Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Beating the Winter Blues


The holiday’s are over. I know for many people it was a season full of too much eating, partying, shopping, spending, sugar, worry, and stress at the same time getting too little sleep, relaxation, healthy foods and exercise. And the results? Pants that are too tight, nights that are too long, and feelings of the winter blahs and blues. 
           Whether it's the after holiday crash, the lack of light, or realizing all of January, February and March are ahead of us,  these winter blahs and down feelings need to be nipped in the bud. Too many of us simply let ourselves feel down, curl up on the sofa under a blanket, grab the channel changer, and a bag of chips, and become one with the furniture. Let's take a look at other ways to beat those winter blues without packing on the pounds...
  1. Smile even if you don't feel like it.  Get off the sofa, put a smile on your face and try to pretend that you are happy. Research supports that facial expressions can change the way you feel inside; fake it 'til you make it.
  2. Don’t skip meals and be sure to start your day with a good breakfast. When your blood sugar level goes down, it's easy for your mood to go down, too.
  3. Reach for healthy carbohydrate (carb) sources.  Carbs promote serotonin release, a "feel- good," opiate-like neurotransmitter in the brain. Reach for the carbs in fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains every day. A low carbohydrate intake (such as one slice of bread or 20-40 grams/day) has been shown to increase depression, anxiety and anger feelings.
  4. Minimize the sugar.  Sugar digests so quickly that it brings down your blood sugar, and with that, can bring down your mood. 
  5. Eat a Little Dark Chocolate. The antioxidants present may in fact lower the stress hormone cortisol. People under high levels of stress who ate 1.4 oz. dark chocolate daily, experienced a reduction in stress hormones, including cortisol. Chocolate lovers, beware: this serving comes with 230 calories attached!
  6. Saffron, the most expensive herb on the market, has been shown to have an antidepressive effect by making serotonin more available to brain. I'm not suggesting to rush out and buy a bunch of saffron and to make tea to lift your mood, however. With any herb, you have to consider possible interactions with other medications you are taking, or the fact that some herbs do act as medications themselves. Before taking any herbal supplements, discuss possible use with your physician. 
  7.   Omega-3’s help brain cells communicate and enhance the way two neurotransmitters--dopamine and serotonin--work to regulate mood. Omega 3's can be found in salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, herring, walnuts, and flaxseed.  People with lower blood levels of omega-3’s seem to have higher incidents of mild to moderate symptoms of depression
  8.  Set a date to walk with a friend; if it’s not too cold, there is nothing better than a little fresh air and time to talk with a good friend and burn off all those extra cookie calories you may have over indulged in.
  9. Exercise, just do it! When you get your body in motion it gets the blood flowing to every cell in your body, bringing fresh oxygen, which helps increase mental alertness.
  10. Hugs. Human touch releases uplifting endorphins such as serotonin, reduces blood pressure and heart rate, increases relaxation and contentment.
  11. Volunteer. There's a wonderful, uplifting feeling that comes from helping someone else.
  12. Declutter and organize. This one is a tough one for me, but a great one for positive mind and spirit.  Don't tackle too much at a time, or you may feel even more down. Organize one small area at a time, and feel the positiveness grow one drawer at a time!
  13. Shop for yourself. Grab all the cash, checks and gift cards you were given and give yourself an afternoon to spend them all on yourself. Be sure to treat yourself to your favorite skinny holiday latte flavor before it’s gone for the year!
  14.  Sleep. 7-8 hours each night if you can.  Too little sleep can certainly bring those blahs on.
  15. Pet your pet; increases serotonin. See Hugs!
  16.  Change your routine. Sometimes, just a new arrangement to your day brightens your outlook.
  17. Find some light. Eat with a lighter touch, sit in more light, have a lighter attitude, have a lighter heart...
  18. Laugh. Pop in a comedy movie, read a humor book, call a friend and laugh over great memories.  Laughter actually brings about positive changes in those brain chemicals!
  19. Music can change your mood. Put on your favorite, uplifting music.
  20. Get Support. Call someone who you know cares about you; a friend, family member or reach out to your support group. 
  21. Wear something bright and happy and ditch those dark colors! Studies have shown that colors do impact your mood. Try colors that make you feel, yellow, pink?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Slow Cooked Steel Cut Oats

What's the best breakfast to wake up to on a cold, blustery winter's day? A bowl of steamy, hot already made steel cut oats! With just a little prep time the night before, you can wake up to the warm scents of hot cooked oats coming your way as you get your morning coffee on.  Not only are these oats wonderfully healthy and full of soluble fiber, but they're also quite inexpensive---a perfect food all around.

Slow-Cooked Steel Cut Oats
      -makes 4 servings

Coat the inside of the slow cooker with cooking spray.
Put into the cooker:
      1 cup of Steel Cut Oats (do not use other types of oats)
      4 cups of water
      1/4 tsp salt
Plug in when you go to bed and turn on the lowest setting for about 7 hours.
A crust may appear on the sides in the morning. Don't worry; just scrape it down and stir it all in.

