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Posts tagged ‘cooking’


by Christel Swasey

The Distracted Diet Is Not Healthy

“He does not believe that does not live according to his belief.”

I’m thinking about that quote from Thomas Fuller, the 17th-century historian, in terms of my beliefs about health.  I’m thinking about it in terms of being a slightly repentant, very easily diet-distracted, health hypocrite.

For example, I know that oats lower cholesterol, so I have oats most mornings for breakfast.  But I often also have a high-cholesterol cookie (or two, or three if they are really good)  by 8 a.m., during the packing-lunch event for my third grader.

Another great example is in salad making.  Although I love the baby argula, the cherry tomatoes and sprouts, all of which are fantastic for my health, I like to add a high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt dressing to it.  I am not all that certain the salad qualifies as health food after it’s totally drenched in sugar and oil.

Or I’ll work on portion control, by taking only half an enchilada and filling up on mostly the side veggies.  But by the end of the meal and the dish duty, I’ve finished not only the veggies and my half of an enchilada, but also the other half of my enchilada –and most of the enchilada that my daughter left on her plate.

I call this distracted dieting.

But at its core, I think it’s about beliefs.  If I truly believed the experts who say that a little overweight, combined with too little exercise, creates a path toward heart disease and death, would I ever get distracted?  (I mean, do people get distracted on their way out of a burning building, or do they find the door directly?)

I think I must not believe the experts.  I think that I might believe that I am somehow above the rules.  In my case, a high-sugar diet won’t lead to diabetes; a high-cholesterol diet won’t lead to heart failure; a little cheating, as long as I can still fit into my cute jeans, is okay.   You can hide the jiggling tummy under a cute blouse, anyway, right?

Maybe our collective obsession with beauty and thinness has obscured the importance of health above beauty.  We all know that there are some very unhealthy beauties out there, as well as some very healthy ones.  Sometimes an individual’s health, or lack of it, isn’t obvious from appearance only.  But do we believe that health is visible ?  Do we believe that if we just fit into our smallest jeans, we must be not only beautiful but also healthy?

Studies on exercise have found that obese individuals, if they are consistent exercisers, will outlive equally obese individuals who do not exercise.   And people who follow fast crash diets (such as high protein, low carb diets) run the risk of diseases caused by too much protein.  And then there are the anorexics and the bulemics, who might look fine, but are killing themseles gradually. So, who really wants to be picture perfect, and ill?  Really.

I guess it comes down to honesty with myself, and long-term kindness:  do I really want to be alive and energetic for the future grandkids, or not?  Where do today’s exercise and diet choices lead me?

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by Christel Swasey

A Little Health Pep Talk For Holiday Health

How do you define Christmas cheer?

True Christmas cheer might have a little more to do with keeping our loved ones around for many more Christmases, than it has to do with the flavor of anything at the Christmas party.

But some of us need healthy eating pep talks, especially during the holiday season.  Can you remember the connection between diabetes, cancer, depression and junk food while someone hands you a platter of homemade, billion-calorie cookies?   Me, neither.

During the holidays, neighborly kindness seems to be synonymous with sugary gifts.  Our family swims in rivers of neighbors’ candies and sweet breads and cheese rolls.

But I  simply can not eat every plate of fudge and fruitcake that someone puts under my nose (although I would like to, in the moment) –but I can’t do it and feel good later.

I can’t afford a personal trainer, but I need some serious health propaganda,  and I have found good pep talks all over the internet to help keep me on the straight and narrow path of eating right and exercising.

Here’s one pep talk I really enjoyed, from the Green Smoothie Girl.

She describes how she deals with the moment when she is swallowing her homemade celery-carrot-beet concoction in the car, and she looks over and sees people diving into juicy cheeseburgers and french fries in the next car over.  She reminds the reader of the longer-term benefits of eating right.

A few minutes after eating, the Green Smoothie girl had “millions of cancer-fighting antioxidant molecules neutralizing, literally, the day’s stresses and exposure to chemicals.”  She had a positive mood and energy a few minutes after lunch, while the cheeseburger and fry-eaters were probably feeling sluggish, bloated, and thirsty.

I also appreciated the healthy Christmas food ideas from Family Fun Magazine, because the ideas are festive and happy looking, but not all made out of sugar!  There are edible Christmas ornament shaped treats that look like frosted sugar cookies, but they’re made of crackers, low-fat cream cheese, and colorful veggies.

There are many websites that offer adorable ways to swap out sugary, rich treats for healthier traditions.  For example, check out the cute holiday cucumber cups with festive herbed hummus inside, for appetizers. Click Here

I also like little ideas like this one, from Katie’s Healthy Bites:  simple ways to cute 100 calories, here and there, during the holiday bustle.  Also Dr. Dean Ornish has his own version of the same idea, with variation, here

Friends, we can do this.  We don’t have to overindulge in holiday sludge.  Ideas abound for ways to go the extra mile to serve ourselves and others healthier choices, and to keep a truer Christmas spirit –keeping our family and friends healthy and happy for many more Christmases to come.

