Healthy Snack Attack

Have you ever been so hungry you morphed into an evil witch? Rather than cautious, the driver ahead of you seems irritating-tortoise-like slow. No‚ÄĒcriminal. And if she doesn’t get her act together soon, you might provide a subtle NUDGE. Or worse…

Don’t worry. If you answered ‘yes,’ you’re not alone. More likely, you’re normal. ūüėČ Healthy snack habits can not only prevent mood mayhem, but help keep our brains sharp and energy high between meals. Choosing mostly whole foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, also boosts our overall nutrient intake and physical health. (Sign me up, right???) Whether you’re a veteran healthy eater or taking initial baby steps, exploring a variety of nutritious snacks can go a long way toward fulfilling your physical and emotional appetites.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Yogurt and berry parfait
  • Fresh fruit and/or veggie smoothies
  • Air-popped popcorn, seasoned with natural herbs
  • Whole grain pita chips with hummus
  • Fresh fruit salad with yogurt or nuts
  • Mixed nuts‚ÄĒroasted or raw
  • Whole grain toast topped with almond butter and banana slices
  • Leftover whole grain/veggie pizza
  • Yogurt, topped with granola, ground flaxseeds or trail mix
  • Mini-portion of veggie chili or lentil soup
  • Snap-peas and carrot sticks with dip
  • Fresh fruit, veggie and cheese (or tofu) plate
  • Whole grain crackers topped with hummus and tomato slices
  • Apple and banana slices topped with¬†almond or peanut butter
  • Natural PBJ on whole grain bread, English muffin or tortilla
  • Kale chips with salsa or hummus
  • Oatmeal raisin cookie served¬†with low-fat milk (any variety)
  • Oatmeal made with un-sweetened cocoa, cinnamon, raisins and a touch of stevia or pure maple syrup

Baked sweet potato “fries”: Slice a sweet potato into rounds or wedges. Place on a pan, coated with olive oil spray. Top with spray and desired seasoning, then bake at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

Cucumber boats: Slice a cucumber lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Fill each “boat” with healthy tuna or chicken salad.

Kale smoothie: Combine 8 oz milk of choice, 1 banana, 1 cup chopped kale, 1 tbsp ground flaxseed, 1/2 cup fresh or frozen berries and a tsp of pure maple syrup in a blender. Blend until smooth, then serve over ice.

Love cooking? Try these tasty, nutritious recipes:
MayoClinic.com: Muesli Breakfast Bars
EatBetterAmerica: Whole Grain Snack Mix
Mary Elizabeth Cohen: Tortilla Wrap Chicken Salad
EatingWell magazine: Quick and Healthy Smoothie Recipes and Tips
Sally’s Baking Addiction: Apricot Pecan Granola Bars (Vegan)¬†

And remember‚ÄĒyour snack choices need not always be healthy. To prevent blood sugar imbalances associated with sugary and refined grain products, like candy, pretzels and enriched bagels, pair them with protein or fiber-rich foods. In either case, moderation and pleasure are important ingredients of all diets, IMHO. ūüėČ

Do you consider yourself a healthy snacker? What’s your favorite?¬†Any tips or challenges to share? I love hearing from you.

Foods for a Beautiful Brain

beau¬∑ti¬∑ful/ňąbyoÕěot…ôf…ôl/

  1. Pleasing the senses or mind aesthetically.
  2. Of a very high standard; excellent. ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†‚ÄĒDictionary.com

Based on our recent discussion, many of us value our inner-beauty over external, but agree that both are important. Well guess what. Eating well promotes both in our brains. Consider this example:

A growing body of research shows that a healthy dietary lifestyle guards against Alzheimer’s disease, other forms of dementia and cognitive decline, while boosting overall mental sharpness‚ÄĒin some cases, immediately. (Woo hoo, right???)

To increase your odds of sharp, long-lasting brain function, eat a balanced diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats. When you indulge in sweets, fried foods or other low-nutrient fare, enjoy it and practice moderation. As I suggested in my Dodge Dieting post, the 80/20 rule works well‚ÄĒaiming for about 80 percent nutritious foods and 20 percent “play” foods.

Ten Brain-Boosting Super Stars:
Fortunately, there are loads of brain-beautifying foods. Here are some of my favorites. ūüėČ

1. Berries Numerous studies have linked berry consumption with brain health. Berries provide valuable amounts of water and fiber, both of which promote positive energy levels between meals, and potent antioxidants, which support strong immune and brain function. Tip: Stock up on whatever berries are in season and keep unsweetened frozen berries on hand year round. They make awesome additions to oatmeal, baked goods and smoothies.

2. Broccoli¬†Broccoli appears on countless superfoods lists, and for good reason. It’s one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet, rich in antioxidants and a chemical that may enhance brain healing, according to a Journal of Neuroscience report. Tip:¬†Steam, rather than microwave or boil, broccoli to retain nutrients.

