s made with only 100% whole grains, like 100% whole-wheat bread.

Brown rice is better than white, but why not experiment with some delicious new alternatives?  A dish that contains millet, wheat berries, hulled barley or bulgar can provide about 1/3 of your daily fiber requirement.    Whole grains are also high in protein and other important nutrients like phytochemicals.

The less widely used grains offer an entire new experience in flavor and texture.  From Minted Quinoa Tabouli, to Oven Baked Oats or Orange Fennel and Kamut Salad, you’ll discover whole new favorites to replace those refined wheat products and fiber you up right!

10 Savvy Shortcuts for Streamlining Your Cooking Projects

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Whether you want to lose weight, stabilize your energy or improve your health, Your kitchen is the best place to start.  One primary factor in transforming your diet is relying less on restaurants and take out in favor of doing more cooking at home.  For many of us, that mere idea can be scary, but with strategies for success in place, you’ll enjoy the benefits of home cooking without the aggravation.  And believe it or not, when done right, meal preparation can be fun and creative as well as healthy and delicious. 

Whether you’re a stranger to your kitchen or simply wish you were, try these helpful tips to streamline the process.  You won’t believe the difference you’ll experience when you can focus on getting your creative juices ready to whip up something fabulous, minus the headache.  Here’s how:

  1. Keep it simple.  Maintain a 1 dish breakfast and lunch, and a 2-3 dish dinner.  Cooking from scratch gives you the opportunity to whip up delicious recipes using less than 5 ingredients, but that combine important food groups.  Overnight Oatmeal with fruit and walnuts for breakfast, a Quickie Quesadilla for lunch followed by a Snappy Veggie Stir Fry with Miso Goddess Sauce sauce over brown rice for dinner.  All of these give you a huge nutritional hit in one satisfying dish, perfect for maintaining balanced energy all day long.
  2. Strive for satisfaction on 5 ingredients or less.  Look for a cookbook or website that features simple, whole foods cooking and find 2-3 recipes that sound good.  Mark your pages or print the recipes, highlighting what you need to purchase so you don’t have to reread anything to remember.
  3. Get organized! A pre-written grocery list, whether compiled by a healthy foods expert or one you create for yourself, is key to cooking success.  Keep your list near the fridge or on your mobile device so you can keep it current.
  4. Label bulk foods or even bagged rice and beans by listing cooking times and water-to-grain ratio so you don’t need to consult a cookbook ever time you want to prepare them.  Black self-adhesive mailing labels work well, but I like to print out these crafty pre-designed labels and keep them in the kitchen for when I need them.
  5. Group complementary objects.  If there are ingredients you always use together, store them together for easy access.  For example if you only use oatmeal with raisins, group them side by side even if they’re not your traditional “like-objects”.
  6. Set up to streamline.  Whether you’re working to a recipe or making a favorite you know by heart, take out everything you’ll need to use before you start to streamline the process and save time.   Place foods where they’ll be used, like on the cutting board, next to a bowl or pan.
  7. Grouping tasks saves time.  Wash your produce all together, then take a moment to check out your recipe or think through your plan.   Make sure all of the chopping, peeling and cooking happens simultaneously.  Store your prepped food on dinner plates if you need the work space, you can simply wipe them down and reuse them at mealtime to avoid more cleanup.  You’ll be amazed by the time difference this can make.
  8. Prepare ahead.   Washing your lettuce or bulk greens as soon as you get them home, then store in a covered glass bowl or green produce bag.  Cook bulk beans or grains (except for rice) that you plan to use within 3-4 days over the weekend or after dinner.  Most need to cook for an hour or more, but require little to no maintenance during cooking, so when you have a stretch of time, take advantage of it.
  9. Skip unnecessary steps.  Carrots, apples and parsnips don’t need to be peeled, not does garlic that will be used in a press.  Use your kitchen scissors to chop fresh herbs directly into your dish, no cutting board required.  Serve cooked foods in attractive glass storage bowls to avoid unnecessary transfers and dishes.
  10. Enlist a friend.  Take turns bringing lunch to work, set up a weekly pot luck night or trade favorite recipes and cooking tips.  This helps you save to time, but the real benefits are shared experience, camaraderie and good, healthy food.

This may sound like a long list of instructions, but the idea is to adopt the ones that feel right for you, and practice them until they become routine.  Then add on from there.

Maximizing your time in the kitchen makes it more enjoyable, and you’ll find yourself less overwhelmed by the idea of preparing meals at home.  Taking control of your health is empowering, and the kitchen is the best place to start.   So choose your favorite tips, plug them into your calendar and take the first step towards healthier eating today!

Interview: Empowering Health News and Views with Dr. Katherine Reid

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

I was recently delighted to discover that the brilliant researcher whose work I’d recently been introduced too, Dr. Katherine Reid is a fellow Santa-Cruzan, and further grateful still to have the opportunity to discuss her important findings mom-to-mom.  Dr. Reid’s groundbreaking work, which began several years ago when her youngest child began exhibiting autistic behaviors, led her to the discovery of an association between a common ingredient in the Western diet and chronic illness.

As an entrepreneur, biochemist, and mother of five, Dr. Reid was determined to investigate environmental factors that might be related to her daughter’s symptoms. This inspiring advocate then went on to found non-profit organization, Unblind My Mind, which is dedicated to helping others to learn how changes in diet can cure disease and improve quality of life.

Join me for this engaging 30-minute interview to learn:

  • Which widely used food additive is linked to numerous health and behavioral issues
  • How to identify the more than 60 different listings for MSG
  • Recommendations for reducing your exposure to feel better than you ever thought possible!

Hear the interview here:   DrKatieReedInterview.mp3

Enjoy!

Nutrition Label Reading for Smarties

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Step into any grocery store and you’ll see lots of products with claims like “Multi-grain,” “Healthy,” “All-natural” or “Gluten Free.”  The trouble is, many of these so-called “health foods” contain some of the worst ingredients, including excess sugar, suspect chemicals and additives banned in many other countries.

If this is surprising, consider who ultimately decides whether or not a food can be labeled as healthy in the US.   Not the FDA, as most people believe, it’s the manufacturer!  So the bottom line is, you can’t take what you read on the front label at face value—ever!”  And despite what the title of this article indicates, studies show that 84% of American shoppers are confused about their nutrition choices.  In short, these things are challenging by design.

