Healthy Recipe: Mock Mashed Potatoes

Written by: on Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Here’s a sneaky way to lighten up this winter classic. When you go to make mashed potatoes, skip the strachy-white spuds and use cauliflower instead! I developed this recipe for the Hidden Valley Ranch Love Your Veggies Campaign. It’s the perfect substitute for mashed potatoes. In fact, it’s so deceptively delicious, my family now prefers mock mashed potatoes over the original. Go ahead a give it a try. Can your family tell the difference?

 

Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes

The perfect side dish to accompany get-healthy, get slim New Year’s resolutions.

Mock Mashed Potatoes

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

1 head cauliflower, washed and broken into florets (about 4 cups florets)

1 tablespoon fat-free milk

1 tablespoon light margarine (tub-style) or butter

1/3 cup Hidden Valley The Original Ranch Dressing Light

1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)

Directions

1) Place cauliflower florets into a steamer and cook for about 20 minutes or until tender.

2) Transfer the cauliflower to a food processor.

3) Add Ranch dressing, milk, and margarine (and salt if using) to the cauliflower, and blend until the mixture reaches the consistency of mashed potatoes.

4) Serve—and enjoy—warm.

Nutrition Information: 47 calories, 2 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams dietary fiber, 2.5 grams fat, 0.5 milligrams cholesterol, 50 milligrams sodium

 

 

7 Healthier Baking Swaps You Should be Making Today

Written by: on Saturday, December 21st, 2013
Cut-out cookies

With a few simple swaps, you can make your holiday cut-outs healthier…without sacrificing taste.

I’m getting ready to do a bunch of holiday baking with my kids this weekend and early next week. While it’s easy to just make the recipes exactly as they’re spelled out in the cookbooks we’ll be using, I researched some healthier swaps — that I’ll sneak in when the kids aren’t looking.

I also got a chance to talk to Debra K., a health and wellness expert who’s the host and executive producer of the TV show, the Journey Into Wellbeing. As part of this show, she writes a Recipe Redo Blog. “The concept is to take traditional recipes we all know and love and ‘redo’ them in a manner that is healthier and tastes great. This is something I have always done on my own, so I thought it would be great to create a site that features recipes that everyone can feel confident in preparing. We have already received recipes from chefs all over the country who are creating healthier recipes of their state’s top foods.”

Bottom line: With these swaps, no one (my kids included) will ever notice the difference…in taste. But I’ll know the difference…in that the foods we’ll be cooking will have less fat and fewer calories—along with a few added nutrients.

Here are the recipe swaps I’ll be trying this weekend:

Applesauceforbaking

Add some applesauce to your brownies, cakes, and sweetbreads, and you’ll be adding vitamin C.

1) Substitute an equal amount of fruit puree (e.g., applesauce) for oil in cake, brownie, bread, or muffin mixes. The fruit adds flavor, moisture, and tenderness to baked goods when the oil is omitted. You can also substitute canned pumpkin (rich in vitamin A) for fat in spice breads, spice cakes, or chocolate desserts like brownies. I also like to add canned pumpkin and cinnamon to chocolate-chip cookies (and to pancakes and waffles) as they add great nutrients and honestly, the kids never notice the difference (except that they taste really good).

Debra K. recommends swapping out only half the oil with the fruit puree for best consistency and taste. For example, if your recipe calls for 1 cup oil; use only ½ cup oil with ½ cup fruit puree.

2) Use two egg whites or one-quarter cup egg substitute in place of one egg and you’ll trim about 60 calories and six grams of fat from your treats overall. The only recipe I won’t be using this in is our cut-out cookies—as my recipe only calls for only one egg and I don’t want to mess with the consistency of cut-out cookies, particularly when you’re doing it with three young kids!

EnjoyLifeChocolateChips

These are great chips for those who don’t eat dairy—and now they come in dark chocolate!

3) Substitute one cup of mini chocolate chips in place of two cups of the regular kind to slash 1,120 calories and 64 grams of fat. If you can’t find mini-chips, cut the amount of chocolate chips you use in half—and add pecans or walnuts (if your kids can eat them) to the mix for healthy fat, healthy protein, and nutrients. I would also add here: if you can use dark chocolate chips instead of milk chocolate, you’ll be upping all-important antioxidants in your baked goods too! We use (and love) the chocolate chips by Enjoy Life since they’re dairy-, nut-, gluten-, and soy-free.

JulesGlutenFreeFlour

I swear by this flour; it makes the best cut-out cookies! Go to julesglutenfree.com to buy (and get recipes).