3. Leafy Greens Diets high in¬†folate are linked with a lowered risk for cognitive decline. Leafy greens, like kale, Swiss chard, spinach, mustard greens, are high in folate. They also provide ample fiber. Tip:¬†Buy dark, leafy greens with every shopping trip. If you fear you won’t finish them before they spoil, chop remaining leaves up and freeze them in air-tight containers for use in soups, stews, pasta dishes and more.

4. Potatoes Yes, that’s right. I said potatoes. Our beloved spuds have gained a bad reputation, both due to the way many people prepare them and the risky low-carb diet craze. But potatoes, whether russet or sweet, provide complex carbohydrates‚ÄĒyour¬†brain’s and body’s main fuel source. Potatoes are also rich in potassium‚ÄĒan electrolyte important for brain function, fiber and tryptophan‚ÄĒan amino acid that helps your brain create the feel-good brain chemical, serotonin. (Nope, turkey isn’t the only source.) Tip:¬†For healthy “fries,” coat sliced potato into rounds with canola or olive oil cooking spray then bake them at 350 deg. until they appear golden.

5. Popcorn As one of the most nutritious whole grains, popcorn provides valuable amounts of fiber, which helps keep our blood sugar and energy level, B-vitamins, which promote positive energy levels, and antioxidants that help stave off infections and disease. Tip: Season air-popped popcorn with natural herbs or try it dessert-style, sprinkled lightly with cinnamon and stevia or cane sugar.

6. Salmon¬†The healthy omega-3 fatty acids in salmon, and other fatty fish, don’t simply promote more positive heart-health. They play a key role in brain function. And because our bodies can’t produce them, they way they produce other fats, we must get them through food. Consuming too few omega-3s can cause lethargy, fatigue, memory problems and depressive moods. (Blech.) Tip: The American Heart Association recommends eating 3.5 oz of fatty fish (about the size of a deck of cards) at least twice per week.

7. Flaxseeds¬†Flaxseeds are top plant sources of omega-3s. They also contain ample fiber, protein and antioxidants. If you don’t eat fatty fish routinely, incorporate flaxseeds into your diet. Even if you do eat fish, flaxseeds can enhance your diet.¬†Tip: Add ground flaxseeds to other healthy foods, like smoothies, whole grain cereal, bran muffins and yogurt. For freshness, keep ground seed in your refrigerator.

8. Green Tea¬†Some researchers believe that moderate amounts of caffeine can help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and boost mental sharpness. Green tea provides caffeine and lots of other perks, such as plentiful antioxidants. An animal study published in Biogerontology in 2006 linked daily green tea consumption with better sustained memory capabilities. Tip:¬†Brew a pot of green tea to enjoy hot or chilled. For added flavor and nutrients, add lemon or apple slices. (YUM!) If you’re sensitive to caffeine or drink tea late in the day, opt for caffeine-free.

9. Peanut Butter¬†While all nuts are nutritious, peanuts provide more healthy fats than most. Peanut butter is also filling, convenient and rich in satiating fiber. Researchers at Harvard Medical School discovered that eating peanut butter five days per week does a lot to prevent heart attacks. Snacking on peanut butter, instead of other snack foods, has also been linked with better weight and appetite control. Tip: If you don’t like or tolerate peanuts, substitute almond butter, which is particularly rich in calcium.

10. Dark Chocolate (I repeat, YUM!!!) In addition to deliciousness, dark chocolate provides protective plant chemicals called flavanols. Research headed up by Ian MacDonald, a professor at the University of Nottingham, found that consuming cocoa rich in flavanols boosts blood flow to important brain areas for up to three hours. Tip: Feeling low, yet work calls? Eat several squares of dark chocolate. If you have difficulty sticking to modest portions, keep chocolate in your freezer or buy single portions.

Fabulous Foodie Fun:
Violets and Cardamom’s recipe for¬†Oatmeal Breakfast Bars and Muffins¬†provides a fun, tasty way to get brain-boosting nutrients from whole grains, flaxseeds and almond butter at breakfast.
Write On, Jana!¬†brings us nutritious, Egg-Free, Dairy-Free Cinnamon Rolls. I’m salivating over these babies!
For more chocolate-loving fun, check out Tameri Etherton‘s Chocolate, the Language of LOVE.

Do you consider brain-health when approaching your diet? Are you a fan of these foods? Feel free to share your nutrition questions or challenges. I LOVE hearing from you and am eager to offer support.