Food labels are not only confusing, they’re tiny!  But reading them is important, because when you must eat processed (and at least some of the time, most of us must do) you don’t have to eat junk.  By making it hard to read and understand the information listed, manufacturers give themselves plenty of latitude when it comes to ingredients. So even if you can barely make out the words, take the time and do the legwork to source your goods. You’ll be able to navigate the grocery store aisles more easily once you know what to look for.

Here are some basic tips for healthier food selection:

  • For most of us, trying to avoid sugar is like avoiding sun exposure. We know we should, but it’s everywhere and it’s so much fun. But when on average we consume five times the daily recommended allowance of added sugars, limiting is a good idea. Avoid products containing sugar of any kind in the first five ingredients and you’re on the right track.  The recommended sugar intake for adult women is 5 teaspoons (20 grams) of sugar per    day, for adult men, it’s 9 teaspoons (36 grams) daily, and for children, it’s 3 teaspoons (12 grams) a day.                                                                                                                                      
  • Beware of the “natural flavoring” loophole.  Natural flavoring could be anything, and if it was anything healthy, it would be listed.
  • Sodium content should never exceed the number calories; look for a 1:1 ratio. If a serving of Pop Chips contains 100 calories, be sure it also contains less than 100 grams of sodium. Simple!
  • Shift your focus from fat grams per serving, since serving sizes are quite subjective. Fat content should be no more than 20% of the total calorie content and should contain no trans fats. How to tell? Read the Nutrition Label on the back of the package, find the total calories per serving, and divide by 5. If fat calories are more than 20% of total calories, or if it contains hydrogenated anything, it’s not a healthy choice.                                                                                                                                                                        
  • Most of us fall far short of daily fiber recommendations as the chart below indicates, so be sure you’re buying whole grains whenever possible. Claims announcing “Whole-wheat” or “Multi-grain” on the front are not the same thing. Read the Nutrition Label carefully to make sure the word “whole” precedes every grain listed, or look for the “100% whole-grain” claim. This is one term regulated by the FDA to ensure that all grains used in the product are, in fact, whole. Aim for 25-35 grams (g) of total fiber each day –or 6-8 grams per meal, and 3-4 grams per snack
  • Beware of serving sizes. Not all serving sizes are the same, nor do they necessarily make sense. That individually wrapped granola bar may proudly announce only 50 calories per serving, but you’d have to scrutinize the fine print to discover that’s really three servings there.
  • Avoid foods containing ingredients banned in other countries, even though they’re used regularly in the US in items from breakfast cereal to energy bars to Kraft Mac n Cheese. Food colorings like Blue #1, Blue #2, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 and Red #40, BHA, arsenic and more are found in the many of the vitamin fortified family foods we eat every day.   ABC News has a handy slide show with more details here.
  • Avoid products containing sodium nitrate, a preservative that’s commonly used in processed meats like bacon, jerky, and lunch meats. Studies link nitrates to diabetes and heart disease.
  • Eat more whole, plant based foods to meet you daily nutrition requirements!

Check out this chart published by the USDA Dietary Guidelines to see how most of us measure up:

AmericanDiet_vs_TargetDiet-560x342

Unacceptable Levels: A Closer Look at the Chemical Revolution Aftermath

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Every now and then a documentary so gripping comes along that you just have to share it.  Unacceptable Levels is one of those exceptional films, compelling in a way that also touches the heart, bringing a deeper understanding to the truths revealed here.  And we can use this information to make a difference in our own lives and in the lives of others, much more easily then you might think. It’s simply a matter of knowledge and choices.

Unacceptable Levels examines the results of the chemical revolution of the 1940s through the eyes of affable filmmaker Ed Brown, a father seeking to understand the world in which he and his wife are raising their children. To create this debut documentary, Ed takes us along on his journey as he interviews top minds in the fields of science, advocacy, and law searching for answers. Weaving their stories into a compelling narrative, Brown presents us with a revealing look at how the chemical revolution brought us to where we are today, as he empowers us to harness the power of choice to enact change.

At present, film maker Ed Brown is touring the SF Bay area screening the documentary.  I was honored to be asked to join the post film panel discussion for the Santa Cruz showing.  If you’re in the Bay Area, I highly recommend seeing this documentary visionary Paul Hawken calls “ funny, clear and illuminating” at one of the venues below.  Or you can watch for it on NetFlix, but either way, for those of us concerned with the health effects of toxins, Unacceptable Levels is a must see!

Testimonials:

“Unacceptable Levels is a great documentary … about the myriad ways we are being exposed to toxins, poisons and allergens in our daily life. It is sweet, funny, clear, and illuminating.”

– Paul Hawken, best-selling author, founder of Smith & Hawken

“From the products we use, to the food we eat, to the air we breathe, Unacceptable Levels documents how prevalent toxic chemicals have become part of our lives.  Ed Brown uses the powerful connection of family to illustrate how broken our system has become, and why we must do something about it. Our children’s futures depend on it.”

– Gigi Lee Chang, CEO, Healthy Child Healthy World

— PLEASE SHARE with all your Bay Area Friends & Colleagues —


ONE NIGHT ONLY

PALO ALTO • OAKLAND • SAN FRANCISCO
SANTA CRUZ • SACRAMENTO • MILL VALLEY

UNACCEPTABLE LEVELS

An award-winning documentary about the chemicals in our bodies, how they got there 

and what we can do about it.

View trailer: http://unacceptablelevels.com/

 

“Unacceptable Levels” is a no-nonsense documentary that will challenge everything you think you know about health, safety, and environmental protection.” – Beth Buczynski, ecosalon

 

PURCHASE YOUR TICKETS TODAY! 

Tickets must be purchased in advance and will not be available at the door. This is grassroots crowdsourcing – tell the theater you WANT to see this film by purchasing your ticket online through website link associated with the event. Don’t miss a chance to see Unacceptable Levels on the big screen and meet filmmaker Ed Brown!

Mon Feb 24, 7:30 p.m. | PALO ALTO – Aquarius Theatre

www.tugg.com/events/7316

A Benefit for Breast Cancer Action 
Post film Q&A with Annie Sartor, Policy & Campaigns Coordinator Breast Cancer Action;
State Assemblywoman Sally Lieber (Ret.), and Amanda Hawes, Worksafe.