4) Replace one cup of white flour with whole-wheat flour to add 10 grams of heart-healthy fiber. Debra K. also recommends trying a combination of gluten-free flour (if you’re gluten free) and oat flour instead of wheat. If you are gluten-free, I’d highly recommend the Jules Gluten-free Flour; it’s simply the best flour I’ve ever tried in consistency and taste.

5) Substitute low-fat cream cheese and milk in place of full-fat varieties to reduce fat. (Don’t use nonfat products, though, as you need some fat to get right texture.) If you’re avoiding dairy, Debra K. recommends substituting coconut or coconut almond blend milk for dairy milk in recipes. I also find that rice milk and almond milk work in a direct substitution if the recipe calls for milk; you really don’t sacrifice anything in consistency or taste. (Note: we love the Organic Unsweetened Almond and Rice Milks from the 365 Whole Foods Brand.)

6) Cut back on the sugar in any recipe by 25 percent—and you’ll reduce calories and sweetness—without sacrificing flavor. So if the recipe calls for 2 cups of sugar, you can easily use 1 ½ cups of sugar. I am definitely going to be doing this with our sugar cut-out cookies!

EarthBalanceSpread

My entire family (including my kids) loves this stuff…and you honestly cannot taste a difference when you use it in baked goods.

7) Swap out butter with healthier options like Earth Balance or Smart Balance. We alternate between the Earth Balance products (I like the soy-free product) and the Smart Balance Organic Buttery Spread because they both contain 0 grams of trans fats and are dairy free, vegan, and non-GMO (genetically modified ingredients). Honestly, there’s no reason to use artery-clogging butter anymore!

Two other swaps that sound very interesting and worth a try if you’re making brownies: Puree soft or silken tofu (high in protein and calcium), then use it in a one-to-one ratio to replace half the fat in your favorite brownie recipe. Another option (but be careful about consistency if you’re using in the same brownie recipe): Mix in finely grated raw beets (two-thirds of a cup) to brownie batter (they add sweetness, moisture, and antioxidants/nutrients)—and you can cut back the sugar you use by a quarter cup.

 

Hope these recipe swaps help you! Know that these easy substitutions won’t affect consistency or taste, but will keep you  (and your kids) healthier. Happy baking!

 

 

 

 

Eating Gluten-Free: Tips from an Iron Chef

Written by: on Tuesday, November 5th, 2013
Gluten-Free Red Kidney Beans

Beans are a great, protein-rich, gluten-free food.

It’s not hard these days to come across “gluten-free” labels—in your grocery store and in delis and restaurants around the country. And with the recent standardization of gluten-free labeling by the Food & Drug Administration, you’re sure to see even more products being labeled gluten-free moving forward.

Why it matters: almost 30 percent of Americans are avoiding or eliminating gluten from their diet—many because it just makes them feel better and many others for medical reasons.

An estimated three million Americans suffer from something called Celiac Disease—a genetic autoimmune disease that damages the small intestine, and interferes with the absorption of nutrients from food when gluten (the protein in wheat, barley, and rye) is eaten. (If you suspect you might have problems digesting gluten, ask your doctor to be tested.)

AliceBlastChefMehta

Alice Blast, of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness, discusses gluten-free eating at Chef Mehta’s restaurant in Tribeca.

For those with Celiac Disease—just like those who have a nut allergy—flours, doughs, pastas, and any products containing gluten, can’t touch (or even mix with) gluten-free foods because it would cross contaminate them. Some people even suffer from airborne Celiac Disease, which can be particularly dangerous if food—particularly in a restaurant—isn’t prepared properly.

And therein lies the problem, says Alice Blast, founder of the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness. Many chefs and foodservice providers remain unprepared and uneducated on how to provide gluten-free food that’s safe, says Blast, who has Celiac Disease herself. (Blast did not find out she had Celiac Disease until she was trying to get pregnant—one reason she wrote the article, “Celiac Disease and Reproductive Health Issues.”)

That’s the reason Blast has spearheaded a Great Kitchens‘ 10-City Gluten-Free Chef’s Table Tour , which recently kicked off in NYC at Iron Chef finalist Jehangir Mehta’s restaurant, Mehtaphor, located in TriBeca. The aim of this tour: to educate people, the media, and restaurants about what exactly gluten free is—and the importance of having gluten-free options available to those with Celiac Disease.

We got a chance to catch up with Chef Mehta, who is passionate about the importance of having gluten-free options on the menu. Here are his tips on eating gluten free:

Gluten-FreeHamburger

Eating simply is often best: a beef burger and simple salad are gluten free.

1) Eat foods naturally gluten free. “One of my core beliefs as a chef is that your health and your diet are inextricably tied,” says Mehta, who adds that naturally gluten-free foods are a great option. Many ethnic dishes, he says, are naturally gluten free because places such as Mumbai, where he grew up, use a lot of rices, beans, and spices, in place of the more expensive wheat and flour.

