Yoga & Real Food With The Fam

 

ImageHappy summer! Did you start 100 Days of Crazy Healthy yesterday? It was a challenge for us to get started, because we were on vacation at the lake with some other families, but we did it! I was surprised that the girls really liked the tongue scraping and the lemon water. They have done sun salutations before, but it was really fun to practice them together with a family goal. I am also happy to report that I got up early to practice sun salutations with Hubby and the girls today, so we’re already done with Day 2. Yay!

No worries if you didn’t get to start the challenge with us yesterday. You can still start today, and make it 99 Days of Crazy Healthy! Start here. The point is to create new health habits, one day at a time, all summer long, so you will still benefit A LOT, even if you start one day late. To find the posts, type “100 Days” in the search box on my home page, or use the category cloud. I’ve posted the first 4 weeks so far, and will continue to post additional weeks as I get them written.

As you begin the journey, remember:

1) We already have everything we need to be healthy. No diets or trendy workouts needed, if we eat real food and practice resistance-based yoga every day.

2) Getting healthy is hard on purpose. Trust the struggle.

3) We are all leaders. Every choice we make informs the choices of the people around us. When we choose healthy habits, we inspire others to do the same.

4) Good health is the foundation for all of the other things we want in life, so we must make it a priority every day. Do whatever it takes to complete your mission.

5) You don’t have to do this alone. Invite a friend or family member to join you, and remember that I am here to help! Email any time with your questions.

Namaste,

Amber
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100 Days of Crazy Healthy Week 2

How did you do with Week 1 of 100 Days of Crazy Healthy? By now, you should be a little more comfortable with your morning routine and the Sun Salutations.  Week 2 will be exactly like the first, with the addition of a Crazy Healthy Smoothie for breakfast every morning. If you are not in the habit of making smoothies, this may take a few extra minutes, about 2-4 to gather ingredients, blend, and wash the blender afterward.

Daily Habits For Week 2

1. Upon waking, scrape your tongue from front to back with a spoon, or tongue scraper. This will remove the ama (toxins) that have built up in your mouth over night. Rinse your mouth with water, being careful to not swallow any of the water, and brush your teeth afterward.

2. Drink 12 oz. of warm, filtered water, before consuming food. You may add lemon or lime to the water if you would like.

3. Practice 5 B series Sun Salutations*, moving intentionally on each inhale and exhale, as shown in the photo from Week 1. Don’t rush, and don’t think about anything besides the breath and the pose. This will feel difficult, if you are new to yoga, but reject this idea in favor of doing the work. For those who have practiced yoga before, doing 5 Sun Salutations every day may feel boring–do it anyway and trust the process. Play the music you love, or use my playlists on Spotify. Make it a moving meditation. Changes will happen on such a deep level in your body, that you won’t even be aware that you are being transformed. It’s a beautiful thing! It is preferable to practice in the morning before showering, but this may be done at night, if necessary. Do whatever it takes, to complete this task every day! Don’t allow yourself to crawl into bed at night, until it is done. It takes me exactly one minute to complete a B Series Sun Salutation, using full inhales and exhales, and it should be the same for you, so this is a 5 minute exercise.

4. Drink a Crazy Healthy Smoothie for breakfast each morning. Crazy Healthy Smoothies are balanced meals, prepared with awareness and intention to fuel the body. We include pure fruit juice, sweet and sour whole fruit, greens, healthy fat, and protein, for an energizing start to our day. It helps to think about smoothies from an ayurvedic perspective: how many flavors can we fit into one meal? Mixing sweet and sour fruits with bitter veggies, pungent nut butters, and spicy herbs (think ginger and cayenne) can help us start the day off feeling energizing and ready to tackle the world.  Learn how to make Crazy Healthy Smoothies here. 

5. Find daily inspiration to keep fighting the fight on my Facebook page. I will share quotes, and ancient wisdom to support the habits we are creating.

You can do this! It may seem too difficult to some, and too simple to others, but either way, trust the struggle. Don’t think, just do. I’m here to help, so please don’t hesitate to reach out with your questions.

 

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100 Days of Crazy Healthy Week 6

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How did you do with the first five weeks of 100 Days of Crazy Healthy?

For the sixth week of our health challenge, we will continue with our commitments, and add a new breakfast option. Going forward, alternate between smoothies and quinoa with fruit or veggies for breakfast. This will give you more variety in your diet, and help make breakfast a little more interesting, as you continue to increase your daily nutrient intake.

Prepare a large batch of quinoa that you can keep stored in the fridge or freezer on the weekends. I recommend doubling the recipe on the box, and freezing, to save time. You lose some nutrients with freezing, but it does make it easier to stay on track. You may use water to prepare your quinoa, or, as an alternative, try using organic apple juice (preferably not from concentrate).

Also, please note that I was off in my estimates for core work–the exercise actually take 5 minutes, not 3. But keep doing them–they are some of the most rewarding work you will do during this health challenge!

Daily Habits For Week 6

1. Upon waking, scrape your tongue from front to back with a spoon, or tongue scraper. This will remove the ama (toxins) that have built up in your mouth over night. Rinse your mouth with water, being careful to not swallow any of the water, and brush your teeth afterward. Read more about the powerful practice of tongue scraping here.

