One of the BEST ways to start your day!

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Hello friends! I wanted to let you in on my latest healthy find, and give you some info about why it’s my new favorite thing to eat in the morning. Now before I tell you what it is, you have to promise not to say, “EW” and stop reading. You have to keep on reading to get in on this because it’s delicious as well as healthy, I promise! Ok, so here we go, my latest new yummy thing is… plain Greek yogurt. Wait, wait, wait, let me explain. Because I agree with you, plain yogurt is, well, sour. However, I turned plain yogurt into a yummy beginning of the day dish so keep the faith my readers, I’ll get you there too!

Here’s how this whole Greek yogurt thing started with me. I’ve been reading for years about yogurt, in particular Greek yogurt, and how great it is for you. I mean, it is loaded with probiotics which helps to promote a healthy gut and immune system among many other things, it’s higher in calcium than a glass of milk which gives us strong bones and teeth, it has a high satiety rating, meaning that it makes us feel SATISFIED longer which helps us eat less, so it is good for weight loss. Greek yogurt is 30% protein which is great for our muscles, and it’s relatively bland flavor makes it a perfect vehicle for different dishes.

Greek yogurt is by far a better choice than regular yogurt because it has more protein, less natural sugar (about 4 grams in Greek yogurt versus 7 grams in regular), lower carbohydrates per cup, less lactose so it’s easier to digest, and a thicker, smoother texture that helps us feel more satisfied. That’s because Greek yogurt is strained to remove the whey. When whey is removed, so is the water, resulting in a thicker, more substantial yogurt product.

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HOWEVER, and this is a big however, most yogurt products out there, whether Greek or regular, are NOT A HEALTHY CHOICE FOR US. Most yogurts sold at US grocery stores are more of a dessert than a health food. This was my constant problem with yogurt. For years, I would go to the grocery store peruse the yogurt aisle and the backs of the containers of yogurt (remember it’s critically important to read your labels in the grocery store before you make your buying decisions), and be appalled at how much sugar is in these small containers of yogurt. For instance, one six ounce container of Yoplait yogurt may contain 26 grams of sugar (for the red raspberry flavor). General Mills announced last year it would reduce the amount of sugar in their yogurts by 25%, but even so their yogurt products will still have close to 20 grams of sugar in one container.

This amount of sugar would negate the health benefits that the yogurt would provide. Remember to have a healthy gut it is important to avoid sugar as it can cause disease-causing microbes to crowd out your beneficial gut flora. Other problems with yogurt is that it can contain artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, and additives, yet it masquerades as health food.

Another really important point is to eat full fat yogurt, as opposed to low or no fat versions, because low or no fat yogurt does not contain the same levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) or other high quality fats like the omega 3’s found in most whole milk yogurt. Let me tell you why that’s important, CLA helps prevent cancer and aids in weight loss too! Also, vitamins A and D, which are critical to metabolism and good immunity, are fat soluble. So you need to ingest them with fat in order for your body to absorb them.

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There are very few yogurts on the market that make FULL FAT plain Greek varieties with no added sugar, artificial flavors or sweeteners. There are only two that I know of-Fage and Wallaby Organic. However, I’ve read that Fage could possibly come from cows fed with GMO feed. I think that for me though the full fat option is the most important benefit, so I have chosen to use this brand because it’s readily available in most grocery stores. It contains only Grade A Pasteurized milk and cream, and Live active yogurt cultures (L. bulgaricus, S. thermophiles, L. Acidophilus, Bifidus, L. Casel). That’s all it contains. It has 220 calories per cup, with 25% RDA of calcium, 20 grams of protein, and only 9 grams of naturally occurring sugar.

