You need THIS at your Labor Day Cookout!

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Jacsy was the inspiration for this post, as she has loved veggies and “dip it” since she was a little girl!

 

Hello, friends! Are you ready for Labor Day weekend? Doesn’t it seem like instead of one day of feasting, it’s a three day gorge-fest?!! It is like that for me. If your holiday weekend is like mine, I have two delicious dips you can make that are super easy to prepare, and healthy to boot. You can make these in advance, put them out whenever you are celebrating, and they won’t derail your healthy eating plan.

One common ingredient in both dips is Greek yogurt. I wrote all about the health benefits of Greek yogurt in a past post “One of the BEST ways to start your day!”    https://vitalvaldecap.com/2016/03/10/one-of-the-best-ways-to-start-your-day/  Click on the link provided to check out all the great Greek yogurt facts. I also provided a scrumptious morning yogurt recipe in that post.

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To summarize, FULL FAT plain Greek yogurt has loads of calcium, probiotics, and protein. It has little sugar or carbohydrates. It also contains high quality fats which are essential for every part of our bodies. But that’s not all the healthy ingredients my dips contain.

One of the dips is made with cannellini beans, which are actually white kidney beans. Kidney beans are considered one of nature’s superfoods owing to their high mineral, vitamin, protein and fiber content. Due to that high fiber content, they are also among the best foods for weight loss, because fiber leaves you feeling full for longer and keeps food cravings at bay. They are also rich in antioxidants, which are are known to have anticancer properties. Kidney beans are high in vitamin B9 also called folate or folic acid, which makes them heart healthy, and in B1 or thiamin, necessary for formation and operation of brain cells.

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I have always loved white kidney beans or cannellini beans. They have such a delicate texture and flavor. I’ve always found red kidney beans’ flavor to be too strong and aggressive for me, however the white ones are versatile to use in many dishes due to their mild flavor. Does that convince you of the health benefits derived from these dips? Then, let’s move on to the recipes!

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White Bean Dip

  • 15 ounce can of cannellini beans, drained (if not using organic you must also rinse them)
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons full fat plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons fresh chives
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper

Put all ingredients in food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Add fresh chives on top for garnish.

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Veggie Dip

  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 scallions, sliced with greens and whites separated
  • 1 1/4 cups full fat Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

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Heat oil over medium heat and add onions and scallion whites. Cook about 10 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from heat and cool.

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Combine the rest of the ingredients. Add the sautéed onions to the mixture. Chill for an hour before serving.

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Still have lots of veggies from my garden, and this is a great way to eat ’em up!

 

And that’s all there is to both dips. I made them both in about 15 minutes and stuck them in the fridge to chill until ready to serve. I served them with various vegetables which also adds to the health quotient. I think the second dip tastes EXACTLY like the French onion dip my mom used to buy in the grocery store when I was young, and into which I loved to dip ruffled potato chips.I’m not judging if you want to dip a few chips, and I might have done so myself when I was making it. Chips are my guilty pleasure, so salty and crunchy, and the creaminess of the dip is perfectly balanced by the saltiness of the chips. Sometimes you’ve got to have a little of your guilty pleasure, whatever it is, so go for it and I won’t tell anyone! 🙂 Eating these healthy and yummy dips (and having an occasional guilty pleasure) will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

40 million Americans suffer from this. Here are natural remedies!

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Hello, friends! Well, it’s been quite a stressful time for me lately. We’ve recently had a death in the family, another family member’s serious illness, and my oldest is graduating from college this weekend. Combine that with traveling for Mother’s Day, and you have one very stressed out Valerie. If you’re like me and 18% of our population, you also struggle with anxiety disorders. It’s the most common mental illness in the U.S.

Anxiety is characterized by the same fight or flight response as stress which means increased heart rate, circulation and reflexes so as to fight off or escape a potential threat. It’s actually a normal stress response that spirals out of control, so that even if it’s not a situation that would provoke anxiety, like flying in an airplane (one of my favorite former sources of anxiety!), we still feel those same fight or flight responses. The problem is, we get so used to these feelings of anxiety that we don’t realize there is a problem and suffer in silence. As anxious feelings intensify, it can lead to social isolation, physical symptoms, and related mental health problems, like depression.

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So how do we combat this anxiety thing without using prescription meds? That’s a great question, and there are some really easy fixes that can substantially change your life, as they have changed mine. Read on for my list of natural anxiety remedies.

