Friday, January 17, 2014

Brighten Up Those Winter Blues

January-slower and bluesier
Nobody seems to mind winter during all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season.  The cold and dark seem more like a part of the whole package at that time, while we race hither and thither to get all the shopping, gift-giving, entertaining, and meal preparations taken care of.  But now it’s January.  It’s been January for awhile now, and  while I love the  quiet and slowed pace at the beginning of the month, by mid-month winter begins to feel very long…..endless, in fact.  This is the time when the cold and dark can heighten feelings of stress, depression , fatigue, and some mindless eating which leads to unwanted weight gain.  We call it all the winter blues, those by-products of short days, unrelenting cold weather, confinement, and residual stress from the holiday season.  Those winter blues and lack of energy can cause us still more discomfort and unrest, as they can lower our immune systems exposing us to catching a cold and/or the flu.  And  neither one of those “nasties” will help to pull us out of a bluesie funk.  You know the story.

There is a way out.  The shortage of light during the winter time is very real, and in a very real way can affect our hormonal balance.  We may suffer from a lack of serotonin and melatonin.  The combination of melatonin, the hormone which our bodies produce to help us sleep, and serotonin, the hormone which regulates our mood and energy, work together in managing important aspects of our being.  Immunity, pain, digestion, sleep/wake cycles, body temperature, blood pressure, blood clotting, and daily body rhythms are all affected  by these two hormones.  It pays to know how to keep them at a nice productive level.  Read on.
Exercise - indoor

Exercise , an important component of health at any time,
is very important here in the dead of winter.  It increases levels of serotonin, which then relieves some of those blah and blue moods and sensations.  It also helps to relieve stress. Walks, even brief 15 minute ones, in some fresh air can do wonders in boosting a funky mood, sunshine or not.

Aromatherapy has also been shown to help levels of serotonin and melatonin.  Oils such as lavender and chamomile encourage us to have a restful sleep and prevent us from waking up moody.  These oils can be used in bath salts, bath oils, candles, and in oils applied to the bldy for cleansing, calming and balancing thoughts and emotions.

Fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds

Nutrition plays a big part in either improving a good mood or increasing depression.  When our serotonin levels are low, we naturally crave carbohydrates, especially the simple kinds of it.  Consume, instead, good quality carbohydrates, organic, if possible, unprocessed and full of nutrition.  Specifically, go for the dark leafy greens, other vegetables, and fruit.  And the more of them that you eat raw, the more you will feel positive results.  On the other hand, processed, simple carbohydrates such as white flour and sugar in their many forms create a quick blood sugar spike shortly after being consumed, followed by a crash with feelings of not having taken any good fuel for life.  Raw  homemade trail mix is a great snack to have on hand, as are spreads like hummus, cut up raw vegetables and fruit, and some occasional popcorn.  Also, planning  more carbohydrate dense dinners will satisfy any late night munchies and help you to sleep better. 
Healthy oils and fats

Don’t be shy of fat.  Fats play a critical part in brain health. Omega 3 fatty acids help maintain healthy levels of the brain chemicals, dopamine and, you guessed it, serotonin.  Few people realize that they are lacking in omega -3 fatty acids.  Our brain’s cell membranes are made from Omega 3 fats.  Along with regulating mood and energy, serotonin enables  brain cells to communicate with each other by passing through the cell membranes. Our bodies can’t produce these fatty acids so we must consume them in our diets.  Omnivores eat fatty fish, such as Alaskan salmon and sardines, because they are a potent  form of omega 3s.  Other healthy forms are available for vegetarians and vegans from flaxseed, chi seeds, walnuts, canola and walnut oils, kale, collard greens, and winter squash.  The national Institutes of health (NIH) panel of experts recommend that people consume at least 2% of their daily calories as omega- 3 fats, about 4 grams a day for a diet of 2000 calories.  That is not a burdensome amount.  We just need to make sure we incorporate a good supply of omega-3s in our diets. 

Sunshine on the skin!
Get into the sun when you can.  Because the sun is not out as long, and we don’t get out as much in the colder months, we may suffer from low vitamin D.  Contrary to its name, this substance is actually a hormone which affects all areas of our body.  Although there are supplements of vitamin D, and many doctors prescribe them, too much vitamin D can be toxic.  The best option is to absorb vitamin D naturally from food and the sun. Make every effort to get some sun on your skin every time it’s a sunny day.  15 minutes or so will do, but without sunscreen, or through fabric or the glass of a building or a car. ) Vitamin D is bio-available in fatty fish, (salmon, tuna, sardines, and rainbow trout), fortifies milks, (including almond) and cereals, eggs, and Portobello mushrooms.
If you put all these ideas into practice, you will feel better – more positive and energetic.  Then, recall that spring is a mere 63 days away, and you’ll be skipping and singing though your days, wondering what you were ever feeling so blue about! There's a thought that can lift your spirits!


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Make Your Own Salad Dressing!

All sorts of flavors come into raw food preparation, just as they do with traditional food preparation.  Really, when food is not broken down by cooking, it is sometimes easier to appreciate various mixes of flavors, which have a way of maintaining the distinctness of individual ingredients, even as they blend to remarkably enhance the taste of greens and vegetables on your salad plate.
By developing a repertoire of great-tasting dressings to enhance salads, in particular, but other foods as well, you are also enhancing your chances of making a permanent lifestyle change.  Most of the bottled and packaged salad dressings in the grocery store will contribute nothing to your health.  Rather, most of them have been heat treated and pasteurized, thus rendering them void of vitamins, enzymes, and many of their minerals, and many, (read the labels!), have had many preservatives, (with long non-pronounceable chemical names) added.

