Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Alternative Gift-Giving Guide

The Christmas decorations are up.  We had our first cool/cold front come through this weekend here in Miami - currently 54° - and I'm looking forward to going out and enjoying this fall almost winter weather.  As I sit here sipping my coffee a commercial comes on showing "the countdown to Christmas" and only "14 days left to shop, are you done yet?"  Not sure about you, but that alone can be overwhelming and stressful.  It's supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year - am I right? 
For the past two "Wellness Wednesdays" I've shared posts about alternative gifting during this time of year.  Here are my thoughts on gifting - no judgement if you're giving actual gifts to people, this is just what I've recently started trying to do.  Mind you I'm not opposed to giving an actual tangible gift as well, but most times now it has a meaning behind it or it allows for experiencing a moment with that person.  Call me sappy, call me what you will, hope this gives people a moment to think about buying that next gift - oh and if you're looking for the typical holiday post around this time of year, "Eating Healthy For The Holidays" - here's the link to an older post.

Avoiding the Sales - Black Friday and Cyber Monday may have already passed this year, but keep in mind it really is best to steer clear.  These days are geared towards the sale items and making the consumer think they're getting a good deal - retailers and advertisers know this. The sales are designed to take advantage of our desire to consume more, so much so some stores are even opening up earlier and earlier, some even on Thanksgiving.   Use this time instead of shopping and perusing online to start making your list of alternative gifts.  Creativity will be a must.

Your Time is a Gift - It's hard to put a price on your time.  But if I were asked "what one gift would I want to receive for Christmas?  My answer would simply be, "your time".  It sounds cliché but it's the simple truth.  The people I care about mean much more to me than having the latest gadget.  So the next time someone asks you to make a list, let them know that the best present is their presence.  

Give the Gift of an Experience - I did a coupon book one year with my nephews.  When I went to visit them we cashed in every coupon I made - picnic at the park, making their favorite homemade desserts, and more.  Truly memorable.  Why?  Not only was I spending time with them, but we were making memories. Memories that I hope they'll remember for a lifetime.  Okay that might be asking too much, but then that just means we need to make more memories together - I know those are the stories that we'll talk about for years to come.  This year I gave them a few board games (I hope they're not reading my blog).  Yes it's a tangible gift, but my hope is that they'll have their friends over and have a game night - make memories or make it a monthly get together.  And when Aunt Amy comes to visit, game ON!

A few more ideas for giving experiences instead of gifts:  
-Tickets to a special event
-Home Cooked Meal
-Sunrise/Sunset Seeking
-Pass to a Museum/Zoo
-Magazine Subscription

Pass Your Gift On - 'Tis true, it is better to give than receive.  If people ask what you'd like to receive as a gift, (and they are insistent and won't take no for an answer) have a list ready of charities or non-profit organizations.  They can donate what money they'd use in giving you a gift and give to that organization instead.   Giving to others and truly making a difference to those that might not have as much as we do.  

Make A Gift - DIY - most years when it comes to my co-workers I give a homemade gift.  Last year I made homemade salad dressing and bottled it up.  I come from a family that food really is a sign of affection.  So what better way to give food but as a gift?  I've broadened my DIY abilities this year and made peppermint sugar scrub - coconut oil put to good use!  If my current co-workers are reading this blog, act surprised next Monday :)

It might be a difficult transition weaving minimalism into the holidays, from what people normally expect this time of year.  The truth is your experiences build and strengthen the bond between you and the people you care about.   They'll understand, even if it takes a little bit of time.  Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 26, 2017

November In-Review

November is Diabetes Awareness Month.  My last blog was all about knowing your numbers.  You can read about it here.  I can't stress to you enough about knowing your numbers, it really is the first step in prevention.  Going to the doctor can be daunting, but it's more important to know where your numbers are at (for diabetes, heart disease, that's why they're called check-ups!) and concurrently make changes to improve your health.  I hear a lot of people that say, "I'm just going to eat what I want and enjoy life."  My response always to them is that the food I eat not only is healthy BUT also tastes good, why else would I be eating it? 

The truth is you need to start where you are at and implement one change at a time.  It really is that simple.  Make too many changes all at once?  Odds are you'll slip back into your old habits.  Our goal is to implement healthy habits for life.  

Thanksgiving was this past week.  The holidays are here and amongst us!  I helped contribute to an article for work about "Eating Healthy for the Holidays".  It's been thought that many people gain more weight than they really do over the holidays.  However, the weight that people do gain - between 1-2 pounds - is often times not lost.  So over the years gaining 1-2 pounds each year can really add up.  You can read more about my tips in the article here, about how to prevent this weight gain.  Keep in mind that the holidays are a time to spend with family and friends and while food is often times the focus, try finding alternative activities to do that aren't solely focused on food - pick a fun activity/exercise to do together - museum, park, play, beach (it is currently 81° here in the MIA).

The holidays can be stressful - lots of activities that require time management, financial stress, and it also involves spending time with loved ones, which let's be honest can be stressful, so exercise is helpful for staying active as well as having an outlet for stress.  It's a win win!    