2. Drink 12 oz. of warm, filtered water, before consuming food. You may add lemon or lime to the water if you would like.

3. Practice 5 B series Sun Salutations (photo below), moving intentionally on each inhale and exhale, as shown in the photo from Week 1. Don’t rush, and don’t think about anything besides the breath and the pose. This will feel difficult, if you are new to yoga, but reject this idea in favor of doing the work. For those who have practiced yoga before, doing 5 Sun Salutations every day may feel boring–do it anyway and trust the process. Play the music you love, or use my playlists on Spotify. Make it a moving meditation. Changes will happen on such a deep level in your body, that you won’t even be aware that you are being transformed. It’s a beautiful thing! It is preferable to practice in the morning before showering, but this may be done at night, if necessary. Do whatever it takes, to complete this task every day! Don’t allow yourself to crawl into bed at night, until it is done. It takes me exactly one minute to complete a B Series Sun Salutation, using full inhales and exhales, and it should be the same for you, so this is a 5 minute exercise.

4. Practice 5 minutes of core work every day, comprised of 100 bicycles, 20 toe touches and 6 plank exercises. The bicycles may be broken up into 5 sets of 2 or 2 sets of 50–doesn’t matter as long as you do 100 each day. The same is true for toe touches and planks…break it up if you can’t do them all at once. This may be done after sun salutations, or any other time during the day. No matter what, don’t go to bed at night, until you have completed this work.

To perform bicycles, lie on your back, and bring your right elbow to meet your left knee. Move intentionally, and on the breath, exhaling as the elbow reaches toward the knee, inhaling as you release the crunch. Count every time you reach the right knee to left elbow. Do not let the knee come forward of the hip.

To perform toe touches, lie on your back, with legs straight. Stretch arms overhead, and then lift feet and hands to meet each other, keeping arms and legs straight. Move slowly and intentionally, and take breaks as you need them. Always exhale as you crunch and inhale as you release.

To perform planques, begin in Down Dog, then bring knee-to-nose, knee-to-elbow, and knee to opposite elbow. Shift your hips forward to bring shoulders over wrists. Hold each for 20 breaths (or two sets of ten breaths each), and make sure you do them on both sides of your body.

4. Drink a Crazy Healthy Smoothie for breakfast each morning. Crazy Healthy Smoothies are balanced meals, prepared with awareness and intention to fuel the body. We include pure fruit juice, sweet and sour whole fruit, greens, healthy fat, and protein, for an energizing start to our day. It helps to think about smoothies from an ayurvedic perspective: how many flavors can we fit into one meal? Mixing sweet and sour fruits with bitter veggies, pungent nut butters, and spicy herbs (think ginger and cayenne) can help us start the day off feeling energizing and ready to tackle the world. Learn how to make Crazy Healthy Smoothies here.

5. Eat raw or roasted veggies with a healthy fat for your afternoon snack. Some examples would be celery with almond or peanut butter (organic if possible), bell pepper strips with hummus and organic olive oil, asparagus roasted with grape seed oil and sea salt, spring mix with avocado, lemon and sea salt, or roasted sweet potatoes with grape seed oil and sea salt.

6. Eat a vegetarian soup or salad for lunch. Prepare it (or order it) with the intention of maximizing your nutrient intake. Consider Dr. Fuhrman’s Nutritarian Food Pyramid (below) when making your choices.

7. Practice Pigeon Pose, for one full minute on each side. Remember, the more you move your front foot forward, the deeper the stretch. Find your edge, and breathe into it. The back leg should be straight back behind you, and the hips are level.

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8. After practiing pigeon on both sides, practice Cobbler’s Pose for one full minute. Keep your back flat, and reach the heart forward, for maximum effect. You may use your elbows to press into your thighs, to deepen the stretch.

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9. On Sundays, prepare a double batch of quinoa on the weekend, and freeze for the week. Alternate between smoothies and quinoa for breakfast, and use quinoa as your veggie snack once or twice during the week. For breakfast, add a little grape seed oil, cinnamon, apples, walnuts, raisins, and sea salt as a base recipe. Then, as you become more familiar with quinoa for breakfast, start switching things up! Try cherries and walnuts, pears and apples, blueberries and bananas, and any other combinations that sound good to you. If you are feeling adventurous, try Garam Masala (Indian spice, available online or at Whole Foods) with golden raisins and walnuts–it’s my absolute favorite! A little spice goes a long way, so start with 1/2 tsp. cinnamon or Garam Masala, and add more as you see fit. Remember also that you don’t really need to sweeten these dishes, since they already contain fruit, but you may add a splash of maple syrup or honey if you think it will help you enjoy it more. For snack, add black beans, tomatoes, corn, and cilantro, plus a little honey, cayenne, and sea salt. The more you balance sweet, salty, bitter, pungent, sour, and spicy tastes, the more you will enjoy quinoa as a complement to your diet!

10. Find daily inspiration on my Facebook page. I will share quotes, and ancient wisdom to support the habits we are creating.

