Friday, January 31, 2014

Junk out, good food in. Part 2 Cravings

In case you missed it I have included a link to  Junk out, good food in part 1

Junk out, good food in part 1

I last left you wondering if you were going to continue on your journey to good health or go back to those old habits. It is a hard question, and one that so many people have to answer.  There are many reasons to get healthy and change your habits. There are also many reasons to go back to your old ways. Often the old habits win. In the next few posts we will talk about some of our habits and how we can change them.

One of the bad habits we have is giving into those junk food cravings.  Often we feel such shame in giving into them. They can evoke such overwhelming feelings. Junk food cravings can cause you to be so overcome. They can be a major downfall in the quest to obtain better health. Working with the cravings as opposed to fighting them is key.  

One of the troubles is that the fast food and junk food companies spend billions of dollars creating a craveable product. They usually do this by relying on the three most craved items out there, fat, sugar, and salt. They rely on us having these cravings, giving into them, and not being able to kick the habit; bringing us back to the junk food over and over. Many are stuck in this vicious cycle of junk food. We do not seem to have power over it. I am here to help you get that power back. Cravings can be overcome and the process is quite simple. Work with the cravings, do not fight them.  Here is a place to begin to understand that process.

What are your cravings telling you?  To understand our food cravings we have to understand our primal body and brain. Your brain and body are really amazing. Your body and brain can heal itself if given the proper building materials and tools. Our bodies take bits and pieces from the food we eat to build and repair itself. When our body needs more fuel and supplies it calls out for them. The trouble is that the lines of communication are sometimes blocked, but more than that, we have forgotten how to speak that language that our body speaks. It is like our brain and body are speaking in Morse code and we just ignore the banging and tapping because we do not use that form of communication anymore.  So what do we do? We learn to listen to our bodies and hear what it is calling out for. Essentially we learn to hear our body signals, we learn to speak Morse code.

Sounds hard? No, not really. Just a few simple things will get you well on your way. There are usually three main cravings; salt, sugar, and fat. Just think about your favorite go to foods, the ones that you think you cannot live without. Which craving category does it fall into? For some people it will be just one but for many it is a combination of the three.  Now before you run off to satisfy those cravings, stick with. Let me tell you what your brain and body may be signaling to you.

Sweet cravings.

Sweet cravings are often the body saying "I need more vitamins, please send me vitamins"  Fruits are full of vitamins. We learn this before kindergarten.  The body knows this, and when it needs vitamins for building it calls out with a sweet craving signaling us to find fruit.  But what do we reach for, candy, soda, fruit flavored snacks, pie, cake, etc. (The list could be endless).  This satisfies us for a moment, the body takes whatever it can from that but is still in need of vitamins. It sends the signal even stronger. Calling out even louder for fruit by telling us we need something sweet. We heed the call with more sugar foods, and the cycle has begun.  Some of us are so much into the cycle that it is no longer cravings, it is habit. We try to eliminate the habit, and then the craving kicks in. Back and forth until we can't tell habit from craving meanwhile our body is starving for nutrition.

Eat fruit, and the body says oh thank you I have what I need for a while. For some people it can be that simple, feed the body fruit and the cravings go away.  For me it was not quite that simple, Fruit helped a lot, the cravings lessened, but my digestive system was so out of sorts that my body could not extract all the nutrition from the fruit, not to mention that I still had cravings for Salt and fat too.

Salty cravings

Salty cravings often can be your body saying I need more minerals to continue on my work. Please send minerals.  Our body needs  minerals the most common being potassium, magnesium, calcium, chromium and iodine.  We get our minerals from salt, water, bone broth, some fruits, also from the dark green vegetables to name a few places. These are being destroyed to the point that we are not getting the minerals from them.  For example, Softened/filtered water, bullion instead of bone broth, and soil so devoid of nutrients that vegetables grown in this soil is no longer a good source of minerals.

