Three Foods to Get You In the Mood

I know this post is a bit out of my wheel house.

But I get asked this question from friends (and friends of friends) every year around this time. You know — because Valentine’s Day is just around the corner.

“Can certain foods really act as aphrodisiacs or make you fall in love?”

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The simple answer: YES.

So even though this goes outside the bounds of my usual topics, I present three foods that can get you in the mood.

Maca Powder

Maca is a Peruvian root vegetable used for centuries. It is most commonly found in the powder form, which has an earthy flavor and warm vanilla-like aroma.

Maca is known to increase energy, boost fertility, and enhance libido. Additionally, maca is rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals.

It’s easy to add a teaspoon of maca powder to your smoothie of choice; alternately, you can sprinkle maca powder into your oatmeal or add it to your favorite bar recipe. Just remember maca powder can be energizing so beware of using it before bedtime unless you know how you react to it.

Tip: Trader Joe’s sells maca powder — you can typically find it near the smoothie protein powders and in the baking section.

Dark Chocolate

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You know I’m a HUGE chocolate fan (for the taste and the health benefits).

But did you know dark chocolate can help you fall (or stay) in love? This property is attributed to dark chocolate’s phenylethylamine, an endorphin released when people fall in love.

This — coupled with chocolate’s ability to stimulate production of “feel good” hormones serotonin and and dopamine — helps explain why chocolate is the stereotypical Valentine’s Day food.

Chili Peppers

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Chili peppers have special properties that can be exploited for more than just taste.

Chili peppers contain an ingredient called capsaicin. Capsaicin stimulates nerve endings, causing a tingling sensation, and ultimately causes the release of endorphins and adrenaline. In fact, capsaicin is used medicinally in topical products to help reduce pain.

The endorphin release caused from eating chili peppers can increase feeling of happiness and love.

The Truth - There Are Foods that Stimulate Love & More

Maca, dark chocolate, and chili are three foods that can stimulate good feelings and love.

Do you want even more good feelings for Valentine’s Day this year?  Try combining these feel good foods together for your special someone.

The flavors of chocolate and maca go together nicely. In fact, one of my favorite smoothie recipes utilizes them both.

If you prefer something you can buy premade, Theo chocolate makes a dark chocolate and chili bar. Three different chili peppers are combined with 70% dark chocolate in a delightful tasting way.

Sending you x’s and o’s,
Skye

 

How to (Healthfully) Eat Your Way to Calm: STRESS LESS PART II

Welcome back to the Stress Less Series. Last post we talked all about stress — what it is, what happens to your body when you experience stress, and the two main ways to treat stress. Need a refresher? Check out the post here.

Now we’re moving into the real nitty-gritty of the stress series. This is the part that gets me most excited. And giddy! Because I love putting theory and thought into action — I want you to experience the life-changing way to feed yourself calmness in a healthy and sustainable way.

CAN YOU REALLY EAT YOUR WAY TO CALM?

Let’s play a game. I’ll give you two words and you tell me what it makes you think of.

Ready?

The words are: stress and food.

Let me guess. Cookies, cake, chips, fries, macaroni and cheese, and other “comfort” food comes to mind.

While these often carbohydrate laden snacks seem comforting, they actually don’t help your stress levels. In fact, they actually make you feel worse. They can leave you feeling bloated, with an angry stomach, and extra inflammation. In other words, they may temporarily give you a boost, but actually do more harm than good.

Yikes! That is not what I want for myself OR for you. Because, darling readers, there is a better way.

A way you can eat that prevents stress. A way that negates the effects of stress. A way that makes you authentically, really, and truly better.

And I’ve got all the details for you below. I’m giving you the what, the why, and the how.

GREEN LEAFY VEGETABLES

Do you remember the charming movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? The father character has a “fix all” for every ailment — from swollen toes to acne to rashes. The “fix all” is Windex, which he (endearingly?) sprays on anything and everything (and anyone).

Green leafy vegetables are to wellness as Windex is to the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Basically, they are everything.

I could wax lyrical on the amazing and health boosting effects of these wonderful green vegetables.