The good news is that there are hundreds of easy-to-assemble homemade
dressing recipes that can take you way beyond the simple

(and delicious) oil and vinegar or lemon juice combinations.  Most of them can be nicely put together in a blender or Nutri-Bullet (my favorite salad dressing machine) in just a few minutes. 

Be willing to experiment.  Go beyond that safe splash of olive oil, squeeze of lemon and favorite herb.  Try lots of recipes , (and you know that they are all over the web, starting with Pinterest), and in no time you’ll be inventing a whole new generation of dressings. A plateful of sprouts and greens becomes something else entirely when covered with a creamy avocado dressing or  an exotic Asian dressing, or a simple “goddess” concoction.  Once you’ve found a few dressings that you like, have two or three always made up and ready in your refrigerator.
Here are a few that I like – simple to make, tasty, and diverse. 

Beautiful and Nutritious
Avocado-Dill Dressing – from The Raw Gourmet,
 by Nomi Shannon
1 cup celery or cucumber juice, or water
1 cucumber peeled and chopped
1 small clove garlic, chopped
2 scallions, chopped,
1 red pepper, chopped
1 Tbs chopped fresh dill
1 avocado, cut in chunks
2 Tbs lemon juice
½ tsp liquid aminos or pinch sea salt
Honey or maple syrup
Honey or agave syrup (optional)

Blend everything but the sweetener in a blender, then sweeten to taste, if necessary.

French Dressing – (un, deux, trios, voila!) – from Rawsome, by Brigitte Mars
Yield: 2 cups
Fresh and Colorful
3 dates, soaked for 20 minutes
1 ½ cups extra-virgin olive oil
2/3 cup lemon juice
½ cup lemon juice
½ tsp tsp celery seeds
½ tsp paprika
1tsp chopped fresh basil
1 tsp Celtic salt

Marika’s “Goddess in the Raw” Dressing
from Living on Live Food, by Alissa Cohen
(If you like garlic, you’ll love this!)

Green and Creamy
2-3 limes, juiced
¾ cup raw apple cider  vinegar
1 bunch scallions (or green onions)
½ bunch parsley
4 cloves garlic
1 Tbs. olive oil

Blend all ingredients thoroughly.
~  ~  ~  ~  ~ 

Making your own salad dressings is a good step toward healthier, more tasteful eating.  Try it!

For more recipes of all sorts, consult my website—  You can also subscribe to my monthly newsletter there, which always contains fun new, usually seasonal,  raw recipes.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

How to Start a Raw Food Diet: A Quick Beginner’s Guide

Last  week I celebrated 7 years of eating mostly raw fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds, otherwise known as a Raw Food Diet.  While the occasion offers me an opportunity to reflect on how I got here, and why I stay here, I thought it might be helpful to offer you some suggestions for beginning the journey at the beginning of a new year.   Keep in mind that there are no rules about becoming 100% raw, which very few people actually attain, so you need not immediately dismiss the whole idea with the thought, “Oh, I could never be completely raw!”  Furthermore, inasmuch as virtually every published diet on the planet recommends including lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, some of the following suggestions may be helpful urging you towards a better balanced food plan. Every increase you make with whole, natural, unprocessed foods is a benefit to you and the planet.  Just begin, and see where the journey takes you.

So, here we go. There are many benefits associated with following a raw food diet. Many people who are now high raw eaters began with the apparent stumbling block of, “I don’t know where to begin.”

Make a list
Before You Begin to actually follow a diet with a higher nutrient density than what you now enjoy, make a list of all the raw foods you love to eat.  Include fresh fruits and vegetables on the list as well as nuts, seeds, and healthy fats. I recommend keeping a food journal for a week or so, (and January is a great time for this sort of refocusing activity), so that you can keep track of the foods you eat on a regular basis. Your list may look something like this:

Fruits – bananas, strawberries, mango, oranges, pineapple, apple….

Vegetables – broccoli, zucchini, carrots, cucumbers, snap peas, spinach, tomatoes…..

Fats – sunflower seeds, avocado, walnuts, almonds, olive oil….

Now that you have your list of foods you enjoy, begin to include them in your meals more often.  Let go of some of your non-raw foods gradually, beginning with the low nutrient density – packaged snacks, sweet desserts, etc.  This will make it easier to transition to a diet higher in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Learn how to make green smoothies – recipes abound – and try some morning juicing if you have a juicer.
As You Transition, recognize that it may take awhile, and that it may be challenging in the beginning. It may help to seek out raw recipes that look appealing, and begin to incorporate them.  It is also good to spend more time with folks who are known to be health seekers, possibly high raw food eaters themselves. Subscribe to this blog in the right sidebar, and visit my website where you can find lots of information, recipes, and sign up for my monthly newsletter.  The point  here is to keep the information flow coming, so that you are not alone, but supported in your endeavor.

Move right along. Once you experience some success with a few new recipes and start feeling the benefits of your efforts, (and they come fairly quickly), you may just want to jump in and make your diet as high raw as possible. That was my approach, which worked for me just fine.  I know many people, too,  who make steady progress in a much more gradual way.  Either way works, as long as you continue to make good, then better food choices at every turn.  There is plenty of support in your area, no matter where, so reach out and enjoy the ride to a happier, healthier, more energetic and vibrant you.

I wish you well in this new year.  May it be one of increased robustness in every area of your life, and peace in your body, mind, and spirit.  Happy New Year!