Monday, October 23, 2017

Variety IS the spice of life

When I have queried healthy eating challenge participants about which weekly challenge was their favorite this one is mentioned most often. In fact my favorite sister-in-law said she didn't even realize she liked so many vegetables until she tried them on this challenge. She has progressed really far in the years since she made that comment and now she is a full fledged green smoothie drinker with her own healthy eating blog! 

There are many blogs and books that tout
various super foods that are power houses of nutrients. We are so blessed to have access to such a huge variety of these amazing fruits and vegetables. Yet many of us eat the same foods day in and day out. And in making these same food choices we also partake of the same nutrients. It's time to step outside our habits and take part in a wider variety of delicious fruits and vegetables. 

I have written before about a surprising experience I had when I prepared an evening snack for some teenagers that came to our home for a church meeting. I had heard some complaints the week before when these same teens were served store bought cake and cookies at an event. So... wanting to give them some healthier fare I served warm artisan whole wheat bread with honey butter (bought at Costco I just re-heated), sliced oranges and assorted veggies served in a cup with hummus. I couldn’t believe my ears when one of the girls asked what a slice of raw red bell pepper was and another exclaimed she had never before seen a snow pea pod.

Yet even in my own family I have a nephew that when we reunited after a year apart shared that the last salad he had eaten was when he saw me last. ARRGGHHH! 

I know that on this challenge you have been eating fresh fruits and vegetables. But are you in a rut of always eating romaine in your salads, and always eating apples or oranges for your fruit? 

In a recent study Georgia State University nutrition students challenged fellow students to a “nutrition fear factor” test to encourage them to try new foods.
Alexandra Friel, one of the organizers, said, “Everyone has seen the ‘Fear Factor’ television show, and we all tend to think we are a little braver than we really are. We wanted to put Georgia State students to the test.”

So, she headed to DeKalb Farmers Market (which btw was my favorite place to shop when I lived in Atlanta) with fellow student Rebecca Sterns to select food for the taste test. They choose some that might be familiar, such as kiwi, fresh coconut and raw mushrooms, and some that many students had never seen, let alone tasted. Jackfruit, star fruit, pomegranate and durian were on the menu, as well as baba ghanouj — an eggplant dish.

The results? “Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience of tasting different foods that were interesting and healthy to eat,” said student Lauren Sieber. “The most interesting was the durian. It is by far the worst-smelling fruit in the world, but once you get past the smell, it tastes pretty good.”

Listed below are five foods that you may not have tried and they are just a small sampling of the wonderful variety we can choose from in our diet
• Plantains: A staple of Latin American cuisine, they look like large bananas, but are really a starch vegetable rich in potassium and vitamin C. Try the ripe ones (they will look almost black) for your test. Slice it, sauté with a little butter or margarine and a pinch of brown sugar and salt for side dish or dessert.
Broccoli slaw- Yes I will accept a SAME vegetable if you can use it in a very different way. Broccoli Slaw is merely broccoli (the stalk?) spiralized into skinny strips. I’ve been using it in a mock Cole Slaw I make with Greek yogurt.
•Dates are a sweet and flavorful snack that keep perfectly in your purse or car.. I buy mine at Costco and use them to sweeten my noon day smoothie.
• Star Fruit- It’s called a star fruit because when sliced each piece looks like a star. Choose a sweet variety, like Arkin. Look for one that is shiny and firm to the touch. Kids will like how it looks, and moms will like the extra fiber and vitamins A and C that it delivers.
• Eggplant: If you like hummus, try something new, like baba ghanouj served with pita wedges or flatbread. This Middle Eastern dish is used as a spread or a dip. My neighbor made it for me recently and it was so delicious I literally licked the plate. 

