#033 Seven Strategies for Healthy Fast Food

September 8th, 2014 by

After our class this week on adapting the principles of China’s Longevity Village to our lives and the choices we face in eating real healthy food vs. fake unhealthy food (which turns out to be what most of us Americans are eating most of the time), a mom came up to me and asked: “I have just one question. What foods can you actually feed your family?”

We all want to eat healthy, but we often don’t know how, or don’t have time or the will. I have found seven simple strategies that I share here in the hopes that they can help you eat and enjoy more real food.

I love the food I eat. Everyday I throw a few healthy ingredients together and end up with something delicious and different every time.

I rarely follow recipes because I’m usually in a hurry and already hungry. By having real foods all ready to throw in, I can successfully make real food both fast and delicious.

Cooking for others has always been one of my greatest fears. Quite frankly, I’d rather stand up in front of a large audience and give a talk than cook for a handful of people.

Because I have traditionally felt so inadequate in the culinary arena, writing this article takes some courage for me. However, I have found many things that enable me to make real food taste good quickly. I hope that what I share will spark some new ideas and make real food easy for you to prepare and delicious for you eat.

I must say that on the occasions I do prepare food for my friends, they tell me that it tastes superb and they ask for the recipes. Sometimes I wonder: “Are they just trying to make me feel good?” But in reality, I don’t think this is the case because I truly find these foods delicious myself.

Let me apologize up front—I don’t measure. I won’t be able to give you quantities. But I can give you some strategies and ideas to run with on your own.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll find that this approach can work for you even better than providing you with a basic recipe!

Seven Strategies for Making Real Healthy Food Easy to Eat

1. Wash, cut up and store veggies in easy to access containers as soon as you bring them home. This makes the veggies easy to eat as is or throw in a dish. Some may worry that the veggies could go bad more quickly. But think about it–you’ll be eating them more quickly too.

2. Always have a quick healthy protein ready. Soak, cook and store a large batch or two of beans or legumes in the fridge that can be mixed into last minute dishes. Also keep on hand tofu, nuts, seeds, wild low-mercury frozen fish (i.e. salmon), pasture-fed organic eggs, grass-fed organic meats in moderation, if desired.

3. Make a soup or a chili each week. These keep well for many days and can be used as sauces and combined with other dishes.

4. When you make a dish, make it in bulk. Save leftovers in small glass containers which can be packed easily the next day for lunches. This saves so much time and provides healthy meals at or away from home for days.

5. Pack healthy foods with you everywhere you go. As it can be so hard to find healthy foods, and so hard to resist the unhealthy ones when you’re hungry, taking your own food can be a life-saver. Nuts keep well and satisfy as a healthy protein and fat. We also love nut butters on sprouted grain (flourless) toast.Cut up fruits and veggies in a portable container work well on a daily basis.

6. Don’t hesitate to eat your stir-fries and salads for breakfast. A vegetable, healthy protein, and fruit is standard fare with our breakfast each day. On a recent trip, a close family member saw us all eating a spinach salad for breakfast and asked, “What kind of food is that for a breakfast?” It’s one that gets us off to a good start for eating real food first and feeling great! It can really help stave off the desire for the junkier kinds of foods.

7. Reach for your real foods first when hungry. Having healthy foods and healthy dishes readily available makes it just as easy to grab something healthy as it is to grab junk food.

Speaking of junk food, lest I give you the wrong impression, we are still a work in progress. We still have some of the packaged, processed foods in our home, and we still eat them. But I will tell you this: the availability of real foods now dramatically outweighs the processed foods and the real foods get eaten much more frequently than the processed foods. Onward and upward!

Healthy Ingredients I Stock in My Kitchen
(Keep it simple. Just start with your favorites.)

Dry beans and legumes (organic dried in bulk, and bpa-free canned): mung beans, garbonzos, black beans, pintos, cannellini, navy or other white beans, lentils, split peas, etc.

Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, pecans, cashews, brazil nuts (high in selenium), chia seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.

Nut butters (organic): peanut, almond, cashew, walnut, pecan, macadamia, sunflower seed, etc.

Whole grains (organic in bulk): Oat groats, barley, kamut, millet, amaranth, spelt, rye, buckwheat, wheat, thick rolled oats, etc.

Vegetables (organic—wash, cut and store for quick and easy use): Onions, garlic, kale, spinach, other leafy greens, cucumbers, carrots, cauliflower, bell peppers, celery, mushrooms, sweet potatoes, etc.

Fruits (organic–priority on in season/local fruits): Berries, oranges, apples, pineapple, watermelon, red grapes, kiwi, pomegranates, bananas, tomatoes, avocados, lemons, limes, etc.

