Coming this March, I have challenged my friends and coworkers to a 30 Day Eat Real Food Challenge. I want to invite you all to join along. We all strive to eat healthfully, but our definitions of healthy all differ. However we choose to reach our own optimal health, I believe we can all agree that current standards are falling short of meeting our needs. So many foods and meals are offered for our convenience, but have we stopped to consider at what cost?
Many of us eat out, whether for pleasure or for sake of a busy schedule. Sure, we can navigate the menus and order things that are gluten free, fat free, vegetarian, or heart healthy. But what ingredients are they using? Are they using organics? High quality, grade A options for oils, vegetables, and meats? Are they abiding by proper preparation and cooking practices? Chances are, they are not. They want impact, they want good reviews. And sometimes, the proper way to get a food to the point of rave reviews takes too long. So they find shortcuts. Using soy, canola, or peanut oil is common practice in restaurants. These oils are not stable and tend to go rancid under heat and processing. Organic foods and grass fed meats are costly, and many establishments avoid offering these, or if they do, it’s at a premium. Even then, if you order a grass fed cut or meat or organic chicken, it may be cooked in other non-organic or low quality ingredients. So this meal out is not really stacking up to be what you thought, now is it?
How about when we buy premade meals at the local supermarket? Frozen or from the fresh section, it likely has so many ingredients added to it to keep it looking and tasting fresh that it would take us ten minutes just to make it through the ingredients list. And once there, can you even pronounce them? Yeah, so maybe these also are not the healthy option you thought they were.
So enter the 30 Day Eat Real Food Challenge. Thirty Days of clean eating. No processed foods, no refined flours or sugars, no additives or unnatural colors, no synthetics. How about it? Real food, 30 days. It’s so much easier than you think. And as you will come to find, rewarding.
This is tailored to what you eat, what you need. If you are vegetarian, great. Paleo, awesome. Raw foodist- well, you’re probably already aceing this! (Pretty hard to eat processed food when you’re a raw foodie!) The aim is simply good quality real food. If it grew in the ground, survived on what grew in the ground, and has only itself as the main ingredient- it works! You cook it and prepare it, but it can’t come to you additive and preservative laden, packaged up and ready to nuke in the microwave.
You choose your level of participation, the one that resonates best with you. But keep in mind, this is a challenge. Challenge yourself! Pick your goal, make a plan. Maybe you find this desirable but overwhelming. I suggest start with replacing one to three meals a week with real foods. Nothing processed or “microwave ready”, just wholesome, real foods. Or maybe you choose one processed indulgence and replace it with something non-processed, something real. Maybe these are no problem for you. In that case replace one meal every day with real foods. You could choose five days of clean eating, allowing weekends to be a time to regroup and have your fun. Or maybe you’re ready to go whole hog- all seven days, three meals a day, REAL FOOD! Whatever is right for you, grab it, and do it. Plan ahead, make your menus and your shopping lists, and get going.
I’ll be posting meal and snack ideas periodically, along with recipes. Together we can do this, and you will discover how amazing real food can make you feel. You never know, your skeptical self just may become a believer!
Proteins and omega 3 fatty acids are highly sought after nutrients these days, and there are many ways to include them in your diet. Animal sources offer a complete array of the amino acids and more bioavailable Omega 3 fatty acids, but many people seek alternative options, whether for dietary or ethical choices, or simply just for variety. Seeds offer solid amounts of protein and omegas, and can be a boon for those interested in steering away from meat or needing a change.
Flaxseeds have been around for a while, but there are a few important things one should know when using them. They come from the flax plant, or linseed, which is used to make linen. The seeds are usually golden or brown and are high in dietary fibers. They are used most often in baking and can be especially useful in gluten free baking. You will likely see them in stores sold whole seed or ground, also referred to as flax meal. Being a seed, the oils are fairly fragile and do not withstand high heat. Flax oil is sold too, but I feel you get the most benefit from the ground seeds. You should never cook with or heat flax oil as the essential fatty acids are too fragile. The best option is to buy the whole seed and grind them into a meal yourself, as needed. Eating the seeds whole does little for you, and are mostly passed through your digestive system. One bag will last you a long time, so I recommend storing it in the freezer to preserve the oils and prevent rancidity.