You can do this! It may seem too difficult to some, and too simple to others, but either way, trust the struggle. Don’t think, just do. I’m here to help, so please don’t hesitate to email your questions.

 

Never Diet Again

ImageI started dieting when I was in high school, even though I was not overweight at the time. I just thought I was fat, because all the girls around me were talking about how important it was to be skinny.

I was never particularly good at dieting, esoecially when I did pack on the pounds later, but I kept forcing the issue anyway, and hated every minute of it. Except the one time I was on that diet, that let me have frozen fat-free chocolate yogurt with granola for lunch. I actually liked that one. But I had to give it up when I realized that it didn’t really work.

So, I kept on keepin’ on, struggling with my weight, into my 20s and early 30s. I read the diet books, bought the diet foods (Slimfast and Snackwells, anyone?), kept the journals, and promised myself I would stick to the plan. But, no matter how hard I tried, I always felt like one of Cinderella’s stepsisters, trying to fit my foot into a shoe molded perfectly for someone else. What seemed promising at first, always wound up disappointing me in the end.

As a result, I struggled with my weight for years, and I felt bad about myself a lot. Especially when I had to go buy new clothes, because I could no longer zip my skirts.

This cycle went on for two decades. Diet. Lose. Gain. Diet. Lose. Gain. I kept reinventing the wheel and calling it something different, every time. It never worked.

Until, one day, one of my yoga instructors shared what I still think is the most brilliant perspective about food I have ever heard:

“At some point, you have to ask yourself: is what I am eating really food?”

It changed the way I thought about grocery shopping, meal-planning, and eating out, forever. I never dieted again.

Instead, I changed what I believed about food. I decided that food is fuel for my body, and instead of eating to lose weight, I should eat to become the best version of myself that I could possibly be. How’s that for a novel idea?

I became a truth seeker, insistent on understanding exactly what I was putting in my body. I read labels, scoured the internet for nutrition facts, and started eating at home more often, so I could know exactly what was in my food.

The more I focused my attention on fueling my body, the better I felt. I finally accepted what I had known all along, but had been too stubborn to admit: everything I eat effects me either positively or negatively. And the more I moved toward nourishing myself, the more I wanted more of the same.

This is how I became passionate about the importance of real food, and broke the cycle of dieting for good. It was one of the most liberating experiences of my life, to stop trying to eat like everyone else, and decide for myself what works best for me.

The say the truth will set you free, and never is this more applicable, than when we are trying to lose weight. The truth is that diets don’t work, and you should never, ever diet again.

Eat real food, instead. All day, every day. Exercise every day. And trust the struggle. The more we distance ourselves from processed foods that dull our taste buds, and nourish our bodies with real foods and exercise, the more we crave real foods and movement, the more inspired we are to eat from the earth, and the better we feel and look.

Learn more about real food in this insightful post at The Atlantic, and pick up a copy of “Eat To Live” by Joel Fuhrman, MD.

Have you liked My Crazy Healthy Life on Facebook? Join us there, for crazy healthy recipes, tips, and inspiration!

 

Photo: http://www.drsharma.ca

Crazy Healthy Snacking

Healthy-Snacks-List-1Before I learned how to be crazy healthy, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out which foods might help me lose weight, cure my headaches, and sleep better at night. I tried a million different diets. Most did not work. The few that helped me drop some weight were not sustainable, and I always wound up back where I started.

The one thing that finally did work for me, was applying lessons learned on my yoga mat to my relationship with food. The more intentional I became about fueling my body, and the more aware I became about my habits, the easier it became to make healthy choices.

I still struggled with snack time, however. Somehow, snacks seemed less important than breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I gave myself permission to “cheat a little”. The problem with cheating a little is that, for me, it almost always spirals into cheating a lot.

Even after I cleaned out my diet and went vegetarian in 2003, I still struggled with snacks for a few years. Until one day I realized that, by losing control at snack time, I was giving my power away unnecessarily. What would happen if I kept that power instead, and put it to good use?

Little by little, yoga helped me rethink my habits, and create new disciplines for snacking. I wrote about what I learned for My Yoga Scene last week, and thought you might find these lessons helpful. Check it out, and share your thoughts in the comments section at the end of the article: The Yoga Of Healthy Snacking.

Also, you can learn more about my snacking habits, and share your favorites, on the Facebook page for My Crazy Healthy Life!

Namaste~

Amber

Photo: http://www.health-sourcing.com

How To Cook Without Recipes, Part 2

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I was not prepared last Sunday, when my kids asked “Mom, what’s for breakfast?”

We had made the long drive home from Vero Beach, FL the day before, and I completely forgot that we had taken most of the food with us on the trip. For the first time in a long while, our cupboards were bare, the fruit bowl was empty, and my kids were hungry.

Before I got crazy healthy, I probably would have told my kids we were out of food, and should just walk to the Chick-fil-A down the street. Or I might have driven to Einstein’s Bagels and brought back an assortment of bagels and cream cheese. That would have seemed faster and cheaper.

But now I that I understand the importance of eating nutrient-dense foods, I actually prefer to stay home and get creative with what we have on hand. I’ve learned that it can actually take less time to prepare and serve real food, than it does to eat out. And that eating healthy food doesn’t necessarily cost much more, if I am smart about how I stock my pantry.