To overcome the  salty cravings, Switch out table salt for sea salt or other less processed salt. Eat more leafy green vegetables making sure they are grown in nutrient rich soil if possible. Drink more pure water. Real bone broth instead of bullion. But the fact is you may need to supplement.  There is good scientific evidence to show that a large percentage of the United States population is mineral deficient and could benefit from mineral supplementation.

Fat cravings

Fat cravings mean the brain has run out of fuel.

Our brains are mostly made of fat. Our brain needs fat. Fat is the main source of fuel that the brain uses to function.  The worst thing you can do for your brain is to feed it a low-fat diet. The second worst thing you can do is to try to fill the void with trans fats or hydrogenated fats. These so called "funny fats"  do not supply the body with the fuel it needs, The body has a real hard time breaking these down into fuel that it can use. It is like filling your car with diesel fuel when it is designed to run off of unleaded.

To overcome fat cravings make your fats natural ones.  Avoid cheap processed foods and get plenty of  fat to fuel your brain. fats like olive oil, coconut oil, real butter, seeds, nuts, and avocado. This may be hard because we have had our brains wired to believe that all fat is bad for us. It took me a while to come around.

The truth is junk food will only fuel the cravings for more junk food. In order to get the physical cravings to stop you need to give your body what it needs.  Vitamins, minerals and fats from sources that it recognizes as food.

I have come a long way in my journey toward good health. It is not always easy and it is hard to make the right choices when you are so confused by the media, and not sure where to turn. I am grateful that I am breaking the cycle of dependency upon junk food. My body feels so much better, and my brain is healing. I still struggle daily. I no longer crave the junk food from a physical standpoint, but I struggle with being addicted to food on an psychological level. I was in that very vicious cycle where I could not tell cravings from habits. Now I am in a place that I can tell the difference.

The cravings are less, but those old habits are hard.  I am working on it. Being a rather large person people often look at me and make judgments about me and my willpower to make good choices. They did not understand that for me  it was not so simple. I had some serious troubles brewing inside of me. Cravings which were real because my body was so broken, became bad habits, which in turn became a real addiction that nearly destroyed me. Getting the cravings under control has given me back the power to change some of those other things. Getting rid of the physical cravings gives me the power to begin the change on a psychological level. I feel that I have a bit more power to heal and get rid of those habits and break this addiction for good. 

I have a long journey ahead of me, but I have the strength to take on that journey now. I am healing. I am making better choices. I am better able to navigate it now that I do not have overbearing strong physical cravings overcoming my judgment. I am free to make the choice of what I eat, not what my body is demanding.

Tune in next time as we continue the discussion  in Junk out, good food in part 3

shared as part of real food Wednesdays

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Agave, the big sweet lie

We all know that sugar and corn syrup are bad for our health especially in the huge amounts that we consume them. We have also figured out that artificial sweeteners are toxic for health. Many people have turned to natural sweeteners One of the newer products on the market is Agave.  But what about this natural sweetener?  Is agave better for you than the refined sugar and corn syrup, and should you use it as a replacementThere are many that will tell you that agave is good for you, that is has vitamins and minerals, that it does not raise your glucose levels, it is naturally made and that it is much better than the commonly used sweeteners we use in overabundance. I believe that many of these claims are only partial truths. Let me explain.....

Photo from Bing images 

True agave sweetener is made from the agave plant which is native to Mexico.  There are over two hundred species of this plant which is a relative of the yucca plant. (The blue agave plant is the one used to make Tequila).  True agave sweetener is made when the sap or nectar from these plants is collected and reduced down into a syrup (much like the process of pure maple syrup.)  While it may be true that this real agave syrup or nectar may be better than you than the refined sugar and corn syrup we commonly use, the stuff that you buy in the grocery or health food store labeled as agave is quite another story.