Tues Feb 25, 7:30 p.m. | OAKLAND – Piedmont Theatre

www.tugg.com/events/7317

A Benefit for Earth Island Institute

Post film Q&A with Kevin Connelly, Associate Director Earth Island Institute;
Amanda Hawes, Worksafe; Stacy Malkan, co-founder Campaign for Safe Cosmetics,
and Corey Rennell, Founder Core Foods.

 Wed Feb 26, 6:30 p.m. | SAN FRANCISCO – Embarcadero Center Cinema

http://www.usgbc-ncc.org/component/events/event/1379 (not a Tugg event)

Part of the Building Health Initiative

Post film Q&A with Michael Green, Center for Environmental Health;

Anthony Bernheim, President, Bernheim+ Dean, Inc., hosted by the U.S. Green Building Council –
Northern California Chapter’s Building Health Initiative.

 Thurs Feb 27, 7:30 p.m. | SANTA CRUZ – The Nickelodeon

www.tugg.com/events/7759

A Benefit for Surfing for Change

Post film Q&A with Kyle Thiermann, founder of Surfing for Change and

Elizabeth Borelli, author Beanalicious Living, speaker, wellness advocate

 Mon March 3, 7:30 p.m. | SACRAMENTO – Tower Theatre

www.tugg.com/events/7319

A Benefit for Moms Across America

Post film Q&A with California Department of Toxic Substances Control,
and Kathleen Hallal, Moms Across America co-founder and Mom.

 Tues March 4, 7:30 p.m. | MILL VALLEY – Sequoia Theatre

www.tugg.com/events/7414

A Benefit for Teens Turning Green

Post film Q&A with Judi Shils, Founder/Exec. Director Teens Turning Green;
Debbie Raphael, Director CA Dept. of Toxic Substances Control, and Stacy Malkan, co-founder Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

5 simple steps for bringing more joy into your life

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Life can be so literal – emails and texts, billboards, everywhere we look it’s all spelled out for us.  But what happens when we decide to take the time to let go a little, to loosen up the reins, to examine the space in-between?  Even when know you need a pause in the action in order to find your balance, it’s hard to make it happen, yet numerous health studies recognize it’s important.

In a sea of schedule overload, how do you find the time to slow down, take pause and gain access to your best self?  The answer won’t surprise you, it’s through practice.  The decision to commit to a regular practice in mindfulness can be life changing.  Yet biggest the challenge can be taking the first step to fit it into your hectic routine.  If you’re overwhelmed with life as many of us are, here you may need a hand.

Whether it’s a meditative walk, sitting mantra, pranayama practice or yoga, you can find a way to fit this time into even the busiest schedule if you use these five easy strategies:

  1. Make a commitment to yourself and put it on the calendar.  When will you start; date and time?  Studies show that fitting in a wellness practice early in the morning sets a more positive pace for the rest of your day.  Even if that means getting up a bit earlier in order to fit it in, it’s worth it!
  2. Determine how much time you’re able to commit to; 30 minutes?  An hour?  Which days of the week?  Try committing to two weeks to begin with and after that reevaluate if you need to.  Adjust anything that isn’t working and go for another two weeks and evaluate again.  (see #5)
  3. Decide right now which practice you’ll try, research the options on your area and narrow it down.  Which one fits best with your lifestyle?
  4. Journal your experience.  How is your current stress level?  What do you want to change in your life?  Do a self-assessment of now and calendar a check-in for 2 weeks into your new practice, so you can compare these same feelings at the end of each two week interval.
  5. Identify your space if you’re sitting, route if you’re walking.  Do you need anything to get started?  New shoes, a mat, a meditation cushion?  Prepare in advance to give yourself the best chance of success.

The biggest obstacle to incorporating healthy practices into your life is a lack of motivation to get started.  You’re ready, right now, to take the next step to enjoying all of the rich rewards that come when you create space for your mindfulness practice, so use these five steps to get started today!

Amazing Lentil Benefits, Simple Cooking Methods and Yummy Recipes

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Lentils, the Mega-Nutrient, Down Home Superfood

When it comes to nutrients per calorie, lentils top the list.  A rich, nutty legume with roots in the Middle East, lentils pack a serious health punch.  In fact, Health magazine calls them one of the five healthiest foods, a sentiment which is shared worldwide. To be sure, 1 cup of cooked lentils contains more than 18 grams of protein (about the same amount as a 3 oz. portion of steak, minus the saturated fat), and that’s just for starters.   Lentils also deliver plenty of dietary fiberfolateB vitamins, and minerals, making them a perfect choice for those interested in keeping blood sugar and cholesterol in check.

In case you need more convincing, most Americans come up short on meeting their dietary fiber daily intake requirements by about 50%. This key nutrient associated with weight loss and low blood cholesterol leads to sustained energy while it keeps you feeling fuller longer.  In fact, legumes such as lentils have been used to lower blood sugar levels and even reduce or eliminate prescription meds in people with Type 2 diabetes.  And for anyone concerned about too much music, lentils are also the easiest legumes to digest.

If all of these health benefits aren’t enough, try lentils for the amazing array of delicious dishes that feature this fabulous food.  A mere bite of Agape Salad had been known to soften even the most consummate carnivores it’s so savory and satisfying.   There so many lentil benefits, cooking methods and recipes, I invite you to find your own favorites.

Basic Cooking Method

Lentils are a cinch to prepare, since they don’t require soaking and cook faster than most grains and legumes.  They work wonderfully in Misc 009soups and stews, or combine deliciously into a hearty salad or side dish as well.

Storage Tip:  Store lentils in jars in your pantry, labeled with variety, date and cooking information so you don’t have to look it up next time you’re ready to prepare them.

Click here for a downloadable bulk food label template.

Lentils can be simmered in water on the stove top or cooked in consommé, bouillon or broth with equal ease.   Brown, Green and Black and Red lentils all cook similarly, however cooking times vary, see individual varieties below for details.

  1.  Place lentils in a colander and sift through them before cooking.  Remove anything not a lentil (they sometimes pick up bits of stone during harvesting), then give them in quick rinse in cold water.
  2. Pour into a large saucepan.  Add about 1 ½ cups water per cup of lentils
  3. Heat the lentils and water on the stove until they come to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered to prevent over-boiling.  (See cooking times under individual varieties below)
  5. Serve and enjoy

Optional Cooking Tip:  Remove from heat and cover tightly with the lid. Let sit for 5-10 minutes longer before serving.

