The Asian Superfood Series, Part Two

If you read my blog last week, then you know I started a series of posts about Asian superfoods – some with great healing benefits that we might not think about here in the US.  If you missed my first post, you can read it here.

This week, I’m going to give you the lowdown on four more Asian superfoods that are loaded with vitamins, antioxidants, and huge disease-healing and prevention powers.

First on the list is seaweed.  I know what you are thinking… it doesn’t sound very appetizing.  However, not all seaweed is created equal 🙂  There are edible types of seaweed used in soup stocks, Asian salads, and of course in sushi.  You might recognize the names nori, wakame, and kombu from Japanese menus.  One of my favorite things to order in a sushi restaurant is a wakame salad.  Honestly it didn’t look very edible the first time I tried it, but the flavors were delicious and kept me going back for more.  Nori is the type of seaweed that you’ll see wrapped around your sushi.  While likely an acquired taste for some, I find it provides a nice salty flavor.  A few months ago, I saw a toddler being pushed in a stroller eating what looked to me like dried seaweed.  I asked the mom, and that is exactly what it was.  I was shocked that a toddler would find that a suitable snack!  I easily found this snack on the shelves the next time I went to Trader Joe’s (who knew?!), and now I’m addicted.

Photo courtesy of Club Trader Joe's

It’s kind’ve like eating chips, but not as crunchy & without all of the fat & calories.  I definitely recommend giving it a try!  As for the benefits, seaweed is rich in iodine (good for the thyroid) and also contains vitamins A & E.  It also contains folate, which is necessary for repairing damaged DNA and forming healthy blood cells.

Next on the list is coriander.  I became very confused by the difference between coriander and cilantro while I was in Japan, so I had to do some research.  As it turns out, they are actually the same herb — however, when the leaves are used it is referred to as cilantro.  The seeds of the plant are called coriander.  Coriander is rich in beta-carotene and vitamin C — two antioxidants that protect against age-related eye disease such as macular degeneration.  It also removes excess heavy metals from the body, such as mercury contained in the fish we are eating, other metals in our drinking water, and those we get from daily exposure to our environment.  Coriander is used in making curries, so if you are a curry fan then look no further!  I discovered something just this week that is a new favorite!  I am a huge fan of dark chocolate infused with spices.  I started out eating dark chocolate with cinnamon & chili peppers, and now I try it with any kind of spice.  This week, my local market had some new chocolate bars on offer.  I picked up this one.

It did NOT disappoint!  This is my new favorite after-dinner treat!!  Eating a square or two of dark chocolate every day is totally allowed.  Dark chocolate also has its share of antioxidants, so as long as you stick to a small portion it is good for you 🙂

Next on the list is almonds.  You might not think of almonds as an Asian superfood, but they are incorporated into Asian desserts more than I see here in the US.  Almonds are rich in vitamin E.  They are great for your skin and help lower HDL (bad cholesterol).  Almonds are also high in potassium, manganese, and riboflavin.  Raw unsalted almonds best, but when I eat them alone as a snack, I prefer them roasted.

Last on the list for today’s post is sesame seeds.  Sesame seeds are high in vitamin E like almonds, and keep your skin & heart healthy. Black sesame seeds are high in calcium.  These can be found in most Asian food markets, and are really good in marinades or sprinkled on top of plain rice.  Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds makes great dips and salad dressings.  Try this delicious recipe from Whole Living magazine that I have tried using tahini as a garnish for fruit salad.

Photo courtesy of Whole Living magazine

Stay tuned for next week, part 3 of 3 in the Asian Superfood series.  Don’t forget… if you missed last week, you can check it out here.

Leave me a comment below if you have any recipes or great snack ideas using these superfoods!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enjoy the Holidays With These Guilt-Free Tips

Who says you can’t enjoy the holidays without doing everything in excess?  I see nothing wrong with enjoying foods you love that are only around during the holidays.  Pumpkin pie is one of my favorite desserts — I look forward to it all year!  The key is portion control.

As far as resolutions go, I think it is a great tradition to set goals for the new year.  That doesn’t mean that you have to overindulge yourself until the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve!

Ease your way.  You will have much greater success if you ease your way towards your healthy living goals.  Healthy replacements are one way to go.  Use olive oil where appropriate instead of butter, low-fat dairy vs. full fat, sip plain water in between cocktails or other high-calorie festive drinks.