Nearly all of the agave syrup or nectar sold in the United States (and around the world) is not
"real, true agave."  There are some troubles with producing agave for distribution around the world. The first trouble comes in the fact that true agave is labor intensive and costly. The huge demand for product does not allow the producer to spend the time to collect and reduce the nectar in the true old fashioned way. The second trouble comes from the unfamiliar taste. True agave has a fairly strong flavor and is more of an acquired taste. These troubles were overcome when it was discovered that when you are done extracting the nectar from these plants you can extract the starch from the plant bulb. In a process extremely similar to that of making of corn syrup you can create a large amount of sweet from the plant.  Using these techniques, the manufactures can produce a lot of sweet tasting syrup or nectar ready for export. This second product, which is  made from the starch of the plant is a very different product than that which is made from the reduced nectar of the plant. To me, it would seem that much of the agave is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It is high fructose syrup made from agave starch instead of corn. 

Here is the real scoop.  Most of the research about agave has been done studying those products made from he nectar of the plant. I do not know that much research has been released on the products made from the starches of the plant.  But, do we really need more sugar alternatives?  The fact is, we know that we are eating too much sugar (myself included) We are looking for an alternative way to feed our sugar addiction without the ill effects.  Food producers heard the call. We  have been provided more  choices, and they will continue to provide choices as long as the public demands it. The choice is yours to make. For me, I have done the research into it. I am avoiding agave syrup.  (Even from the beginning when I first saw the stuff I got a feeling about it.)  If I travel to Mexico I may look up the real stuff and see if I can acquire a taste for it. Until then, I get my sugar fixes from whole fruits and vegetables. It has been a journey and is still something that I am working towards. I have come a very long way. For me it is much better to work on reducing the amount of sweet stuff in my life rather than replacing it. It is something I am working towards for me and my family. It is not easy, but well worth the health benefits for us.

 I have included some informative links below. There is so much more than what I have shared here in this post.  I hope these articles will be helpful to you as you make your own choice about these types of products.

agave nectar is all hype

Food renegade, Is agave good or bad for you?

health impact news

This post is shared along with others as part of
real food wednesdays

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Junk out, good food in. Part 1 the begining

So you want to eat healthy!  Congrats. Now where to go?  Navigating the world of healthy can be such a challenge. You are just getting started and you get bombarded with information. It can be so overwhelming.  The messages go something like this.  "Eat more fruits and veg, but not just any fruits and veg; make sure they are whole, organic, certified, blessed by the chief of______"   "No GMO foods" and you don't even know what a GMO is. Then there are Soy foods.  Some say they are the devil, and some swear they are made in heaven.  There is a an entire list of ingredients to avoid (which varies from person to person).  And this is just the beginning!

You meet up with people doing all these special diets that they swear by, but they don't seem to include foods you recognize.  It seems like everyone has a different opinion about the subject. Eat this, avoid that.  Everyone is willing to give you advice. Everyone is saying something different. It is so overwhelming, but you know you have to do something because what you have been doing is not working. You take it all in. You pump yourself up.  You can do this. You think you have formulated a plan. You have a list of the Do's and Don'ts. You are ready.

You have done it; you have thrown out all you junk food and you are ready to make a big change. You venture out to the grocery store and try to navigate a healthier you, starting with the big banners across some of the packages claiming health benefits. You turn over the package and find it full of those things you are supposed to avoid.  But you are so confused, it says healthy things across the front.  You try your best, but your eyes are beginning to blur, and your brain is boggled by the long list of ingredients you can't pronounce  in some of the "healthy"  products. You end up throwing a few packages of overpriced stuff into your cart (because it might be healthier). Then you stop by the produce section. Upon looking at the price of organic produce you leave without anything because it seems that $5 for an organic apple is too much.

You get home and try to eat that healthy stuff you just bought (which is somewhat tolerable), but not like what you are used to. You tell yourself "but I am getting healthier so it is worth it right?"  A few hours later you are craving your favorite food, but it is not in the house because you threw it out. You end up on a midnight run to the store because you can't stand it anymore. Maybe tomorrow you can try again. You realize that it is tomorrow already and there is nothing in the house that you want eat.  Maybe this healthy thing is not for me.