That morning, I did find some frozen fruit and gluten-free bread in the freezer, and organic peanut butter in the fridge. Breakfast ultimately consisted of fruit salad and toast with peanut butter. Not my best creation, but it did the trick, no one seemed to mind, and it taught my kids to make healthier choices.

This is a great example of why it is important to keep healthy essentials on hand, so we don’t have to fall back on fast food when we get in a bind. In my experience, I can always create a healthy meal when I keep my fridge and pantry stocked with:

  • cooking supplies
  • fresh produce
  • grains
  • beans
  • nuts
  • frozen fruits and veggies
  • organic meats, dairy and eggs
  • supplemental foods

Keeping these foods on hand has greatly improved our diet in recent years. Below is more about why I think they are essential.

Cooking Supplies

Cooking supplies are products that I absolutely have to have to be able to prepare whole foods. This includes oils, spices and sweeteners. This will mean different things to every cook, but personally I rely on:

  • high heat oils, such as coconut, grape seed, sunflower and safflower
  • fresh onion and garlic
  • sea salt
  • cracked black pepper
  • sweeteners, such as honey, maple syrup, coconut water and stevia
  • spices such as cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, basil, mustard seed, rosemary, ginger, and taco seasoning
  • acids, such as fresh lemons and limes, and a variety of vinegars (my faves are balsamic, apple cider vinegar and rice vinegar)

There’s no real trick to learning to work with these items…it just takes practice. With a small investment of time, these staples can help greatly improve the quality and variety of the foods we serve.

Fresh Produce

There are so many things we can do with fresh produce, that I never imagined before I got crazy healthy! It takes practice to learn, but it’s definitely worth the time investment.

Here’s how I like to use fresh produce to feed my family:

  • stir frys
  • veggie burgers
  • soups
  • veggie pastas
  • quinoa salads
  • taco salads
  • fruit and veggie plates
  • smoothies

We eat these dishes more than anything else, so I get a little panicky when run low on produce.

When I shop, I usually just buy what looks good, and figure out what to do with it when I get home. I’m not much of a planner, so this works for me. For those who are planners, however, I recommend researching which foods are in season, and building a list around them. Your food will taste better this way.

Some fresh foods are easier to prepare and serve than others. I try to have a balance of what I consider fast foods, such as apples, bananas, berries, carrots, sugar snap peas, etc. in the house at all times. At least 30% of our diet consists of foods that can be washed, chopped, and served without modification. It took a lot time, patience, and positive feedback to help my kids learn to appreciate eating this way, but nowadays they seem to really enjoy a veggie plate for snack and chopped cucumbers (for example) in their lunch.

Foods that are denser, such as broccoli, kale, sweet potatoes and brussel sprouts make up another 20% of our diet. These foods are more labor intensive, so I usually save them for dinner. Roasting veggies is really simple, once you get the hang of it, so that’s how I usually prepare these foods. For more on this topic, check out my article, Roasted Veggies The Crazy Healthy Way.

Because I spend more time preparing dense veggies, I almost always make twice as much as we need for dinner, so we can have leftovers the next day.

Whenever possible, I boost my family’s intake of veggies by adding them to foods that might not otherwise contain veggies. For example, when I make turkey burgers, I process whatever veggies we happen to have in the house, and add them to ground turkey. Our turkey burgers are usually 30% veggies, 80% meat. I think they actually taste better this way!

Grains

Whole grains are rich in fiber that helps us feel full, and phytonutrients that are essential to good health.

My favorite grains are oats, quinoa and brown rice, so I always keep them on hand. It takes about 20 minutes to prepare rice and quinoa, so I recommend prepping these foods before prepping other foods. When I prepare rice and quinoa, I double the recipe. This helps me make two meals in almost half the time.

Oatmeal cooks a little faster, and is a great, hearty breakfast. I usually add sea salt, maple syrup, cinnamon, raisins, and walnuts to ours. Cherries and pecans are another great flavor combination. We use gluten-free oats, but steel cut oats are also a healthy option.

Beans

Beans are healthiest when prepared from scratch, but most have to be soaked for a good while before cooking. Because I am not much of a planner, I end up using packaged beans more often than not. However, in an ideal world, I would soak my beans the night before, and we would have beans prepared from scratch. The one exception to this rule seems to be lentils (let me know if you know of others!). Lentils cook almost as fast as rice, so we eat these beans most often.

I keep a variety of canned beans in the pantry at all times. We eat more canned black beans than anything else, but chick peas and kidney beans help me create variety in our diet.

Nuts, Dried Fruit, and Nut Butters

My family eats a lot of nuts, dried fruit and nut butters. My kids love to make their own trail mixes, and I love to make sauces and nut butters with nuts, sea salt, and coconut water. Soaked and processed cashews are also a great dairy substitute for sauces (more on this topic in my article, The Incredible, Edible Cashew).

Nuts and dried fruits are great snacks, especially when we are in a rush. I keep them in a convenient spot, so I can grab them as we walk out the door to soccer games and other family outings.