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by Christel Swasey

From the Healthy Recipe Collection: Better Than Shrek Soup

I accidentally made Shrek Soup.  For a party.  Oh, it was scary, the night before, when I realized that the delicious soup that I had concocted appeared so brown and gluey.  My 14-year-old daughter said, “Mom, it tastes good but it looks like something Shrek would eat.”

Note to self:  If you add carrots to potato leek soup, do not puree any of them, as the orange carrots mix with the green leeks, turning the soup an ugly brown.)

In preparation for this holiday party, in which forty people were going to come to dine at my small house (which actually fits about eight people, tops) I had asked three of my guests to bring pots of soup.  I’d planned to make the fourth pot, and to bake rolls and cookies, and it would be a bread-and-soup based, simple, hearty feast.

I had planned to serve my guests what I thought was a fool-proof potato leek soup, the rich and creamy and irresistible version with a secret ingredient of whipping cream, but then: two things happened:

a) Because I had tried to wing the recipe and not read the recipe, it turned out badly the night before so I didn’t dare serve it to guests.

b)  After the fact, my conscience got the better of me.  Leeks and cream taste great, but the antioxidants in the leeks don’t cancel out the fat and cholesterol in the whipping cream, contrary to popular thought.

So, I searched for a healthy soup online and found one.  It had to be different from the three soup flavors my friends had told me they were going to bring.  And I had to run to the store, get the ingredients, and make it quickly.

So, the healthiest, easiest, yummiest-sounding soup that I found was on the Mayo Clinic’s website.  It’s a minestrone that they’ve improved by using unsalted chicken broth and fresh tomatoes rather than canned tomatoes, limiting  the sodium content.  I doubled this recipe and I also quadrupled the amount of pasta, so that the soup would feed more people.  I also added the beans and pasta separately, because I fear overcooked pasta.

It turned out perfectly.  We still have leftovers, three days later.  I just warmed some up for lunch and it is wonderful!

The good thing about making a healthy choice (like serving the Mayo Clinic Minestrone, rather than high-fat –although admittedly delectable– potato leek cream soup) is that you can fill up on this nutrient-packed soup and will end up eating fewer pieces of fudge (or whatever else your heart desires but gets clogged and sludged by.)

So, here’s a great idea for a holiday gathering.

My version of The Mayo Clinic’s Minestrone:

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup chopped onion

2/3 cup chopped celery

2 carrots, diced

3 garlic cloves, minced

8 cups fat-free, unsalted chicken broth

4 large tomatoes, chopped

1 cup chopped spinach

3 cans canned beans (I used 1 chickpeas and 2 cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed)

1 and 1/2 cup uncooked small shell pasta

2 small zucchinis, diced

5 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped

DIRECTIONS:  (My version)

In a large saucepan, I heated the olive oil over low to medium heat.  Next, I added the onion, celery and carrots and sauteed 5 minutes.   Then I added garlic and continued cooking for another3 minutes. I stirred in broth, tomatoes, spinach, and zucchini. While it boiled very briefly, and then simmered, I cooked the pasta separately.  Last, I added the beans and the pasta and fresh basil, just before serving.

Click Here To Check Out The Mayo Clinic’s Version of the Minestrone

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by Christel Swasey

Healthy Recipe Collection: Lemony Broccoli Soup

I’m always searching for perfect recipes.  They are hard to find, yes indeed, and often, I have to settle for plain old great ones.

When I say “perfect recipes” I mean the recipes that are the absolute healthiest, the most delicious, the least expensive, the simplest to prepare, require the fewest ingredients, and are the most likely to be loved and seconded by my family.

The reason that I usually settle for great, rather than perfect, recipes is that most great recipes are making big, huge, but necessary, concessions.  These concessions go like this: they’re delicious but also expensive, or they are inexpensive but too time-consuming to prepare, or they are very healthy but not very popular with every single family member.

But today I found another perfect recipe for my perfect recipe collection!

It is sitting in my crock pot right now, and dinner is hours away but as good as ready.  It took me almost no time at all.  It’s a throw-it-all-in-the-crockpot recipe.  Yes, really!  Anyone– I mean, anyone, can do this.

I found this recipe backwards;  first, I looked in my fridge and thought, “What do I want to cook with today?”  I decided to use up the broccoli and I saw that I had four giant, yummy fresh garlic bulbs and lemons.  (I have been purchasing superfoods on purpose).

