Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Fitness Is A Choice

Staying fit and healthy is a conscious everyday choice. Despite the latest advances (although I call it a setback) in genetics, suggesting that obesity is a genetic condition, one must decide daily to be fit. The human nature dictates that a human being acts in accordance with the motivational triad: seek pleasure, avoid pain and conserve energy. This tricks us into seeking out easy (and often, empty) calories and limits our willingness to expend those calories by moving unnecessarily. In our infinite wisdom, we utilize multiple marketing strategies and false science to further our own obsession with junk food and reliance on a sedentary lifestyle. BUT humanity as a species has one distinct advantage over the animal world: free will. Therefore, scientifically explained or not, it is possible to step away from the pleasure trap and make a conscious decision to become and stay fit and healthy for life. Below are some rules I live by to remain in shape and feel great everyday!

1) Forget Genetics

The DNA predetermines physicality; however, we need to refrain from excusing ourselves from proper diet and exercise based on what genetic makeup might predispose us to. On the contrary, "bad genes" are a clue to pay extra attention to diet and exercise. Many highly educated medical and holistic experts like Charlotte Gerson, Dr. Colin Campbell, Dr. Caldwell Essenltyn and others proved in practice that chronic and deadly conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes are all preventable, treatable and perhaps even curable through appropriate nutrition.

By the same token, if one was lucky enough to receive "good genes", he must use it as an opportunity to build upon and further- again, via a holistic fitness plan. Genetics are essential when obtaining answers to certain health questions; however, we must first decide to be healthy regardless. 

2) Drink Plenty of Water

To clarify something right from the start, when saying water I mean water- not juice, energy/sport drinks, pop or alcohol (exception: freshly squeezed juice and herbal teas). These beverages potentially contain large amounts of sugar or artificial sweeteners, artificial colouring and taste enhancers- all of which one must avoid at all costs. It is a well-known fact that up to 60% of a human body consists of water, where the brain is made up of 70% and lungs 90% water. Needless to say, just to maintain good health, one needs to drink a minimum of 8 glasses of WATER. 

Now, a freshly ground and brewed morning coffee is still allowed, but coffee consumption throughout the day should be limited to a maximum of 2 cups, as more than that can have a diuretic effect on the body and dehydrate it. The same rule of thumb applies to wine. I allow myself a glass of dry red wine per week, but only 2-3 oz at a time. 

Furthermore, water is essential in all metabolic processes, so food is broken down and nutrients are delivered to cells faster with sufficient amounts of H2O. This cheap but powerful liquid is especially important to consume during exercise- and one HAS to exercise in order to tone up, strengthen and lose extra pounds. When fat cells are burnt, the body releases toxins (metabolic by-products) through sweat, so drinking plenty of water during and after a workout is essential.

3) Consider MRT Testing

I first heard of MRT testing from my sister, who is a certified fitness trainer and an avid foodie. She spent a few hundred dollars to receive a complete break-down of her food sensitivities and environmental poisons currently in her body. Having followed personalized, test-based nutrition recommendations, however, she swears to have gotten rid of many side effects of consuming the wrong foods.

MRT test will determine your food sensitivities and allergies (if any) and uncover bodily pollution like heavy metals and petroleum content. Conditions like celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic fatigue syndrome are often directly related to the food we eat. And even seemingly healthful foods can cause unpleasant symptoms in some people. Therefore, uncovering existing sensitivities can serve as a basis for a diet plan to further one's well-being and energy level. More information on the test and the LEAP ImmunoCalm dietary management program (a complete step-by-step nutrition plan, developed based on individual test results) can be obtained here:

4) Learn to Cook

Here is the bottom line: we MUST allocate time for daily meal preparation. Although it is more time-consuming than ordering a take-out, it is always time well spent and can be treated as an opportunity for the whole family to get involved and contribute. Knowing with certainty that the meals our families consume are nutritious and satisfying is incredibly empowering! 
When shopping for ingredients, one should give preference to local and organic produce. A home-made meal is only as good as the ingredients used, so it is incredibly important to purchase pesticide-free fruit and vegetables and free-run, wild, or grass-fed animal products. Food of that grade will transpire the way we feel and function on the daily basis. And since organic farming is kind to the land it uses, buying local and organic will support sustainable farming practices.

