Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Quicker, Healthier Oatmeal

Not everyone has time for a hearty hot breakfast in the mornings. But breakfast is the first thing that fuels your body after (hopefully!) 8 hours of rest. It's what kick starts your day and judges, in some ways, how energetic you're going to be. Oatmeal and porridge are pretty common breakfast foods world-wide. Unfortunately, they take a long time to make, can be messy to make even when they're instant, and because they're heavy on grains don't give your metabolism a boost in the morning.

Instead of oats, you can buy large bags of ground flax seed or whole chia seed either online or at your local natural grocer. Chia and flax are nutrient rich, high in omega fatty acids and because of their texture make you feel fuller longer. Here's how to make a delicious bowl of hot cereal out of either of them.

Seed Oatmeal
1/2 cup seed (ground flax or chia)
1/2 - 3/4 cup water or almond milk
packet of stevia or other natural sweetener
vanilla extract
cinnamon or pumpkin spice

Place your seed and water in a microwave-safe bowl and stir thoroughly, making sure all the seed has gotten wet. Let sit for a couple minutes while you make your morning tea or brush your teeth. Come back and stir the mixture again. By now the seed will have absorbed most of the water, making a sticky, oatmeal-like texture. Add your sweetener and vanilla and spices and stir again. Pop in the microwave for 30 seconds to make it warm. Dress it like normal oatmeal with nuts, raisins and milk. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Surprising Benefits of Green Tea

You've probably heard before about green tea being good for you. Aside from being a lovely beverage, green tea has a host of health benefits. However, you need to drink a LOT of tea to reap them. Rather than water, I sometimes make a big pot of tea and keep it iced in the fridge for drinking throughout the day. Some people will make a super-infused cup of tea by placing several bags in a cup and drinking it in one go. Others still will add tea to their smoothies or just drink a cup here and there throughout the day. Probably the easiest way to get in all your tea is with an extract in a supplement form. Instant green tea is also available in powdered form in the grocery store. To see benefits, you need to consume about 100mg of tea per kilogram of body weight. For most people, that's about 6 to 10 cups of tea per day. Why go through all this trouble and all this tea? Here are a few great reasons.

Morning Wake-Up without the Jitters
Green tea does contain caffeine, but it also contains a compound called L-theanine which naturally calms you, so you can stay awake yet focused and at ease.

Metabolism Boost
People who drink green tea, especially before a work out, are more efficient at burning fat and less likely to store fat. Simple as that!

Super Dose of Antioxidants
Antioxidants are the molecules that prevent the oxidation, or breakdown, of your cells. Antioxidants are found in abundance in plants, and in abundance in green tea. Preventing the breakdown of your cells helps you recover quicker from a workout and keeps you looking younger longer by staving off the effects of aging.

Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Green tea has been shown to keep you at a calmer, more even state of mind. This can help you to focus and rationally respond to stressors throughout the day. Lowered stress can also help prevent weight gain by reducing high-stress hormones in the body and reducing the likelihood of habits like stress-eating.

If you haven't already, try adding green tea to your diet. If you already drink green tea, try increasing the amount you drink. Enjoy! And until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Pumping Up Your Meals with Nutrition

Last week we talked about amping up your nutrition by filling out your meals with vegetables on the side. But what about those of us with family, significant others or children who think vegetables are kind of icky? Here's a few creative ways to get extra servings in painlessly, sometimes without them ever knowing!

Burgers and Meatballs
Whether you use ground meat or a meatless protein for your meatballs, it's easy to hide a few extra servings of veggies in these. Use a food processor to grind up onions and whole tomatoes to a fine paste, and swap some of the meat for ground up zucchini, yellow squash or even cauliflower. Mushrooms will make your meat even more savory. Mix these in with your meat and spices, form into balls and cook as usual. This meat mixture also works great in lasagna, and leftover "burgers" are good to put on a nice plain bed of lettuce with dressing for those who usually pick out everything but the meat.

Add extra nutrition to your broth by adding steamed and pureed vegetables like carrots, butternut squash and eggplant. The blended veggies will add a creamy texture and loads of extra fiber.