Other foods naturally gluten free are those that are healthier for you than processed foods. These include fresh fruits (like apples, oranges, berries, and pomegranates) and vegetables (like broccoli, spinach, carrots, and cauliflower). Keep in mind that canned fruits and vegetables aren’t always gluten free; you have to check the labels. (The more ingredients, the greater risk one of them contains gluten.) Single-ingredient frozen fruits and vegetables (and simple mixes, sans sauces) are also gluten free.

Also, just because the lettuce you’re eating is gluten free doesn’t mean the dressing is, particularly if it’s bottled dressing. Be safe, and make your own with extra virgin olive oil and wine or rice vinegar (both are gluten free)—but skip distilled white vinegar and malt vinegar, which are not gluten free.

PurpleCauliflower

Fresh cauliflower (no matter what color), as well as other fresh fruits and veggies, is gluten free.

Fresh meat and fish are also typically gluten free, but be aware of meats and fish that are ready-to-cook or in ready-to-eat side dishes. These may not be safe to consume as the store may use sauces or even bread crumbs with gluten. Also be careful around processed meats like hot dogs. Many brands, like Applegate, carry the gluten-free label—but never assume if you don’t see the label.

2. Make your own. Can’t get what you want from your grocery store or local restaurant, make it. If you’re motivated to make your own gluten-free pasta, Meta recommends using chickpea flour, water, and grapeseed oil along with eggs (and an extra yolk to give taste and texture).

The best pre-made gluten-free mixed flours include Domata Living Flour, Bob’s Red Mill, and Jules Gluten Free  (which makes great cut-out cookies).

For a list of gluten-free recipes you can make at home, click here and check out this Holiday Pinterest Board, too. Also download the Gluten-Free Cooking and Baking Essentials Checklist. (Also, check out this great gluten-free website with recipes from author Elana Amsterdam.)

Mehtaphor in Tribeca

Mehta’s restaurant is located in the Duane St. Hotel in New York City’s TriBeca.

3. Become a label reader—and stay educated. Know which brands produce gluten-free (and even dairy- and nut-free) products. (Click here, for a list of manufacturers.)

4. Frequent restaurants that take gluten-free seriously. There are plenty of restaurants like Mehta’s Mehtaphor that offer plenty of gluten-free options. Click here to search for local restaurants with gluten-free menus.

For a sampling of what we tried at Mehta’s Mehtaphor, as part of the Chef’s Table Tour, scroll below (all recipes are gluten free—and delicious!).

Mustard Foie gras crostini with raspberry (using gluten-free bread)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oysters with tapioca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grilled tofu with green chutney, topped with a chickpea-crusted onion ring

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sliced Duck served over portobello mushroom with spicy goat cheese and tomato with a mustard and onion chutney

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mehtaphor sundae, including vanilla rum ice cream with Kahlua, rum raisins and lentil chip

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Healthier Water Bottle—Everyone Should be Using

Written by: on Friday, August 9th, 2013
Glass Water Bottle with Straw

I've been searching for a glass water bottle with a straw—and found this!

 

If you’re using a plastic water bottle, as I was until now, you should probably think about switching to glass. There are just way too many studies about the harmful effects of plastic (e.g. the proven neurotoxin BPA or bisphenol A) that make me wonder: will scientists find another harmful chemical 10 years from now in even BPA-free bottles? (And meanwhile, we’ll all have been exposed to it for 10 years….) Plus, I was always worried about leaving my plastic water bottle out in the sun or in a hot car (heat is what causes leaching of BPA from plastic into water and/or food).

So I switched to glass after discovering these water bottles at Whole Foods…and I couldn’t be happier. These bottles (available in 22-ounce and 16-ounce sizes) are easy to clean, leave no aftertaste (as stainless steel bottles can), and come with this cool, easy-to-grip, protective BPA- and BPS (bisphenol-S)- (as well as phthalate-) free silicone shield (available in a variety of colors from lifefactory.com; from $22.99).

And they easily fit in car cup holders and the cup holder of an elliptical. And even better: LifeFactory sells similar 9-ounce toddler cups ($16.99). Of course, I had to buy one for my 21-month-old too. Bye bye plastic sippy cups!

 

Glass Toddler Sippy Cups

A great non-plastic option for young kids!

One last note: did you know that BPA (which has been banned in most countries except the United States) is found on every single cash register and ATM receipt you get? It’s a chemical used in the thermal imaging on receipts…so every time you handle one, BPA is rubbing off onto your hands.

