Benefits of Coconut Water

Is it just me, or is this summer (at least in Toronto) shaping up to be a scorching hot summer? I can barely remember the last time it rained for more than an hour and the low for the week is 33c with humidity. I’ve been having a hard time squeezing in my running mainly because the heat is sucking the life right out of me. Sounds like an excuse but believe me, I’d love to be out there running. I should be going in the mornings but believe it or not, it’s still too humid for me. Something’s got to give, right?

Since I haven’t been able to do much in the way of exercise, I’ve had some more time in my schedule to devote to writing, when I’m not watching back to back episodes of season 5 of Mad Men. I’m happy to report that my first article about coconut water has been published on STACK (a fitness and health website)! You can find it here. My article gives you some great information about just how awesome coconut water is – especially if you are brave enough to work out in the hot temperatures.

I hope you enjoy it and more articles to come!

Benefits of Ginger

The second spice that I’d like to talk to you about in my spice series is ginger. And, no, I don’t mean this Ginger Spice. I’m referring to the super spice that adds a bit of zing to sauces and teas and is infamous in Asian cooking.

(Side note: Now I have that song, “Spice Up Your Life” stuck in my head. God, I miss the ’90s!).

Let’s jump in, shall we?

Ginger is a root that was originally cultivated in South Asia and has spread to East Africa and the Carribean. It’s available year round at your local market or grocery store.

Benefits:

  • Gastrointestinal relief. Prevents symptoms of motion sickness and seasickness. It also reduces other symptoms including nausea, dizziness, vomiting and cold sweats. It’s even safe to consume while you’re pregnant to aid with morning sickness.
  • Anti-inflammatory. It contains very potent anit-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. Studies have shown that it reduces pain for those suffering from osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. If you are suffering from Candida, like I was, ginger has a soothing effect on any inflammation that the candida growth may have on your intestinal tract.
  • Protection against colorectal cancer.
  • Induces cell death in ovarian cancer cells. The extracts in the ginger have been shown to have anti-tumour effects on cancer cells
  • Immune booster. This spice promotes healthy sweating which is very useful when you’re trying to fight off a nasty cold or flu. Usually, it’s used in ginger teas or hot drinks.

Fresh or dried?

Personally, I choose fresh whenever possible. Not only does it pack in more flavour but it contains higher levels of gingerol (that amazing element of ginger that gives us so many of those great benefits that I was telling you about). With that said, dried is useful if you’re making sauces or baking as it easily dissolves in the liquid.

I’ll admit it, ginger isn’t the most attractive thing you’ll see in the grocery store, but don’t  be put off by its nubbiness (if that’s even a word). Before you throw
one in your basket, make sure that it’s firm, smooth and free of mold.

Uses:

Ginger is often used in teas or hot drinks, especially if you aren’t feeling well. If I’m suffering from the flu or I’ve eaten something that isn’t quite agreeing with me, I’ll cut off a quarter inch of ginger, peel it, chop it into smaller pieces and either throw it my green tea or make a hot honey, lemon and ginger drink. It usually does the trick!

Tell us, what’s your favourite way to cook with ginger?

*** Stay tuned for my Asian inspired recipe using this zesty spice!

Enjoy!

Benefits of Garlic – Look out, Edward Cullen!

The first spice I’d like talk about, and this can be fresh or powdered, is garlic.

Garlic isn’t just for vampires, it boasts quite a  few health benefits:

  • Cardiovascular benefits
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Antibacterial and antiviral (fights bacterial infections like candida and viruses like the common cold)
  • Aids in increasing your iron metabolism
  • Immune system booster
  • Blood thinner
  • Contains Vitamin A, Vitamin C and Selenium.

All the more reason to load up! Garlic is versatile and can be added to many recipes including sauces, stir fries, meat dishes, etc.

According to Science Daily:

“Researchers have widely believed that the organic compound, allicin – which gives garlic its aroma and flavour – acts as the world’s most powerful antioxidant.”

Is fresh better than dry? Honestly, I’m not sure. There are pros and cons to both. According to Live Strong’s website, powder is just as powerful as fresh. Plus, powder is easy to store and never really goes bad. The only real difference that I can surmise is that garlic powder tends to be sweeter than fresh garlic and can be used more easily as a seasoning. It all depends on what your preference is.

