Eating Healthy Starts with This! Part One

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My kind of messy, but well stocked pantry!

My kind of messy, but well stocked pantry!

Hello friends! We all want to eat healthy, don’t we? At least most of the time, that is. 🙂 Here is one of my most important healthy secrets that I’m going to share with you right now, because I’m that kind of a nice person! Eating healthy starts with having the proper ingredients readily available. That means having a healthy pantry and fridge/freezer. If you don’t have the right kinds of things to eat in your pantry and fridge/freezer, you will never be able to eat healthy, at least at home that is.

If I've got the pantry door open, Chewie is in there checking it all out!

If I’ve got the pantry door open, Chewie is in there checking it all out!

And we all know it’s easier to eat healthy at home versus a restaurant, and it’s cheaper too. So, I’m here to guide you to stock the right things in your pantry and fridge/freezer to live a super healthy life. Today, we will talk about the pantry, and in part 2 we will talk about the fridge/freezer. I’m including pictures of my pantry, but please don’t judge me for the messiness, just the quality of ingredients in there! 🙂 As always, all items are organic if possible.

Pantry7

1. Nut butters/Coconut Oil– I have cashew, peanut, and almond butters in my pantry, along with a few different types of coconut butters and oils. These are super crucial for my family both to make a quick snack- nut butter on an apple or banana is a family fave, and to make my super healthy protein shake (see my previous post, “SHAKE your way to a life without sugar”). Both nut butter and coconut butter/oil are essential.

Pantry9

Pantry10

2. Beans, tomato products, and sauce basics– Probably the most utilized area in my pantry is my middle shelf which contains numerous types of beans (red kidney, white kidney, garbanzo, black, and pinto) and canned tomatoes (crushed, pureed, chopped, and whole tomatoes). Almost every recipe I make contains either beans or tomatoes, or both, so having different options for both beans and tomatoes adds variety to my recipes. I have many different sauce basics too, like chicken broth, verde sauce, Better than Bouillon, Barbeque sauce, Annatto paste (used in Mexican cooking) and red pepper paste (for Korean recipes). I make many tasty dishes with these pantry staples.

Pantry13

3. Potatoes, dried herbs, and onions– I usually have a few different types of potatoes, red, Yukon gold, fingerling, and Idaho among others. There are always onions in my pantry because almost every recipe I make contains them. I also have oregano, basil, and rosemary that I dried myself (see my previous post for more information, “Herbaceous, Wonderous Herbs! DRY THEM YOU’LL LIKE THEM!”), which makes for much more tasty dishes.

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4. Oils, vinegars, and salsas– I have canola and extra virgin olive oil, balsamic, white, red wine, and white wine vinegars, and my favorite Herdez medium salsa. I use EVOO in most of my cooking, and I love experimenting with vinegars to make my own salad dressings. I also love salsa to make tacos, breakfast scrambles, and just to dip tortilla chips into.

Pantry8

Pantry16

5. Quinoa, rice, and pastas– Many of my recipes contain quinoa so I usually have a few different kinds in my pantry. I love brown rice and it’s super healthy too so I always have that. I also make risotto so I have Arborio rice for making that dish. Because I have a gluten allergy in the house I always have gluten free pasta, but there are a few different types of pasta my significant other uses to make his famous pasta and filet mignon dish (I’ll see if he will let me share the recipe in a future post!).

Pantry6

6. Nuts, crackers and tortilla chips– My family is NUTS about nuts so I usually have a few different types for a quick and healthy snack. I usually have a few types of crackers though we really don’t eat them very often. I bought this new type that was made with cheese only, no flour at all, which was tasty so maybe we will switch to those, since I don’t like to have too many types of non-whole grain carbs in the house. I always have a few types of tortilla chips in the house to make nachos with, or just to dip since they’re gluten free. My favorite type is a brand called The Better Chip and they’re beet tortilla chips. It’s a blend of beets and corn, and they’re delish! Even people who don’t like beets like these chips.

Pantry11

7. Baking ingredients– I stock many types of flours, almond, oat, rice, and wheat for baking. I also have your basic baking powder and soda, chocolate chips, chopped walnuts and pecans, brown and white sugar, honey, agave nectar, and coconut flakes. I don’t bake very often but we make pancakes and bake every once in a while so I like to have everything at hand just in case.