What to do: don’t handle receipts (don’t take a receipt if you can get one e-mailed to you—or have thecashier put it in your bag) and never use Purell to cleanse your hands after handling a receipt; researchers have found that the alcohol in alcohol-based hand sanitizers causes the BPA to be absorbed into the skin faster. Soap and water (as soon as possible after handling) works best…And remember, it’s every little thing that you can change in your lifestyle every day that reduces your toxic load—and that may keep you healthier longer. Be well!

 

Vitamin D: Are you getting enough of this key nutrient?

Written by: on Friday, March 15th, 2013
woman sitting in the sun

Sitting in the sun helps your body get enough vitamin D, but save your skin—and opt to get your D other ways.

Known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is actually a hormone produced by the body in response to sunlight. It is also occurs naturally in a few foods—including some fish, fish liver oils, and egg yolks—and in fortified dairy and grain products. It’s hard, though, to get enough vitamin D through food alone—unless you want to take a tablespoon of cod liver oil every day (it has 1,360 IU of D per tablespoon)! Ummm…no thanks!

But, according to The Mayo Clinic, the major biologic function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones—why getting enough calcium is only half of the strong bones equation. But preliminary research also indicates the importance of vitamin D for overall health and wellbeing:

1) It contributes to a healthy heart A recent analysis of research, published in the journal Osteoporosis International, found that there’s a link between low vitamin D levels and “stroke, myocardial infarction, diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and heart failure.” Enough reason for me to supplement with D…but if you need more proof, read on.

2) It may lower your risk of cancer Research suggests that vitamin D has an anti-cancer benefit. It may stop the growth and progression of cancer cells and may be beneficial during cancer treatment, too. One study, from the University of San Diego School of Medicine, has also found that higher blood levels of vitamin D are associated with an overall reduced risk of cancer.

3) It plays a critical role in youthful skin One study in the journal Dermo-Endocrinology found that vitamin D seems to help regulate aging in many tissues, including the skin. Plus, researchers determined that “laboratory investigations have now convincingly shown that vitamin D compounds protect the skin against the hazardous effects of … ultraviolet (UV) radiation.”

milk in glass

Most milk is fortified with vitamin D3; check the label of yours to be sure.

4) It may help with hormonal problems Vitamin D influences the functions of hormones in body, including insulin, serotonin, and estrogen—hormones involved with health conditions such as diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, depression, and premenstrual syndrome.

5) It’s key for healthy iron levels in the blood One study—conducted by Gangnam Severance Hospital and Yonsei University College of Medicine, both in Seoul, Korea—found that vitamin-D-deficient Korean women had a higher risk of anemia.

6) A deficiency of D may contribute to obesity Some research shows that a vitamin D deficiency can interfere with the “fullness” hormone leptin, which signals the brain that you’re full and should stop eating.

7) It may help control inflammation Vitamin D may help control the inflammation involved with periodontal disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis.

Also, some research suggests that vitamin D may help strengthen the immune system—why I’m sure to take vitamin D during the cold and flu season or when I feel that I might be coming down with something. It’s also critical for breastfeeding moms: A recent review of studies, published in the Journal of Human Lactation, found that “Maternal vitamin D insufficiency during lactation, related to lack of sun exposure and minimal intake of vitamin D from the diet, contributes to low breast milk vitamin D content and, therefore, infant vitamin D deficiency.”

vitamin D supplements

If you’re going to supplement, be sure you’re taking vitamin D3 not vitamin D2.

How do you get enough vitamin D?

Well, being in sunlight is the best way to get enough vitamin D. The sun’s energy turns a chemical in your skin into vitamin D3, which is carried to your liver and then to your kidneys to transform it to active vitamin D. But no one should sit unprotected in the sun because doing so speeds up premature aging of the skin and can cause skin cancer.

The next best option is to eat plenty of foods with vitamin D, including mushrooms, salmon, eggs, and fortified milk. But most experts agree that it’s hard to get enough D from food alone. (For adults under age 50, the U.S. National Osteoporosis Foundation [NOF] recommends 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D and 800 to 1,000 IU for adults age 50 and older. And for children, it’s generally recommended that infants and children get 400 to 600 IU daily.)

So the next step is usually to take a supplement.  Most multivitamins contain vitamin D—but you can also take a separate D supplement particularly if you’re deficient, as I am (in which case, your doctor may recommend you take a much higher dosage of D than what’s recommended by the NOF to bring up your levels). But this is key: Opt for vitamin D3 over D2, because research shows that D3 is 87 percent more potent in raising and maintaining vitamin D concentrations. (If you’re vegan, though, know that most vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol comes from animal sources, but vitamin D2 or ergocalciferol comes from plant sources.)

An important note: you can take vitamin D supplements with or without food. While your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium, you do not need to take vitamin D at the same time as a calcium supplement.

