Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Weekly Date... with Yourself!

Things can get hectic in day to day life. Everyone has different demands and responsibilities, which can get overwhelming. Myself, I keep a strict diet, exercise every day, and lately have been spending any time not working or staying healthy by renovating my home. Add in stressors like taking care of kids or relatives, keeping up friendships, going to school, moving, second jobs or projects, and there's no end in sight to the work.

Sometimes because of all the endless activity that I seem to be doing for very little result (everything takes time), I get worn out not just physically but mentally and emotionally. What's the point of working so hard when you can't enjoy what you reap from it? Sometimes working towards a goal is reward enough in itself, but it's also important to take a moment to reflect on other things.

My husband and I often work 6 days a week, and usually very long hours. So every Sunday morning we set aside some "us" time. It's informal and no pressure, we just go where we want to go and do what we want to do. There's no set schedule or itinerary. Often we'll have breakfast or lunch away from the house and sit and have a long chat, sometimes we'll see a movie, go to church, take a walk in a park, go to a museum, visit family or go to the beach. On these days I don't think about my diet or exercise, I don't work on any projects (unless I just really take joy in it that day). Fulfilling or thought-provoking conversation and a good meal recharge my batteries, but it could be anything that makes you feel great and fulfilled.

The point of taking the time out is to give your mind and your body a reprieve. There are some days where I'd rather not take the day off so I'll give myself just a couple of hours. But it's the refreshment of having a long thoughtful discussion and not obsessing over anything I need to do and allowing myself not to take things so seriously that gets me through the week. You don't need a significant other to have your weekly date. You can spend the time with a friend or family member, or even take joy in being alone with yourself. But always knowing that I have my quiet Sunday mornings keeps me sane and balanced, even on a Wednesday when the weekend feels far away and I would much rather have a peanut butter cup than another plate of grilled veggies. Knowing that I'm blessed enough to be able to take a couple hours to myself each week is plenty for me to be grateful for.

Find a day that works with your schedule and commit it to being your time to yourself. Know that no matter what crazy things happen you will always have that time. Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Benefits of Supplementation

Many of us take a multivitamin just to round out our diets, but supplementation may be more vital than we once thought. Though we get our best nutrition from whole, natural plants, modern life has prevented us from getting much of what we would normally get in nature. Treated and filtered water, overfarming, artificially ripened fruits and vegetables and washing and sanitizing food to remove pesticides have all greatly diminished  our natural sources of nutrition. We spend much of our time indoors and out of the sun. If you eat meat or dairy products, more than 90% of the products found at your normal grocer come from animals who are not eating their natural diets, but what will get them biggest and fattest quickest. Cows and chickens are often fed very low-nutrition corn and grain instead of grass and grubs. Here's a quick guide on vitamins and supplements to round out what you're not getting to help you function best.

Magnesium is one of the main building blocks of our cells and is essential to heart, bone and nervous system health. Only 32% of people in the US meet the daily recommendation for magnesium. Low magnesium is connected to asthma, diabetes and osteoporosis. Presence of magnesium also facilitates good digestion.

Vitamin D
Vitamin D can be found naturally in foods and especially as an artificial additive to foods (remember Sunny D?) but it is best created by our own body by spending time in the sun. Usually 30 minutes a day in the sun is enough to create what we need. However, living in low-sun areas, being indoors in the winter months, the necessity to wear sunscreen and the indoor nature of urban life prevent us from getting enough sun. Vitamin D facilitates the absorption of Calcium to improve your bone health. Vitamin D has also been used to treat Seasonal Affective Depression (SADD) as it can also boost your mood and energy levels. It's difficult to overdose on Vitamin D but it can happen, so be sure to check with your doctor before beginning use of this supplement.

B-vitamins are most associated with nervous system health. They also are often added to energy drinks because they can quickly boost your energy levels and focus. B-vitamin deficiency can result in anemia, depression, grey hair, acne, nervous system disorders and high blood pressure among other things. B-Complex vitamins are usually only found in trace amounts at best, especially in vegetarian diets.

Calcium is obviously essential to bone and teeth health, and is especially important for women who are at higher risk of osteoporosis. With a low-nutrition diet, calcium is one of the first things your body gives up to promote healthy daily functions. Your body will leach calcium from your bones and teeth for cell function today to the detriment of strong bones tomorrow.

Omega 3-6-9's
Omega fatty acids are required for normal cell function, just like magnesium. Most notably, presence of these fatty acids promotes heart health and has been linked to long-term brain health and memory retention.

The overwhelming majority of cells in your body (a whopping 90%!) are microbes and bacteria that work in symbiosis with your own cells. Sickness, antibiotics and poor nutrition in your diet can all diminish the microbes in your body and/or throw off the balance of these organisms. Bacteria and yeast overgrowth or undergrowth can cause a number of problems, from the obvious digestive problems, dry skin and dandruff to regular yeast infections. Taking a daily probiotic with at least 25 billion cultures per dose will help keep you in balance.