But I’ll keep it focused for your sake.

THE RATIONALE & EVIDENCE

Dark green leafy vegetables contain folate. Folate is integral in synthesis of the hormones serotonin and dopamine that help prevent stress and promote feeling of wellbeing.     

Multiple studies correlate consumption of vegetables with decreased stress and better mental health. Articles such as this and this are examples.

EASY WAYS TO ADD MORE DARK GREEN VEGETABLES TO YOUR LIFE

Green smoothies! This is an easy and tasty way to get your green leafy vegetable fix. Need some inspiration? Check out this post and this post.

Another way is to add a handful of spinach to your meals. I do this with stir-fry, soup, and casseroles. Fresh spinach is a relatively mild tasting green that can be easily added to many dishes.

FRUIT

Sometime in the last decade, fruit has gotten a bad rap. Perhaps it’s residual from the popular calorie counting and carbohydrate-hating diets. I’m not really sure. But for some reason we are turning away from fruit.

And we shouldn’t!

Fruit is nature’s dessert.

Not only does it taste amazing, but fruit is full of essential nutrients that are typically under consumed — nutrients like potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate.

THE RATIONALE & EVIDENCE

Different fruits have different benefits. Berries, for example, are full of antioxidants and phytonutrients — both of which improve your body’s response to stress.

There is a wealth of evidence to support fruit’s role in stress and mental health. See this article for details.

EASY WAYS TO ADD MORE FRUIT TO YOUR LIFE

Make fruit your dessert. After your lunch or dinner, have a piece of fresh fruit. Apples, pears, and blueberries are sweet ways to end your meal.

Or get a twofer with the dark green vegetables and make one of my smoothies.

OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats found throughout our diet. There are multiple benefits to omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, every year I teach University of Washington students all about this.

But today I’ll stick just to the stress reduction benefits. You may be hearing more about omega-3s from me in the future. :) I just can’t help myself.

Omega-3 fatty acids are known to be anti-inflammatory.

THE RATIONALE & EVIDENCE

Omega-3 fatty acids are known to be anti-inflammatory. They reduce surges of stress hormones and protect against depression and premenstrual syndrome.

See this article, this one, and this for the evidence.


EASY WAYS TO ADD MORE OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS TO YOUR LIFE

The good news is there are many sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish is an obvious choice — salmon, mackerel, tuna, and herring are all rich sources. Walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and egg yolks are options if you’re not a fish lover.

You can also supplement omega-3 fatty acids. The most common way is by taking fish oil. If you just gagged a little, consider this. Fish oil products have come a LONG way. Many are blended with essential oils (like lemon or orange) while others are whipped into a smoothie-like consistency with a fruity flavor. Just beware that (like most things) not all fish oil is created equally. Potency, purity, and price can vary dramatically.

If you’re vegan, you can still get your omega-3 fatty acid fix. Marine algae is full of omega-3 fatty acids. While less potent, flaxseed is another option. Flaxseed adds a hearty and nutty flavor to foods. Try flaxseed sprinkled on smoothie bowls or use it as an egg substitute when baking or cooking.

DARK CHOCOLATE

If you know me, you know I adore dark chocolate. It’s a win-win-win in my book. Dark chocolate tastes delicious and satisfying, it is full of amazing antioxidants, and has proven health benefits.

THE RATIONALE & EVIDENCE

Dark chocolate keeps your taste buds and stress molecules happy. Additionally, it can improve cognitive function and mood.

This article and this one give you more of the nitty gritty on dark chocolate.

EASY WAYS TO ADD MORE DARK CHOCOLATE TO YOUR LIFE

Hmmm. I probably don’t need to give you much guidance here. It doesn’t take much imagination to conjure ways to add more dark chocolate to your life.

A word to the wise (so you!), not all dark chocolate is created equally. The majority of dark chocolate on the market has additives that TAKE AWAY from it’s health benefits. So if you want to get the absolute most from your dark chocolate (and you know you do), please make sure you follow my tips from this post. Bottom line: the fewer ingredients the better and avoid dairy/milk solids in your dark chocolate.

