Precious Heart

Your heart is the life beat of your body…quite literally. Heart disease is a killer. It kills more people every year in the U.S. than anything else. Do you have heart disease? Does someone you love have heart disease? Do you or someone you love have diseases that lead up to heart disease?

  • High Blood Pressure
  • High Cholesterol
  • High Triglycerides
  • Stroke
  • Heart Attack
  • Diabetes

Do you or someone you love have these risk factors that make you more susceptible to get heart disease?

  • Smoking
  • Overweight
  • Obesity
  • Inactive
  • Family History of Heart Disease
  • Preeclampsia (high blood pressure while pregnant)
  • Poor Food Choices

Does this scare you? If it did, that was not my intention. My intention was to get you to hear me out and face the facts of how utterly important your diet is to keep your ticker ticking. I care about you. Every single one of my readers. I pray for you and I pray for the health of your bodies.

What you eat matters a lot when it comes to heart health. I could give you the same old lecture on eating “healthy” food will keep you healthy. But you’ve gotten that before. The month of February we’re going to talk about foods that you may want to get into your diet to improve your risk factors and keep that heart healthy.

Start today…don’t wait. Foods that have a lot of salt (sodium), animal fats (beef, pork, butter, cream), trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils), and not enough balance of the super nutrient rich foods can lead you down the path of illness. Let’s take the path of wellness…

Food For Your Face

One of my readers asked a question that many of us have either thought of, googled, or tried…can I eat differently to help my complexion? The answer is…possibly! What we eat feeds every cell in our body. We are either eating to help our cells or what we are eating may actually be hurting our cells. There are a few questions we need to be asking: what should I eat to help my complexion and what foods could I be using topically (meaning on your face) to help my complexion?

Let’s start with what to eat. Here’s a list of the top 5 things you should be eating to help you complexion:

  1. Fats…but not just any fats! UNSATURATED fats, especially omega-3 fats. Unsaturated fats are found mostly in plant sources (olive oil, canola oil, olives, avocados, nuts, and seeds (flax, chia, pumpkin, sunflower). Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in plants as well as cold water fish. High sources of omega-3 fats are found in canola oil, walnuts, pecans, GROUND (and then refrigerated) flax seeds, chia seeds, salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, and sardines. Eat up!
  2. Foods with vitamin C: citrus fruits, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli/cauliflower, and leafy greens. Vitamin C is one of the building blocks for skin cells and it also helps to protect yourself from sun damage when you eat it.
  3. Foods with vitamin E: this wonder vitamin works similar to vitamin C in protecting your skin cells from damage. Nuts, seeds, oils, greens, and asparagus are all great sources of vitamin E.
  4. Foods with Biotin: Biotin is a B-vitamin and just like C and E is used as a building block of skin cells. Fun fact: your body makes a small amount of biotin! Cool right? But we still need more through our diet so shoot for foods like bananas, oatmeal, eggs, almonds, and peanuts/peanut butter.
  5. Foods with zinc: just like the rest of them we need zinc for upkeep on those skin cells. Research also shows that people who have a zinc deficiency are also more prone to acne. Zinc is found in animal sources like shell fish, red meat, and poultry.

IMPORTANT: I do not recommend taking a supplement for these vitamins or minerals unless you talk to your doctor or a dietitian. It is much better to get these vitamins and minerals through food because your body uses them more effectively. Remember that vitamins and minerals in supplement form are usually made in a laboratory with synthetic material not food.

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Top 5 things you may want to limit to help your complexion:

  1. Processed foods: boxed, highly processed foods have less nutrients than whole foods like grains, beans, fruits, vegetables, meats, and oils. Although it may fill your belly it may be emptying your nutrient reserves.
  2. Sugar: diets high in sugar and too high in carbohydrates may bring blood sugars up which releases insulin. Studies have shown that the more insulin released the more prone people may be to acne. Cut back on sugar (flavored creamer, candy, cookies, cakes pies, sodas) and eat carbohydrates in moderation (because they are definitely good to eat but eating too much of anything isn’t a good thing).
  3. Saturated fats: fats found in animal meats, butter, sour cream, cream cheese, and other animal products have saturated fats. These fats are what we call “inflammatory” fats meaning that they cause inflammation in the body. Too much inflammation can cause skin issues as well as other problems inside the body. Get more “good fats” and less saturated fats.
  4. Food irritants: some foods like strawberries, oranges, tomatoes, vinegar, avocado, some pit fruits, and others have been known to cause topical dermatitis meaning that if these foods touch the skin it can irritate it. If you think you may be affected by different foods it may be worth a trip to a dermatologist or an allergist just to make sure.
  5. Food allergens: shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, and gluten can all cause skin irritations. If you feel you have a food allergy please contact your doctor immediately to get tested.