Top it off with your favorite dried fruit, a little brown sugar, honey, sweetener, wheat germ, nuts, or whatever your heart desires in the morning. Enjoy!

Nutritional Data: 1/4 batch: 76 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 147 mg sodium, 17 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 3 g protein. 
1 1/2 Units.

Pumpkin Bread Makes A Great Gift

Several people have asked me for my pumpkin bread recipe recently. Even though I put it up on the blog last year, I decided to post it again, adding the nutritional data and unit information at the end. If you are looking for a recipe you've seen on the blog before, simply find the "Search" bar at the upper left side of the Mind-full Motivator homepage. Write the words best describing what you are looking for, and it should pop right up!  

Enjoy this easy, healthier version of a seasonal favorite...

Pumpkin Bread
      -Makes 2 loaves
In a large bowl, whisk together until well mixed:
     2 cups sugar
     2 cups all-purpose flour
     1 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
     2 tsp. baking soda
     2 tsp. baking powder
     1 tsp. salt
     1 tsp. cinnamon
     1 tsp. nutmeg
     1/2 tsp. allspice or 1/4 tsp. cloves
 In a separate bowl, blend together:
     3/4 cup low fat buttermilk*
     1/4 cup canola oil
     4 eggs
     1-15 oz. can pumpkin

Add liquids to dry ingredients, and mix with a whisk until just blended, being careful not to over stir (it will get tougher the more you mix it.)

Pour into 2 loaf pans (9" X 5") that have been coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes.  Test for doneness by inserting a dry spaghetti noodle into the middle of the loaf, making sure it comes out clean.

Let rest five minutes in the pan, then turn out to cool on a rack.
       1) Put 2 tsp. vinegar or lemon juice in a measuring cup, and add non-fat milk until it gets to the 3/4
       2) 3/4 cup non-fat plain yogurt
Nutrition data:
      1 slice (55 g.)= 1/16th of a loaf, 124 calories,3 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 27 g carbohydrate, 195 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 3 g protein.  2 1/2 Units.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How Healthy Is Santa?

Consider Santa. (Set aside for a minute what holidays you do or don't celebrate.) What do you identify as his physical characteristics? What about his lifestyle? We had a great time with this in classes this week, and came up with quite a list...

Besides being a jolly old elf, Santa: 
  • Carries a significant amount of extra fat around his middle that tends to shake like jelly 
  • Has a red nose (outdoor lifestyle at the North Pole or too much spiked eggnog?)
  • White beard, indicating he's an older guy
  • Smokes a pipe
  • Eats a high sugar, high fat diet with all those cookies and candy canes and drinks lots of hot cocoa and eggnog
  • Certainly appears to be sedentary, riding everywhere in a sleigh and having the elves do all the hard work of making toys. Though, as Marcia, one of our MM Groupies, pointed out, he probably helps with the reindeer care since he has such a good relationship with them.  And that would require physical work on his part. 
I'm a bit concerned about Santa's health. He's an obese, sedentary, older guy with a high sugar/high saturated fat diet, who smokes and may or may not drink to excess.  Think about it...

Santa could have Metabolic Syndrome; a group of conditions that occur together that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. And I, for one, do not want Santa to have a stroke, heart attack, atherosclerosis, kidney disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or peripheral artery disease. Not SANTA!!

A diagnosis of Metabolic Syndrome is given if 3 out of 6 of these conditions are present:
  1.  Increased abdominal fat (apple shaped)
    • Men, waist 40" or more
    • Women, waist 35" or more
  2. Insulin resistance
  3. High blood pressure
  4. High fasting blood glucose, 100 mg/dL or more
  5. Low HDL
    • Men, less than 40 mg/dL
    • Women, less than 50 mg/dL
  6. Elevated Triglycerides, 150 mg/dL or more
Santa certainly has the tummy fat, but we can only guess at the rest. His diet and lack of exercise put him at high risk for insulin resistance, high glucose, and triglycerides. I know, I know. Santa has lived a LONG, long time, so he just may have great genes which do play a role. Not so great genes, aging, hormones, lack of exercise and poor diet all can cause metabolic syndrome.

We came up with a few things that we'd like to encourage Santa to do to improve his health, if not for him, for the sake of the children!