My chocolate stash- yummm!!!

My chocolate stash- yummm!!!

8. Chocolate of course– We have many types of chocolate bars and chocolate items for a SMALL treat- always dark chocolate though. Dark chocolate is VERY healthy in small amounts (see my post, “Dark Chocolate- A HEALTHY indulgence” for my information.) so I like to have that available when we need our chocolate fix. It’s essential to my life!

My spice rack- I love it!

My spice rack- I love it!

I keep my spices in a pull out cabinet next to the stove and though they’re not in a pantry, I can’t live without them so they deserve a mention. My essential spices are Himalayan sea salt, peppercorns, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning, Herbs de Province, chili powder and cumin, among MANY others. I use them constantly and the great thing about spices is that they really SPICE UP your meals (LOL!). If you’ve read any of my past posts in which I provide a recipe, these spices are almost always in them.  I also love cinnamon, nutmeg and pure vanilla for sweet recipes.

I found him on the shelf one day and thought it was adorable so I am including it. I don't recommend stocking him in the pantry, though!

I found him on the shelf one day and thought it was adorable so I am including it. I don’t recommend stocking him in the pantry, though! 🙂

These are the basics for a well stocked pantry, which will provide you with the ability to make many healthy meals for you and your family and friends. Please excuse my less than perfect organization and neatness, that’s not one of my strengths! Keeping healthy meal essentials close at hand is crucial to making healthy meals quickly and easily, and that is one of my strengths! 🙂  Eating healthy meals and snacks will help you live a life of vitality- like Valerie!

Healthy, Easy, Delicious Christmas “Baking”!

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Dark chocolate bark!

Dark chocolate bark!

Hi friends! I’ll admit something to you right now, I don’t really like to bake. As you know, I LOVE to cook, so it’s somewhat a conundrum that I don’t like to bake, but I don’t. I think it has something to do with the precision required to bake. I mean, you have to measure EVERYTHING because if you don’t, your cakes, cookies or breads will turn into flat, hard hockey pucks. When I cook I employ a more “free form” method, where I throw in a little of this and a little of that, depending on my mood and ingredient availability. You can’t do that with baking, which is one of the main reasons I don’t bake. Also, I don’t like to use sugar and I especially try not to eat sugar, and it seems that most baking is very sugar oriented. At Christmas time though I like to do a little baking with my girls. They like to do it and it’s a nice Christmas tradition, so I employ a method I like to call “faux baking” or “fake and bake”. It’s where I don’t actually do any traditional baking, but we manage to make something tasty and somewhat healthy, and have some fun in the process.

This year we made dark chocolate bark. It’s called bark because it resembles the bark of a tree, and it can be topped with any kind of toppings you’d like- there’s that free form thing that I enjoy so much. I used 60% dark chocolate which is a chocolate that is mostly cacao, therefore, it has less sugar than milk chocolate or other forms of dark chocolate with lower amounts of cacao. I don’t like to use more than 70% cacao because it is so bitter that it does not taste good to eat in my opinion. And remember dark chocolate contains lots of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals so eating this treat is actually protecting your body. It’s a dessert that is actually good for you- you can’t say that about too many other desserts! The toppings that we chose were coconut, chopped walnuts and pecans, and dried cherries, all healthy toppings too. The sky’s the limit as far as the toppings go, you can use peppermint candies, dried fruit of any kind, peanut butter, raisins, sliced almonds, etc etc etc. Just remember that the toppings should be healthy too so that you can keep the overall dessert healthy. You get the picture. Here are my step by step instructions for making the bark, it’s so easy you’ll be shocked!

First, chop the chocolate!

First, chop the chocolate!

1. I used 4 large bars of Ghirardelli dark chocolate with 60% cacao. The next step is to get someone to chop the chocolate into smallish pieces- Danielle was my somewhat willing volunteer for this endeavor. If you don’t want to chop, just break it into hunks and put it in a medium sized mixing bowl.

Next step is to melt the chocolate!