Vitamin D for the Skin

Dr. Dennis Gross Vitamin D Oil

This serum helps improve skin elasticity and hydration—and minimizes the appearance of pores.

Because we know that vitamin D is so important for the skin (see point #3, above), you definitely want to be using a D serum on your skin. One of my favorites is created by Manhattan board-certified dermatologist Dennis Gross, M.D.: Dr. Dennis Gross Skincare Active Vitamin D Serum ($65; dgskincare.com).

So be sure to get enough vitamin D daily. It’s a simple, easy way to do your body—and your health—a huge favor.

 

5 Best Foods for Moms—and Kids

Written by: on Friday, March 8th, 2013
Fresh blueberries

Eat more than three servings of fresh (or frozen) blueberries or strawberries a week, and you’ll have a 32 percent lower risk of heart attack than those who eat less.

As a mom of three, I try…really, really try, to make sure my kids eat the right foods. But let’s just say that “yucky!!” is a common response to the good foods that I like to cook: veggies (like sweet peppers), quinoa, and beans (no surprise, right?).

But, after some very frustrating trial and error, I’ve found that there are some good-for-you foods that my kids will eat. Try these superfoods—for you and your kids!

1) Salmon This low-mercury fish is high in DHA (which also stands for something called docosahexaenoic acid, which is an essential fat called omega-3) and niacin or vitamin B3. Study after study shows that DHA is critical for the developing brains of babies (if you’re breastfeeding) and kids. One study even showed that it helped kids concentrate better. But it’s also a crucial nutrient for us moms trying to juggle it all! The vitamin B3 helps keep your energy up—a definite must as, like most moms, I struggle with fatigue from nighttime kid wakings. (If you’re pregnant or nursing, though, don’t eat too much salmon in one week because it does contain some mercury; two or three 2-ounce servings per week should be your max.)

chewable omega-3 supplements for kids

My kids love to chew on these...so they must taste pretty good!

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking: there’s no way my kids are going to eat fish!! Ah…I thought exactly the same thing, but then I discovered that cutting up the salmon and breading it makes it look like kid-acceptable chicken nuggets—and it actually tastes yummy. My kids love them…and sometimes even dip them in ketchup!

If you want to steer clear of fish altogether, though, you can take fish-oil supplements. My kids love Nordic Naturals Nordic Omega-3 chewable Fishies in Tangerine flavor (you can get them for about $30 from omega-direct.com). I take the Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega supplements ($23.75 for 60; also from omega-direct.com).

2) Kale I know what you’re thinking: is she crazy?! There’s no way I’m going to get my kids to eat kale! I thought the same thing until I tried kale chips (see recipe below). My kids love them! But truth be told: if I try to sauté some kale in a pan with olive oil and seasoning, they literally gag on it and beg and plead with me to not eat it. Same stuff. Go figure!

But this veggie is probably one of the single healthiest foods we can eat. It’s rich in so many nutrients—beta-carotene, iron (critical to give fatigued moms energy), immune-boosting vitamin C, calcium, potassium, folic acid, and

Kale

Try to eat kale as fresh as possible; the longer it's stored, the more bitter it becomes.

disease-busting antioxidants. An interesting study from Tufts University in Boston also found that folic acid (so important for developing fetuses) helps reduce depression—why this is particularly important for moms post-partum.

Kid-friendly recipe: Kale chips I got this recipe from Rachael Ray. First, buy a bunch of kale with smaller leaves, which have a milder flavor than larger bunches. (Otherwise, this veggie can be a bit bitter.) Wash and dry the leaves, then chop them into 2-inch pieces. (You want them to be a little larger than the size of a potato chip.) Toss with olive oil (and if you want, a bit of nutmeg). Then place on a parchment paper-lined cookie tray, sprinkle with salt, and bake at 350°F for about 8 to 10 minutes. But—let’s be honest here—whatever you do, don’t tell your kids they’re kale chips…just call them homemade potato chips and they’re more likely to take that first bite!

3) Blueberries These fruits are super high in disease-busting antioxidants—as well as immune-boosting vitamin C, fiber, and vitamin K (important for blood clotting and for building strong bones). But my advice to you: if you

My Super Snack

My kids love to snack on these new, all-natural snacks! (They're also available in Chocolate Chip and Apple Raisin.)

buy nothing else organic, always buy organic berries. The reason: more than 52 pesticides (which are carcinogens, neurotoxins, hormone disruptors…the long horrible list goes on!) have been detected on the skin of these berries— and it’s hard to get them all off through washing (http://www.whatsonmyfood.org/food.jsp?food=BB).