Swap out some or all of your flour in cookie and cracker recipes with almond flour, brown rice protein, pea protein, coconut flour or cashew flour. If you make your own nut milk, you can dry the leftover ground nuts you strain from the milk in the oven and use it in place of flour. You can also buy flours in bulk online or at your local market (though online is usually cheaper).

Lots of veggies are great breaded and baked or fried, my favorites being zucchini and broccoli. To eschew the eggs in the batter, combine one tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons cold water for every egg you need to replace and stir. Let this mixture sit and stir occasionally while you're preparing the rest of your food, and in a few minutes you'll have a gel with the same texture and binding qualities of an egg. Use coconut or cashew flour in place of wheat flour in your recipe and you have a much more nutritious meal.

Adding an avocado or fresh coconut to the base of your smoothie instead of a banana makes for a creamy and rich start to your day (or after meal dessert!). A couple handfuls of fresh sweet romaine lettuce or spinach, or even steamed vegetables like carrots or cauliflower will bulk up a smoothie while still leaving it tasting fruity.

Baked vegetables seasoned just right will come out crispy and delicious like chips. For kale, remove the middle stem and break into chip-sized pieces. For zucchini or squash, slice thinly. For a simple chip, marinate the "chips" lightly in coconut or olive oil, place evenly on a cookie sheet, dust with your favorite seasonings and bake. For more robust chips, marinate in salad dressings like tahini and soy sauce, lemon and orange, salt and vinegar, or even a cheesy dressing. Bake at 400 for about 15 minutes or until crispy. And remember to flip them!

For creamy dips like ranch or yogurt, squash and cucumbers blend nicely and add a crisp fresh flavor. For salsas, try something with more crunch like celery or bell peppers.

Adding in and replacing your traditional ingredients with veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds will help immensely in making you and your family healthier. After they eat it and see how delicious it is, teach them about what ingredients you're using next time they cook with you. Trying new colorful fruits and vegetables will be much easier for them to swallow. And until next time, keep it clean!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Loading up on the right Carbs

We've all heard about "carb loading" from our athlete friends. Carbohydrates are the first source of energy that our body burns, so often before a big race or sporting event athletes will eat a ton of grains like spaghetti to give them an extra energy boost. The way we burn carbohydrates is the reason sugary candy and sodas give us a quick buzz followed by a quick drop in energy. However, carbohydrates for the rest of us can also mean poor digestion, a spike in blood sugar and weight gain.

When breaking down the nutrition profile of complex carbs, you find that you get a lot of energy (calories) and very little nutrition per calorie. This was great when food was scarce as we could store grains for long periods of time and get the energy we needed from fairly little grain. However, now that we've streamlined our crops and food is abundant, many people in the first world battle weight gain and obesity. We have the same appetite we've always had, but we're filling ourselves with non-nutritious foods. This makes us remain hungry but gain weight from all the extra energy found in carbs. Potatoes and corn have had a bad rap for causing weight gain for years. But even whole grains like brown rice and quinoa are still far less nutritious per calorie than other carbs.

So what are the right carbs? Veggies! Vegetables have lots of fiber and water and tons and tons of nutrition. With the exception of cauliflower, the more rich and colorful the veggie the more nutrition you're getting. It's easy to pack away big fluffy slices of bread and bowls of pasta, but swap the spaghetti for thinly sliced zucchini or switch out your potatoes for a big bowl of broccoli and you'll be full in no time. All the water and hard to digest fiber will slowly move through you, keeping you fuller longer and satisfying your nutritional needs. Whole fruits (not fruit juices) are a great carb source too, but the more veggies the better.

Removing poor sources of energy from your diet can be a little difficult to get used to, but once you try it you'll wonder why you let yourself stay hungry for so long. Start by substituting one meal a day with veggies instead of the grain. Have extra veggies with your stir-fry instead of rice. Turn that burrito into a burrito bowl. Make that sandwich or burger into an interesting salad. Raw vegan and paleo diet websites are great sources for recipes that cut out complex carbs. Then watch your energy go up, your health improve from all that nutritional goodness, and your waistline shrink. Until next time, keep it clean!