Friday, September 28, 2012

Arsenic...GMOs...where does it end?

I've been sad this week in a way that I can't seem to shake. Usually, I can turn bad news upside down and find a way to be positive and optimistic about its significance. But this week, news of arsenic in our food coming to me on the heels of an article detailing the results of studies on GMOs and their affect on health, has made me downright depressed.

I'll admit it, I rolled my eyes and pshawed when my mom told me that now arsenic had been found in rice, chalking it up to a sensationalist media trying to scare up news on a slow day. After all, there are entire cultures that include rice as a staple of their diets. People have been eating rice for eons without trouble.

Well, almost. People have been eating rice for eons, but not necessarily the rice we eat now. No, these days it seems that food is one thing you don't want to "buy American." I came to this decision when the latest issue of Consumer Reports landed in my mailbox. Right there on page 22 was an article titled, "Arsenic in your food," with the subheading, "our findings show a real need for federal standards for this toxin."

My heart sank and I began to feel sick. For the past six months or so, my baby has eaten brown rice at least a few times a week, and the little "Cheerios" I give him to snack on are actually made from organic brown rice. Brown rice is perfect for baby casseroles, mixed with little veggies, beans, and cheese. He loves it. And I do, too. The Black Bean Jambalaya recipe I posted last week, along with other favorites from my Louisiana upbringing - red beans and rice, gumbo, you name it - all feature rice prominently, and I have lapped it up like a puppy my entire life. Now I feel like I have been spooning little bites of cancer into my baby's mouth, telling him how he was growing to be such a healthy boy.

But more than that, I just felt violated. I had also recently read this article sent by a friend about the results of studies conducted to determine the long-term effects of GMOs - genetically modified organisms - in our food. 

"Safe" levels of GMOs can cause tumors and multiple organ damage

In short, it isn't good: tumors, organ damage, etc. GMOs are in more than we think, and the latest news from TakePart tells us that regulation for labeling of GMOs is still a long way off, which means we are likely eating them and don't even know it.

And what sickens me even more is that fruits, vegetables, and grains should be safe. Sure, when you buy packaged food you know you're likely getting crap. Even the stuff with the organic label. Preservatives and sugar and preservatives and sugar no matter how brown the package is or how many solemn farmers are on the front of the label. But produce? Even if you don't buy organic - which many people do not either because of cost or lack of access in their community - fruits, vegetables, and grains should be safe. 

Now, it feels like even that is questionable. 

As I went through my pantry and freezer tossing our rice and the cute little frozen muffins of baby food into the trash, I began to get angry. As I studied the labels of the few processed foods I do buy to look for hidden sources of arsenic rice, I got downright pissed off. 

Of course, the FDA says that there is no need to freak out about any of this and that we should not change our eating habits because of a little bit of poison - an actual poison, I'm not just being dramatic - in our food. 

And of course they do. The food industry is a very powerful and intimidating lobby.

What the hell? Where does this end? At what point will the health and safety of human lives take precedence over profit and business? 

Get out there and get healthy today, working for change in the way our food is grown, regulated, and distributed. It will take a lot of people demanding change - and voting with their forks and wallets - but it can happen. 

We deserve better.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Body Image Evolution (or is it revolution?)

I did my own illustrations!
Last weekend, my mom brought me a bundle of yellowed, tattered notebook paper. It was a collection of stories I had written as a kid, which she had rescued from the trashcan all those years ago and saved for posterity. The folded-in-half pages sent me back about 25 years to my desk in the room I shared with my sister, complete with a pink desk blotter that had a little quill-style pen holder and a notepad on the side to jot down all my genius ideas. I'd write stories about fabulously rich girls who had everything I wanted in life.

As it turned out, everything I wanted in life boiled down to three things: long hair, hot rollers, and "a perfect figure." As I read the opening paragraphs of my walk down memory lane, I flushed with a frustrated feeling that was half embarrassment and half sadness. I wanted to go back in time and try to convince my younger and body-obsessed self that a seemingly perfect figure is a myth, and that by the way I looked perfectly wonderful just as I was. Besides, I actually did have hot rollers. But my hair was too short to use them.

Its not unusual for girls as young as five years old now to put themselves on diets, even as our media becomes more liberal with its definition of beauty:

And, while I am saddened by obesity as a lifestyle choice and argue that everyone has an obligation to themselves and responsibility to their community to create the healthiest body they can, I also know that health comes in more sizes than 0.
Health is complicated, and our bodies defy logic every day. We all know people who can eat a mountain of saturated fat but never gain a pound. But while the effects of that kind of living might not show up as a spare tire, it catches up in other ways. Being "skinny fat" carries real risks to health that shouldn't be ignored. This article about the rising levels of Type-2 Diabetes among seemingly healthy women - seeming healthy simply because they are not fat - proves the point. 