Now, let's face it: time is of essence. Therefore, I always recommend cooking bigger batches of food to last 2-4 days. The exception to that is fresh garden and fruit salads that lose their appeal and nutritional value, if not eaten right away. I like making a big bowl of dirty rice (steamed rice with sauteed vegetables) or making enough mashed potatoes to last a dozen meals and just change the meat and veggies that go with each one. One can also steam a batch of broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts and pair them with starches and animal proteins. Be careful not to overcook your vegetables- stop before they lose colour and structural integrity. A mushy faded broccoli crown is nothing but an over-processed piece of food, void of most of its original nutrients.

5) Seek Out Whole Foods 

For brevity, whole means unprocessed, unrefined or minimally processed. Basically, all packaged foods are processed foods that have already been stripped of their original nutrients and mixed with artificial sweeteners, fillers, colouring and preservatives. Most of my shopping is done in the produce section, where fresh fruit, vegetables, greens are plenty; the bulk section, where I get my grains and raw unsalted nuts; and the organic isle, perfect to search out organic milk and free-run eggs. In the summer, my husband and I shop at the local farmers' market every Saturday.

Unfortunately, eating an exclusively whole-food diet is impossible, since even a smoothie made with all organic fruits, berries and greens is not whole. BUT as long as we seek out the food in its original (as nature intended) state and process it to the minimum, we can rest assured that our bodies receive a sufficient amount of nutrients to function at its best.

6) Read Labels

As cliche as it might sound, it is important to read labels. Not only will they show how much of each marconutrient (protein, fat and carbohydrates) is contained in a particular product, but also depict its full list of ingredients (at least those that have to be disclosed, as per regulators' requirements). The labels, for example, can reveal the presence of rather nasty ingredients like BHT and BHA present in many processed foods like cereals, gum and snacks. These so-called preservatives are banned in some countries for being considered carcinogens, although the FDA continues to insist they are safe for human consumption. Even if a particular food does not contain hard-to-pronounce ingredients, it might still subsume surprising amounts of sugar, transfats, and sodium. For example, 0% fat yogurt is not necessarily a good alternative to its creamy cousin. It often contains large amounts of sugar and thickening additives, employed to make the yogurt appear creamier.

7) Make It Yourself

All foods were at some point created by processing whole-food ingredients. Bread, mayonnaise, ice-cream can all be whipped up in your kitchen- and the preparation time can take as little as 2 minutes! My Breadman and Vitamix quickly paid for themselves once I started baking my own bread and whipping up my own protein shakes, cream soups, baby food and flour. The preparation time is also shorter than commonly believed. It takes about 2 minutes to throw in all the ingredients for a 1 lb loaf of multigrain bread and turn on the button for my Breadman to knead the dough! 

Learning to make one's own food ensures quality and freshness. Knowing that only the most healthful of ingredients made it into that food is largely empowering and heart-warming. And best of all, it becomes contagious: once successful at the first loaf of bread, I jumped at the opportunity to make my own ice-cream, jams, and pasta sauce. Using the best of ingredient like locally grown vegetables, self-made flour, unpasteurized and unfiltered honey, all-natural pectin and various seeds and nuts, I began feeling amazing everyday, no matter the lack of sleep or endless daily chores.

8) Control Portions

To maintain a high level of metabolism, one needs to eat every 2-3 hours, which will make 5-7 meals each day, depending on how early someone's day starts. The best way to start is to use small plates for all meals- that way, one can avoid overloading the dish with too much food. Eat until you're no longer hungry and stop before you're full. The easiest way to accomplish that is to take your time (if possible), chew all food thoroughly and ENJOY it! Watching TV, talking, browsing the net and working- all while eating- will only ensure indigestion. Plus, you'll swallow everything so fast that you won't feel satiated and end up snacking on chips and cookies shortly after the meal. 

