Monday, February 24, 2014

Eating too much...kale?!

If you know anything about eating healthy, then you definitely know about kale.  It's the quintessential "health food," boasting high levels of calcium, vitamin C, and iron, and providing lots of fiber and cancer-fighting antioxidants.  As far as most people are concerned, it can do no wrong.  Or can it?
Kale has a dirty little secret...
I read an article recently about how eating too much kale can actually be bad for you, and I thought it was an excellent example of how too much of anything-- even kale, the holy grail of health foods!-- can be detrimental to your health.  The problem with kale, and other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, and bok choy, is that it is goitrogenic, which basically means that consuming too much of it can lead to an enlarged thyroid, or goiter.  When eating normal amounts of these vegetables, especially when cooked, one is not likely to have any problems.  The issues arise when people regularly consume large amounts of these vegetables raw, such as when they are blended or juiced, which is becoming increasingly popular among well-meaning health junkies.

You may be thinking, "if kale isn't safe, then what the heck am I supposed to eat?!"  It sure does seem like every other day we're being told that something that was once touted as "good" for us is suddenly "bad!"  So, what to do?  The simple answer is variety.  Eating too much of anything-- whether it's cake or kale-- isn't a great idea.  If you pin all your hopes on one type of food making you healthy and base your entire diet on it, there's a decent chance you'll find out at some point that that food may not be as healthy as once thought-- maybe it'll be some trace chemical or pesticide they discover in it, or they'll link it to cancer or heart disease, who knows!-- but if you've only eaten moderate amounts of it, you'll likely be fine.  If you've been basing your entire diet on it, however, you may not be.  The better approach is to hedge your bets and eat moderate amounts of all kinds of foods (yes, even cake and cookies!).  Besides covering all your nutritional bases and providing more satisfaction in your eating, variety means that you're not eating massive amounts of any one food, and therefore don't have to worry about any detrimental effects associated with one type of food that may surface in the future.

And, just so you don't think I'm "anti-kale" or anything, I wanted to share one of my favorite kale recipes that has made it into the rotation here in my house.  It's fast and simple enough to make on a weeknight, and half the time I have most if not all of the ingredients already in my cupboard.  I usually serve myself a large portion and eat it as a main dish, but it can also be enjoyed as a side.  I hope you like it as much as I do!

One Pot Kale and Quinoa Pilaf
Adapted from recipe found at Food52
Serves 2-4
I forgot to take a photo, so I stole this one from the Food52 site. Oops!

2 cups salted water
1 cup quinoa
1 bunch lacinato kale, washed and chopped into 1" lengths
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 scallions (I have also used regular onions as a substitute)
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts (how to toast pine nuts)
1/4-1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese (depending on how cheesy/creamy you like it)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring the water to a boil in a covered pot.  Add the quinoa, cover, and lower the heat until it is just enough to maintain a simmer.  Let simmer for 10 minutes, then top with the kale and re-cover.  Simmer another 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow to steam for 5 more minutes.

2. While the quinoa is cooking, take a large serving bowl and combine half of the lemon juice (reserving the other half), all of the lemon zest, scallions, and olive oil, pine nuts, and goat cheese.

3. Check the quinoa and kale when cooking time has completed-- the water should have absorbed, and the quinoa will be tender but firm, and the kale tender and bright green.  If the quinoa still had a hard white center, you can steam a bit longer (adding more water if needed).  When the quinoa and kale are done, fluff the pilaf, and tip it into the waiting bowl with the remaining ingredients.  As the hot quinoa hits the scallions and lemon it should smell lovely.  Toss to combine, seasoning with salt and pepper, and the remaining lemon juice if needed. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Putting weight loss on the back burner

Many people start intuitive eating counseling at a time when they're uncomfortable with their current body shape.  Sure, they're pretty much convinced that diets don't work in the long term (since they've likely experienced this first hand), but they still really really want to lose weight.  So it can be discouraging to hear that the focus of intuitive eating isn't on weight...that they need to put weight loss on the back burner.  You might end up losing weight, especially if you've been eating in a way in which you are not honoring your hunger and satiety cues, or eating emotionally on a regular basis, but focussing on weight loss will distract from the process of becoming an intuitive eater, and ultimately sabotage you.