If I could go back in time and hug my younger self, I'd whisper in her ear, "perfection is overrated." And relative. And irrelevant. But I wouldn't expect myself to listen or believe it. It took 25 years for me to figure out that true wellness comes not from loving my body as it is, but from becoming a partner with it to turn it into something truly incredible.

I still don't have long hair, and I lost my hot rollers ages ago. But I do have a perfect figure. Perfect for me, that is, in a completely relative and irrelevant way that my younger self would never have understood.

Get out there and get healthy today, even if it takes 25 years.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Comfort Food: Black Bean Jambalaya

It's Comfort Food Week and this is one of my favorite feel-good meals. Last week when I was being all dramatic about having a cold (it was really bad, I swear) I dug into my recipe bin and soothed my aching ego with some healthified versions of usually high-calorie meals.

By Sunday night, I was feeling much, much better. I'd rested from exercise all week (agony!), drank about 15 gallons of water, gone through two bags of cough drops, and then there was all the soup. I felt good enough for another of my comfort-food faves: Black Bean Jambalaya! It's so so good and feels like love when you eat it.

With a side of steamed green beans,
this is cozy all the way!
Black Bean Jambalaya

  • 1 cup cooked long grain brown rice (this is about 1/3 cup dry cooked in 1.5 cups of water)
  • 1/2 cup chopped red onion and green pepper
  • Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper
  • 1/2 cup cooked black beans
  • 2 ounces andouille sausage (I like Aidell's
  • 2 ounces chicken breast

What To Do
1. Cook the rice and while it is simmering, add the onion and green pepper. Add the seasoning and let it cook until the rice is done. Add in the sausage and black beans.

2. Cook the chicken and add to the rice mixture. 

3. Eat it.

Okay, I know those instructions leave a little to be desired. But really, it is that simple. You just cook the stuff that needs to be cooked (the rice and the chicken) and then mix everything together! It is so good and is the perfect combination of two of my favorite things: jambalaya and black beans and rice.

When you're feeling like you need some love, cook up this dish. It reminds me of my home in Louisiana, but it's much healthier than anything I've eaten there!

Get out there and get healthy, even (especially) if you have a cold!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Comfort Food: Breakfast for Dinner!

It's Comfort Food Week here on the bloggity blog, as I recap my week of fighting the Death Cold with the power of good nutrition. Yesterday I shared my "well duh" recipe for Chicken Noodle Soup. It made me feel good enough to attempt something a little more complicated.

Fortified by the soup, I started feeling up to making for for other people. Like, dinner. Breakfast for dinner, that is! We love breakfast for dinner at our house, complete with pancakes or waffles, scrambled eggs, grits, and bacon. There are a few easy things I do to healthify this potential calorie coma.

Breakfast for Dinner Healthy Heather Style!
1. I make my Half-n-Half Scrambled Eggs. That means half whole eggs and half just whites. Whisk with some low fat milk, add salt and pepper, and you have fluffy scrambled eggs with less fat and cholesterol. Egg yolks are nutritious and delicious, but I like my Half-n-Half Eggs!

2. I buy Applegate Farms Sunday Bacon because it is nitrate-and-other-icky-stuff free.

3. We use Hodgson Mills Buttermilk Pancake mix because it doesn't have the additives of other brands. I'll be honest, I don't love this mix. It's a little gritty. But I'm overlooking that until I find something better. I add orange zest, cinnamon, and vanilla to my mix for flavor and punch.

4. I weigh my portions. 130 grams of eggs, 2 slices of bacon, 50 grams of grits with 10 grams of cheddar cheese, and 100 grams of pancakes. I also measure out 2 teaspoons of 100% pure maple syrup with my teaspoon! It's a great way to enjoy a rich meal without going overboard.

Speaking of breakfast...

When I have company in town, we always like to make a big breakfast. And while I love making biscuits and cinnamon rolls from scratch (not), there are times when convenience trumps authenticity. In those cases, I turn to the Immaculate Baking Company. 

Caution: these are not all healthy foods! 

No, no, no, no, no. Cinnamon rolls are not good for you, I just want to be clear. BUT. If you long to hear the pop of a vacuum seal, skip the bad stuff in other commercial products and look for Immaculate. They used to only be found in higher-end grocery stores but are now available at Wal-Mart. 

Having breakfast for dinner is comfort food all the way. In fact, we get comfy every week we like it so much! But what really thrills me is that I can have this cozy meal without feeling like I applied the pancakes directly to my middle. That's code for gaining weight.

Next time, one of my favorite comforts: Black Bean Jambalaya. Part black beans and rice, part jambalaya, all healthy!