Be realistic.  If you haven’t been to the gym in five years, don’t expect to run five miles every day for the first week.  Pledge to show up, push yourself but not overdo it.  Overexertion can lead to injury, and injury will take you out of the game and away from your goal before your holiday decorations are back in the attic!

Share your goals.  You will be much more successful if you tell you close friends and family about the positive changes you are trying to make.  If your friends know you are keeping an eye on your calorie intake, they’ll be less likely to try and encourage you to share a second dessert.  Plus, you may motivate someone else who needed a little push or a fitness buddy to ask if they can join you on your daily walk.

Enjoy the holidays and be well!

 

Photo credit:  mvjantzen

5 Sneaky Ways to Lose 10 Pounds Fast

 

Sometimes losing weight can feel like the most impossible task in the world, so I wanted to share these sneaky ways to lose 10 pounds QUICKLY, SAFELY, EASILY!!

1.  USE A SMALLER PLATE.  That’s it folks!  Just because its dinner time doesn’t mean that you need to use a dinner plate.  Try using a smaller plate to keep portion size in check.  Research shows that women who used larger sized dinner plates continued to eat long after they were hungry and even to a point of feeling overly full.  The American portion size is out of control compared to portions in other countries.  Do yourself a favor & start with a smaller plate.  You’ll be surprised!

2.  WHAT ARE YOU DRINKING?  If you eliminate soda from your diet, you will be shocked at how much weight you can lose.  Drinking diet soda is not going to help you lose weight, and some studies show that you may actually gain weight due to the effect that some artificial sweeteners have on your brain causing it to CRAVE other sweets.  When I eliminated diet soda from my diet, I lost 6-7 pounds in just a few weeks – and that happened without making any other modifications to my diet & exercise routine.  If you need caffeine, switch to iced tea with lemon (avoid artificial sweeteners).  Your best bet is to drink WATER, but it takes time to transition from drinking 10 Diet Cokes per day to drinking only water.  Set reasonable expectations, but STOP the sodas right away!

3.  EAT BREAKFAST.  It may seem like encouraging you to eat more rather than fewer meals works against you — it doesn’t!  Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but choose wisely.  Rather than grabbing a bagel with cream cheese & a hot mocha, choose a breakfast with both fiber and protein.  My favorite breakfast is non-fat Greek yogurt with a few raspberries, natural granola, and a small serving to mixed nuts (like unsalted pistachios, almonds, and cashews) with a soy cappuccino.  This gives me plenty of protein and a healthy dose of fiber first thing in the morning.  Skipping breakfast causes you to make bad eating decisions for the rest of the day, and you could end up eating more food with little nutritional value.

4.  SHORTEN YOUR WORKOUTS.  You can burn more calories by doing short bursts of cardio throughout the day than by walking at your average pace on the treadmill for an hour.  Do you stop by Starbucks every day on your way in to work?  Instead of driving by on your way to the office, try starting off your day with a 15-20 minute walk to grab your morning coffee.  Ready for your second cardio burst?  Instead of sitting down gabbing with your colleagues for 30 minutes after you have finished eating lunch, grab one or two of them and take the talk outside!  A 20-minute mid-day walk will give you more energy in the afternoon than that extra cup of coffee you were thinking about.  Same thing in the evening — walk around your neighborhood after dinner or if you have a dog, try taking him out for a walk instead of just letting him out the back door.

5.  MEAL PLANNING.  Taking the time to plan healthy meals and snacks and make a grocery list can save you from eating a ton of extra fat & calories.  There are so many meal-planning websites out there, you don’t have to even come up with the ideas yourself!  Don’t forget to wash & cut fruits & veggies that you will use for snacks as soon as you get home from the store.  This way, they are super easy to throw into the blender for a healthy, tasty smoothie when you get hungry instead of going for that calorie-packed energy bar.

With these little tips, you can lose 10 pounds in no time without even realizing it.  If you slip up on your weight loss journey, don’t beat yourself up about it.  Give yourself the same kindness that you would offer to a friend, and just keep going.

I’d love to hear your comments if you enjoyed this post.  Have other sneaky ways to burn off 10 pounds with little to no effort?  Share those below too!

Controlling Stress May Be the Key to Fewer Age-Related Diseases

I’ve written about stress before, but I was compelled to write on this topic again after some of the interactions I’ve had this week.

Psychological stress and anxiety can’t be completely avoided, they are a part of life. Did you know that there is a 50% increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) for people who deal with chronic work stress? That’s a 50 percent greater chance than the average person has of developing CVD if you are stressed at work and don’t change your environment.