Personally, I prefer fresh over powder because I tend to believe that the fresher the ingredients, the better.

Tell us, what’s your favourite garlic dish?

Stay tuned for my Thai inspired recipe using this wonder spice!

Variety is the Spice of Life!

How many times have you read a recipe and thought, “I have NO IDEA what that spice is (or how to pronounce it) let alone how it will taste?” or “When will I ever use this spice again?” I have.

Before last year when I started my health make-over, I didn’t even own a spice rack! I was so intimidated by spices that if I didn’t recognize one or already have it I would deliberately omit it from the recipe. It’s like saying, “I don’t know what interest vs principle means, so I won’t bother trying to figure that out and I’ll just keep paying the minimum payment.” Imagine? Wait, don’t.

This month, I’m going to try to help take the mystery out of some spices that are not only common but should be added to your dishes frequently. Why? Mainly because not only do they add a punch of flavour but they happen to be very good for you!

Spices are great (and important) because they can turn any basic meal from ordinary to extraordinary!

The spices discussed will be: garlic, ginger, coriander, and turmeric. I consider these to be some of the essential spices.

My plan for the month of May is to demystify them by sharing with you some of their benefits and giving you some recipes to incorporate them in.

There are many others that I wanted to discuss but I wanted to start with these since they are on my top 10 list (yes, I actually have a top 10 list and anyone who knew me in my 20s would be shocked that am this in love with cooking and no longer in a passive-agressive realationship with Dominoes pizza!).

Don’t worry, I promise to do another Spice Month soon to discuss the other six spices that I deem essential and/or amazing.

Stay tuned!

First up: Garlic.

PS: Tell us, what is your  favourite spice?

PPS: What spice would you bring with you on a desert island?

Benefits of Whole Grains

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably overwhelmed with information and choices about what to put into your body. There is a lot to consider from nutritional benefits, to taste, to cost and to the effects it will have on your body.

Then there are those fad diets and extreme diets urging you to eliminate foods from your diet, not just harmful foods but nutritious foods. How does that make any sense? I’ve successfully lost more than 20 pounds and have kept it off for a year by simply eliminating foods that are harmful to me  (refined sugars, processed foods, coffee, wheat and dairy).  But that’s me 🙂 You have to find what works for you. I’m hoping that some of this information will help take some of the guesswork out of choosing healthy grains and alternatives to wheat.

So let’s jump in!

What is a whole grain?

According to WebMD, “A whole grain contains all edible parts of the grain, including the bran, germ, and endosperm. The whole grain may be used intact or recombined, as long as all components are present in natural proportions.”

A grain is considered whole when it is comprised of 3 parts: Bran, Germ and Endosperm.

According to HealthCastle.com, “…whole grains are a good source of B vitamins, Vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fiber, as well as other valuable antioxidants not found in some fruits and vegetables. Most of the antioxidants and vitaminsare found in the germ and the bran of a grain.”

Wheatfreefood.com illustrates this best:

“To visualize a whole grain’s structure, think of an egg. The bran in a whole grain is akin to the shell of an egg, it is the protective outer coat. The germ is within the bran similar to the white of an egg. And the endosperm is the innermost part of a whole grain much like a yolk sits in an egg.”

So, what’s the difference between WHOLE grains and REFINED grains?

“Refined grains have their bran, germ, and most of the vitamins and nutrients removed during processing. The only part that remains is the starchy endosperm. This is why refined grains have more of an impact on raising blood sugar levels and thus have a higher glycemic index. Whole grains as mentioned earlier, contain the endosperm but also contain the germ and the bran. The bran provides abundant fiber which helps with satiety and slows down absorption keeping blood sugar levels happy, making whole grains a very good source of nutrition.”

Other reasons they are FANTASMIC?

Because whole grains are high in fiber, they aid in the following:

  • Lowering risk of heart disease by decreasing cholesterol levels, blood sugar and blood coagulation.
  • Helping to regulate blood glucose (especially those with diabetes)
  • Contributing to weight loss and maintaining a healthy weight.  Some studies have also shown that people who consume more whole grains consistently weigh less than those who consumed less whole grain products.