YOUR CHALLENGE FOR THIS WEEK IS, EACH DAY EAT A FRUIT OR VEGETABLE THAT YOU DO NOT NORMALLY EAT (to figure out if you “normally eat it” all foods that you have eaten within the last month cannot be used for this challenge. So each day you should be trying a new fruit or vegetable that you have not eaten in the last month nor during this week of the challenge) For every day that you try a new fruit or vegetable this week you earn the 5 bonus points.

Here’s a recipe that might be fun to try and please feel free to share any recipes on the blog that you have found for our more unusual fruits and veggies!

Baba Ghanouj 
Makes 2 cups or 8 (1/4-cup) servings

Hands on: 30 minutes 
Total time: 90 minutes

2 pounds eggplant,
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice,
1 small garlic clove minced,
 2 tablespoons tahini paste (sesame seed paste),
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, 
2 teaspoons chopped parsley

Grill the eggplant over a hot fire or under the broiler until the skin darkens and wrinkles on all sides, about 15 to 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. The eggplant should be uniformly soft when pressed with tongs. Transfer to a baking sheet and cool for 5 minutes.
Set a small colander over a bowl or in the sink. Trim the top and bottom off each eggplant. Slit the eggplants lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop the hot pulp from the skins and place the pulp in the colander. You should have about 2 cups of packed pulp. Discard the skins. Let the pulp drain for 3 minutes.
Transfer pulp to a food processor bowl and add lemon juice, garlic, tahini, 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Process until the mixture has a coarse, choppy texture, about 8 one-second pulses. Transfer to a serving dish, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until lightly chilled, about 45 to 60 minutes.
To serve, use a spoon to make a trough in the center of the dip and spoon in a teaspoon of olive oil and sprinkle with parsley.
— From “Perfect Vegetables From the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated” (America’s Test Kitchen, $29.95)

Per serving: 50 calories (percent of calories from fat, 72), 1 gram protein, 3 grams carbohydrates, 1 grams fiber, 4 grams fat (less than 1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 2 milligrams sodium.
Nutritional bonus points: Don’t let the 72 percent of calories from fat scare you. This is a low-fat, low-calorie dip, and the small amount of fat comes from heart-healthy fats in the olive oil and tahini.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Getting good sleep helps with weight loss

Sad but true and backed up by a U.S. study looking at sleep, metabolism and eating habits of men and women-Researchers at the University of Colorado found that when subjects came up short on sleep, they experienced almost immediate weight gain. As reported by the The New York Times reports, the study, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found fast weight gain among the sleep-deprived regardless of gender.
       In the abstract, researchers note, "Our findings suggest that increased food intake during insufficient sleep is a physiological adaptation to provide energy needed to sustain additional wakefulness; yet when food is easily accessible, intake surpasses that needed." Wright suggested part of those extra pounds was a product of behavioral changes. “We found that when people weren’t getting enough sleep they overate carbohydrates,”. He added that  part of the change was behavioral. Staying up late and skimping on sleep led to not only more eating, but a shift in the type of foods a person consumed.
       Night owls managed to consume 6 per cent more calories. But once they started sleeping more, they began eating more healthfully, consuming fewer carbohydrates and fats.
       I think a lot of it can be caused when we are confused by our body signals. We are sleepy or cranky or worn out so we reach for a comfort food for a quick dose of energy. Later (feeling low energy from lack of sleep and nutritionless carbohydrates) we skip the gym and pick up takeout for dinner-- no time to cook.
       Additional problems are explained by Michael Breus, PhD, author of Beauty Sleep and the clinical director of the sleep division for Arrowhead Health in Glendale, Arizona, “It’s not so much that if you sleep, you will lose weight, but if you are sleep-deprived, meaning that you are not getting enough minutes of sleep or good quality sleep, your metabolism will not function properly.” 
       The two hormones that are key in this process are ghrelin and leptin. “Ghrelin is the ‘go’ hormone that tells you when to eat, and when you are sleep-deprived, you have more ghrelin,” Breus says. “Leptin is the hormone that tells you to stop eating, and when you are sleep deprived, you have less leptin.” More ghrelin plus less leptin equals weight gain. “You are eating more, plus your metabolism is slower when you are sleep-deprived,” Breus says.

