Category Archives: Blog

Chocolate Chip Seed Balls

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In my hunt for more snack foods, I have always been intrigued by all the ball recipes I see on the web.  I have posted a few of my own recipes over the last year. ( Check these balls out and these are super yummy too.)  I like to try to make all my balls bursting with flavor while still including lots of amazing, energy producing ingredients.  My latest ball incantation meets all these requirements.

IMG_1188I love that these balls include energy producing, fiber filled Bob’s Red Mill Oats , Omega-3 rich Raw Chia Seeds and Hemp Hearts  and Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini Chips- so much goodness in such a small little bite!   These are such a great, quick snack to have on hand for a burst of energy any time.  They can even be used as a quick grab and go breakfast.

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Here are all the healthy ingredients mixed up and ready to head into the fridge to help them stick together.  Putting them in the fridge for about 30 minutes is key to helping them hold together.  I definitely advised making sure you don’t skip this step!!

IMG_0238 I found it was easiest to squeeze the dough into balls instead of trying to roll them.  They don’t look too pretty but they sure taste good.

Chocolate Chip Seed Balls

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of dry oatmeal
  • 1/2 cup coconut flakes, unsweetened
  • 1/2 cup of hemp seeds
  • 1/4 cup of chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup of peanut butter or other nut butter of choice
  • 1/2 cup of ground chia seeds
  • 1/3 cup of maple syrup
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • 1-3 tsp of almond milk

Instructions

  1. Put peanut butter and maple syrup in a small pot on the stove.
  2. Slowly heat, stirring to combine .
  3. While peanut butter heating on stove, add oats,coconut, seeds, chocolate chips and vanilla to a large bowl.
  4. When peanut butter and syrup combined, add to dry mixture.
  5. Stir to combine.
  6. Add almond milk as need to make sure dough is wet enough to stick together.
  7. Once well combined, chill in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  8. After 30 minutes, remove from fridge and roll into balls.
  9. Enjoy!
  10. Store leftovers in airtight container in the fridge.
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FAVES for Vibrant Health

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I am participating in some local health fairs in the near future and have been thinking about a way to make a down and dirty guide for vibrant health that I could hand out.  I thought about the most important components of healthy living and then played with the wording until I came up with a catchy idea to share this information.  Now since I have absolutely no talent in the graphic arts department, I hired Casey at KCK Creative Market to make me this beautiful graphic.  I LOVE it and cannot wait to share it with all the health fair participants.  Here are my ideas about the most important components of vibrant health.

Focus on Healthy Fats:  Research has repeatedly demonstrated that fat is necessary to our health, particularly omega 3 fatty acids.  Omega -3′s are an essential fatty acid, meaning our body cannot produce them on its own.  These inflammation fighting fats must be obtained from our diet.  Two crucial ones, EPA and DHA, are primarily found in certain fish and pasture raised beef. ALA, another omega-3 fatty acid which can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds.  The benefits of omega-3s are well documented in the scientific literature.  Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet contains entirely too many Omega-6 fats from vegetable oils and processed foods.  We want to have a 1:1 balance of omega-3’s to omega-6’s.  Eating 2 deck of card sized servings of fatty fish like salmon, lake trout, herring or mackerel a week should give you all the omega-3’s you need.  Also, trans-fats like those found in processed foods should be avoided at all costs.

Avoid Processed Foods:   Processed foods include anything that comes in a package or has been altered from its natural state.  Processed foods often contain harmful chemicals our bodies don’t recognize,   rancid, inflammation producing vegetable oils and trans fats .  Read the labels on your food, if you see an ingredient you don’t recognize, return it to the store shelf.

Vegetables and Fruits:  Fill your plate with as many vibrantly hued fruits and vegetables as you can.  These nutritional powerhouses offer your body a host of benefits including cancer fighting antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, fiber and a plethora of health promoting phytonutrients.  A good rule of thumb is to try to fill at least half of your plate with fruit and vegetables at each meal.  In particular, leafy greens pack a powerful nutritional punch.

Eat Mindfully:  Mindful eating is eating with attention to the food you are putting in your mouth.  It allows you to be fully present in the experience of eating.  It requires you to pay attention to the sight, sound, texture, flavors and taste of your food.  Put aside the phones, computers, newspapers and TV’s so you can listen to the cues your body is providing about satiety, making it more likely you will stop eating before you become over full.