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Feel like a spa retreat right in your own home? Here are some foods that you can actually put on skin to help improve your complexion.

  1. Apple cider vinegar: some people think this magical wonder is a cure all. The jury is still out for me but I use it every single day and it does have anti-bacterial/viral/fungal properties. I think it is important to use the apple cider vinegar with “mother” which is a film of good bacteria that helps in digestion and may help topically on your face. Mix the vinegar with water (1:3 vinegar to water ratio) and apply to your face as a cleanser.
  2. Lemons with oil: mix freshly squeezed lemons with your favorite oil (canola, almond, even coconut) and place on your face. You’ll be getting both vitamin C and vitamin E directly on to your skin which has shown to be beneficial.
  3. Avocado: this wonderful fruit is great for eating and for wearing! Smash up the avocado and apply it directly to your face. It helps if you puree it (add some lemon juice too).
  4. Anti-microbial foods: yogurt, honey, cinnamon, garlic, tea tree oil (not a food but a super anti-microbial) are all good for your face. One note about garlic and tea tree oil is they need diluted or they may cause more irritation on your skin. You can dilute them with an oil.
  5. Baking soda: it is a natural antiseptic meaning it can clean skin of bacteria. Mix a little baking soda with water, apple cider vinegar, or lemon and go to town. This will also help to exfoliate dead skin cells which could help to clear pores.

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The take away from this post is that yes, some food can help your complexion while some foods can potentially hurt it. Eating better is always the best recommendation I can make to anyone. Start where you are and make it better step by step. The facial masks are fun but you’ll be better off helping your skin from the inside out!

Calories don’t exist on your birthday and other things I want you to know

With all the fixes and diets and guilt about food there are some things I want you to know about eating to simplify your life. These are just a few things I’ve picked out from a list a mile long, but are my favorite. Enjoy!

  1. Calories do not count on your birthday. It’s your birthday! Just celebrate another year of life that God gave you! Go out to eat, get what you want most (not what has the least amount of calories), and for the love of food, eat cake or pie or ice cream or whatever gets you going for your birthday. Celebrate! Now, the days before and the days after should be like any other day but on your day, stop worrying and seize the moment!
  2. Be picky about what you eat. Listen, if you don’t like something don’t waste your calories on it. Seriously. There’s nothing less satisfying than eating a dull rendition of food just to eat it. Yuck. I don’t care if that bran cereal has 25% of your daily fiber needs if it is gross, get your fiber from somewhere else throughout your day. Similarly if its really high in calories but tastes bad, don’t waste those calories!
  3. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If the diets you’ve been on in the past do not lead to life long weight loss THEY DON’T WORK. Sure they help you lose weight temporarily but if it is not feasible enough for you to stick with it for the rest of your life, it wasn’t a good diet and it didn’t work. An overall healthy diet, that is feasible for you to do for the rest of your life, is the secret to well-being.
  4. Choose one thing about your diet to change at a time. Instead of saying “I’m starting my healthy diet today” and doing a complete 180 revamp, just choose one change to focus on and stick with it. Once you have that down, move on to your next goal. Work on each goal for about 1 week until you feel confident that you can put something else on your plate. Having 3-4 changes in a month instead of 10 changes all at once is a lot easier to chew on. I call that the diet snowball or the nutrition snow ball. I don’t take all the credit, my husband coined the term 🙂
  5. Find what is motivating you from the inside. So you want to eat better. So what? What are you wanting from your diet? What about a better diet is important to you? It probably has nothing to do with diet and everything to do with what you find important in your life. THAT will keep you motivated. Write it down and put it in places where you will see it. Refrigerator, dashboard, computer at work, bathroom mirror, or make it the wallpaper on your phone.

A healthy diet or lifestyle isn’t about a bunch of rules, it’s about what works for you for the rest of your life. Change should be gradual. Start with what you want, make small changes to get to your goals, make sure your changes are feasible to continue for the rest of your life, don’t eat just to eat, and for the love of food just enjoy your birthday without worrying about calories!