Common Lentil Varieties

The large, khaki-colored lentils most commonly used in cooking are called Green or Brown lentils depending on where you shop, but suffice it to say these classic lentils are greenish-brown in color and work in any lentil recipe, although they’re on the softer side once cooked and more mild-flavored than other varieties. Cook for 25-40 minutes.

French green lentils (lentilles du Puy)  are slighly smaller than the brown variety.  This dark green legume is often considered the tastiest, with a slight peppery flavor to round it out.  Slightly firmer than Brown lentils, but may be substituted in most recipes.  Cook for 35-45 minutes.

Black or Beluga Lentils are a smallest variety with a delicious, nutty flavor that lends itself well to whole grain or arugula salads.  Also lovely combined with French lentils to vary the texture.  Cook 20-30 minutes.

Red lentils are sweetest of the bunch, these salmon colored legumes transform into a golden puree when cooked.  A perfect addition to soups or stews, they’re often used in curry dishes.   Cook for 25 minutes, into a thick puree.

Basic Lentil Recipe Ideas

There are as countless ways to prepare lentils, and it’s easy to get creative and invent your own favorites!  I like to prepare mine according to the cooking instructions above, and add in some of the following items for every 3-4 cups of cooked Green, Black or French lentils:

Add during last 5 minutes of simmer time (return lentils to simmer before restarting the timer):

  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup chopped carrot (skin on)
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup chopped red or green pepper
  • 1 cup chopped kale
  • 1 cup chopped fennel

Mix in with cooked lentils:

  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. Bragg’s Liquid Aminos
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1-2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1-2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. dried mustard
  • ½ tsp smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp. natural hickory liquid smoke
  • 1 cup cooked barley
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice

Sauté for 5 – 10 minutes with slightly under-cooked lentils (in addition to any of the items listed above):

  • 1 cup chopped mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped parsnip
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1-2 cups chopped cabbage
    currylentil
  • 1 cup chopped spinach

Or try one of these delicious recipes:

Mediterranean Lentil Salad

Agape Salad

Curried Sweet Potato and Lentil Soup

Moving Toward Solutions, Pollan’s Edible Education Series and Simple Soul Food

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

There is so much more to food than meets the plate.  Food is emotional, social, political and environmental…among other ideas all brilliantly explored in Michael Pollan’s online UC Berkeley Edible Education Series.  This series of free videos unveils a smorgasbo1-rebecca_stark_MP_0170rd of theory from some of the most influential voices in the food movement.

These engaging hour-long lectures explore a wide range of food-related concepts through the experts who know this subject matter best.  The individual perspectives keep it interesting, where some of the presenters wax philosophical, others prefer to keep it fact-centered.  As a 101 class, nothing is taken for granted, and the ample time frame for lecture followed by Q & A lays a thorough groundwork for understanding.

From a practical standpoint, several concepts from the series stand out.  Dr. Marion Nestle’s work on diet related disease and food safety emphasizes issues created by industrial food marketing and politics.    She compellingly explains how federal and corporate policies have come together to create an “eat more” environment which is one of the main factors in the obesity epidemic we’re facing today.  How do we get healthy food to the people who need it within a system that subsidizes the foods that are making poor people sick?

Pollan recognizes there are no easy answers to these questions.  As a society we’ve made a series of choices that led us here, and reversing the ready availability of cheap, low quality food will be no easy feat.  He additionally reminds us that this is the second food movement of its kind, with a focus on slow, local and organic.  The original movement of the seventies fizzled, and he predicts it’s too soon to tell whether this one will follow the same fate.

Movie director Peter Sellers (oddly enough in this mix) animatedly discusses the spiritual nature of food, suggesting the answer lies there.  His closing comments came as surprisingly solutions-oriented after his colorful lecture.  He proposes that framing the obesity problem as caused by a limited availability of healthy food affordable is oversimplification.  He maintains that the greatest food in history is the working class food that has shaped entire cultures.

Think of how people in the Middle East and Asia eat, and how they enjoy and celebrate simple everyday foods like vegetables, beans, lentils, grains and rice.  Seller’s also points out that these are the foods often containing the most chemically sophisticated combinations of ingredients, nutrients with properties as yet undiscovered.

Inspirational as these lectures are, they do make apparent the both the urgency and complexity of a problem with no easy solution.  Yet rather than dwell on the negative, while waiting for the movement to bring about change.   Progress begins in multiple small ways, personal and community efforts, collaboration among like-minded people.  Clearly in the face of dwindling resources, and consistent with the Edible Education Lecture Series, it’s time to eat closer to the earth, as in more plant-based, nutrient rich, real whole foods.  And reawakening to all of the ways our everyday choices have huge impact all the way around the world makes us remember we do have power.  When we resolve to live mindfully and eat consciously we further the movement toward a solution, gathering momentum one step at a time.

3 Simple Tips to Enliven Your Life With Healthier Food Choices

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Even though 9 out of 10 of us are convinced that our eating habits are healthy, we’re seeing our Mother and daughter in produce sectionalready high diet-related disease rates continue to rise.  I know, I get it; a few years back I was among those 9!

And since back then I was exercising, eating low-fat, high protein foods, getting plenty of fruit and greens and steering clear of anything obviously junky, I thought I was on it.  But it wasn’t until I discovered that my many of my all-natural, fat-free and healthy favorites were full of ingredients that just didn’t belong in food, that I really caught on.

Ten years of search and discovery, trial and tribulation, and a Cornell University Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition later, I’m sharing what I’ve learned.  What you eat makes a huge difference in how you look, think and feel, and if you care about those things, you can change your diet and change your life!

Upgrade your eating habits starting today with three healthier food habits

1.    Commit to cooking and eating more plant-based whole foods.  On average, the American diet is 70% processed foods, and we’re consuming a greater number of empty calories than ever before. We’re meeting less than half of the recommended daily requirements for most essential nutrients, meanwhile doubling down on the foods linked to diet-related disease.  While I don’t agree with the US Department of Agriculture’s recommendations on dairy and seafood (and since these food categories don’t really belong in a list of nutrients per se), it’s otherwise from clear from the USDA chart that replacing refined foods and meat products with fruits, vegetables and whole grains will make a major impact in reversing disease trends.   The best place to get started is right in your own kitchen, where you know exactly what goes into the food you eat.

