Guilt-free Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

This recipe has been modified from an earlier post.  These cookies are nut-free and oil free and are sweetened with dates, figs and raisins (optional).   I have given some as as Christmas cookies and they are a huge hit!  I promise these will satisfy your sweet tooth without the lethargic and heavy after effects.  The ones in the photo do not have raisins.

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Oatmeal Date Cookies

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

5 figs

8-10 medjool dates

1 tbsp ground flaxseed

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1 tsp cinnamon

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup raisins (optional)

sea salt to taste

Soak dates and figs in 2/3 cup water for 30-60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 and line 2 cookie trays with parchment paper.

Grind 1 cup of the  rolled oats in a food processor or coffee grinder then mix in with remaining rolled oats, salt, cinnamon and flax seeds and raisins.  You an also grind all the oats.

Puree dates and figs in a food processor with 1/4 cup water and then add vanilla.

Mix dry and wet ingredients.  Add some of remaining soaking water if needed.

Use a small ice cream scoop to transfer cookies to baking sheet or use your hands to form into balls.   (Wet hands to forms balls so the batter does not stick to your fingers.)  Press each ball gently to flatten to about 1/2 inch height.  (Makes 24-26 small cookies or 12-16 large ones)

Bake for 10-12 minutes.

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Five ways to keep your digestion working during the holidays

digestionA healthy digestion is at the core of a healthy and disease-free body.  At the very least, when your digestion is functioning well you will avoid the uncomfortable and some times embarrassing feelings of gas and bloating. This is not one of my posts where I recommend eating perfectly during the holidays or making vegan versions of traditional foods.  We can work on that later.  Further more one can still have poor digestion when communing a plant based diet.  These tips are for everyone.

At a time when we eat more than we typically do and are surrounded by rich high-calorie foods, I thought it would be helpful to share some simple tips for achieve a healthy digestion.

  1. Do not stuff yourself stuff yourselfor eat like Cookie Monster.  Obvious right?  But it’s easier said that done.  Slow down and chew your food.  This simple practice provides a two-fold benefit.  Digestion begins before you even take the first bite.  When your mind knows you you are about to eat because you see or smell food, the digestive juices in your saliva are activated.  When you thoroughly chew your food, the enzymes in your saliva break it down properly and make it easier on your gut.  By eating more slowly you will know when you are full sooner instead of being ‘stuffed all of a sudden.’  You may think that temporarily fasting in anticipation of a large meal will result in consuming less overall calories.  When you arrive at a feast in a  famished state  you are much more likely to over indulge.  At this point your survival instincts kick in and that urge to eat hastily is very hard to control.  The mind is a powerful thing.
  2. Do not eat too many different types of food at the same time. too much food Certain food combinations cause bloating, poor digestion and malabsorption of nutrients. For example, carbohydrates and protein do not digest well together.  It’s best to eat starch with veggies or protein with veggies.  You may think having fruit for dessert is healthy.  DON’T DO IT.  Fruits digest faster than any other foods (in about 15-30 minutes.)  When they are eaten too soon after other foods their digestion is hindered and they ferment in the stomach.  This will lead to gas, bloating and cramping.  They are fine eaten with raw veggies such as in a salad or smoothie.  Fruits are best eaten on an empty stomach or as a snack in the morning or in between larger meals.
  3. Do not drink large amounts of liquid with meals too much waterincluding water.  When a lot of liquid is consumed with emails the body’s digestive juices become diluted.  Even if your beverage of choice is water, drink it 20-30 minutes before a meal and 30 minutes of more after.  Drinking water in between meals also lends to making you feel fuller which can lead to eating less.  Consume no more than 4-6 ounces with food.
  4. Take a digestive enzyme.   I take a chewable one when I eat cooked foods since naturally -occurring enzymes in food are denatured at high temperatures.  If you do all the above tips perfectly and you eat a whole foods plant based diet you may not need an enzyme.  Everyone’s different.  Chances are you consume some amount of processed food that makes digestion more difficult.  The enzymes will also help the body handle this better.  Raw foods ( which also includes foods not heated above 118 degrees) still contain their natural enzymes.
  5. Continue to exercise.  
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    young african american woman eating apple after exercise

    We get very busy over the holidays and if you are entertaining family or traveling it’s even harder to maintain  a steady routine.  Exercise improves digestion and elimination.  Cardiovascular exercise strengthens the muscles of the abdomen and stimulates the intestinal muscles to move contents through the digestive system.  There are quite a few yoga postures that aid in relieving, bloating, gas and intestinal discomfort.  I have family visiting with me for the holidays and they know to bring workout clothes as doing spin and yoga with me will be on the itinerary.

