home.health.love

A balanced and easy approach to healthy living.


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For Passover: Healthy + Kid-friendly + Matzah-free Dishes

Those celebrating the holiday of Passover can rejoice: you’ve made it halfway through the holiday eating one food group–Matzah.

With a few days left, here are some snack and meal ideas to change it up.

Healthy 2-ingredient pancakes

Gosh I just love these pancakes, and I make them year-round. They are fluffy, sweet, yummy, and nutritious. Best of all, they’re made of two natural ingredients: bananas and eggs. There’s no reason to save these for breakfast: with protein, fiber, potassium, and other vitamins and minerals, these are great for lunch and dinner, too.

The recipe is simple: Mash 1 ripe banana and whisk two eggs. Mix eggs and banana together and fry away, just as you would any pancake. I sometimes add 1/4 tsp vanilla for flavor (and you can also add chocolate chips, or whatever you enjoy in your pancakes). Easy? Yes! By the way, they’re so sweet they don’t need a topping, but we enjoy adding honey and berries.

Fish (or eggs) in a boat

Again, a year-round favorite. This is basically a substitute for wraps and sandwiches. Wash a romaine leaf and fill it with tuna fish salad, egg salad, babaganoush, guacamole, or whatever your kids enjoy. That’s it. I usually cut off the leafier top part, because my kids enjoy the crunchiness from the bottom half of the leaf.

Cauliflower rice

These days, you can find riced cauliflower in a bag at Trader Joe’s or make it yourself using a food processor. Cauliflower rise is simply a cauliflower minced up into rice-sized morsels. A simple sauté in oil with onions, plus some salt and your favorite spices is all you need to make this yummy. Add herbs and a squeeze of lemon juice if you so choose. If you want a specific recipe, this one is simple and great.

Spaghetti squash

I totally convinced my kids that spaghetti squash was actually a form of spaghetti. This is yet another easy, healthy option. I cut a spaghetti squash in half, remove the seeds, drizzle on some oil, and roast at 425 degrees (flesh-side down) until tender (usually about 30-45 minutes). Remove from oven and scoop out the flesh, which will come out like spaghetti.

Then, all you gotta do is add tomato sauce like you would on pasta, spices to taste (I add garlic), and you can top with shredded mozzarella or Parmesan cheese (which you can melt for 30-60 seconds in the microwave. Done, nutritious, and yummy! If you want to get fancier and cheesier, here’s a riff on baked ziti using spaghetti squash!

Healthy chips

Healthy chips do exist. Don’t forget these year-round goodies. Kale chips (or try spinach chips–make them the same way you would kale chips) are awesome. Also, try to make chips with your favorite fruit, like these banana chips, which you can also do with strawberries or apples. The key with fruit chips is to keep the oven on a very low temperature, around 200 degrees, simulating a dehydrator. (Of course, if you have a dehydrator that is kosher for passover, use that instead!).


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5 Ways to Eat More Greens Without Even Trying

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for a decade, you’re probably aware that study after study show that leafy greens are all-around the healthiest foods we can eat. Eating these “powerhouse” veggies on a daily basis prevents disease, slows aging, and improves just about every bodily function.  

Even just a couple of servings (about a 1/2 cup each) per day can make a big difference. For instance, a recent study found that people who ate one to two servings of greens per day–such as collards, kale, and spinach–for about five years had the cognitive abilities of someone 11 years younger.

But, let’s be honest–many of us don’t always have the time to make a salad, and, frankly, we’re not always in the mood to sit down in front of a plate of greens (pass the pasta, please!). Luckily, there are many easy ways to incorporate greens into your favorite dishes 

To start, all you need is a fresh package of your favorite baby greens, preferably organic. They’re usually pre-washed and ready to eat. I recommend boxed organic baby spinach or baby kale because of their mild flavor. 

Tip 1: Serve Your Meal on a Bed of Greens

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My lunch recently: a bed of baby spinach topped with leftover roasted potatoes and onions, with chopped sardines.