Get out there and get healthy today, even if you eat cinnamon rolls.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Comfort Food: Healthy Heather's Chicken Noodle Soup

So last week I was at death's door. Okay, I actually only had a cold, but it felt like death. Between the sinus pain, the lack of exercise, and my refusal to take medication as a breastfeeding mom, I was a real joy to be around. Yeah.

Luckily, I had a couple of tricks up my sleeve to soothe a healthy sicko's soul: comfort food, healthified. So I am designating this Comfort Food Week and sharing my best recipes (*ahem* if you can call them that) that help me feel better when I need a boost. 

In my frail and fragile condition, I needed something fast and easy. So I made soup. It was so easy that I could get it going in about five minutes, which is about how long it took before I started complaining about being sick again anyway. So, without further ado, here it is! My simple, easy Chicken Soup recipe!

Chicken Noodle Soup
2 boneless chicken breasts (I had a couple frozen ones that I tossed in a big pot)
About 6-8 cups water
Two large carrots, chopped
Two celery stalks, chopped
A small red onion, chopped
2 cups whole wheat pasta
Cayanne pepper
Salt and pepper and whatever other seasoning sounds good

Put everything in a pot and bring to a boil. Once the chicken is cooked through, shred and return to the pot. Then simmer to thicken until it looks good to you.

I ate about two pots of this last week. It felt soooooo good. For some reason, I could not taste anything I ate last week except when I had this soup. Season it up with whatever you like; since there is no stock or bouillon in it, it may not be as salty or flavorful as you'd expect. Get over it. Bouillon is not good for you.

As the week went on, and as I downed more soup, I began to feel better. Eventually I even felt good enough to cook food for other people. My week of comfort food continues tomorrow with my healthified breakfast for dinner and ultra-fave recipe for Black Bean Jambalaya!

Get out there and get healthy today. I am really glad I did!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Homemade Hot Pockets! Kinda!

One nice thing about having a baby around is that we don't have leftovers anymore. I spent years training myself to cook less food because the leftovers went to waste, but now I have a welcoming repository for them: my baby's tummy. And this week, I impressed myself by taking a collection of leftovers and making them into what turned out to be pretty much homemade hot pockets.

I've always admired those people who turn one meal into several by just rearranging leftovers. And this week I was one of them! I had a leftover bbq chicken breast from the night before, and more homemade pizza crust than I could fit on the pan for that night's dinner. After foraging around in the fridge for a few more things, I made these chicken wrap-ups that will be the perfect thing for his little lunchbox. Here's what I did:

A bunch of spinach, chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
Some red onion, chopped
1 grilled boneless chicken breast, chopped
About 1/2 a cup plain yogurt (I used Oikos Greek)
About 1/4 cup sour cream
Whole wheat pizza-style crust (I use this recipe to make pizza crust at home and it works well)

1. Sauté the spinach, celery, and onion in a pan until they are cooked through. Since I was making this for my baby, I made them really tender. You can use your own discretion.

2. While that's cooking, mix the chicken, yogurt, and sour cream in a bowl. This is essentially chicken salad. Add salt, pepper, whatever you think will be good. I put in some cajun seasoning 'cause my baby likes the spice y'all.

3. Roll out your dough and use a biscuit cutter (or a glass, like I do) to make little crusts. In retrospect, these were a little too small so for bigger appetites use something bigger, like a bowl, to make your cut-outs.

4. Put a dollop of your chicken salad on the dough and fold it over! I used a fork to press the edges together so it would stay closed in the oven.

5. Spray a  pan and lay them out. Bake at 450 for about 15-20 minutes or until they are golden brown on top. 

6. Enjoy! You have just made homemade hot pockets!

You could fill them with anything, but of course I would recommend not going the pizza/cheese/meat route. Egg whites scrambled with spinach and onion might be a nice idea! Or, apples with cinnamon and chopped pecans would warm a crisp fall afternoon. 

Get out there and get healthy with your leftovers!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Simple September Goal: Accomplish Less!

Nothing quite makes me happy like throwing things out. I'm not so much an organizer as I am just a purger. What's this doohickey? Gone. We haven't replaced the batteries in this thing for three months? Toss it. Sometimes I think I could easily live in one of those tiny houses where all I own is a bowl, a hot plate, and a pair of running shoes.

And fall weather - even the brief flashes of it that we get down here - always gives me a burst of renewed energy that put my purging gene into overdrive. Just this morning I ran out of exfoliating stuff for my face and tossed the container into the trash thinking, "Ahhh! One less thing!" 

Decluttering to me is really just prioritizing. Choosing one thing to keep over another to throw out - whether they be physical objects or mental burdens - clears the way for what is really important to us.

I'm keeping September simple, and that means prioritizing my physical and mental world. As I run out of things and toss the package out, they are not necessarily being replaced. Those peanut butter crackers I bought my son for an after school snack? He didn't love them, so they're gone. The last two pairs of running shoes that I kept well past their expiration date? In the trash. 