Final thoughts: fad diets, exercise programs that “sell” nutrition, and people who claim to be experts are the quint-essential food rule makers. RED FLAGS!

Challenge – set a small goal for yourself this week. Want to drink more water? Pick an amount to strive towards. Want to eat breakfast instead of skipping it? Find something you enjoy eating (my personal favorite is hard boiled eggs!). Want to fit in more veggies? Start by having a serving for lunch and for dinner. Before you know it you’ll be a master at the change you’ve made and can start making more!

Simply Eat Better

There is so much information out there about how to eat, what to eat, and when to eat. The do’s, don’ts, rules, regulations, and laws are just enough to make you crazy! Much of the nutrition information out there isn’t even from someone legit. Side note: I’m not here to call out the fakes although some days I would like to, I’m here to give you feasible and educated information so that you can work through it to find whats best to move your health forward.

There’s no cookie cutter right way or wrong way of eating. There’s no perfect diet and that’s the great thing about nutrition! It’s always a journey to be better, to eat better. I don’t want to tell you what to eat, I simply want to give guidance and recommendations letting you choose what to change.

Here are 10 simple guidelines for a better diet:

  1. Eat less. Even if that’s all you change, just eating less will improve your overall health because chances are you eat more than you should. This not only helps with weight management but studies show that being overweight or obese increases the risk of heart disease and cancer. Try smaller plates, keeping food in the kitchen instead of on the table, and ordering smaller sizes at restaurants.
  2. Eat more often. Eating every 3-4 hours helps to keep you from getting ravenously hungry and lets your metabolism run smoothly. Small nutrient rich snacks in between meals are key. Think about foods like nuts, seeds, yogurt, string cheese, fruit, and veggies.
  3. Slow down. Enjoy the flavors of your food. It should take you 15-30 minutes to eat a meal. As a mom of  twins and a four year old sometimes when I give that advice I think HAH yeah right! But seriously food should be savored not scarfed. When is the last time you truly smelled, tasted, and felt what you were eating? Food is as much for nourishment as it is for the soul.
  4. Eat more vegetables. The recommendations are to eat at least 3 servings daily. If you can get more than 3 servings that is AWESOME! Eat up! 1/2 cup cooked or 1 cup lightly steamed or raw are considered servings. Lunch and dinner are perfect for vegetables but there’s no stopping you from sauteing mushrooms and spinach with your eggs for breakfast or crunching on some snap peas with hummus for a snack.
  5. Eat just enough fruits. Shoot for at least 2 daily. Local seasonal fruits are packed with nutrients and super delicious! Blueberries in the summer, apples in the fall, tropical fruit in the winter, strawberries in the spring. Head to your local farmers market for the best deals and watch the sale adds in your grocery store for budgeting.
  6. Work in some whole grains. Don’t box yourself into just whole wheat. I mean, wheat is fine but branch out a bit! Think about barley, farro, buckwheat, quinoa, corn, brown and black rice…the list could go on! Whole grains provide tons of fiber, protein, and B vitamins. Get as whole as possible!
  7. Forget the fat fear. Fat should not be avoided! Especially plant fats. Eat avocados, olives, oils, nuts, and/or seeds regularly. Animal fats like butter, sour cream, and cream cheese are fine in small amounts. Try to buy organic animal products when possible. That’s a post for another day!
  8. Spice it up! Instead of adding a ton of salt to food try herbs and spices. I’ve used Gourmet Garden’s guide when trying new ones http://www.gourmetgarden.com/en/herb-guide.  I think it’s the most helpful pairing guide out there.
  9. Love the legumes. Beans, peas, and lentils are packed with protein, fiber, and nutrients. Not only are they amazing for your health but they are budget friendly. Legumes go great in soups, salads, and side dishes. Because they are so high in protein you can use them instead of meat!
  10. Go to a dietitian and talk about your nutrition goals. When looking for the best nutrition advice do not go to a doctor, chiropractor, “nutritionist”, health coach, or any other self proclaimed nutrition guru. I promise that I have made right so many wrongs from past clients that have gone to these people about their diets first. Interested in seeing a dietitian, check out: http://www.eatright.org/find-an-expert. Look for the credentials “RDN” (Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist), “RD” (Registered Dietitian), “LD” (Licensed Dietitian), or “LDN” (Licensed Dietitian/Nutritionist).

