Green Bean Salad

IMG_3136

Most of us know the importance of eating our vegetables, specifically our leafy green vegetables, which are lauded for their health benefits.  Green string beans are no exception.  High in vitamins A and C, immune-boosting antioxidants, and high in fiber and magnesium, both needed for healthy digestion, green beans hold their own in the company of vegetable powerhouses such as spinach, kale and broccoli.

An added benefit is that they are really reasonably priced.  In the summertime months in the mid-Atlantic where I live, green beans are everywhere.  I bought a pound of them at the grocery last week for less than 2 dollars.  I used this pound of beans to make the salad below, which will last me about 4 meals this week.  I eat A LOT of vegetables at my meals (they fill about half my plate), so this is saying something.

The United States Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate.gov recommends that fruit and vegetables make up half of our plates during meals, with vegetables making up about 30-35%.  It is recommended that adult men and women eat between 2 ½ to 3 cups of vegetables per day (exact recommendations vary depending on age, sex and activity level).

The recipe below is a great side dish for any meal and is perfect to bring to your next picnic or potluck.  It super easy to whip up and doesn’t contain many ingredients (another money saver).

Makes approximately 4-5 servings

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb green beans, rinsed with ends snapped off
  • 2 scallions, chopped with ends discarded
  • 20 grape tomatoes, rinsed and halved
  • 15 kalamata olives, halved
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin coconut oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Steps:

  1. Steam green beans.  I use a basket steamer that fits inside a pot on the stove. Place the beans in the steamer basket, cover the pot and turn the burner to high. One pound of green beans takes approximately 10 minutes to cook.  They are done when you can stick a fork through them.
  2. While beans are cooking, combine scallions, tomatoes and olives in a bowl.
  3. When beans are done, pull the steamer basket out of the pot and empty it in the bowl containing the scallions, tomatoes and olives.  I use a fork and an oven mitt to do this.  Beware of the hot steam when you take the lid off the pot as it can be very hot and burn you.  I recommend turning the burner off, removing the lid of the pot and letting it sit for a few minutes to cool before removing the steamer basket.
  4. Toss entire mixture with coconut oil, adding salt and pepper to taste.
  5. To make the greens beans more bite-sized, I use a fork and sharp knife to cut up the mixture in the bowl.
  6. Serve immediately as a side with your favorite protein and whole grain.
Advertisements

Wholesome Balanced Wellness

Anna's-Title

Dear Followers,

I am so thankful for you.  Whether you have been a follower of this blog since my first post back in the summer of 2014 or just joined recently, your support has been so important.  It has kept me going through the tough times and inspired me to continue to write from the heart.  I truly hope that my words have helped to improve your life in some way, or at least taught you something new.

Over the past few years I have thought a lot about the message I want to put out in the world.  What I feel like we need to make our lives better and more enjoyable; healthier and happier.  This blog has been a voice for these thoughts and a way for me to play around with my message.  Thank you for reading, listening and encouraging.

At its core, my message focuses on nutrition of the mind, body and soul.  How what we eat has a direct impact on not only our physical health, but our mental and emotional health.  It focuses on whole, real food originating in the earth and finding an ideal way of eating that is right for you.  It also stresses the importance that other aspects of our lives have on our health, such as our relationships, fitness level, quality of sleep, stress level and interaction with nature. 

There are so many fad diets out there, originating from someone else’s success story.  But I want to help others find their own success story.  Become their happiest, healthiest selves and find that inner balance and peace that I like to call Wholesome Balanced Wellness. 

So what is my framework for Wholesome Balanced Wellness?  It all starts with a belief that you will succeed and a strong intention to bring positive change.  Then comes learning about nutrition, fitness, rest and stress.  Next is evaluation of all aspects of your life, from what you eat to how you sleep.  After a thorough evaluation we can experiment with some positive changes.  Through experimentation we can discover what works best for you.  After discovery comes balance, which is putting it all into a sustainable, lifelong practice.

From the beginning it has been important for me to share my story and my journey.  I have shared how my own struggles with health originally got me on this path.  I have shared how I experienced first-hand the power of using food as medicine to heal.  I have shared my struggles with self-love and depression.  I have shared my highs and my lows.  Being as authentic as I can be has been hard but also healing.

