Hello, friends! I was going to start off by apologizing for taking a brief break from blogging last week, but I'm not going to apologize, because I'm not really sorry about it. The Man, Beautiful Baby A, Bailey the Pup and I went on our very first family vacation since BBA was born, visiting a friend who lives at the beach in Delaware. As the consummate multitasker, I recognize that I need to learn how to monotask and practice being present in the moment, because the weeks with BBA are going by so quickly (it is hard to believe she is 3 1/2 months old!), and I do not want her baby-hood to flash by me in a blur.
Being present in the moment this past week meant spending time with the family on the beach, introducing BBA to the ocean, taking her on her first boat ride, and going on an early morning walk on the boardwalk with friends. It did not mean trying to find time during the vacation to write a blog post. Now I am back home, and since BBA has settled into her crib for the night, it is time for mama to get back to work.
I have had several requests to share some of my favorite healthy recipes, because it seems that most of us struggle with food, and yet - for better or for worse - what we eat has more of an influence on our weight and our overall health than what kind of purposeful movement we engage in or how often or how much we exercise. As a "vegetable-arian" (the word my nephew used to describe me when he was younger, because "you just eat vegetables, Aunt Kathleen"), I strive to make dishes that even meat-eaters love and won't suspect are healthy (after all, The Man is an omnivore). The following 2 recipes have been taste-tested time and time again by friends and family with varied food preferences, and they have been a hit every single time. These dishes are not only healthy and tasty, but they are quick and easy to make!
Lentil Sloppy Joes - Serves 4
Sloppy Joes are an American classic, and since the flavor comes from the seasonings and spices - not from the meat - it is easy to recreate the dish into a healthier veggie version without losing the taste. I developed this recipe after finding several other healthier versions of Sloppy Joes, significantly modifying the recipes to satisfy my tastebuds.
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped (optional, but adds some extra veggie goodness)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (14 oz.) tomato sauce
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. chili powder (to taste)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
2 cups pre-cooked brown lentils (I use 1 package of Trader Joe's refrigerated Steamed Lentils to save time - canned lentils would also work, or use dried lentils to make them from scratch, of course!)
4 sandwich/burger rolls
1. Heat the EVOO in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the bell pepper and garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes longer to soften the vegetables.
2. Add the remainder of the ingredients to the skillet (minus the rolls!), and stir gently to mix well. Cook for 6-8 minutes or until hot throughout. Serve on a bun.
Veggie "Tuna" Salad - Serves 4-6
Even when I was a little girl, I didn't like eating meat or fish, with 2 exceptions - chicken and tuna salad sandwiches. I have fond memories of my grandmother making me tuna melts when she babysat, and years after giving up eating animals, I was happy to find a worthy replacement for an old favorite. Veggie "tuna" salad recipes are aplenty in plant-based cookbooks, and I have perfected my own version over time after trying many different versions. Even The Man, a fish-loving Norwegian, gives this dish two thumbs up!
2 15-oz. cans chickpeas (approx. 3 cups), drained and rinsed
1 medium red bell pepper, finely chopped (optional)
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
A handful of shredded carrots (totally optional, but adds a little crunch and some additional veggie goodness - I use pre-shredded that I get at Trader Joe's to save time)
Approximately 1/4 cup onion (I prefer red), finely chopped (add more or less to taste)
Approximately 1/4 cup dill pickle relish or chopped dill pickle (add more or less to taste)
1/2 cup mayo (for a vegan version that is the only non-mayo I have found to be as creamy and tasty as the real thing, I highly recommend using Sir Kensington's Fabanaise, a new brand that gets its creamy texture from aquafaba, which is the "bean" liquid you usually rinse down the drain when you strain a can of chickpeas; it is incredibly healthy and super yummy - a winning combination in my book! I found this at both Whole Foods and a little local health food store.)
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Add chickpeas to a food processor or blender (or use a fork or potato masher, which is what I do) to grind/mash them into small, flaky pieces. Then add the rest of the ingredients except the salt and pepper; mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on a bed of lettuce or spinach or in a sandwich (or on an English muffin with a little melted cheese or vegan cheese for an authentic "tuna" melt taste!).
I encourage you to add these recipes to your weekly menu and let me know what you think in the Comments section below. And for more easy, fast, tasty, healthy and family-friendly recipe ideas, stay tuned to future blog posts (shameless plug!).
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends, and welcome to the inaugural bells & peppers Q&A post – you asked, and I deliver! But first, the recovering attorney in me feels compelled to include the following disclaimer: I am not a doctor, a nurse or a health professional. As a certified nutritionist, I am not licensed to TREAT illness through nutrition or other lifestyle changes, and it is important that you seek the advice and recommendations of your medical professional, particularly when dealing with a medical diagnosis such as high cholesterol.
OK. Attorney hat is now removed.