  2.   Learn to use a healthy whole foods shopping list, like this one!  This list contains      everything I recommend including into your diet, with room to add the things you can’t live without.  Use it to begin to replace some of the items you’re been buying that you know aren’t good for you one or two at a time.   For example, try whole grain bread and pasta instead of white flour-based, or pick up some almonds in place of potato chips to snack on.  And if the preprinted list doesn’t include items you can’t live without (yet!), just list them on the blank lines.  Please don’t list Doritos.

Here are the rules for the getting the most from the list (should you choose to follow them):

  • You must keep this list where you will see it, like on the fridge or on a drawer with your keys in the kitchen.  If not, you will forget to mark it right away when you run out of something and it won’t work.
  • You must commit to stick to the list while shopping.  It’s best to decide up front not to even look at the items you know you shouldn’t buy and won’t miss, but if you happen to notice they’re on sale 2 for 1, all bets are off.  Do yourself a favor and if you’re better off without it, avoid that section of the store.
  • You must inventory your fridge and cabinets before you leave the house to make sure you have yourself covered until the next shopping trip you have scheduled next week.  Because if you plan ahead, you’ve got it!

Keep in mind this simple equation if you get stuck:  fewer trips to the store = less impulse buying = less money spent on bad food = more money to spend on new, possibly smaller sized clothes.

3.    Always read the label.  New studies show that women who read nutrition labels are an average of 8 pounds lighter than non-label readers.  And “label” doesn’t refer to the promo on the front of the package that says “low fat”, you need to turn to the fine print on the side panel.  Even if you have to squint, and don’t know what all of the numbers mean, be sure to always check the number of serving sizes, it’s often surprising!  Then move on to read the ingredients labels, and if it contains products that sound like chemicals, know you’re better off without it.

Remember, the food you eat is inextricably tied to health, energy levels, even happiness, so it’s important to rank it the top priority it deserves to be.  Which sounds easy but it involves knowing how to plan, shop and, for most of us who live within a budget, re-discovering how to cook.   I know you don’t have time.  Neither did I.  I’m a busy, working mom, and I had to struggle through figuring out how to make all those realities fit together.  The strategies and recipes I’ve created are here to help you.

Whether it’s cutting back on prepared foods, including more veggies and fiber in your diet, or swearing off fast food forever, the point is to get started, today!  One step in the right direction will yield numerous benefits.  You’ll also discover delicious new dishes that you didn’t have to pay a lot of money for, food that’s good for you, and you’ll have the satisfaction of having prepared it yourself.  It’s easier than you think when you begin at the beginning, by making a mindful commitment to adapt healthier habits because you’re worth it.  You’re on the start of a journey that could change your life, so take the first step today!

5 Simple Healing Foods and Proven Edible Remedies

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

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It’s all too easy to turn to a bottle for relief during cold and flu season, but the problem is, over-the-counter cold remedies are simply not curative.  When the immune system is compromised, you need nutritive foods to strengthen it.  The immune system resides in the small intestine, the same organ that absorbs key nutrients into the bloodstream.   So it only makes sense to use mama nature’s edible remedies during the winter months to fight off sickness even through the worst of the seasonal ills. While there are many healing foods and supplements for immune support to choose from, here are a few of my family faves:

Probiotics are microorganisms that resemble the beneficial bacteria which occur naturally in the human gut. Known as “good bacteria” probiotics are used to alleviate and prevent illness, especially issues associated with the digestive tract. Clinical trials have demonstrated that taking probiotics may decrease the incidence of respiratory tract infections.  Available in tablet form in the refrigerated section of most health food stores, use probiotics during cold and flu season to build your immunity and help you to ward off sickness.

Ginger tea  With a multitude of health benefits behind it, ginger is a go-to herb during cold and flu season.  According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology, fresh ginger prevents human respiratory virus from infecting cells in the upper respiratory tract, while stimulating cells to secrete a protective anti-viral protein.  Ginger also hinders mucous production and helps to relieve congestion.  Grate some fresh ginger into a cup of hot water, add some lemon juice and honey for a simple wellness tonic.

Try turmeric tablets to reduce inflammation associated with a cold or flu.  Long known for its anti-inflammatory properties, recent research has revealed that turmeric is a natural wonder, proving beneficial in the treatment of many different health conditions from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a natural treatment for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and has long been used in Chinese medicine as treatment for depression.

Chia Pudding  On low energy days, this is a perfect choice for breakfast, and if you haven’t tried chia seeds, you’re in for a treat.  These tiny seeds contain more omega 3s than salmon, more antioxidants than blueberries, plus ample calcium, fiber and protein (4 grams in just 2 tbsps).  Relatively low in calories for all of the amazing nutrients they deliver, chia seeds are naturally gelatinous in water, so blended with anti-oxidant-rich berries and oranges loaded with vitamin C, this delicious breakfast pudding will give you a boost to last all morning long.

Sample Savory Carrot Soup  This lively soup is a wellness bonanza, with ginger and spices that both enhance the flavor and give your immune system an extra boost.  Carrots are loaded with Vitamin C, Beta Carotene and antioxidants, a potent combination for healing.  Delicious sprinkled with sunflower seeds for extra crunch and protein.

Most importantly, be sure to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and avoid refined processed foods as much as possible, since sugar in all of its forms has been shown to compromise the immune system and drain your energy.  The key to wellness is healthy diet, so shop smart, cook often and enjoy all the goodness the cold weather brings your way.

Turmeric to the Rescue

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

 

If you’re new to the wonders of turmeric, there is more to this healing herb than meets the palate.

1-2014-01-13 10.39.40You’ve probably heard of this exotic-sounding spice, but you may not have had a chance to try it.  Aside from its growing popularity as a cooking herb, turmeric is actually becoming recognized is one of nature’s most powerful healers.   Turmeric is a plant root similar in appearance to ginger, typically dried and used as seasoning, most commonly in Indian cuisine.  The goodness doesn’t stop there though, this savory herb contains a whole bevy of health (and beauty!) benefits as well.

Long known for its anti-inflammatory properties, recent research has revealed that turmeric is a natural wonder, proving beneficial in the treatment of many different health conditions from cancer to Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a natural treatment for arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and has long been used in Chinese medicine as treatment for depression.  Turmeric is readily available in capsule form at most health food stores, but it’s best to look for a high-quality, 100% organic-based turmeric supplement, such as India Organic.  I take it daily, as does my daughter with cold-induced asthma for its anti-inflammatory properties.  And as with most remedies, you should consult with a health care professional before using it.

