Zimbabwe, South Africa, and Morocco. Mauritius and St. Helena. Brazil, Spain, and Netherlands. Japan, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, India. And of course the United States. These are the places I will be visiting over the next 18 months, studying food and culture along with nutrition, health, and sustainable farming. I will be keeping a journal and teaching students along the way, but taking a break from blogging so I can focus intentionally and mindfully as I travel the world.
Thank you to all of my readers who have kept this site so popular over the past two years! I can't wait to update you when I log back in!
Students in New York are learning about food systems and all the effort that goes into getting food items from the farm to their plates. They are also discovering the impacts of food waste, fast food, advertising, and other topics. You can learn more, too: Eating as Part of the Natural World.
Just One Thing: Think about how your food is connected to the environment, culture, farmers, ranchers, and other producers.
This Friday is National Cocoa Day! The main ingredient of chocolate, cocoa contains compounds called flavanols, which have many health benefits - including protecting the heart, lowering blood pressure, preventing blood clots, and reducing inflammation throughout the body. They also have been shown to improve thinking skills by helping brain cell connections, as discussed here: Cocoa: a sweet treat for the brain?
The benefits of cocoa extend to its food products, including cocoa powder and dark chocolate. Too much butter fat and sugar found in café hot chocolate drinks will outweigh the benefits, so try making your own hot chocolate with dark cocoa powder, skim milk and enough sugar to sweeten but not overwhelm.
Just One Thing to do: Enjoy a cup of flavanol-full hot cocoa.
Many clients have told me over the years that they start unhealthy eating habits around Halloween and continue right through December 31. But a new month is always a good opportunity for a fresh start. Use the next few weeks to give your body the food it deserves!
First, clean out the refrigerator. Toss your Thanksgiving leftovers – the mashed potatoes and gravy are past their expiration dates, anyway, and any pie or whipped topping lurking in the freezer are better off in the trash.
Second, review the food groups. Your body is probably craving vegetables, even if the weather is cold. Use a slow cooker to prepare a chili, stew or soup that is rich in vegetables and beans; these will fill you up, provide hydration and fiber, and satisfy you in a comforting way that cold chips and cookies cannot.
Lastly, have fruit visible and easily accessible. Apples and oranges are in season, and frozen fruit that is gently heated makes a great topping for yogurt and oatmeal.
Just One Thing to do: Start each meal with a vegetable or make vegetables the focus of your meal with homemade chili, stew or soup.
Wherever you are, whatever the weather, going outside is good for your health. Sunlight and fresh air help manage and prevent anxiety, improve sleep, boost immunity, and stimulate your thinking skills. Adding some physical activity to the mix will burn calories and lift your mood.
If it's cold, be sure to bundle up - wear warm socks and sturdy shoes while covering your head, face and hands. Warm or cold, wear sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat.
Just One Thing to do: Head outside after lunch to walk around the block and take deep breaths of fresh air.
My recent blog about self-care generated a lot of emails, and I’m so happy to know it was the reminder many of you needed to take care of yourselves. In this crazy time, we need to pay attention to our mental and physical health.
Along those lines, I want to continue to encourage nutrition self-care with intuitive eating. This is an approach to food and health that says do not diet, do not deprive yourself, and do not feel guilty about eating. An intuitive eating philosophy says you know your hunger and your fullness signals – or at least you can learn to. This makes it possible to honor your body without outside influences from others, from social media, from the scale, from diets.
Do you want to get started eating intuitively? Start by making peace with food – it is supposed to be nourishing, not the enemy. It is ok to eat a variety of foods, and if you stop thinking of a food as forbidden or off limits, you will be less likely to crave it and binge on it. So listen when your body says it is hungry, and just as importantly, listen when it says it is full. The more you practice paying attention to hunger and fullness, the more you will trust your body.
For additional steps to take, visit the experts’ 10 Principle of Intuitive Eating here.
Just One Thing to do: Use Intuitive Eating to trust your food choices.
The National Institutes of Health designates November as National Diabetes Month, and this year its focus is on the link between diabetes and cardiovascular disease (see information here and the image below) because individuals with diabetes are likely to have heart disease or stroke.
In addition to encouraging you to see your doctor for an updated exam and lab work, I like to highlight the good news: Did you know diabetes can be managed to prevent complications? Increasing your physical activity just a little bit, making just a few healthful food changes, and monitoring your blood sugar can make a huge difference. I know sometimes people get overwhelmed thinking about the “should’s” of diabetes management: I should exercise, I should go on a diet, I should skip holiday dinners. But it doesn’t have to be that hard.
If you have type 1 diabetes, talk to your doctor and dietitian about balancing your insulin, food and activity with your lifestyle to maintain your blood sugar.
If you have type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, determine if you need to lose weight. Just a 5% weight loss can reduce your blood sugar and your cardiovascular disease markers; that means losing 10 pounds if you weigh 200 pounds. To me, that is certainly more reasonable and realistic than thinking about needing to lose 20, 30 or even 40 pounds. If you do need to lose weight, add a 30 minute walk daily along with smaller portion sizes at every meal and snack. Those, too, are reasonable and realistic changes!
Just One Thing To Do: Instead of being overwhelmed, focus on small, reasonable lifestyle changes to feel better and prevent complications.
I recently enjoyed dinner with friends, and we all agreed it ended with the perfect Fall dessert: cooked apples with a scoop of natural vanilla ice cream.
What made this dessert special was its simplicity, not to mention how easy it was to prepare and how great it smelled and tasted.
I simply cored and chopped up 6 medium size granny smith apples, placed them in a slow cooker with about 1 inch of water, added generous sprinkles of cinnamon and a cinnamon stick, and left them to simmer. I tasted occasionally, and ended up adding a tablespoon of brown sugar and a pinch of pumpkin pie spice about halfway through their six-hour cooking time. When guests arrived, the house smelled amazing and when it was time for dessert, there was no prep required.
Best of all, the health benefits of apples are numerous. They contain fiber, potassium, vitamin C and antioxidants – read more here!
Pears can also be cooked in a slow cooker just like apples, and they share important traits for preventing digestive problems, outlined here.
Just One Thing to do: Enjoy apples and pears fresh or cooked for their wonderful flavor and health benefits.