My Frozen and Prepared Favorites Part 1

I believe in eating ‘whole foods’ all the time, but it is helpful to have some ‘go to’ items that are healthy and can be prepared within minutes. Here are just a few of my favorites:

This Organic Spinach and Cheese Ravioli can be found at Costco. I usually top with a little marinara (note:  my favorite brand is Rao’s).  The Ricotta and Spinach filled Ravioli is from Trader Joe’s.  Both low in calories per serving and delicious.  Add a salad on the side and you have a great meal.

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These already washed and chopped salads are fantastic!  The combination of veggies and toppings in each are wonderful compliments but I forego the toppings and dressing and use balsamic vinegar.  Both can be found at Costco.

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Trader Joe’s has a wonderful variety of cuisines in their frozen section.  As a person that cooks and is discerning when it comes to flavor, they nail it for me in these dishes.  They taste like home cooked meals and I love that they are bold with their combinations.

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I cook channa (chick peas) often so it’s a big deal for me to even give a frozen version a chance.  This does not disappoint and helps in a pinch at only 180 calories per cup with lots of protein and fiber.

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Let me spell this out for you – white and red quinoa, sweet potato, and zucchini wonderfully seasoned and a little spice.  At only 220 calories per cup it is also packed with protein and fiber.

 

 

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I’m not even a big risotto fan but I like this combination.  Plus one cup is only 160 calories without missing the flavor.  This is a winner.

Feed the wellness in you!

 

Foot Loose and Fancy-Free

I have no recipe this week!  Last week I was on vacation and school started on Monday for my dynamic duo so it’s a little hectic.  There’s not a lot of creativity going on in the kitchen. However, I thought it would be valuable to share some of the meals I had while on vacation. I know many of us struggle on vacation to stick to healthy dining options. You have to be disciplined and vacation is supposed to be fun, foot loose and fancy-free, right?  (I’m married so foot loose and fancy-free in this sense means one does as they please as it pertains to food;-)  Well 5 lbs later when you get home you feel the ‘weight’ in many ways – there’s guilt, it’s hard to get back on track, and you realize that number on the scale is not incorrect and you’ve got to do something about it.  When I am away from my regular routine I choose restaurants that have menus that can cater to a healthy diet.  Let me also state that I’m not knocking ANYONE for enjoying food the way they want to.  Since a healthy lifestyle should be a lifetime commitment, this is just my way of demonstrating how I’ve been able to enjoy myself with my vegetarian lifestyle while on vacation.  Here are just a few of the dishes I had and thoroughly enjoyed.

Huevos Rancheros – I used the omelet station at our hotel to order scrambled egg whites and omelets, but I also had this delicious dish. I ordered it with egg whites, light on the cheese and no sour cream. huevos rancheros.jpg

Veggie burger with side salad – I don’t eat just any veggie burger; I always ask if they are house made and what the ingredients are.  This burger was made from beets, black beans, brown rice and other grains. It was great and very tasty.  I am a sucker for hand cut fries so I don’t deny myself certain pleasures in life but the fries that accompanied this were frozen so why bother.  I’d rather have an extra glass of wine instead.

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Harvest Saladthis was a yummy blend of beets, grapefruit, white asparagus, farro, goat cheese, mixed greens, kale, and white balsamic dressing on the side.  One day I asked to add avocado because it was on the menu in another dish.  If the ingredient is found elsewhere and it’s something you want, just ask for it! harvest salad.jpg

Pasta – Pasta is always flexible and versatile if looking for a healthy food option.  Restaurant portions tend to be large so just half it, stick with a tomato based sauces and use cheese in moderation. We dined at two different Italian restaurants and at both I asked for a pasta with a tomato sauce and whatever green vegetables they had.  The first restaurant kept it fairly basic yet delicious with a Penne Arriabbata and spinach; the second restaurant gave me fresh cavatelli with chard and spinach in a tomato sauce.  (not pictured) Perfetto!

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Asian Food – There are always great vegetarian options at Asian restaurants and where we were vacationing had several Thai and Japanese restaurants that had something for everyone in my family.

Pad See-ew Noodles is a Thai dish pictured below.  If you’ve never had this before it is a flat rice noodle served with broccoli, a sweet brown sauce and your choice of protein.  It is delicious.