Turmeric is also a beauty booster.  New studies show it may reduce the appearance of wrinkles and age spots when added to moisturizer.  It actually contains antioxidants that reduce DNA damage in skin cells and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce swelling.  For a DIY idea, simply grate the fresh root and add it to your favorite organic facial mask, then store it in the fridge.  The color is rather shocking while on, but washes off quite easily and the treatment is so refreshing!  Find turmeric root at most health food store.   Internally ingested or outwardly absorbed, turmeric is a benefits-packed wonder herb that will help keep you healthy inside and out.

Navigating the Diet, Calorie and Nutrition Conundrum

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

UnknownGuestSpeakerThe New Year is the perfect time to take a step back, look at our lives and really evaluate.  Are you as healthy and happy as you want to be, or are you feeling stuck in sluggish mode?  Especially after the holidays many of us fall into the latter category.  This is not our natural state!  If you’re feeling heavy, tired, or depressed, then your health is out of balance.   Many of us don’t realize that diet plays a key factor in either promoting or alleviating these unhealthy conditions.  The amazingly good news is, you have the ability to rebalance your diet and feel your best right though the everyday choices you make!

Now is the time, and it’s more straightforward than you think.  As you may know, not all calories are created equal, which kind of skews the simple calories in, calories out equation.   Some foods are more high-quality, as in, more nutritionally dense than others.  While you would need to be well-versed in nutrition science to assess this correctly every time, most of us know in general say, that a piece of fruit is healthier than a fruit roll up.  Real food always beats the processed version, we’ll start with that.

Calories differ in other ways too.  Foods like fiber-rich veggies burn calories just through digestion, while other foods, including many ingredients of refined, processed foods, actually incite cravings, and since the body doesn’t get to process refined foods, they go unnoticed by your hunger center.  In short, they just don’t satisfy.

What about Diet?

Of course all of the ado about individual diets creates even more confusion.  And as Nutritionista extraordinaire Meghan Telpner reminds us in her Enliven interview, diets don’t come in one-size-fits-all.   More typically they come in fads, which lots of us try, but just like miniskirts and platform stilettos, they simply won’t work for everybody.  Gluten-free anyone?

The problem with most diets is you have to work to stay on them.  And when you finally take a break, it’s so much more enjoyable you’ve taught yourself to associate diet with denial.  It’s hard to willingly opt for that.  So adapting a new definition of diet may make sense.  It’s really about finding the most nutritionally dense foods that work for your body, without overeating.  And since in general, the most nutritionally dense foods are the most fibrous, filling and satisfying, with some planning ahead you won’t experience the dissatisfaction that leads to cravings and overeating.

How do you find the foods your body needs to feel your best?  First, begin by making sure you’re getting enough of the foods you may be deficient in.  This illustrative chart from the USDA measures the average nutritional profile.AmericanDiet_vs_TargetDiet-560x342

As you can see, Americans are way too low on whole foods, and way too high on solid fats SoFas), saturated fats, refined grains and sodium, all of the ingredients so prevalent in processed foods.  The best place to start improving your eating habits is to replace all of the nutritionally devoid foods shown on the USDA chart, with healthy foods rich in nutrients we’re getting too few of, mainly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.  I don’t personally agree with the dairy suggestion on the chart, for reasons discussed in depth by author Rita Rivera in her Enliven interview, but the remaining suggestions are generally accepted as good health advice.

So goal number one regardless of the rest of your dietary plan, is to replace refined processed foods with healthy whole foods as much as possible.  On average, 70% of the food we’re eating is processed.  Not all processed foods are bad, but it’s important to avoid the high percentage of overly refined processed foods that have become so widespread in our culture.  This can be tricky, because it does require a bit of working knowledge.  It also involves a habit many of us avoid, reading labels.

Read Food Labels

Food labels are not only confusing, they’re tiny!  But reading them is important, because when you must eat processed (and at least some of the time, many of us must) you don’t have to eat junk.  By making it hard to read and understand the information, manufacturers give themselves plenty of latitude when it comes to ingredients. So even if you can barely make out the words, take the time and do the legwork to source your goods. You’ll be able to navigate the grocery store aisles more easily once you know what to look for.

Here are some simple rules of thumb so if you have to buy packaged foods, at least there’s less of a risk factor.  And even if you go no further and remember nothing else, it will always benefit you to keep in mind this inconvenient truth that we all need to remember: never believe the claims you read on the front of the package.  If you’re interested in making healthier food choices by understanding nutrition labels, here are some tips:

  1. Beware of serving sizes. Not all serving sizes are the same, nor do they necessarily make sense.  Bottled beverages, even those that look like they’re meant for one, often use this tactic to make calorie counts seem lower than they really are.  Even clearly individually packaged items like sports bars and muffins sometimes list two servings per piece, so it always makes sense to check.
  2. In the US, we consume on average 22.2 teaspoons of added sugar per day (more than 4 times the 5 teaspoons the American Heart Association recommends for women), so attempting to reduce when possible is a good idea. Avoid products containing sugar of any kind in the first five ingredients and you’re on the right track.    The most common tactic manufacturers use to sneak it in? Mixing the names of different sweeteners so the weight is spread out among several forms of sugar. Some to look out for:  honey, dextrose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, molasses, sucrose, fructose, maltose, and lactose.
  3. Sodium content should never exceed the number calories; look for a 1:1 ratio. If a serving of Pop Chips contains 100 calories, be sure it also contains less than 100 grams of sodium. Simple!  It’s also healthier to avoid products containing sodium nitrate, a preservative that’s commonly used in processed meats like bacon, jerky, and lunch meats. Studies link nitrates to diabetes and heart disease.
  4. Shift your focus from fat grams per serving, since serving sizes are quite subjective. Fat content should be no more than 20% of the total calorie content and should contain no trans fats. How to tell? Read the Nutrition Label on the back of the package, find the total calories per serving, and divide by 5. If fat calories are less than 20% of total calories, or if it contains hydrogenated anything, put it back.
  5. Make sure you’re buying whole grains. Claims announcing “Whole-wheat” or “Multi-grain” on the front are not the same thing. Read the Nutrition Label carefully to make sure the word “whole” precedes every grain listed, or look for the “100% whole-grain” claim. This is one term regulated by the FDA to ensure that all grains used in the product are, in fact, whole.
  6. Finally, beware of words you don’t know or recognize in the ingredients. If you wouldn’t stock them in your kitchen, it’s because they don’t belong in your food!  Of course it’s important to focus on what to include, and not just what to avoid.  For a comprehensive shopping list of healthy foods to include in your diet, visit  http://elizabethborelli.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/BeanaliciousShoppingList.pdf

Updating your shopping habits with nutritious choices will make a tremendous difference in your energy level, weight and overall health.  It’s a step-by-step process, and involves a new level of awareness and commitment.  But once you start experiencing the benefits of a better diet, you may be surprised to learn your favorite thing about your new diet is how amazingly delicious that real, healthy food can be!