Next step is to melt the chocolate!

2. The next thing you need to do is to get the chocolate melted. There are two ways to do this. The harder way is to “temper” the chocolate by slowly melting it over a bowl of water heated to between 110-120 degrees. This prevents the chocolate from getting those whitish spots on it that you’ve probably seen on homemade chocolate baked goods. However, since this chocolate dish is covered with toppings you won’t notice the white spots so I say melt the chocolate in the microwave. Do this on low heat for 30 seconds at a time and stir in between times until it’s totally melted. Easy peasy!

The melted chocolate is then spread onto parchment paper.

The melted chocolate is then spread onto parchment paper.

3. Take a large piece of parchment paper and spread the chocolate with a rubber spatula to about 1/2 inch of thickness on it. I put a cutting board underneath it to hold the weight of the chocolate and enable me to move the chocolate to other areas of my kitchen.

Now add the toppings!

Now add the toppings!

4. Next is the fun part, adding the toppings! As I said we used coconut, chopped pecans and walnuts, and chopped dried cherries. Just add them right on top of the melted chocolate and put the entire thing into the fridge for an hour to cool and harden.

Voila! They couldn't wait to sample the finished product! :)

Voila! They couldn’t wait to sample the finished product! 🙂

5. The easy and fun finish to this dessert is to break up the bark into bite sized pieces and enjoy or share with friends and family. We sure had fun making this dessert- and eating it!

By the way, there is very little bark left in my house at this moment, it was consumed by my hungry college students! So that’s it, folks, an easy, healthy and delicious cheater Christmas dessert that looks like you spent hours on it. In reality, though it took probably 30 minutes from beginning to end, which left us with lots of time to spend watching one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Christmas Vacation”! Let me know if you have a “fake and bake” healthy Christmas dessert that you enjoy making. You should definitely make this one though, because eating it won’t weigh you down, and it’s super speedy to make. Making this bark recipe will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Walking in a Winter Wonderland? How to Protect and Hydrate in the Cold!

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Stay warm and hydrated this winter!

Stay warm and hydrated this winter!

It’s cold out for many of us right now! Even if it’s not cold where you live, it’s probably still colder than it usually is. Therefore, you have the heat on in your house, you’ve got the fireplace going for warmth and atmosphere, or you’re going outside in the cold to enjoy outdoor activities and just walking to your car from work, a restaurant, the mall, etc. Did you know you can become just as dehydrated from the cold in the winter as you can from the heat in the summer? It’s true, we just aren’t as aware of our sweating when we are cold. Your skin and lips can become dried and chapped from the cold and wind too. I’ve got some healthy remedies to protect your body from the cold and I’d like to share them with you right now!

Simple, easy and inexpensive!

Simple, easy and inexpensive!

1. Carmex- Boy, I hate chapped lips, don’t you?! Carmex is my favorite remedy for healing chapped lips and preventing them as well. I’ve tried other lip balms but I feel Carmex coats and protects my lips the best. I prefer the Carmex in the little jar to the one in the tube because it’s thicker and coats better. Before bed, I coat my lips with Carmex, especially in the winter because I hate awakening with that chappy lip feeling. My niece, Alison, loves Carmex so much that not only does she receive cases of it for gifts, but she also dressed up as a tube of Carmex for Halloween one year. I guess it runs in the family as I’ve been using it since I was in middle school!

Ali the tube of Carmex! :)

Ali the tube of Carmex! 🙂

LOL! If you have another lip balm that works for you go for it! Make sure, however, that you coat your lips not only at night but whenever you’re going outside for a walk, ice skating, skiing, or any activity that will take you outdoors for a long period of time on a cold or windy day.

My favorite lotion, it Kisses my Face with moisture!

My favorite lotion, it Kisses my Face with moisture!