So what the heck is cholesterol anyway?
Several of you asked me this week to address the issue of high-cholesterol, and this is not a surprise, since 1 in 3 Northern Americans suffer from this problem. Cholesterol is a sterol (fancy that – chole“sterol”…), which is a molecule found in animals that is essential to the production of certain hormones, including the all important vitamin D (Did you know vitamin D is a hormone and not a vitamin? Now store that in your memory bank for your next game of Trivial Pursuit.). Cholesterol is also a component of all of our cell membranes. Our bodies produce cholesterol – our livers to be more exact – to the tune of 1-2 grams per day. You also get cholesterol from foods, more specifically, from animal-derived foods like meat and dairy (plants do not have cholesterol). Strangely, your body produces more cholesterol when you eat certain foods with more cholesterol, such as saturated and trans fats, providing a double whammy.
There are 2 types of cholesterol – HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein), although technically, HDL and LDL are not really forms of cholesterol but rather lipoproteins (as their names suggest) that carry cholesterol throughout your body (another Trivial Pursuit factoid). HDL is often referred to as “good” cholesterol and LDL as “bad” (or “lousy”) cholesterol, basically because HDL transports extra cholesterol to your liver for disposal, and LDL transports cholesterol and fat from your liver to the rest of your body. LDL is also the main ingredient in blood vessel plaque, which can build up and cause blockages that lead to cardiovascular disease (CVD). So when assessing your cholesterol levels, you want your LDL levels to be a good bit lower than your HDL – having a high HDL level is actually a good thing.
And why is cholesterol such a bad thing?
Historically, individuals with total cholesterol levels over 200 mg/dL were considered to have “high” cholesterol, although new research suggests that 150 mg/dl might be a better cut-off. There has been a significant amount of controversy recently over the impact of cholesterol on health and whether it really is as problematic as we were once led to believe, since there are some cultures in the world where cholesterol levels are generally “high” but whose populations do not suffer the same cardiovascular issues we have in this country (and nearly half of all heart attacks occur in people with “normal” cholesterol levels). In fact, researchers are now even questioning whether the egg, which has been maligned for years as a major culprit in the high cholesterol epidemic, actually is a problem at all when it comes to your cholesterol levels.
I have done a good bit of research on the issue of high cholesterol and its relationship to heart disease because my family history includes individuals who have suffered from both, including my dad, who passed away of Alzheimer’s Disease in 2013. What the most updated studies suggest is that our emphasis on cholesterol numbers does not provide a holistic picture of our health or propensity for cardiovascular disease. The research suggests instead that the combination of your cholesterol levels and the level of internal inflammation in your body, measured by the level of C-Reactive Protein (CRP) in your blood, a substance released by cells during the inflammation process, is more telling in terms of your risks of heart disease.
Basically, atherosclerosis, or the hardening and narrowing of arteries that is responsible for heart disease, is an inflammatory disease, and as the walls of your arteries become more damaged due to inflammation, it becomes easier for LDL particles to “stick” to the walls, build-up and cause blockages (my apologies to the heart doctors out there for this simplistic explanation). Ultimately, if you have high cholesterol or are concerned about heart disease, ask your doctor to test your CRP level. A level under 1 mg/L is considered “low” and over 3.0 mg/L is “high,” while levels between 1.0 and 3.0 mg/L are considered “average.”
One interesting side note is that they are finding that plaque build-up in the brain might be responsible for Alzheimer’s Disease (and my dad suffered from a blocked artery, a heart attack and later Alzheimer’s – a coincidence?), which may explain why renowned American neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta has declared that when it comes to lifestyle habits “what is good for your heart is good for your brain.”
So all of that is interesting, but what can I do if I have high cholesterol?
Now, what you really want to know is what to do about high cholesterol. Again, your first step should be to visit your doctor, get your cholesterol and CRP levels tested and discuss a comprehensive treatment protocol with him/her. Depending on the results of the tests and your risk factors, that protocol might include taking statins, cholesterol-lowering drugs that are among the most widely used medications in this country. With about 28% of Americans over 40 taking a cholesterol-lowering drug and more than 90% of these individuals on statins, it is clear that statins are big business.
While statins play an important role in treating some patients with high cholesterol, like all medications, they can cause undesirable side effects, such as memory loss, type 2 diabetes, diarrhea, headaches, nausea or vomiting, dizziness, etc., and the reality is that most cases of high cholesterol (not all, but most) can be managed through nutrition and lifestyle changes alone with only positive side effects. In fact, the research shows that by making certain dietary changes, in particular eating a more plant-based diet, you can lower cholesterol as much – if not more – as you can by taking statins.