A recent study actually demonstrated this phenomenon.  In the study, a group of college-aged women read an article about how being overweight could affect their chances of employment, while another control group read an article about smoking and getting a job.  After reading the articles, and participating in a discussion, they were taken to a room for a break, and given access to candy and crackers.  Those women who were overweight and had read the article about weight and employment consumed significantly more calories than those who had read the article about smoking.  The researcher argues that these results "suggest that public-health messages need to emphasize the importance of health and exercise, and not focus on weight."  This is exactly what we do with intuitive eating, and I believe it's why we see improved health and psychological well-being, and, yes, even weight loss, in many of those who follow the philosophy.  It may seem counterintuitive that taking your focus off of your weight can result in weight loss, but it really does happen!  

The article also brings up the fact that in order to lose weight, you need to first stop blaming yourself for your weight problem, as this affects self-esteem.  Sure, you might not love the body you're currently in, but it's important to be gentle with yourself, and stop beating yourself up for having gained weight.  If you got where you are because of years of yo-yo dieting, recognize that you were doing what you thought was best for you and for your health, and now that you know that diets don't work, you're moving on and trying something different.  And if you're at your current weight because of emotional eating, give yourself credit that you've manage to make it through all the difficulties you've encountered in your life using perhaps the only coping mechanism you had available to you at the time.  Lots of super smart, extremely accomplished people come in larger bodies, so being something other than a so-called "ideal weight" doesn't indicate anything negative about you as a person.

So, try to be patient.  Eating intuitively isn't a quick fix like many diets, although unlike a diet, you will reap the benefits of following this philosophy for a lifetime.  When you focus on satisfaction, and eat based on hunger and satiety, your body will eventually normalize and you'll find yourself at your set point weight which, as I said earlier, may very well be lower than your current weight.  All of this takes time, though, so hang in there and focus on treating yourself and your body with the respect and love it deserves.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Respecting our post-baby bodies

"My body is full of life. 

My body is powerful. 
My body made me a mother."

I've been wanting to post something about accepting our post-baby bodies for a while now, but I couldn't find the words to express my feelings about it.  Recently, however, I stumbled upon this post from a blog called "We seek joy"  that words it perfectly.  The author writes about how people say that women's bodies are "ruined" by having babies, but that she can't possibly be ashamed of how her body has changed after witnessing the miraculous thing that it was able to do...create and sustain a LIFE!

I feel exactly the same way.  As a new member of this community of moms, I now regularly hear my peers talk about losing that post-baby weight, and lamenting the changes they've seen in their bodies since being pregnant.  First of all, taking care of a new baby takes unbelievable amounts of time and energy, so dedicating oneself to an intense exercise regime or perfect eating plan is next to impossible (if you've read my blog, you know that I believe neither of these two things is easy to achieve or maintain in the long term anyway, much less with a new child!).
Please don't compare yourself to celebrities...their transformations often aren't even real!
Like the author of that blog entry, I feel that the conversation needs to change from, "What can I do to get my pre-pregnancy body back?" to "How can I learn to accept and respect this new body I am in?"  Because the truth is that our bodies are not and should not be the same as before...they have just undergone the incredible process of creating life and then carrying it for 9 can we expect them to be the same after doing something so unbelievably amazing?!

Don't get me wrong...I do believe it's important to take care of ourselves and eat balanced, nutritious food that tastes good and makes us feel good.  I also think exercise can be a great way to have a little "me time" and help us to feel more energized.  But instead of putting so much pressure on ourselves to do these things in order to look a certain way, I think we should instead respect our bodies and the process that led them to their current state.  
Our babies are watching us, and they are learning from the things we say and do.  Let's send the message that they didn't ruin our bodies, but rather transformed them in a way that only the incredible process of pregnancy and birth can, and we wouldn't change that for the world.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Thinking outside the box: Simple and delicious homemade granola bars

I apologize for the long hiatus from blogging.  Since my last post, I've completed my thesis, so I now officially have my Master's degree in Nutritional Science!  My thesis project was designing a web-based intuitive eating course, so stay tuned for details on how you can enroll in the class once it launches.