Sit less:  Dr. Mike Lara asks his patients to think about sitting less instead of exercising more.  An important distinction because for many, the idea of exercise seems like a daunting task but most everyone can think about sitting less.  The trick is to avoid staying stationary for long periods of time.  Moving around activates the large muscle groups in your legs and back helping burn calories and keep blood sugar in balance.  Scientists are now recommending you try to stand up and move around every thirty minutes throughout the day.

What do you think makes for vibrant health?

Added to Live it Up blog hop.

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Valentine’s Day Rich Chocolate Mousse

IMG_1172In my family, we are usually not big celebrators of Valentine’s Day but I found these really cute heart shaped ramekins at the Goodwill and  felt like I couldn’t let them go to waste.  I experimented high and low looking for a tasty, but healthy chocolaty dessert to fill those adorable hearts. After I tried a chia recipe that my husband said tasted “leafy” and my chocolate loving son refused to eat, I knew my search was not over.  Then I remembered that while visiting Bend, Oregon in June, I had tasted a chocolate avocado pudding.  After my failed chia attempt and a few other experiments that will go unmentioned, I decided to try to recreate the avocado experience.

After all my failed attempts, this pudding mousse concoction came out way better than I had hoped- a little sweet, super creamy and VERY chocolaty!  I used Navitas Naturals Organic Raw Cacao Powder to give it that amazing chocolate flavor.  I love this product and use it almost every day in my Nature’s Path Qi’a Chia Buckwheat and Hemp Cereal  along with a scoop of Thorne MediPro Vegan Shake- such a yummy and filling breakfast!  But I digress!

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The bulk of this mousse is avocado.  I love avocados because they are a particularly rich source for potassium, Vitamin E, folate, Vitamin K, Copper and Vitamin C.  (Read more about all the benefits of avocados here). I love this mousse because it was so easy- just a few whirls of all the healthy ingredients in my NutriBullet  and a few hours in the fridge and then it was ready to be devoured.

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Valentine’s Day Rich Chocolate Mousse

Ingredients

  • 16 Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
  • 3 ripe avocados
  • 1 cup of unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 cup of cacao
  • 1/4 cup of maple syrup
  • 1 tbs of coconut oil
  • 1 tsp of vanilla
  • pinch of sea salt

Instructions

  1. Soak the dates in warm water until soft- 5-10 minutes. Drain.
  2. Put all ingredients in the blender or nutribullet and blend until smooth and creamy.
  3. Place in the fridge until well chilled.
  4. Garnish with raspberries or other fruit or serve plain.
  5. Enjoy!
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Enjoy this rich and creamy dessert!

Recipe taken from Eating Well Magazine.

Avocado picture from Anna under Creative Commons license.

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13 Foods for a Healthy Heart

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The American Heart Association states “Heart disease – also called coronary heart disease – is a simple term used to describe several problems related to plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. As the plaque builds up, the arteries narrow, making it more difficult for blood to flow and creating a risk for heart attack or stroke.”  Not only are one in every 4 deaths in the US related to heart disease but heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US.  Heart disease is a huge problem for the United States population.  Fortunately, there are many steps related to diet and lifestyle that can positively impact your heart health.

Foods to Eat to Reduce Heart Disease

Salmon:  The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two  times a week.  A standard serving is 3.5 oz, about the size of a deck of cards . Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids.  Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats, which can lead to sudden death.  Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease triglyceride levels, slow growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and can slightly lower blood pressure.

Blueberries:  All berries are excellent choices for overall health because they are densely packed with a variety of potent phytochemicals and fiber without being high in sugar.  Blueberries and strawberries seem to be particularly good at boosting heart health by decreasing plaque build-up in the circulatory system.  Three or more servings of a half a cup of blueberries or strawberries each week is all that is required to start seeing heart benefits.

Oatmeal:  Oats contain a powerful cholesterol fighting fiber known as beta-glucan. Many studies have proven the beneficial effects of this special fiber on cholesterol levels. Studies show that consuming just 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (roughly the amount found in one bowl of oatmeal) typically lowers total cholesterol by 8-23%. This cholesterol lowering effect is highly significant since each 1% drop in serum cholesterol translates to a 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease.