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1. Refocus your mind- Chronic anxiety is an internal process and it can actually change your brain. If you grew up in an environment in which there was frequent yelling or abuse your brain can become “wired” for anxiety, so one of the remedies involves rewiring your brain by focusing your mind on positive outcomes. Saying the words, “I’m so excited!” out loud to yourself is one of the ways to rewire your brain. Even if you don’t believe it at first, it increases authentic feelings of excitement and can reduce anxiety.

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2. Exercise- Exercise boosts levels of potent brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, which may help buffer some of the effects of stress. It also creates new neurons, including those that release the calming neurotransmitter GABA. Exercise is also addictive in a good way, as I well know, because even though sometimes I don’t want to exercise I know it feels so GOOD to get my heart rate up and my body moving. It’s good for mind, body, and spirit. It’s a win-win-win!

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Jac and Danz made my favorite breakfast for Mother’s Day- omelet, bacon and coffee!

 

3. Start your day with BREAKFAST- I didn’t know this but many people with anxiety disorders skip breakfast. I used to be one of those people until I realized that I was depleting my body of energy and GAINING WEIGHT because of it. Eating my favorite breakfast of EGGS is especially helpful because they are satiating (make us feel satisfied when eating) and a filling source of protein, as well as nature’s top source of choline. Low levels of choline are associated with increased anxiety. In fact, any time we feel anxious, eating is one of the most effective ways to reduce it. Now, of course I mean eating HEALTHY foods like nuts is a must, but even a square of dark chocolate is an effective anxiety reducer.

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4. Yoga breathing- Yoga is super good for relieving stress and anxiety, but did you know that yoga breathing is also effective at lowering stress and anxiety? In his bestselling 2011 book Spontaneous Happiness, Andrew Weil MD introduced a classic yoga breathing technique called 4-7-8 breathing. One reason it works is because you can’t breathe in deeply and be anxious at the same time. Here’s how it goes, exhale completely through your mouth, then inhale through your nose for a count of four. Hold your breath for a count of seven, now let it out slowly through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat at least twice a day. I’ve done a form of this for the last few years during my morning prayers and meditation time, and it really does help.

5. Take your supplements- Taking probiotics, omega-3 fats, and magnesium helps me reduce anxiety. Probiotics have a marked effect on GABA levels in certain brain regions and lower stress induced hormone corticosterone, resulting in reduced anxiety and depression related behavior. The omega-3 fats EPA and DHA play an important role in emotional well-being, aned research has shown a dramatic 20% reduction in anxiety among medical students taking omega-3s. Magnesium is a mineral that is present in many foods, unfortunately millions of people have a very low level of magnesium intake, because it has been essentially stripped from most modern diets due to farming and food production practices. Low levels of magnesium are not responsible for anxiety but for some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, like unusual feelings in the body. Anxiety can actually decrease your magnesium levels, as magnesium is burned up during times of stress. As I’ve said before, make sure you are taking pharmaceutical grade supplements and don’t buy them at a big box or grocery store.

There are so many other things you can do to reduce anxiety, drink chamomile tea, take herbal remedies like valerian root, passion flower, lavender, lemon balm, and my favorite that I take every day for energy and anxiety ashwagandha. Anxiety is a complex issue so please consult with your doctor before taking anything. However, as a lifelong anxiety sufferer myself I can tell you that the above listed remedies really do work, and you can live a life free of most of the effects of it. Utilizing natural remedies to reduce anxiety will definitely help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie! 🙂

 

 

 

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! 🙂

 

Peter Piper Knew What He Was Talking About- Here’s Why You Should Do It Too!

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Eat your heart out, Peter, I pickled my own!

Eat your heart out, Peter, I pickled my own!

Now when I speak of our good friend, Peter Piper, I’m not talking about the part where he PICKED the peck of pickled peppers. Though how do you pick pickled peppers anyway? Wouldn’t you have to pick regular peppers and then pickle them? So confusing,  those old tongue twisters. No it’s the PICKLED part of the peppers that I want to focus on today.

You may be thinking, why should I care about pickled peppers or pickled anything else? Here’s why you should care- pickled or fermented vegetables are SO GOOD for you! And we’re talking ANYTHING pickled- like cucumbers (most common vegetable pickled), radishes, green beans, cabbage (think sauerkraut), and the Korean fermented vegetable dish called Kim chi. Did you know that pickled foods contain probiotics (good bacteria that helps your gut health)? Yes, that’s true. Let me explain this a bit.