Diet isn’t a four letter word. Diet is simply what you eat day in and day out. Having a love hate relationship with food is no way to live. Enjoy food and be comfortable with it and around it. Health and wellness isn’t about torturing your body, starving yourself, avoiding food, and guilt trips. It’s about saddling up for a delicious adventure that will take you from where you are to a healthier you.

Final thoughts: I don’t know where each and every one of you are at on your journey through the wide world of nutrition but I do know this: I’ve been a dietitian for over a decade and I’ve talked to many people. The ones who are willing to take the guidance, take action, take the steps to improve their diet, and take accountability for choices are the ones who continue to progress towards a healthy eating pattern.

Nutrition Challenge: this week take a look at your diet and decide what you’d like to change about it. Work on one change that is most important to you.

Healthy Kitchen Must-Haves

Eating well requires meal preparation. That means I need to have quality foods in my pantry and the ability to prepare them. There is a list of food and kitchen items that are essential in my kitchen and I wanted to share. If you are new to the cooking world or maybe are wondering what a healthy kitchen could have to offer, here are some of my favorites.

Food Must-Haves (besides the typical foods on a grocery list…)

  1. Fats and oils. This is number one because they get a bad rap but these are essential for healthy living. From canola and olive oil to organic butter and vegan butter spreads these are a staple in my kitchen. The best oils include canola and olive but also include grape seed, avocado, and walnut oils. I like canola oil for its mild taste, high omega-3 content, high cooking point, and price tag. Grape seed oil is a close second but the price tag makes me shiver a little. It’s great for a special occasion or recipe. Olive oil is a power house in the heart health world packed with mono-unsaturated fatty acids. Great for finishing dishes like salads and pastas, not so great for cooking at high heat. Organic butter (or pasture raised/free range if I can find it) is an essential in my house. It works great at higher heats, wonderful for adding a pop of flavor to dishes, and doesn’t have the additives that some butter-like spreads have. Vegan butter spreads are also a staple in my house but mostly for buttering breads and throwing a little in steamed veggies.
  2. Herbs and spices. I cook with herbs and spices daily whether it goes into eggs for breakfast, salad dressing for my lunch, or any number of them flavoring dinners these are a staple. The top herbs I use are parsley, cilantro, chives, oregano, and basil. My spices of choice are black pepper, turmeric, paprika, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and ground ginger.
  3. Variety of vinegars. I. Love. Vinegar. Balsamic, white balsamic, red wine, white wine, apple cider, rice, champagne, the list can go on! I haven’t met a vinegar I didn’t like! I use vinegar daily. Mostly in salad dressings, marinades, and pops of flavor in sauces. There are specific vinegars I use depending on my mood and the dish. Apple cider is my most used. This is so versatile and so good for your body! Balsamic is more for sweet/savory dishes. Red wine is used a lot in Greek and Italian cuisine. Rice is a sweet vinegar that I like to add to salads and various Asian dishes. For a fancy vinaigrette dressing I’ll pull out the white balsamic, white wine, or champagne vinegar and add some fresh herbs!

Kitchen Must-Haves

  1. Sharp Knives. A good set (3) of sharp knives can be the difference between quick preparation and keeping all of your fingers and tedious cooking and stitches. For real you just need 3…a chefs knife, paring knife, serrated knife. They must be sharp, if not buy yourself a sharpener. Hand wash to keep sharp. You’ll thank me, I promise!
  2. Stainless steel pots and pans. Get rid of your non-stick stuff. As soon as it scratches the non-stick companies do not promise that it is safe anymore…take a look. Is it scratched? Then it’s probably not safe. Replace one pot at a time unless you have a budget for a new set of pots and pans. I have a variety of different brands of stainless steel pots/pans and I like them all for different reasons! It may not look fancy but I’m a simple kind of girl 🙂 Use healthy oils to cook with and if the pot gets burnt on the bottom (which it shouldn’t if you are paying attention while you cook) just use a bristled brush or a scour pad to clean.
  3. Wooden cutting board(s). Instead of the plastic stuff or the glass cutting boards that can make your sharp knives dull invest in some good wooden cutting boards. These do not dull knives and they stay a lot longer than plastic. Sure you can’t wash them in a dishwasher but a little soap and brush will get them clean quick. Side note: I do not cut meat. If you do just have 2 cutting boards an animal protein one and a plant one.

Those are the six items that I truly cannot live without in my kitchen. I build my healthy meals around these items every day!