Dark chocolate:  Dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa or higher, contains flavonoids, powerful anti-oxidants which impact vascular health, by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot.

Citrus:  Recent research has shown that women eating a diet rich in citrus fruit enjoy a decreased risk of stroke.  Citrus fruits are also a valuable source of vitamin C, which has been linked with a lower risk of heart disease. Remember, grapefruit products may interfere with the action of the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins.

Tomatoes:  Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, beta-carotene, folate, potassium, vitamin C, flavonoids, and vitamin E.  These vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants have a profound impact on heart health including the reduction of LDL (bad) cholesterol, homocysteine, platelet aggregation, and blood pressure.

Nuts:  All nuts are about equal in terms of calories per ounce, and in moderation, are all healthy additions to any diet.  Be sure to eat nuts raw or dry roasted to avoid the unhealthy oils sometimes used for roasting.  Walnuts, considered the best nut for heart health, have high amounts of alpha linoleic acid (ALA). Research has suggested that ALA may help heart arrhythmias, and a 2006 Spanish study suggested that eating as few as 8 walnuts a day were as effective as olive oil at reducing inflammation and oxidation in the arteries after eating a high fat meal.

Legumes:  Lentils, black beans, black- eyed peas and kidney beans are four of the best beans to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.  They are a fiber filled addition to your diet.  Long term studies have found their high fiber content lowers cholesterol and triglyceride (blood fat) levels.  Try to eat about 3-4 cups of beans a week.

Extra virgin olive oil:  Olive oil is loaded with anti-oxidants that help fight heart disease. Studies have shown it is helpful in the reduction of LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation.  It also helps reduce unwanted blood clotting, reducing the risk of stroke.  Be sure to buy cold pressed extra virgin olive oil to get the most benefit.

Red wine: Moderate consumption of alcohol (1-2 drinks a day) has been associated with a decreased risk of heart attack and stroke.  Red wine appears to offer more benefit than other forms of alcohol due to its high concentration of flavonoids and resveratrol, which may play an active role in limiting the start and progression of atherosclerosis.

Leafy Greens:  Leafy green vegetables are rich in lutein which has been associated with a decreased risk of artery thickening.  Leafy greens also contain potassium, which helps manage blood-pressure levels.

Flax or chia seeds:  Flaxseeds contains lignans, which are chemical compounds that carry antioxidants and enzymes that have many benefits. Flax is also a good source of a type of soluble fiber that helps maintain ideal cholesterol levels.  Chia seeds are also loaded with fiber and provide healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  Chia and flax seeds are very high in the Omega-3 fatty acid ALA. However, humans are not good at converting this into DHA, the most important Omega-3 fatty acid.

Avocado:  Avocados contain monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to help lower our risk of heart disease.  They are also rich in phytosterols like beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol which decrease inflammation in the body.

Other Factors to Consider in Heart Health

Exercise:  The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week for overall heart health.  For people with concerns about high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, they recommend 40 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise 3-4 times a week.  Exercise includes anything that gets your body moving and burns calories.  Choose an activity you like and stick to it!

Decrease Salt Consumption:  In some people, sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body,  placing an added burden on the heart.  The American Heart Association recommends about 1500 mgs a day of salt but most people eating a Standard American Diet consume about 3400 mgs a day.  Eating a diet low in packaged foods will help you decrease your sodium intake.

Floss Your Teeth:  Recent research has demonstrated a possible link between periodontal disease and  heart disease.  In a new study in which researchers infected mice with four different types of bacteria associated with gum disease, the mice had increased levels of systemic inflammation and cholesterol.

Don’t smoke:  People who smoke are two to four times more likely to get heart disease.  The nicotine in cigarettes raises your blood pressure, damages blood vessels, raises your heart rate, increase your risk of blood clots and decreases the amount of oxygen that gets to your heart.  All of these factors contribute to heart disease.

Sleep:  In a recent study, people sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 10 hours a night were found to have a higher prevalence of coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes, in addition to obesity and frequent mental stress, compared to “optimal sleepers” who slept an average of seven to nine hours.  The study speculates that quality of sleep is just as important as quantity.

Photo by coletree under the Creative Commons license.