It is recommended that women get at least 25g of fiber a day and men should get at least 35g of fiber a day. This shouldn’t be too hard to achieve since each serving of whole grains yield from 1 to 4 g of fiber per serving, comparable to fruit and vegetables. If you have balanced meals and snacks throughout the day, it should be manageable.

What are the options?

  •     Whole oats/oatmeal
  •     Popcorn
  •     Brown rice
  •     Whole rye
  •     Whole-grain barley
  •     Wild rice
  •     Buckwheat
  •     Triticale
  •     Bulgur (cracked wheat)
  •     Millet
  •     Quinoa
  •     Sorghum
  •     100% whole wheat flour

How do we incorporate into our diet?

Choose whole-grain breads (like Ezekiel), cereals, bagels and crackers.  Be sure to read the ingredients on the package to ensure that there is very little sugar, in fact, there shouldn’t be any sugar in the mix if it’s whole grain. And make sure that all the ingredients are from REAL food – nothing you don’t understand or cannot pronounce. The simpler, the better!

Here are some quick suggestions:

  • Sandwiches with whole grain breads (like Ezekiel).
  • Whole oats in the morning
  • Snacks including whole grain crackers or make your own trail mix with whole oats
  • Use rice and quinoa when making your meals, rather than white rice or white pasta

So readers, I’d love to hear from you: How will you incorporate whole grains into your diet?

Stay tuned for a few recipes involving whole grain rice and quinoa!

Alternatives To Wheat

Be honest…does looking at this painting make you nervous?

VAN GOGH - WHEAT FIELD WITH CYPRESSES

If you’re anything like me and eating wheat is taxing on your body, please know that you may not have to give up foods that you enjoy! Nowadays, with food allergies becoming more prevalent in our Western society, there are more and more alternatives to wheat: brown rice pasta, spelt, quinoa, many varieties of rice, buckwheat and many more.  But even if you’re fine with wheat you need to be aware of the difference between whole wheat and whole grains.

Whole Wheat tends to be a clever marketing gimmick to entice consumers to purchase their bread products. The wheat is still highly processed and stripped of the germ, the bran, and majority of fibers, vitamins, and minerals. Whole Grains still have maintained their nutrients (you should see the seeds and grains in the actual bread). One brand that I love, and they make sprouted grains (a more natural occuring form of seeds and much easier to digest) is Ezekiel. This can be found in your frozen food section in your grocery store.

How do you know if you have developed a sensitivity to wheat?

Symptoms of food intolerance include:

  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Gas, cramps, or bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Irritability or nervousness

What’s the big deal?

By continuing to consume foods that you are sensitive to, not only do you suffer some of these symptoms (how fun is that?) but your body will become inflamed and you will have trouble losing weight and over a long period of time, you could develop some serious health complications.

This is a great article that explains why inflamtion is your worst enemy.

The Solution.

You can avoid inflamation by eating foods that are clean and non-toxic (no preservatives, no sugar) and avoid foods that are harmful to your immune system – that means pinpointing foods that trigger reactions and eliminating them and avoiding other foods that contribute to the breakdown of your boday.

Please note that I’m not saying that wheat is terrible – what I am saying is that if you notice your body reacting negatively when you consume wheat, please do not ignore it! If you don’t notice any reaction, then nevermind 🙂

For those that cannot consume wheat, stay tuned for some recipes to help inspire your cooking!

Detox Complete….Hello Vacation!

I finished my detox on St. Paddy’s day and I have to say that though I partied a little too hardy celebrating my Irish heritage, I didn’t let all of the hard work over the past 28 days go down the tubes – at least, not completely.

What did I learn from this?

That I can attend social events and not feel the need to drink or eat naughty foods. I went to a few concerts over the past months and some parties and I avoided adult beverages and opted for sparkling water or virgin caesers (which are amazing!) and really do the trick. People around you who like to peer pressure you into drinking assume that there’s vodka in it. Nope. I’d also make my way to the veggie tray and load up on that rather than the breaded goodies that kept calling my name…But the feeling I had the next day when I woke up, the energy I had, made it all worth it.

