Although I enjoy a glass of wine and the feeling of well-being that accompanies it, I have concluded that wine does not bring out the best in me! While studies showing the health benefits of moderate drinking have been something to cheer about, too much alcohol can be detrimental to your health - and too much means more than one glass a day for women and two a day for men.
Alcohol is often thought of as a mood enhancer and confidence booster, but it is actually a depressant - and creator of bad decisions! By contrast, snacking on a little dark chocolate has been shown to increase our serotonin levels, and that happy feeling is just the beginning of the good news about this tasty treat.
From Junk food to health food
Once blamed for causing acne and considered junk food, chocolate has taken on 'superfood' status. It is chock full of the same antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables, that are essential for fighting the free radicals that can cause cancer and other debilitating illnesses. Studies show that chocolate can decrease the risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and may help with memory and brain function in older people.
And the acne myth? With the right kind of chocolate, your skin could be looking better than ever. The flavonols found in dark chocolate can protect your skin from sun damage, reduce wrinkles and age spots, and give you a glowing complexion!
The darker, the better
There is a caveat to all this welcome information about our beloved chocolate, and that is to pick the right kind. Liken this to choosing a great wine, and forgo the overly processed sugary chocolate that has been stripped of its nutrients. You may have to go to a health food store, or buy online, to find brands that meet the following criteria:
Don't forget that even the most wholesome chocolate is still a calorie dense food and shouldn't be eaten in abundance. The recommended amount is no more than 1-2 oz per day, so eat slowly and savor. Although some people find it too bitter to be eaten alone, raw cacao powder (or nibs) are naturally sugar-free and are the healthiest form of chocolate. Both are delicious in smoothies or try using raw cacao powder to make healthier hot chocolate. I love this simple three-ingredient chocolate recipe from My Whole Food Life.
I'm still going to enjoy a glass of wine from time to time, but my daily mood booster will be from a carefully chosen square (or two) of delicious, dark chocolate. Cheers!
I'm so excited to be writing about matcha! Unlike regular tea (which is an infusion of brewed leaves), a cup of matcha contains all the goodness of the entire leaf.
Many find the ceremony of making this tea an appealing part of the whole experience. So, Line up your hot water and matcha powder and get ready to whisk. You'll be rewarded with a cup of frothy goodness - and a quick arm workout too!
The Matcha Difference
The word matcha comes from the two Japanese words "ma" (powder) and "cha" (tea) which is exactly what it is. A few weeks before harvesting, the plant is covered with a tarp or bamboo mat, which significantly increases the production of chlorophyll and an amino acid called L-theanine. These two compounds are primarily responsible for the magic in matcha.
The L-theanine slows down the release of caffeine, which can make you feel both relaxed and alert. And the abundance of chlorophyll is an effective detoxifier. Matcha can also safely boost your metabolism without increasing your heart rate or raising your blood pressure. But the most exciting news is the abundance of antioxidants, including specific types of catechins called EGCg's which are believed to have amazing cancer-fighting properties.
If this wasn't enough to have you whisking away like crazy, matcha also contains fiber, vitamins, minerals, and zero calories! Of course, once you add all the goodies like milk and honey, you also add the calories. But healthy food should taste good too!
When you get your tin of precious matcha powder, there are several ways to enjoy it. The simplest way is to add about one teaspoon to a cup of hot water and vigorously whisk until frothy. However, this method is only for true devotees, and I'm not quite as sophisticated: I like to make a matcha latte (with whole milk and raw honey), or I'll add a spoonful of matcha to my smoothie. And as it's such a versatile powder, I'm sure there are many other places to sneak it in, that we have yet to discover. Happy whisking!
I was experimenting with green drinks for St Patrick's day, and accidentally made a really delicious Matcha Mint Latte, which I have to share! You can find the recipe here.
Eliminating "added" sugar from your diet is a challenging undertaking. Even products not thought of as sweetened, like bread and sauces, can be laden with sugar. Some of the worst culprits are low-fat foods. These sound like they should be good for us but when the fat is removed, it is often replaced with additional sugar. For this reason, I avoid low -fat foods like the plague - Just give me good healthy fat and cut out that evil sugar!
When it comes to packaged foods, reading the ingredients is a good start, but this villain comes in many guises. Watch out for words ending in "ose" like fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose, and the all too common, high fructose corn syrup. Oh, and don't be lured by the phrase "sugar-free." This usually means the bad sugar has been replaced by an even worse artificial sweetener like aspartame. These have their own health issues (many still unknown) and should be avoided. When you want to add a little sweetness, raw honey, maple syrup, or coconut palm sugar are healthier choices - but don't go overboard - these are sweet treats and should be eaten in moderation.