The CDC released a report that stated that 1 in 10 Americans are eating the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables needed daily:  1 1/2 cups of fruit and 2-3 cups of vegetables (depending on age and gender).  1 in 10?  I'd like to think we're doing better as a country, but when they release studies like this it only validates my job that much more.  I believe there are a number of reasons why people are not getting the recommended amount and one is definitely lack of access (and affordability).  We have to do better and have kale on sale for "2 for $3" or else people are buying the chips that are the same price.  Additionally I believe people don't always know how to cook their vegetables and if people don't know how to cook them, then they definitely aren't eating them (don't get me started on how little restaurants offer them as well.  It's like a mission to get a salad with dinner without having to pay SO much extra!)  It's the common theme I keep repeating on the blog - start where you are at.  If you are eating little to no vegetables, start including a salad at meals.  It might be the simplest way to begin to include vegetables and it doesn't require cooking.  From there?  keep finding ways to try and experiment with a new vegetable.  Just whatever you do, don't start juicing or making smoothies - I need you to chew your food - juicing and smoothies might just be the worst trend ever.  Read about it here.
4 Salads 4 Different Ways - Change the nut, cheese, and fruit and you've got a different tasting salad!
I've shared about this before on the blog, but for those new to reading my blog I've challenged myself to make everything homemade (for the most part).  From homemade marshmallows to homemade pestos, I'm making everything homemade.  The one area though that still is not completely homemade - bread/crackers/pie crusts, etc.  I've dabbled in making bread before and it isn't too difficult (yes it takes time and patience) but it's definitely something that with more practice starts to come easier.  I knew I needed to get back into the swing of making more homemade breads (bread does freeze, so there's really no excuse)! 

I've seen so much recently about sourdough starters, I figured if I'm making things homemade, I might as well try to start literally from the ground up.  I wanted the challenge to see if I could really get a starter going.  The craziest part of it all?  It literally is just water and flour.  The fermentation happens all on it's own over time and with a little feeding.  Now for background knowledge, I do happen to kill all things green (plants), so I was a little worried that I'd be able to get the starter going and then it would just fizzle.  I've been reading Artisan Sourdough Made Simple by The Clever Carrot to help give me guidance and while I'm only into week 2, so far so good!  I should probably read a little more into her tips, but once I got the starter past week one and I made my first loaf I felt accomplished.  Into week two now and I have had an issue with "hooch" aka I need to feed my starter.  Again, I should read more of her tips.  I am not an expert, yet.  But it has inspired me to get a Dutch-oven - probably should've already had one at this point in my cooking career, but I opted to make a bread in a 9x5 pan this week.  I didn't realize the bigger the pot the more air there is for the bread to breathe, hence why my 1st loaf was quite small.  And if I'm investing, I should probably get a bread cutter, because if I'm baking bread I might as well have a cute design on the top.  You know I'm right.

While November is coming to a close, Diabetes Awareness Month isn't just the month of November.  I worked for 3 and a half years with an emphasis in diabetes.  Now more than ever we have to create awareness through education because the stats are staggering - it's estimated that 1 in 3 people by 2050 will have Type 2 diabetes.  Yes, awareness needs to be spread.   

Type 1 Diabetes does not always get as much attention as Type 2 Diabetes does as it doesn't effect as many people.  It is a chronic autoimmune condition characterized by a pancreas that is not able to produce insulin, a hormone that's necessary for vital life functions.   The condition is often misunderstood by many and those that have been given the diagnosis are left to deal with the diagnosis.  I've counseled many patients with Type 1 Diabetes on how to carb count, basal/bolus insulin therapy, CGMs, etc.  But the one thing I often felt at a loss in how to help - was in dealing with the diagnosis.  If you know someone that has recently been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, have them read this article.  If you are someone living with Diabetes and have had a hard time dealing with the diagnosis, read this article.  And if you are someone that doesn't know anything about Type 1 Diabetes, read this article.  It will forever change your life.  I know it did mine.

Sunday, November 5, 2017


November is Diabetes Awareness Month®.  The theme this year from the American Diabetes Association is #ThisIsDiabetes - "Whether you're living with diabetes, caring for someone who is, or you're fighting to stop it, there's a hero in you.  One in 11 Americans has diabetes.  So put on your cape and take a stand."  It's a month to draw awareness to the disease as well as to call attention to those at risk.

I taught a class last week called "Dining Out and Diabetes" in Spanish, "Comer Afuera y la Diabetes".  Ironically no one in class had diabetes, so I shifted my focus of class to discuss what diabetes was and more so how to prevent it (what I prefer anyways).  One lady in class mentioned she was too scared to go in and have her levels checked.  She kept asking a lot of questions but yet didn't know what her numbers were.  Bottom line she's like so many others out there:

Approximately 84 million American adults - more than 1 out of 3 - have prediabetes.  Of those with prediabetes, 90% don't know they have it. 

To me that's a staggering statistic and the reason why we have National Diabetes Awareness Month®.  Experts say a "diabetes tsunami" is coming our way.  Why are the numbers SO high?  One of the main reasons is that  of adults (and  of children) are overweight or obese, not to mention we're couch potatoes - binge watching TV is the new norm, sadly.  Type 2 diabetes develops because the body is resistant to insulin.  Insulin acts like a key that allows sugar to enter the cells, where it can be burned for fuel or stored for later.  However, in some people, the key struggles to open the lock.
This puts the pancreas into overdrive - to compensate for this insulin resistance the beta cells have to pump out more insulin just to keep up.  Over the years the beta cells wear out.  When this occurs this is when the blood sugar levels fall into the "diabetes" range.  Americans are headed towards this breaking point because of a couple of reasons:  we're gaining weight at alarming rates (due to portion sizes, sugary beverages, and less exercise) and because of age.  Beta-cell failure occurs more rapidly with age.  