That routines and discipline are my friends. I’m not normally one who follows a routine or exercises much discipline, but I found that if I set a daily and weekly routine, it made life much easier. For instance, I would make double the amount of food for dinner so that I had lunch the next day at work. I would buy groceries on the weekend and then again on Wednesdays after work. I set a workout routine so that I always knew what were my “yoga days’ and what mornings I’d get up a bit earlier for my run. I’m still sticking with it! I don’t think I’ll go back to the chaos that was my life before (though the state of my bedroom is a WHOLE other story).

I learned new recipes and about new supplements (the Vega shake was ground breaking for me). I recently discovered the value in shakes, especially green smoothies (adding kale and/or avocado for extra vitamins). I like to add coconut water for the magnesium and potassium (I don’t really do that well with bananas, so it’s a nice alternative). I created almost every combination of salad and stir fry and for some reason, did not get sick of it. I discovered new blogs that inspired me to cook and eat healthily, like this one. It’s all very exciting…at least to me 🙂

So, have I reached my goal? I would say yes. Originally, I wanted to feel more energetic and lose a few inches since I will be sporting a bikinin whilst in Florida and I have to say that these objectives have been achieved. I don’t struggle to get through a workday, though I am more mentally tired at the end of the day, I have way more stamina. I’m looking forward to keeping this up. This has definitely been worth it!

I managed to inspire two of my close friends to consider their eating habits and as a result, they have made some changes and better yet, love them and are sticking to them because they notice how much better they feel! Amazing!

I hope that I have been able to inspire some or all of you to do the same.  Even making small changes here and there (subbing in green tea for coffee or honey for sugar) can make an impact on your health.

This week, I’ll be in Florida. I’m hoping to try out some of the yummy food while I’m soaking in some sun.  Until then, I’ll be hanging out in the beautiful lounge at Pearson Airport dodging hyper children and the many men glued to their smart phones.

I’ll try to give you updates while I’m there and let you know what I think about the food, of course!

See you on the other side!

Whole Grain 5 Blend Rice

I experimented with some new rice last night. I had found it at the most magical place on Earth – the Bulk Barn (more on that later). I was getting bored of the same old brown rice and brown rice pasta so I decided to mix things up a bit. Living on the wild side, I know!

It’s called: Whole Grain 5 Blend (long grain brown rice, grano, Colusari red rice, sprouted brown rice (YES PLEASE!) and wild rice).

Here it is!

The verdict? Delicious! Definitely loading up on more of that stuff on my next trip to the Bulk Barn.

And here's what it looks like...

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 tsp of pepper, chili powder, turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp of coriander and paprika
  • 2 tbsp grape seed oil (olive oil or coconut oil as a substitute)
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1/4 smal onion, chopped
  • 1/2 a chicken breast chopped
  • 1/4 cup lentils – cooked or canned
  • 1 lime (juice)

Veggies of choice:

  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • small handful of baby carrots
  • 2 handfuls of baby spinach
  • 1 romano tomato diced
  • 1 generous handful of sprouts
  • 2 baby potatoes, chopped
  • Rice – 1/2 cup of cooked rice (brown, wild, mixed, brown rice pasta)

Method:

Cook rice (as per the instructions) while you prepare and cook your stir fry (takes about 30 minutes).

Put the oil in the pan, then spices, then chicken. Next, add your onion, tomato, potatoes, garlic and lime juice.  Let simmer for  a few minutes. Flip over chicken pieces when they are a brown on one side. While they are simmering, add red bell pepper, spinach and sprouts.  Let simmer and mix occasionally. When the rice has cooked add about 1/2 a cup (or however much you prefer) to the pan along with the lentils. Stir and let it sim-simmer (you want the flavours to mix).

This is enough for 2 servings (one for dinner and one for lunch).

The finished product... What I brought for lunch today.

Enjoy!

Detox: Day 20

The way you think, the way you behave, the way you eat, can influence your life by 30 to 50 years. (Deepak Chopra).

Well folks, I’m on day 20 of the detox. The time has flown by! I can’t believe that it’s been nearly 3 weeks already. I’d like to fill you in on how I’ve been feeling, what I’ve been up to, some of the challenges I’ve faced so far and what’s next.