Before serving your meal, whatever it is, grab a fistful of your leafy greens, layer them on your plate, and then top them with the food you’re planning to eat–an omelette, pasta, chicken salad, baked salmon, eggplant parmesan, whatever. You’ve just added one or two servings of greens to your diet within seconds. The flavors of your dish will transfer to your greens. If you want to so step up the flavor, you can always drizzle some salad dressing onto the greens before topping them with your food. (By the way, my favorite healthy dressing these days is Bragg’s Organic Vinaigrette Salad Dressing)

Tip 2: Add Greens to a Smoothie

Little boy drinking a green smoothie

 

If you stick to greens with a mild flavor–like baby kale or baby spinach–you can add a handful (or two) to your favorite smoothie without even tasting them. The easiest recipe for a smoothie is combining one banana, a large handful of frozen organic berries, a handful of greens, and liquid of your choice (water, almond milk, coconut water, etc.). Then blend. There you go, instant serving of greens. Play around with different fruits and different proportions to identify your favorite recipe. You’ll find tons of easy smoothie recipes online like this one. Bonus: This strategy is super kid-friendly, because you can’t taste the greens!

3. Make Pesto…Out of Kale (or Spinach)  

pasta al pesto di rucola su piatto

Seriously, you can make pesto with almost any kind of leafy green. And lord knows, pesto is good with EVERYTHING–chicken, fish, pasta, sandwiches, wraps, pizza, eggs. I found this awesome Kale Pesto recipe in O Magazine, and here’s another recipe for Spinach Pesto. You can make a big batch and freeze leftovers in an ice cube tray–just defrost when you’re ready to eat it.

4. Use Leaves Instead of Bread or Wraps

Collard Rolls

Photo source: Whole Foods Market

Instead of your typical sandwich, substitute a crunchy romaine leaf for bread. I like to cut of the droopier tops of the romaine leaf and fill the crunchier bottom half with tuna fish or salmon salad, egg salad, babaganoush, pesto, hummus, or any other dip I enjoy. You can also use hearty collard green leaves to make a wrap. The inside can be whatever you normally like inside a burrito, or try this collard wrap recipe. I love how avocado, sprouts, tomatoes, and creamy dressing taste when they’re wrapped up in a collard leaf. 

5. Garnish with Greens or Herbs

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Top an almost-ready soup, pasta, omelette, quinoa or other saucy dish with a handful of baby spinach, kale, or your favorite herbs. They will wilt but will stay fresh and bright green–full of live nutrients.

With these tips, you can start adding some of the healthiest foods to your diet with minimal pressure. 


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How *Not* to be Fooled By Nutrition Labels

Nutrition Labels

If you’re used to judging how healthy a food is simply by reading its nutrition label you may be surprised by what you find. Some highly processed breads and cereals, for example, appear to be healthy for you because they have lots of vitamins and minerals. As an example, let’s compare the nutrition label of Lucky Charms–a highly processed and synthetically enhanced cereal–to the label of a much less processed breakfast food, such as Bob’s Steel Cut Oats. Look at the images below–which looks more impressive?

Lots of vitamins and minerals in these Lucky Charms!

Bob’s Red Mill Steal Cut Oats…no vitamins, some minerals, but minimally processed. Steel cut oats still have their hull (outermost layer intact) and are not steamed and rolled.

Naturally,you may say to yourself, “the Lucky Charms are healthier and taste better, so it’s a no brainer—I’m buying them!” Right?

Not really. Highly processed foods aren’t always as impressive as the label may suggest–especially when compared to whole foods. “Processing destroys nutrients, and the more processing there is, the more destruction you get,” says Marion Nestle, author and professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University. Lucky Charms and its counterpart cereals (Fruit Pebbles, Honey Nut Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch…you know, all the ones your kids love) are fortified, which means that micro-nutrients are synthetically added. “Fortification adds back some nutrients, so overall you’re better off with a processed fortified food than a processed unfortified one. But a whole food is always going to be superior.” (I highly recommend you read this Wall Street Journal Article on fortified foods.)

Naturally occurring nutrients are always better for us than the synthetic version. They are better absorbed by our bodies, they include a whole variety of micronutrients that are not reflected on the nutrition label, and they will tend to have more protein and fiber. Just as food companies have never been able to re-create breast milk with sythentic formulas, so, too, can we not create fake foods that are as beneficial as the real thing.