I read an article this week that discussed this issue - of needing to know your numbers, yet doctors are not communicating how important it is to make a change once you've been diagnosed with prediabetes.  "Prediabetes doesn't trigger much of a fuss in the doctor's office.  A lot of healthcare professionals see the numbers are in the prediabetic range and simply tell the patient that their numbers are high.  They should go home and exercise and eat less."  Many patients I saw (at my previous job that were referred by their primary care doctors) had NO idea what their numbers were and and/or why they were even being referred - many knew they needed to lose weight, but stated they had NO idea of their blood sugar levels.  Now in the doctors' defense the patients may have been told this, but in the education/prevention world we call this the "Charlie Brown effect".  They get their diagnosis and then all they heard was "whaa whaa whaa whaa".  The truth is you're going to have some doctors that are more proactive than others.  I encouraged all my patients to be their own advocates and one, know their numbers and what they mean, and two take preventative action with their nutrition.  One other good piece of advice is to see a specialist if your numbers are in the prediabetes range, an endocrinologist.  They specialize in endocrine disorders.  If you have heart disease you see a cardiologist - so why wouldn't you see an endocrinologist if you have prediabetes?  Back to the numbers and what they mean:
If you have a fasting blood sugar drawn (eight-hour fast) and the numbers fall in between 100 - 125 mg/dL this signals that you have an irregularity in your blood sugar levels, impaired glucose tolerance.  A diagnosis is not made from one blood sugar level, however, you should have your A1c level checked.  The A1c level is a 3-month average of your blood sugar levels.  This will give a better picture of what is going on (as well as the ability to diagnosis if your blood sugar levels are normal, prediabetic, or diabetic).  If the A1c level falls in between 5.7 - 6.4% this is considered prediabetes.  6.5% and higher is diabetes.  This is the first place I start with patients, in understanding their numbers.  Diabetes works on a continuum - it cannot be reversed (contrary to what people may say), however it can be controlled.  The first step is knowing your numbers and if they are in a range of concern, begin to make changes in order to offset/prevent developing diabetes.  

How can we lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes?  How can we help control type 2 diabetes if one already has it?  There was a whole study focused solely on preventing type 2 diabetes - Diabetes Prevention Program.  Here's what the findings said along with other helpful tips to help prevent diabetes:

-The best way to dodge diabetes is to lose weight (or not gain) extra pounds.  Losing 7-10% of your current weight can cut your chances of developing type 2 diabetes in half.

-Do at least 30 minutes of brisk walking or other aerobic exercise every day.  Include strength training two or three times a week as well.  Working your muscles more often and making them work harder improves their ability to use insulin and absorb glucose.  Limit the time you spend sitting at work, at home, or in between.  

-Limit sweets, especially sugar-sweetened drinks.  The sugar you sip may add flab more than the sugar you chew.  Liquid calories don’t seem to lead to satiety and it’s easy to take in a large amount, easily.  Think your drink! 

-Fill up half your plate with vegetables and only a quarter with (preferably whole) grains.  Whole grains don’t have a magical nutrient that fights diabetes and improves health.  It’s the entire package – elements intact and working together – that’s important.  The bran and fiber in whole grains make it more difficult for digestive enzymes to break down the starches into glucose.  This leads to lower, slower increases in blood sugar and insulin.  As a result, they stress the body’s insulin-making machinery less, and may help prevent type 2 diabetes. 

I also wrote a whole blog post last time about how to choose healthier carbohydrates - they're not all created equal.  Read about it here.

-Replace saturated fat and trans fats with unsaturated fats to lower the risk of heart disease.  The unsaturated fats found in liquid vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds can help ward off type 2 diabetes.  Trans fats do just the opposite.  Trans fats are found in many margarines, packaged baked goods, fried foods in fast-food restaurants, and any product that lists “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” on the label. 

Baptist Health South Florida, my current employer, is finishing up a year-long program that implemented the Diabetes Prevention Program - education, support, changing lifestyle habits - all in an effort to prevent Type 2 diabetes.  We'll be starting another program in January.  If you or someone you know has prediabetes and is looking for help and support and is ready to implement change, comment below so I can refer you to get signed up for the program!  You must live in Miami.  A year might sound like a long time, but it takes time to implement change and undo habits that you've had for a lifetime, all in an effort to help prevent diabetes.  It'll literally be a life-changing program.

The bottom line and the good news about diabetes:  you're not destined to get diabetes if you practice prevention.  Keep your weight - and especially your waist - under control, and spend more time on your feet than on your seat!

The key to healthy eating is balancing your plate - protein/carbohydrate/healthy fats - and aiming to include LOTS of non-starchy veggies to fill you up with fiber!  Delish, healthy food!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Carbs and Cravings

Carbohydrates aka carbs - Most people LOVE them.  Maybe they love them too much, it is what most plates are filled with these days.  Just take a look around and you'll see people overeating carbs.  So why would one remove them from their plate completely?  If the promise of weight loss was there would it be worth it?  Low-carb diets are and have been popular throughout the years for this very reason...weight loss.  Is this the right way to go?  Will this help curb one's craving for these carbs?

Truth bomb - low-fat and low-carb in the long-run show little success.  So, what is successful?  Cutting back on the processed, refined carbs that are creating the crave for why we want them in the first place.  I've said this a repeated number of times on this blog, but it bears repeating again.  NOT ALL CARBS ARE CREATED EQUAL.  I apologize for the all caps (screaming), but I think people need to understand that there is a different physiological response when we eat certain carbs.  When people say they feel that they are addicted to sugar, you better believe them.  It's a literal feel good response when you eat certain foods and all of that correlates to your blood sugar response.  The unfortunate?  Sometimes you don't always feel so good and your body emits symptoms to let you know it's not responding as well as it should - that poor pancreas can't keep up.

So before you stop reading my article, hear me out.  There is nothing wrong with eating a pasta meal.  I have Italian blood in me, I eat pasta.  What's the problem most times with pasta?  I said it earlier and it is one of the problems with carbs in general, not only are we eating the unhealthy carbs but we are also eating them EXCESSIVELY.  While I'm picking on my pasta, think of any culture and it tends to be carb-laden.  Here in Miami we have a mix of many Hispanic cultures.  When I used to get diet recalls, many times it was black beans, white rice, yuca, plantains, and meat.  Carb/protein, carb, carb, carb, and protein.  Carb-bomb waiting to go off.  And virtually no non-starchy vegetables thrown into the mix, unless you want to count Iceberg lettuce and we're not playing that game.
It's easy to overeat carbs...

