Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Time-saving Tips to Stay on a Healthy Track

You’ve probably been there before. You begin with every intention to lead a healthy lifestyle by eating right and exercising and then life gets in the way. The kids get sick, or you have to work late to meet an unexpected deadline, or a friend calls and needs help. Whatever the reason is, it often doesn’t take much to derail you from your eating plan and you suddenly fall into the trap of eating convenience foods on the run rather than the healthy meals you had planned.

One of the primary strategies to staying on track is planning ahead. This can mean having meals prepared, or ingredients ready to put together something quick. Here are some tips to making that happen on a regular basis so that eating health becomes more of a habit and a priority. Many of these you’ve heard before, but I find that it’s always nice to be re-inspired because it gives me a renewed sense of empowerment along with the reminder that it is possible to live a healthy life even in the midst of chaos. The key here is that if you've decided to make it a priority, you'll take a no excuses approach and do it.

Plan ahead and have a list. Have you ever just walked into the grocery store without a plan and spent way too much time trying to decide what you want and need? I have for sure and it’s always a waste of time and often money. To save both, make a list and stick to it. This way, you can be in and out in no time and won’t be as tempted by impulse purchases that can be costly and unhealthy (any vegetable would be excluded from these categories : ).

Block out time to cook and prepare for the week. This is often a Sunday morning or afternoon when it may be easier to spend several hours in the kitchen. Plan a few dishes that can be cooked and then refrigerated for several days, or split and frozen for a few meals. Good ideas include soups, stews, grain dishes, quiches or frittatas, and cold salads.

Pre-cut veggies for later use. Whether you’ll be making a stir-fry for Monday’s dinner, making salads for lunch, adding vegetables to your morning eggs, juicing during the week, or simply want healthy snacks within reach, having a supply of vegetables washed, peeled, and chopped saves a tremendous amount of time. And adding vegetables to anything is always a positive move towards more vibrant health.

To keep them fresh so that they give you the most flavor and nutritional value, store them separately in air-tight containers and pull them out of the fridge on demand. Chopped red peppers, carrots, and cucumbers make great snacks, either alone or dipped in hummus, guacamole, or salsa, and having them ready to go will make it less likely that you’ll want to grab a bag of tortilla chips.

Make batter ahead of time. If your family likes pancakes or waffles in the morning, prepare your own homemade batters the day before and store them in the fridge. Then prepare what is needed and save the rest. In fact, you can even premix the batter’s dry ingredients and store them in an airtight container in the cabinet so that making the batter takes even less time. Here’s a recipe that I like to use frequently. The nice thing about making your own is that you can control the ingredients since many of the store-bought mixes contain bleached, white flours, trans fats, aluminum, and preservatives.

Prepare lunch while making dinner. If while I’m preparing dinner I know I’ll need lunch for the next day, I will automatically get it ready as I’m cooking dinner. This could mean a piece of salmon from dinner goes into a salad for the next day, or setting aside some quinoa pilaf in a separate bowl, or boiling a couple extra eggs. If you’re already in the kitchen, why not get it all done at once?

When I was commuting to Boston two days per week, I would plan and pack two days worth of food to take with me so that I wouldn’t have to buy less than healthy meals while away. It saved me time and money on the road and when I got home after two very long days, I didn’t miss a beat because my diet kept me strong and energized.

Have healthy snacks available. If you’re someone who likes to have your afternoon snack while at work, rather than resort to the nearest vending machine, cafeteria, or coffee shop, bring healthy treats. These can include fruit, home-made trail mix made with dried fruit, nuts, and seeds, a handful of almonds, or veggies. Yesterday, I made these delicious soaked and seasoned sunflower and pumpkin seeds. A handful of these will satisfy any hunger and keep you energized until dinner.