The recommended daily amount is 1-2 Tablespoons per day. This one ounce serving (equal to about one tablespoon) carries with it 150 calories, almost 8 grams of fiber, 6.5 grams of ALA, roughly 6 grams of protein, and 12 grams of fat. What’s more, they contain the nine essential amino acids. (Remember, the essential aminos are the ones we need but our body cannot make on its own- meaning they have to come from the diet.) You can mix them in easily into smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, soups, and sauces. Sprinkle them over salads and mix them in to homemade protein bites or energy balls. As I mentioned, they are wonderful for gluten free baking. While you can just replace a portion of the flour called for in your recipe with flax meal, know that adding in a small amount to alternative or gluten free recipes provides that all important binder. Flax replaces xantham gum in gluten free flour mixes, and still delivers health benefits in the process.
Now chia seeds are a more recent popularity. They offer a similar health profile to flaxseeds. One ounce contains around 140 calories, 12 grams of fiber, 5 grams of ALA, almost 5 grams of protein, and 9 grams of fat. Chia seeds contain almost all the amino acids, missing just a few. But they do have the nine essential aminos that our bodies get from food. They hold water very well thanks to their high fiber content, and create a type of gel when used with liquid. This makes them a good addition to smoothies, and now you see why there are so many chia seed pudding pins on pinterest too! Did you know you can even make your own hair gel with chia seeds? It’s true! Chia is used as an energy source for athletes or those who live a very active lifestyle. Their high fiber content helps sustain energy levels throughout the day, avoiding those dips in blood sugar that leave us needing to eat just to keep going. They also promote digestive regularity.
One recommendation prior to eating chia seeds would be to soak them briefly. This softens the external bran layer of the seed and allows the body to access the nutrients more efficiently. Hence, let me again reference the chia seed puddings! Once soaked, you can actually use all those vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants that make it one heck of a health food. Their ability to hold water contributes to you being able to digest those nutrients while the seeds are passing through your system, but it also stays in your system a little longer, keeping you satiated and energized.
Hemp seeds are a slightly different nutritional powerhouse. These guys come from the hemp plant, but not the same variety as marijuana. The amount of THC in the seeds is too low to create any kind of effects that one would see from the recreational drug. Eaten as a seed, they are a fantastic source of protein. Like flaxseeds, they offer all the amino acids, including the nine essential amino acids. This makes them a complete protein.
A serving of Hemp seeds, about 1 ounce, has 120 calories, 4.5 grams of fat, less than a gram of fiber, 8 grams of protein, and around 3 grams of Omega 3 fatty acids. Notice I said omega 3s, but with flax and chia I said ALA. The available source of omega 3 that our body needs comes from DHA and EPA. DHA and EPA are derived from ALA, alpha linoleic acid. ALA is the precursor, but our bodies are not very efficient at converting ALA to DHA and EPA. Enzymes are required for this conversion, and things such as gender, age, health, and weight all play a role in how well our body can utilize the ALA. Hemp provides us with a bioavailable source of DHA and EPA, whereas the other two seeds require converting. Hmmm, this one is sounding better already.
It’s true though that it actually contains less fiber than flax and chia. However, we tend to get a lot of fiber in our diets if we eat plenty of veggies. And current research has reflected that high fiber is not always the best approach for everyone. (Remember how we are all unique and therefore require unique approaches to dietary protocols?) So hemp is a viable source of protein and omegas, but how is it used best?
Hemp obviously is delicious added to salads and as a topping on meals. Sprinkle over fresh steamed broccoli or mix it with roasted winter squash. Like the others, you can blend it in to oatmeal, granolas, smoothies, soups, and protein bars. Replace nuts in a recipe with hemp seeds- https://www.loveandlemons.com/nut-free-hemp-seed-kale-pesto/ And like nuts, try making your own hemp milk. It’s a great dairy free option.
