Life Hack: The Daily Dozen App

I recently discovered an app I really think is great called The Daily Dozen. On it is a list of foods you should be eating every single day, with spaces for a checkmark next however many servings of that food you should be having. For instance, there’s three spaces next to beans, one space next to berries, and two spaces next to greens. You can check in to the app throughout the day to keep track of the “superfoods” you’re eating and over time, hopefully you’ll have trained yourself to put the healthiest foods first in your diet.

There’s a section for grains on there, and I think that’s important to note. A lot of people avoid grains these days because they believe they are inflammatory or cause weight gain. Here’s what I know about whole grains (I’m talking about things like brown rice, oats, and barley here, not Froot Loops with “whole grains”). Eating whole grains is associated with lower risks of diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol. Read here  for more information on whole grains and heart disease. Read here for more on whole grains and blood pressure. And read here for more on whole grains and other foods that lower cholesterol. If you are trying to avoid grains in the short term, I support that. Sometimes avoiding a certain food for a month or so can help reduce inflammation and de-sensitize you to that particular food. Then you add the food back in in small amounts to ensure your sensitivity is gone. There are doctors like Dr. David Perlmutter (author of The Grain Brain) who have profited mightily by telling people all grains are bad for you, but I really don’t subscribe to that thinking at all. I *do* believe we Americans have too many grains in our diet, and that most of those grains are of low quality and low nutritional value (think a slice of white bread or a bowl of sugary cereal). However, whole grains have many proven health benefits.

Back to the app. What I love about this new tool is that it also includes things like spices, flaxseeds, and Vitamin D. These recommendations are all rooted in science and have been proven to be beneficial for one or more reasons.

Daily Dozen was created by Michael Gregor,  M.D., who is the founder of NutritionFacts.org and has a podcast called Nutrition Facts with Dr. Gregor.

I think it’s a great daily tool you can use as a fun challenge to clean up your eating habits and add some solid nutrition that will help reduce your risk of disease. Win/win!

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Portobello “Burgers”

Last night was Sunday, which made it Crappy Dinner Party night. Haven’t read about our weekly CDP? I recommend doing that right away, and then laying plans for your very own regular Crappy Dinner ASAP.

It was my husband’s birthday this week, so we hosted. He wanted to grill burgers and dogs, which are super yummy and yes please to all of that. However, if you are trying to reduce your red meat consumption or are vegetarian or vegan, I find portobello burgers to be a really worthy substitution. (Recent studies seem to show a correlation between eating meat of any kind of your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Studies also show that eating meat raises your risk of cancer and heart disease. This is not to say you have to give up meat entirely, but rather substitute some of your meat choices for vegetarian choices instead. Click here for an explanation and some tips.) You still get the meaty texture when you bite down, and the mushrooms soak up any delicious marinades you throw their way. Top with sautéed onions, a slice of cheese, and pickles and I guarantee you will enjoy your experience!

Here’s the marinade I use to make my portobello burgers.

INGREDIENTS:

4 portobello mushroom caps

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

 tablespoons olive oil or avocado oil (avocado oil has a higher smoke point)

1 large garlic clove, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

1 teaspoon dried oregano

salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:

Mix all ingredients together and pour over the mushroom caps, turning every 15 minutes until time to cook, making sure to pour the mixture into the underside of the mushrooms before grilling. Throw on the grill and cook until desired doneness.

If you’d rather put them in the oven, preheat to 425°, place mushrooms stem side down in a baking dish, and roast for 18-20 minutes.

portobello grilled

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Ginger Turkey Stir Fry — A New Recipe For Depression Support

I received a lot of feedback and traffic to the blog when I posted the High Protein Smoothie recipe for depression nutrition support. The post seemed to strike a nerve, and it’s no wonder. Depression and anxiety are on the rise. Kids, especially, are suffering at ever increasing rates. According to a New York Times article today: “In 1985, the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A. began asking incoming college freshmen if they “felt overwhelmed by all I had to do” during the previous year. In 1985, 18 percent said they did. By 2010, that number had increased to 29 percent. Last year, it surged to 41 percent.”

In 32 years, the rate of U.C.L.A. freshman who feel overwhelmed rose by over 200%. This is startling.