Spices: Cinnamon, cumin, cloves, garlic, curry, tumeric, etc., I especially love spices such as Chinese Five Spice, Indian Kitchen King, or Mediterranean Herbs de Provence that have the right combinations all ready to go.

Herbs (dried and fresh when possible): Basil, parsley, rosemary, dill, cilantro, etc.

Vinegars/cooking wines: White vinegar, apple cider vinegar, balsamic vinegar, white balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, tarragon vinegar, white cooking wine, dry sherry cooking wine, etc.

Other sauces: Braggs amino acids, low sodium soy sauce, hot sauce, organic tomato sauce (I like the Whole Foods 365 All natural fat free brand), mustard, homemade hummus, vegetable broth, vegetable boullion, apple sauce, etc.

Bread/Tortillas/Pasta: Organic, sprouted grain (no flour) breads, buns, tortillas and pastas such as Ezekiel or Food for Life brands

Milks and Dairy (organic): Almond, soy, cow, coconut, plain yogurt, pasture-raised eggs, etc.

More Healthy Proteins: Frozen Wild Alaskan Salmon, canned Wild Alaskan Salmon, grass-fed organic meats, tofu, frozen organic beans, etc.

Kitchen Tools that Make It Easier to Eat Real Healthy Foods
(Use what you have and slowly add as you go)

Over the 21 years that John and I have been married, we’ve invested in a few solid, high quality kitchen tools. From my perspective, these tools completely pay for themselves, as they make it easy to create healthy dishes quickly, and avert the desire to reach for the overly-processed, less-healthy alternatives which can lead to higher costs in health in long-run.

1. Blendtec, Vitamix or other high quality grinder
2. Wondermill or other high quality grinder
3. Bosch or other high quality mixer
4. Nesco Dehydrator or other high quality brand
5. Nesco Pressure Cooker or other brand
6. Ceramic dutch oven
7. Lemon/lime Juicer
8. Citrus Zester

The tool we use the most is our industrial quality blender, which allows us to quickly make great soups, sauces, smoothies, batters, nut butters…you name it. It has been well worth the investment for us.

Jane's Southwest Salad

Jane’s Southwest Salad

Healthy Food Recipe: Fresh Organic Southwest Salad
(Without measurements—It’s ok! Try it!)

Here’s a delicious and satisfying organic salad that I threw together last week with the ingredients I had on hand:

Black beans
Corn
Diced celery
Diced red onion
Halved cherry tomatoes
Barley (cooked al dente—this I had cooked in bulk and stored in my fridge to add to many dishes)
Fresh cilantro
Fresh lime juice
Lime zest—lots!
White balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

You get the idea. You can throw in anything you have—you can change the vegetables to cucumbers, broccoli, kale, carrots, add avocadoes…you can switch the beans/legumes to garbanzos, lentils, cannellini… you can adapt the dressing to lemon, lemon zest and garlic….you can vary the herbs to basil and parsley…whatever you have in stock.

The key is to keep healthy foods all around you, make them easy to access, prepare them in bulk, and don’t be afraid to experiment. Just grab whatever healthy ingredients you can find and create any combinations you desire.

Please help me and all those reading! Please share your real food recipes and tips with all of us in the comment box below.

Here’s to a week filled with real food, real living and real happiness! Cheers! Jane

#030 The Top 10 Benefits of Dark Chocolate

September 1st, 2014 by
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The Top 10 Benefits of Dark Chocolate

Did you know that chocolate could improve your cognitive function and increase your chances of winning a Nobel Prize?  Sounds strange, but these were the conclusions of a study published in the most prestigious medical journal, the New England Journal of Medicine.

As a recovering sugar addict, my new vice is dark chocolate.  I especially like it with almonds; the darker the chocolate the better.  Fortunately for me and for those of you who share this love of dark chocolate, there are literally hundreds and hundreds of medical studies supporting the idea that dark chocolate, in moderation, can be a healthy vice.

In this article I will discuss the pros and cons of dark chocolate and health.

Which dark chocolate is best? 

The higher the percentage of cacao the better.  To have any health benefits, dark chocolate needs to be at least 60% cacao (ideally 70% or higher).

Unfortunately, milk chocolate is not good for you as the cacao percentage is low and it contains mostly sugar.  Likewise, there are no health benefits from white chocolate.

Remember that chocolate is high in calories and even dark chocolate has added sugar.  Read the dark chocolate labels closely as the World Health Organization has recommended that the safe daily intake of sugar is approximately 25 grams each day.  The key is to only eat dark chocolate in moderation.

If you eat dark chocolate with carmel and other candy-like ingredients then it really just becomes candy and you are doing more harm than good.  Again, check the labels of dark chocolate with peanut butter or other fillings as they may contain transfats which can be deadly to the heart.  If you are going to eat dark chocolate, eat a pure form of it.