Nut butters, either made from scratch or purchased, are an excellent addition to smoothies, and a great complement to fresh fruit. My absolute favorite snack is strawberries with peanut butter…try it sometime and you’ll see why!

Frozen Fruits and Veggies

Flash frozen foods can be almost as healthy as fresh foods, and can make great additions to salads, salsas, soups, burgers, and dips. I use frozen organic corn in my veggie burgers, and add frozen mango to salsas. No one ever notices that I used frozen instead of fresh.

Frozen fruit can be a quick and easy snack for kids. My kids love frozen cherries and frozen pineapple for breakfast and snack.

Frozen foods,such as peas, edamame, and corn, can also be great time savers. On the nights that I make a labor intensive main dish, I try to serve a combination of fresh and frozen veggies as a side.

Organic Meats, Eggs, and Dairy (optional)

Dr. Joel Fuhrman, my favorite nutritionist, says that animal products should comprise 10% of less of our diet. We have followed this rule for over a decade, and although it was difficult at first, it has made a huge difference for my entire family. My kids and husband eat more meat than I do, but we all keep it under 10%. I think eggs are ok once in a while, but we don’t have them very often because three of us are extremely allergic.

Supplemental Foods

Supplemental foods are foods that are not necessarily healthy, but necessary to save time, create balance in our diet, and make sure no one feels deprived. Some of the foods I use the most are:

  • gluten-free breads for sandwiches
  • ketchup and mustard to pair with veggie burgers
  • gluten-free flour for pancakes (these work great as chicken sausage wraps, too!)
  • gluten-free pastas
  • canned soups and chilis (I buy organic brands, such as Amy’s, and add fresh garlic, onion and veggies to boost flavor and nutrient content)
  • pesto and marinara sauces
  • packaged dips (such as Trader Joe’s Pineapple Salsa and Eggplant Garlic dip)
  • mini chocolate chips to add to trail mixes and top peanut butter and banana bowls
  • gluten-free baking mixes, such as Pamela’s Cornbread Mix and Vanilla Cake Mix (you can make them from scratch, but these are great time savers!)

Again, these foods count toward the overall 90/10 ratio that Dr. Fuhrman prescribes, so if we are eating a lot of supplemental foods, than we cut back on meats and dairy.

The bottom line is that keeping our pantry stocked with essential foods is a one of the most important practices in learning how to cook without recipes. I hope this information helps you think differently about how you shop for, and prepare healthy meals.

In my next post, we will talk about Step 3 in learning to cook without recipes: learning how to work with what we have on hand. In the meantime, follow “My Crazy Healthy Life” on Facebook, for daily inspiration and tips, and let me know if you have questions or comments about this series! I always love hearing from you!

Photo: eatingwell.com

Cook Without Recipes in Three Simple Steps

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I used to think the crazy healthy cooking is difficult–that it takes years of training and practice to learn how to make nutritious meals.

Thankfully, I was wrong. I just wish I had known then, what I know now.

Crazy healthy cooking is actually quite simple, once we learn which foods fortify our bodies, and how to maximize their flavor during the cooking process. When we learn to trust our own instincts, and rely on our intuition more than cookbooks, we empower ourselves to create nutritious meals that lead us to a healthier life.

Admittedly, it took me a while to figure this out. I followed other people’s recipes for years, before l realized that I was working harder than necessary, to feed my family healthy meals. I wore myself out, trying to prepare multiple dishes that would all be ready at the same time, running to the grocery store for forgotten items, and beating myself up for not getting things “just right”.

Until one day I realized that my meals didn’t need to be complicated. Simple dishes can actually taste better than complex concoctions. Less really could be more, when it came to cooking delicious, healthy foods.

I started simplifying recipes, and eliminating unnecessary ingredients whenever possible. Instead of trying to follow recipes to a “T”, I explored new, creative ways to bring out the best flavors of fresh, healthy foods. Most of the time, this meant less ingredients, and less cooking time. Cooking became less burdensome, and I actually enjoyed being in the kitchen, for the first time in my life.

I was amazed that, with a little high heat oil, proper cooking utensils, and a few basic spices, I could prepare almost anything to my family’s liking. I spent less time preparing food, and found it easier to time my dishes, so they all came out the oven at the same time.

This blog is all about learning to let go, so we can live well. In my next few posts, I will share tips and stories about how I learned to let go of cooking with recipes, and empowered myself to cook nutritious meals more efficiently and effectively.

Follow along here, and on the Facebook page for My Crazy Healthy Life, as I share techniques and practices that make crazy healthy cooking as simple as 1-2-3.

Crazy Healthy Cooking In Three Simple Steps

1. Learn how to prepare whole foods as close to their natural state as possible, to maximize their flavor and nutrient content.

2. Keep the pantry stocked with good quality essentials.

3. Get comfortable with working with what is available.

Stay tuned for more on each of these topics in the next few weeks, and let me know what questions you have about this series. I appreciate your comments and feedback–thank you for joining me in this crazy healthy life!

Namaste,

Amber

Photo: http://www.coachcalorie.com

Got Gluten?

Various_grainsI spend a lot of time and energy trying to avoid gluten. Sometimes it’s really inconvenient, but I don’t have a choice.