Mindful Eating and Maya Angelou

Earlier this year, I had the honor of interviewing Maya Angelou about her new cookbook, Great Food, All Day Long. To say I look up to the woman is about as accurate as saying Minnesota is ‘sort of’ cold in December‚ÄĒa major understatement. As I considered what to post this Thanksgiving week, nothing seemed more appropriate than sharing her insight. Angelou approaches conversations with strangers, even so-nervous-they-could-pee-on-the-floor journalists ;), food, cooking and daily life with incredible poignance, dignity and grace. With food, family gatherings and feasting upon us, we can all stand to take a few tips.

Joy, Patience and Hot Dogs: Cooking with Maya Angelou
By August McLaughlin (Originally published by EHow Food)

Photo: Steve Exum/Getty Images

It should come as no surprise that one of the most influential voices of contemporary literature brings poise, intention and palpable joy to her kitchen. Dr. Maya Angelou, the 82-year-old renaissance woman known for her dramatic prose, activism and passion for the arts, history, education and civil rights, has had a lifelong love affair with all things culinary.

“I’m a serious cook,” she said. “I love to plan the food. I enjoy the cooking of it. And I will plan the whole meal while I’m in my bathtub.”

Self-Commitment

Angelou’s food fervor met challenges when a medical exam revealed serious risks for hypertension and diabetes. She had to lose weight. Her first attempt at healthy eating involved replacing decadent ingredients with low-calorie alternatives.

“But I was starving!” she said. “So I decided to cook the way I always cook, just not eat as much. I gave myself my word that I would not have seconds. It’s the most wonderful thing, you know, when you give yourself your word in private — secretly. You feel like a ninny if you go back on it because you’ve been there all the while.”

She prepared and ate every recipe in her latest cookbook, “Great Food, All Day Long: Cook Splendidly, Eat Smart,” and relished every bite. Meanwhile, her weight-related health concerns diminished.

Simply paging through her cookbook is enough to push your salivary glands into overdrive. Recipes such as chicken tetrazzini, barbecued spare ribs, pumpkin soup and “all day and all night” cornbread are interwoven with heart-warming stories and personal insight. In her typical way, Angelou draws you into not only her kitchen, but her life.

Abandoning Rules

Rather than abide by diet rules, Angelou recommends listening to and fulfilling your cravings. If your taste buds are screaming for fried chicken and you sit down to a T-bone steak, you’re liable to eat the entire steak — and perhaps seconds.

“It’s because your taste buds haven’t been satisfied,” she said. “If you can get what you really want, cook it the way you want it cooked, five or six spoonfuls or forkfuls can hold you. Then you can say, ‘I’ll come back to this in two or three hours. But right now, that’s exactly what I want.'”

In her book, Angelou observes that people often keep eating long after they’re full. “I think they are searching in their plates not for a myth, but for a taste, which seems to elude them,” she writes.

For this reason, her recipes aren’t divided into meal-specific categories, but instead organized by themes like “A Brand-New Look at Old Leftovers” and “Waking up the Taste Buds.” The result? A cookbook geared toward fulfilling moment-to-moment cravings, rather than following the established mealtime norms. Have fried rice for breakfast, if you want, or her omelet with spinach for dinner. All bets are off.

Seeking Pleasure

One of Angelou’s most beloved culinary experiences involves a youth favorite: the “simple everyday” hot dog. However, she’s developed a version for a grown up palate. Angelou tops a grilled, Hebrew International hot dog with her homemade chili. “Then I get a cold, frozen beer stein out of the freezer and open a wonderful freezing bottle of Corona beer. It doesn’t get much better than that,” she said.

Patience, Angelou believes, is a significant ingredient lacking in Americans’ diets. “Our children, for the most part, have their major meals at counters and various places where they eat standing,” she said. “I encourage people to sit down. Have some patience with themselves.”

To this end, she suggests planning meals beforehand to avoid stressful rushing around while cooking. Sit down to enjoy meals in a peaceful, pleasing atmosphere. And don’t reserve your best dishes, silverware or food for guests.

“I serve myself with the best I have,” she said. “I make a pretty table. There are some white roses on my table right now. I’m looking at them. And I’m having a nice glass of pre-lunch, good white wine… Pretty soon my assistant and I will have a great, sort of a chef salad, served with English biscuits.”

Because that’s precisely what she craved.

*****

To view the original article, visit: Joy, Patience and Hot Dogs: Cooking with Maya Angelou. (You’ll also get her recipe for Chili Guy, a scrumptious dish named after her son.)

******

Simple Ways to Eat More Mindfully
Most of us eat way too fast, while paying little attention to what we’re eating, how much or why. (“Where did my fries go?!” You know you’ve been there… ;)) Eating mindfully, with awareness of our bodies, emotions and food, promotes physical and emotional wellness. It also facilitates gratitude. Rather than focus on calories, TV, guilt or holiday stress this season, I invite you to slow it down, pay attention and say, with sincerity, “Thanks!”