Some studies have also found that organic blueberries have higher concentrations of antioxidants than the conventional kind. But if you can’t find organic blueberries or they’re too expensive (as they often are in the off season), opt for frozen organic blueberries (which are just about as healthy as fresh).

Also, don’t be fooled into thinking that the blueberries that come in many cereals, muffin mixes, and snack bars are good for you. Many of these so-called “blueberries” are made from artificial colors, hydrogenated oils, and sugar. Look for real blueberries on the product label before buying. My fave new kids’ snack with real blueberries: nutrient-rich MySuperSnack Blueberry Banana Acai Granola Bites, with 17 essential vitamins and minerals—and no artificial anything ($3 a pouch; mysuperfoods.com)!

No-Sugar Added Sophie Greek yogurt

The mom who developed this yogurt is passionate about healthy eating!

4) Yogurt Not only is yogurt high in bone-building calcium and vitamin D (so important for nursing moms, women, and growing kids), but it also contains probiotics. Studies have shown that these healthy bacteria are important for digestion, as well as for the immune system. Just steer clear of the yogurt with fruit already in it; these products are high in sugar. Instead, opt for plain yogurt and add in the fruit and other toppings (like granola) that your kids like. My kids and I love Greek yogurt; it’s thick, creamy, and yummy!

But I recently had the opportunity to talk with fellow mom Sophie Anne Pachella; she’s a nutritionist, founder of EatStrong.com, and the founder of Sophie Yogurt (sophieyogurt.com)—a yummy brand of Greek yogurt that has no added sugar. It was Sophie who alerted me to the fact that some Greek yogurt—while seemingly all healthy—does have added sugars. (Be sure to check the label before buying.) That’s why she developed her own healthier product line (go Sophie!).

5) Dark chocolate I lovethis stuff because it’s super high in antioxidants, which help prevent diseases like heart disease and cancer. Plus, studies have shown that it helps reduce high blood pressure. I also find that when I eat dark chocolate, I’m satisfied after just a little bit (unlike milk chocolate, which I can literally not stop eating!).

Vita Chocolate Cacao Minis

This chocolate is probably the tastiest and healthiest around!

Just know that many kids can’t really tell the difference between milk and dark chocolate unless you tell them, which of course I don’t! To them, it’s just chocolate. Some of my other favorite snacks: dark chocolate-covered almonds, dark chocolate-covered goji berries (super high in antioxidants!), and Vita Raw Organic Chocolate Bars—amazing stuff! Try the Cacao Minis, which are rich in antioxidants; ($28 for half a case; vitachocolates.com). You can also find healthy, kid-friendly dark chocolates at naturalcandystore.com: they sell so many varieties (allergy free, vegan, fair trade, you name it!).

If you can try to incorporate these foods into your—and your kids’—diets, you’ll be on the path to a healthier family!

 

 

Women: When It Comes to Our Health, We are NOT Little Men!

Written by: on Wednesday, January 16th, 2013
Sleeping pills dosage for women

Are you taking the right dosage of your medicine? Check with your doctor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I recently read an enlightening—and at the same time disturbing—article in The New York Times () about how women should be taking less (half as much!) than what has been the recommended dosage of sleeping pills, particularly Ambien. This according to the Food and Drug Administration. I don’t take the pills (but sometimes—after tossing and turning all night—I wish I did!), but I know plenty of women who depend on them to get enough shut-eye at night to make it through the next day.

Why this recent FDA report is so disturbing: we live in the year 2013 with targeted therapies for cancer, stem cell advances, remote robotic (and minimally invasive) surgery, and other major medical advances. And just now, we’re just discovering that women need different drug dosage recommendations than men??!

And sleeping medication is just one example of a drug that affects women’s bodies differently than men’s. (The FDA’s new recommendation came after lab studies and driving tests confirmed that an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of women have a level of zolpidem [the active ingredient in many sleeping pills] in their blood that could impair driving eight hours after taking the pill, while only about 3 percent of men do.)

Alcohol also affects women’s bodies differently than men’s (http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/women).

This should come as a surprise to no one: Women are not just little men when it comes to our health. Back in 2001 (that’s twelve years ago!), the non-profit Institute of Medicine issued a report stating “Sex — that is, being male or female — is an important basic human variable that should be considered when designing and analyzing the results of studies in all areas and at all levels of biomedical and health-related research. The cells of males and females have many basic biochemical differences, and many of these stem from genetic rather than hormonal differences.” (For the full report, click here: http://www.iom.edu/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2003/Exploring-the-Biological-Contributions-to-Human-Health-Does-Sex-Matter/DoesSexMatter8pager.pdf)

The Office of Research on Women’s Health (ORWH) is trying to change the focus. Part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the nation’s research agency, ORWH works with NIH Institutes and Centers to fund women and sex and gender differences research—to help us women (and men)—all live better and longer lives. The more research that’s done (ahem…if research had been done on sleeping pills before prescribing them to women, we would have known that women react to them differently than men—underscoring the importance of research!). Be in the know; follow ORWH on Twitter (they just signed up: @NIH_ORWH) for regular updates on research that applies to women’s health.