Your first attempts at getting healthy have been a failure.  It is so confusing to know which way to go. There is so much information out there and everyone seems to disagree as to what is healthy and what is not. Your trip to the grocery store have not been helpful. It seems that everything there entices you to put the wrong things in your cart. You are grumpy and unfulfilled because you have tossed out all your comfort/go to foods. What are you going to do?

Maybe, the answer is in the health food store. It is full of good things.  It will be easy to make good choices there. As soon as you walk in the door you know you have made a mistake. Everyone  is still enticing you to buy their product. Some of these packages have even more health claims on the labels than the grocery store. The trouble is; you don't even know what half the products are. You look around trying to find something familiar to grasp too. All your favorite brands are not here, they are replaced with products heralding healthy sounding names. You find a few things that sound good, toss them in your basket and move on to the produce isle.  You find a bit of organic fruit that looks pretty good plus it is on sale, so it is a bit more of a tolerable price.

Now, if only you can remember the name of that "stuff " the Doctor on TV or your friend told you about. You find it, but now you are thinking, "What am I supposed to do with this?"  You toss it into your basket and head to the checkout. At the checkout you chat briefly with the cashier asking them what to do with that "stuff" you just bought. They give you some suggestions (most of which you understand), you nod your head and out the door you go.

Now you are home and staring at the stuff you bought.  You decide to enjoy the fruit you purchased. It tastes just like the other fruit that you have bought on occasion. You think to yourself, "What is the big deal, I can't tell a difference."  Later that evening you decide to cook that "stuff" that you hear is so healthy.  You remember what the cashier said and attempt to cook it.  When it is done, you timidly try it. Maybe its not so bad, but I miss my ________. (fill in your own blank). You begin thinking about it and your mouth starts to water.  Now your heart is racing and you think that you have to get it.  It is looking like another late night run to the store for that favorite food. You have a choice to make.  Do you go on trying to get healthy, or do you give into your cravings and go back to what you know?

Tune in next week as we explore the world of Junk out, good food in part 2

Monday, January 20, 2014

Using up leftovers

leftover rice becomes rice pudding

My husband loves homemade pudding. Whenever we cook rice he wants to be sure that we have leftovers so that we can make rice pudding.  He  makes sure to remind me that we need to cook enough to make pudding. He has been known to request rice for dinner just so we can have rice pudding afterwards. This is the recipe that we have developed over the years.

photo from Bing images

Leftover rice pudding

In a medium sized saucepan mix together

1 can (12 ounce) evaporated milk
1/2 to 1 cup leftover cooked  rice
1/2 cup water
Cook this mixture over medium heat until the rice plumps up and gets softened, and creamy (about 10-15 minutes).

1 1/2 cups milk (2% is what we usually have)
3/4 cup sugar
4 Tablespoons cornstarch
3 whole eggs
Mix the sugar, cornstarch, and eggs into the milk, whisking well.
Pour this milk mix into the hot rice mixture. Bring the entire thing to a boil.

Finish the pudding with;
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Cinnamon to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon or so)
raisins or dried fruit if you like

It can be served warm or cold.  Although, hot from the pan (with a steaming mouth) is my husband's favorite way to eat it.

This post shared as part of real food Wednesdays


Saturday, January 11, 2014

Essential rest. Suggestions for better and more restorative sleep

Sleep is essential for life, yet life for so many does not include adequate amounts of sleep. So many of us her in the U.S. are too busy living life that we forget this simple thing that is key to that life we are trying to live.  In an article from the Huffington post it was suggested that Sleep is "a third pillar" of life right along with diet and exercise.  My Mother had some real health issues last year. The first recommendation was sleep. Without real restorative sleep our bodies and brains can't function nor repair themselves. YES, SLEEP IS VITAL TO HEALTH.
                                                                                                   Photo courtesy of Bing images

How do you know if you are getting enough sleep?
Here is a link to an article that does a great job explaining it. It includes a handy chart that shows sleep recommendations for all ages.
how much sleep do I need?
Each person is different; for example, my husband needs more sleep than I do. This article gives you a place to start. So, you already know that you need more sleep, where do you go? Here are some ideas to help improve the quantity and quality of your sleep.