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Now to the fun part, how did I make it into something that tasted delicious without adding a lot of sugar or calories?!!! The answer came to me one morning when I was searching for something to eat that was full of protein and not too caloric. My S.O. had a container of Fage plain full fat yogurt in the fridge. I looked at the protein level and saw that it had 20 grams per cup and only 9 grams of sugar and I was sold. The challenge was to find something to pair with the yogurt that wasn’t too sugary and would make the plain yogurt taste good. The answer was sitting in a jar right in front of me- peanut butter! I looked at the plain yogurt and I looked at the peanut butter and I thought, “what the heck, let’s try it!” And it was AWESOME! It tasted sweet- but it wasn’t, creamy, and had a wonderful texture. The peanut butter only added 1 additional gram of sugar, and just like that it became my new go-to morning meal. Here’s how I did it:

Take a cup of Fage full fat yogurt, add a teaspoon of peanut butter, and a few shakes of organic cinnamon and mix it all together. Eat immediately. It has 283 calories, 22.3 grams of protein, 10 grams of sugar, 11 grams of fat (and remember that fat is GOOD FOR YOU)and 25% of your calcium for the day. It will keep you full and satisfied. In fact, I usually make a cup of this and then only eat half of it, and store the rest in the fridge for the next day. It is a healthy and delicious way to start your day, I promise!

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And that’s all there is to it! I hope you’re now a believer about plain, full fat Greek yogurt, like I am now. You really can add anything to it, but remember to watch the sugar of whatever you’re adding to keep it really healthy. Since it has a flavor like sour cream you can also use it wherever you would use sour cream, because it’s a lot healthier. Eating plain, full fat Greek yogurt will help you to live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

 

A healthy way to start your day? Oats of course!

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Warm, creamy, yummy- and good for you! :)

Oatmeal- warm, creamy, yummy- and good for you! 🙂

What is your typical breakfast like? Do you grab a quick bowl of cereal before running out the door? I used to eat cereal in the morning too. Here’s the thing though, that isn’t your healthiest option and here’s why. While it seems to be something good (and quick) to eat in the morning, cereal is loaded with fillers that add no nutrition, it’s processed which is never good, and has additives that can be harmful to your mood, behavior and biochemistry. And that is NO GOOD! Breakfast cereals can also contain numerous chemicals, gluten, casein, trans fat, sugar, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, and genetically modified flavor enhancing compounds. Yikes, none of that stuff is the kind of thing I want to put in my body!

So what do you eat when you want a HEALTHY START to your day, and you need it quickly too? Why, oats of course! Oatmeal or granola with oats is one of the best ways to start your day, and I will show you how to make it so that you can have a delicious, nutritious, and quick breakfast. My daughters are obsessed with this meal, and ate it twice while they were home for Thanksgiving. It’s easy, warm, comfort food that’s healthy- win win! Oats are low calorie, one cup of oatmeal cooked with water has about 166 calories, add 40 calories if you cook them with milk (like I do), and if you top with fruit add another 40 calories. Oatmeal provides about 4 grams of fiber per cup, which makes it filling and adds to the satiety of oatmeal. It’s considered a low-energy density food, which means that there are relatively few calories compared to the bulk of the food. In a 2010 study published in the “Journal of American Dietetic Association”, people who ate oats in the morning lost weight and enjoyed a greater decrease in their waist circumference measurement than those who ate the same number of calories in a low fiber food. So are you sold on the idea of eating oats in the morning? Good! Then stick with me and I’ll show you how it’s done!

Gluten free oats are a must for my family!

Gluten free oats are a must for my family!

First, things first, it’s all about the oats you choose. There are different kinds of oats on the market, whole oats that still have their hard outer hull, oat groats that have their outer hull removed, steel-cut oats, which are roughly cut groats with an intact bran, and rolled oats, which are steamed, flattened groats. The less processed oats are better for you (naturally) so make sure to avoid instant oatmeal which has added sodium, and oatmeal with flavors added because it’s usually not added naturally. Something I didn’t know until my daughter had a gluten allergy is that NOT all oats are gluten free so I have to make sure to purchase gluten free oats for Danielle. However, I also have steel cut oats at home, they just require a longer cooking time, and I can’t make them when Danzy is in da houz!

