I Need a Name for this Salad (aka: Plant-Based Goodness)

Eureka!

I have created a salad that both salad lovers and the salad-averse can enjoy.

Kind of a low-salad salad.

Seriously. It’s filled with plant-based goodness — quinoa, walnuts, chopped dates, and a little arugula, just so that we can say we ate our veggies. 😉

Yes, in fact, I do almost always have fresh flowers on my table. 🙂

Okay fine, it is not completely plant-based, because this recipe includes feta cheese. I can’t help it. I have a serious thing for feta cheese. Until there’s a good vegan option, it will always be my biggest reason for not going all-out plant based. Well, that, plus occasional grilled steak burritos. Or lamb gyros. Or pad thai with shrimp.

In my defense, I call myself a flexitarian, not a vegetarian. I include meat or seafood and other animal proteins in my diet up to 20% of the time. Which nutritionists say is the third healthiest way to eat, just after the DASH diet and Mediterranean diet.

As I was saying, this salad has some feta cheese. But you can always skip that part, if it’s not your thing. Either way, you’ll get this wonderful nutty-sweet combination of flavors.

This salad was my attempt at a copycat version of a salad I enjoyed at a local restaurant. They named it “Autumn Harvest Salad.” But I think it tastes great no matter the season, as do my three teens. So what shall I name my version? Not Just Arugula Salad? Gotta Have Feta Salad? The Salad from Jupiter? Seriously, nothing sounds just right. I’d love some ideas!

Here’s the recipe. Feel free to adjust amounts to suit your own tastes (especially since I’m better at throwing it together than figuring out the actual amounts I use!):

“Insert Name Here” Salad

Quinoa, 1 cup uncooked

Arugula, around 3-4 oz.

Walnut halves or pecan halves, 3/4 cup

8 dates, pitted and chopped

Feta cheese crumbles, 2-3 Tbsp.

Raspberry-walnut vinaigrette, at least 1/2 cup (also works great with pear vinaigrette, or any other fruity vinaigrette. Or use balsamic vinaigrette if you wish to cut down on the sweetness).

Directions: Cook quinoa according to directions on package, drain, and refrigerate overnight or until chilled. Toss quinoa together with other ingredients, then chill together for at least an hour. Enjoy as a main course or hearty side dish.

Eat for your Life! (aka: Our Flexitarian Family)

When I was a kid, food was all about three square meals per day. One food from each of the four crucial food groups: meat and eggs, bread & cereal, fruits & veggies, and, of course, milk, to do a body good. The food pyramid was pretty straight forward, too. Stuff yourself with bread and grains, add five servings of plants, then top it off with a little protein.

Vintage American meals

Back in those days, vegetarians were almost unheard of, too. Since I lived in the Bay Area, we always had one or two in each group, and the only choices they had for lunch were cheese sandwiches or PB&J. Everyone else ate pretty much the same thing — Oscar Mayer bologna sandwiches on Wonder bread, with a fruit roll-up on the side. The only thing that varied was the flavor of fruit roll-up, and the occasional novelty of Hostess treats or Capri Suns someone’s mom tossed into the lunchbox.

1980s kids lunch

My family’s diet was typically American, too. Spaghetti, chicken casseroles, sloppy joes. Meatloaf with a side of mashed potatoes. Plenty of salt, sugar, and simplex carbs for all. None of us dared to complain, or to request something healthier. After all, we were eating three square, all-American meals per day, provided by hard-working parents.

Fast forward several decades.

A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight. Around 60 pounds, total. Now I will admit that the final 20 pounds or so were likely due to an eating disorder. But the first 40 were due to a change in daily diet. I scrapped the nostalgic all-American diet, for the most part, and opened my mind to a global variety of healthy, whole foods. I cut way back on meat. I also began to exercise regularly, around 3-4 days per week.

Then came a startling health discovery. My doctor found that my blood sugar was slightly elevated; a somewhat common state known as prediabetes. Unchecked, this condition can spiral into full-blown Type 2 diabetes.

I was shocked. But my daily habits were so healthy! And my BMI was in the ideal range. How could this be? Answer: genetics. Sometimes, no matter what we do, our bodies are prone to develop unfortunate conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.

Luckily for me, I was able to make some more effective changes. I further reduced my intake of animal proteins. Switched out simplex carbs for complex carbs (aka whole grains). Cut out most sugar, except for the occasional treat. And I began to work out every single day, with few exceptions. And, yay! My blood sugar levels dropped back down to normal, healthy levels.

chickpea curry

With my own kids, I abolished the idea that everyone has to eat the exact same foods. After all, everyone is different. We have different tastes, different nutritional needs, different health challenges. My 13yo son can’t stand cooked vegetables. So he has permission to switch them out for fresh veggies or salad. My 16yo daughter has decided that she is now a pescatarian, and has begun a zero-sugar diet challenge with her friends. Luckily, I usually prepare a vegetarian option for family meals (not just PB&J, haha). Zero added sugar is a lot harder than it sounds, but I’ve been cheering her on, and being sensitive to her goals while grocery shopping. My 18yo? Well, he still hasn’t jumped into the health nut boat with the rest of us, so it’s still all-American junk food for him.

pescatarian meals fish

Our household of four has four different food pyramids. Some of us are more likely to nibble six small meals than three square meals per day. One of us prefers veggie dogs and veggie burgers to the meaty versions. Three of us are happy to munch on nuts, seeds, and roasted edamame for snacks. All four of us adore sweet, sugary treats more than we probably should — perhaps another genetic tendency. But we are learning and growing as we explore new yummy recipes and exercise together. Hopefully these healthy habits will stick with my kids as they head off into the world, and help them to live long lives, free of those killer diseases that plague so many us.