Flax and hemp are fantastic replacements for breadcrumbs for those of us who are gluten free and or following a grain free diet. Pizza crusts, crackers, date bars, … Or simply use them a little bit at a time in your standard recipes just to boost their nutrition a little more. Clearly the possibilities are unlimited!
Personally, I use flax and hemp more frequently than chia. Flax goes in to all of my alternative flour and gluten free baking, and hemp just gets eaten as is! I love it sprinkled on top of cucumber slices with a little lemon and olive oil. I just haven’t developed an affinity for chia, though I do keep some in my freezer just in case. Our most applicable use in our house is for occasional puddings, and adding to granolas and protein bites. Speaking of, here is a recipe for a protein bite that packs a punch! They taste great, but will give you great energy, endurance, mental focus, immune boosting and anti-inflammatory benefits too! Even better, they are allergen friendly- dairy free, wheat free, sugar free, and nut free. Try them out, you will love them!
Superfood Energy Bites
1/2 cup tahini, incorporating some of the oil on top
1/4 cup flaxseeds
1/8 cup chia seeds
1/8 -1/4 cup hemp seeds
1/4 cup raw, local honey
1/4 t. turmeric
1/4 t. black pepper
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. ginger
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. cardamom
1/8 t. cayenne pepper
pinch sea salt
Optional Add ins: chopped dried fruit, shredded coconut, cacao nibs, spirulina (will turn your bites green!), dried ginger pieces, or other helpful herbs (red clover, slippery elm, or marshmallow)
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Allow the seeds to absorb some of the liquid from the tahini. Add more if the mix is still too wet to work with. When you see a consistency that allows you to roll, begin to use about 1 T. servings and roll into a ball. Store the energy bites in an airtight container in the fridge to preserve the freshness of the ingredients and ensure the best flavor!
Yoga teaches us a lot, more than just flexibility and strength. The practice itself is about mindfulness. A few weeks ago, as the class came to a close and I lay on my mat, I listened as my teacher read us an excerpt. “Trust the timing of your lesson,” she said. “Trust that you will receive exactly what you need to receive, when you are ready. Not before then, not after.” What a powerful lesson.
I’ll bet you can be like me, often beating yourself up for not having seen something sooner, or not having done things differently after the last four or five (or eight!) times didn’t work. I have high expectations for myself, I admit. I know who I am, I know what I want, and I can be pretty hard on myself when things aren’t moving the way I think they should. But listening to these words, absorbing their meaning, I had an “aha” moment.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t learning. It was that it wasn’t time. For that lesson, anyway. But when you look back at significant moments in your life, you can always take something important from it. Hindsight is 20/20 they say. Most of the time we use that expression to chide ourselves, groan and wish we could have done something differently, seen something sooner. But there’s more to it than that.
Hindsight is 20/20! Look back at your moments, and for just a minute, forget about the part you wish you would’ve known. Give yourself a moment, and think about what you learned. I guarantee there is a lesson in there, and most likely an important one.
There are a lot of things that happened in my life that I could wish undone. But at some point, I realized that I needed each and every one of them. They all serve as building blocks for all the important things in my life. Each moment builds upon the last, and is leading me to the person I ultimately want to, and will, become. I would not be who I am today for not having gone through all those little individual moments along the way. As inconsequential as they seemed at the time, they became part of the platform for the person I was to become.
So, looking back, I can smile a little, relax a little. There was a bigger plan happening than the one in my mind. Sometimes pushing so hard to just get through isn’t going to help us at all. Sometimes we just need to stand back and accept the situation as it is. Not so that we give up, but more so that we can reassess. Change our perspective. See things from a different angle. Maybe there is something in that particular moment that we need before we can move on. Regardless of whether or not we see what that meaning is, just trust the moment. We will get where we need to go, when we need to get there. Until then, smile a little, loosen up a little. It’s hard to enjoy the moment for what it is when we are busy reprimanding it (or ourselves) for it not being what we thought it should. So let go. Trust the timing.