Why would I do this?

When I first began the detox/cleanse, I was groggy, tired ALL the time, no “get-up and go”. It sucked. Even the thought of walking to the bus stop in the mornings seemed daunting (moreso than usual). I knew that I needed to do something. Fast. So I decided to do a 28 day detox cleanse eliminating wheat, dairy, refined sugars, caffeine, alcohol/drugs and processed foods from my diet. In exchange, I’d eat more veggies, fruits, brown rice, lean meats and lots of water and green and herbal teas.

The first few days, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts were a bit tough but once I got passed the first few initial adjustment days, I noticed that I had more energy, felt more focused and began to feel more motivated. Now that I’m on day 20, I feel even better! More invigorated, sleeping better (going to bed earlier and waking up earlier – even before my alarm!) and more active. I’m in a better mood (more often than not, unless I’m overtired or starving). I’m more focused at work; I find that I’m not as easily distracted by others around me or tempted to take breaks to read the news, check Facebook etc. (as often – I am human, after all!). What else? Oh, because I’m more active (running in the mornings and recently doing hot yoga), I’ve noticed my muffin tops are decreasing. Always exciting! Especially since I’ll be in a bathing suit in a few short weeks on the beaches of Fort Meyers. And, the other thing that I’m loving is the more FREE TIME! Because I’m not going out all the time anymore, I’m not hung over the next day. My weekends are free to spend time with friends, catch up on errands, housework, blogging, running, hot yoga, travelling, shopping, researching, you name it. It’s been great – very rejuvinating.

Having all of this free time meant that I could really indulge in things that I’ve been putting off, mainly, waking up earlier to go for a run in the mornings before work. Sounds horrible? Actually, at first, to be honest – yes…it was the worst. My body didn’t even know what the heck was going on but by the time I dragged myself out the door and onto that treadmill and finished my 20 minutes, I was just starting to wake up. The next time, it got easier. And easier. Before I knew it I was waking up before my alarm to go for a run! I had more energy throughout the day and slept like a log. I’ve now developed a love for running first thing in the morning! For anyone who knows me they know that the snooze button and I are joined at the hip, so this is huge! The other thing that I got back into, was hot yoga. I used to do it quite a bit about a year or so ago, but stopped going after my trip to India and when I got sick. BUT Goodlife Fitness had an incredible deal on Living Social: 5 classes for $15. YES PLEASE! I’ve been to two classes and I’m hooked! I’m considering buying a class pass when I get back from Florida. For me, it’s great – I sweat out all the toxins and stretch out muscles that are either cramped from sitting at a desk all day or tight calves/hamstrings/hip flexor/glute (I’m a mess) from running. I’ve also purchased a deal for spinning classes that I’ll be using post-Florida. PUMPED!

Other than exercising and sleeping better, I’ve been saving a lot of money. Not going out and eating out all the time have saved me a pretty penny. Instead, I go out during the day on the weekend. During the week, I’ve been going to concerts, meeting friends for tea, checking out comedy at the club around the corner from me, going to the movies, catching up on reading, catching up on tv and planning trips. Just because I’m not going out on Friday or Saturday night does not mean that my social life is on hold. If anything, I’ve been busier than ever! It’s all how you spend your time.

It really has made me think: How will this activity impact me?

This all sounds lovely, right? But let me tell you…these past 20 days have not been without their challenges. For instance, it was my mom’s birthday last weekend. You should have seen the look of shock, confusion, disapointment and more shock when I declined an alcoholic beverage at dinner and then declined a piece of cake for dessert. My parents reacted as though they were suddenly transported in some parallel universe. I wish we had more kids in our family to take the heat off of me not drinking and eating sugar. Yes, these are the main struggles in my life right now. First world problems, anyone?

Another challenge was passing up a $10 all-the-beer-you-can-drink-before-you-pass-out-or-vomit kegger tonight. Enough said.

But in all seriousness, initially it was tough to say “no” but once you make the decision to not partake, it’s all good. You feel at peace. It’s done and I’m not turning back. Nope? Nope.

And the thing is, I don’t want to undo 3 weeks of sacrifice and hard work just for what, a few minutes of a cheap thrill only to feel terrible shortly after.