As I've mentioned previously, I believe that a diet made up mostly of whole, minimally-processed foods is optimal, so with that in mind, I've been trying to slowly decrease the amount of packaged foods I regularly consume.  One item I've consistently eaten that comes from a package is granola bars.  They're a convenient food to throw in my purse (or, these days, my diaper bag!) and grab when I'm feeling a little hungry between meals.  I've thought about making my own for a while, but figured it would be too much work, and not worth the effort.  Boy, was I wrong!  Over the last few months, I've been experimenting with a couple recipes and tweaking them each time until I came up with the PERFECT homemade granola bar!  Yes, it's more effort than simply opening a box, but it's really pretty easy (takes about 30 minutes to make, and you've got at least a week's worth of granola bars to show for it) and they're DELICIOUS, so it's definitely worth the effort!  So, after much trial and error, here's my recipe for the perfect homemade granola bar:

Perfect Soft and Chewy Granola Bars

Adapted from Inspired Taste

2 1/4 cups old fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup whole almonds, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup ground flaxseed
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup dried fruit (I've used cranberries, raisins, prunes, cherries, etc), coarsely chopped
1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp mini chocolate chips (dark or semi-sweet)

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.  Add oats and almonds to a baking sheet (I line mine with aluminum foil to make it easier to transfer it to a bowl afterwards) then bake 5 minutes, stir and bake another 3 to 5 minutes until lightly toasted.  Transfer to a large bowl.  Add ground flaxseed and mix in with oats and almonds.

Combine coconut oil, honey, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally until butter melts and the sugar completely dissolves.

Pour butter mixture into bowl with toasted oats and almonds.  Mix well.  Let cool about 5 minutes, then add cranberries, and 1/4 cup of mini chocolate chips.  Stir to combine.  (The chocolate chips will most likely melt a little.  This is fine, they turn into glue and help to hold the bars together).  

Transfer oat mixture to an 8- or 9-inch square pan lined with parchment paper, and press mixture into the pan using a rubber spatula.  Then take another piece of parchment paper (or the foil you used to toast the almonds and oats), place on top, and push down HARD with your fingers.

Scatter remaining 2 tablespoons of chocolate chips over pressed granola mixture, then press them into the top using your fingers over a piece of parchment paper (or foil).  Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

Remove block of granola mixture from pan, then peel away from parchment paper.  Cut into 12-14 bars.  Store in refrigerator (because of flaxseed).
I'm telling you, these granola bars are seriously delicious!  And, while they do contain a fair amount of sugar, they are also packed with whole grains from the oats, fiber and Omega-3 fatty acids from the flaxseed, and flavonoids from the dark chocolate.  And at least you know exactly what's in them, and that they contain absolutely no preservatives, because you prepared them in your own kitchen. These are also very customizable, and you can really add whatever you want to them.  For example, I swapped out some of the oats from the original recipe in order to add in the flaxseed.  I've also used chopped up prunes instead of cranberries.  At some point I'd like to try using yogurt chips in place of chocolate chips.  Or maybe some chopped up dried mango instead of the cranberries.  The possibilities are endless!

Does this mean I'll never eat a packaged granola bar again?  No, absolutely not.  Some weeks I may not have enough time to make a batch of granola bars, and I'll have to rely on the pre-made ones instead.  Will I feel horribly guilty about it?  No way!  Eating intuitively means living in the gray, rather than prescribing to an all-or-nothing, black-or-white eating philosophy.  As much as possible, I try to make choices that honor my health while also providing satisfaction, but when I make choices for convenience or pure pleasure, that's okay too.