2. Kiss My Face-  Lotion is another one of my secret winter weapons, and I particularly like “Kiss My Face” lotion, both because of the silkiness of it and the smell. I use it all over my body, not just on my face though, does that break the rules?!! The coconut scent smells like heaven to me! My hands and face get particularly dry in the winter so the one thing that I do is to coat my hands with lotion before putting on my gloves to go outside. That way it helps the lotion to absorb better instead of evaporating in the wind. I also coat my hands before putting on my kitchen gloves. The warm water outside the gloves really helps the lotion to absorb into my hands. They feel so soft when I remove the gloves, and it really makes doing the dishes a bit more enjoyable! Before bed, I once again coat my hands with lotion, and I do my face at that time too. It seems like a lot but it’s worth it not to have chapped hands and a chapped face!

Alkaline water is a great way to hydrate in the winter!

Alkaline water is a great way to hydrate in the winter!

3. Alkaline water- Any filtered water is great for you at any time of year, however I have been enjoying the benefits of alkaline water lately. It contains more minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium, and it helps digest acidic food more easily. Also, since it contains 5-6 water molecules per cluster it penetrates our tissues more easily and hydrates 3 times more efficiently than normal, filtered water. In addition, it eliminates free radicals that can cause cancer, and because it has a PH of 8.5-9.5 it maintains the body in a healthy (ie, non acidic) state. It’s like water on steroids! It is important to stay hydrated. I read a study that said 80% of our feelings of hunger are really related to  THIRST instead. Water plumps up the skin and makes it glow as well so make sure to drink your water!

Love me some leave in conditioner!

Love me some leave in conditioner!

4. Leave in conditioner- Leave in conditioner is my best friend during the winter when my hair is so dry. I use it after I wash and condition my hair in the shower, but before I use my styling products. It coats my hair and moisturizes so I don’t get flyaways. Static cling in the hair is just no fun so I always make sure I use it. It’s one of my favorite winter remedies!

Don't forget your healthy fats!

Don’t forget your healthy fats!

5. Healthy Fats- It sounds strange but to keep your body properly moisturized in the winter it is important to get your healthy fats. Organic Fish, extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nuts, butter, lard, etc, all help to bring moisture to the body, and help battle against the dryness of winter. It really does work!

There you have it- my tips for keeping moisturized in the winter. It’s a challenge in Indiana where I live, especially with all of the wind, snow and ice we usually experience. That’s why I make sure to use my Carmex, lotion, leave in conditioner, and to drink my alkaline water and eat my healthy fats. I get a lot of positive comments on my skin so these remedies seem to work. Let me know what your winter remedies are, and how you like the ones I’ve presented to you here today. These remedies will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

 

 

FAT doesn’t make you fat!

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This meal WILL NOT MAKE YOU FAT!

This meal WILL NOT MAKE YOU FAT!

Does that surprise you, my wonderful readers?!! Well it’s true! Now that you know, you can enjoy those cheeseburgers without guilt. With one exception- it’s not the burger that makes you fat, IT’S THE BUN. And the fries, and the rice, and the pasta, and the bread, and the biscuits, and the cakes, and the cookies, and the pancakes, etc etc etc. Get my point? Fats don’t make you fat, carbs make you fat, and many people do not know this. The focus of this post is to better inform you so you can make intelligent choices knowing the truth about the food you eat.

LOL! But unfortunately, true!

LOL! But unfortunately, true!

The popular misconception is that the more fatty foods you eat, the more weight you gain. Right? We all grew up seeing images of big people eating big steaks or other big slabs of meat, and hearing that is what causes weight gain. Then, low fat everything hit the grocery stores and cutting out fat was thought by some to be “the great weight loss solution”. The thing is, that’s not true. Most fat is actually good for your body, with the exception of trans fats. Trans fats are the fats that exist in processed foods like vegetable oils, cookies, brownies, and many different types of processed foods. These fats should be avoided at all costs, which can easily happen by not purchasing processed food from the grocery store. If you must buy processed food, become an informed label reader, and if you see the words “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil”, “trans fats”, “partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil”, or anything like that know there are healthier choices you can make.

Homemade with avocado- a healthy fat!

Homemade with avocado- a healthy fat!

Healthy fat options are: Olives and olive oil, coconuts and coconut oil, butter made from organic milk, raw nuts, organic pastured egg yolks, avocados, grass-fed meats, palm oil, and unheated organic nut oils. And we need a lot more of these healthy fats per day than you think. Dr. Mercola recommends 50-70% of your diet consist of healthy fats. Most experts now agree with this recommendation.

