Creating healthy habits- 5 things you can do today to improve your health

 

Olive oil and balsamic vinegar in glass bottles
Olive oil and balsamic vinegar in glass bottles on a table in a restaurant

There is so much info out there nutrition and fitness, which is great, but it can also get overwhelming at times. I’ve tried a lot of different diets myself: vegetarian, gluten-free, Atkins, Fiber 35 and Mediterranean to name a few. Although I find the Mediterranean diet to be the most balanced and sustainable, I don’t hold myself to it strictly. What works for me is just incorporating as many whole foods into my diet as possible: fresh fruits(in moderation), veggies, whole grains, healthy fats and plenty of fresh water.

1.Make your own salad dressings

Adding a side of greens to your lunch or dinner is a great step towards incorporating more fibre and nutrients into your diet. Some greens can be kind of bland (like spinach) or bitter (think arugula). Unfortunately, a lot of store bought salad dressings, although tasty, can pack a ton of sodium, sugars, calories, preservatives and hydrogenated fats (even organic dressings aren’t always immune). Fortunately, you can make a yummy, low calorie dressing quickly and easily with ingredients you may already have in your cupboard. Extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar make a great dressing, and also make a great dip for bread. You can also use apple cider vinegar or lemon juice instead of the balsamic vinegar. I like to use the acid and the oil in equal parts, but you can play around with it to suit your taste. You can also use salt, pepper, paprika and other herbs and spices. Lemon juice on its own is tasty if you’re in the mood for something lighter. Throw in an avocado for an extra boost of healthy fat!

2.Swap cooking oil for healthy fats

This is probably one of the easiest and most painless things you can do. For $20, you can buy a jar of coconut oil that will last you for ages, even if you cook everyday and have a family to feed. Coconut oil is made up of medium chain triglycerides, which our bodies use as fuel rather than storing as fat. It can also be cooked at high heats.

Olive oil is relatively inexpensive, although can’t be heated at high temperatures like coconut oil. Olive oil contains monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) which are shown to be beneficial to cardiovascular health and fat loss.
Similarly, a stick of real, organic butter is a way healthier option than margarine. Fats are not the enemy. Not if they are healthy, real food fats (in reasonable quantities of course). Sugary and refined foods will make you fat far quicker than avocados or coconut oil will. There is actually some research proving that healthy fats can help you gain more nutrients from your meals and keep your weight in check, especially stubborn belly fat. What constitutes a healthy fat?

3.Swap white bread and rice for whole grains

I love bread. It’s my weakness. Especially French bread with real butter. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Of course, we all know that too many carbs are a no no, and even if you’re not gluten intolerant or allergic, ingesting too much gluten probably isn’t the greatest for you, either. I like to buy Ezekial or Squirrelly bread; I stock up on it when it goes on sale and keep it in the freezer so it doesn’t go bad. Similarly, if I’m craving pasta I try to opt for whole grain or gluten free. There are so many yummy varieties to choose from that are loads more fibrous and nutritious than refined pasta.

Check out www.seedsofchange.com. Seeds of Change are a great brand that carry a range of certified organic products. I like to keep their ready to heat rice on hand for a quick whole grain side dish.

If you’re on a budget, simply stock up on brown rice. Most supermarkets should sell it in bulk. If you want to, you can add some beans or caraway for extra flavour and nutrients. Make a big batch on Sunday and you will have a healthy side dish and addition to salads, wraps and soups for the whole week.

  1. Make infused water and iced teas

Just about any herbal tea can be turned into an iced tea. If you add a sweetener such as honey or maple syrup while the tea is still hot, it will dissolve easily and be a great substitute for refined sugar. Chopping up some fresh cucumber,lemon, or orange is also a great, low calorie way to spice up your water. My personal experience is that if I have a great tasting drink already in the fridge, I will be more inclined to drink than if I’m drinking plain water. At any rate, infused water and iced herbal teas are way better for you than pop or juice, and are pretty quick and easy to make with ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen. Be creative, and if you come up with a unique and awesome new recipe, please send it to me!

  1. Make and freeze soups and smoothies

Soups and smoothies are a great way to incorporate whole foods into your diet. I like to stock up on mason jars(you can buy packs of them at the supermarket fairly cheap, but I like to just wash out old pasta sauce jars). You can make big batches of soups or smoothies and freeze the leftovers in the mason jars. You can just take your smoothie out of the freezer the previous night and by morning it will be just right! Be careful to thaw the soup and don’t heat up the mason jar while it’s freezing cold or else the glass will break.