So I put these words in a search engine:  broccoli garlic lemon soup and voila!  On a site called Care 2 Make a Difference, I found this perfect recipe.  I did change a few items because I didn’t have any fresh thyme (I used dried thyme), nor did I have any wine, so I skipped it.  But here’s the easiest, yummiest-smelling peasant soup you can brew using 6 ingredients and a crock pot.

Lemony Broccoli Soup With Garlic and Olive Oil

(Adapted from a recipe in  Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger  and Julie Kaufmann)

2 bunches broccoli (approx. 3 pounds) chopped into large pieces
1/2 c. olive oil
8 cloves garlic, sliced

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme (or 1/2 teaspoon dried) -optional
6 cups  good-quality vegetable or low-sodium poultry broth
4 tablespoons fresh  lemon juice

Optional:  salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Right before serving, I’ll puree most of it in the blender, to make it mostly creamy, and I’ll sprinkle some cheese on top.  That’s not difficult.

And with the well-documented disease and cancer-fighting properties of the superfoods broccoli, lemons and garlic, just feel your halo glowing as you serve your family this soup.

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by Christel Swasey

Yes, You Do Have Time To Eat Healthy

Yes, You Do Have Time To Eat Right

Fast food seems like a good deal:  cheap, tasty, efficient, convenient. Right?

Well, maybe.  But it’s also true that people die from the habit of eating high-calorie, high-sugar, high-fat, low-nutrition junk food.

The term “fast food” might trick us into believing we’ll be happily sped along in our daily race against time.  But  habitually consuming “fast food” can truly slow us down, so much that we become utterly clogged up, overweight, undernourished, very tired, and prematurely dead.

Have you seen the movie “Super Size Me?”  What a fascinating documentary.  Starring the filmmaker, Morgan Spurlock, it shows what happens to a man who eats nothing but McDonald’s food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, for 30 days.  Spurlock’s “before,” “during,” and “after” medical exams show absolutely horrific changes to his body systems.  Ugh!

That documentary blew my mind and turned me off, way off, fast food.

I never was a fast food lover, to tell you the truth.  Yet my culinary weakness, European gourmet “slow” food, is no less artery-clogging or any more disease-defying.  Whether it’s fast food or slow food, unhealthy food kills.  This much we know.

So why, why do we still imbibe?  Maybe we are juggling so many priorities that we forget that actually staying alive should remain close to the top of our lists.

In our superspeedy lifestyles, the priority of healthy cooking and eating often squirms at the bottom of the priority list, weighed under the time crunch.  Some of us get overwhelmed thinking of the cost of buying so much fresh, nutritious food.  Some of us sigh at the idea of finding the energy to prepare the food.  Some of us get distracted by the fun factor of junk food.  And we do not want to spend our precious time to buy, wash, dice, cook, serve, and clean up the life-saving food.

So because we don’t make it a priority now, then later, (too late) we lie in a hospital bed with a heart attack, stroke or diabetes.  It’s a proven fact; habitual junk food eating leads to disease and death.

We don’t want to live with remorse.  It’s worth trying. I am here to remind us that we do have time to eat right, now.  Otherwise, we’ll find the time when we are lying in the hospital bed.

The fact is, we don’t have to cook like the people on the t.v. healthy-cooking shows to cook disease-and death-defying masterpieces.  We don’t have to have one hundred and thirty eight ingredients in the soup.  We don’t need to make healthy cooking so expensive, time consuming, and complicated.

Expensive and complicated can taste great– but not always!  Sometimes the simplest, easiest meals are the cheap and fast!

I have a large and hungry family. Tonight I am serving up potato soup in bread bowls, because potatoes are extremely cheap and very healthy.

How I did it:  I diced and threw the following in a pot:   9 potatoes, 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks, a bunch of scallions, some water, 2 cans of low-sodium chicken stock (no MSG added; MSG gives my husband headaches).  It’s simmering all day.   Later, just before dinnertime, I’ll add a little cream, a cup of cheese, some salt and pepper, and I’ll serve it in whole wheat bread bowls.  It took me less than ten minutes to wash and dice the veggies.  It was easy and so cheap.  I estimate that the ingredients I used for this meal, which will serve six, cost me about $7 max.  That’s $1.16 per person.  And it can be done in a crock pot or a regular pot, easily.

The potatoes that make up the bulk of tonight’s dinner contain:

  • twice as much potassium as a banana or an avocado
  • no fat
  • 45% of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin C (!)
  • 15% of the daily fiber requirement
  • lots of minerals and vitamins, including magnesium and B6.

So, instead of thinking about “fast food” as the cheap stuff to drive-through for, think of it as the stuff that speeds you along the fast track to disease and death.

And think of creating your own, new and improved, completely different type of good fast food that you make yourself, to create longevity and a fatter wallet for your family.

Find affordable health insurance by using the free online form at the top of the page. Its easy to fill out and will save you that money you need for other things!