Being prepared ahead of time takes the guess-work out of eating. If you have healthy food ready, the temptation to grab something unhealthy is minimized. This in itself will save you time, money, and energy, since your home-prepared foods will more likely feed your body what it really needs to function at its best and you’ll be teaching your children important eating habits early on. The more you get into this habit, the more you will appreciate its value and realize the power that your diet has over your performance and well-being. It won't take long for you to see that the time you take to prepare healthy, whole-food meals is time well spent and you won’t want it any other way.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why Add Superfoods to Your Diet?

“Superfoods” is a word you may have been hearing a lot lately. What exactly are they and why would we want to incorporate them into our diets? In David Wolfe’s book, Superfoods, he defines the foods in this category as those that “have a dozen or more unique properties, not just one or two.” Although I would argue that many whole, real foods we may be eating on a regular basis have far more beneficial properties than one or two, Superfoods are somewhat exceptional in their repertoire of nutrients.

Depending on where you’re living, many of these foods may seem exotic; however, they are appearing more and more in natural foods stores and can easily be found onllne. Here are some of the top picks that can easily be added to your diet. The nice thing is, even small amounts will provide tremendous benefits:

Goji Berries

Goji berries have been revered as a superfood in Tibet for 2500 years. They are considered an adaptogen, which is a food/herb that helps to produce an adaptive response to stress while improving homeostasis in the body. Goji berries are a source of complete protein (they provide all the essential amino acids) and provide 19 different amino acids.

They contain 21 trace minerals, B vitamins as well as vitamin E. Goji berries strengthen the immune system and the blood, are an alkaline producing food, and increase longevity by stimulating the production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). They are also high in antioxidants, with more beta-carotene than carrots, and contain zeaxanthin and lutein, which are important for protection against free radical damage to the eyes.

Normally, they’re purchased dried (or slightly moist) like raisins but they can also be found as a powder extract, juice, tinctures, etc. They can be eaten like any other dried fruit, added to cereal or soaked in hot water to make tea, or even added to soups. I personally like adding them to tea because it softens them up and they’re easy to eat that way.


Maca is a radish-like root that is a member of the cruciferous family of vegetables that includes broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and cabbage. It grows in the Peruvian Andes and has been used for hundreds of years to increase strength, stamina, and fertility. It, too, is an adaptogen and can be used for conditions such as anemia, chronic fatigue and malnutrition.

It can increase libido and can ease both menstrual and menopausal symptoms in women. It can also improve depression, poor memory, and stress.

A lack of minerals in today’s fast and process foods diets are a primary reason for many of the health problems we face today. Maca is rich in several minerals including calcium, magnesium, and phosphorous, and trace minerals such as zinc, iodine, and copper. It’s also a good source of vitamins B1, B2, C, and E.

Maca is a warming food so it is best eaten in cooler weather. It is normally purchased as the powder of the dried root. Maca can be added to drinks such as smoothies, coffee, tea, or milk. It can also be added to desserts like puddings, yogurt, salad dressings, soups or broths.


Spirulina is a single-celled, freshwater, microscopic, blue-green algae that grow in lakes around the World. It was a primary source of protein for people in Mexico City for thousands of years. Spirulina is another complete protein source and it contains ~70 percent protein, which is the highest concentration of protein of any food.

It’s rich in blood-purifying chlorophyll and phytonutrients and is high in vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, E, and K. It’s also a good source of antioxidants such as beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and phycocyanin. Spirulina is also the only green good to contain the omega-3 fatty acid, Gamma Linolenic Acid, or GLA, which inhibits the body’s inflammatory response. The sulfur found in spirulina also helps with the body’s detoxification process.

Spirulina is normally found as a dried, green powder (see the picture above) and can also be found in capsule form. It’s best eaten raw and can be added to smoothies and other drinks, yogurt, salad dressings or sprinkled on a salad. I like to add it to my smoothies in small amounts.


Hemp is a member of the Cannabis genus, which includes marijuana, however it contains only trace amounts of the mind-altering compound THC.

As a food source, hempseeds are another complete protein source. The seeds are 35 percent protein, with the majority being made up of two easily digestible proteins, edestin and albumin. Hempseeds are also 12 percent carbohydrate, and 47 percent fat.