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 At a Japanese restaurant I had Buddha’s Delight which is sautéed vegetables with garlic brown sauce with the protein of your choice.   It is pictured below served with tofu (lightly fried) over brown rice.

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 Are you hungry now?  I am!  Going to the kitchen now that I’m inspired by recalling all these wonderful dishes!

Feed the wellness in you!

Weekly Wellness Tip – BCAA Benefits

Amino Acids

My trainer recently advised me to start taking the supplement BCAA, Branched-Chain Amino Acids. I asked why this was necessary on top of all the other grueling stuff and he said it would help with muscle recovery and reduce soreness. I then asked “Well what is it??”  All he said was that it is protein and it would be helpful, particularly on a vegetarian diet .  In other words, trust me and just do it.  Without any further questioning I went to my local GNC and got it in pill form.  The daily consumption is 6 gigantic pills a day!  With such a commitment I needed to learn a bit more about this supplement to my daily routine.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein and are needed to build the various proteins used in the growth, repair, and maintenance of body tissues. Eleven of the twenty amino acids can be made by the body itself, while the other nine (called essential amino acids) must come from the diet or supplements. The nine essential amino acids are isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Another amino acid, histidine, is considered semi-essential because the body does not always require dietary sources of it. The nonessential amino acids are arginine, alanine, asparagine, aspartic acid, cysteine, glutamine, glutamic acid, glycine, proline, serine, and tyrosine. Foods of animal origin such as meat and poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products, are the richest dietary sources of the essential amino acids.

Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine are the  three essential amino acids in BCAA which play an important role in protein synthesis. These three amino acids are considered essential because the human body does not produce any of them and human beings cannot survive unless these amino acids are present in the diet.  In fact, BPAAs make up about 35% of all muscle tissue.  Amino acids from food travel first to the liver, where they’re broken down for use as fuel or assigned to muscle repair. BCAAs bypass the liver and go directly to the muscles for fueling, building and repairing.

There is inconsistent evidence about the effectiveness of branched-chain amino acids for athletic performance. Many studies suggest that taking branched-chain amino acids does not enhance exercise or athletic performance. However, other research suggests that it might reduce tiredness and muscle soreness associated with exercising.

My conclusion is that taking BCAA supplements are a good addition to my routine, which includes a healthy diet and exercise.  My goal of gaining more muscle can be achieved with the protein in my diet, additional protein with BCAAs and resistance training.   However, I will let make my doctor aware of the supplements suggested to get her feedback.

Feed the wellness in you!

Weekly Wellness Tip – MIghty Omega-3s

Is the hype real folks?    What’s up with Omega-3 fortified milk? A lack of these nutrients has been linked with high blood pressure, depression, asthma, arthritis, and even more – type 2 diabetes, fatigue, dry/itchy skin, brittle hair and nails, and joint pain.   Yikes!

The three principal omega-3 fatty acids are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The main sources of ALA in the U.S. diet are vegetable oils, particularly canola and soybean oils; flaxseed oil is richer in ALA than soybean and canola oils.  ALA can be converted, usually in small amounts, into EPA and DHA in the body. EPA and DHA are found in seafood, including fatty fish (e.g., salmon, tuna, and trout) and shellfish (e.g., crab, mussels, and oysters).

Commonly used dietary supplements that contain omega-3s include fish oil (which provides EPA and DHA) and flaxseed oil (which provides ALA). Algae oils are a vegetarian source of DHA.

Omega-3 fatty acids are important for a number of bodily functions, including muscle activity, blood clotting, digestion, fertility, and cell division and growth. DHA is important for brain development and function. ALA is an “essential” fatty acid, meaning that people must obtain it from food or supplements because the human body cannot manufacture it.