With some mindfulness and simple planning, anyone can execute these tips for improving digestion and overall health.  You can also carry them over into the New Year. digestion

The healthiest(and delicious) chocolate chip cookies

Just in time for the holidays, here is a super easy and super healthy cookie recipe.  Do you ever feel that around the holidays you have to give up being healthy for a month in order to enjoy yourself or at the very least be sociable and not scolded, ridiculed or bothered by your loved ones who just do n;t get it?  I firmly believe you can have tasty food without derailing your journey of health and happiness.  These cookies are oil free and are sweetened with dates and figs!  They contain vegan chocolate chips which contain sugar and have some fat.  Apart from that the only other fat is 3 g from the flaxseed (for the entire batch.)meal  I promise even your non-health focused family and friends will gobble these up.  I tested these on my husband who has ‘regular’ taste buds.  In bis words: “They have a soft and pleasantly thick texture without that heavy feeling in your stomach afterwards.” In other words, THEY DON’T TASTE LIKE CARDBOARD AND SAND PAPER. They are way healthier than a traditional chocolate chip cookie but the gluten free all-purpose flour and the chocolate chips are processed foods so I don’t make them all the time.

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1 1/2 cups of gluten free flour ( I used a combo of Trader Joe’s all purpose and brown rice flour.)

3/4 cups vegan chocolate chips

1 tbsp flaxseed meal

2 tsp baking powder

1tsp baking soda

1 tsp xanthan gum

1/2 tsp sea salt

10-12 medjool dates (depending on how large they are)

5 Turkish figs

2 tsbp vanilla extract

water as needed

  1. Pre-soak dates and figs in 2/3 cup of water for 30-60 minutes and remove pits and tips.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.
  3. Combine dry ingredients and chocolate chips
  4. Blend softened dates and figs  with 1/4 cup of the soaking water in food processor and then add vanilla.
  5. Add to the dry ingredients and gradually add water as needed to get all dry ingredients moist.  Depending on the type of flour used you will need to add anywhere from 1/2-1 cup water.
  6. Use a spoon to scoop batter onto baking sheets.
  7. With wet hans press batter down gently to shape.
  8. Bake for 12-14 minutes.
  9. Makes about 36 2 1/2 inch cookies.

They have about 60 calories each.  They are best eaten on the same day.  If they will sit longer than 2 days, freeze the extras.  They are low fat, contain no added sugar, vegan, gluten free and free of common allergens like nuts and soy.

Nutrient packed Pumpkin Beverages: All the taste without the crap

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It’s pumpkin season.  This year I created a beverage  that will satisfy your pumpkin craving and sweet tooth with no regrets.

Pumpkin Chocolate Milk

1 cup unsweetened cashew/almond milk (I find cashew milk to be creamier)

1/4 cup light coconut milk

1/4 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 frozen banana

2 tsp cacao powder

1 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 tsp vanilla extract

stevia to taste

Place everything in a blender and blend until smooth.

If you want to make this into a heartier shake add an additional 1/4 cup of pumpkin puree, and a tsp each of chia seeds, flax seeds and maca powder.

The Dietary Pleasure Trap: Defend yourself against the temptations of modern life.

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I INSIST YOU READ THIS TO THE END. I was very driven to write this post because it will help you understand why it is so difficult for millions of people and possibly you to stop consuming harmful substances.  I recently read ‘The Pleasure Trap’ by Douglas Lisle Ph.D.  I was introduced to this concept while completing a plant-based nutrition certification about three years ago and was very intrigued by it.  I was thrilled to find an entire book was written on it.  It explains why so many of us in the Western World find it so difficult to abstain from animal foods and processed foods.  I hope you will enjoy my synopsis of how this internal human mechanism controls our behavior.