The fat content is a combination of omega-3, omega-6 (including GLA), and omega-9 fatty acids. In addition, half of the carbohydrate content is fiber. Hemp also provides a high number of minerals, including phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, calcium, and iron.

Hempseeds can be found as hulled seeds, as hemp protein powder, milk, pressed oil or butter. It can also be found in prepared foods such as chocolate and energy bars, breads, and salad dressings. The protein can be added to drinks and smoothies, or added to pancake batter. Hempseeds can be sprinkled on granola, salads, sandwiches, added to hummus, smoothies, and trail mix. I eat the seeds daily on salads, granola, and on my toast.

To learn more about the powerful properties of these and other superfoods, I recommend David Wolfe’s book by the same name, Superfoods, which I've referenced here.

Adapted from an article I wrote for My Bright Child.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Your Brain on Food

This is an article I recently contributed to the online site My Bright Child that I wanted to share with everyone here~

When we think about our diets, we usually think of them in terms of cardiovascular health, strong bones and muscles, our energy levels, and our overall weight. But what about brain fitness? Wouldn’t it make sense that if a healthy diet can enhance and strengthen how we perform physically, that it would also improve the function of our brains? Indeed, a healthy, balanced diet makes all the difference for clear thinking, the ability to focus, a sharp memory, and positive moods. And by eating certain foods regularly (and avoiding some others), we can increase or maintain our brain power. Here are some tips on what to feed our brains and why:

Complex, Slow-release Carbohydrates

Our brains use 30% of the calories we consume daily, which is high, considering that they only account for ~2% of our overall body weight. Glucose is the main sugar/energy source for our brains, but for it to most effectively support brain function, it must be released slowly and steadily into the bloodstream to provide a constant and even supply of fuel. Dips and surges in blood sugar that occur on high sugar and processed food diets actually hinder brain function and can lead to brain fog, a lack of focus, poor memory and mood swings.

Beginning the day with a balanced meal that includes some complex carbohydrates is essential because it’s been many hours since we’ve eaten dinner the night before. Some good choices include whole grains like steel cut oats, quinoa, millet, and buckwheat, sprouted grains breads, beans and legumes.


Our bodies are composed of ~17% protein by weight. Aside from water and fat, protein is one of our body’s main constituents. In fact, our genes are templates for proteins and when we talk about epigenetics, we’re talking about regulating if, when, and to what extent a gene produces a protein. In order to “express” proteins, we need amino acids, which are their building blocks and because our bodies don’t store amino acids like they store sugar or fat, we must continuously manufacture them or consume them in the form of proteins from vegetables, legumes, grains, and animal products.

In addition, amino acids are the starting materials for neurotransmitters that function in the brain to keep our moods steady, help us feel alert, energized and upbeat, and regulate our stress levels. For example, the amino acid tryptophan is the starting material for the anti-depressant neurotransmitter serotonin, which, by the way, plays a huge role in the gut. The amino acid tyrosine is required to make dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline and the amino acid GABA is itself a neurotransmitter that acts as a natural tranquilizer. Therefore, sufficient protein in the diet that includes all the essential amino acids is important for a clear, happy, and relaxed brain.

Proteins from animal sources provide all the essential amino acids (those that can only be gotten from the diet) and a combination of plant based protein sources will satisfy these requirements as well. In addition, quinoa, a seed that cooks like a grain, has all the essential amino acids.


Our brains are ~60% fat and 25% cholesterol (which is not a fat but an alcohol). I mention cholesterol because it is necessary for the production of serotonin. One of the most important fats that functions in the brain is omega-3. A high ratio of omega-3 fatty acids versus inflammatory omega-6s has been correlated with less depression while the reverse scenario is linked to bad moods. One reason is that omega-3 fatty acids act as inhibitors of the enzymes that break down the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.