TAKE THE STRESS LESS CHALLENGE

Do you want to see if you really can eat your way to less stress?

I dare you!

Over the next week incorporate green leafy vegetables, fruit, omega-3 fatty acids, and dark chocolate into your diet every single day. Be mindful of how eating these foods makes you feel. Inside and out — what has changed?  What feels the same? How is your stress level?

What do you have to lose? At the very least, you’ll be filling yourself with nutrient dense and yummy treats.

I’d love to hear all about your Stress Less Challenge. Please comment below or send me a message. It makes my day when I hear from you!

Thank you so very much for reading and stay tuned for next week — Part III of the Stress Less series.

Sending you love & peaceful energy,
Skye
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The Truth About Chocolate (& the Best Way to Eat It)

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, chocolate is on my mind.

In fact, Valentine’s Day sparks memories of my childhood days. Cheesy (but adorable) cards, Conversation Hearts (with Call Me and Love You printed in red ink), and Russell Stover’s and Whitman chocolate boxes.

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Back then I actually thought I didn’t like chocolate. I was suspicious of the oddly flavored, pseudo-fruit fillings. And unconvinced by the dodgy caramel and nut fillings. I just thought I wasn’t a “chocolate” person.

Then I visited Switzerland (the land of chocolate) and was given carte blanche in a high quality chocolate shop. And I finally understood the obsession with chocolate!

I’ve also done the research — on the real benefits of chocolate and how to get the most out of it.
 
So if you plan to indulge yourself (or someone else) for Valentine’s Day with chocolate, please continue reading. Because I’m sharing the evidence-based benefits of chocolate, how to make sure you get the most from your chocolate, and my favorite chocolate brand.

THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF CHOCOLATE

You’ve probably seen headlines and news snippets touting the health benefits of chocolate. Think it sounds too good to be true? Think again!

Studies show that chocolate consumption is linked to:
    •     Lower blood pressure
    •     Improved insulin response
    •     Improved mood

Plus, it tastes delicious!


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW WHEN PICKING CHOCOLATE

Not all chocolate is the same. A high quality dark chocolate is going to do much more for you than a high-fructose corn syrup sweetened fudge topping. To make sure you're picking the best options, I’ve put together a mini chocolate education for you.

1.) Cocoa is NOT Cacao.

You may see these words on chocolate products and think they are the same.

But they aren’t.

Cacao fruit trees (also known as Theobroma Cacao) produce cacao pods. Cacao pods contain cacao beans. Cacao beans can be processed different ways.

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Cacao beans.

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Cacao beans can be chopped into small pieces and are called cacao nibs. They can be heated and made into a paste (then often made into cacao bars). Most often, the beans are lightly heated until the cacao butter separates from the beans. Once the butter is removed, the beans are milled into a fine powder.

Cocoa is the product of processed cacao; usually cacao is processed at extremely high heat to make cocoa. What does this do? It improves the taste by decreasing bitterness. On the flip side, the high heat processing can decrease the potency of beneficial enzymes and antioxidants.

2.) Dark chocolate is best.

There are actually federal definitions for chocolate. Let’s review some common definitions to make sure we're on the same page.

  • Dark chocolate: a chocolate product that is at least 50 percent cacao.
  • Milk chocolate: a chocolate product that is at least 30 percent cacao. Milk chocolate usually contains sugar and vanilla. It may also contain dairy (see #3 below).
  • White chocolate: a product made from cocoa butter and sugar.

The health benefits of chocolate are attributed to the cacao. Therefore the higher the percentage of cacao, the better off you are. That means the darker the chocolate (and the higher the percentage), the better off you are.

3.) Dairy in milk chocolate makes it harder for you to get the health benefits of chocolate.

Nearly all the research that shows health benefits with cacao and cocoa are completed using powder with NO dairy added.

The reason? When milk solids are mixed with cacao, many of cacao’s beneficial nutrients are not absorbed by the body.

So if you rationalize chocolate consumption by waxing about the health benefits, make sure you choose dairy-free options.

4.) Many chocolate products contain unnecessary (and often unhealthy) additives.