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Chocolate Chip Quinoa Snack Bars

IMG_1143In my never ending quest for new snack options for my boys, I have tried some strange combinations.  It can be so hard to find something they like that is not loaded with sugar or additives.  Making my own snacks can be a good option but I don’t always have the time for complicated recipes.  I was so happy when I saw this recipe for Quinoa Bars from My Whole Foods Life .  It was easy and had very few but yummy ingredients.  I love quinoa- every cup has 8 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber and is a good source of manganese, magnesium, folate, phosphorous and B vitamins.  It is a gluten free seed with some serious nutrition!  I had never tried quinoa flakes before so was curious to see what they were like.  I bought Ancient Harvest Quinoa Flakes.  They were so nutty and yummy that I used them again this am in some chia seed pudding.  I could see a lot of uses for them!

I wanted to make a few tweaks to the recipe but pretty much left it as it was designed.  I decided to add some chocolate chips to these bars to entice my boys to eat them.  I really like Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips because they taste like regular chocolate chips but are gluten, soy and dairy free- so yummy!  Finally, I had a weird assortment of nut butters that I cobbled together because I didn’t have much of any particular type.  I used  Mara Natha All Natural Roasted Almond Butter, Maranatha Cashew Butter and a tiny bit of a local pumpkin seed butter.

The recipe from My Whole Foods Life was for raw bars but I wanted to try to bake them to see if I could get them to hold together better.  (I often find my raw bars tend to be crumbly.)  I wasn’t sure if it would help but decided to give it a shot.

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Chocolate Chip Quinoa Snack Bars

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 cups quinoa flakes
  • 1 heaping cup almond butter (I used a combination of almond, cashew and pumpkin)
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup (you could substitute honey)
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup of chocolate chips
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place quinoa flakes in bowl with cinnamon, and salt.
  3. Heat nut butters, syrup, coconut oil and vanilla over low fire until well combined.
  4. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients.
  5. Add chocolate chips. They will melt if you don't allow the dough to cool. I like them melted so didn't cool the dough.
  6. Spread dough in 8X8 parchment lined pan.
  7. Press down firmly to compress the dough.
  8. Place in oven for 20-25 minutes depending on your oven.
  9. Allow to cool and then enjoy.
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Rest and Digest for Health

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I am so happy to have Kim Magraw, LMT, from Concordia Wellness, share his ideas about the importance of balance in your life.

Balance is a key to health.  We have balancing mechanisms for digestion, immunity, growth, and to keep us from toppling on our way down the stairs.  One of our most fundamental balancing mechanisms is the dyad known as sympathetic and parasympathetic.  These are the divisions of the autonomic – or involuntary – nervous system that determine whether we are ready to act quickly and decisively in the face of threats and opportunities (sympathetic nervous system), or relax, digest, and recover from bouts of activity (parasympathetic nervous system).

A glance at the masses hurriedly driving to and fro, from one chore to another, tells us that the sympathetic state is the dominant state for most of us.  We run from one activity to the next, getting too little sleep, with anxiety spilling over the brim.

To maintain health and happiness over the long term we must also spend time in the parasympathetic state, which is also known as the “rest and digest” state because it activates digestion and is characterized by lower blood pressure and slower heart rate.  We can have a designer workout routine and eat only the best foods available, but if we’re stressed to the max we won’t maximize their benefits, and ultimately the stress will catch up with us.  When we allow the parasympathetic nervous system to enter our lives more fully we invite greater bodily health and wellbeing.  A surprising array of benefits arises such as creativity, calm, solutions to sticky problems, and perspective.

Once we’ve got our minds set, it’s quite simple to dwell more in the parasympathetic state.  For example, during your meals chew your food fully and eat mindfully.  Allow your body to really taste the flavors, feel the textures, and absorb the nutrients in your food.  You might also get a massage, soak in a warm bath, engage in focused breathing exercises, or meditate.  Spend quality time with your pet (put down that mobile device and experience the world with your pet).  Take a slow walk in nature or around your block simply absorbing the sights, sounds, smells, and the feeling of the ground beneath your feet.  Read a “mindless” book or do some artwork with no intent other than to see what comes out.

Finally, as we seek more balance, let us be forgiving of ourselves.  Indeed, forgiveness is another wonderful way to free ourselves from the fight-or-flight vortex.  Balance requires frequent correction, so let us correct with empathy, curiosity, and humor.