The omega-3s that work in our brains are the long chain fatty acids EPA and DHA. By far, the best sources for EPA and DHA are fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and anchovies. The shorter chain fatty acid ALA, found in walnuts and flax seeds must be converted into EPA or DHA. In our bodies, this process is very inefficient and becomes even less so with age. Therefore, if you’re not eating fatty fish on a regular basis, its best to take a fish oil supplement. There are also algae-based sources of EPA and DHA for vegans.

Saturated fat is also essential for brain function; it actually supports omega-3 fats and lowers levels of the inflammatory omega-6 fat arachidonic acid. The fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K also need saturated fat to get absorbed. This is also true for calcium. In addition, the fatty acid butyrate, found in butter, is the foundation for the neurotransmitter GABA. Butter, ghee, olive oil, coconut oil, coconut milk, nuts and seeds, and full-fat dairy products if you can tolerate them, are all sources of saturated fat for a healthy brain. Be careful with nuts and seeds as they can have high amounts of omega-6 fats.


Vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A and C, B vitamins such as folic acid, magnesium, and potassium, and zinc, all work in concert with the proteins and fats that provide our brains with the nutrients they need to work well. Vegetables, especially leafy greens and cruciferous varieties, as well as fruits, legumes, and grains, all contribute micronutrients vital to maintaining a healthy brain.

Vegetables, in particular, should be the main focus of our meals and should be rounded out with clean proteins and healthy fats. For example, a typical meal could consist of a large green salad that includes baby greens, cucumber, tomato, onion as well as 4-6 ounces of chicken or fish or ½ cup of beans, lentils, or chickpeas, as well as ¼ of an avocado or a few nuts, seeds, or olives and an olive oil-based dressing.

A morning smoothie made with water, ¼ cup of full-fat coconut milk, a scoop of high-quality protein powder, a handful of frozen berries and a small piece of banana, a handful of baby greens, and a sprinkle of cinnamon or ginger.

A vegetable omelet or frittata made with butter, onions, and sautéed green vegetables.

Broiled salmon or chicken with mashed butternut squash, sautéed greens and tomatoes.


Ross, Julia. The Mood Cure. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2004.

Bennett, Connie, Sinatra, Stephen T. Sugar Shock. New York, NY: The Berkley Publishing Group, 2004.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Digest for Week-ending 6 August 2011

If you’re constantly looking to food and stimulants to wake you up, increase your energy, and improve your health, here are some alternative methods that will give you the results you’re looking for and at the same time, allow you to have some fun.

Wake up Your Brain with Yoga

If you’re feeling a bit sluggish, this relatively simple yoga posture will clear the fog and revive you.

Increase Your Energy with Good Posture

Maybe you didn’t realize that standing or sitting up straight does more than improve your appearance. Here’s why.

Belt Out a Tune for Your Health

Singing is not only fun, it can have a profound impact on specific areas of our body.

A Chant Away from Health

Similar to singing, the various sounds created while chanting stimulate biochemical processes within the body.

Mixing It Up

Staying energetic and alert is sometimes as simple as changing this.

An Inverted Position

Although I use an inversion table for my lower back, I’ve found additional benefits to hanging in an inverted position.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

An Inverted Position

As someone who has had lower back issues for most of my adult life yet would rather avoid drugs or surgery, I was happy to discover inversion therapy. I have been using an inversion table for several years, although much more frequently these days.

I began using it primarily to relieve pain from sciatica. The idea behind inversion therapy is that it reverses the effects of gravity. By hanging upside down from the feet, your body weight helps to decompress the vertebrae, which helps to restore the shape of the discs, which over time and with pressure can become flattened or ruptured.