So, next time you are comparing products side-by-side, take a look at the whole picture. If you don’t want to be fooled by the packaging, be sure to read the ingredients label along with the nutrition facts label, and consider the following:

  1. Does the ingredients list include colors, letters, and numbers? These are a sign that the product contains artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, monosodium glutamate, and other synthentic substances, that are designed by food companies to make us enjoy and crave their foods, but have questionable effects on our health, and certainly tend us toward obesity. If you want a more complete list, take a look at the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives“–the list includes ingredients that have been associated with serious health concerns. Print it out for your next shopping trip.
  2. What is the fiber and protein content? Whole grains will always have more fiber and protein than processed versions. In addition to being essential for body function, these nutrients are heart, gut, and brain-friendly, are filling, and stabilize our blood sugar–which means, less mood swings and less cravings. Ideally, you want products that contain at least 3g of fiber and protein (each), per serving.
  3. Do the words “fortified” or “enriched” appear in the ingredients list? Then you know the food is so processed, that the food company is trying to sell you a nutritionally empty food by adding in synthetic nutrients.
  4. Do you see the word “whole” next to the grains listed in the ingredients list? Whole grains are better than refined ones because they provide lasting energy and stabilize blood sugar. Ideally, you want to see “whole [name of grain]” or “brown rice” when you read the label. If the label says “wheat” or “multigrain,” some parts of the grain may be missing. “100% whole [grain]” is the best. Check out this handy chart for determining whether the grains in the product are really whole or processed.
  5. Are there hydrogenated oils or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the ingredients? HFSC is an unhealthy sugar that causes weight gain and has little nutritional value. Check the ingredients label for high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, sugar and sucrose, and try to limit the serving amount of sugars to 6g per serving on the nutrition label. Hydrogenated oils are trans fats that clog our arteries and can raise our risk for heart disease and high blood pressure. Check the ingredients list for the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated.”

Going back to our Lucky Charms vs. Steel Cut Oats comparison, we can used this checklist to draw the following conclusions for why the Oats are a better choice: They have more than twice the amount of fiber and over three times the amount of protein per serving. They are made of whole, unprocessed grains. Lucky Charms may have some whole grains in them, but they are full of high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, and probably all of the micronutrients are synthetically added. Bob’s has 10% Daily Value of  iron and 2% of calcium, naturally. These numbers may seem low, but in the whole, original form, nutrients are better absorbed and produce a better effect in our bodies than do the fake ones.

This may seem like a long check list, but after some time it will become second nature. You will find that ten seconds is enough to scan both the nutrition and ingredients labels to make a good choice for you and your family.


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Why You and Your Kids Should Eat Less Rice

riso bianco chicco lungo

Back in 2013, I wrote a post on the relatively high levels of arsenic found in rice. Consumer Reports had just published a study that found “worrisome levels” of this carcinogenic toxin in rice products, including many baby foods. I was shocked to learn that many foods contain a higher quantity of arsenic than is legally permitted in drinking water. Children are disproportionately vulnerable to exposure–because of their low body weight, a particular quantity of arsenic impacts them much more than it would an adult. Gluten-avoiders, too, are at risk, since so many gluten-free products contain rice.

Though state and federal agencies regulate the amount of arsenic in water, there are no set limits for foods. According to Consumer Reports, the FDA claims that an “ongoing assessment of arsenic in rice remains a priority for the agency.”

Consumer Reports has now issued an updated report based on data (provided by the FDA) concerning the inorganic arsenic content of 656 processed rice-containing products. The great thing about this new report: it contains a point system that can help you determine how many servings of rice and rice products are safe to consume on a weekly basis. Even better, the recommendations are made separately for children and adults.

Below are the “New Rice Rules,” which assign a point value to different rice-based foods. Consumer Reports recommends no more than 7 points per week, and the “risk analysis is based on weight, so a serving of any food will give children more points than adults.” I highly recommend reading the entire updated report here, and watching their brief video summarizing the issues.

In addition to following these guidelines, there are a few ways to further minimize your exposure to arsenic when eating rice:

  • Wash and cook rice in lots of water! Wash and pre-soak rice in water, use extra water when cooking (Consumer Reports recommends 6 cups water per one cup rice), and drain excess water at the end. Unfortunately, this process washes out some of the nutrients from the rice, but it reduces about 30% of the arsenic.
  • Origin matters; Organic does not. Rice grown in CA has the least arsenic; rice from Texas has the most. Try buying imported jasmine and basmati rice from India and Pakistan, as these tend to have lower levels or arsenic. The 2012 Consumer Reports study listed the origins of the rice samples it tested, so you can use this table as a guide when purchasing rice.
  • White rice, thought not as healthy, tends to have less arsenic than brown or wild because arsenic accumulates in the outer layers. These layers are removed when making white rice.