Ackk so what does all of this news have to do with our challenge for this week?

For every day you do at least 3 things to contribute to getting a good night’s sleep you can claim your 5 points from the Weekly Challenge. (They can be the same 3 things each day- find what works for you) Ideas would include:

1. Clean your bedroom. Fresh linens, a beautifully made bed, a tidy end table, a cleared off dresser top, adorned with a favorite photo or fresh flowers- All of these help your bedroom to be a lovely and peaceful place that invites relaxation that contributes to sleep. Your bedroom should be a relaxing sanctuary. Every day that you take some steps toward this goal you can claim the bonus points.

2. Cut out the Caffeine- Caffeine (found in tea, coffee, sodas and some over the counter medications) can stay in your system as long as 14 hours, increases the number of times you awaken at night and decreases the total amount of sleep time. This may subsequently affect daytime anxiety and performance. Cut out the caffeine for bonus points.

3. Avoid working, eating, and discussing emotional issues in bed (I have a rule for my hubby that nothing stressful can be spoken of after 9:00 pm) The bed should be used for sleep and sex only. If not, we can associate the bed with other activities and it often becomes difficult to fall asleep.

4. Minimize noise, light, and temperature extremes during sleep with ear plugs, window blinds, or an electric blanket or air conditioner. Even the slightest nighttime noises or luminescent lights can disrupt the quality of your sleep. I can’t tell you how getting blackout curtains and shutters have increased the time I am able to stay asleep. I even have electrical tape over the small lights on my bedside modem.

5. Try not to drink fluids after 8 p.m. This may reduce awakenings due to a need to urinate.

6. Avoid naps, but if you do nap, make it no more than about 25 minutes. If you have problems falling asleep, then no naps for you.

7. Do not expose yourself to bright light if you do need to get up at night. Use a small night-light instead. I bought a motion activated night-light (on amazon) that turns on if I do need to walk in the bathroom at night and it is much calmer and more subtle than switching on the full overhead lights.

8. Avoid the light of televisions and computers late at night. My son has been using a program that dims the light emitted from his computer in the evening hours so as not to interfere with sleep. It’s a free program available at   Also your i-pad can be read with white letters on black instead of black on white (to switch it go to preferences then general then accessibility then choose white on black)

9. Consider some natural help aids. Certain herbal teas can help you relax and fall asleep. Chamomile is a popular tea that slows the nervous system and promotes relaxation. A new tea I’ve discovered is Yogi Soothing Caramel Bedtime - yum.  Other liquids, such as a small glass of warm milk, may also help. Melatonin (my favorite is Source Naturals Melatonin 1 mg. peppermint flavored sublingual also available from amazon helps many people sleep (though it can cause vivid and sometimes scary dreams). Essential oils can also have great power to aid your sleep. I love Lavender on my pillowcase, Doterra’s Serenity rubbed on the back of my neck and a drop of Clary Sage (Also Doterra) on my tongue. ZZZZZZZZZZ!! As always check with your health professional before trying natural remedies.

10. Take control of your worries. Most of us lead very stressful lives. Stress, surprises, and changes can take a toll on our sleep habits. I often find myself going over, over and over the same worries somehow thinking if I think about it long enough, an easy solution is going to somehow pop up. One way to decrease this endless cycle of worry before bed is to write down your concerns in a journal and close the book on the day. You might even want to note a specific time the following day that you will worry about those things you have listed.

10. If you must get up make it as quick and stress free as possible- I know some of you are young mothers with children that you still may need to get up with during the night. If you are getting up to change a diaper or give hugs and reassurance make sure the diaper and wipes and anything else needed are set out and ready the night before. If you are getting up to nurse or give a bottle likewise have things as ready as possible. Set your favorite cozy blanket in your favorite cozy chair. Have diapering items set out. If you want a cup of tea while nursing have the tea bag and cup set out and the tea pot full of water ready to switch on. Plan ahead to minimize any chores you must do during the night so that things are as quick, easy and relaxing as possible.