Most chocolate products sold contain unnecessary additives. These additives usually make chocolate worse for you.

Think of dairy and milk solids already discussed. They decrease the health benefits of chocolate. Other additives that can be found in chocolate include clay, soy lecithin, and chemical emulsifiers.

To make sure you get the most bang for your chocolate buck, pick chocolate without unnecessary additives.

5.) White chocolate is not actually chocolate.

Recall from the definitions above that white chocolate is a product made from cocoa butter and sugar. It does not contain cocoa. Therefore, it really isn’t chocolate.

While it may be tasty, white chocolate does not contain the health benefits of cocoa.

MY FAVORITE CHOCOLATE BRANDS

Note: I do NOT have any financial relationships with the companies I recommend below. This is entirely based on my personal opinion and experience.

As you can see, not all chocolate is created equally.

Expensive and well known chocolate brands are often not the best.

In my mind, the best chocolate is:
    •    Dark (65% or higher content)
    •    Contains three ingredients or less
    •    Is free of unnecessary additives (like milk solids, clay, and soy lecithin)

While my list of requirements is small, it can be tricky to find a product that fits the bill.

Theo Chocolate

My favorite go-to is Theo chocolate (remember, I mentioned back here around the holidays). Theo is an organic chocolate roaster and maker located in Seattle, Washington. Their products are high quality, free of unnecessary additives, and reasonably priced.

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If you live in Seattle, you can even visit the Theo chocolate factory where they give daily tours. If not, you can find Theo chocolate at a variety of retailers across the United States. Whole Foods (in store), REI (in store), Amazon (online), and Thrive Market (online) all stock Theo chocolate.

Enjoy Life

If you are looking for chocolate chips or chunks for baking, Enjoy Life makes some great options. The mini chips only include 3 ingredients are free of milk solids and common allergens (such as gluten, peanuts, soy, and eggs).

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I’ve been known to dip a spoonful of almond butter into the Enjoy Life mini chips for a quick and sweet treat.

Natural grocers and Whole Foods usually stock Enjoy Life chocolate chips. I usually buy mine online from Vitacost at a significant discount.

NEXT STEPS

Consider yourself chocolate educated! So next time you reach for a chocolate treat (or buy one for someone you love), remember my tips so you can enjoy the health and taste benefits.

xoxo,

Skye

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Banishing Post-Lunch Bloat & Regret (+ 6 Tips for a Better Lunch)

Lunch Regret

Have you ever eaten lunch and immediately regretted it? Maybe you felt bloated, lethargic, or just plain bad afterward. Or your pants felt too tight or your skin a little greasy? If so, you are not alone. I call sufferers of this phenomenon victims of Lunch Regret Syndrome (LRS).

Instead of focusing on the negative, let’s focus on how you want tofeel after lunch. In a perfect world, you would feel nourished, invigorated, and refreshed. Ready for action and mentally clear.

And it’s possible. There are filling lunches that also leave you flourishing.

You can have your lunch and eat it too.

To help you, I’m sharing tricks to help you have a better lunch. If this is right up your alley, you have one of my oldest friends to thank. This post was her special request. And because she has two adorable kiddos, a special bonus section on lunches for little ones follows.

A Word to the Wise

Do yourself a favor and just pack lunch the night before. It’s tempting to think you’ll have time in the morning, but if you are like me, it won’t happen. Trust me on this one. And use those extra minutes in the morning to meditate.

Adult Lunch Tricks

1. Pack leftovers from the night before.

Obvi, but this is what I do 90% of the time. I cook something delicious and nutritious for dinner (tonight is mushroom fajitas) and immediately pack leftovers for lunch the next day. Add a side salad and a piece of fruit, and you’re set!

2. Make a smoothie.

If I know I’ll be on the go during lunch hours or seeing patients without a break, smoothies are my go to. Fill them with spinach, fruit, flaxseed, and nuts and you’ll be satisfied for hours.

3. Wrap it.

With collard greens, that is. Instead of a sandwich on white bread, fix a sandwich in a raw collard green. Collards (the new kale) are mild in flavor and high in nutrients. My current fave is hummus, spinach, Greek olives, and red peppers wrapped in collards.