The other challenges were planning. I am NOT a planner! I’m more of a procrastinator and spur of the moment type of gal. I had to be sure that I had food on hand at all times so that I wouldn’t be tempted to order pizza. I had to make sure that I had lunch ready for the next day, which  meant cooking enough at dinner for left overs the next day. Otherwise, I’d be at the mercy of the salad bar at work.

The last challenge I’ve faced was to stay motivated. Yes, I feel great but every so often, I’d get a whiff of someone’s delicious, juicy, mouthwatering burger at lunch and I’d think, “Screw it!” But then I’d talk myself back down off the ledge and remind myself that I’d feel foggy/tired from the wheat bun and feel sick from the saturated fat in the burger. Not worth it. But those days have been fewer and fewer as the detox has gone on.

So, what’s next? Well, 7 more days! My last official day is on St. Paddy’s day. I’ll be celebrating my proud Irish heritage with a few friends. I will probably definitely be tipsy after one sip of beer since by then it would have been a month without a drop of alcohol.

I’ve made the decision to only indulge in these kinds of things on special occasions: holidays, birthdays and special events (weddings, funerals – hey, I’m part Irish!). I’ve realized that I don’t miss going out all the time and that there are better ways that I can spend my time. A personal choice.

Also, I’ve been working hard at getting back into fitness and I don’t want to get off track with that. My new goal is to exercise at least 3 days a week and anything extra will be a bonus. I also have my new spinning classes to look forward to.

By now, I’m so used to eating healthy that I can’t see myself going back to bad habits that have somehow crept their way back in to my life. BUT the good news is that it’s always reversable. You can always regain control of your health and get back on track. Nobody’s perfect but I’m realizing that, like most things, it’s much easier to just keep doing the right things rather than trying to re-train yourself to get back into good habits.

Question for all of you: Have any of you considered making a change to better your health? If so, what is it and what steps could you take to do it?

Challenge: if you are craving one thing in particular (chocolate, bread, booze, dairy) go without it for 3 days.

Notice the following: How do you feel without it? How much  of it do you consume on a daily basis? What alternatives are there? What are some emotions that you feel when you crave it but can’t have it?

Detox: Day 10 – Be Prepared

I’ve officially entered into the double digits of my 27 day cleanse. The last few days were a breeze! It’s amazing to me how quickly you can re-adjust and develop a new habit (provided that you are open to it).

The first few days were difficult but now, I no longer have any cravings, my mood is much better (even on days like today when I’m tired) and I find that I have more energy. I think the running has been helping too, so I’ll definitely try to stick with it as much as I can.

The main challenge of the detox is the preparation. It’s SO important to make sure that you are always stocked up on meats/alternatives, veggies, fruits, rice/rice pasta and whatever else you need.  I read in Caroline Sutherland’s book, “The Body Knows” that you should always try to have about 3 days worth of food in your cupboards. For me, that’s not always possible, BUT I always keep a mental inventory of what I have in my cupboards and fridge and I make sure that I reserve enough time in my schedule to pick up what I need. Otherwise, if you’re hungry and you feel too impatient to prepare something, then the temptation is there to get take-out and possibly deter your whole detox by ordering something naughty.

If you do go out and you know what restaurant you’ll be going to, a trick is to look online at the menu (if it’s available) beforehand and see what your options are. That way, if you’re anything like me, you won’t be himming and hawing for 20 minutes trying to make a decision.

Watch out for salads! Some may seem like a healthy choice but not if they’re laden with cheese, creamy dressings, battered chicken/fish or caramelized nuts (among other things – but those are the ones that come to mind). Instead, try to stick to simpler ingredients and request balsamic vinaigrette or even some oil and lemon on the side. Trust me, you won’t even miss the regular salad dressings since these options bring out the natural flavour of the fresh veggies and other ingredients your salad. Plus, if you adopt this habit at home, think of all the money you’ll be saving, not to mention saving your body from the nasty additives, preservatives and chemicals found in commercial dressings. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the ingredients’ list on your favourite dressing 😉

What about you, what tips do you have when you go to a restaurant or eat out and you want to make a healthy choice?