However, I found that I was getting a lot more benefits from hanging upside down than just relief of back pain:

  • In the morning, it gives my back a nice stretch and relieves stiffness
  • It wakes up my brain and energizes me
  • It helps to relieve tension and stress and relaxes me at night before bed

According to energycenter.com, here are the benefits of inversion therapy (although I do have a Teeter table, this is not an endorsement):

  • Relieves back and neck pain
  • Provides care and feeding for the discs
  • Stimulates circulation and relieves stress
  • Works the core with no pressure to the spine and keeps joints flexible
  • Can be used for recovery from high-impact workouts
  • Relieves pain from workouts more quickly by stimulating the lymphatic system
  • Helps to strengthens ligaments
  • Provides balance and orientation training
  • Helps to keep the spinal column long and prevent problems associated with the internal organs settling as we age
  • Relieves depression

They even reveal that the U.S. Army has adopted inversion therapy as part of their fitness regimen.

Of course, like most alternative treatments, there are critics of inversion therapy. Some of the objections are described here. I will say, though, that I do agree with the caution that if you have high blood pressure, heart disease or glaucoma, you should check with your doctor before using an inversion table.

For me, it’s part of my daily routine that works…

Friday, August 5, 2011

Mixing it Up

One of the things I love about my work is that I can take it with me and do it almost anywhere. For those of you who would rather “leave” your job at the end of the day, then this doesn’t apply to you.

But for some of the work I do, it mostly involves my computer and an internet connection. For my health coaching business, it also involves speaking and meeting clients in various locations, and I like to find meeting spots that have a nice atmosphere.

One of my favorite spots to do computer work lately has been along a river near a pretty bridge that is lined with flowers. I like to sit under a tree, sometimes with my lunch, and my computer. I have no internet connection while I’m there so it’s usually a good place to get some writing done without distractions. I’ve also been known to spread a blanket on the grass and plop down with my green or red juice to do my work, as seen in the picture.

Why do I go to all this trouble to go to different places and why do I enjoy it so much? Because I love the novelty of places that are new to me. The new sights, sounds, smells, food, people, and even animals (sometimes bugs : ). They awaken my senses and gets neurons firing in the brain, establishing new connections. This is essential for the creative process and literally does keep me awake, alert, and full of energy.

As I mentioned in my last newsletter, there’s something powerful that happens when you can leave the confines of the four walls to spread out your energy into an open space. And I make it a point to mix it up when I can to keep my mind fresh.

What are some of the things you like to do to stay stimulated and alert? Even if you don’t have the luxury of changing your work atmosphere?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Chant Away From Health

Yesterday I introduced some of the health benefits of singing and what would be more fun than getting healthy through the use of our voices? Today, on my drive into the country, I sang along to the songs on the radio. I have to admit, I wasn’t singing very loudly so I’m still working on reaching the point where I’m really working my abs and facial muscles - and maybe even strengthening my immune system.

Another form of singing that has tremendous effects on our bodies and emotional well-being is chanting. If you practice yoga and/or meditation, then you’re probably familiar with this form of song. From the website of Russill Paul, he explains that we have 82 reflex points located in the palate and through the combination of the positions of the tongue in the mouth and vocalizations, we stimulate the meridians associated with these points, which generates energy throughout the body.

Here are some of the physiological events that can occur when we sing certain sounds:

  • Short A - can lift the mood by stimulating the brain to release endorphins
  • Long E - increases alertness by stimulating the pineal gland, which controls the body’s biological clock
  • Short E - stimulates the thyroid gland, which secretes hormones and regulates many bodily functions, including digestion
  • Long O - can help to regulate blood sugar by stimulating the pancreas
  • Double OO sound - can activate the spleen and help to strengthen immunity

I’ve participated in some beautiful chanting when visiting The Himalayan Institute in Honesdale, PA, but I’m definitely a novice at it. Here’s a video that introduces a very simple chant practiced in Kundalini Yoga. There are four sounds/syllables using the short A as described above. Try it to see if it lifts your mood. You may be one chant away from better health!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Belt out a Tune for Your Health

I recently wrote about the importance of sitting up straight to increase lung capacity and to get more oxygen to the brain.