According to my doctor, I’m “off the charts” allergic to gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and of course, flour that is made from any of these plants or related species). One small bite can send me into an autoimmune flare-up for three to four days. It’s a delayed reaction, which means it take a day or two to show up. But when it does, it feels a lot like the flu. Unlike the flu, however, there is no medicine I can take to relieve the symptoms. Time, yoga, whole foods, and patience are the only cures.

If you’re not familiar with gluten intolerance, it might seem like a simple problem to solve…if you don’t want to eat gluten, then just don’t eat it, right? I wish it was that easy, but it’s not.

Why?

Because our grocery stores are stocked with more foods that contain flour than not, and restaurants use flour in almost every food they serve.

Even after ten years of avoiding gluten, I am still surprised by how few foods are truly gluten-free. This is especially true in restaurants. If chefs aren’t using flour or bread crumbs to thicken sauces, or bind burgers together, they are marinating chicken, or making sauces and dressings, with soy sauce (which is almost always made from wheat).

There is also a risk of contamination from grills, sauté pans, and deep fryers, that have cooked foods containing flour prior to your order.

Or, as one highly respected chef told me recently, it could just be that flour is so abundant in restaurants, that it becomes airborne, and lands on your otherwise gluten-free salad or veggie plate.

Of course, this makes it difficult for people like me, who are highly allergic to gluten.

But more importantly, if wheat and other sources of gluten are so prevalent in our food supply, then how much gluten/flour/wheat are non-allergic people eating?

And what would they do, if they knew that A) gluten is hard for our bodies to digest (which can lead to illness, inflammation, and weight gain), and B) that they are ingesting a lot of gluten unintentionally?

I’ve never seen anyone quantify how much gluten the average person consumes, but I really think someone should. I would not be surprised if, as a society, we are actually consuming more gluten than sugar. If you think about the flour content all of the breads, pastas, pancakes, cookies, crackers, pretzels, cereal, pies, and cakes we consume at home, plus the gluten-laden foods in restaurants, it definitely seems possible.

I know I’ve seen Dr. Oz quantify and display the amount of sugar the average American eats in a year–which he says is 150 pounds–and I can’t help but wonder why he wouldn’t also quantify the amount of flour we consume? It seems like a critically important piece of information to me.

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If the good doctor were to stack up the bags of flour that represent how much gluten the average person ingests each year, and explain how much of a toll it is taking on our country’s health, would it change the way we eat? Would restaurants rethink their menus, and minimize the amount of gluten they serve? Would the major food companies use gluten-free flours and soy sauce substitutes in their foods? This would likely cost them more, but their hand might be forced, if we all decided to reduce our gluten intake.

I’m not saying everyone needs to cut out gluten all together. As long as you are not allergic, I think gluten, like everything else, is okay in moderation. But I do think that it’s important to practice dietary awareness, and do our best to consume real foods more than fake foods.

Most sources of gluten aren’t food anymore (wheat, for example), because they have been so genetically modified that don’t even resemble the original foods that God created. This makes it really hard for our bodies to digest, and potentially toxic in large quantities.

And so the question stands: how much gluten is in our food supply, and how does it affect our health? It’s hard to say for sure, but I am certain that minimizing gluten intake, and replacing it with real foods, is in everyone’s best interests.

*For more health tips, insights and inspiration, follow My Crazy Healthy Life on Facebook, and tweet with me at @crazyhealthy 

How Do We Teach Our Kids To Eat Healthy Food?

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How do we teach our kids to eat healthy food?

This is the question my friend, Wendie, asked me last night, when I bumped into her at Trader Joe’s.

She had that look on her face. The same one I see on soooooo many parents’ face. The look that tells me that she that she has tried everything she can think of, to get her kids to make healthy choices, but their diet still isn’t as nutritious as she wants it to be.

I wanted to tell Wendie that it’s easy. That if she just does this, this, or this, her kids will love healthy foods.

But it doesn’t work that way, does it? It’s hard to teach our kids to choose carrots instead of french fries, and chill out on the soda and candy.

The better question is WHY is it hard to teach our kids to eat healthy foods?

Is it because kids don’t want to learn? I don’t think so. I think kids know that knowledge is power. That’s why they ask so many questions.

“Mommy, why is the sky blue?”

“Why is it dark at night?”

“How do birds fly?”

Have you noticed how relieved they seem when you give them an answer they understand?

Is it because fruits and vegetables don’t taste as good as processed foods? Not really. The reason kids don’t appreciate fresh produce as much as processed foods is more from lack of exposure, and dulled taste buds, then it is about taste. The more our bodies experience any food–healthy or not–the more we crave it.

Could it be that kids don’t want to be healthy? Hmmm…I don’t really think that’s it either. Do you?

Personally, I think it’s hard to teach kids to eat healthy because, no matter how much we work to teach them about nutrition, there will always be other forces in their life that suggest otherwise.

Their friends tell them that veggies aren’t cool. Coaches tell them they need Gatorade to rehydrate. And candy is almost always the reward for good behavior at school.

It’s no wonder our kids are confused!

Because there are so many mixed messages, I think the only way to teach kids to eat healthy is to be the change we want to see in our kids. We have to be crazy healthy ourselves, and teach them that wellness is normal, and everything else is not.

