2 + 2 Always Equals Four…or Does It?

Healthy eating - Colorful spicesFour days of sitting in the hospital have me wondering whether 2 + 2 always equals 4. Remember my feisty 95-year-old cousin Colene? Well, she fell a couple of times the other day when she went out to play dominoes. The result is a hairline fracture of her tibial plateau. It’s very painful for her to put weight on her leg.

The doctor wants her to push through the pain and walk as much as possible so she won’t lose the ability. Up until now, she has taken care of herself with the assistance of a housekeeper who comes three times per week. Colene LOVES her housekeeper and wants to stay at home rather than in a nursing home. We have talked and talked about enduring some pain now so that she’ll have a chance to go home and resume her normal routine.

It seems like she’s in agreement that it’s important to try to walk and then when anyone tries to get her to put her feet on the floor, she squawks and hollers and hangs onto whatever’s handy with a death grip. For the doctors, it’s a simple equation. Pain meds & anti-inflammatories (2) + physical therapy & walking (2) = the chance to go home (4). For her, 2 + 2 = too much fear – clearly a different answer.

For some nutritionists and health experts, protein & carbs (2) + vitamins & fiber (2) = a complete picture of the nutritional value a food will provide us in these areas (4). Seeing food as nothing but the sum of its individual nutrients is sometimes referred to as “nutritionism”. In his controversial documentary, “In Defense of Food”, Michael Pollan explores how this line of thinking may not give us an accurate picture of the value a particular food provides to our diet. Again, among experts 2 + 2 yields widely varying answers.

Even when measuring calories, 2 + 2 doesn’t always equal 4. Determining the calories in a serving of almonds or pistachios using the Atwater general factor system which assigns a certain number of calories per gram of macronutrients and alcohol gave us calorie counts that have now been proven to be higher than the actual bioaccessible calories our bodies will absorb. A USDA study indicates that the traditional system for determining calories, may be a poor predictor of the calories in food that will affect the body.

We’re also learning that an individual’s particular mix of gut bacteria can mean that identical diets will have different weight and health consequences in different individuals. How’s that for confusing?

If 2 + 2 equals multiple answers, how can we decide what choices are healthy? It’s a simple question with a million answers from a million experts. Let’s just say, it’s complicated. What’s healthiest for one person may vary from what’s healthiest for another. What we believe is fact today will be proven to be a tiny part of the overall picture later. This is where we are in nutrition science.

So if 2 + 2 doesn’t always = 4, what’s a person to do?

Here are a few ideas:

• Prioritize your goals.
Determine what you’re more concerned with – overall health, energy level, strength, endurance, appearance, cost, eliminating chemicals, etc.
• With those goals in mind, determine what you’re really willing to do on a daily basis to reach your goals.
If you want to eliminate chemicals, can you afford to buy organic or do you have the time to grow some of your produce? If you want to eliminate processed food, will you cook daily or are you willing to eat leftovers or freeze meals that you cook on Saturday? Perhaps you will decide that you’ll still need to eat in restaurants 20% of the time. If you want to be strong, how much time can you dedicate to strength training each week. What type of training will it be? Where will you train? As long as you are realistic when you make your plan, there will be no need to feel you’re falling short later.
This is an important step to keep you on track.
• Listen to your body.
If you feel better eating more protein and less carbs, that may be the best way for you to eat. If you feel best eating a balance of protein and carbs at every meal, then that may be best. Do you feel tired every time you eat tortilla chips? Does your tummy hurt when you eat onions? Just be aware that the chemicals, sugar, and fat in processed food can trick you into craving things that are not good for you. You’ll get more clear signals from your body when you go a period of time without eating lots of processed food or sugar. And don’t just observe what happens at meal time. How do you feel an hour after you eat or at the end of a long day? Does how you feel vary depending on whether you eat at certain intervals? Does walking or swimming leave you more energized? Does lifting weights leave you too sore to move the next day?
• Write it down.
We all think we have a great memory, but you’ll get a much clearer picture of real patterns when you keep a journal. Over time, you can adjust your plan so that you make steady progress toward feeling great most of the time.
• Be patient.
We’re so accustomed to the immediate fix it’s easy to discount slow, steady progress. Slow, steady, and lasting will ultimately be more beneficial than immediate and transitory.
• Enjoy the process.
This may sound like a crazy idea, but any time you begin a process with an open mind and an attitude of keeping things enjoyable, it is way more likely to be enjoyable so I have to think it’s always worth giving it a try.

When all the conflicting information regarding sugar, fat, gluten, coffee, red wine, chocolate, fortified grains, and calorie content begins to seem overwhelming you can always resort to the simplest solution – balance. Don’t eat too much red meat, too many fried foods, too many starches, or too much sugar, eat plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit, seeds, nuts, and legumes, drink lots of water, and move, move, move.

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Our Easter Bunny is Gluten-Free AND Fun!