11. Create a bedtime ritual. It is calming to do the same things each night to signal your body it's time to wind down. This might include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music — preferably with the lights dimmed. Relaxing activities can promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness. I have found great calming by listening to meditation CD’s and particularly like those guided by Stin Hansen. She shares several free ones at

12. Get comfortable. Sleeping clothes should be loose and comfortable and sheets should be fresh and clean. Your mattress and pillows should be those you find the coziest and most comfortable. Do you need any upgrades to sleeping clothes or bedding?

13. Avoid the snooze alarm. You might be surprised that I have NEVER hit snooze in my entire life. The reason? I set my alarm for the last possible moment I can rise and meet my daily obligations. Why would I want to get up any earlier than that? I surprised a friend recently when I shared that on the mornings I work at the temple I get up just 10 minutes before I walk out the door. The trick to being able to do that is my before bed preparation. Before I retire for the night my temple bag is packed and on the kitchen table with my purse, my breakfast bar and my water bottle. In my bathroom my dress, underclothing and shoes are selected and set out. I shower and wash and dry my hair right before bed. I get up, use the bathroom, quickly flat iron my hair and put on a couple of swipes of make up. Pull dress over my head, step into my shoes, grab my items from the table and I’m out the door. Now why would I set my alarm for 30 minutes before I leave and disturb my sleep in the morning by hitting snooze, then hitting snooze then hitting snooze until I REALLY need to get up. I set the alarm for when I REALLY need to get up.

So ladies work on sleeping longer and better this week to earn your daily bonus points!

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Fiber Filled Life

This week's challenge is a repeat from a previous round. I remember I decided to include it as a challenge because I had just listened to a podcast by Doctor Rhonda Patrick concerning the importance of fiber in our diets. I won’t require you to listen but I do heartily recommend it. It’s a great reminder of the importance of fiber not only for weight loss but also for providing what is needed to maintain a healthy gut microbiota which assists us to have a healthy immune system. The podcast can be found at  and her interview is with the Sondenbergs. 

Nutrition Diva (another of my favorite pod casters)  shares four reasons that including lots of fiber in your diet are of great benefit:
Reason #1 Fiber fills you up.
  If you're watching your weight, fiber is your best friend. High fiber foods fill you up with fewer calories because they are naturally bulky, which makes your stomach feel full. Fiber also slows down the digestive process so you can go longer without feeling hungry again. It even decreases the amount of fat and calories that are absorbed from the digestive tract! Trying to lose weight on a low-fiber diet is like parallel parking without power steering. Sure, it's possible, but why make things harder than they need to be?
Reason #2. Fiber prevents disease.
Fiber is your body's janitorial staff. It sweeps up digestive and cellular debris, mops up cholesterol, environmental toxins and surplus hormones, and takes out the trash. That's why a high-fiber diet reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and many kinds of cancer. If you've ever been in Manhattan during a garbage strike, you know that waste management is one municipal service you don't ever want to live without. Same with your body.
Reason #3. Life is better when you're regular
The only people who find the subject of irregularity funny are those who've never suffered from it. And the two of you can just keep your chuckles to yourself! The reason so many people suffer from occasional or chronic constipation is that most people don't eat anywhere near enough fiber. 'Nuff said.
Reason #4. Fiber hangs out with a cool crowd.
You can get more fiber by taking a fiber supplement every day. But you'll be much better off if you simply eat more foods that are naturally rich in fiber. That's because fiber tends to be found in foods that are also full of antioxidants, phytonutrients, lignans, phenols, and other good stuff. When you eat more high-fiber foods, your entire diet gets a nutritional upgrade.

See how much sexier fiber is than you ever imagined?