What quantity of dark chocolate is considered “moderate?”

One square of a bar, or about one ounce per day (definitely not the whole bar!), seems to be “moderate.”  In fact, in a study of nearly 20,000 people, there was a 39% reduction in heart attacks and strokes with dark chocolate consumption.  In this study, participants ate an average of about one square of a dark chocolate bar each day.

Naturally, the question arises: “What other factors may have been adjusted in this study population that could have contributed to this outcome?” This is always the challenge of doing clinical research.

For now, I’m hoping that the dark chocolate was a central factor.  If you want to read more about this study, click here.

If you like dark chocolate covered almonds, one ounce of dark chocolate is somewhere in the range of 8-12 pieces per day.  This is where I struggle. It is a challenge for me to stay within the framework that I need to.

The thing that keeps me honest is a food journal.  I record each chocolate almond I eat.  Otherwise, I’d be likely to eat the whole bag.

Is Dark Chocolate Healthy?

This study, which links dark chocolate consumption to heart attack and stroke reduction, adds to a growing body of evidence that dark chocolate, in moderate quantities, may indeed be heart healthy.  Below are additional benefits of dark chocolate based on medical studies.

1. Dark chocolate decreases your chance of cardiovascular disease by 39% as already discussed in this article.

2. Dark chocolate decreases your blood pressure by 1-3 mmHg.

3. Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants.

4. Dark chocolate improves arterial blood flow and may help to prevent plaque build up in the arteries.

5. Dark chocolate has a mild beneficial effect on cholesterol.

6 .Dark chocolate has a reasonable amount of protein, fiber, magnesium, iron, and zinc.

7. Dark chocolate may enhance mood, cognitive function, and memory.

8. Dark chocolate may help to keep your weight in check.

9. Dark chocolate may be anti-inflammatory.

10. Dark chocolate may increase your happiness.

Should you start eating dark chocolate for health reasons?

I would not recommend eating dark chocolate just for its health benefits.  For example, fruits and vegetables are packed with much more nutrition than dark chocolate.

However, if you have a sweet tooth or are a chocoholic, then having some dark chocolate in moderation can be a relatively guilt-free treat. Because I still experience strong sugar cravings, and am surrounded by sugary treats everywhere, eating dark chocolate is a compromise that helps me avoid giving in to less healthy alternatives.

This is a work in progress, and I’m sharing openly with you that this is where I currently am in my journey of sugar addiction recovery. I am finding the healthiest ways to make this work in my current daily environment.

My goal is to eliminate these cravings all together.  If I could give up any form of sugar, including dark chocolate, I know I could release the cravings all together.

I experienced this freedom from cravings when I lived in Asian communities such as Taiwan in the late 1980s and China’s Longevity Village in 2012 and 2013, where I did not have access to any “treats” of any kind.

What are the risks of dark chocolate?

Unfortunately, dark chocolate is not risk free.  Despite the benefits of dark chocolate, here is my list of potential health concerns with dark chocolate.

1. Dark chocolate is high in calories and contains added sugar.

2. Dark chocolate, or any form of chocolate, is highly addictive.

3. Caffeine.

For many of my patients, caffeine can trigger palpitations or other heart rhythm problems.  If caffeine triggers palpitations for you, you should avoid this. Also, the caffeine from dark chocolate can impair your sleep quality.

I have a strict rule that I never have any dark chocolate after 12 pm each day.  As long as I never have any dark chocolate after 12 pm I seem to sleep just fine at night.

It takes 4-6 hours for half of the caffeine to get out of your body.  Thus, if your bedtime is 10 pm, like mine, and you have some dark chocolate at 12 pm then about 25% of the caffeine will still be in your body when it is time to sleep (2 half lives).

4. Increased risk of kidney stones

5. Increased risk of acid reflux

If you suffer from kidney stones or acid reflux it would be best to minimize or avoid dark chocolate as well.

My Three Dark Chocolate Rules:

To help me “manage” dark chocolate, let me share with you my three rules.  Many of my patients have found these rules to be very helpful.

1. Limit the amount.

As dark chocolate is so addictive, it is absolutely critical to eat this in moderation.  Read the labels carefully.  In general, if you ensure that you never take in more than 25 grams of added sugar from any source, then your dark chocolate consumption will probably be reasonable.

2. The darker the better

Go for the real dark chocolate.  The higher the percentage of cacao the better.  My favorite is 80%.

3. Use dark chocolate to replace unhealthy sweets in your diet 

Probably the best use of dark chocolate is when it is used to replace unhealthy sweets in your diet.  Dark chocolate can be particularly effective when you are in a situation where you are surrounded by tasty sweets.  A little bit of dark chocolate can enable you to resist other foods that are more harmful to your body.