Human behavior is determined by three forces known as the Motivational triad.  Innately we are motivated to : Seek pleasure; Avoid pain and Conserve energy.  Ages ago when food was scarce this mechanism worked as nature intended.  The supply of food was inconsistent and sometimes scarce so it was difficult to overeat, processed food wasn’t yet invented and contrary to the Paleo Diet theory, eating animal flesh was rare because it took a lot of energy and luck to slaughter an animal and use it for food.  Plus, the occasional consumption of animal flesh did not contain artificial steroids, hormones and antibiotics.   In the US today there is an overabundance of food.   There are reports that estimate we waste up to 40% of the food produced.  (Unfortunately there are people who are almost starving that cannot access this surplus but that’s a post for another day.)  This excess of food is the long term residual result of Agriculture which began around 8500BC.  In addition to the overabundance of available calories, the ‘food’ very commonly consumed is heavily processed.  By defining processed food I will also explain what’s wrong with it?

  1. Fiber and water are removed.  This makes the food less filling and more calorically concentrated per pound.  Raw veggies contain 100 calories per pound.  Fresh fruit contains 300 calories per pound.  Flesh such as a hamburger meat contains 1200 calories per pound.  Nuts and seeds contain 2800 calories per pound.  Oil contains 4000 calories per pound!  Fiber and water have no calories and help us feel full and aid in digestion and elimination.  Stretch receptors in our stomachs are activated when they begin to expand after eating and cause us to physically know when we’ve had enough due to volume.  Eating less calorically dense food enables us to feel full with less calories.  These foods contain more water and fiber.  Denser foods such as chocolate, fries and red meat are very pleasurable and cause dopamine- the pleasure chemical to be released.  However, they are not as filling  even though calories are high.  There are also unprocessed calorically dense foods such as nuts, seeds and dried fruit.  I think we can all agree these healthy foods are also easy to overeat too.  Nuts, seeds and dried fruit should be eaten in small amounts.
  2. Artificial flavor-enhancing chemicals make the foods addictive and they create artificially induced pleasure.  They have a similar effect to drugs.  Our bodies are not able to accurately  determine when we’ve had enough and unnatural urges to eat more are produced.   Food manufacturers have figured out the exact combinations of chemicals to make these foods irresistible.  Our pleasure seeking mechanism malfunctions when we regularly consume these foods.
  3. They contain added isolated sugars, oils/fats and salt.  I listed this as a separate issue from number two because nowadays packaged foods are marketed as all natural and the companies accurately describe their foods as being free from additives and the ‘bad guys’ such as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  For example agave is touted as a healthy alternative sweetener.  News flash: It contains just as much fructose as HFCS and is heavily processed.  Sorry.  I once thought it was good for me too.  We are still not in the clear though.  In nature there are no foods that contain two or more of these components: fat, sugar and salt.  These ‘naturally’ enhanced foods desensitize our taste buds.  The artificial concentration of processed food causes our natural calorie counting mechanism to make errors.  For example, honey roasted peanuts.  One tiny bag contains at least 200 calories and there’s like 10 peanuts in it! The main culprits are excessive fat and refined carbohydrates. Many  of us are not accustomed to the natural flavors and sweetness of whole foods that are, in my opinion, quite satisfying.
  4. The abundance and convenience of these foods that exists in today’s modern western society, the social pressure to eat these foods and our bias to realize that they are making us sick in several ways is a problem.

So how does one avoid the strong forces of the pleasure trap?