Mindful Eating, 5 Tips to Make Your New Year’s Resolutions Stick

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

If you’re riding the wellness resolution trend this year, you may want to take note.   While the New Year may harken the best of intentions, they’re usually short-lived.  When it comes to health and mindful eating, less than 10% of resolutions survive the test of time, and I’m talking months, not years.  The fact is, Americans make over 200 food-related decisions per day according to a recent study, yet when asked to estimate that number, participants’ guess an average of 15.  Yes it’s true, the vast majority of our eating is done mindlessly.

But there is good news too!  You have the power to change your mindless eating default and bring these decisions to the forefront (frontal lobes in this case), where they belong.   So IF you’re serious about a New Year’s resolution that involves improving your energy level, losing weight and feeling happier all around, listen up.   Here are some common-sense strategies for making it happen for real this time.

1. Discover your most compelling motive for making change.  Motivation plays the biggest role when it comes to enacting long term, positive behavior change.  But identifying your true motive may not be as obvious as it seems at first glance.  Ask yourself, “Why do I want to lose weight, really?  What will the outcome look or feel like?”  Dig deep and envision clearly.

Leading neuro-science expert Dr. Daniel Amen keeps a picture of his grandson where he’ll see it every day, as a reminder of his real motive for keeping his health a priority.  The mocha fudge becomes less tempting when you connect it to a bigger picture, as in avoiding options that move you further away from your goals.  The same rationale has been effectively used by former smokers to kick the habit, it works!

Another great way to do this is to create a vision board, complete with images, as in pictures of loved ones you’d like to have the energy to spend more time with, or people who inspire you through their achievements that you know are not outside your realm of possibility too.

2. Then choose one habit that you know isn’t serving you.  Do you hit the drive-through every morning only to end up so hungry you’re wondering how you’ll possibly make it all the way until lunch?  Nosh on packaged snacks when you get home from work and regret all the empty calories later?  Instead of resolving to diet away the extra ten pounds, start with one simple behavior change directed toward achieving that goal.  Give yourself time to get comfortable with that change, whether it’s days, weeks or months until this becomes your new normal.  Now you’re ready to take another step, and repeat until your diet brings you all of the benefits excellent health has to offer.

3. State your personal credo, write it down and memorize it.  Sticking to a healthy routine that’s working feels great, but you still need to prepare for the unexpected.  The homemade cheesecake muffins your well-meaning co-worker shares with the group, the Philly Cheesesteak your partner wants to share, the small vs. jumbo-sized anything.  If these offers cross your path, decide in advance on your default, then remember your credo when temptation strikes.  The treat will be gone in a moment, but the self-empowerment of establishing new resolve keeps on growing, long after the dazzle has fizzled and the New Year has passed.

So now you’ve made a mindful decision to prioritize health and wellness this year.  You know your motives, you’re prepared with healthy alternatives and you know your credo.   The question then becomes, in times of stress or temptation, how do we stay aligned with our best intentions?

4. Avoid your triggers, and pack alternatives  If you know you’re tremendously tempted by your mom’s homemade lasagna, with it layers of cheese and rich, meaty sauce, instead of hoping you’ll have the willpower to resist, which after a glass of wine and a little convincing, you won’t, plan ahead.  Eat some raw veggies or fruit and drink a big glass of water before you’re in any situation where you’re inclined to be hungry and lots of food you know you’ll regret later is imminent.   Decide in advance how much you’ll try, and stick to it.  Have a ¼ piece of lasagna and fill the rest of your plate with veggies.   Don’t break the code:  once you start snacking on empty carbs it’s much harder to stop, so make your snacks healthy, even if you have to bring them yourself.  The key again is to plan ahead.

5. Make your health a top priority!  You may have noticed that sometimes your willpower seems stronger than others.  Ever wonder why when you’re calm and well-rested, you seem less inclined to succumb to temptation?  One reason is pure physiology.  It takes energy to exercise willpower, and if we’re out of fuel, we’ll have less of it. If it’s way past lunchtime, you’re beyond hungry and the only opportunity to appease that need is the big Mickey D’s, you may stop, and once you’re there at that drive though and your willpower is weak, all bets are off.  So avoid these pitfalls!

  • Get enough rest (a huge factor in harnessing willpower)
  • Exercise even a little bit every day, even 15 minutes of brisk walking counts!
  • Prepare ahead to avoid the pitfalls

Yes this takes intention and even a bit of time, but you already have the tools you need to succeed, including the willpower.  When you prioritize your health, you’ll bring your best self to the table, making smart choices easier and happy outcomes more likely every time.

DIY Ideas for Meaningful Holiday Giving

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

DIY-Gift-Images-0192It’s that time of year again, when thoughts turn to loved ones, traditions, and as a matter of course, gift giving.  And if you happen to forget that last one, simply enter any store or open your mailbox and you’re in for a hasty reminder.  Having recently moved, I’m reminded of the importance of collecting discriminately; most of us don’t need more stuff.  Yet holiday gift giving is a special practice, especially when imparted with a creative, personal touch.   So this year I’m turning to tea for a fresh DIY gift idea, combining the best of both notions into a thoughtful gift, tailored especially for the recipient.

Those of you short on time will love this one.  It’s easy to infuse with intention, healing benefits or just plain decadence if that’s your goal.  (more…)

Tools for Success, A Must-Have List of Kitchen Basics

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

portraits-headshots-rebecca-stark-photographer-0138When it comes to food preparation, I’m a minimalist.  As much as I enjoy discovering new ingredients and techniques,  my culinary tool collection remains pretty basic.  I don’t own a juicer or a fancy food processor, not even a crock pot.   I find that between a powerful blender, a few good chefs knives and a small array of decent quality pans will get you thorough most recipes without a hitch.   Basics aside, my kitchen tools list is relatively short, just enough to get the job done.  However, if gadgets are what it takes to get you going, by all means, acquire accordingly!