Kids need consistent encouragement and education about what it takes to be healthy. Not in an obsessive, overbearing way. But in a “this is what we do, and I love it!” kind of way. If we arm our kids with information when they are young, about the ways foods either fuel or harm our body, they will empowered to make informed decisions about their health now, and for the rest of their lives.

But what if our kids are older? Is it too late to teach them good habits? I don’t think so. I first embraced whole food nutrition in my thirties, so I am pretty sure that people can learn to love healthy food at any age, with the right attitude, commitment, and mentorship.

As parents, we are those mentors for our kids, so we have to be stronger than they are. That’s not easy, but I promise it’s always worth it!

Oh, and, by the way, I have found that my kids are more receptive when I make it less about them doing what I want them to do, and more about doing the right thing.

So…how do we teach our kids to eat healthy food?

Do  you remember the 4 A’s of getting healthy from my recent post, The Naked Truth? The strategy is almost the same for kids, with a few modifications. Here are the 4 A’s for teaching kids to be crazy healthy:

1) Keep a positive attitude: Kids read us like an open book. If we are unsure of ourselves, doubt our choices, or act discouraged, they will pick up on it. This is why it’s essential to trust the struggle, and always believe that our efforts are making an impact. We may not see results immediately, but there will be a progression over time. And, in the process, we are arming them with information, and experiences, that will serve them for the rest of their lives.

2) Make healthy foods accessible (and simple): Keep tons of fresh produce, nuts, seeds, trail mixes, juices, nut butters, and frozen produce and canned soups on hand. Try to serve produce in its purest forms, without sauces and spices, so they can learn to appreciate what they really taste like. Chop fruits and veggies before they get home from school, and set out snacks before they ask for them. The less you say the better–I have found that my kids will eat almost anything I leave on the table! Also, don’t buy the foods you don’t want your kids to eat, and don’t let them see you eating foods you want to keep out of their diet. Eat tons of nutrient-dense foods yourself, so they know that this is what is “normal” for your family. And make sure they know how much you love the healthy stuff!

3) Cultivate awareness: Educate yourself, and your children, about the power of nutrient-dense foods (Eat to Live by Dr. Joel Fuhrman is a great place to start!). Give them a project that they can research on the Internet. Our favorite is called “Four Sqaure”: have kids divide a sheet of paper into four equal boxes, and ask them to draw and describe a fruit or vegetable in each box. Descriptions can include nutritional benefits (is it anti-inflammatory? does it boost immunity?), vitamins and minerals, where it grows, and how it tastes. They could do this every week for a year, before they would run out of fruit, veggies, nuts, seeds and legumes to research! Also, talk about the foods you serve for dinner. Ask kids about the benefits of the carrots in their soup, and what vitamins are in their broccoli. Look it up together if they don’t know!

4) Encourage fun, healthy actions: This is the hardest one for me, because we are so stinkin’ busy all the time. I have found, however, that giving my kids dedicated time to “play” in the kitchen makes them more enthusiastic about healthy food. They like to make their own trail mixes, popsicles, smoothies, and dips. We also recently experimented with sparkling water and pure juices, to make healthy “sodas”. And, of course, they love to help me cook! Additionally, I think it’s important to take kids grocery shopping every now and then, and encourage them to explore the produce aisle for foods they haven’t tried before. Teach them to read labels, and only put something in the cart if it’s healthy. The way I see it, the more positive experiences  kids have with healthy food, the more willing they will be to embrace the crazy healthy lifestyle.

Teaching kids to be healthy is a lot of work, and a bit of a faith walk. It’s essential to let go of expectation, and trust the struggle. Be sure of what you believe and be consistent in your actions. And always remember that, even if our kids don’t react the way we want them to now, they will always remember that Mom and Dad cared enough to make healthy eating a family value.

*Follow My Crazy Healthy Life on Facebook for more insights into how I teach our kids to eat healthy!

 Photo: http://www.kiddology.com

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Roasted Veggies, The Crazy Healthy Way

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Remember  my foodie friend, Angie? She changed my relationship with vegetables forever, and helped me get crazy healthy, when she taught me how to roast brussel sprouts.

It was 2003. I was a new vegetarian, and desperately wanted to learn how to eat more vegetables. Angie gave me the perfect opportunity one night at dinner, when she exclaimed (in her amazingly charming foodie way) the she absolutely LOVES roasted brussel sprouts. I told her I had never had brussel sprouts, and asked her how she prepares them.

She told me it was soooo easy:

1) cut them in half,

2) toss with oil*,

3) season with salt and pepper, and

4) roast at 400 degrees, until they turn bright green, and edges start to brown (about 15 minutes).

So, I tried it. And of course, Angie was right. I loved them. Angie’s roasting technique was so simple, that I decided to experiment with other vegetables: sweet potatoes, asparagus, broccoli, and carrots. I had to play with the temperatures a bit, and learned that denser, thicker vegetables (such as potatoes) can be roasted at 425 degrees, but thinner veggies (asparagus, for example) are better at 375 degrees.