Photos from Kool Cats Photography under the Creative Commons license.  Text added by me.

 

 

 

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Love Your Liver in the New Year

8981828144_66cb4568a1_kAfter the holiday season of eating and partying with friends and family, a return to healthy eating is probably just what the doctor ordered!  The extra alcohol, sugar and processed foods consumed during this time of year leaves many of us feeling tired, run down, bloated and out of sorts.  It also seriously taxes our livers, our main organ of detoxification.  Our liver filters our blood, regulates blood sugar and cholesterol, produces bile to breakdown fat and stores iron, glucose for energy and Vitamins A, D, K and B12.  Adding liver supporting foods at this time of the year can help your body recover from all of the holiday fun.  Some suggestions for beneficial liver foods include:

  • Beets:  The fiber in beets increases the production of antioxidant enzymes in the liver, helping the body to eliminate bile and other toxic substances.  The phyto nutrient, betalain, found in beets, provides anti- inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
  • Cruciferous vegetables:  Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage are high in antioxidant properties.  These vegetables have strong anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits.
  • Lentil and beans:  These nutritional powerhouses provide fiber to keep your bowels moving and help stabilize your blood sugar.  Regular elimination is important because it removes toxins and waste from the body.  Ideally, you will poop 1-3 times a day.  If you are not pooping daily, your body begins to reabsorb all the waste and toxins in the poop, forcing your liver to reprocess these substances.  This increases the liver’s work load.
  • Warming spices:  Warming spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, fennel, cumin and ginger have amazing anti-inflammatory properties, make food taste better, increase the warming properties of foods, help our bodies digest fat and enhance the body’s ability to detox.
  • Bitter greens:  Whether consumed as a tea, eaten in a salad or sauteed over heat, greens such as dandelion, mustard, collards, endive and beet greens help activate the production of bile, necessary for fat digestion.   Greens contain high levels of sulfur, which supports your liver in its detoxification process, signaling it to process free radicals and other toxic chemicals.

Now that the holiday festivities are over, adding these foods to your diet will give your liver a little love so you can enjoy a healthy and vibrant 2015.

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Chocolate Apricot Seed Balls

Balls all ready for snacking.

Balls all ready for snacking.

As I continue on my real foods journey, I find one of the aspects I struggle the most with is finding good quality, quick snacks.  My kids are still stuck in the “it has to be in a box to qualify for a snack” mode.  It is incredibly disheartening to go to the store, read package labels and realize how much crap is in the food marketed to kids!  Even food under the “health halo” of  gluten free or organic is often loaded with sugar listed in different forms to disguise how much sugar is actually lurking.  IT DRIVES ME CRAZY!

I was recently wandering around the internet looking for new snack ideas when I stumble upon My Darling Lemon Thyme’ s recipe for Raw Apricot, Dark Chocolate and  Coconut  Bites .  These sounded amazingly yummy to me but I wondered about tweaking them a little bit to add some protein.  I am incredibly obsessed with chia and hemp seeds right now so I immediately thought about incorporating them.

I am use to using dates in many of my raw snacks so I was intrigued with the idea of trying apricots for a different taste.  I try to find unsulfured apricots because the preservatives tend to give me a headache and upset my stomach.  I bought  Dried APRICOTS here.  I know they look discolored and a little unappetizing but I promise they taste just as good as the sulfured ones! I eat Hemp Hearts  and Organic Raw Chia Seeds every day for breakfast so they were a natural addition to these balls.

Ingredients.

Ingredients.

Into the food processor everything went.

IMG_1106It was important to keep grinding and grinding to break down the apricots and to get a paste to form.  Be sure to scrape down the sides of the food processor as needed.  Gradually adding a little water also really helped the balls hold together.  Checkout all that seedy goodness in the photo down below.

Balls before going into the freezer.

Balls before going into the freezer.

I know these are not the most visually appealing snacks but they definitely taste better than they look!  The raw chocolate on these balls is so yummy and not too sweet!  It is amazing combined with the orange flavor from the zest.