What I like about smoothies is that I can pack bunch of stuff in there- my Vega protein powder, chia seeds, hemp seeds, berries, fruits, veggies, kefir. If I make smoothies I usually make a big batch, and freeze the remainder in mason jars. But truth is is, I’m more of a savoury soup person. I love making soup and cramming it full of superfoods like kale, spinach, garlic, fennel, brown rice, beans, and whatever veggies I can get ahold of. In fact, many studies have been done on how chicken soup can actually boost your immune system. Chicken soup with veggies contains lots of protein, vitamins, fibre, and hydration. Even the saltiness of the broth can be healing if it’s the right kind. I use natural sea salt or Himalayan rock salt, and make a broth by boiling shredded chicken and bones with diced onions, celery and garlic. These salts contain minerals that iodized table salt is stripped of. They tend to be very salty, so a little goes a long way!

I always feel so nourished and hydrated after a bowl of homemade soup. There are some good organic soups on the market, which I think are great to have on hand in case you get sick and don’t feel like cooking. The only downside with canned soups are that they can be very salty or even contain msg, which can cause stomach and digestive upsets such as bloating and diarrhea. So if at all possible it’s best to make your own. Just cutting the veggies and boiling the broth I find very therapeutic. I’m as guilty as anyone of grabbing food on the run, but when you actually take time to cook your own food, you develop a relationship with your food. We tend to be so disconnected from our food, just taking the time to feel the individual ingredients in your hands and feel gratitude for it is very powerful. You don’t need to say a prayer, just feeling appreciation in your heart for the earth’s provision is enough.

Ok, so I’m terrible at measuring stuff. When I cook, I’m more of a pinch of this, handful of that type person. I will however post a recipe below, and attempt to be accurate with amounts and ratios. The important thing is to get into the kitchen and start experimenting! And don’t beat yourself up if you try a new recipe and it bombs. This has happened to me lots. As long as the dish isn’t on flames or something, then it’s probably not even as bad as you think. Just take it as a learning experience and try again.

 

Pineapple spinach power smoothie

One Granny Smith Apple

Two cups pineapple juice

Two cups of spinach

Chopped or ground ginger, to taste

Half a ripe banana

If you dislike the taste of greens in your smoothie, pineapple juice is a great addition, as it tends to overpower the taste of everything else. Also, pineapple juice contains an enzyme called bromelain, which is thought to be an anti-inflammatory and can ease digestion of proteins.

Kale and white bean chicken soup

Ingredients:

Two to three teaspoons of olive oil

One can of organic white kidney beans, strained and rinsed

Three cups of Kale

One cup of shredded cooked chicken

Two or three celery stalks, finely chopped

One white onion, finely chopped

Minced garlic, about two cloves

One thinly sliced fennel bulb

Himalayan pink salt and pepper to taste

Chicken broth(optional)

You can massage the kale a bit with olive oil to take away some of the bitterness. When you’re adding chicken to soup, don’t just cut it into pieces and chuck it in the pot. Take a couple of forks and shred into tiny strands. It takes a bit longer, but you will get way more flavour! I prefer caramelizing my onions in a frying pan with butter before tossing them in the soup. Just make sure you use real butter! Real butter is so much healthier for you than vegetable oil or margarine. The celery, fennel and carrot can go in the frying pan with the onion once it’s caramelized a bit. Many people have never tried fennel before; it’s great for digestion and has a sweet, yet savoury, slightly licorice taste. You just use the bulb and dice it up finely before sautéing. Throw everything into a big pot and let it simmer! The longer the better, to get all those flavours infused.
Incorporating these foods and beverages into your diet doesn’t require a huge investment of time or money, and you will be taking a step towards better health every time you have one.  Sometimes I’ll get all fired about starting a new diet or exercise routine, but honestly the things I benefit from the most are the little things that have become part of my routine, that I don’t pay much attention to anymore; making salads, using whole grain breads instead of white, using healthy fats like coconut oil when I’m cooking, taking my coffee with just a bit of milk and no sugar, drinking healthy teas like matcha and chai, and eating whole foods even when I’m out. I find that one healthy habit leads to another, and the more I eat whole foods the less I crave junk. The main thing is to be compassionate with yourself. I think that an important element of any diet or lifestyle plan is balance. You can’t beat yourself up for having a burger here and there or a glass of wine or a muffin, whatever the case may be. Feeling guilty for indulging will only lead to more cravings. In fact, life is all about balance, something I have to remind myself of all the time!

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