I would love for you to continue on this journey with me as I take my business to the next level.  I have a new website, WholesomeBalancedWellness.com, that will soon be replacing this blog.  Please, please head on over to my new site and sign up for my weekly email list.  It is underneath my picture on the homepage in the box labeled “Follow Me!”.  It will be the same content you receive from me weekly now, just sent in a new, more sophisticated way. And don’t worry, if you get sick of me you can opt out at any time.  🙂

I am a yogi and a foodie at heart and have always dreamed big girl dreams.  Now is the time to pursue those dreams and see where this adventure takes me.  I hope to see you along the ride with me.

~Peace, love and dreams~

Picture courtesy of my awesome and amazingly talented sister

Fat Facts

4464873224_128cc91350_z

If you had the choice between a full fat product or the fat-free version, which would you choose?  Whole milk or skim?  Fat-free yogurt or 2%?  Low-fat cheese?  Be honest!  This is a judgment free zone.

If you are a fat-free or low-fat fan, I’m not surprised.  We have been told for years that fat is bad and eating large amounts of fat can cause heart disease.  But now the tide is changing and fat (good fat at least) is back in favor.  And guess what?  Studies have shown that eating fat actually doesn’t make you fat.  Well, how about that.

So how did fat become so vilified?  I’m a fan of history, so let’s to take a trip back in time to the 1950s and 60s.  During this time scientist Ancel Keys was conducting research to find the root cause of heart disease, a condition that was a big concern in the U.S. at the time (and still is, obviously).  From his findings, he concluded that saturated fat was to blame.  Though many scientists at the time called out flaws in his research (he only selected countries that would prove his hypothesis, only reported a small portion of the participants he studied and inaccurately interpreted correlation as causation), his theory took off and played a significant part in the rise of the low-fat/fat-free movement.

When Keys’ theory took off the food industry reacted by removing fat from its products.  But it’s important to note that when fat is removed from food it doesn’t taste too great, so the fat was replaced with sugar.  And what’s sad is that we didn’t get any healthier as a result of these changes.  In fact, they backfired.  Since the 60s heart disease levels have only increased and today we are experiencing an obesity epidemic of staggering proportions.

Recent studies have shown that good fats are not only beneficial, but necessary for optimal health.  Fat is filling, satiating, not addictive (unlike fructose in sugary products), and helps fuel our metabolism.  It is necessary for brain health (more on that later), helps fight depression and contributes to healthy skin, hair and nails.  It also is necessary for absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K (i.e. if no fat is present when these are consumed, the body cannot absorb them).  

So what is fat?  Fat is a basic building block of the body and has a direct impact on its function.  The body uses fat to build cell walls.  Considering there are 100 trillion cells in our body, I’d say that the health of said cell walls is quite important.  Healthy cell walls made from good quality fats are flexible and responsive. Those made from a diet of processed foods high in poor quality oils such as corn, soy or safflower are stiff and rigid. Stiff and rigid cell walls slow cellular function and make our cells more vulnerable to inflammation.  Chronic inflammation can lead to disease.

If you take anything away from this article, it is the type of fat that matters. Not all fat is created equal. Good quality fats are key to our health, all the way down to our cells.  So what are good fats and what are bad fats?  Let’s break it down:

GOOD FATS

  • Saturated Fat – I know what your thinking…  Really, saturated fat is good?  Research has shown no correlation between saturated fat and heart disease.  It helps us absorb those fat-soluble vitamins and calcium, improves immune function and is necessary for healthy cell walls.  Good sources of saturated fat include butter, coconut oil and animal fats.
  • Monounsaturated Fat – Monounsaturated fat has been shown to decrease breast cancer, reduce bad cholesterol, lower risk for heart disease and stroke, and aid in weight loss. A great source of monounsaturated fat is olive oil.  
  • Polyunsaturated Fat – Two types of polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6.  These are two of the most important fats for the body, though it is important that we eat a good balance of the two.  When our proportions of these fats are out-of-balance we are more vulnerable to inflammation and disease.  Right now, the general population eats waaaaay too many omega-6 fats, which are common in processed food, and are deficient in omega-3 fats.  Omega-3 fats help to decrease inflammation, decrease triglycerides (bad fats in the body) and boost good cholesterol.  Sources of omega-3 fats include cold water fish (salmon), omega-3 rich eggs, organic canola oil, walnuts, Brazil nuts and sea vegetables.  If you don’t have many of these things in your diet supplementation is also an option.