If dining out, it is important to plan ahead and decide what to order and to avoid. Most of the time, one can choose his own side of vegetables, potatoes or rice. A whole baked potato is better than bleached white rice, although it is often possible to replace both with more season vegetables. If sauce is added to the meat, one could ask not to use it at all or serve it on the side, so the amount eaten can be controlled. Many dining establishments are now used to these and similar questions, as more information on nutrition is available and more of us care about the food we consume. Dessert can be avoided altogether or- for those with a sweet tooth- replaced with a specialty coffee or a shot of quality dessert wine. Although sweet, dessert wine like ice wine (mainly produced in Canada and Germany), contains many beneficial micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and is said to aide in enhancing metabolism, as well as helping prevent cancer and heart disease.

9) Diversify Colour

Diversifying colours of your meals is the easiest way to ensure consumption of various minerals and vitamins; not to mention, it makes dishes look appealing. The only stipulation is that the colour can only come from natural sources (eating a ripe yellow mango is infinitely better than drinking a glass of bright juice blend, which often contains artificial colouring and sugar). I also give preference to vegetables over fruit, just to avoid excess fructose. This is not to say, however, that there is anything wrong with fruit. Fructose is a natural element found in fruit and although also a simple monosaccharide like white sugar, it is consumed along with many vitamins and water that fruit offer.

10) Consider Gardening

Gardening can be time-consuming, but is very well worth considering. One can at least grow own vegetables, herbs and lettuce. The latter two can be grown year-round on the windowsill. As a child, I remember enjoying the taste of freshly picked berries and cooking with own potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, peas and zucchinis from my mom's garden. Somehow, even watermelons and grapes grew in the Russian soil! No pesticides or any other harsh farming practices used, we knew our food was clean and full of nutrients- and the taste was a testament to it. 

Unfortunately, Alberta's growing season is short. In that case, it might be wise to use the sorts of crops designed for that or start them early indoors. I am yet to educate myself on basic gardening; however, I am a strong believer that in order to be healthier, we need to go back to the basics and use the land we own with more efficiency. It also appears that the City of Red Deer allows for two chickens to be kept on residential property, which can provide fresh free-run eggs daily. 

11) Increase Metabolic Rate

Losing weight and staying healthy is all about good metabolism. Metabolism is a complex process that allows for oxygen and nutrients you get from food to be delivered to various body cells. Exercise and proper nutrition have been proven to increase the rate of metabolism, although genetics might play a role also. 

12) Learn to Breathe

Most of us do not think about breathing as a part of a healthful lifestyle, but ancient cultures have incorporated special breathing techniques to achieve the state of relaxation and self-heal. One of the obvious benefits of breathing (besides the fact that it is essential to our livelihood), is the delivery of oxygen to all tissues of our bodies and the extraction of carbon dioxide. 

Oxygen is required for effective metabolism of food, so eating a healthful diet alone would not be as beneficial without enough oxygen. Deep or diaphragmatic breathing allows for a full gas exchange- bringing oxygen to all tissues and expelling toxic carbon dioxide. The rate of metabolism then is directly related to the rate of oxygen consumption, and revving up metabolism, of course, is what is needed in order to lose excess weight and maintain a good level of energy throughout the day. 

13) Get Enough Sleep

Sleep is when the human body regenerates, so making sure to get enough of it is critical! To ensure good sleep, one should withhold from eating a minimum of 2 hours or so before bed. By the same token, going to bed hungry is counterproductive. Having a handful of dried fruit/berries or a big table spoon of natural peanut butter should silence the hungry tummy. By the way, a wet Vitamix container makes amazing peanut butter in seconds! Any combination of peanuts, walnuts, pine nuts, almonds, Brazilian nuts or cashews can be used to whip up a tasty spread for a morning toast or as said before,  create nut butter to satisfy occasional cravings. 

14) Trust Your Intuition

Intuition is a gift, given to us to navigate through the unknown. Listening to our intuition when it comes to health, in particular, is a useful skill all of us should acquire. Intuition might be tricky to develop while leading an unhealthful lifestyle, however. Instead, we run the risk of mixing up short-term impulses of a confused body with real needs, often resulting from nutritional deficiencies. 