Consider adding these to your daily regimen to keep healthy and balanced. Remember to consult your doctor before adding in supplements to see what your individual needs are, as you may require more or less depending on your lifestyle and health level. And until next time, keep it clean!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sweetener Alternatives

It's natural for people to like sweets. We're drawn to the refined, exaggerated perfection of what makes us like fresh fruits and greens. And who can blame us? Cakes, cookies and candies are just so darn cute and delicious. But our consumption of sugar is linked to numerous diseases, including diabetes, obesity and Alzheimer's to name a few. Sugar is added to almost everything we eat these days, and it's far too easy to have sweets with almost every meal instead of as an occasional treat. No matter what the name is for the sweetener, it all has a very similar effect on our waistline. Sugar, brown sugar, evaporated cane juice, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, molasses, honey, agave nectar and many more are found in almost every packaged food and in many restaurant dishes. We have access to commercially available zero-calorie sweeteners, but the neurological damage and cancer links found in studies with sucralose, aspartame and saccharin (Splenda, Sweet-n-Low, Equal) and the headaches and withdrawal symptoms people experience when they stop eating it are a bit frightening. Here are a few unsung alternatives that are also naturally derived to help you shrink your waistline and kick sugar to the curb.

Stevia is plant found in South America that can be grown as an herb like mint or basil easily. The leaves of the stevia plant are up to 300 times sweeter than regular sugar. Its strong sweetness means you don't have to add a lot to get the sweet effect you're looking for, however you can't trade a cup of sugar in a recipe for a cup of stevia. It comes in liquid form, sometimes with added extracts like vanilla to flavor it. It also comes in powder. Stevia has a slightly bitter aftertaste comparable to other commercially available artificial sweeteners. Some don't notice the bitterness and are fine to add it to tea or coffee, though I recommend using it to sweeten things that are thicker and have more flavor, like smoothies or pudding, to keep the stevia from overpowering the recipe. A pinch of salt added to the recipe can reduce the bitterness of stevia quite a bit.

Luo Han Guo
This sweetener is derived from the fruit of a Chinese vine of the same name. It has been used in China for thousands of years as an alternative to sugar and to treat the overweight and diabetics. It's often an ingredient in Chinese cough medicine. Luo Han Guo is also 300 times sweeter than sugar like Stevia. Because it is derived from a fruit, it has an aftertaste that is more earthy and "aromatic" in flavor, similar to molasses or brown sugar. Treat it like stevia when adding to food.

Erythritol and Xylitol
These two sweeteners are virtually made the same way and get their sweetness from sugar alcohols developed by fermenting fruit and/or sugar. Erythritol and xylitol are often found in gum and mints as they do not promote tooth decay. They tend to range from 0 to 10 calories per serving and do not effect your blood sugar. In granulated form, they are very similar in sweetness to sugar and can be swapped for sugar in a recipe with no adjustments. They are often considered slightly less sweet than sugar and have a "cooling" aftertaste, similar to mild mint. But beware: Just like alcohol, erythritol and xylitol are very hard on your digestion and can cause digestive issues when overconsumed. One or two cookies made with this sweetener or a couple cups of coffee with a spoonful stirred in is about all most people can handle without getting an upset stomach later in the day.

Try each of these natural alternatives to zero-calorie chemical sweeteners by themselves or in combination with each other to find your perfect sweet retreat, without worrying about the bad health effects! And until next time, keep it clean!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Quick Tips to De-Stress

We've all had those days when everything rubs you the wrong way, everyone is annoying and everything seems to go wrong. But a lot of our anger and annoyance is commanded by ourselves and how we choose to react to it. Figuring out how to view your surroundings can determine how your whole day goes! Here are a few quick tips to de-stress on those especially tough days.

Herbal Relief
Lemon balm, lavender, chamomile, passionflower and reishi are just a few herbs that naturally calm your mind and body. All of them can be made into a nice cup of calming tea, or can be found in scented candles to keep at your desk.

Deep breaths
This may sound obvious, but when you're upset your heartbeat tends to quicken and your breath becomes more shallow. Studies show that just a few minutes of slow deep breaths, taking 10 to 15 seconds per breath, can slow your heart and focus your mind, making you more alert and rational. Set a timer for 5 minutes and practice breathing in through your nose for 5 seconds, then out through your mouth for 5 seconds. It helps to pretend you're breathing through a straw. You may be surprised at how quickly you've been inhaling.

Sometimes clearing your mind is all you need to start fresh. Take a 5 minute break, set a timer, and then sit and try to think of nothing. Thoughts will come in, you will acknowledge they are there, and then let them pass and clear your mind again. The simple act of practicing letting all of the little annoyances and overwhelming tasks pass is often enough to gain the perspective you need to get through the day.