The USDA recommends that you get at least 25 grams of fiber a day. Nutrition Diva recommends 35-40 grams. The Sondenbergs would like you to eat 50-100. For this next week of our competition you will earn the 5 bonus points every day that you eat 25-35 grams (make sure and try to do more than you have been doing so far)  of fiber and by also including at least one serving this week of a fiber rich food you do not normally eat 
Some of the easiest ways to increase the fiber in your diet are to:
1. Include high fiber cereal in your diet.
2. Be sure to eat several servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
3. Eat more beans and legumes and choose whole grains over refined as often as possible.
4. Other foods high in fiber are avocados, sunflower seeds, tahini (sesame butter), dried figs, green peas, sun-dried tomatoes, and popcorn.

And here is my new and favorite way to get fiber 

I just love Trader Joe's JUST Coconut chunks.That is just what it is-delicious chunks of pure coconut with nothing added. Each bite size chunk has 1 gram of fiber and is 17 calories. I like to eat them plain right out of the bag but they would be yummy added to a smoothie as pictured. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Cleaning out the Pantry

I don’t know about you but I am AMAZED by friends that have a constant candy bowl in their home FULL of candy. Candy is one of my weaknesses and I can guarantee if I had ANY in my house it would be calling my name until ever morsel was gobbled up. So of course I don’t keep any candy in my home. I know that each of our weaknesses as far as food is concerned are different but one of the key steps to changing our eating habits is cleaning out the pantry.

(Many of the following ideas come from author Jenni Grover, MS RD LDN)

Tips for stocking a healthy pantry

Clean out the junk: It's all very well committing to eating less cookies or enjoying more fruits and vegetables, but unless you change what's in your cupboards, the chances are you'll find temptation catching up with you sooner or later. So take the time to do a thorough spring-cleaning of your pantry. Read food labels, and systematically clean out items that you know are your downfall. Get rid of products that are overly high in sodium, sugar or artificial colorings and preservatives or past their use-by date. Soda, crackers, candy, chips, cookies and high-sugar cereals are all likely items to purge from your pantry. That's not to say you can't leave a few treats — but be honest with yourself, and only allow those treats that you know you can maintain control over. 

Restock with healthier foods: At least as important as eliminating junk foods is restocking those cupboards with healthier alternatives. Whole grains, beans and other high-fiber foods, for example, are central to a healthy diet — and they are often easy go-to cupboard staples when the fridge is bare. If you know you like to snack (and who doesn't!), you can also explore healthier snack foods like nuts, whole-grain crackers, popcorn etc. You may even find that your taste buds enjoy the break from cookies and chips! And consider individually packaged snack foods if it helps with your portion control. Another option is to weigh and package snack foods yourself into pre-measured bags.

Reorganize and prioritize: We are creatures of habit and convenience. If cooking becomes too much of a hassle, we are that much more likely to order a pizza. So alongside buying healthy ingredients, make sure you also spend time to organize your cupboards so the good stuff is easy to get to.

Start a recipe file: This might seem unrelated to organizing your pantry, but it means little to stock your kitchen with healthy, whole foods if you don't have ideas on how to use them. You might add healthy recipes to an old-fashioned recipe box or notebook or begin a computer file or pinterest board to gather healthy meal ideas.

Organize equipment too: If your appliances that can help in healthy meal preparation are shoved way to the back of a cupboard gathering dust you will rarely think to use them. If you have a pressure cooker front and center it can help inspire you to cook chickpeas, black beans and other dried legumes without the need for presoaking. Similarly, if your juicer, food processor or slow cooker are crammed together in a chaotic mess, it makes the idea of preparing a fresh, home-cooked meal that much less appealing. So while you are organizing your pantry, take a moment to put your equipment in order too — sharpening your knives and replacing any broken items while you are at it.

For each day that you clean out one drawer or shelf in your kitchen or add 3 healthy recipes to your recipe box, computer file or pinboard you can claim the 5 daily bonus points.