  1. Plan ahead.  A huge part of my success is planning ahead.  In today’s environment of vending machines, convenience stores and unhealthy food at every turn, you’re doomed if you don’t pack a lunch, or seek out restaurants that provide minimally processed plant based foods.  You also need to keep the junk food out of your home.  If it’s there you’re probably going to eat it at some point.
  2. Eat mindfully.  I am guilty of eating whilst doing other things like working, driving and watching TV.  I will continue to drink my morning green smoothie in the car during my long commute.  Getting enough sleep is just as important so it’s a trade off so I can get 20-30 minutes more sleep at night.  I am working on eating and only eating when at home.  When you do this you are not distracted and you will enjoy the food more.  Your mind will also more accurately acknowledge that you’ve eaten and your satiation cues will be more aligned mentally and physically.
  3. Let go of the moderation theory.  I’m singing the Frozen song in my head now. Everything in moderation regarding food consumption is reasonable when the food being consumed has a natural effect on your central nervous system.  You can trust your body to tell you you’ve had enough.   When consuming artificially pleasure enhancing foods this system miscalculates when a ‘moderate’ amount has been eaten.  So basically it’s a similar effect to an addictive drug. When most people kick a bad habit such as smoking they don’t smoke less cigarettes.  They are more successful quitting altogether.  This can take a few attempts.  From experience, I know if I have one bite of something addictive like cake or french fries it’s hard to not have a few more bites.  The first taste is enough to trigger a strong desire for more.    Furthermore, if you truly come to realization that these foods are unhealthy and disease-promoting then why would you want to put any amount of it in your body?  Finally moderation is too ambiguous.  What does it even mean and how is it measured? Trust me, I’m not perfect so I’m talking to myself too as I write this.
  4. Give your taste buds time to adjust.  It can take 30-60 days for your body to adapt to the taste of real food and to actually enjoy it.  I know this sounds crazy but I regularly crave lettuce and salad and now I have alternatives for when I crave something sweet.  I am learning how to cook and bake without added sugars and oils.
  5. Read some books and do some research.   This post is just skimming the surface of the pleasure trap concept.  In addition to Dr.Lisle’s book also pick up Unprocessed by Chef AJ, The China Study by T. Colin Campbell and The Beauty Detox Solution my Kimberly Snyder.  These books changed my entire perspective on diet as it relates to looking and feeling good and promotion long-term health.

The dollars and sense of eating healthy: Can you afford not to?

It is widely believed that eating a more wholesome and healthy diet is expensive.  Yes, I know the following:

  1. There are some specialty foods that showcase a price tag hefty enough to make you cringe or do a double take. For example I’ve seen an 8oz jar of almond butter for $14.00.  I also ‘invest’ in items like chia seeds, raw cacao powder, hemp seeds and stevia.  I buy some of them in bulk on Amazon and they last a long time.  An 8oz bag of chia seeds is $9 but it will last 2-3 months.
  2. In some cities, states and even countries it can be difficult to find fresh, unprocessed foods.  Some urban areas are in food ‘deserts’ and that needs to change.
  3. When dining out fast food is typically cheaper than a healthier meal.

Even if this myth was an absolute truth, I’d argue that better quality foods just like better quality anything else costs more because it’s a superior product.  We are willing to pay more for designer clothes, shoes and bags, electronics, beauty products and luxury cars, etc. because they look better, make us look better, last longer and possibly make us feel happier.  But when it comes to food that will help you look better, last (live) longer and feel better and happier, paying more is unfair or absurd.  What is absurd is paying hundreds and thousands of dollars for medication and surgery for preventable illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and (in some cases) cancer.

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There are several foods, to which many of us have access, that are cheap, yes actually cheap or moderately priced.  In the photo above are some of the items I purchased this week from Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and a local health store.  Here’s a chart listing their costs.

Item Low Price
Shaved Brussels Sprouts $2.79
Whole Pineapple $2.99
‘Riced’ Cauliflower $1.99
Organic baby kale $2.49
Organic baby spinach $2.29
Organic mini corn tortillas (pack of 24) $1.79
Bananas 0.19c each
Organic whole carrots 0.89 per bag of at least 12
Organic apples 0.79 c each
Chopped asparagus, mushrooms and onions $3.99
Organic beans: kidney, black or chickpeas $1.49 per carton
Larabars $1.29 each

I’m a busy person so I do take some shortcuts like buying pre cut veggies.  The vegetables would have been even cheaper if I bought them uncut and unwashed.  I could have added much more to this list such as brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal etc but I think you get the point.  Also, you can find these items in most supermarkets and of course Farmers’ markets in addition to stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.  Bulk discount stores like BJ’s are beginning to carry more healthy and organic foods too.