4. Be a salad chef.

I’m not talking about wilted iceberg lettuce and some weird dressing from a bottle. Picture colorful greens, black beans, ripe avocado slices, diced fresh tomatoes and cucumber, homemade tortilla chip crumbles, cilantro garnish, all topped with a creamy and delicious dressing. This salad should be satisfying, filling, and packed with flavor. Add a side of fruit and a sparkling water, and you’re set up for lunchtime success. TRICK: bring your dressing in a separate container (a small mason jar works great) or place on the bottom on your container to prevent the dreaded mushy salad.

5. Add dark chocolate.

Okay, this should not be your entire lunch so hear me out. If you like to finish off with something sweet (and I know many people do), consider a square of natural dark chocolate. The less sugar, the better. My personal pick is Theo dark chocolate, which is made in Seattle, but can be found at retailers across the country. Whole Foods and REI carry Theo chocolate from coast to coast. You can always order online from Theo direct or from third-parties such as Vitacost (on sale right now and save an extra $10 off your purchase using this link).

6. Finish with a tisane or tea.

Mint is a natural stomach soother and has other wonderful health benefits. This is why many restaurants offer after dinner mints. Finish your lunch with a refreshing warm drink. When I can, I infuse hot water with fresh mint leaves from my garden. In a pinch or when I’m on the go, I use herbal mint tea (Tazo Refresh is my usual).

BONUS: IDEAS FOR KIDDOS

Personally, I’m excited to dive into leftovers for lunch. But as a child (and really until I started cooking for myself), I detested leftovers. The good ol’ packing leftovers trick may not work for the kiddos so I’m giving you a few ideas to help make their lunches better.

Drinks

Water, water, water. If your kids beg for juice, please make sure it is 100% fruit juice. I shudder remembering the Sunny D I used to drink during soccer game half-time (corn syrup is the second ingredient and I’m still not sure why canola oil would need to be added to “juice”).

Fruits and Veggies

Make fruit and vegetables approachable. Would you ever send your kiddo to school with a raw chicken breast in their lunchbox? Probably not. So why would you send them with unprepped fruits and veggies?

Cut and core apples and add a side (nut butter with a little honey is a good option or make it dessert with a chocolate dip). Try kale chips. Serve chopped veggies with hummus or another tasty dip. Use a vegetable peeler and make carrot peels. Dust your spiralizer off and make veggie curls. Have fun and be creative here.

Sandwich Hacks

If your little eaters are sandwich lovers, there are still ways to improve the quality of their lunches.

  • Try bread alternatives (see collard idea above).
  • Use whole grain bread exclusively. This is an area where food marketing really tries to trick you. Look at the ingredient list and make sure the word “whole” precedes the grain in each ingredient. Remember, multi-grain does not necessarily mean whole grain.
  • Switch up the type of bread you use. It can be easy to buy the same bread each week, but there are a plethora of options out there. Experiment with brown rice bread, pumpernickel, rye, sourdough, and raisin bread.
  • Try a nut butter and fresh fruit sandwich. Think peanut butter and banana, almond butter and strawberry, or cashew butter and blueberry. If your little ones really want sweet, drizzle a little sweetener (like Grade B maple syrup or honey) on top.
  • Sneak veggies into other sandwiches. Lettuce, tomato, raw spinach, sprouts, avocado, and red peppers can often complement sandwich ingredients.

Sweet Tooth

If something sweet is desired, think outside the (store bought cookie) box. Most kids love a good smoothie — try packing one full of fruit or try a chocolate smoothie. Be a cookie chef and try an uber healthy recipe. I’m a bonafide cookie lover and have a cadre of wellness supporting recipes in rotation.

Get Ready to Feel Better in the Afternoon

Now that you have a few tricks up your sleeve, pick one or two and give it a try tomorrow. Or the next time you need to pack a lunch. Don’t stress if every trick doesn’t work for you. See what works and stick with it, and discard what doesn’t.

Here’s to a better way to lunch. Do you have a great lunch hack that I missed? I’d love to hear about it.

 

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