Processed = A Problem                                                                                                                      You've heard your doctor say eliminate all things "white".  He's referring to those processed carbs - white bread, cereal (sugary or regular - sorry not sorry - I cannot nor will not recommend a cereal to you to eat.  Worst.Food.Ever!), white rice, white pasta.  Why?  Again, our bodies are amazing machines if we fuel them the right way.  Give them this kind of fuel (because that is what carbs provide, fuel) - it will produce a rapid rise in blood sugar, wherein your pancreas has to respond and produce insulin in order to cover all that circulating glucose (sugar).  The pancreas cannot continue covering all our overeating.  It just can't.  Add in genetic risk factors, and this is why we're seeing a rise in prediabetes, and hence diabetes, not to mention metabolic syndrome and heart disease.   And here's the kicker of it all, the more processed, refined carbs you eat, the more you CRAVE.  That's right - you're on a roller coaster ride, literally.  You want that feel good rush, making it almost impossible to get off the ride (and oddly enough you don't want to - you crave it).  Remember what I said, our bodies are these amazing vessels.  They respond with what we give them.  It's our job to fuel up and fuel the right way.

One difference with refined versus whole grains is the fiber.  Fiber literally slows down digestion and thus the blood sugar response.  When you're eating a processed, refined carbohydrate, it is literally "fast-acting" energy, which is not much different than sugar (your body doesn't know the difference as it is breaking these down for energy for your cells).  White bread or any other processed carb will bread down into glucose very quickly which again raises blood sugar rapidly.  The opposite occurs with the slower-digesting carbs - beans, whole wheat bread, quinoa, etc. - the longer it takes to digest and break down into sugar, in part due to the fiber that they contain, the slower the response in blood sugar occurs.  See the picture below for a depiction of the breakdown.    The rapid spike from the processed carbs often leads to a crash or if you're like most people, you try to avoid that and you start the cycle all over again and eat.

Sugary drinks wreak havoc on blood sugar response

Insulin                                                                                                                                                      I believe there are many reasons why people say they have cravings - taste, PMS, stress, etc.  But when we look closer at carb cravings your body kicks in to try and restore your blood sugar, it senses the urgency and it responds.  But here's the problem.  Processed carbs cause more insulin secretion.  When you have this cycle:  eat processed carbs, blood sugar rises rapidly, insulin quickly follows (again the body is doing it's job), which directs incoming calories into the liver, muscle, and fat cells.  Here's the kicker, only fat cells have a limitless ability to store calories.  If after a short time of  eating your meal the glucose circulating is low (you're out of available fuel), this leads to hunger all too soon after you've just eaten.  Breaking this down - if fat cells get too much energy, there's not enough to fuel the brain.  The brain is constantly watching the calories in our body.  If/when it sees that the calories are low, it sends the message and triggers you to feel hungry and create those all too famous cravings.  This is a vicious cycle that goes on and on, ultimately leading to weight gain.

Kick the Crave                                                                                                                                      I'm not of the mindset of all or none, but I've heard people say that they've gone cold turkey with the processed carbs to help themselves with cravings.  Then they will add the healthy, complex, whole grains back into the mix.  I say the key is to minimize your intake of processed, refined carbs and have the majority of your intake be healthy, whole grains.  However you're able to do so, get going.  Here are a few helpful tips to remember:

Include WHOLE grains - brown rice, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, etc.  And while you're including whole grains, begin to monitor your portion size.  To give you perspective, 1 cup of pasta = 45g of carbs - that would be the amount an adult female could/should have at a meal.  Yes, 1 cup of pasta will seem like none, but remember it's not just the source of carbs that's the problem it's also the amount that we're eating.  We need to be more mindful when it comes to carbs.  When we've included the healthy carbs in a portion controlled amount this has the biggest impact on blood sugar - keeping it steady and in better control (no more crazy roller coaster ride) which in turn helps manage those so-called cravings.

I'd be honest in saying to avoid the sugary carbs in the beginning (again, I'm not an all or none person) but cakes, cookies, pies, candy, and any sugary beverages, yeah, I'd say eliminate at least for the first week - not only do they wreak havoc on blood sugars but they provide virtually no nutritional value.  Find a nice piece of dark chocolate or something that will in theory replace this but yet not be laden with sugar.

Include healthy plant-based fats at meals.  Fats take longer to digest which in turn helps stabilize blood sugar and cause less of a response  but they also help to keep you fuller longer.  Examples include nuts, nut butters, avocado, olives, oils, hummus, seeds, etc.  The key is to balance your meal - carbs, protein, and healthy fats, and not to be forgotten including non-starchy vegetables at as many meals as possible, i.e. kale, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, asparagus, and MORE.  They are what I like to call the fiber factor.  Fiber helps control blood sugar response (since you don't digest fiber it doesn't elicit a blood sugar response) but what it does do is help stabilize it as fats do and fiber also helps keep one fuller longer as well.  Get your fiber!

In summary, the goal is to include high-quality carbs - those that are minimally processed - at meals in portion-controlled amounts along-side protein, healthy plant-based fats, and non-starchy vegetables.  I've included pictures throughout to give examples.  Many times people will end up asking me at the end of it all, "what can I eat?"  There have been examples throughout to help you.  More importantly it's to show you that healthy can taste delicious, it all begins with a few small changes (and kicking some old habits maybe) to get you on the path of health and wellness and really put an end to those carb cravings.  You'll feel better.  Pinky promise.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Year Round Up

The Year Round Up

I turned 40 last year.  Call it a "milestone" birthday if you will, but the truth is that every birthday for me is a time to reflect and see what I can do better in the year to come - kind of like New Year's, only I think of each year as a new chapter, a new beginning.  So now that I am approaching 41 it's time to sit and reflect on the past, present, and future, the mark of my new year, my new chapter in life.  A lot has happened both personally and professionally - not sure how so much happened in just one year - but I'm here to tell you that I'm grateful and ever in awe of this so called life.  Here are a few things I learned/made a priority in this past year:

Self-care.  I know people say it's important but how many people are really practicing self-care?  I can't express to you how important it really is.  I'm not talking about a 4-hour day spa getaway once a month (although that would be nice), I'm talking about a simple 10-minutes to yourself each day (yes, I know that's hard for mothers of the world).  Make it a daily priority.  Yes, life is busy and at times it might seem like taking time for yourself is trivial when there is so much else to be done.  Well it's not.  It's actually one of the most important things you can do for yourself.  A few things I've been doing for self-care this past year (it depends on the day and how much time I have):  meditation, exercise, spending time in nature, manicures, & more.  As I said, it depends on the time I have, but minimally I've been meditating for 10 minutes to be able to sit still, center myself for the day before me, and remind myself to always come back to my breath.  My encouragement is to find a way to have your own self-care practice.  Giving back to yourself helps you give to others. (cliché but true).  
40 Roses for Each Year - Taking time to smell the Roses

Miami Marathon.  January 29, 2017 -- 5 hours 15 minutes in the cold, cold rain.  Weird weather day for Miami, but yes it was cold (in the 50s with rain is not pleasant).  My running partner Marcela and I had talked about running a marathon for years.  You can read about it here.   Little did I know how much the training was doing for me.  The thought of running for 26.2 miles straight can seem daunting.  But there is truth when people tell you that you get a runner's high.  All of my pictures from the marathon I have this ridiculous grin on my face.  It couldn't have been anything else other than a runner's high.   I think it was the culmination of all the training and there we were on that day and it was finally coming to fruition.  Talk about never being more proud of myself for having accomplished something.  I truly couldn't have done it without Marcela.  She pushed me to do something I didn't think I could ever do.  The training gives you the grit to know you can.  Beer on mile 22 might've helped just a little.   And knowing that you can overcome anything.   Training for this marathon forever changed me.  Whenever I think that I can't do something I remember back to all the hours I put into training.  Where there's a will there's a way.
Runner's High
After I completed my marathon in January I had a couple of back to back months with injuries (injured foot after the marathon, broken rib and then a broken toe because I'm just a clutz).  Add to that during this time period I was facing work stress without having the ability to workout.  I wasn't myself most days and I was walking around as if I was a different person.  I'm one of those people that will just keep things most times inside - I feel why share with others all this negativity?  My outlet normally is the exercise, so pair that with not being able to exercise, I was what you call a hot mess.  What turned it around for me?  The meditation helped some, but the bigger "elephant in the room" was that I had to take an inner look at what I wanted to do with my life (professionally).  I knew that what I was doing wasn't making a difference (most days) and I knew that I needed to be able to have a better work/life balance.  So I started looking for jobs.  That was one of the first things I knew I needed to do to improve the situation.  As hard as it is for change at times, making the decision to move on was what really turned it around for me.  

Doing What I Love and Loving What I Do

My job is going well.  Almost 3 months in and I'm loving what I do.  I've finally been able to find a better work/life balance.  I'm re-learning how to go and have fun.  Sounds silly maybe, but I had lost the ability to go and enjoy life.  I was always so tired I used my down time just to recuperate and get ready for the next week.  It's definitely been a transition, but one I'm welcoming.  I've already caught up with a few friends over dinner, enjoyed a concert, and even did yoga in the ballpark (something I've always wanted to do but never did).  I definitely work hard, but I'm learning that old saying, "work hard, play harder".  

Be passionate about what you love.  I’ve been told once or twice (okay maybe 100 times) I’m too passionate about nutrition.  I don’t even know what that means.  I just know that I went through a time where I switched careers and even when I wasn’t doing dietetics’ work I was always incorporating nutrition somehow.  Apparently I did know what I was passionate about and just needed some time away.   I will always be passionate about improving people’s health, it’s just in my nature and in my being.  And if being called passionate is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
Travel.  It’s the best education you’ll ever get.  “Nothing will teach you more than exploring the world and accumulating experiences.”  Last year for my 40th I went to Italy - Rome, Florence, and Venice.  I'll have to do a blog post about that sometime.  That was the first vacation I had in almost 10 years.  Long overdue.  I've always said it's more important to have stories to tell than stuff to show.  True story - I brought back a few gifts for people from my trip, but every time I went to buy something for myself, I always hesitated.  So much so, I didn't end up buying anything for myself.  I have a ton of pictures and I wrote a journal to help myself remember all my adventures.  It was definitely a trip to remember.  Now I need to start planning where to next!

Looks fake, but it's as real as it comes!
I don’t have it all figured out.  By no means am I trying to force my views or opinions on you and telling you how you should live your life.  What works for me, may not work for you.  And the truth is, I’m still trying to figure it all out – because some days it works and some days it doesn’t, even for me!
Here’s wishing that my 40s (as each year passes) will be as wonderful as my 20s but with added wisdom.  I am approaching my 40s with an open heart full of wonder and magic. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

It's Fall Ya'll

It’s Fall Ya’ll
Time flies when you’re having fun?  I think that’s how the saying goes.  Or is it time is slow as molasses?  Truth be told it’s been a little of both these past few weeks.  Between the anticipation of Hurricane Irma, the clean-up post Irma, and then some family stuff going on, it’s been a little stressful these past few weeks.  I know that all these things shall pass, but while in the moment it can feel a little overwhelming.  I know for me it was all the build-up of the storm – a possible category 5 Hurricane hitting Miami – and to evacuate or not?  The back and forth between family members.  Yes, there was some stress.  While we were lucky here in Miami, Key West was hit more directly and Hurricane Irma was not even the cat 5 they were expecting.  To say the Keys is quite devastated is an understatement.  Then within the next week there’s word of Hurricane Maria – we do know here in Miami the possibility of hurricanes, it is hurricane season.  But we haven’t had a direct hit since 2005.  I don’t know that Miami would’ve been able to sustain a cat 5 – note to all the cities, keep up-to-date on cutting back your trees. 
Talk about some overgrowth of debris that shouldn’t have been.  All these natural disasters in general can create stress.  We’re having a few programs with Baptist Health South Florida this week, so check them out:

How to Talk to your Kids about Natural Disasters:

I’ll be going down on Thursday to Marathon, FL with a group from my team.  This is an opportunity for the community down in the Keys to come and get information on various resources that are available to them. There will be a free lunch provided and truth be told, I’ll be there just to listen to people’s stories.  It’s so important for people to be able to talk about what’s happened.  Let it all out and release the stress.  I’ve been wanting to get involved and give back to the community.  To the first of many…

NEWtrition Facts Labels

Last blog I wrote about the new nutrition label and talked specifically about the “Added Sugars” line Read about it here if you missed it.  This time I’m showing you just a few things from the ingredient list that can be misconstrued or misinterpreted.  It’s not as if there aren’t clues.  You just need to read the fine print, it’s why the food companies have lawyers (duh!)  Here are just a few tricks/marketing ploys to make foods sound healthier than they really are.  Hence confusion and hence why I’m writing about it.

“Unlock Your Coffee’s Latte Potential” – Yeah, you read that right.  To make a latte with just 6 oz. of coffee, you’d need a seventh of a can, which is about 9 tablespoons (not sure how you’re going to measure that seeing as you have to submerge the nozzle in the coffee).  That equates to 120 calories, 6 grams of saturated fat, and 4 teaspoons of added sugar or more depending on how many tablespoons you really end up adding in.  Last time I checked a latte was made with espresso and steamed milk.  This One Touch “Latte” is made with creamer – sugar, coconut oil, gums, artificial flavors, etc.  I’m all for quick and easy, but I know a certain company that makes an espresso machine that can give you the real thing in seconds.   And it isn't this product.  Just saying.

The complete cookie – I saw these the other day in a supposed health food store.  The company boasts that their cookies have 16g of protein.  So glad my cookie could provide me said protein. (I seriously hope no one is eating cookies to get their protein…oh wait, that’s why this product was created).  They call their product “baked nutrition”.  I call it adding protein (pea isolate, brown rice, and wheat gluten) but that doesn’t equate to nutritious cookies which is what they’re inferring.  Each 4 oz cookie has 360 to 400 calories (their label only lists half, but that’s a half a cookie and we all know you’ll be eating the whole thing).  These cookies are also baked with mostly white flour, sugar, and margarine.  Pretty sure as a dietitian I wouldn’t call that “baked nutrition”. 
Spinach Flavor Wraps – they market their product as having “no artificial flavors” but they don’t market their product as having no spinach to speak of.  Hmm.  Oh wait, that wouldn’t sell.  Not to mention people don’t like vegetables, so anything to make people think they’re eating vegetables and doing a good thing.  Infuriating.  There is some spinach powder added after the white flour and shortening but that’s just part of the other seasonings – garlic and onion powder.  And to top it off they add blue and yellow dyes to make the wrap green.   Here people are thinking they’re buying a green wrap for the spinach and all they’re getting are green-dyed wraps.  Pretty sure someone’s trying to pull the wool over our eyes.  Shame on you Mission.  Good thing I’m here to help.

I've been on a recent kick of making chia jam.  I've made raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, and now blueberry.  I won't say which is my favorite, I'll leave that for you all to decide.  But it's the easiest homemade food item I make.  I understand it takes time to do, but the truth is you can control how much added sugar you add (or don't add) and that's the beauty of having things homemade, you have the control.  At least that's why I started the "all things homemade" kick awhile back.  When I made the strawberry chia jam the strawberries were SO sweet I didn't add any extra sugar (maple syrup in my case) because they didn't need it.  I used frozen blueberries this go around because berries are getting pricey at the store.  The frozen berries worked well (I doubted they'd work and thought they might be too mushy...but they worked perfectly!)  I'm not sure if the chia jam will look aesthetically pleasing using apples, but that'll be my next fruit to try.   Why the chia jam fix as of recent?  Let's just say that we're taking the butter off the toast and subbing the fat for the carbs due to some heart disease in this here family of ours.  I think the truth is in general you want to use moderate amounts of all foods.  But a certain family member of mine was found to be using WAY too much butter on his toast.  And due to recent occurrences we have switched from the butter to the jam for now.  Here's the simple recipe for easy chia jam with any fruit:
  • 2 cups fruit
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice, to taste
  • 1-2 tablespoons sweetener or your choice (honey, agave, maple syrup)
  • 2 tablespoons chia seeds
Prepare the fruit as needed.  Remove stems, pits, seeds and skin as needed.  Chop large fruits into small pieces.  Berries can be left whole.

Transfer the fruit to a saucepan and set over medium heat.  Cook until the fruit breaks down and becomes syrupy, 5 to 10 minutes.  Mash the fruit with the back of a spatula or a potato masher, leaving it as smooth or as lumpy as you like. 

Off the heat, stir in 1 tablespoon of the sweetener of choice and lemon juice.  Taste and add more sweetener or lemon juice to taste.  Stir in the chia seeds. 

Let stand 5 minutes, until thickened. This won't quite reach the firm consistency of regular jam, but will noticeably thicken.  If you'd like a thicker consistency, especially with very juicy fruits, stir in more chia seeds, 1 teaspoon at a time

Transfer to a jar or other storage container.  Store in the fridge for about 2 weeks.  The jam will thicken further and become more set once completely chilled.  The jam can also be frozen for up to 3 months.  And if you'd like to get rid of the visible chia seeds, puree the jam with a blender or with an immersion blender.  

Voila.  Easy chia jam with any fruit.  No need to buy store bought jam anymore!