Without getting too political, the government subsidizes certain foods such as dairy, corn, soy and meat so these foods appear to be cheaper because the consumer is not paying the actual cost.  The cheaper costs of these foods, including fast food is an illusion.  Unfortunately fruits and vegetables are typically not subsidized.

Think about these two things:

  1. How much are your short and long term health and happiness worth?  
  2. How can you make some changes right now to get healthier foods without spending a fortune.

oatmeal date cookies (vegan and gf of course)

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One of my recent health goals has been to limit or avoid foods with added sugar and oils in any form.    This presents quite the challenge when it comes to baked goods.  I have baked with coconut oil, coconut sugar and brown rice syrup.  I no longer buy the sugar or syrup and I don’t bake with coconut oil any more.  I’ve been experimenting with oatmeal cookies.  I was inspired by Larabars because they are one of the only snacks that are delicious and contain simple ingredients such as dates, nuts and dried fruit ONLY.  I often enjoy the peanut butter cookie flavor.  The ingredient list is dates, peanuts, sea salt.  THAT’S IT! I tasked myself to make an oatmeal cookie version so that the fat content was lower.  This was my third attempt.  I may still tweak the ingredients a bit but I’m ready to share it with you.

Ingredients

(makes 25-30 two-inch cookies)

1 1/2 cups rolled oats

8-10 medjool dates

1/2 cup walnuts

2 large very ripe bananas

1/2 cup water

1 tbsp flaxseed meal

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 packets stevia (optional)

1/2 tsp sea salt (optional)

1 tsp ginger (optional)

  1. Soak dates in 1/2 cup water for 2-4 hours.
  2. Preheat oven to 350.  Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper
  3. Grind the rolled oats in a coffee grinder or food processor to make oat flour.
  4. Grind walnuts in food processor or grinder.
  5. Add ground oats to the flaxseed, nuts, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, stevia and sea salt.
  6. Process bananas, dates and soaking water in a food processor.  Mixture may be slightly chunky.
  7. Add vanilla to banana and date mixture.
  8. Add liquid mixture to oatmeal mixture and mix with a spoon until no oat flour is left dry.
  9. Place 1 1/2- 2 tbsp worth of mixture on baking sheet.  Wet hands to prevent it sticking to your fingers.
  10. Press each ball to flatten to about 1/2 inch thickness.
  11. Bake for 15-17 minutes.

These cookies travel well and are chewy, not crumbly.  They will be fresh for up to 3 days. Enjoy

You cannot out-exercise a poor diet

One of fitness’ million-dollar questions is what affects your physique more; diet or exercise?  Clearly both affect how someone’s body looks but based on my observations and personal experience, hands down, diet is more significant.

I have been teaching spin/indoor cycling since 2007 at various gyms.  I notice a wide range of people and how their bodies change or don’t change over a long period of time.  These are people in my classes and other general gym goers.  On occasion I will notice someone’s body is becoming more toned or they have slimmed down.  When I compliment them on their progress the response is ALWAYS that they (finally) changed their diet.  These are people who have been working out consistently for years and then finally found the missing piece of the puzzle that was hindering their results.

The typical diet changes I’ve heard range from omitting added sugar or gluten or fried food or alcohol or soda or refined carbohydrates.  Inside I’m always so happy that they finally figured out that you can’t out-exercise a poor diet.  I wish more people realized this sooner.  Not only will a healthier diet promote fat-loss, shrink your waistline and reveal muscle tone that is covered by unneeded fat, but you will also feel better and lower your risks of developing a chronic degenerative illness such as cancer, type 2 diabetes or heart disease.