BAD FATS

  • Trans Fat – Trans Fat is created when polyunsaturated fats are damaged due to heat.  It is common in processed and packaged foods as it helps to extend shelf life and also fried food.  Beware of trans fats!  They are no good.  They are now specifically called out on food labels if they are present, so read your labels and learn what’s in the food you are eating.
  • Inflammatory Vegetable Oils – As mentioned above, these include oils made from corn, soy and safflower.  Also common in processed foods as they are cheap and abundant.

With the rise of Alzheimer’s and dementia, brain health is a hot topic these days.  Our brains are actually 60% fat, most of which is an omega-3 fat called DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).  DHA is needed to spark communication between cells.  Having a diet containing good quality fats boosts cognition, happiness, learning and memory.  Omega-3 deficiencies have been linked to depression, anxiety, dipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Below are some of my favorite sources of healthy fats:

  • Avocado
  • Nuts:  almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts
  • Seeds:  pumpkin, sesame, chia and hemp
  • Fish:  wild salmon is rich in omega-3 fats as well as sardines, mackerel and herring
  • Extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil are my go-tos in the kitchen (coconut oil has a high smoke point so is great for sauteeing)
  • Grass-fed, organic and sustainably raised animal products (eggs, beef, chicken and pork)

As always, a balanced diet is necessary for optimal health.  This includes a healthy amount of protein and carbohydrates as well as fat with each meal and snack we consume.  If you want to learn more about protein, check out my previous post on the topic here.

Sources:

Photo credit:  Image courtesy of lchunt on flickr

Lemon Potato Salad with Mint

20POTATO3-master675

Looking for a delicious recipe for your next summer picnic?  Want a side dish that is super easy to whip up and has less than 10 ingredients?  And best of all, want to make something healthy that also tastes good?  If you answered yes to any (or all) of these then this potato salad is for you.

Now you’re probably thinking, potato salad?  How is that healthy?  Well folks, this one is the antithesis of those thick, creamy mayonnaise-based potato salads.  You know the ones that make you super nervous as they sit in the sun all day at your summer picnic?  And for those of you who can’t stand mayonnaise, I can vouch that this is the perfect yummy alternative.

The trusty potato is the most popular vegetable in the United States.  Not surprising really, given the amount of french fries and potato chips we as a nation consume.  Those processed foods give the potato a bad name.  If cooked without the added unhealthy fats, potatoes are a good source of vitamin B6, potassium, vitamin C and fiber.  They are also relatively cheap compared to some other vegetables and available year-round.

The recipe below is courtesy of The New York Times Food, but I do have some thoughts based on my experience making the recipe.  I used yellow potatoes for this recipe and cut them into smaller 1/2 inch chunks after boiling than what was called for (1 1/2 inch chunks are pretty big!).  I also personally feel like this recipe calls for too much salt.  I ended up using between 1/2 and 1 teaspoon and it ended up fine.  You can always add in more later if you want, but too much salt can completely kill a recipe.  Plus, most of us get enough sodium from the prepared foods in our diets.  I used regular ground black pepper in place of Turkish pepper and the mint leaves top it off perfectly.

Lemon Potato Salad with Mint

Source:  The New York Times

Yields 8 servings

Time 45 minutes (this includes boiling the potatoes)

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds small waxy white or yellow potatoes, roughly the same size
  • Juice of 1 lemon, more for serving
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, more as needed
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions, white and green parts, more for serving
  • 1/4 cup torn mint leaves, more for serving
  • 1/4 teaspoon Turkish pepper, more for serving
  1. Place whole, unpeeled potatoes in a large pot with enough salted water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until potatoes are just tender, 15 to 25 minutes depending upon size. Drain and cut potatoes into 1 1/2-inch chunks as soon as you can handle them.
  2. In a bowl, whisk together lemon juice, salt and olive oil.
  3. Transfer hot potatoes to a large bowl and toss with dressing, scallions, mint and Turkish pepper. Let cool to room temperature, or refrigerate until ready to use. Just before serving, top with additional lemon juice, scallions, mint and Turkish pepper.