I too posted links to facial exercises and explained why it‘s important to practice them as we age. Well, if you’d like to take care of all of these things in one fell swoop*, there’s something very painless and actually enjoyable that you can do. Sing!

The benefits of singing have been well documented and in fact, the music magazine The Etude (1883-1957) published over 100 music therapy related articles, 13 of which described the health benefits of singing. Here are some that you may not be aware of:

  • Improves mood by releasing endorphins
  • It relieves stress
  • Improves sleep
  • Improves posture*
  • Tones the abdominal and facial muscles
  • Simulates circulation
  • Increases lung capacity*
  • Improves mental alertness*
  • Strengthens the immune system

There’s a whole list of biochemical benefits associated with singing particular sounds. I’ll explain those tomorrow. But for today, find any opportunity you can to belt out a tune:

  • Sing in the shower,
  • Sing in the car with your kids,
  • Sing if you attend services on Sunday,
  • Sing while you’re cooking (maybe you’ll eat less!),
  • Sing happy birthday, happy anniversary, and happy Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc.

In other words, find a reason to sing! If it can improve our mood, our health, our stature, etc., think about what it’s doing to improve the world. We just need more people doing it more often.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Increase Your Energy with Good Posture

Okay, so maybe you can’t find a quiet, comfortable place to do half tortoise pose to eliminate that afternoon slump, but you need something. You’ve been sitting at your desk all day and you’re getting foggy and sleepy and you just want to put your head down on your desk and take a quick nap. Not a bad idea if you could.

But one way to prevent this afternoon brain drain for happening in the first place involves something so simple: sit up straight! Yes, slouching can actually make you more tired. Why is this? When we sit or stand up straight, it allows us to fill our lungs when we breathe. This means more oxygen and more energy. Slouching will decrease the amount of oxygen we take in which also means less oxygen to the brain.

Slouching also stresses our muscles, which can cause fatigue too and it can also block the flow of oxygen to the brain. That’s less oxygen to the brain because we’re taking in less, and less oxygen because we’re blocking the flow to the brain. By simply sitting up (or standing up) straight, we can alleviate these two problems and improve our energy levels and our alertness. No food, or exercise, or miracle supplement required.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Wake up the Brain with Yoga

As some of you may know, I’m an avid Bikram yoga practitioner. It’s my primary form of exercise and I love that it’s a constant journey with no destination. There’s always room for improvement (for me anyway : ) Bikram stresses that the series of twenty-six postures is organized in a specific order because each posture prepares the body for the next pose, which prepares the body for the next pose, etc.

There is one posture that Bikram agrees can be performed outside of the series and even at ambient temperatures–Ardha-Kurmasana, or Half Tortoise Pose. I wanted to share it with you because there are some real benefits to this pose, particularly if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep or if you find yourself dozing off during the day.

The posture begins by sitting Japanese style, with the legs bent, knees on the floor, and the buttocks on the heels. While sitting up straight, raise your arms over your head, lock your elbows, keeping your arms touching your ears, and bring the palms of your hands together with the thumbs crossed.

While taking a deep breath, raise your arms up high, then exhale as you slowly bend forward, keeping your arms straight and reaching forward and your bottom on your heels. Bring your body down until the sides of your hands and your forehead touch the floor (see the picture above). Continue to look forward and stretch forward with each inhalation and rest further on your heels with each exhalation so that each breath cycle acts like human traction. Continue this for 30 seconds. If you can lie down on the floor for 30 seconds and then repeat the pose, even better.

The benefits of this posture are many and include relaxation, relief for indigestion, firming of the abdomen and thighs, and increased flexibility of the hips scapula, deltoids, triceps, and latissimus dorsi muscles.

The posture also stretches the lower part of the lungs, which increase blood circulation to the brain. Bikram claims that this, together with the compression in the neck/shoulders results in better delivery of blood to the brain, which is the equivalent of getting eight hours of sleep. So if you're feeling that afternoon slump, if you can find a quiet spot, try this posture. You may even eliminate that craving for coffee…