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Chocolate Apricot Seed Balls

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups unsulfered apricots
  • 3/4 cup of coconut
  • 1/4 cup of chia seeds
  • 2 tbs of hemp seeds
  • 1 tbs of orange zest
  • 11/2 tbs of melted coconut oil
  • For Raw Chocolate
  • 3 tbs of melted coconut oil
  • 3 tbs of cacao powder
  • 2 tbs of maple syrup
  • pinch of sea salt

Instructions

  1. Place apricots, coconut, seeds, zest and 1 1/2 tbs of oil in the food processor.
  2. Grind until a paste forms and mixture holds together when rolled into a ball.
  3. (I added a little warm water to help this process along.)
  4. Roll into balls.
  5. Place balls in freezer for 10-15 minutes to firm up.
  6. While balls are freezing, mix ingredients for raw chocolate together.
  7. Remove balls from freezer and roll in the chocolate.
  8. (You can completely cover the balls or cover only half of them depending on your taste.)
  9. Enjoy immediately or store in fridge for later snacking.
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These balls turned out super yummy and I have been snacking on one or two of them a day for the last few days. Even though they are small, I find they give me sustained energy.   The boys also declared them a winner- which is great, but then I have to share them!  I would love to have readers share any of their snack ideas.

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Tips to Survive a Holiday Party

Holiday Party Treats.

Holiday Party Treats.

The Holiday season is upon us and for many of us with it comes parties, alcohol and a departure from our normal eating habits!  Why is it when it is on a beautiful tray, on a table filled with other treat laden beautiful trays does food I would never consider eating suddenly sound good?  (And if I have had a glass of wine, it doesn’t even have to be on a beautiful tray!)  Tonight, I am headed to my first Holiday party of the year and these are my ideas to avoid the usual mindless munching.

  • Eat before I go:  I am going to have a small, protein filled snack about an hour before I have to  leave for the party.  The protein will keep me full longer and keep me from reaching for high calorie foods just because I am starving.
  • Check out all options before filling my plate:  Before I take a plate, I am going to look at all the food options in the room and decide which ones will be the best choices.  This does not mean I will not have any “treats” but that I am going to decide which ones are really “special” and are worth the indulgence.  (Because really, what are the holidays without some “treats”!)
  • I am going to fill my plate with healthy choices:  I plan to fill my plate with as many fruits,  vegetables and other  nutrient dense food like shrimp as I can.  I plan to skip the dips, cheeses, fried foods and other foods with a high calorie to nutrient ratio.  If my plate is full of nutrient dense food, there is less room for food that doesn’t nourish.
  • Alternate water with alcohol:  Between each glass of wine or cocktail that I drink, I plan to have a glass of water.  This will keep me hydrated.  Being hydrated slows down the consumption of alcohol,  decreases the likelihood of a hangover and helps me feel full longer.
  • Bring a healthy appetizer to share:  I plan to bring a healthy appetizer to share.  This will be my contribution to the party and gives me something I know that I want to eat.

These are my suggestions for having a sane and healthy Holiday party season.  I would love to hear about yours.

Photo by Oakley Originals under Creative Commons.

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Help for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder

Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the “Winter Blues” is thought to be a  subset of Major Depressive Disorder in which a person experiences a decreased mood related to the change in seasons.  SAD begins and ends at about the same time every year. Most people with SAD begin experiencing symptoms in the fall which continue into the winter months.  People who suffer from SAD often report a decrease in energy and increased feelings of moodiness. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer, often leading to different symptoms than those of winter SAD.  In both types, SAD depressions are usually mild to moderate, but can occasionally be more severe. Treatment needs to be appropriate to the severity of the condition for each individual. Personal safety should be the first consideration in the assessment of all depression, as suicide or self harm can be a risk for people experiencing more severe depressive symptoms.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

In both summer and winter SAD, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.  Because SAD is thought to be a possible type of major depression, people experiencing SAD will often exhibit symptoms of major depression such as:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

People experiencing SAD in the winter usually report some of the symptoms below:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

People with summer SAD often exhibit a different set of symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Agitation or anxiety

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

Currently, the exact cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is unknown.  However, scientists believe it could be related to the decrease in sunlight we experience in the winter months.   In fact, people who live in the Northern climates which experience shorter days in the winter are more likely to suffer from SAD. The decrease in sunlight leads to a disruption in melatonin and serotonin, two brain chemicals which affect mood.  Other theories hold the decreased sunlight is responsible for a Vitamin D deficiency.  Currently, more research is needs.   Fortunately, effective treatments do exist for SAD.