What can you do to improve your sleep habits?

1. Regular bedtime is a must.  It used to be that everyone had a regular bedtime especially children. I was recently reading an article about  the parenting skills we have lost in recent years. One of those is a regular bedtime. We are living in a world  much like New York, the city that never sleeps;  our families are falling asleep late into the night, usually to the light and sounds of the television or movies. It is not healthy. Sleep is essential for our growing children.  We often try to give them so much in life and yet skimp on such simple essentials as this.
2. A bedtime routine is very helpful. A bedtime routine tells your body that it is time to start winding down and preparing for sleep. If you just decide, "Ok time for bed." and then jump right into bed your brain and body have a hard time keeping up. It sets your body up for confusion.  A bedtime routine does not have to be long and complicated.  It really only  should take a few minutes. It can be as easy and shutting down everything electronic, brushing your teeth, and having a little drink. Reading a bedtime story used to be common place and has been replaced with TV and internet among other things, yet it works. All that is needed is something to signal your brain that it is time to sleep. This sounds to simple to be effective, but it is amazing how it works

3. Check out your sleeping environment.   A key to a good night sleep may be hidden in your sleeping environment. Some things to consider:
a . Temperature.  Temperature can really affect a persons ability to sleep. For most people, an ideal temperature is between 68 and 72 Fahrenheit.  Hot or cold, either one can have an effect on sleeping. Try an experiment; change the normal temperature for a few nights and see what happens. Some people swear that this little tip alone has changed their lives. As an added note, many of the newer mattresses and pillows that are made of memory foam can hold body heat thus disrupting some peoples sleep.

b.  Lighting. For some people even the littlest bit of light can be disruptive to sleep. The red or green glow from electronic devices or even an alarm clock can be enough to disturb some people. There are many that are unaware of this fact. Once discovered, the problem can be resolved.  In these cases a darkening shade or a sleep mask may be in order.

c. Sound. Whether it be the constant hum of the fridge, the furnace kicking on, or the neighbor who slams his car door as he leaves for work in the early morning hours. These sounds can have an effect on certain people. Some people sleep well to the constant background sounds. These people do well with a fan running, or a noise box that creates sounds. Babies are notorious for falling asleep to "white noise" Or going asleep in the car with the constant hum of the engine.  Some people are disturbed when the sounds around them change. For example when the furnace kicks on or the neighbor slams a car door. Having a constant sound can drown out those noises. Some people just do well to wear ear plugs. Whatever the case, being aware of these things allows us to make some changes and avoid expensive drugs or therapy that come along with the conventional treatments for  insomnia.

d. Mood. The mood of your bedroom can affect the way you sleep. If you bedroom is used for many other things than sleep there can be an energy that resides there displacing the relaxing sleep energy that should prevail.  Notice how the energy in your home differs from room to room. The main gathering place and the kitchen seem to have different energy than other rooms in the house. The color choices on your wall, and even some of the d├ęcor in your bedroom may affect your sleeping patterns. Check it out, become aware and see what happens. Simple things can make a huge difference.

4. Find your sleeping position. This was key for me. Once I discovered my sleeping position it put me in a much better place. I used to toss and turn, sometimes for hours trying to get comfortable and get my brain to relax.  Now this, along with some Yoga during my bedtime routine I am able to get to sleep fast. I don't waste hours trying to get some sleep.  I get into bed and do some Yoga stretches to relax. Then when I am relaxed, I turn over  and assume my sleeping position. This signals my brain that it is sleeping time. I am grateful for the advice  given to me to find a sleeping position. 

5. Eating and drinking before bedtime.  Throw out the old notion that eating and drinking before bedtime is bad for you. For some, drinking before bedtime can change their body temperature and help them get to sleep. Some people need that drink to keep from waking up thirsty. I have a daughter that wakes up thirsty if she doesn't get enough water before sleep. The simple act of drinking before bedtime has saved her from nighttime waking.  Eating sugary sodas, juices, or cookies and ice cream before bedtime might be a bad idea, and caffeine is a stimulant and therefore should be avoided at bedtime.