I can’t begin to address the issue of depression and anxiety in depth like mental health professionals can. It’s an intricate problem with many factors, and I primarily focus on the nutrition aspect. But, I can say that we as a civilization seem to be moving further away from spending time together in person. People feel isolated and alone. This is one reason why I proposed Crappy Dinner nights, which have taken off like gangbusters and are now a weekly occurrence amongst my friends. Another factor that has been studied is our lack of time in nature. Children are given less time to play outside during school and adults spend most of their days indoors as well (I wrote a post about this, you can read it here).

One thing I know for sure is that our diets, what we eat and drink, is negatively affecting our mental health. Inflammation plays a role in our mental well-being, just as it does with cardiovascular, metabolic, and brain health. When we eat mostly pro-inflammatory foods like highly processed flours and sugars, our brains aren’t being fed what they need to be happy and healthy. Our gut health, which is a key factor in the health of our other bodily systems, is worse for the wear when we eat these pro-inflammatory foods. If our gut microbiota is out of whack, so is the rest of us. You can read about it in the paper titled “The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression” in Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience. In the conclusion, the authors write: “Poor diet is a risk factor for depression; thus, a healthy diet may prevent depression. Regulation of the gut microbiota using diet, probiotics and FMT may have important benefits for preventing and treating depression”.  For those wondering what FMT means, it’s fecal microbiota transplantation, which is a process used for certain gastrointestinal diseases like Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis.

To be clear: I do not believe people who are depressed or anxious can magically cure themselves with diet. If it were that easy, no one would be suffering. But I do believe diet can play a role in mental health and wellness, just as it can when we are battling cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. It’s a piece of the puzzle.

So, my advice to anyone with depression or anxiety is to, little by little if that’s what’s feasible, add in some anti-inflammatory foods to your diet. Try to crowd out the cookies and crackers with whole foods like high quality proteins, fats and complex carbohydrates. These foods will nourish your brain and help reduce inflammation. Use lots of herbs and spices a.k.a. “booster foods”. And please, don’t ever go off any medications or treatments without the express consent from your doctor. 

See below for an easy and delicious Ginger Turkey Stir Fry recipe. If it were me, I’d make the brown rice using frozen pre-cooked rice from the grocery store. It saves a lot of time and leaves you one less pot to wash. If you feel like having chicken or beef, use that instead. Opt for high-quality, grass fed meat as much as possible. They are higher in Omega-3 fatty acids. 

**I am not a doctor nor am I qualified to give medical advice. Please see a licensed medical professional for any medical concerns you might have.

 

 

RECIPES FOR ANXIETY_DEPRESSION

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One Pot Garlic Parmesan Pasta

Yesterday when I was trying to figure out what to make for dinner, I typed in “garlic parmesan pasta” because those were the ingredients I definitely had on hand. I wanted something very simple but still tasty. Everyone likes pasta. Plus it’s wonderful comfort food for a cool fall Monday.

The recipe that I found is a “one pot” pasta recipe which means literally everything goes in the pot, including not just the liquid and the pasta but all the seasonings. You wouldn’t think this would work but I swear on my life it works — and beautifully at that. But you must trust the process.

The one thing I added to this One Pot Garlic Parmesan Pasta recipe is frozen meatballs into the bubbling mixture because I felt like the meal needed some protein, and my 12 year old and my husband love meatballs. So do I, but since I try to stick to a lower animal protein diet, I added some vegan meatballs to mine.

Speaking of changes, I also opted to put the parmesan at the table instead of into the recipe — my daughter doesn’t love a cheesy mess (unless it’s pizza? Sometimes she’s weird) and letting people determine the amount of cheese means less cheese usually gets used. So it’s a win for the pocketbook as well as the overall calorie count of the meal.

So, try this recipe next time you need something super quick, simple and easy to clean up  after.

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The Importance of Zinc

Zinc is a trace mineral which acts as an antioxidant in our bodies. It plays a role in cell division, cell growth, wound healing, and the breakdown of carbohydrates. Since our bodies don’t make zinc, we need to get it through our diet or supplementation.

Why is zinc important? Because it’s an antioxidant there are many benefits to getting enough zinc. I’ve outlined some of them in the handy infographic below.

My doctor recommended taking no more than 50 mg of elemental zinc to boost my immune system. You would be hard pressed to get that much zinc from diet alone. 

What happens when you don’t get enough zinc? Lots of stuff can occur, such as low fertility, low immune system, depression/anxiety, and decreased wound healing, for starters. 