Our Easter Bunny is gluten-free and fun! Who doesn’t love an Easter basket? The Easter Bunny’s gifts are so much more exciting than the average under-pillow cash left by the Tooth Fairy. When I was little, the Easter Bunny sometimes brought me a dress or a necklace along with a basket of brightly colored candy treats.
When my kids were small, we had a regular pre-Easter party with some friends who had no children, but loved to dye Easter eggs. We’d don bunny ears, eat some egg shaped jello shots, decorate the eggs, hide them, and let the kids hunt them. It was a regular tradition.

Sometimes it’s tradition that becomes a stumbling block on a gluten-free journey. We feel so attached to the specifics of the tradition that we forget that in reality all traditions evolve and change. Sometimes we inflate the importance of how things have always been over our current schedule restrictions, financial concerns, or health needs. And sometimes our family members pressure us to toe the traditional line in both subtle and overt ways.

One way to prevent a fear of loss, fear of change, or fear of being blackballed from leading you to make unhealthy decisions for you or your children is to get inspired and excited by the additional possibilities. I say additional because you don’t have to give up every single piece of a tradition. You can start with some comfortable, familiar elements and add new, exciting things to them. Think of it as upgrading from a flip phone to a smart phone or watching your favorite TV show online instead of on cable. You can still make phone calls on a smart phone, but you can also swipe your way through photos, use your phone as a TV remote, ask an electronic assistant for directions, voice text, and stream that TV show you now watch online. Additional features enhance the experience.
A gluten-free Easter can still include dyeing Easter eggs, hiding them and hunting them. It can include bunny ears. It can also include an Easter basket filled with Dove chocolate Easter bunnies, Peeps marshmallow chicks, Hershey’s plain milk chocolate kisses wrapped in bright colored foil, Jelly Belly jelly beans, many M&M candy products. You’ll have to leave out my favorite malted milk chocolate Easter eggs, and read all the labels to make sure the ingredients haven’t changed, but the resulting basket will still feel familiar.
color me
If you want to reduce sugar consumption, there are fun Peeps socks, hats, and shirts available. https://www.peepsandcompany.com/brand/candy/gluten-free Etsy has a huge variety of Easter jewelry. https://www.etsy.com/market/easter_jewelry For puzzle lovers, Puzzle Warehouse offers Easter puzzles from 36 to 1000 pieces. http://www.puzzlewarehouse.com/Easter-and-Spring-Puzzles/?aid=360592,147&cid=0&budget_from=&budget_to=&sort=mostPopular&show=15&stock=1 HearthSong® has a Color Me Bunny that I’d love to color right now, Hatch ‘Em Eggs with baby animals inside, and about 20 other things I want to play with! http://www.hearthsong.com/easter/easter.htm Now I feel inspired to play!
Everything seems easier when you’re excited about the possibilities rather than worried about the changes. It can be especially true when you choose a healthy path that means eliminating a food you love. So, find something that excites and inspires you and your gluten-free Easter Bunny will be fun too!
Have an inspiration you want to share? We’d love to hear it!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Save Time and Money When You Use These Tips

eggshellsLast week, I let the chicken I was baking make cream of mushroom soup, and this week I will save even more time and money by using these tips. Of course, you can do this too!

It’s not really that I’m getting lazy these days, it’s that I have an overwhelming number of additional tasks that were unexpectedly added to my already full plate. When my mother had a stroke in December, I took over the management of my 95-year-old cousin’s affairs. While she’s in great health, able to live in her own home, and to get out and play dominoes with friends on Saturdays, she can no longer deal with her mail, manage her financial obligations, schedule her own appointments, or transport herself.

Then a few weeks ago, my mother passed away and I became a co-trustee of her trust and co-executrix of her will. While co-executrix is a pretty cool word, it also means lots of extra research, forms, sorting & filing, meetings, phone calls, and decisions to make.

These real life storms happen to all of us. At the time, it always feels like they occur at an inconvenient time. The truth is, that there’s never a convenient time for sadness, grief, loss, or extra caregiving duties. If there were, it would mean we aren’t living very full lives. We’d most likely be failing to pursue the challenging job we desire, the degree we want, our next athletic achievement, or the dream vacation we can finally afford.

Knowing that the ebb and flow of life will always deliver intermittent difficult times, it’s good to have a few tricks handy that make things easier on the budget and your schedule when times get tough. Here are a few tricks I rely on regularly:

1)Cook 2 things in the same pot or pan at the same time that can be later mixed and matched for 2 or 3 different meals.

Baked Chicken and Cream of Mushroom Soup
Last week’s chicken spaghetti blog featured a perfect example of this trick. I made cream of mushroom soup in the bottom of the pan while baking chicken. Later, I used both in chicken spaghetti. Then I took the leftover mushroom soup, added some cubed potatoes, and ate potato mushroom soup for a couple of meals.