Stress can further increase the diseases associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Before running to the doctor for a prescription to make the symptoms disappear, it is important to identify your stressors. It may be work-related, family-related, or a combination of things. Stress is a reaction. The brain is involved in a person’s stress response (e.g., interprets what is threatening) and then regulates both how your body responds both physiologically and behaviorally.

Studies have found that the following can help decrease your body’s response to stress:

1) Exercise. Exercise increases the level of telomerase produced. Telomerase is an enzyme that protects loss of DNA from important end region of our chromosomes called telomeres. Think of a telomere like the protective piece at the end of a shoestring. Studies have found that elite athletes have very long telomeres.

2) Your Social Network. I’m not just taking about how many Facebook or Twitter followers you have! People with a strong partner relationship and close friendships have been found to be at lower risk for diseases associated with aging and to have less of a stress response to situations such as public speaking (which can evoke fear in many).

3) Better quality of sleep. The average person needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. People who got a better quality of sleep and woke up feeling rested have, on average, longer telomeres than those who suffered from poor quality sleep.

4) Nutrition. Individuals diagnosed with obesity and insulin resistance had shorter telomeres than others, whereas those who consumed a diet containing antioxidants and added supplements such as omega 3s had longer telomeres.

The lesson to take from this is that if we can embrace these preventive measures, we can increase our body’s resilience. As resilience increases, so does our ability to age well.

Comfort Food: Why Are You Seeking Comfort?

Millions of people use food as a way of seeking comfort from pain or hurt in their lives. Most are doing it without even realizing it.

Do you find yourself sitting at home, alone & bored watching TV and eating when you aren’t hungry? Do you suffer from insomnia and find yourself getting up during the night & cleaning out the pantry? They don’t call it comfort food for nothing!

In order to break through this unhealthy behavior, you have to dig deep and figure out what is really eating at you! It may be worry about something going on in your life or someone close to you. It may be an issue stemming from childhood that you never worked through and hoped to bury. You have to work your way through the pain in order to come out on the other side. This hurt and discomfort you are experiencing is good — it is showing you that you are due for a change.

You may have tried dieting in the past many times with no success. Don’t beat yourself up about past failures. You weren’t ready to make a change or you needed help! Sometimes the true difference between failure and success is getting the help you need and deserve!

I want to help you by giving you a FREE resource that you can use to finally make the change you’ve been longing for and end your feelings of hopelessness once and for all.

Visit my website and click to download our FREE Wellness Workbook here: goo.gl/qKo3j

Me and the Dalai Lama

One of the key elements to true health and happiness is an uncluttered mind. Do you ever notice that when someone tells you to breathe, you actually pause and take a full and deep inhale/exhale? This is how we should be breathing all of the time, though few of us actually do.

Most of us (including me!) engage in frequent stress-breathing that leads to tightness in our neck and shoulders. Add a few hours at the computer every day, and the result is pain! No wonder massage is nearly a 20 billion dollar/year industry!

The term meditation is used in many ways. For me, the word meditation used to bring to mind something spiritual or ritualistic. Don’t let the word itself scare you! It wasn’t until I spent a week at the famed Golden Door Spa in Escondido, California that I realized meditation can simply be about pausing for as little as sixty seconds to close your eyes and breathe.

Here are a few tips for beginners.

Start S-L-O-W-L-Y. Really, start with just one minute a day. You can be in line at the grocery store, sitting in your car in a parking lot… it doesn’t matter where you are. Sit, close your eyes, clear your mind as much as you can, and just take a few deep, slow breaths in and out. Try and focus on your chest expanding and contracting. You may want to add another minute the following day, find a quiet spot at home in the morning or just before bed. Do what is comfortable for you.

Stick with it. If you want to see a difference, consistency is key. Whether you feel like it or not, do it! Just think, it can be as little as one minute and you WILL see the health benefits from a relaxed mind. Sometimes, you can learn what is REALLY bothering you by sitting through a moment or two of uninterrupted time.

Don’t punish yourself. The goal of meditating is not to stop thinking altogether. It is to be aware and present with your thoughts. My trip to the Golden Door Spa was actually years ago, but I will never forget the wise words of a very wise woman at the Door, AnnHarriet Buck. While explaining how to meditate to a group of over-worked women, she shared a story about a conversation with the Dalai Lama. He shared that even HE had experienced his thoughts drifting from time to time while meditating. He said when this happened, he just laughed a little, forgave himself, and continued on. I’ll never forget AnnHarriet’s advice to us in the room. When she feels her mind wandering while meditating she simply smiles, forgives herself, and thinks, “me and the Dalai Lama.” Years later, I still remember this when I am in a yoga class and having trouble concentrating. I always have a private laugh with myself and keep going.