The amazing thing about fats is this, unlike popular misconception, CUTTING fat from your diet can actually make you fat. Yes, it’s true and here’s why. There is a concept called satiety, and it’s very important for our diets. Basically, if we are satisfied by what we eat, we will eat less food than if we are not satisfied. Healthy fat foods have a high satiety rating, therefore we need to eat less of it to be satisfied. “Carby” foods have a low satiety rating, so we have to eat more of it to be satisfied. Thus, low fat diets cause us to gain weight because we have to eat more carbs to be satisfied. It’s like when I’m eating potato chips, which I love but don’t eat very often anymore, I could literally sit there and eat an entire big bag because I never feel full when I’m eating them. That’s why I don’t eat them very often anymore! However, I can’t imagine consuming a big bowl of guacamole (avocado is a healthy fat), because it doesn’t take as much to make me feel satisfied.

 

See? Told ya! ;)

See? Told ya! 😉

So if fats don’t make you fat, what is making us fat? Certainly as a nation we are getting fatter every day so there must be some cause. The answer is…. (drum roll happening in my mind now) CARBS! Actually, low fiber carbohydrates are causing our nation’s weight gain. There are good carbs and every diet needs them so I’m not advocating the elimination of all carbs, just of bad carbs. Let me differentiate: high fiber carbs provide a rich source of fiber. The best high fiber carbs are minimally processed, or unprocessed plant-based foods. The best examples of high fiber carbs are beans, whole grains like barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, rye, brown rice, wheat, millet, fruits and vegetables. These are good things your body needs, but the current recommendation if you’re not a body builder (because they need a lot of carbs) is no more than 20% of your daily nutrition in carbs, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. Bad carbs are soda, candy, artificial syrups, sugar, chips, white rice, white bread, white pasta, potatoes (technically a complex carb but actually act more like simple carbs in the body), pastries and desserts.

Yes this is true, as a nation we've never been unhealthier and carbs are the reason!

Yes this is true, as a nation we’ve never been unhealthier and carbs are the reason!

Now you may be wondering, why are carbs so bad for us? Why are they making us fat? I’m going to explain that to you right now. The reason is that carbs trigger the insulin cycle. I’m no doctor so I’m going to give you a “common man” explanation. Basically, when you overconsume carbs this drives up your blood sugar. In order to prevent dangerously elevated blood levels, our bodies convert excess carbohydrates to excess body fat, primarily in the belly. The carbs turn into glycogen and there are two places glycogen is stored in our body, in our liver and muscles. Once glycogen levels are filled in the liver and muscles, the only place left for the carbs is our fatty (adipose) tissues. So, when you consume a lot of carbs, you’re sending a message to your body, via the hormone insulin, to store more fat. The bad part about this (it gets worse!) is that fewer carbs are then needed to cause fat storage, so more fat is gained over time. It’s a vicious carb cycle!

Well, this doesn’t give us all carte blanche to gorge ourselves on a 24 ounce rib eye, with the knowledge that carbs make us fat. Too many calories, even of healthy things, can still cause us to gain weight. This is why I utilize the My Fitness Pal app on my iphone to help keep track of my calories, exercise and nutrition. That way I know how much fat, protein and carbs I’m eating each day, and I make adjustments as needed. I use it to keep track of my weight too so if I start to gain weight I can go back and look at how many calories I’m eating, and what kind of food my calories are coming from, to make the necessary shifts to get back on track. I’ve been able to maintain my weight for many years so I know this is working for me.

What the My Fitness Pal app looks like! I highly recommend downloading it!

What the My Fitness Pal app looks like! I highly recommend downloading it!

In conclusion, I want my amazing readers to know that fat doesn’t make you fat, carbs do. With that in mind, try to keep your carb consumption to no more than 20% of your daily diet. I would like you to eat healthy fats, like avocados, nuts, olive oil, etc, and healthy carbs like quinoa, fruits and vegetables. Try to keep track of your calorie consumption and weight to more easily make changes in your diet. If you do these things I promise you’ll be living a life of vitality- like Valerie!