If you’re taking supplements or considering them for some other health claims, here is some key information from the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health:

  • There has been a substantial amount of research on supplements of omega-3s, particularly those found in seafood and fish oil, and heart disease. The findings of individual studies have been inconsistent. In 2012, two combined analyses of the results of these studies did not find convincing evidence these omega-3s protect against heart disease.
  • A 2012 systematic review concluded that the types of omega-3s found in seafood and fish oil may be modestly helpful in relieving symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. In the studies included in the review, many of the participants reported that when they were taking fish oil they had briefer morning stiffness, less joint swelling and pain, and less need for anti-inflammatory drugs to control their symptoms.
  • DHA plays important roles in the functioning of the brain and the eye. Research is being conducted on DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids and diseases of the brain and eye, but there is not enough evidence to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of omega-3s for these conditions.
  • Omega-3 supplements (primarily fish oil supplements) also have been studied for preventing or treating a variety of other conditions such as allergies, asthma, cachexia (severe weight loss) associated with advanced cancer, Crohn’s disease, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, kidney disease, lupus, menstrual cramps, obesity, osteoporosis, and ulcerative colitis, as well as organ transplantation outcomes (e.g., decreasing the likelihood of rejection). No conclusions can be drawn about whether omega-3s are helpful for these conditions based on currently available evidence.

In summary, it’s ideal to get essential nutrients from whole foods, the way nature packaged them. If you don’t eat fish, flaxseeds and walnuts are other good sources of omega-3s. Tell all your health care providers about any complementary health approaches you use to ensure safe, coordinated health care.

Feed the wellness in you!

Weekly Wellness Tip – Save Your Soles

Running shoes. Barefoot running shoes closeup. Female athlete ty

Spring Fever! You’ve dusted off those sneakers so you can walk or run during your spare time and that is fantastic. It is great to switch up your routine and take advantage of exercising outdoors. But before you hit the streets, let’s start by answering a few questions –

  • Do you own walking or running shoes?
  • If so, how old are they?
  • Did you get your shoes properly fit for your activity?

I could go on with some additional questions but instead, I will just quote the store ‘Fleet Feet DC’ where I got my first pair of running shoes.  A visit to a running shoe store is where you should start before embarking on your outdoor Spring activities AND you should get this level of attention and service in the store you choose –

“Being FIT in the right shoe is an important step to preventing injury and enhancing your FITness experience. Whether you are just beginning a walking program, training for your first marathon, or are on your feet all day and need some foot relief – we can help.We listen carefully to your FITness goals and interests, take into consideration any aches and pains, and evaluate your experience with your current footwear. We then measure your feet, assess your foot type and watch your gait cycle. Using all of this information, we utilize our training and experience to make individualized footwear recommendations.”

Getting properly fit will help you perform your activity comfortably and avoid injuries.  It is an investment that pays high dividends.  You won’t truly know if you have the right shoes for you until after you start using them.  Use them for a week and if they are uncomfortable or causing pain, return them for another pair.  After a few shoes you will know what brands work for you.

Fitness experts suggest replacing your shoes every 300-400 miles.  If you run or walk frequently, rotate between two pairs to extend the life of the shoes.  Also, while at the shoe store PLEASE get some new, cushioned socks!  They make a huge difference in your comfort.  Now find a good walking/running path and get to work!

Feed the wellness in you!

 

Weekly Wellness Tip – Natural Allergy Remedies

Allergies

The weather was beautiful on the East Coast this weekend! In Washington, DC we experienced mid-80 degrees on Saturday and close to 70 degrees on Sunday. Once we get the sun and a hint of warmth the city comes alive. People are out walking, jogging, cycling, dining al fresco – all makes for a wonderful spring. However, what comes along with spring weather are seasonal allergies.  Mild for some, severe for others.  Some even move their outdoor exercise to the evening because many trees release their pollen at first light and that makes morning outdoor activity miserable.  In church yesterday, it seemed like everyone was in symphony with their sneezing, sniffling, coughing and blowing.  You really need to be in preventive mode starting in March so when the allergy season arrives you are ahead of the onset of symptoms.  Even if you have a severe case of allergies and are on prescribed medication, a natural approach to ease the symptoms can also be very helpful.  There are several suggested natural approaches but I will only speak about a few that I have used personally and practice.