I also found that it is really important, for thorough cooking, to make sure that veggies are sliced to approximately the same size. And, of course, the smaller the slices, and the bigger the roasting pan, the faster they cook.

It took a few months to master my roasting technique, but once I got it down, I found it a lot easier to stick to a nutrient dense diet. After a while, I got curious about other veggies, such as eggplant, rutabaga, zucchini, and parsnips. Sure enough, Angie’s simple roasting technique worked for these foods as well.

More recently, I have discovered that spices and sweeteners can also be added before roasting certain vegetables. I use the basic roasting technique, plus the following flavorings:

  • maple syrup or honey with brussel sprouts and green beans
  • garlic with sweet potatoes and broccoli
  • rosemary with all kinds of potatoes
  • thyme with parsnips and rutabaga
  • apple cider vinegar with turnips, cauliflower, and carrots

It’s also fun to roast complementary veggies together, such as parsnips, rutabaga, and carrots, or broccoli and cauliflower. Just make sure they have similar cooking times, or you’ll end up burning part of your meal!  The Whole Foods website, and epicurious.com are great resources for inspiration.

The more time I spent experimenting with roasted veggies, the more I learned to prefer roasting to all other cooking methods. It’s simple–cut, toss, season, roast–and always produces great results.

My advice: if you’re not already roasting veggies on a regular basis, make it a new habit. As far as I can tell, there’s no such thing as too many veggies in this crazy healthy life.

*Olive oil can turn toxic above 250 degrees, so it’s always best to use a high smoke point oil, such as grapeseed, sunflower, or safflower, for roasting.

Photo: lisasdinnertimedish.com

Sweets for My Sweets

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One of my favorite things about this crazy healthy life is that it encourages me to be creative in the kitchen. I am constantly experimenting with recipes, and talking with my husband and three daughters, about how we can improve our eating habits. It feels like a game, trying to invent the next great healthy recipe.

Learning how to make healthy desserts is of particular interest to my girls. They know that sugar can be a major health-inhibitor, and that there are some good sugars, but most of them are bad.

When they ask for dessert, I help them put the request in context (Have you already had some sugar today? How much? How did it make you feel?), and challenge them to use natural sugars, such as fruit, honey, or maple syrup, to satisfy their cravings. We also try to limit sweet treats to one serving a day. Too much sugar creates noticeable changes in our energy, moods, and immunity.

Some of our favorite desserts are fresh berries with a small whipped cream “flower”, chocolate pudding made from avocados, organic chocolates, cashew creams, or strawberries stuffed with peanut butter and mini chocolate chips (my fave). It’s not the same as a piece of cake or bowl of ice cream, but it doesn’t seem to bother my family. They truly enjoy our unconventional sweet treats.

It reminds me that we have to change our minds first, if we hope to change our lives. There is a saying that “Doing what you like is freedom, liking what you do is happiness.” I believe that learning to like real sugars more than fake sugars is one of the best kept secrets to happy eating. With a little creativity, it gets easier to replace bad sugars with healthy alternatives. Ultimately, we learn that when it comes to dessert, there’s really nothing better than the real thing.

The Incredible, Edible Cashew: A Healthy Alternative to Dairy


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Photo: http://site.nutsinbulk.com

I had never paid much attention to cashews until last year. They always seemed boring and tasteless; something I could take or leave. What I didn’t know then, that I know now, is that cashews are an important part of a healthy diet, and a healthy substitute for dairy in many recipes. Studies have shown that they are rich in phytonutrients, lower in fats than most nuts, reduce cancer risk, and support bone health and weight control.

My opinion of cashews changed, when I met a vegetarian chef named Meredith Klein, who “cooks” with raw foods. Meredith changed my life, and my cooking, forever, when she served fresh fruit with raw chocolate cream for dessert. It was divine…I couldn’t believe something so simple and crazy healthy could taste so good.

I asked Meredith how she made it (cashews, raw cacao, coconut water, maple syrup, and salt), and it was the beginning of my love affair with cashew creams. I use cashews all the time now, to make vegan alfredo sauces, whipped creams, mousses, cheescakes and pumpkin pies. I serve them to my kids, and at dinner parties, with great success.

It’s so simple, it’s silly. All you have to do is soak cashews for 2-4 hours first, and process them until they are creamy, in a high powered blender or food processor.

Thanks to Meredith, I’ve fallen hard for cashews, and you might too, if you discover how helpful they can be as a replacement for milk and cream. Below is a recipe for cashew cream that I have modified from Meredith’s original guidance. It’s fabulous, served with strawberries, or Trader Joes’ Gluten-free Ginger Snaps.

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Meredith and Amber in the kitchen at Casa Barranca in Ojai, July 2012

Raw Vegan Chocolate Cream, inspired by Meredith Klein

16 oz. raw cashews, soaked in water 2-4 hours

1/4 c. raw cacao (or cocoa powder)

12 oz. coconut water (or more, if needed for consistency)

1 t. maple syrup

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 tsp. salt

Mix everything in a food processor until creamy.  Add more coconut water to increase sweetness as desired, more cacao to increase chocolate flavor, and more salt if desired. Enjoy with apples, strawberries, or gluten-free ginger snaps!