Prior to the storm and then the week after, I wasn't able to cook as much as I would've liked.  But there were things like getting power back and cleaning up debris that took precedence.  All the stress from the storm actually made me not want to cook.  It surprised me.  But suffice it to say, I'm back!  Cooking up a storm (ha, see what I did there...too soon for a hurricane joke?  Quite possibly, but laughter helps relieve stress!)   Since I've been back in the kitchen I've made two vegan desserts.  It always stirs up nutrition conversations with people - just because it's vegan doesn't mean it's healthy.  Truth.  I do try to experiment, not only to stay up on the latest trends but also to see how things taste.  Plant-based eating is on the rise.  The only thing I will say is that at times I don't like some of the replacement items - i.e. vegan butter, vegan cream cheese - and the reason why I don't like some of those items is because I often wonder if they're any better than an original product (with just one ingredient?)  I made a gluten-free vegan carrot cake for a co-worker's birthday last week: 

It was definitely enjoyed by all - I loved making the "flax egg" and having a cake turn out without having any eggs - nutrition science nerd.  If I had had more time I was going to try to make a cashew version of the "buttercream" frosting.  It used only real ingredients, no processed cream cheese.  I had so much extra frosting leftover from the cake, I made vegan cupcakes today: 

But I only made them because I wanted to make the maple caramel you see drizzled on top.  Currently it is 84° here in Miami, but it is fall ya'll.  Maple, pumpkin, and apple flavors here we come!  The cupcakes did not disappoint, but let's be real, cake is cake and desserts should be enjoyed in moderation - almost all are in my freezer (yes, cake products like bread freeze REALLY well).  It's just one way I can portion sweets out - and even though they're in the freezer I am able to manage and not overeat them (I've share this before but I include sweets here and there in order to avoid the tendency of many people to overeat sweets because they avoid them).  Don't worry I made real food this week also.  I even created my first veggie quinoa patty - stay tuned for the recipe this week!  Have a great week!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

September at a Glance

September at a Glance

It’s almost been two months that I’ve been at my new job.  Talk about time flying!  I mean it feels like it was just yesterday that I was starting to get adjusted to my new schedule, new co-workers, and new job duties.  To say that I have been happy is an understatement.  I'm doing what I love and loving what I do and I have amazing co-workers - really truly family oriented.  But I think one thing that stands out with my new job is the ability to control my schedule - I feel blessed.  I’m not dependent on a patient showing up late anymore and there’s no late night charting after the full slate of patients in a day.  I work my 40 hours a week (not 50 or 60) and again have the ability to work 6 hours one day if the next entails 10 hours – it’s all dependent on our programs and events happening for the week.  Planning and organizing is key – but I’m good at that (I’d like to think).  And the reason why I mention the timing part is that was what I’ve mentioned on the blog here and here – I wasn’t balancing my work and home life well at all.  How could I when I was consumed with work?  Not to mention my social life was effected.  I wasn’t practicing the very thing that I would tell my patients and I was walking around stressed out – not good for my health and unfortunately not good for my co-workers at the time.  The transition to the new job has been good.  I’m doing what I love – teaching nutrition in a group setting.  Just last week I did a supermarket tour.  Everyone came with such great questions and being right there where all the products are really made it hit home with some of the participants about how to make the healthier choice.  Call me a nutrition nerd, but how fun!  I love passing on the message of how to eat healthy and learn to decipher what products to buy.

NEWtrition Facts Labels

In May 2016, the Food and Drug Administration finished its overhaul of the Nutrition Facts labels, giving larger companies a July 2018 deadline to put them on packages.  Not trying to talk politics here, but in June the Trump administration postponed the deadline (ugh).  However, some companies have updated their labels even with Trump’s postponement (woohoo)!  Here is a new label to see what’s different:
The new labels distinguish between natural and added sugars.  This will be an eye opener for some in seeing how much sugar they are actually taking in.  The recommended amount is just 6 teaspoons/day (~25g) for women and children and just 9 tsp/day (~36g) for men.  It can get confusing at times, but the truth of the matter is that we need to start cutting back on our total amount of sugar – start by adding up how much you are currently consuming with the intent to cut back.  Yogurt would be your first area –
Trader Joe’s avocado-citrus – has 12g of added sugar (that would be half my days' worth) in a 5 oz. cup in addition to 3g of naturally occurring milk sugar, lactose.  My advice, opt for plain yogurts and add in your own fruit to have naturally occurring sugar provide the sweetness.  Remember the intent is to start where you are at and begin to cut back.  Yogurt, a seemingly "healthy" food loaded with sugar.  Glad the added sugars have now been added to the labels.

Quaker Orchard Peach Oats – You might think you’re doing well eating oatmeal, when in fact you’re eating ½ your day’s added sugar ladies!  The orchard peach flavor has 13g (3 teaspoons) of added sugar.  Gah!  4g is from the actual peaches and that’s why the total shows 17g.  I’m here to tell you that yes, I know adding in some sugar or maple syrup will make it taste better and maybe you are doing better by eating oatmeal than before when you were eating pancakes and syrup in the morning.  Point taken.  But it’s astounding to me how much they add in to these products and now are having to out themselves.  As an educator, my hope is that as people become more aware they can begin to now lessen the amount they are taking in.  Try doing your own overnight oats – here's a recipe example here - it's a simple ratio, equal oats to equal milk.  Just be careful with the sweetener you're using, aim to use as little as possible and add in fruit to naturally add the sweetness.  Flavor combinations are endless!