Final thoughts: make sure you have some staples in your pantry and basic kitchen tools so that you have the ability to cook a variety of healthy meals for you and your family. Shop for discounts, head to a thrift store or yard sales for kitchen tools…I have found some great deals! I have a can opener that I got before graduate school at a yard sale and she’s still opening cans of beans for me 10 years later!

Challenge: think about the staples that you have in your pantry. Are they beneficial for your health?

Simply Salad Dressings

Salads…mmm. I love salads. They definitely falls into my favorite foods category. I enjoy any kind of salad too – lettuce, vegetable, pasta, potato, fruit, bean…really, any! I think it’s the flavor combinations that I like. There’s nothing more delicious than a good salad dressing that brings out the best tasting salads. Not just any salad dressing but a good homemade

Sure, I have some store bought salad dressings in my refrigerator for parties and a good ranch dressing is a staple in my refrigerator to mix with buffalo sauce! My every day salad dressings are homemade. I like them better than any store brand plus it’s simple whole ingredients. Similarly to my mother, I don’t really have a salad dressing recipe but I’ll let you in on the delicious secret: as long as you have the basics, you can make a delicious homemade dressing yourself.

Here’s what you need:

  • Acid:
    • Vinegar – balsamic, red wine, white wine, even a simple apple cider vinegar works well!
    • Lemon/lime – fruitier salads pare well with lemons and limes.
  • Oil:
    • Canola: tons of omega-3 fatty acids
    • Olive: great source of mono-unsaturated heart-healthy fats
    • Other oils: grape seed, avocado, nut oils (walnut, almond)
  • Herbs:
    • My favorites: chives, parsley, basil
    • Others to try: cilantro, thyme, sage, rosemary, mint
  • Spices:
    • My favorites: turmeric, black pepper, paprika, celery seed, garlic
    • Others to try: coriander, cayenne pepper, chili powder, oregano, poppy seed
  • Salt:
    • Types: kosher, iodized, sea salt, pink hymalain
    • Salt substitutes: check with your doctor first but these go well in salad dressings
  • Sweet:
    • My favorites: honey and sugar
    • Other alternatives: agave, stevia, maple syrup
  • Others:
    • Dijon mustard makes an appearance in 90% of my homemade salad dressings
    • Mayonnaise is a great emulsifier and is a source of healthy fats
    • Spice/seasoning mixes: Mrs. Dash, Italian dressing seasonings, McCormick’s Salad Supreme. I may use any number of these depending on the salad and my taste mood at the time.
    • Fruit. You can make a great strawberry, pomegranate, blueberry, peach, or plum vinaigrette dressing just by simmering the vinegar with the fruits to get out the flavor.

Mix any of the above combinations based on your flavor profile.

Here is one of my favorite vinaigrette to make.

Amanda’s Herbed Vinaigrette

2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 + cup canola oil (I pour in a little over 1/3 cup and you could also use olive oil)
1/4 cup fresh parsley
1/8 cup fresh chives
2 teaspoons honey (more if you want to balance out the acidity…I like mine more acidic)
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
2 teaspoons minced onion (fresh or dried)
1 teaspoon oregano (I use dried)
1 teaspoons minced garlic (shortcut)
1/2 teaspoon salt (less if you have high blood pressure, CHF, or are sensitive to salt)
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon turmeric

Pour vinegar and oil into a salad dressing carafe (a mason jar with a lid would work). Place all herbs and spices in jar and shake. Let set for at least 1 hour to allow the herbs and spices to marry into the vinegar and oil.

Notes: you can also use white balsamic, white wine, or champagne vinegar for this recipe.

Pour over your favorite vegetable salad and enjoy!

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OTHER IDEAS:

  • Feta vinaigrette: red wine vinegar, olive oil, feta cheese, dried oregano, dried basil, salt, and pepper – goes great with a Greek quinoa salad or your favorite Greek tossed salad
  • Strawberry poppy seed vinaigrette: diced strawberries, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, poppy seed, honey, salt, and pepper – pairs well with a strawberry spinach salad

Final thoughts: It is important to have fat in your diet. If you are choosing store bought dressing (which is totally fine I have an array in my frig) make sure you select ones that do have fat. Fat free salad dressings tend to have a lot of sugar and other additives. Purchase regular salad dressings and just eat less!

Challenge: have fun with dressings! Make those fruits and veggies pop with excitement and flavor!