I’ll now share my personal experience with this philosophy.  I was an avid runner for over 15 years.  I competed in several 10 miles races, half marathons and one marathon.  While training for the Vienna City marathon (I ran in 2011,) I developed a pelvic stress fracture.  I did not know what the injury was until after the race.  Honestly I didn’t want to know because I was determined to run this race I had put so much time and preparation in to.  Anyway, I finished it in 3:30!  Yay me!  I’m sure running 26.2 miles on a stress fracture makes it a lot worse so I was unable to run for 2 1/2 years.  Apart from being depressed about not being able to engage in something I so closely identified with and missing the social aspect of running with my club I was terrified that I’d gain a lot of weight.  Conventional wisdom says if calories in are more than calories burned I will gain weight.  I went from running 20+ miles per week (lots of calories burned) to no running.  I also had to take a break from spin for a month to let get the slow healing process in motion.

During this time of inactivity I was bored out of my mind.  I visited Barnes and Noble and started browsing the health book aisle.  If you don’t know yet, I’m a health/fitness nerd.  I came across Kimberly Snyder’s book The Beauty Detox Solution.  My life has never been the same.  At this point I had been vegetarian for 5 years.  After reading her book I converted to a whole foods plant-based diet; giving up dairy and eggs, i.e. no animal products.  I also significantly cut down on gluten-containing foods.  I was eating the same amount of calories (or more) but they were now exclusively from green smoothies, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds.  To my surprise I lost weight during this month of inactivity and actually lost it in the right place; my mid-section!!  In the past, even when I lost weight my stomach was still not as flat or defined as I would have liked it.

So the point is diet greatly affects the way you look.  Your workouts will of course enhance your desired physique but if that diet isn’t right you are not going to see results.  The photo on the left is pre-vegan diet taken in May 2009.  The one on the right is after I eliminated animal foods and gluten taken in October 2013.

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Facebook is detrimental to health. Is it really?

Earlier this week there was an official news story on the radio in which the headline was ‘Facebook is harmful to health.’  As the ads aired, I anxiously awaited the details of this study.  I was extremely disappointed when they revealed that the reason was: People spend time posting and scrolling instead of exercising.’  That’s it? I thought.  I’m pretty active on Facebook.  By active I mean, I visit it every day and I post on average twice/per week.  I also exercise more than the average person.  I teach five spin classes per week and I practice Bikram yoga 5-7 times per week.  So clearly I exercise because it’s a priority.  (I also work full-time and have a pretty long commute.)  It’s not difficult to use Facebook and find time to exercise.

Based on this study’s ‘findings’, any activity can be deemed harmful to health it someone does it instead of exercising on a regular basis.  The same could have been said about watching TV, working long hours, socializing, playing video games and the list goes on.   We need to take more responsibility for our lifestyles.   Blaming social media or any other activity that is a choice is a little nuts.  I decided I’d share some tips for how to make exercise a more regular part of your life even if you use Facebook.

  1. Early morning workouts.  This isn’t for everyone but if it works with your schedule it’s a great way to exercise before anything else has a chance to prevent you such as an after work event or traffic getting home from work.  I teach two 5:30am spin classes per week and they are well attended.  People love starting the day with an energizing ride and as they say “getting it out-of-the-way.” In the summer months you can go for an early morning run when the air is clean and there is minimal traffic on the roads.  If you are more of a gym-goer, most gyms aren’t as crowded in the early morning  as they are in the evenings.
  2. Exercise with a friend.  Workouts are so much more enjoyable with company.  Firstly, you get to exercise and socialize at the same time.  Secondly, you and your friend can motivate each other during your sessions and thirdly, you are way less likely to skip a workout if you know someone is depending on you to show up.  if this isn’t an option for you some other ways to achieve a similar effect are to join group exercise classes such as spinning, yoga, aerobics, kickboxing, Zumba etc. (and maybe make some friends there) or to seek out local running or cycling clubs.
  3. You have to do exercise you like.  There’s no point forcing yourself to do something you do not enjoy.  if you often have to talk yourself into exercising then you should probably switch it up.  I absolutely love spinning and Bikram yoga and I always look forward to going.   When I am unable to go I miss it and can’t wait to get back.  As beneficial as lifting weight is, I detest it!  I tried it for years before finally deciding to drop it and find others ways to build muscle.
  4. Create goals beyond the usual ones.  Of course looking and feeling good, gaining muscle and losing fat are universal benefits that people want to gain from exercising.  However, adding a goal such as completing a triathlon, marathon or other event are great ways to get yourself to commit to a particular routine.  Once you’ve signed up, told people you’re doing it and paid for it there’s an extra motivation to not miss your workout sessions.