Pork Chops and Polenta
I like to cook polenta in the bottom of a casserole dish when I bake pork chops. It’s probably the easiest way ever to prepare polenta and later I can use some of it to make grilled polenta cakes with tomato and kale. The pork chops cut into thin strips or cubes can be made into tacos or added to macaroni and cheese.

2)Save pot likker to use in other dishes or one pot meals.

Traditional pot likker is the broth produced when you cook greens, but I like to save the broth from boiling black eyed peas, beans, and broccoli as well. Seasoned, it can be used as a base for a soup or sauce. It can also be used in place of chicken broth to cook rice or to add flavor to a one pot meal. Storing vegetable broth in the refrigerator has saved me more than one trip to the store.
pulled pork
3)Remake leftovers into something new.

When I began to tire of the aforementioned chicken spaghetti, I sautéd some onion, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots, then added the leftover chicken spaghetti and some extra cheese to the pan. The chicken spaghetti was transformed into pasta primavera…with chicken. It tasted fresh and new and took less than 20 minutes to prepare.

I sometimes make pulled pork enchiladas with leftover smoked pork. Roasted chicken becomes chicken salad, chicken quesadillas, or chicken and rice. Leftover veggies fill my frittatas or get added to browned turkey for a one pot meal.

James flew in hungry late the night I baked chicken for chicken spaghetti. He topped one of the chicken breasts with mushroom, potato soup and a piece of pepper jack cheese, then popped it in the microwave for a quick and filling meal.

4)Boil some eggs and store them in the refrigerator (they’ll last a week).

Boiled eggs are an easy protein to grab when you’ve waited too long to eat. Just add a little salt and pepper and they’re good to go. They’re also easy to carry in the car or on airplane trip.

Boiled eggs can become egg salad or a great addition to tuna salad, chicken salad, or pasta with sausage and peas.
5)Keep nuts in the freezer and dried fruit in the pantry.

I always have raw almonds, pecans, walnuts, and cashews in my freezer. I use them for desserts, meatloaf, meatballs, and salads. At any given moment, I’ll also have a variety of dried fruit in the pantry. I like the ones without added sugar – dates, papaya, mango, pears, figs, and raisins.

My standard breakfast is Greek yogurt with raw almonds and golden raisins. When I travel, I carry nuts and raisins with me. Sometimes I throw in a few chocolate chips. It’s like extra simple trail mix.

In order for me to deal with added stress, it’s important to keep my eating, sleeping, and exercise routine fairly constant. While it might be easy to rely on fast or overly processed foods when I’m overbooked, doing so makes me feel bad so I try to keep it to a minimum. Using a few tricks in the kitchen helps keep me stay on track and have time for the rest and exercise I need to remain resilient.

Let the Food do the Work

chicken spaghettiWhen you’re tired and overwhelmed, don’t do more shopping, let the food do the work! The past few weeks have held multiple family gatherings. I decided to make chicken spaghetti for one of them. That was always my mom’s go-to for a dinner party when I was small and I’ve been wanting to make it for a while.

Most chicken spaghetti recipes contain cream of mushroom soup and most readily available cream of mushroom soups contain wheat flour. That may work for most of the family, but there are several of us who can’t tolerate gluten. Rather than driving from store to store in search of an acceptable soup brand or taking the extra step of making soup, I simply let the chicken make soup for me!

To make chicken spaghetti, I needed to cook some chicken to cube up. I decided it would be easy to make soup while I cooked the chicken. I started by spraying an extra large roasting pan with olive oil spray. I then covered the bottom of the pan with rough chopped white button mushrooms and topped the mushrooms with 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts and 6 thighs liberally seasoned with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

The next addition was a 32 oz box of gluten-free chicken broth that I always keep in the pantry. I poured it around the chicken. I did the same with a pint of heavy whipping cream and enough milk to reach the top of all but the largest chicken breasts. I dotted any exposed chicken with butter.

From that point, all I had to do was bake the chicken for 50 minutes at 350º. While the chicken baked, a delicious cream of mushroom soup formed in the bottom of the pan. After the cooked chicken cooled, I removed each piece, scraped the mushrooms may have that stuck to them back into the broth and then placed the mushroom soup into a sauce pan. Before simmering the soup to reduce it a bit while I assembled the spaghetti, I gave it a quick taste test and added a bit more salt, pepper, and garlic.

The resulting soup was rich from the cream, full of flavor from the chicken and mushrooms, and the only additional time required was the time it took to chop the mushrooms. That’s much less time than it would have taken to drive to the store and I’ve never had packaged cream of mushroom soup that I couldn’t stop eating because it was so delicious.

Another bonus to this approach was that I had more than enough soup for the chicken spaghetti. I added some cubed potatoes to the left-overs for a hearty lunch the next day.

The idea for this cream of mushroom soup may have come from a desire to let the food do the work, but the result convinced me there’s no reason to make it any other way. And knowing I don’t have to travel from store to store gathering ingredients makes it more likely that I’ll make chicken spaghetti again soon!