 

 

Get More Sleep…Starting Tonight!

Written by: on Thursday, January 3rd, 2013
Woman sleeping on white chair with book

You need at least eight hours of uninterrupted shut-eye a night. Sleeping on the chair before bedtime doesn't count!

It was Saturday morning. My toddler son was finally down for a late-morning nap —after fussing, fussing for the better part of an hour­. My eyes had been glazing over as I was trying to soothe him and get him to sleep (he had been up at least three times last night—leaving me with little restful sleep).

My older kids were at a birthday party and a play-date. Finally, I could get into my bed and get caught up on some sleep. After all, every advice column and book says: “Sleep when baby sleeps” as a seemingly simple answer to the sleep deprivation that all moms experience at one time or another.

If only it were that easy.

I snuggled down under my comforter, grabbed by favorite squishy pillow, put on my eye mask, and shut my eyes. Then I tossed and turned for at least half an hour, trying to get comfortable and then praying for sleep to come. “Please God, just let me sleep for half an hour.” But sleep didn’t come. (It’s not easy to sleep when you’re waiting for the inevitable cry to come through a monitor positioned near your bed). And then…guess what? Yep, you’re right: my baby was up again.

But sleep is critical, not just for proper brain functioning (I’ve already lost a credit card, my baby’s birth certificate, and numerous other important things—not to mention forgotten some key appointments…all since he was born) but also for losing weight and staying healthy. So I’ve put together some strategies for getting some much-needed shut-eye:

1) Ask your guy for help. Sometimes I feel guilty waking up my guy and asking him to help with a nighttime or early morning feeding. Not sure where the guilt is coming from (!!), but it’s so important to let people know when you’re in need of a break. It’s okay and doesn’t make you less of a mom (or person!). Now I try to hand off my son to my husband when he wakes around 6 a.m. My son sits with my guy as he drinks his coffee and reads the paper…and I try to get another hour of sleep before the day starts up yet again.

2) Hire a babysitter. I can’t say enough about this. Even if you hire your next-door neighbor or your neighbor’s daughter just to watch your baby while you get a nap, do it. It’s money well spent. One person recently said to me, “I’ve never known anyone to need as much help as you.” My response to that comment is that I’m willing to sacrifice clothes, vacations, and just stuff in general to have someone help me do the things that are necessary for me to be my best. And with three kids, I need all the help I can possibly get!

Guy snoring next to woman trying to sleep

Do yourself (and your health) a favor and move him to the guest room tonight!

3) Give yourself permission to relax. As a mom, it’s hard to be able to justify time for yourself (a bath, reading a good book, watching a movie, or just surfing the Internet) when there’s so much to be done: laundry, washing dishes, lunches to be made, dinner to prepare, etc. But the point is, if you can’t sleep, brew a pot of tea and just sit for half an hour or 45 minutes. Sometimes, I get a 20-minute rest with my eyes closed in the rocking chair while I’m rocking my baby to sleep. Finding a way to allow your body to slow down can help you deal with the mind-numbing fatigue.

4) Banish your guy to the guest room. I love my man, but when I have very limited sleep time, the last thing I need is him waking me with his loud snoring—or his early morning alarm clock. It’s not forever…and doesn’t have to be every night. But give yourself a break and a better night’s sleep by making this the new rule. Then one day, make him do kid duty. Then you head to the guest room.

5) Curb after-dinner snacking. When you eat too close to bedtime, your body expends energy trying to digest the food when it should be resting—making it tough to get to sleep. Plus, I’ve found … even when you do get to sleep after eating pre-bedtime snacks (particularly sugary ones), the sleep you get is more restless. A better bet: have a light snack after dinner so it curbs your hunger but lets you get some shut-eye. Good options include an apple with peanut butter, a small bowl of cereal with milk, a yogurt, or a banana.

6) Shut off your Smartphone. Study after study shows that the flickering lights of electronic devices—when used within an hour of bedtime—can interfere with restful nighttime sleep. Invest in an alarm clock instead of using your Smartphone (and leave your cell out of your bedroom altogether). And banish the TV and laptop from your bedroom. It may seem relaxing to fall asleep watching Crazy, Stupid Love (one of my favorite movies!) but it’s anything but!