  1. Eucalyptus Oil –  when my children were babies, my Caribbean mother, her posse of sisters and friends all had a natural suggestion for taking care of the children’s ailments.  They were in the form of a lotion, salve, oil, or tonic.  One such item was Olbas Oil that had to be delivered via plane, train, and automobile directly from the Caribbean.  Even if you could find it in the U.S. to them, it wasn’t legit unless it came from their ‘home’.  Olbas Oil  was used for any congestion or cough by rubbing on the children’s chest at bedtime.  One of the main ingredients is Eucalyptus Oil.  And yes it does work and we use it to this day.  The strong aroma helps open and clear nasal passages.
  2. Saline Spray – this helps remove the residual pollen and mucus from the nasal passages.  It takes some getting used to but even my children  admit they feel much better after using this as part of their regimen.
  3. Acupuncture –  not just for aches and pains, acupuncture is an effective way of reducing allergy symptoms.  My acupuncturist does a thorough review of your wellness for the week and during this time, allergies are discussed and if required, he will treat them with needles in certain pressure points.  Relief is always on its way right after treatment.
  4. HEPA Filters – Air purifiers with HEPA filters are great at trapping dust.  I’m amazed at the amount collected in just one day.  In addition to these the obvious thorough cleaning of clothing, carpet and high traffic areas on a daily basis helps tremendously at the height of allergy season.
  5. Local Honey – so far there is no scientific evidence that supports this but there has been preliminary research that indicates honey can help combat allergies.  The theory is that honey should make the body accustomed to the presence of pollen spores and decrease the chance an immune system response like the release of histamine will occur.  Local honey increases the chances that would provide the varieties of flowering plants and grasses giving the allergy sufferer trouble are the same kinds the bees are including in the honey they produce.  I’ve been on a daily regimen of a tablespoon a day for the past two weeks, overall feel great, no meds and it’s a great addition to my morning yogurt!

Would love to know what natural remedies work for you!

Feed the wellness in you!

In Season Wellness – Rhubarb

fresh rhubarb

Last year at Trader Joes I discovered a rhubarb and strawberry pie.  It was delicious!  However, the next week when I went back to buy another, there were no more.  Not even returning the next day or week.   They were gone until the next season which meant the next year!  I was a rhubarb newbie but I took note and waited.

Now it’s back because rhubarb is in season and I’ve learned more about it.    It is often used for baking pies, cakes, muffins, breads, cookies, and it is often thought of as a fruit … however, rhubarb is a vegetable! It is usually paired alongside strawberries because they peak together in early spring.

Rhubarb is one of the least calorie vegetables with roughly 25 calories per cup, contains no saturated fats or cholesterol.  It is 95% water and contains a fair source of potassium, contributes minor amounts of vitamins, and is low in sodium. Rhubarb’s crisp sour stalks are rich in vitamin C, dietary fiber and calcium, although the calcium is combined with oxalic acid and so is not easily absorbed by the body. Rhubarb is somewhat acidic (pH 3.1-3.2) but in most recipes this is normally offset by sugar.

I tried to find some innovative ideas  for cooking rhubarb and started with local restaurant menus.  At first all I saw were rhubarb strawberry pies, rhubarb and strawberry crumbles, rhubarb bread puddings, rhubarb crisps, even a strawberry-rhubarb beer!  I kept searching and found it featured in sauces accompanying beef, lamb, and pork.  I marched on and saw it coupled with seafood, then pasta (we’re getting warmer), and then BINGO on a pizza!  Chef Mike Isabella, Top Chef competitor, owner of Graffiato, author of ‘Crazy Good Italian’, featured a special at dinner with rhubarb on pizza.  Rhubarb and mozzarella – I like that!  Or goat cheese may be even better.

I’m not going to attempt a pizza, but with all in season fruits and vegetables right now, I enjoy thinking about how to bring Spring to my table.  Any ideas??

Feed the wellness in you!

Weekly Wellness Tip – Sources of Vitamin D

Bright sun on blue sky with clouds

I am on spring break vacation with my family in lovely Costa Rica.  I am getting lots of natural Vitamin D here from the gorgeous sunshine! However, I thought of writing about sources of Vitamin D for a different reason.  A few weeks ago I had an annual check up with my internal medicine doctor.  As we discussed my wellness from A-Z and the types of blood tests she will request this year, she added Vitamin D deficiency.  I grew accustomed to hearing this test as part of my children’s wellness check up, but why me?