Good luck! I’d love to hear about your experience with yoga or meditation. Share them below this post in the Facebook comment box!

Is Worry Holding You Back?

Are you a worrier? Some people are more prone to anxiety due to a genetic mutation. Research focused on a gene known as the COMT gene has show that people with two copies of the met158 variant of this gene suffer from greater anxiety than others.

Don’t Worry

Don’t despair! Other research shows that even those with a predisposition to worrying can control their reactions to anxiety-causing stimuli and enjoy a calmer existence.

Dr. Dennis Greenberger is the co-author of Mind Over Mood, which was named the Most Influential Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Book by the British Association of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies. Mind Over Mood uses a tool known as “Thought Record” which helps people learn how to recognize, evaluate, and change negative thoughts necessary to decrease anxiety. By answering questions about anxiety-causing experiences, people are able to separate actual experiences from their mood or automatic reactions to the experiences.

Let’s say I’m going to take an exam for which I am well-prepared. However, when I enter the room, I immediately begin to feel like the other people about to take the exam seem more confident, look more prepared, etc. I have no information that this is true, and frankly, it has should have no impact whatsoever on my own performance — but worry can take the reigns and psyche you into feeling inadequate. By completing thought records, people can obtain a clearer picture of their thoughts and a deeper appreciation for how thoughts are affecting and determining their feelings.

Using this tool can really change perspective of a situation. It’s not easy work, but this learned behavior can have a tremendous positive impact on quality of life for those who suffer from chronic anxiety.

Five Tips to Keep You Feeling Energized

Summer is my favorite time of year, but the really hot days, increased activity, and travel can leave you feeling completely exhausted!  An extra espresso shot just doesn’t seem to do the trick.  Here are 5 tips to keep you feeling energetic so you can get the most out of the summer months!

  1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!  Our bodies are made up of between 60 to 70 percent water.  We need water to regulate temperature, to transport oxygen to our cells, to remove waste from our system, and of course to supply our bodies with nutrients.  Drink water first thing in the morning and try to remember to keep doing so throughout the day.  I find this hydration calculator a very nice tool to determine how much water we actually need per day based on our activity level, as well as other factors:  http://nutrition.about.com/library/blwatercalculator.htm

  1. Stay positive!  Does dealing with office politics or difficult family members leave you feeling drained?  I know it has that effect on me.  Try and counter the negativity by spending time with people who uplift you.  This may be easier said than done in the workplace, but it is far less energy zapping to avoid the office gossip.  If your regular lunch bunch spends too much time complaining, try going for a lunch-time walk on your own once in awhile.  You will be surprised how much more inspired and energized you may feel.

  1. Get moving!  I have been suffering from jet lag since returning from vacation last week.  I have been so tired; the last thing I felt like doing was exercising.  I went for a brisk walk for both the cardiovascular activity and exposure to sunlight to help with the jet lag.  I felt so much better once I spent a few minutes outdoors!  Ignore the little voice telling you to sleep for an extra hour and get moving!  A few minutes of stretching each day goes a long way as well, especially if you have been cramped on an airplane for several hours.
  1. Stay on top of the clutter.  For years, I let the unimportant mail and documents to shred pile up until the pile toppled over.  Just looking a pile of mail to be opened made me want to take a nap!  I made a decision to stay on top of the clutter so it wasn’t such a dreaded chore.  Got an untidy garage?  Consider donating furniture, clothing, and small appliances that you haven’t used in ages to a local community non-profit or check out Freecycle.com to see if a neighbor may be able to use something you are ready to part with!
  1. Don’t forget to breathe!  Just like water is such a critical component to our health and energy level, so is oxygen!  Deep breathing promotes relaxation and a healthy lymphatic system.  If you can do simple breathing exercises on your own — great!  If not, I have found some gentle and restorative yoga classes to be very helpful in teaching the art of mindful breathing.

I hope you find these 5 tips for staying energized helpful!  If you have comments or other suggestions, I would love to hear from you!

My Mind Over Mood Challenge

Mind Over Mood | thewellnessscientist.com

This has been an interesting week for me. I started out in a bit of a funk — trouble concentrating, feeling moody, low energy. On Monday, I forced myself outdoors for a ten minute walk — that was all that I could muster. On Tuesday, I was still not a happy camper. I tried to concentrate on my work in the morning, but my creative juices were not flowing. I headed to the gym late in the afternoon for a 50-minute gentle yoga class.