Cooking the oats on the stove!

Cooking the oats on the stove!

I usually cook the oats on the stove using milk as shown in the above pic, however, if you don’t have time to cook the oats in the morning here’s a tip for you. Cook the oats in a slow cooker the night before! Take one cup of steel cut oats, 1 1/2 cups milk or if you’re dairy free you can use almond milk, 1 1/2 cups water, 2 apples, peeled, cored, cut into 1/2 inch pieces, 2 tablespoons maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and FIRST SPRAY THE INSIDE OF THE SLOW COOKER WITH ORGANIC NONSTICK SPRAY (or the oatmeal will stick like glue), and add all the ingredients. Stir, cover, and cook on low for approximately 7 hours. But remember cook times can vary, so if you have a programmable slow cooker make sure to use the timer feature. You can put the ingredients in your slow cooker the night before and awaken to the amazing smell of oats and apples! Either way you cook them, the leftovers store well in the fridge and will even freeze well too.

Homemade applesauce mix in- it's amazing!

Homemade applesauce mix in- it’s amazing!

For me, the key to delicious oatmeal is the mix-ins ingredients with which I choose to flavor the oats. Pictured above is my favorite mix-in, my homemade applesauce. I shared the recipe in my previous post, “An Apple a Day- Makes Applesauce!”, and when added to oatmeal it tastes like healthy apple pie- scrumptious! Just add a few tablespoons of applesauce to your oatmeal (or more if you really like it, like I do) for great flavor with no sugar added.

Pecans- my favorite nut!

Pecans- my favorite nut!

My next favorite mix-in for my oatmeal is nuts, specifically pecans. Pecans are my favorite nuts and I add them to many of my recipes. I chop them and add a sprinkle to my oatmeal. The nuts add a nice crunch and additional fiber and protein too. Definitely a healthy add-in!

Love, love, love raisins!

Love, love, love raisins!

Another flavorful and healthy add-in is raisins. Organic raisins add natural sweetness, fiber and iron to the oatmeal. Plus I love when I put them in the oatmeal and the heat and moisture makes them plump up and get really juicy. So very good!

A great addition to oatmeal!

A great addition to oatmeal!

I love adding maple syrup to oatmeal instead of sugar. It adds a deep, rich flavor that I think tastes better than sugar and goes well with the cinnamon rich applesauce that I’ve already added to my oatmeal. As you can tell we like maple syrup so much that we used it all that morning!

It's a honey of a mix-in!

It’s a honey of a mix-in!

Honey is another great addition to oatmeal. It definitely adds a natural sweetness that substitutes for sugar and tastes light and sweet in the oatmeal. It is always my go-to natural sweetener as I discussed in my post, “A Honey of a Cure!”. Try it, you’ll like it!

I always add a pat of butter to my oatmeal for decadent richness!

I always add a pat of butter to my oatmeal for decadent richness!

Butter is another essential for my oatmeal. It adds a creaminess to it and in my opinion nothing else adds that same richness that butter does. And now that we know butter is good for us as I wrote in my past blog post, “Fat doesn’t make you Fat!”, I can eat my butter and be happy! It’s a yummy mix-in!

Spices like cinnamon and nutmeg add tons of flavor and are good for you too!

Spices like cinnamon and nutmeg add tons of flavor and are good for you too!

Don’t forget your spices! Cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, etc, can add substantial flavor to your oatmeal and are non-caloric. It’s like loads of flavor for zero calories! I always add cinnamon to my oatmeal (and many other things as well). It really gives it a warmth that makes it delicious.

So that’s how I make amazing oatmeal! I make it either on the stove or in the slow cooker, but it’s super both ways thus it really doesn’t matter how you cook it. Make sure you don’t use processed oatmeal with artificial flavors, and make your mix-ins healthy and flavorful without adding sugar if possible. Let me know what mix-ins you like to use. You’ve got it now? Ditch the cereal and eat oatmeal. It will help you to live a life of vitality- like Valerie!