Tossing out the physical and mental stuffin your way makes September simple!
Image by Keattikorn at

Mental space gets a clean sweep, too. Each day I make a to-do list, split it into three columns - must happen today, must happen this week, and nice to have - and then promptly cross out about half of it. Only things that relate specifically to my most pressing issues of the day get my energy, and the rest can wait. If something is crossed out more than a few times in a row, I ask myself:

1. Why am I still writing this down? Do I need to do it? Or do I want to do it? If its simply a want, it may get moved to next week. 

2. What will happen if I do not accomplish this? If worlds are not going to collide in anarchy, I ditch it. I very rarely regret that decision!

Many people organize and prioritize in order to get more done and be more efficient. In Simple September, my goal is to get less done. Because there is less to do. Because I am being very, very picky about where I put my energy.

A decluttered house and life is healthier, too:

  • We think more clearly when we are organized and have easy access to the tools we need to do our work. 
  • We feel a greater sense of accomplishment when we achieve goals that are meaningful to us, rather than ones we feel obligated to do. 
  • And, the therapeutic rewards of letting go of physical objects can increase happiness and decrease stress.
Get out there and get healthy today, by doing less!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Simple September = Slackerville?

I feel like such a slacker for only doing one workout. Isn't that ridiculous? I think so. But, since I am making sure to keep September simple, I'm trying to avert my eyes from my inner over-achiever's (and my outer over-achiever's, too) temper tantrum and pretend like its no big whoop.

I stumbled into the two-a-day workout routine by accident, I promise! I always do my morning workout, rain or shine no matter what because the alternative is unacceptable to me, but lately I've also been popping the baby into my Kelty Kids hiking backpack and going for a hike for a few miles. When I looked up to see how many calories that burned, I was shocked: over 300 calories for an hour of walking! So that was a nice little boon to my day.

And before I knew it, two workouts a day became the norm. The morning weights/plyo/run or elliptical routine, and then the 2 or 3 mile hike with a 25 lb pack. And I started getting tiiiiiired.

Plus the baby's not sleeping AT ALL so that doesn't help. Grrr.

Anyway, this morning I didn't hike because we were doing other stuff. I felt kind of like a slacker. So I told myself we would walk later. But we haven't done it yet. Then I realized how ridiculous it was that I was feeling bad about not working out twice a day.

Hey, isn't September supposed to be simple? In honor of that idea, I am declaring it okay to not work out twice a day, and its okay to not feel guilty about it too. I love my two-a-days. I love how I feel when I am really active, and I enjoy the extra calories I get to eat as a result. But I'm not going to beat myself up over it!
It's okay to not feel bad about only exercising one time today.

Get out there and get healthy. Even if you only workout once a day. :)


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Simple September: Getting back to basics.

I love being healthy, and I love being the bearer of healthy goodness. But sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. In this case, I am feeling some negative information overload!

Do this workout! 

Eat this superfood!

No, eat THIS superfood! It's way better!

Combat poor body image! Love yourself as you are!

But you could have flatter abs - get your butt moving, slacker!

Sometimes it feels like a competition to see who can be healthier:

"I make everything from scratch, no artificial ingredients in my kitchen!"

"I grow my own food! My family dines each night on my culinary masterpieces and my breakfast smoothie cures cancer."

"I did 100 burpees before dawn and then ran 10 miles in the snow!"

And then we have to fight corporate America, too: petitioning against GMOs, calling out companies with misleading labels, investigating the moral high ground of the local farms that raise the livestock that we eat, and lobbying for government policies to keep junk food and soda out of schools.

To be honest, even as a healthy do-gooder, it can get kind of annoying. When it starts to feel like the bossiness of Facebook and Pinterest and Twitter, all shouting commands at us to be this or feel that start to get on my nerves, I scale it back.

Get back to basics. 
Image by winnond.
Remember that sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is to tune out.

Living a healthy life doesn't have to be - and shouldn't be - a contest. It doesn't have to be anything other than getting some exercise and eating simple foods. It doesn't have to be a cute, trendy workout you found on Pinterest or a meal comprised of super foods you learned about on Facebook. A healthy life is just one in which you are well-rested, happy, physically active, and fueled with nutritious food.

It's been getting pretty loud in my world lately, so I've turned down the volume. Instead of focusing on the negative aspects of food labeling, the absence of an interest by our government in a healthy population, junk food in schools, and the dangers of childhood obesity, I am going to spend the next month seeking the positive in simple health. I hope you'll join me as we rediscover how enjoyable wellness can be when we turn down the volume and just live healthy lives.

Welcome to September! A new season. Get out there and get healthy today, all by yourself.