Think about a happy memory
Remember something really good that happened and reflect on it for a few minutes: how it made you feel, what you were doing, who you were with, what the weather was like that day. Bonus points if you think about doing something good for someone else as this will make you feel twice as good!

Find out what's making you angry
Write down what's making you mad, even the little dumb or unreasonable things, like running out of milk to put in your morning coffee, or a co-worker forgetting to thank you when they've borrowed something. Then write down why it made you angry and how it made you feel. Reflect on each of these things. Is there a pattern? Are you feeling under-appreciated  or is something else making you upset about unrelated things? Sometimes just understanding why you're stressed puts things into perspective.

Let it go
Only you have the power to decide how you feel about something. If you stub your toe on a door, the door didn't make you angry. The door is not at fault. And neither are you. Accidents happen. There is no reason to be upset. It hurt, and being upset is natural at first, but once it's passed it is what it is. Now try imagining a person stepped on your toe instead. It is the same thing. It is natural to be upset at first, but even if it wasn't an accident, you have the power to decide. Are you going to waste your energy wishing the other person bad luck and causing more and more pain, or are you going to let it go and enjoy your day?

One of my favorite quotes is, "Resentment is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die." Being stressed, anxious, angry and upset only causes harm to yourself. It's not always easy to remain calm, especially when your patience is continually tried. Your stress may manifest as anger, worry, or depression. But in all of these cases, ruminating does nothing to solve the problem. Allow yourself a moment to try one of these activities, then resolve to do better next time and move forward. Until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Naturally Long Healthy Hair

Getting long healthy hair can be a bit of a struggle and takes a lot of time. Modern hair care products have provided a lot of shortcuts to healthy hair that take the work out of maintenance. But they also contain chemicals that are bad for the environment, that accumulate in the water supply and even accumulate and can be stored in your body (yuck). Modern products can also be a problem for allergy sufferers or those with sensitive skin, as it's hard to pick out from the long list of ingredients exactly what it is that's causing problems. There's a lot of hearsay out on the internet about the ins and outs of hair care. Here are a few practical tips to keep you gorgeous!

Use a wide-toothed comb
Yes, even if your hair is long, curly and thick! Brushes are good tools for styling, but for basic detangling of your hair they're pretty over complicated. The extra teeth in brushes can actually create knots, making you stretch and pull on your hair more to get them out. Combs help avoid stretching and breaking.

Avoid putting your hair up when you sleep
Tying your hair in place and sleeping on it seems like it would hold things together, but it's actually more likely  to pull hair out of your head or break it. Comb your hair before bed and leave it down so it can move naturally with you while you're sleeping.

Use a moisturizing shampoo
Volumizing, clarifying, hydrating... It's easy to get caught up in the marketing, but all shampoos are basically formulated to either strip the hair clean, add moisture or protect coloring. Modern shampoos use silicone to smooth the hair shaft and keep hair straight. This is not the case with natural shampoos, so when you stop using regular shampoo all of your hair's natural tendencies will be revealed! Most people deal with at least a little bit of frizziness when switching to natural products (especially if your hair is thick, curly or wavy). The easiest way to curb this is to use a moisturizing shampoo. You may need to do this every time you wash or maybe just once a week depending on your hair type.

Add oil to strengthen your hair
Ads will tell you that there are vitamins and minerals necessary to inject health back into your hair, but this is silly. Hair is dead, and once it's grown it is what it is. However, you can strengthen your hair by improving its elasticity. Just like with a good piece of wood furniture, your hair lasts longer, stays more supple and avoids breaking if you add oil to it. Certain natural oils contain the same lipid chains as the oil your body naturally produces, which allows them to soak into the hair shaft. The most popular choices are almond oil, coconut oil and olive oil. Try to apply it at least to the ends of your hair once a week for maintenance.

Avoid washing every day
The more you wash your hair, the more dried out and dull it can get. Even water alone can strip and change the composition of the oil that protects your hair. Keep it fresh with a dollop of styling product, dry shampoo or a few drops of essential oil.

Let it air dry

We all know heat styling can damage hair. Give it a break as often as possible by letting it air dry. Use a microfiber towel to soak up as much water as possible, then comb and let it hang. It will hold its natural shape and curl if you put a little bit of styling product in and leave it alone. Don't touch it or brush it while it's air drying as this can add to frizziness.

Trim regularly
Cutting your hair seems counter-productive when you're growing it out. But once you get split ends, and it will happen even if you're diligent, your hair can continue to split all the way up the shaft. There's no use in having super long hair if your hair isn't healthy! Cut it off at the source by making sure you trim it regularly. If you're growing it out, go to your stylist once every 3 to 4 months.

Enjoy your journey to beautiful natural locks! And until next time, keep it clean!