Start your day in a healthy way!

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Hello wonderful readers!

Ok, now that the “getting to know you” part is done, I can get to the reason I began this blog, which is to share tips about living a life with vitality. I thought I’d start with first thing in the morning. I have to admit that I’m not a happy camper when I first awaken, and I don’t really speak until I’ve been awake for at least 30-45 minutes.  I get up, use the restroom, brush my teeth, take my thyroid supplement, and put on my workout clothes. I find that if I put on workout attire when I get out of bed, it motivates me to workout. If morning workouts aren’t your thing and you exercise after work, then put your workout wear on as soon as you get home to motive you to “just do it”. If I don’t workout, which is extremely rare for me, then I feel really guilty that I have workout clothes on and I didn’t exercise. It’s a small thing, but it works for me! Anyway, back to my morning routine, I then feed and take my dogs out, make my daughter’s lunch and get her out the door, and I make my coffee.

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First thing in the morning, no makeup, unedited, no filter, unbrushed hair selfie!

Now you may think, “Hmmmm, is coffee part of a healthy life?”, but coffee has many benefits to a life of vitality. Studies have shown that coffee is rich in antioxidants, and that the antioxidants are better absorbed by the human body from drinking coffee than by eating fruits and vegetables! That was a happy surprise for me when I began researching this topic. Another benefit to drinking coffee is that it is good for your liver, especially if excessive alcohol is consumed. Remember how in old tv shows and movies they’d always give a tipsy person coffee to drink? It turns out that was a good idea but maybe not in the way they thought it was. Also, coffee is linked to reducing depression, feeling happier and lower suicide rates. I know coffee always makes me happy but I didn’t know that was a proven fact, I thought it was just me.  It is known to increase athletic performance if consumed prior to a workout too. I usually will finish the cup of coffee I’ve been carrying around with me all morning before my workout and I have a better workout on the days I drink coffee beforehand, versus the days I’ve forgotten to do so. I usually wander around all morning, coffee cup in hand, sipping as I clean the kitchen, and have my quiet, meditation time. By the time I’ve finished with it, it is ice cold but I don’t mind it that way, though some of you might think that is gross and you’re welcome to warm it up if you want to.  Then I drink water the rest of the day.

I know there are benefits to drinking many cups of coffee each day, like four or more, but I just drink one. I drink espresso which has more caffeine in it than regular coffee, and I have a Nespresso espresso machine and an electric milk whipper that I use. I feel like a real barrista when I’m making my coffee! I use organic half and half and NO SUGAR in my coffee, I just add a little locally sourced honey for sweetness. I will expand on my thoughts about sugar in a later post but suffice to say that I believe, and scientific evidence abounds about this too, that sugar is not part of a healthy life! But I’ll blog more about that later.

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I also make sure to spend a few moments of quiet, meditation time each morning. If it’s a really busy day it may be only 5 minutes but I still try to make time every day. Whatever your religion or lack thereof might be, it is great for the mind, body and soul to spend time trying to quiet the mind and get in touch with your higher power. I also pray at that time, but if that’s not your thing, then think good thoughts about those you love, and those who need it most. I have a sunroom and that is where I spend my quiet time, but just choose a place in your house where you’ll feel a sense of peace. I find that when I’m in my sunroom the kids are more hesitant to bother me, and when they do come in they seem to be more peaceful too!

So to summarize my healthy tips- 1. Get up and put your workout clothes on if you’re working out in the morning to provide additional incentive to get your work out in. 2. Coffee is a beverage that provides many health benefits (and it’s yummy too!). 3. Spend time in quiet reflection each day- you’ll feel more peaceful and calm, and everyone will benefit from it!

Once again, thank you for reading this post, I am honored you spent part of your day with me! Enjoy the long weekend and thank you to all men and women who serve in our armed forces. Your sacrifice is appreciated!

If you’d like more information on my lifestyle coaching services, please email me at valdecap@gmail.com. Also, feel free to leave any comments here!

Valerie