The good news
Not all sugar is bad. Yup, there is a silver lining for your sweet tooth. The simple sugars found naturally in fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and whole grains won't impact your health negatively. These wholesome foods are packed with nutrients and fiber that your body needs and welcomes.
How much is too much?
The American Heart Association recommends that women stay under six teaspoons a day and men under nine teaspoons. This refers to added sugar and not the naturally occurring sugars found in fruits, vegetables, grains, and milk. Unfortunately, food labels don't yet distinguish between the two. Use these guidelines to help control your intake of added sugar:
Three steps to cut back on sugar
I urge you to read the dire health warnings written in small print on the back of your household cleaning supplies. After doing this, you may want to reconsider what you spray around your kitchen and bathroom. After all, soaking in the tub is a lot more relaxing if you aren't worried about toxic residue floating in the bathwater! Why not have peace of mind and switch to safer alternatives?
Distilled White Vinegar
To make an effective all-purpose cleaner, fill an empty spray bottle with equal parts vinegar and water, or use undiluted to sanitize and remove odors from sinks, toilets, and garbage disposals. Fabric softener is known to be particularly hazardous but if crunchy laundry isn't your thing, try using a cup of plain white vinegar instead.
This makes a great natural deodorizer - and not just for inside the fridge. Sprinkle baking soda into the toilet bowl or down the sink to keep these areas smelling fresh. To make an abrasive cleaner, use the baking soda neat or mix with a little water or vinegar to form a paste and rub with a wet sponge.
No worries so far about inhaling fumes or having the poison control center on speed dial. In place of a precautionary statements written on the back of these two products, you may find a great recipe for a salad dressing or pancake mix!
3% Hydrogen Peroxide
This effective all-purpose cleaner is composed of water and oxygen. It can be used undiluted and should be kept in the brown bottle. Just remove the cap and attach a regular spray nozzle to it (and yes most will fit). Unlike vinegar and baking soda which can both be safely ingested, there is some controversy surrounding the safety of hydrogen peroxide. It has been highly touted as a cure-all tonic, but it’s medicinal uses are still highly controversial. I like it because it's anti fungal, antimicrobial and odorless but I wouldn't advocate using it for anything other than a household cleaner. It's advised to only use the 3% version, so please be sure you are not using a higher concentration.
Dr. Bronner's Castile Soaps
I love using the unscented baby version for bathing (and cleaning my makeup brushes), but the naturally scented versions smell great and can be used for cleaning around the house. For mopping floors, use 1/2 cup in 3 gallons of hot water and to make an all-purpose cleaner use 1/4 cup per gallon of water in a spray bottle. For other ideas on how to use this lovely soap, check out the dilution cheat sheet from Lisa Bronner here.
If buying something ready made is more your style, then your local Whole Foods, Sprouts, Trader Joe's or other natural markets will carry an abundance of healthier cleaning choices. If you don't have access to these places, look for brands such as Seventh Generation, Method, or Myers which are carried in most stores.
Some people complain that natural products aren't as effective as their harsher counterpart but even if this were true, ask yourself this simple question - Do you want cleaner lungs or a cleaner sink? The choice is yours.
Ahhh water - nothing tastes better when you're thirsty. I just wish I could enjoy it before I'm feeling dehydrated. As my mantra has always been to "love the food that will love you back" I am determined to drink water - and love it!
The good news about water is that its effects are immediate. I discovered this a few days ago when I woke up feeling sluggish, and then felt wholly revived after drinking a bottle of water.
It's estimated that more than half of us fail to drink the recommended eight cups of water a day. Dr. Andrew Weil has named this condition NAMAIS (not as much as I should), which is what most people say when asked how much water they drink. For those who want to take simple steps to good health - grab yourself a nice tall glass of water and join me in my resolution to IDEW (I drink enough water).
Health benefits of water
Bottom line - your body needs water to function. We can't live more than 3 to 5 days without it.
If water is just too dull for you and you really hate drinking it, try plain carbonated/sparkling water. For some reason, there were rumors that it promoted tooth decay and bone loss - all completely untrue! Not only will carbonated water help you feel fuller, but it can aid with digestion, and even help with constipation. Sparkling water is also a great choice if you're out with friends and would rather not drink alcohol. Just have it in a wine glass (with lots of ice), and you'll fee part of the social scene. Be sure not to confuse carbonated water with tonic water, which is sweetened with sugar or high fructose corn syrup and has quinine added to it - not a healthy choice.