Read and print out this handy guide on zinc for more information.

***I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on t.v. Please ask your doctor or qualified medical professional before starting any supplements!

Zinc 1 page

Crappy Dinner Party (It’s A Good Thing!)

I am #blessed to have the most fabulous neighbors. When we moved in almost seven years ago, my immediate next door and kitty-corner neighbors welcomed us with enthusiasm. Since then our families have played together, eaten together, traveled together and spent Christmas Eve together.

However, we are a busy bunch, and it can be difficult to find time when we can all come together. Between high stress jobs, kids’ activities, and family commitments, weeks and sometimes a month or two can go by before we can see one another. For a couple of years we’ve been talking about the concept of the Crappy Dinner Party, wherein everyone pitches in whatever they have in their fridge (no shopping allowed!) and the host family does no cleaning, no fussing and no elaborate anything. The point is to allow us to spend time with one another without stress. I’m happy to say that this Sunday my family hosted the Inaugural Crappy Dinner Party. I made some vegetarian tostadas from a meal kit service that I was planning on making anyway. Catherine brought turkey taco fixings that she was making for her family that night regardless and some drinks for the kids. Tom brought gin (because, COCKTAILS) and grapes and veggies. I threw some buttered noodles in there for the kids. We cut up a watermelon. I didn’t even wipe up the crumbs from the dinner table from the previous night BECAUSE CRAPPY DINNER PARTY RULES ARE NOT TO BE BROKEN. We used paper plates (that we composted, please don’t yell!) and it was probably the most relaxed dinner party I’ve ever had in my life. And this was with 6 kids and 5 adults!

Some integral people in my friend zone were missing, as I threw the dinner idea together somewhat last minute. Deanna had to work (so she sent her husband and kids), Shawn and family had plans, and Erika (a new friend to me but a dear friend to my friends so obviously she’s on the list!) couldn’t come, but here’s the thing: now that we’ve started this it’s going to happen more frequently. Once you release the pressure of cleaning and putting together an elaborate spread, it becomes a joy and not a burden. Catherine has already planned the next one at her house.

How do you host your own Crappy Dinner Party? Let me summarize the rules for you:

  1. DON’T CLEAN YOUR HOUSE. Move some piles if they get in the way of eating but otherwise hands off.
  2. NO GROCERY SHOPPING. Make what you have, even if it’s beans and rice.
  3. EVERYONE BRINGS SOMETHING THEY CAN CONTRIBUTE. Even especially if it’s gin.
  4. ENJOY YOURSELVES.
  5. REPEAT again and again because it’s fun and you realize your friends just want to see each other, even if the house is messy.

Do you have your own Crappy Dinner Party rules? Let me hear them!

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Vegetarian Wild Rice Salad

wild rice

Last week when I went with my 12 year old “up north” I had a wild rice salad at the lodge that I thought was pretty good. I liked the textures, with the chewy wild rice and the crunchy water chestnuts. I wasn’t crazy about the honey mustard dressing, but I loved the addition of grapes. This was a true “midwestern salad”, I’m not afraid to admit. I decided I would try to remake it but with a different dressing and the addition of some other favorite add-ins.

One thing I love about wild rice (which actually isn’t rice at all) is that it has far more nutrients than white rice. In one cup of cooked wild rice, there are 7 grams of protein and 35 grams of carbohydrate, including 3 grams of fiber. It’s lower in calories than white rice and the protein it contains is higher quality because it has more of the essential amino acids.

Here is the recipe I came up with, with the help of a different recipe from my local grocery store chain.

VEGETARIAN WILD RICE SALAD

Ingredients:

4 cups cooked wild rice (about 1 cup uncooked). I like to put some Better Than Bouillon in the water to create more flavor.

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon Fine Herbs (or your choice of favorite dried herbs)

1/3 cup sliced green onion

1 (8 oz can) sliced water chestnuts, drained

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups sliced red seedless grapes

1 cup nuts of your choice (I used a mixture of cashews and sliced almonds)

Instructions:

Make the dressing by mixing the mayonnaise, milk, lemon juice and herbs together in a small bowl.

In a larger bowl, combine In larger bowl, combine wild rice, green onion, water chestnuts, salt and pepper. Stir in mayonnaise mixture until blended. Refrigerate, until cooled. Before serving, fold in grapes and nuts. Take to your next potluck. 

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