Facebook can actually help users to be healthier.  Many users (myself included) post healthy recipes, workout accomplishments, routines etc.  These posts motivate other Facebook users.  Needless to say I think that report is nonsense.  Take ownership of your life and the choices you make.  You’ll find time for the things you want to find time for.

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One of the good carbs: Brown rice three ways

‘Good carbohydrates’ has almost become an oxymoron amongst many seeking optimal health.  Unrefined or whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat and oatmeal contain fiber, minerals and vitamins so they nourish the body, provide energy and are filling.   Brown rice contains manganese, phosphorous and B vitamins.  If you are a very active person, like myself, you especially need healthy carbs to sustain your energy levels and lifestyle.  Many experts say carbs are brain fuel too.  Brown rice is not only one of my favorite whole grains, it’s one of my favorite foods period.  I particularly like the short grain variety.  Many people, in an effort to lose weight, eliminate carbs from their diets.  The refined and processed carbs that are lacking in fiber and are nutritionally void such as white bread, donuts, cakes and refined pasta are basically empty calories than can cause weight gain if not burned up.  They are easy to over consume because they are not filling and its easy to eat large amounts.

I can easily enjoy plain brown rice.  That’s right, no oil or seasoning.  Sometimes I’ll spice it up  a bit by adding sea salt and hot sauce.  I’ll admit that’s not a very balanced meal so I’m sharing three easy ways to eat brown rice that anyone can make.  Brown rice takes longer to cook (about 45 minutes) than white rice because the fiber-containing husk is still intact.  I’ve never been good at cooking rice the traditional way.  I either burn it or it’s soggy.  My rice cooker has been a lifesaver.  I strongly recommend one.  It even turns off automatically when the rice is ready.  I’ve had perfect rice ever since.  One cup cooked has just over 200 calories, 4 grams of fiber and 4-5 grams of protein.  In a meal I typically eat about 1 1/2 cups of cooked rice.

(Mexican Style)

Brown rice and beans

1 1/2 cups cooked rice

1 cup shredded Brussels sprouts

1/2 cup cooked black beans

1/2 cup pico de gallo

1/2 avocado diced

Heat the brussels in a frying pan with a splash of water and 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil at medium to high heat for about 5 minutes.  I call this dry frying.  It soften the vegetable and the oil gives it a nice flavor.  Mix it with the rice, beans, pico and avocado.  Season with salt and hot sauce.

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(No pico in photo)

(Asian Style)

Fried rice

1 1/2 cups cooked rice

1 cup shredded Brussels sprouts

1/4 cup finely diced onions

tamari/soy sauce to taste

1/2 avocado diced

This recipe is best with left over cooked rice that has been refrigerated. Heat the brussels and onions in a frying pan with a splash of water and 1/2 teaspoon of coconut oil for about 5 minutes.  Add the rice to the pan and add a few dashes of tamari or soy sauce.  Cook for another 3-5 minutes or until rice is hot.  Remove from pan and add avocado.  This recipe goes well with chopped peppers and carrots too but I wanted too keep it really simple.  Edamame would be a great addition too for added protein.

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(Jamaican Style)

Brown rice and Kidney Beans

3/4 cups uncooked rice

1/2 cup cooked kidney beans

1/3 cup coconut milk

Sea salt to taste

Follow rice cooker directions and begin boiling rice.  Replace 1/3 cup of the water in the directions with coconut milk.  When about ten minutes remains for rice to be finished mix in the kidney beans.  Season with salt to taste.  Eat with veggies of your choice.  If you have fresh thyme place it in the boiling rice and discard before eating.

I hope you try some of these simple dishes and are inspired to create your own.