Healthy Choices

It’s not easy to change your diet for the better. It’s not easy to give up old favorites that remind us of childhood, like smoky grilled meats and big bowls of chocolate ice cream. It’s not easy to make yourself get up and move for 30 minutes every day. But the ability to enjoy a long, good life makes those changes worthwhile. Life is sweet. Live healthy.

Not Milk (aka: 80s Girl Meets Lactose Intolerance)

lactose intolerance stomachaches

I consider myself a super-healthy person. But sometime during the past few months, something changed. It started with a few minor tummy-aches, which made me question everything. Was it something I ate? Was I drinking too much coffee? Was it stress? Then, over time, the discomfort increased. Before long, my body was in constant turmoil. No one knew it, but I was walking around feeling as though my stomach was full of Pop Rocks mixed with Coke, constantly on the verge of explosion.

Yeah, I know. Go to the doctor, dummy. And if I had medical insurance, then I totally would have.

Luckily, I had a light bulb moment a couple of weeks ago. What if my chronic stomach-aching had something to do with dairy products? I did some Googling, and learned that lactose intolerance is something that commonly develops during the adult years; not during childhood as I’d thought.

Could I be lactose intolerant?

It was unthinkable.  After all, I was a child of the 80s. From early childhood, we were force-fed the idea that dairy products were the healthiest thing in the world. Milk does a body good! Cheese, glorious cheese! If I just kept ingesting milk (flavored with Nesquick), then my outside would catch up with my inside, and I would grow from an invisible girl with a crush to a strong, confident woman who has outgrown Michael Martin.

dairy products cheese milk butter Still, I had to find out. So for a few days, I cut dairy out of my diet. Or, tried to. I switched to almond milk cream in my coffee, and gave up my beloved cheese (very hard to do when you are an almost-vegetarian). But the war inside my abdomen didn’t cease. Then I learned more — lactose can be hidden inside many non-dairy foods, like breads and cereals. Noooo!! I would rather live with the chronic stomach upset than give up my favorite foods.

Then I remembered something I’d once seen on a TV commercial. There is an over-the-counter drug called Lactaid, which contains an enzyme that helps the body to digest lactose. Could it work for me, too? In desperation, I raced to the drug store and bought a box of Lactaid chewables. Just before my next meal (spinach and mushroom quiche with swiss cheese), I popped one in my mouth. It was like eating a piece of vanilla-flavored chalk. Then I ate my cheesy dinner, and waited.

Ta-daa! The months-long battle in my gassy, bloated stomach came to a screeching halt. All was quiet on the southern front. I couldn’t believe it! The next day, I chewed a Lactaid before each meal, and the seas continued to be smooth and calm. Same for the next day, and the next. In fact, since I began taking Lactaid, I have returned to my usual, 100% healthy self, and it feels wonderful.

Yes, I know. I am starting to sound like a total drug commercial. Even worse, I can’t think of some clever, humorous way to wrap up this post. I’m too busy thinking about the yummy Garlic Alfredo sauce I plan to cook for dinner, and all the cream and parmesan cheese it will require. But thank goodness — I will be able to sit with my kids and enjoy every bite. Because for the lactose intolerant, Lactaid does a body good. Pass it on.

 

 

 

Weight Loss is a Piece of (Low-Calorie) Cake. Plus Exercise.

Healthy weight lossWeight loss is not that hard. Okay, well, if you already have the body of an almost-anorexic fashion model, and you are trying to lose ten more pounds, that is probably hard. But most Americans – especially we women, do not have the bodies of fashion models. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of overweight adults in this country (determined by a Body Mass Index, or BMI of 25 or greater) is 69.2%, and the percentage of those considered obese (A BMI of 30 or greater) is 35.9%.

We have so many excuses for our unhealthy weight. I have big bones. I inherited a slow metabolism. Many people have simply given up on weight loss and chosen to embrace their excess weight. Now, I am not saying that this is a bad thing. If a person is in good health, does not suffer from weight-related health issues, and has a positive self-image, then that is a wonderful thing and should be commended. But for those who are unhappy with their figures, who complain about problems with their aching joints or bad backs, or who have weight-related health concerns, then here is my question: why haven’t you lost the weight?