Known as the sunshine vitamin, Vitamin D is produced by the body in response to skin being exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D naturally occurs in only a few foods, including cod liver oil, salmon, mackerel, tuna, beef liver and egg yolks, according to the National Institutes of Health. Sources of Vitamin D for vegetarians include exposure to sunlight and fortified foods such as soy milk, cow’s milk, juice, cereal and margarine. Fortified foods either contain vitamin D2, a vegan form, or vitamin D3, derived from sheep’s wool, according to the Vegetarian Resource Group.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults is 600 IU of vitamin D a day.   According to the Mayo Clinic and NIH,  when the level of vitamin D in your body is too low it can cause your bones to become thin, brittle or misshapen. The role of vitamin D and insulin resistance, high blood pressure, and immune function — and how these relate to heart disease and cancer — is under investigation.

Vitamin D deficiency is not just a vegetarian or vegan issue; everyone tends to be at risk because we are not getting it naturally from the sun.  For those of you following a healthy lifestyle that incorporates salmon, tuna, sole or flounder you’re getting great sources of natural Vitamin D.  On my diet, I have to make sure that I am getting Vitamin D fortified dairy and whole grains, perhaps some cod liver oil even though it was something I despised as a child; and mushrooms to my surprise have a high dose of Vitamin D!

Let me go back to enjoy this natural Vitamin D while I can!

Feed the wellness in you!

Weekly Wellness Tip – Natural Energy Boosters

Female walking on path in running shoes

I’ve been asked if I eat or drink anything in particular before going to the gym for an extra boost of energy.  Absolutely!  If your body isn’t given the right fuel, you’re not maximizing your time spent at exercising.  Here are a few recommendations –

 1. Nuts. Grab a handful of almonds before heading out the door.  Magnesium in nuts helps break glucose down into energy.

2.  Bee pollen. The carbohydrates, protein and B vitamins can help keep you going all day by enhancing stamina and fighting off fatigue. Add a spoonful to yogurt and you’ve got a great protein and energy combo.

3.  Bananas.  You see tennis players eat these on breaks, they’re handed to you at races, they are an athletes friend! With approximately 30 g of carbohydrates and over 450 mg of potassium, they provide energy and minerals for blood-sugar maintenance and proper heart function.

4.  Dark Chocolate.  Treat yourself!   Dark chocolate is full of antioxidants, natural sugars, and natural fats from the cacao bean.  This is great incentive to work hard in the gym.  Find some dark chocolate covered almonds for an added boost.

5.  Avocado.  I am a big fan of this green delight and can just scoop out the flesh and eat it with no accompaniments.  This good dietary fat  provides energy, protects our organs, maintains cell membranes, and helps the body absorb and process nutrients.

6.  Water.  Yes, the obvious.  Many people are not hydrated enough before a work out and are easily fatigued as you start to sweat.  Water is your body’s cooling system so replenish, replenish, replenish.  All day, every day.

These are just a few suggestions but ultimately you have to find things that work for you.  Natural energy boosters are foods high in B vitamins, antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, and other vitamins and nutrients. Take a close look at what you’re doing now and adjust if needed.

Feed the wellness in you!

In Season Wellness – Asparagus

Bunch of fresh green asparagus spears

Although asparagus is available all year long, March is its peak marking Spring is here! You’ll notice the foodie magazines will feature asparagus in a variety of recipes and featured heavily on restaurant menus. Can’t wait!

It’s a good thing I love asparagus because the word alone could trigger a traumatic memory for me. In 5th grade I won my school’s spelling bee (brag alert – AND again in 6th grade) and made it to the city championship.  I was VERY nervous and  lost because I misspelled ASPARAGUS.  Needless to say I will never forget how to spell it.

If you love asparagus you know it is crisp and sweet raw as well as delicious roasted and lightly sautéed.  It is also extremely good for you in numerous ways.

  1. It contains  many anti-inflammatory nutrients which help to combat arthritis, asthma, and autoimmune diseases.
  2. It is full of antioxidants vitamin C, vitamin A (beta-carotene), zinc, manganese and selenium;  With its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, asparagus is a robust fighter against bladder, breast, colon, lung, prostate, ovarian and other cancers.
  3. Fresh asparagus are rich sources of folates.  Folate, a B complex vitamin, is essential for a healthy cardiovascular system.
  4. Asparagus is also an excellent source of Vitamin K which is also good for your bones and has antioxidant properties which preliminary studies show may help slow the aging process.

To preserve nutrients and get the most out of its antioxidant power when cooking try to roast, grill or lightly stir fry asparagus.

I’ll be posting a recipe with this star vegetable soon!

Feed the wellness in you!