I have been listening to my intuition for several years now. Ever since my second trimester, I was advised by the medical professionals to consume plenty of dairy, so I have enough calcium for my son to continue developing. However, I could not stand the thought of drinking milk or eating yogurt. I struggled until the third trimester, when all of a sudden I started craving milk. Everyday, I made myself a big mug of milk with honey and could not seem to have enough! In a few weeks, I felt an incredible craving towards pomegranates... I ate at least one- and some days, two- a day, and nothing could be tastier! Finally, I decided to look up the nutritional value of a pomegranate and was shocked to learn that it contains a large amount of vitamin K- essential in absorption of calcium. Who would have known! I listened to my body... Consumed dairy ONLY when my body called for it and devoured pomegranates like they were some people's comfort food.

By the way, I do not believe there is anything unorthodox in keeping chocolate, butter, cream or mayonnaise in one's diet, as long as these are all high-quality foods and are consumed in moderation. For example, I keep dark chocolate in my fridge: 70-90% cocoa content and the list of ingredients is short. Chocolate like that is high is antioxidants and was found to be beneficial for functioning of the brain. I also have Original Hellmann's mayo in my fridge with all-natural ingredients (eggs, vinegar, canola oil and such).  

Personally, I am still struggling with following a few of my own rules: namely, drinking enough water and taking time to breathe deeply (evolving my diaphragm). I find that it is first a matter of being conscious of the need to do something and then, it becomes a matter of a habit. My goal is to continue reminding myself of the need to replenish my body with enough liquid and oxygen until both become a habit. Gardening is and will continue to be a work in progress, and sleep should improve as Marcus learns to sleep through the night. 

Cited Sources:

Monday, July 1, 2013

Canning: First-Timer

Among bean sprouting experiments and robbing local nurseries of their staff (thanks to some distant relative, our son has got the knacks for flirting), I decided to improve my family's diet further by learning how to can and make my own flour. 

The first project involved making orange-lemon-ginger marmalade. Now, let me tell you something... I do not follow recipes very well, unless I am sure I know absolutely nothing about making the specific dish I am attempting to recreate. Canning I saw my mother and both grandmothers do. Clearly, I can figure jams and jellies out on my own! Well, the first "marmalade" became a fruit soup, because I neglected an important ingredient- pectin. The second resulted in a rubber-like, tasteless, although good-looking mess. 
Blueberry, cherry and mango preserves

I almost lost hope, BUT third time is a charm, right? So I left the original marmalade idea and instead opted out for mango jam. Just for the occasion, I had three ripe and juicy mangoes, so I peeled them, cut the flesh into small cubes and threw them into the pot, along with some lemon zest, freshly squeezed lemon and orange juice and clover honey for sweetness. I must caution you here that most honey sold at grocery stores across North America is either completely void of naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals (through rigorous processing) or is not honey at all, but rather high-fructose corn syrup in disguise*. 

Once on high, the mass started softening. To avoid over-processing, I poured everything into Vitamix, blended all for several seconds and poured it back into the same pot. Half a teaspoon of dry pectin and a teaspoon of calcium water finished it off. 

Now, my jam was ready to be canned. I disinfected (by steam) two 250 ml jars, filled them with bright yellow mass and screwed the lids on. Beautiful! Next, it was blueberries' turn- and very quickly, 4 lb of Oregon-grown berries turned into 3.5 litres of delicious jam. Cherry preserves finished off the successful day of canning- and my confidence rushed soaring back up.

Encouraged by my eventual success in canning, I ventured out to make my own flour. Just a few days prior, I purchased some organic rye and Polish wheat berries at Nutter's- a bulk and natural foods store- knowing, I could grind them to fine flour in my Vitamix dry container. The process took longer than I expected- much time was spent sifting the flour to get rid of larger particles, which I later processed again- but I was able to make 3 cups of rye flour and use some of it later to make bread.

Rye berries & flour
The key to making a good loaf of rye bread, I found, was to maintain the whole wheat or all-purpose to rye flour 2:1. Otherwise, the dough gets really heavy and sticky and refuses to rise. This time, I baked it in my Breadman, although one can let the dough rise for 3 hours or so, shape it into a boule and bake it on a baking sheet in the oven. That way, a nice round shape is achieved. Just before baking, the dough can be brushed with some grape seed oil or egg white and sprinkled with rosemary. That would make for a flavourful and aromatic boule!