Treatment:

  • Light Therapy:  Light therapy seems to be the most effective treatment for the Winter Blues.  Light therapy is obtained by sitting in front of a light box on a daily basis.  Light boxes or “happy lights” can be purchased for between $100-$200 and work by mimicking the patterns of summer light.  People experiencing SAD generally spend between 20-90 minutes a day sitting about 1-3 feet in front of the box with their eyes open.  Light therapy seems to be most effective if done in the morning hours.
  • Try to get outside every day.  Even if it is just for a few minutes, exposure to natural sunlight does seem to help alleviate SAD.  Morning sun seems to be best.
  • Exercise:  Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Not only does being fit make you feel better about yourself, it can also lead to a release of endorphins which will lift your mood.  Exercise outside is best but just moving your body in any way that is comfortable for you is important.
  • Fill Your Living Spaces with Natural Light:  Open your curtains and shutters.  Cut branches away from your windows.  Allow as much natural sunlight as possible into your home and workplace.

Nutritional Interventions:

  • Vitamin D:  Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because our body needs exposure to sunlight for its production.  These days, people are spending more time inside and even when they do go outside, are slathering themselves with sunscreen.  Both of these factors contribute to what many are calling a Vitamin D deficiency epidemic.  Supplementing with Vitamin D does seem to provide some relief for people experiencing SAD.  See your doctor to obtain a simple blood test to determine your Vitamin D level.  If your blood level is less than 50 ng/ml, consider talking to your doctor about Vitamin D supplementation.  Supplementing with Vitamin D can take months to reach normal levels.  Vitamin D3 is the most bioavailable form of Vitamin D.  It is difficult to reach adequate levels of Vitamin D through diet alone but some foods high in Vitamin D include cod liver oil, salmon, sardines, milk, tuna and eggs.
  • Eat foods containing tryptophan. Many who suffer from SAD experience decreased levels of serotonin, the brain’s “feel good” neurotransmitter.  Tryptophan is an amino acid known to be a precursor of serotonin.  Theory holds that eating tryptophan rich foods may help increase your body’s production of serotonin, leading to improved mood. Turkey is the richest food source of tryptophan but spinach, bananas, shrimp, crab, sesame seeds and egg whites are also other good sources.
  • Eat your Omega-3 fatty acids:  Some studies have shown that essential omega-3 fatty acids appear to help maintain healthy levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Cell membranes are partly made up of omega-3 fats.  Higher omega-3 levels in the body may make it easier for serotonin—a chemical that aids brain cells in communication—to pass through cell membranes.  Serotonin is known as “the feel good hormone” because it influences brain cells related to sexual function and desire, mood, appetite, sleep, memory and learning and some social behavior.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.  The brain releases dopamine in response to pleasurable experiences, such as eating or having sex.  The “more potent” forms of omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are best obtained through cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies and mackerel.  Vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids include algae.  Flax, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and walnuts are all rich sources of ALA, the precursor to DHA and EPA.  Unfortunately, most people are very poor convertors of ALA to DHA and EPA so relying on seeds and nuts to meet your omega-3 needs may not be enough.
  • Mindful carb snacking:  Many people who experience the winter form of SAD report intense carb cravings.  Since eating carbs actually promotes the production of serotonin, scientists speculate these cravings might be the body’s attempt to make more serotonin.  However, eating the right kind of carbs is important.  Focus on eating complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans, peas, lentils and brown rice to avoid the sugar roller coaster ride that can come from eating simple carbs.  For most people, as few as 30 grams of carbs a day is enough to produce adequate serotonin.
  • Focus on gut health:  Having a healthy gut is necessary to overall health.  With over 80% of our serotonin being produced in the gut, ensuring your digestion is working at an optimal level is important.  A healthy gut also allows your body to make use of as many of the healthy nutrients you are providing it as possible.  Adding probiotics, fermented foods and chewing your food thoroughly are all important steps to a healthy digestive system.

If you are experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and are having difficulty completing the necessary tasks of daily life or are experiencing feelings of self-harm,  contact your health care provider to establish a plan to help alleviate your symptoms.

Resources: Winter Blues by Norman Rosenthal

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