Given these findings, its best to limit rice intake as much as reasonably possible. In my next post, I’ll provide lots of great alternatives to rice and rice products. These are especially relevant for gluten avoiders, since most gluten-free products contain rice.

Stay tuned!


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Let your Kids have their Candy and Eat it, too

Cute dog Trick-or-treating

It’s hard to separate Halloween from the experience of trick or treating and collecting loads of candy. That’s why I say: let your kids eat their candy, with some minimal limits. Yes, in my ideal world, my kids would never be exposed to that junk, especially in those quantities, but this is the real world, so I adjust my expectations.

The healthy-living approach I’ve advocated on this blog, is one of balance. I keep my kids as healthy as possible in the house, so that when we indulge, we can go all out and enjoy! Halloween is one of the hardest days on the calendar to wage the good fight against food coloring, refined sugars, corn syrup, GMOs, and all those other lovely ingredients–if I don’t let my kids eat treats, they are going to feel deprived, and feeling deprived is exactly what my healthy-living philosophy is meant to avoid. So on holidays like Halloween–when highly processed and colored chemicals, I mean, food, are central to the celebration, I let my kids enjoy (almost) like everyone else.

But, I do set some boundaries and follow some sneaky strategies to ensuring that when they indulge, they won’t indulge too much:

  • Depending on the time you go trick or treating, make sure to feed your kids a healthy early dinner or filling snack beforehand. If they get full before trick or treating, they are bound to eat less. And, as the parent, you’ll feel better knowing they actually consumed some nutrients before shoving pretend food into their bodies. Be strict about this early dinner/snack: give your kids the healthiest thing they are willing to eat (veggies, anyone?) and tell them, “we’ll only head out once you’ve finished your meal/snack.”
  • Avoid grazing while trick or treating. If your kids are noshing on their goodies while walking from house to house, they’re bound to eat a lot of it, without even realizing or feeling satisfied. When we eat distractedly, our bodies don’t register satisfaction. So tell your kids, “Let’s hold off eating our candy until we get home…and then we will have a candy party!”
  • Once home, have your kids pick out X number of candies to eat that evening. Choose the number that works for you. If it’s 1 or 2, they’re bound to be upset. I’d allow between 3 and 5, which is plenty of candy to eat in one sitting. The point is to let them indulge, but set a limit. The truth is, that many kids will stop eating on their own after that amount, anyway.
  • What to do with the remaining piles of candy? Get it out of the house–out of sight, out of mind–and pander to your kids’ do-gooder instincts (they do have those, right?). Tell your child that it’s important to share their goodies with kids who are less fortunate, and that you will be taking the rest of the candy to kids in hospitals or shelters (or name your favorite kids’ charity). Seriously, if you don’t have time to drop the candy off at a local institution that helps kids, then just bring it to work and share around the office: by taking that crap out of the house, you’re donating to your own charity: mykidshealth.org.
  • If you face too much resistance, let them choose 5 to 10 candies that they are allowed to eat, one per day, over the following weeks as a reward for doing a chore or eating a healthy meal. Let your candy work for you! In my house, special treats are given out freely only on rare occasions. Usually, I use dessert to my advantage by giving it to my kids only after they’ve finished a healthy meal, cleaned up, or completed another task that I want done.

So, there you have it: done and done! Let your kids enjoy their candy within very reasonable limits, no one feels deprived, and you just helped your kids do a good deed. Does life get any better than a win-win for all?

Let me know how it goes!

P.S. By the way, this approach can be followed if your kids collect candy after birthday parties and other holidays, Purim and Easter!


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Sneaky Little Greens

 

Even when I don’t have the time or energy to put together a healthy home-cooked meal, I still try to find ways to “health-ify” the food I am serving. One great trick my mom taught me is to use herbs for instant health-ification!

Fresh herbs contain lots of vitamins, antioxidants and minerals. They promote heart health, and protect against cancer and arthritis with their anti-inflammatory properties. Plus, they are cheap, easy to use, and easy to hide in a variety of foods because they are so small. Even if you are using a tablespoon here, a tablespoon there, you will be making a difference in a your family’s health.  Over the course of the week(s) the amounts will add up.  

The best way to use herbs is without cooking them first, for maximum nutritional value. If your family is not used to eating herbs, starting with parsley and/or dill is a good idea because flavor is more mild than other types, and their leaves are nice and soft–easy to eat in raw form. Other herbs to try with stronger flavors are basil, oregano, and sage. Herbs like thyme and rosemary have strong flavors and tough leaves–these are great for cooking and roasting.