  • Set your fork down between bites.
  • Eat sitting down at a table, no in front of your TV or worse, standing in front of your fridge.
  • Before eating, take a moment to observe the smells, colors and overall presentation of the food.
  • Cook! Preparing dishes automatically promotes mindfulness; you’re involved in the process and understand the effort required.
  • Cut back on mealtime distractions, such as your cell phone, laptop, TV, radio, newspaper, etc.
  • Create a pleasurable dining atmosphere. (As Dr. Angelou says, don’t reserve your best dinnerware for guests-only!)
  • Shop at your local farmers market.
  • Volunteer at a soup kitchen, Meals on Wheels or local shelter.
  • Rather than view food in terms of calories or fat grams, consider what foods and nutrients do for your body…and the pleasure food brings.
  • Eat with chopsticks. Unless you’re a pro, this slows you down. (Your relatives might shoot you funny looks as you pick turkey and stuffing up with chopsticks…Then again, doesn’t that make it more fun?? ;))
  • Say a prayer of gratitude, religious or not, before meals.

So what do you say? Will you invite mindfulness to your next feast? How has Maya Angelou influenced you in your life? Your writing?

Eat Like a Pilgrim, Write Like a Pro

pil·grim [pil-grim, -gruhm] noun

1.  A person who journeys to a sacred place as an act of devotion.
2. A traveler or wanderer, especially in a foreign place.
3. An original settler in a region.
We should be adopting almost all of the Indian and pilgrim eating principles. Fresh water from streams, lean meats in the form of naturally fed game, poultry and fresh-caught fish from pure streams and a clean ocean. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Those were the days!” Diane Kress, R.D.

(To read my LIVESTRONG.com article featuring Kress’ insight, visit:¬†Fabulous Fall Foods.)
***
As writers, we are pilgrims‚ÄĒpeople voyaging and settling into foreign places. And like many pilgrims throughout history, we work extremely hard. If we don’t fuel our bodies and brains with plentiful nutrients and sufficient amounts of energy, we can develop a slew of complications, from fuzzy thinking and memory lapses to headaches, insomnia and fatigue. For our sake and the sake of our careers, it’s best we keep such challenges in the fiction category… Don’t you think???
***

HEALTHY STEPS FOR YOUR VOYAGE:

Choose fresh over processed. 
While we wouldn’t want to eat precisely like the¬†pilgrims of Mayflower voyage fame, who survived on long-lasting foods like dried cow tongue, we can all benefit from eating more nutritious, whole foods. Studies have shown that the antioxidants in colorful fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds and whole grains not only support your body’s defenses against infections and disease, they boost brain function.
Eat often.
Anyone who’s been on a lengthy voyage will tell you the importance of frequent meals or snacks. In order to maintain positive levels of glucose, which is your brain’s main fuel source, you must eat enough and at proper time intervals‚ÄĒtypically every 2 to 4 hours. To ensure stable blood sugar, energy levels, appetite control and moods between meals, emphasize those natural foods.
***
Get Your Healthy Fats.
Although there’s still much we don’t know for certain about early Americans’ diets, we do know that they ate plenty of fish, nuts and seeds. A deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids, healthy fats we must get from food, can cause fatigue, depressive moods, memory problems and mood swings. Omega-3s play a vital role in brain function, so eat rich sources, such as salmon, mackerel, halibut, ground flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil, often.

Practice Gratitude.
Most of us don’t have to hunt, gather or scrounge for our food. For that alone we should be grateful. Where did the food on your last plate come from? Who created, purchased or prepared it for you? If someone served you, did you look them in the eye to say “thanks?” Did you enjoy it or eat it mindlessly in front of the TV? Did you chew and eat slowly, observing the flavors and textures? Or did you gulp it down?
***
Research conducted by Robert Emmons, a pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at UC Davis and Editor-In-Chief of the Jour­nal of Pos­i­tive Psy­chol­ogy, showed that practicing gratitude can increase happiness levels by about 25 percent and improve physical health and sleep quality. What good are we as writers without positive moods, health or sleep?

A Healthy Brain-Boosting Day

Breakfast:
Steel-cut oats, milk, fresh fruit & walnuts
Tea (rich in brain-boosting antioxidants)
Snack:
Sliced apple with cheese or nut butter
Lunch:
Herb-crusted salmon
Fresh or steamed veggies
Whole grain roll
Snack:
Air-popped, herb-seasoned popcorn (a hearty whole grain)
Dinner:
Homemade bean & vegetable chili
Cornbread, made with whole grain flour, topped with honey
Milk or wine (milk for protein, wine for antioxidants…and fun :))
Morning, noon & night:
Say “thank you.”
Ponder your blessings.
Jot them down in a gratitude journal.

Which pilgrim-style step are you willing to work on? Which have you mastered? What are you particularly grateful for today??