I got sucked into the notion that eating at night was bad. When I threw that to the wind  and began eating at night, I noticed that I slept better. I observed that when I would eat about 45 minutes to an hour before bedtime that I was able to relax and sleep much better. I noticed that I was sleeping longer and deeper.  I  was reminded of a book I read many years ago. The book was entitled "Potatoes not Prozac" by  Kathleen DesMaisons.  The book is about controlling blood sugar and how diet effects your mood. It was brought up in the book that a potato with the skin eaten before bedtime was helpful in maintaining good mental health.  From what I remembered, it had to do with the starch in the potato getting into your body quickly being a "fast carb" and raising your glucose levels and the amount of serotonin in your brain. The Skin of the potato digested more slowly and therefore is considered a "slow carb" digesting slower and thus stabilizing your blood sugar through the night.

When I started studying about sleep habits and sleep cycles. One thing that caught my attention was the fact that our bodies go through a repair cycle early on in the night. Later on, in the early morning hours the brain goes through a restoration/ repair cycle. If the brain does not have fuel enough to go through the repair cycle it can wake us up often asking for food.  In the past I would wake up early in the morning hours and could not get back to sleep. I would sometimes eat and that would help, yet I would feel guilty for eating in the night, or I would just be angry that I was awake so early and could not sleep. It was a bad cycle and one that I see so many facing.

I was able to put it all together and realized that If I ate a "slow carb" and a "fast carb" together  before bedtime I was able to sleep more soundly and in the early morning hours my brain had the nutrition it needed from the "slow carb" to repair itself. I was finally able to get to sleep and stay asleep.  It can be as simple as that baked potato. I often enjoy a slice of whole grain bread with a bit of jam. Grandma may have been right when she suggested a glass of milk before bedtime.  The sugars in the milk digest quickly raising your serotonin levels which turn to melatonin and help you to sleep.  The proteins in the milk digest slower and act as a slow carb thus providing your brain with the nutrition needed during the repair stage especially if it is whole milk providing the brain with the essential fat it needs.   

I would suggest that if you are having troubles sleeping that you become aware and  take inventory of what is going on in your life and take a look at some of the habits you have and  see if there are some little changes that could make a big difference in your sleep cycles.

For more info check out some of these resources.

UCLA sleep center


National sleep foundation

Here is to better sleeping for you and your family

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Monster cookies

Memories from my childhood. My Mother's aunt would make these cookies. They were so yummy. She would sell them at the local store. Her cookies were more than twice the size of mine. Her original recipe was HUGE.  This is a half size version and yet it is still a very large batch of cookies.  We were at my Mom's looking at recipes and someone asked why she never made these for us growing up. Upon reviewing the recipe we did not wonder anymore. We did not often have a full canister of oats, a pound of butter, a dozen eggs, not to mention large amounts of peanut butter plus M&M's were a rare treat growing up.

 I made these cookies to share with the neighbors this holiday season and they are good as ever.

Monster cookies
yields 6 dozen large cookies
preheat oven to 350

1 cup butter softened to room temperature
2 cups packed brown sugar
2 cups white sugar
4 teaspoons baking soda
2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
3 cups peanut butter
6 large eggs lightly beaten
9 cups quick cooking rolled oats
a 16 ounce package of chocolate chips
about 16 ounces M&M's brand candy coated chocolate pieces.

Yes, this ingredient list is correct. There is no flour and there is a ton of oats.

In a large mixing bowl cream together the butter and sugars
Mix in the baking soda, vanilla, and eggs, beating well
Add the peanut butter, oats, chocolate chips, and candy pieces mixing well to incorporate all.

Drop the dough by rounded Tablespoons onto ungreased baking sheets placing about 2 inches apart and bake for 10 minutes.  Do not overbake they should be lightly browned and still soft.