7) Kick Fido out of the bed. Sorry, dog and cat lovers, but sleeping with your pet is akin to sleeping with a guy who’s snoring—or a baby who’s waking you up every hour. Pets are proven sleep distractors, say researchers, and the sooner you get them off your bed and on to a bed on the floor, the more rested you’ll be feeling come morning.

The Best—and Worst—Cities for Your Skin

Written by: on Thursday, July 12th, 2012
Woman with beautiful skin

Want beautiful, healthy skin? The environment you live in plays a role.

You diligently take care of your skin morning and night…but it may not be enough if you live in one of the 10 cities ranked the “worst” for your skin by the website, dailyglow.com (below).

 

daily glow's best-worst-cities-for-skinBut rather than getting depressed about where you live, or packing up and heading to a “healthier” city, follow these tips to keep your complexion healthy—no matter what zip code you call home.

1. Examine your moles…regularly. Skin cancer rates were used by dailyglow to rate cities. The best way to prevent skin cancer (which is the most preventable cancer when caught early) is to know your ABCDs:

A (Asymmetry): One half of your mole is unlike the other half

B (Border): Your mole has an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border

C (Color): Your mole is varied in color from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown, or black, or is sometimes white, red, or even bluish

D (Diameter): Your mole has a diameter greater than 6 millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser).

If your mole has one of these characteristics, book a visit with your dermatologist asap…which brings me to the next point.

 2. Find a good dermatologist—and keep him/her on speed dial. The number of dermatologists per capita was another of the criteria used by dailyglow to rate cities. If you need to locate a good derm in your area, click on aad.org/find-a-derm/. You should see your dermatologist for mole checks every six months (if you’re at high risk) or 12 months (if you’re at lower risk). Dermatologists can also diagnose and treat other conditions to keep your skin at its healthy best.
3. Eat a healthy diet. Fresh fruits and veggies, lean protein (like legumes, chicken, and fish), omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon, chia and flaxseeds, and walnuts…to name just a few foods), and plenty of water will keep your body—and your skin—healthy, no matter where you live. A poor diet that’s devoid of key vitamins and minerals (think: fast food, fried foods, processed foods, and soda) will result in pale, lackluster skin (and hair).

 

4. Make antioxidants part of your daily life. Dailyglow rated cities partly based on the amount of pollution. Car exhaust, factory pollution, pesticides, and other environmental pollutants are one of the top sources of free radicals, unstable molecules that can change the function and structure of cells (including skin cells) in the body. Experts believe that, unchecked, free radicals in the body can trigger premature aging of the skin, as well as many diseases, including cancer.

Antioxidants are the body’s main defense against free radicals. You should be eating them (they’re found in brightly colored fruits and veggies) and slathering them on your skin (I’m a huge fan of the antioxidant line, Replere, created by dermatologist Dr. Debbie Palmer; each of the products in this line has one of the highest documented amounts of antioxidants of any skin-care products.)

5. Always apply sunscreen when you’re headed outdoors. Even incidental sun exposure (e.g. when you’re walking to/from your car) can trigger premature aging—and skin cancer. That’s why I like to use a body moisturizer with SPF every day. (Aveeno and Lubriderm make good ones.) Also, important to note: most car side windows protect you from UVB rays but not UVA rays (the kind that cause premature aging and skin cancer). That means you’ll need to apply that SPF moisturizer before road trips too.

The bottom line: even if your city is ranked one of the best, you’ve still got to take the necessary steps to care of your skin every day!

 

 

 

 

The chicken hatching lesson: teaching kids about life…

Written by: on Friday, March 23rd, 2012
Brinsea Mini Advance Incubator

The Brinsea Mini Advance Incubator keeps the temperature and humidity constant.

 

Ever since I was in grade school—and we got to hatch chickens in the classroom—I’ve wanted to hatch chickens and hold those fuzzy yellow chicks. So about three years ago, I bought a Brinsea Mini Advance Incubator from Museum Tour, a kids’ educational catalog. But I never had time to a) figure out how the heck to use it or more importantly, b) where to get the eggs from.

This year, I found a guy who’s lived in our home town for almost 50 years with chickens, right by my son’s school…and I got the eggs.

They’re in the incubator right now (very cool, it keeps the temperature constant and turns the eggs regularly)…so hopefully they’ll hatch as I wanted to show my kids where chickens come from—to help them value life and the food they eat. (Although, they may decide they never want to eat chickens again…which would be just fine with me, as I’m pretty much a vegetarian!)

chicken eggs for hatching

The eggs...we got 5 of them, although they probably won't all hatch!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

chicken eggs for hatching

We marked the sides of the eggs with an X and an O...to help us make sure they're turned regularly in the incubator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

chicken eggs in Brinsea Mini Advance Incubator

The eggs in the incubator...the countdown (22 days) begins!