Here are some ideas of how to add fresh, raw herbs to a variety of common foods, both health and not-so-healthy:

  • Making sandwiches? Add herbs to egg, tuna, or chicken salad. Stick some into a grilled cheese sandwich or into any meat sandwich. Dill and parsley are great for this. Chop them finely or just stick whole leaves right into the sandwich. This is a great way to add a nutritional punch to your kids’ lunches.
  • Garnish pizza or chicken or eggplant parmesan with basil, oregano, or other herb of your choice
  • Taco night? When I make tacos for my family, I stick herbs into the middle of the taco. They get lost in the guacamole and other fillings, so my daughter doesn’t even realize she’s eating them.
  • Garnish any soup you make with herbs. Stick them right on on top or mix it in. It’s best to garnish right before you serve the soup so the greens don’t cook in the heat.
  • Sprinkle minced basil or oregano onto any pasta. Mix it into sauce or cheese to hide.
  • Mix fresh herbs into a starchy side dish, like rice, quinoa, or potatoes, right before serving.

Try buying one bunch of herbs and using it up over the course of the week…then try out a different herb the next week. You will get into the habit in no time.

Happy sneaking!


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It’s All about Balance

free directoriesHey there folks! I took a not-so-brief hiatus to have a (second) baby, move my family across the country, and finished my doctoral dissertation. No biggie, right? Now that those things are done, I am excited to be back in the blogosphere!

This is more of a big-picture post. As I get back into writing, I want to ground myself in my vision for this blog: making healthy choices, yet maintaining balance in our lives.

In a crazy world like ours, how do we do this??? We are all constantly barraged with new information on what we should and shouldn’t do for out health. The dizzying array of data gets my head spinning. Whether you are looking only after your own health or that of others, it’s so hard to know what to do.

Here is how I handle the dilemma of living healthy in a confusing and sometimes overwhelming environment. 

Though information can be overwhelming, I still believe that knowledge is power. I do my research and use tools (like EWG’s Skindeep database and Dirty Dozen list) to help me make determinations about what to buy for my family. I’ve  also developed a network of like-minded friends that I turn to. You can learn so much from people in the same position as you, even if you are not credentialed experts.

At some point, though, I have to stop asking questions and make a decision. In addition to weighing different opinions, I consider whether the “right” thing to do is going to cause me any significant hardship. Sometimes following the healthiest or safest path is really expensive (like buying only organic food) or very difficult (like making my own fresh wheat grass shot every morning). In these scenarios, I remind myself that the stress and anxiety caused by making the healthiest choice may offset any benefits I’ve gained.

That is why, for me, healthy living is all about MAKING TRADE-OFF’s, weighing pros and cons. The hope is that if you make the right decision for your family most of the time, the times you choose differently won’t veer you too far off the healthy-living track.

Let me share two examples from my own life where I deliberately cho0se the not-as-healthy option in exchange for less stress and more peace.

Example 1: I let my children eat (almost) whatever they want at school, social events, and other peoples’ homes. My policy on junk food is: In the home we eat healthy, but outside the home we can enjoy whatever treats are offered so we don’t feel deprived. This way, 80% or more of the time, my kids eat well; even if they eat junk when we are out, I know they will get the proper nutritional balance overall. By letting go of eating healthy 100% of the time, I reduce fights, tantrums, guilt, and stress. We all have a better time.

Example 2: I often make smoothies, but use powdered greens instead of the fresh version. In an ideal world, I’d have the time and energy to make a fresh green juice every morning. I know it’s the best way to get a huge nutritional powerhouse of a meal, but I don’t have the time or energy these days to wash and cut the greens, make the juice each morning, and then spend time washing the machine. I also don’t like the taste of green drinks. The next best thing to a green drink is a smoothie where you sneak the fresh greens in. Sometimes I do this. But when I don’t have the time or the desire, I use a green powder as a substitute, such as this really yummy one (in orange popsicle flavor!), and I will even add a protein powder to fill me up. I may not be getting my nutrition in the ideal package (fresh, raw greens), but I still get a nice amount and I enjoy it more this way.

In conclusion:

By letting go of the ideal healthy option, I can still be healthy but keep my sanity and peace.

We can only do our best, and chances are, our best is great enough.