  • Hand grater, large stainless steel, free standing
  • Hand grater, small hand held stainless steel (for ginger) (more…)

Ready to lose 8 pounds without even trying?

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Ready to lose 8 pounds without even trying?If you’re expecting a diet pill or calorie cutting plan, you may be disappointed.  The only investment you’ll need to make for this weight loss regimen is maybe a good pair of reading glasses.

A full 70% of food we eat is processed.  True that’s a high number, but since my favorite whole grain bread ranks on that list, I’m not throwing in the towel and neither should you.  The trick is to being to make more informed choices.  Luckily no special skills are required to recognize the good from the garbage.  I’m not suggesting you no longer enjoy your treats if you can’t live without them, just know that some treats are trickier than others.  The secret to which is which lies in the small print on the side of the package.

Women who regularly read ingredients labels weigh an average of eight pounds less than the rest of us.  I know those tiny numbers are confusing, but even when you don’t know what all of them mean, you know enough to weed out (more…)

Favorite Tips to Spice Up Your Beans

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

2013-10-21 13.49.12Certain seasonings will make your beans sing, rely on them and you’ll rarely be disappointed.  Some of favorite spices for beans include:  garlic, parsley, cumin, thyme, basil, oregano, fennel, and pepper of any kind, but truth be told, it’s hard to go wrong no matter how you spice it.

  • A good measure for dried spices is 1 teaspoon of seasoning per 4 cups of cooked beans.

A favorite cold-weather seasoning suggestion is to add a touch of smoky flavoring to your soup, chili or veggie bake.  I’ve recently discovered this amazing coconut bacon made of real ingredients and no artificial additives.  (more…)

Healthy, Delicious and Efficient, oh my!

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

portraits-headshots-rebecca-stark-photographer-0130It’s no surprise that one of the best ways to improve your diet is to start in your kitchen.  Eating out is directly correlated with weight gain, and as we know, the diet-related disease rates in the US continue to rise. Lack of time is the biggest obstacle for lots of us, but it doesn’t have to be.  If you’re looking for efficient and delicious menu ideas, this blog is for you!

Starting this week, I’ll be posting more of my favorite five-minute dishes.  Essentially, you can make a main dish in just minutes of you’ve prepared a sauce and a grain or a bean in advance.  It’s easier than you think, I promise.

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A Smarter Start: Ignore the front cover, focus on the ingredients list!

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

the-ingredients-list

I was reading one of my favorite new books, Pandora’s Lunchbox, and getting a serious education on the synthetics contained in most breakfast cereals, when the author mentioned Kellogg’s Smart Start.  It sounds so healthy, and who wouldn’t want a smart start when the box looks so appealing?   Really, what’s not to like?  To find out, I turned to my old friend, Wikipedia, which very conveniently lists ingredients for many common packaged foods.  In fact, if you hate the idea of standing in the grocery store aisle trying to make out the fine print, try Wiki first and save yourself some shopping time later.

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Time Saving Cooking Tips for Easy Meal Preparation, from Scratch

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

cook-from-scratch

Ask any busy mom why she doesn’t cook at home, and you’ll get some version of the same answer. But take a moment to reflect on what “I don’t have time” really means, and you’ll notice some loopholes in that argument. Meaning that it’s hard to really know whether you have enough time to cook unless you’ve tried these time saving cooking tips before, since as of now you don’t know actually know how much time they take.

And it’s a valid concern. Why invest valuable time to learn something you’re not going to use?

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Ten Healthy Lunch and Snack Ideas for Kids (and grown-ups)

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

healthy-snacks-for-kidsIt’s the bane of parents of school-aged children everywhere. Ask any mom her biggest challenges with raising school aged children, and somewhere among them, almost cringingly whispered, come those two dreaded words: making lunch.  The daily grind of making sure you have enough variety in stock is challenging.

It’s hard to find healthy foods your kids will eat. Yet with popular faves like Turkey + Cheddar Lunchables packing in at least half a days’ worth of saturated fat, most ready-made snacks are no good solution.

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Unbelievably Easy Rice Paper Wraps

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

paper-wraps

I love fresh spring rolls, or salad wraps as they’re sometimes called.   The Thai-inspired kind prepared with raw, julienned vegetables snugly encased in a rice paper wrapper, made even more delicious with a savory dipping sauce served on the side.  It’s a simple concept, yet one of those recipes I hesitated to try at home.

My problem was with the rice paper wrappers.  I would buy them periodically, but my good intentions were always cut short by the lack of directions on the package.  Eventually, as in a long time later, I would feel compelled to toss them, unopened, they were so old.  Why it took me to long to simply look up the directions, I’ll never know,  but I tell you now that I’ve got a handle on it, making healthy, delicious spring rolls is embarrassingly easy and very kid-friendly.

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Four Beauty Foods to the Rescue!

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Beets&cabbageIf you’re familiar with celebrity nutritionist Kimberly Snyder, you may have seen her recent segment with Dr. Oz on the four foods that combat signs of aging, the same ones I have and Kimberly obviously does not.  Crow’s feet are one example.  I was happy mine could be Photo-shopped off the picture we used for Beanalicious Living, but that still leaves the real life wrinkles to deal with.  For this problem and others, here are four beauty foods to the rescue, starting with watercress.

I like the idea of replacing pricey eye cream with nourishing beauty food.  Kimberly recommends using this zesty green as an alternative to lettuce in things like spring rolls, salads and wherever else you can fit it in.

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Top Ten Reasons to Eat Your Beans

BY ELIZABETH BORELLI

Did you know, thousands of new processed food products are introduced each year, with billions of industry dollars spent encouraging us to eat them?  The US is now the most overweight industrial nation in history.  Do they really think we need more food?

Newsflash industrial ag!  You’re heading in the wrong direction.  We don’t need more additives, chemicals or GMOs, it’s time we turned back to the basics, where natural nutrition and good taste meet.  In other words, back to the beans.

Beans are so nutritious that the latest dietary guidelines recommend we triple our current intake from 1 to 3 cups per week  If nutritional punch and sheer deliciousness don’t grab you, how about the biggest bang for your buck as another great reason to get those beans boiling?

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