Dear Santa,

Because we care, our MM Groupies got together and spent an evening thinking about you. Our letter is not a list of what we want for ourselves, but rather a list of ways you could help yourself reduce your chances of developing metabolic syndrome or reversing it if it hasn't gone too far...
  1. Talk with your doc in the North Pole
  2. Lose weight. Every 1/4" you lose, or 1/4# you take off that waist improves your health profile. Aim for losing 7-10% of your weight as your first goal. And we think you'll look much better in that red suit with the black belt! Janels thinks you'll do best if you decide to join us in our MM groups for support! Open invitation.
  3. Eat lots of different colorful fruits and veggies.  Can you have the elves build a greenhouse in the North Pole to grow oranges, kale and red pepper?
  4. Go for those whole grains! Try a bowl of popcorn instead of cookies with a glass of non-fat milk for a great grain snack.
  5. Eat fish at least 2 times each week.  Focus on fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, tuna, trout, and herring, sardines. Your heart will love it.
  6. Move it, Santa! Work up to 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 - 7 days each week. How about giving yourself the gift of a treadmill or a bike? Or help swing a hammer in the toy shop and ride those reindeer.
  7. Work with your doc to reduce your cholesterol and blood pressure if they are up.
  8. Quit smoking. Try a bubble pipe, Santa!
And if you need motivation, Santa, think about all the millions of children who love you. It's time to start giving them a healthier, more fit vision of Santa to look up to. You're worth it! 

Your "On The Way to Wellness" Friends

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Baking A Bit Healthier

 "There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy when they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie..."

 "Now bring us some figgy pudding, now bring us some figgy pudding... and bring some out here!"

The holiday baking season is upon us, and with it come all of those lovely grams of not-so-healthy fat. Many of us have been working on eating healthier, so let's try to attack that unhealthy fat where we can.

Consuming too many saturated fats, or just eating a higher ratio of saturated fats than the healthier unsaturated ones, can increase your LDL (I refer to these as dump trucks, the carriers of cholesterol) which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD).  Newer research indicates that the risk for type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer may also be increased. Clearly, we need to minimize our consumption of saturated fats.

Consuming more unsaturated fats tends to lower LDL which decreases the risk of CVD. Eating more monounsaturated fats found in olives, peanuts, olives,  olive oil, avocado, canola oil, can actually increase HDL (street sweepers!) which help to lower the risk for CVD, and perhaps type 2 diabetes.

One of the easiest changes to make is to switch to heart healthy oil in recipes calling the less healthy lard, solid shortening, margarine or butter, if you can. Lard and butter are naturally high in saturated fats. For example, if a recipe for pancakes calls for 4 tablespoons of melted margarine or butter, simply use 4 tablespoons of canola oil. Canola is a neutral tasting monounsaturated fat perfect for baking.

Some people try to take all the fat out of a recipe when they try to make it healthier. I don't recommend it.  Fat is used as a tenderizer in baked goods, so even if you reduce the amount, leaving some it will keep it tender.

Quick breads, pancakes, muffins, scones, biscuits: reduce the fat by up to 1/2 and replace the remainder with plain yogurt, applesauce or baby food or pureed fruits (apricots, prunes, etc.)

Pie crusts: I do not recommend reducing the fat if you want a traditional flaky crust. Fat is what creates this flaky texture. Instead, try an oil pastry recipe to incorporate heart healthy fats, and use canola oil for its monounsaturated fat content.

Cookies: I think substitutions are futile here if you want most true cookie textures. Using butter adds the naturally saturated fats, and margarine or shortening adds artificially saturated trans fats. However, trying to switch to oil ends up changing the end product characteristic so much, that most people are not happy with the result. I recommend simply sitting down to eat a small amount of cookies mindfully, along with a glass of non-fat milk, or something else healthy to balance it out.  Enjoy one or two, but don't overdo! Remember: If You Give Yourself A Cookie, Don't Forget the Milk!!

I'll share a few oil based recipes in the next few days.
Here's a great pie crust recipe to try for those favorite holiday pies:

Oil Pastry Crust
     Makes One Double Crust Pie

In a large bowl, whisk together:
     1 c. flour
     1 c. whole grain pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
     1/2 tsp salt
In a small bowl, whisk together
     1/2 c. canola oil (chilled in refrigerator for several hours)
     5 Tbsp icy cold water
Give the liquids another quick whisk, and then dump into dry mixture.
Stir in gently with a fork until it just comes together. Do not over mix.
Shape into ball and wrap in plastic wrap.
Refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Divide into 2 balls.
Roll each ball between sheets of waxed paper with a rolling pin into 12" circles to form crusts.

Bake as directed for pie.
One serving for double crusted pie is 1/8 of pie.

Nutritional Data: 228 calories, 14 g. fat, 1 g. saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 23 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 1 g protein. 4 1/2 Units.

Better Biscuits 
     Heat oven to 450
     Makes 12 biscuits

Whisk together in large bowl until well blended:
     1 cup whole grain pastry flour
     1 cup flour
     1 Tbsp baking powder
     1/2 tsp salt
In a small bowl, whisk together:
     1/4 cup canola oil
     3/4 cup non-fat milk
Give liquids one more whisk, then quickly add to dry ingredients.
Stir until just blended. Do not over mix.
Roll or pat out onto lightly floured counter until 1/2" thick.
Cut into 16 rounds.
Bake for 10 - 12 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Nutritional Data: 118 calories, 5 g fat, 0 mg saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 225 mg sodium, 16 g carbohydrate, 2 g. fiber, 3 g. protein. 2 Units.