Last week this yoga class was JUST what I needed, however this week I left in a down mood and still a lack of ability to concentrate. I had a bowl of ice cream after dinner to “comfort myself” and ended up feeling nauseous instead. The one positive from Tuesday was that I ran into a friend and former neighbor when I was leaving yoga class and made plans to meet for lunch at a later date. There is always a bright side! I woke up on Wednesday, and I realized it was time for a major systems reboot! My diet had been pretty terrible since last week when I had a relative in town visiting. I wasn’t eating very much food, but my choices were not those that I know my body needs.

I woke up with an urge to juice and had a nice blend of banana, raspberries, blackberries, orange, and a little flax seed for good measure. Ahhhhh… just what I needed! Next, I psyched myself up for an outdoor run. I didn’t really feel like running, but I told myself to focus on the end result — the fresh air, the vitamin D from the beautiful sun that was FINALLY out, and let’s not forget the endorphins! I downloaded a couple of new songs from iTunes to add to my running playlist, and I was off. Before I hit the trail, I ran into yet another old neighbor that I hadn’t seen in years! Just the sight of her put a huge smile on my face and after our catch-up chat, there was nothing stopping me. I fired up Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way,” and enjoyed a nice run at the Palo Alto Baylands. I had forgotten how much I love that other runners (total strangers!) wave as they pass you, and I felt really blessed to be out there enjoying the beautiful day. I ate well, ending up randomly having Japanese food for both lunch and dinner. I went to bed feeling rested and content. This morning, I opted for a more challenging Vinyasa yoga class and left feeling strong, recharged, and with an inspiration to share my week with you. Even as a Wellness Scientist I forget my own needs sometimes, but I have learned to smile at my imperfections and to embrace these moments as a way to recenter myself and decide what my perfect balance looks like today. Just like the yoga class that was perfect last week left me longing for more this week, I know that next week will present me with yet another opportunity to rebalance myself. That’s doesn’t scare me. I’m taking it one day at a time!

What I Learned About Sustainable Eating

My aunt was visiting from Alexandria, Louisiana, the town where I grew up, and I thought an interesting outing for us would be a trip to the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmer’s Market. One of my favorite things about the summer is picking organic heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and herbs right out of our yard to make salads and pasta sauces. Until our own veggies are ready, I love shopping at local farmers’ markets for fresh, organic, local ingredients.
One of the first things that we sampled was a scrumptious vanilla cupcake from the Les Elements Patisserie booth. We planned to split the cupcake so that we could feel free to indulge on other goodies, so I asked the guy manning the booth for a knife. He explained that they didn’t have any knives or paper products because one of their goals is to reduce their impact on the environment. I was completely happy to use my coffee stirrer to cut the cupcake since eco-friendly living also a goal of mine.

After having dessert, we headed indoors for lunch (cupcakes get me every time…). We had steamed clams and the wild shrimp quesadilla daily special from Ferry Plaza Seafood — both dishes were delicious! What inspired me to write this blog post was an older gentleman from Wales who walked up to the bar and asked the waitress what made the shrimp “wild.” She explained the concept of sustainable fishing to the gentleman, and we all spent a few minutes chatting about the subject. Being a pescetarian and a fan of sustainable eating, I know a fair amount about sustainable fishing and even have the Seafood Watch app on my iPhone in case I need assistance at the grocery store. I learned a few things myself from the conversation, and I wanted to share it with you.

Sustainable food is better for people, animals, and the environment. A typical farm laborer or factory worker can work in dangerous conditions for very little pay with very few benefits. In a sustainable food system, workers are better compensated for their work, and in some situations are given fresh produce and even housing as benefits. Sustainable fishing targets specific species while helping to protect animals such as dolphins and sea turtles. It also ensures that our seafood is preserved and will be around for future generations. To learn more about sustainability, I highly recommend the Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) website.

One thing I do hear often is that the cost of sustainable food is a deal-breaker. I’m not going to lie… when I see a pint of raspberries for $3 versus a $6 pint of organic, local raspberries, I do grimace a bit myself. Many times, however, the price of local high-quality sustainable ingredients is comparable to a lower-quality product grown in subpar conditions. We are not going to change every product that we buy overnight, but a few smart changes by educated consumers can effect change on the food industry and ultimately result in healthier, higher-quality products that we and our families deserve.