Now let’s get to the “meat” (pun intended) of this post – what dietary and lifestyle changes do I recommend for someone suffering from high cholesterol (and remember, this is not a “treatment” for high cholesterol, it is merely my suggestions for leading a healthier lifestyle). It turns out, the same habits that have been shown to lead to overall good health, vitality and longevity are those that seem to play an important role in naturally reducing high cholesterol levels.
As I discussed in a previous post, one of my absolute favorite books on health is The Blue Zones, by New York Times best-selling author Dan Buettner. This book discusses the research conducted by National Geographic on five of the healthiest and longest-living populations in the world, analyzing the commonalities in their diets and lifestyles, as well as other scientific findings, to create a “prescription” for lasting change that may add years (healthy years) to your life. As I re-studied the list of recommendations from The Blue Zones, I was struck by the fact that they are almost identical to the recommendations provided in recent studies on how to lower your cholesterol and your risk of heart disease. These recommendations include:
To learn more about foods that can help lower cholesterol, check out this article from a little university called Harvard.
For more tips on simple steps you can take each day to live a healthier and happier life, please contact me at kathleen(at)bellsandpeppers.com. Or post questions on this topic or others in the Comment section below. As always, I look forward to your questions, ideas, recommendations and requests for future Q&A topics. And stay tuned for next week, when I will give you some of my favorite, healthy and super tasty recipes that fit today’s recommendations!
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! We all know that a key part of being fit - in addition to working our hearts with cardiovascular exercise and our muscles with strength training - is including stretching in our exercise regime to improve our flexibility. And yet with the exception of the dedicated yogis out there, stretching is often the part of a workout that most of us skip (or skimp) because we are pressed for time and don’t think it pays the same dividends as more vigorous types of training.
The research suggests, however, that flexibility training is as critical to aging gracefully as cardio and strength training, and it may even be the “fountain of youth” when it comes to fitness, as proclaimed by Tony Horton, the uber fit and unbelievably youthful 58-year-old creator of P90X. Certainly, if we do not continue to work on our flexibility as we age, we will end up becoming one of those individuals who can’t bend over to tie his or her shoes, and we will be more prone to injury and incapacity in our later years.
The good news is that working on your flexibility does not require much time. Just 5 minutes of stretching a day is generally sufficient, and there are numerous free online resources to help you develop a daily flexibility routine, for example this quick-and-easy routine from Real Simple. There are also incredible resources to help you add yoga into your life (do a search on YouTube), including my new favorite resource, which is designed for beginning yogis, Beachbody On Demand's 3 Week Yoga Retreat.
While flexibility training is important for your physical health, learning to be flexible in all aspects of your life is important for your mental health, your emotional health and for the health of your relationships.
I am someone who has never been particularly flexible. I have never been able to do a split. I do not enjoy yoga - although I aspire to be the type of person who enjoys finding her zen. I am a dedicated to-do lister and find great pleasure in creating lengthy and ambitious daily to-do lists and diligently crossing off each item on the list before the end of the day. I am committed to be timely at all times, and I do not have much tolerance for being late or for those who are late. I do not like clutter, and I do not like things in my house being out of place.
Basically, both my blood type and my personality type are A+.
Since having my first child 12 week ago, however, I have learned the importance of working on my flexibility. During the early weeks of Beautiful Baby A’s (BBA’s) life, I realized that I would have to minimize the number of items on my to-do lists, and now I have come to terms with the fact that it is better to ditch the daily to-do list entirely. Instead of being the person who arrives perfectly on time (or likely a little early), I now ensure I give others a range of time at which I might arrive, since you never know whether a nap will go long or whether there will be a last-minute diaper change or feeding. And with little time or energy to spend on housework, I am learning to accept that my dining room table has toys strewn across it and that there are unwashed dishes currently sitting in the kitchen sink.
This transition has not come easy, and it is very much a work in progress – I am only in the beginning stages. But like yoga, learning to be more flexible in other aspects of your life is a practice – a journey. A process of self-development and self-improvement that is as critical to your ability to age gracefully as stretching your muscles. Because research suggests that having a Type A personality increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and depression, among other ailments.
So, I encourage you to spend some time each day focusing on your flexibility. Touch your toes. Do some side bends. Let some items on your to-do list slide. And leave your bed unmade. Commit to practicing flexibility in all aspects of your life, and you may just be setting the stage to live a longer, healthier and happier life.
Until next time, be happy and healthy,
Hello, friends! I’m Kathleen, the Kettlebell Mama. Welcome to bells & peppers – a blog dedicated to all things related to fitness, nutrition and healthy living. As an athlete, trainer, nutritionist, cooking instructor, attorney, senior executive and new mom, I have learned how to balance my personal health and fitness goals with paying the bills, spending quality time with family and friends and pursuing a demanding career – without losing my mind! My goal is to inspire, empower and provide you with simple strategies to help you become your healthiest self in a balanced, realistic and sustainable way. Feel free to read more about my story here. Thanks for visiting bells & peppers!