Happy Summer Cooking!

Photo credit:  The New York Times Food

ABC’s of Protein

27837478422_beea5604a3_z

There is a lot of confusion around protein these days.  How much is too much?  Should I avoid red meat?  Will eating too much protein cause me to gain weight?  What if I don’t eat meat or animal products?  I admit that, until recently, I was a protein skeptic.  I thought that, as a woman, eating a lot of protein would make me big and bulky like a guy.  Upping my protein has not only helped me feel better, but has helped me to achieve fitness goals and has most definitely not made me big or “unwomanly”.  As a result, I’m dedicating this week’s post to all things protein and discussing why it is so freaking important and how much of it we should be eating every day.

Protein is a macronutrient made up of amino acids, which are one of the building blocks of the human body.  Our body is able to produce some amino acids but others, known as essential amino acids, we can only get from our food.  Protein plays a crucial role is just about every function of the human body.  It helps to grow and maintain cells, provides us with energy, helps build and maintain muscle, improves the immune system and carries oxygen throughout the body.  Basically, protein is essential to our existence.  If that wasn’t enough to convince you, protein has also been found to aid with managing cravings and weight, increase satiety (i.e. feeling full) and help curb appetite.

Not all protein is created equal.  The quality of your protein matters.  When it comes to protein from animal sources, the health of the animal has a direct impact on our health.  If you can afford it, opt for organic, grass-fed and free range meet, pasture-raised eggs and organic dairy.  Meat that is not organic has added hormones and antibiotics that are not healthy for us.  Same goes for farm-raised fish, which live in conditions similar to those of a factory farm.  Opt for fresh, wild fish and beware of mercury levels.  Fish found with the highest mercury levels include swordfish, tuna and halibut, while the lowest levels are found in shrimp, salmon and sardines.

One commonly-held misconception is that you have to eat animal meat to get enough protein in your diet.  There are some great non-animal sources of protein, which I will discuss in more detail a little later on.  Some famous athletes who are vegan or vegetarian include Venus Williams and Mike Tyson.  It just takes a little bit more planning to make sure you are getting adequate levels of protein, that’s all.

Speaking of adequate levels…  How much protein you should eat depends on your sex, age, activity level and weight.  The standard recommendation is 0.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound.  So, a 150 pound woman should eat about 54 grams of protein every day.  That doesn’t factor in activity level.  Strength athletes are encouraged to eat 0.64-0.82 grams per pound and endurance athletes 0.54-0.64 grams per pound.  Using this information, calculate what amount you should be aiming for every day.

It is recommended that protein consumption be spread out throughout the day.  This will help you to sustain your energy and avoid the pitfalls of low blood sugar that can make us dizzy and sleepy.  Not to mention help curb cravings for sugar in the mid-afternoon!  Breakfast and snacks are two times when people commonly don’t eat enough protein.  Eating breakfast of a bagel and banana on the run isn’t going to give you enough protein to get your body going and sustain you until lunch.  Try adding a hard-boiled egg or spread your bagel with natural almond butter.

Below I’ve provided a chart of various types of proteins from animal and non-animal sources, as well as my thoughts on each category:

protein

For a 150 pound meat-eating female who likes to get her workout on at the gym most days, below is an example of a day’s worth of protein intake.  Keeping the daily recommendations above in mind, she should eat around 100 grams of protein a day (150 x 0.64 = 96).  If she likes to lift and push herself pretty hard at the gym, she should bump up her protein even more.  The grams measurements used are approximations.

meals

As always, find what works best for you considering your lifestyle and eating preferences.  Listen to your body, it knows exactly what it needs.

~Peace, love and protein~

Sources:

Photo credit:  http://www.themassagechairreviews.com/