I come from a family with many overweight and obese people (not very unusual for Black American families). And I, at one time, was also quite overweight. At my highest non-pregnant weight, my BMI was 29.9 – teetering dangerously on the edge of obesity. I, too, had excuses. Children. Lack of time for the gym. Genes. I refused to go jogging, because I was certain that my top-heavy body was not built for it. But it was not until I decided that it was important enough that I really began to shed pounds. And you know what? It really was not that hard to do. Sure, it took discipline, but can you name one good accomplishment in life that does not take discipline? Eventually, after two years of lifestyle changes, I lost 70 pounds. And now, around four years after I began the journey, I have still managed to keep my weight in a healthy, normal BMI range. I am no super hero. I do not have an eating disorder. I just try my best to make regular healthy decisions about food and exercise. Almost anyone can do it successfully, and here’s how:

  1. KNOW YOUR CALORIES

Calories count. Eat more calories than you burn off, and you will gain weight. Eat fewer than you burn off, and you will lose weight. It is really that simple. It does not matter if those calories come from carbs or protein. Eat whatever the hell makes your taste buds happy and leaves you healthy and satisfied. But make it a point to know how many calories are in each food that you eat. Stuffed yourself with a huge, 700-calorie breakfast? Balance it with a lower calorie lunch and dinner. My goal is to keep my daily caloric intake somewhere between 1,200 to 1,500. Most days I do just fine. Every now and then, I go crazy and eat a dozen homemade cookies. And that’s okay.

My favorite source for calorie tracking? http://caloriecount.about.com/ It is free, easy to use, and has a great app for mobile calorie counting.

healthy weight success

  1. MOVE YOUR BODY

It is not all about the diet sodas and low-cal salad dressing. It is not all about the smaller serving sizes. Unless you plan to starve yourself, it is pretty much impossible to maintain a healthy body weight without exercise. Oh, I know, I know. Your knees hurt. Your back hurts. You’re not built for running. You have cholinergic urticaria. Oh wait – these were my excuses, remember? Unless you are a paraplegic, you can exercise. Don’t like running? Then walk for an hour every day. Swim. Do yoga. Try a Zumba class. Ride your bike to the store. Play a sport in an adult league. Jump rope. It really doesn’t matter, as long as you do it regularly. Aim for no less than 3 times per week. And do not “reward” your hard work with treats.

  1. MEET YOUR OTHER NEEDS

Many people tend to overeat or skip exercise due to some other need not being met. Give your body and spirit what it needs to maintain balance. Get enough sleep. Find healthy outlets to help you manage your stress. Stay busy with work, playing with your kids, cleaning house, or volunteering in your community. When your other physical and emotional needs are met, then you may find yourself naturally eating less food and moving your body more.

  1. MAKE IT SOCIAL

I realize that not everyone in the world lives in social isolation like me. Lots of people have more success meeting their personal goals with the encouragement of a partner or group. If that is you, then give it a try. Sign up for a local Weight Watchers group. Join a group aerobics class. Go walking or jogging with a partner. Chime in on a weight-loss forum. Many people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off have done it with the support and motivation of like-minded peers.

That’s it. Four tips. Four easy steps to consider when you are finally ready to make the change to a healthier way of living. Notice – I did not say “go on a diet.” A diet is temporary. But true healthy weight management is the result of permanent changes to your lifestyle that result in a healthier (and smaller) you.

Losing pounds

Being American = McDonald’s for Dinner

All-American food essential

Today I did something extraordinary. I decided to behave like a true red-blooded American and eat dinner at McDonald’s. Not so extraordinary, you say? Well here’s what you should know:

1. I used to be, um…overweight. Or as one of my kids not-so-tactfully pointed out recently while looking at old family photos, “Wow, Mom, you were really fat!” And so for the past two or three years, I have mostly avoided eating fast food. Unless you count Subway. Okay, and sometimes Starbucks.

2. I am a hopeless neurotic control-freak. Which means that every time I look at an item of food, I immediately start calculating calories (Subway Veggie Delite sandwich = 230 calories. Starbucks scone = 480 calories).

3. I have honestly learned to love healthy foods. I would rather snack on a big bowl of green beans or baby carrots than have a chocolate bar. Seriously.

So anyway, choosing to eat McDonald’s food for dinner was a big deal for me. Huge. But like a good patriot, I marched up to the cashier and ordered a Filet o’ Fish and fries. (Okay, fine, a hamburger would have been more American). The fries were golden and crisp and steaming hot, sprinkled in salt. And as I began to eat them, the burst of fried, greasy deliciousness was nearly unbearable.

Ronald and Friends

Suddenly, I was skipping through McDonaldland with Ronald and Grimace and the Fry Guys, singing about how I believe in magic.

Yes, okay, I was an over-commercialized latchkey child of the 80s.

But yes, those fries tasted amazing. Sensational. For the first few bites, anyway. Halfway through the box, I began to notice how very salty they were. So salty, that by the time I had nearly eaten every last french fry, my mouth was as puckered as Spongebob when he was all dried out.

Spongebob Dried Out

I then tried to eat my Filet o’ Fish sandwich, which tasted exactly like the cardboard box it came in, only slathered in tartar sauce. I managed a few bites before finally throwing it all in the garbage. Bleah. Sorry, Ronald. Sorry, Grimace and Fry Guys. The next time I feel like doing something patriotic, I think I’ll stick with watching football.

McDonald’s French Fries = 380 calories
Filet o’ Fish = 380 calories
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Total calories for 1 meal = !!!!!!!!