Izze sparkling grapefruit juice – Not to confuse you, but let’s face it, it is confusing.  Their exact words from their website –
70% pure fruit juice and a splash of sparkling water. That’s it. No added sugar, no high-fructose corn syrup, no preservatives, no caffeine, and no evil sciency chemical concoctions. Because at IZZE, we believe juice should be pure with a splash of sparkle.”  
Juice is juice (I don’t care that they diluted it with water).  This 12 oz. bottle has 29g of sugar from apple, white grape, orange, and grapefruit juice.  No juice sugars don’t count as added sugar, but the truth?  No one needs to drink juice even if advertisers say you should and it looks natural.  Sorry not sorry.  Eat a piece of fruit and get the added benefit of fiber in your diet.
Kind Fruit/Nut Delight bar – has 4g (1 teaspoon) of added sugar.  For a nut/fruit bar, that’s actually not too bad.  3g is coming from the actual fruit – they’re using an added sugar to help the nuts and fruit bind together - a better grab and go option.  Just be careful with some of the KIND bars as they do use palm kernel oil to help them bind - this particular “Fruit and Nut” bar doesn’t but many of their other products do. 

Keep in mind the FDA is basing the Daily Value on “added sugar” to be 50g.  The American Heart Association recommends what I stated earlier – 6 tsp/day (25g) for women and 9 teaspoons/day for men – way less than the FDA’s recommended amount.  This is one area I would not recommend looking at the percentages for – definitely look at the grams of added sugar and aim for as little added sugar as possible.

My new job title is “Wellness Dietitian”.  The department I work for is called Community Health and I do just that – educate out and about in the community.  But it bodes the question what is wellness?  It’s a more commonly used term within different health professionals, but within nutrition what is it really?  How are you well with nutrition?  The dictionary definition of wellness:



the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort.


an approach to healthcare that emphasizes preventing illness and prolonging life, as opposed to emphasizing treating diseases.

I’ve always wanted people to prevent diseases rather than have to treat them (after the fact).  I think sometimes I live in a nutrition la la land.  But the truth is many times people don’t change their eating habits until after they’ve had a diagnosis made.  So back to this wellness definition, recently people have been talking about how to connect all 6 dimensions of wellness – physical, social, intellectual, spiritual, emotional, and occupational. 
The other night I did a presentation where I talked about the “Hunger Fullness Scale” I think this is a good example of combining different components of wellness – are you actually hungry?  Are you eating because you’re bored?  Anxious? Or are you simply eating out of habit?  All of this pertains to one’s nutrition and why we eat, but the truth of the matter is we need to hone in on our actual hunger cues (the physical sign) where we sometimes don’t pay attention to.  We do often eat based on our emotions (the emotional) even when we know better (intellectual).  And sometimes we’re eating just because others are eating (social).  Nutrition can get complicated.  Many people “live to eat” rather than “eat to live”.  We should be mindful (spiritual) of this in helping ourselves to have nourishing meals that sustain us and provide us the nourishment we need.  It doesn’t always work this way, but that’s the goal and what we should aim to do.  My yoga teacher recently wrote an article on what “wellness” means - Seven Simple Rituals for Creating Wellness in Your World
I think the definition can be intermixed and it’s still evolving, but the truth of the matter is that in order for us to be mind-body-spirit connected, we really need to know ourselves and be present in the moment (as much as we can).

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month - The statistics are startling.  1 in 6 (17%) children in the United States are obese.  Children with obesity are at a higher risk for having other major chronic health conditions and diseases - asthma, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes.  They also have more risk factors for heart disease:  high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  Children with obesity are also more likely to be bullied and teased more so than their normal weight peers.  This can lead to social isolation, depression, and lower self-esteem.  Children with obesity are more likely to be obese as adults.  This can lead to lifelong physical and mental health problems - type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and many types of cancer. 

Childhood obesity is influenced by many factors:  eating and physical activity behaviors, genetics, metabolism, family and home environment, and community and social factors.  Obesity may also be influenced by:  too much time being inactive, lack of sleep, lack of places to go for physical activity, lack of access to affordable, healthier foods. 

How can you as a parent help prevent obesity and support healthy growth?  There are many things parents can do to help their children achieve a healthy weight and maintain it.  
  • Be aware of your child's growth.
  • Provide nutritious, healthy foods in place of foods that are high in added sugar and fat.  Aim to serve more fruits and vegetables at meals - even if they kick, scream, and cry when veggies are being served.
  • Make sure water is available and limit sugary beverages (sodas, teas, punches, juice, etc.)
  • Help kids get active - this could be helpful for parents too!  Aim to have them move more.
  • Be a role model.  When you're eating healthy meals and snacks, they will too!  If you're not eating vegetables, odds are they won't want to.  Try to find a new veggie each week to prepare and trial.  Keep in mind it might take up to 10 introductions (or more!) before a child will be willing to try a new food.  Be patient & keep experimenting!
Veggie Transformation - Broccoli Stems -
The goal is to raise awareness in regards to childhood obesity.  Start where you are at and aim to implement healthy habits, one at a time.

September is also officially National Yoga Month.  It's a national observance designated by the Department of Health & Human Services designed to educate people about the health benefits of yoga and to inspire a healthy lifestyle.  If you've never practiced yoga, I invite you to try. 

Yoga is unique because you connect the movement of your body and the fluctuations of your mind to the rhythm of your breath.  Connecting the mind, body, and breath helps us to direct our attention inward.  Through this process of inward attention, you can learn to recognize your habitual thought patterns without labeling them, judging them, or trying to change them.  You become more aware of your experiences from moment to moment.  The awareness that you cultivate is what makes yoga a practice, rather than a task or goal to be completed.  Your body will most likely become much more flexible by doing yoga, and so will your mind.

Writing my blog a day early - one because I have the time and two because we are bracing for Hurricane Irma here in Miami.  While this week has been one of anticipation, stress, and preparation, the storm has ultimately moved west.  We will get tropical storm/hurricane strength wind and rain from the bands of the storm (so there may be power outages), but we are not getting a direct hit or "the big storm" of the century as had been expected.  While I am grateful for this shift in the storm's path, I do not wish this storm on anyone.  We just saw the devastation from Hurricane Harvey and now are all waiting to see the wrath of Irma.  Prepare as much as you can (evacuate if necessary) and stay safe, Florida!