Pickled cucumbers, or as most of us call them, pickles!

Pickled cucumbers, or as most of us call them, pickles!

Pickling is a form of fermentation, and when vegetables and fruits are fermented, healthy bacteria help break down the hard to digest cellulose in foods, as well as some of the natural sugar. These healthy bacteria help keep fermented food safe and less likely to spoil, and can also help increase the good bacteria in your gut when eaten. That’s not just good for your gut, my friends, it also affects your immune and nervous systems. Almost 80% of our immune system exists in the gut, which contains about 100 trillion bacteria. In other words, we have 10 times more gut bacteria than the number of cells in our entire bodies! The gut also has the second nervous system in our bodies. We have the same amount of neurotransmitters in our gut as our brain! I know, crazy right?!!

Here’s the thing you’re probably thinking, ok so the gut is important, but why do we need pickled or fermented vegetables and fruits? The reason is because bad diets, antibiotics, stress and numerous other factors can create an imbalance of bad bacteria, creating bloating, fatigue, diarrhea, inflammation, headaches, and sugar cravings. Probiotics in fermented foods can help rebalance your good bacteria and ELIMINATE THESE SYMPTOMS!

Yummy, interesting Kim chi!

Yummy, interesting Kim chi!

Another reason we need more pickled or fermented fruits and vegetables is that overweight people have different intestinal bacteria than lean people. In addition to other health problems, an imbalance of bad bacteria can create inflammation and fat gain. A study in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed obese people reduced abdominal fat nearly 5% simply by drinking probiotic rich fermented milk for 12 weeks. Probiotics also reduce the risk for metabolic syndrome, which is an unpleasant condition that includes high blood pressure, insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Clearly, probiotics are the way to help prevent numerous diseases!

The recommendation is to eat 1-3 servings of pickled or fermented vegetables each day to get the optimal gut benefits. Now, don’t go rush out to the grocery store and buy 10 jars of processed pickles. If you’re going to buy your pickled vegetables please buy them from the refrigerated section and try to get them without added sugar and organic if possible. If you don’t like pickles, refrigerated, non-pasteurized high quality sauerkraut is a delicious and healthy way to get your probiotics and vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals too. Kim chi, the Korean fermented vegetable dish, is another way to get your probiotics. My daughter’s boyfriend is of Korean descent and his mom brought us Kim chi. I have been OBSESSED with it since she sent it, and have eaten the garlicky, spicy vegetables with almost every meat I’ve eaten. If you don’t know someone Korean, go visit your local Korean restaurant and try it! Truly unique and delicious!

Last and most important, I’m here to give you an easy and quick recipe for pickling vegetables so you can do it at home. You will be stunned at how easy and delish this is. Then, you can make some more when you run out instead of buying more from the grocery store. It’s also convenient to make your own because you can pickle whatever vegetables and fruits you have available at home. Check it out, you’ll be impressed!

Ingredients ready to be pickled!

Ingredients ready to be pickled!

Valerie’s Easy, Quick Pickled Vegetables

Gorgeous peppers- Peter would definitely want these, even before they're pickled!

Gorgeous peppers- Peter would definitely want these, even before they’re pickled!

  • One cup chopped vegetables ( I used cucumbers and of course, peppers- both sweet and jalapenos)
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Stir the vegetables into the vinegar, sugar and salt. Let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. THAT’S IT!

Cukes sliced and ready for pickling!

Cukes sliced and ready for pickling!

You can put the pickles on a burger, hot dog, any sandwich, mix them into scrambled eggs, serve them alongside pork chops or steaks, or stir them into soups or top them on salads- they are versatile and delicious. I made a batch before I wrote this post, and Danielle is trying to eat them all before I’m even done writing! They’re addictive, and they’ll help give your gut the healthy flora it needs to boost immunity, fight disease, and get rid of that extra weight! Sounds great to me!

Voila! Done and ready for eating!

Voila! Done and ready for eating!

Try to pickle your own vegetables and let me know what you think of them. Also, I’d love to hear if your health improves by eating your pickled veggies, but remember you need to eat them AT LEAST once a day! Eating pickled vegetables is a way to live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

Are You S.A.D. This Winter?!!

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This was earlier in the winter season because now when I go outside, I'm DEFINITELY NOT SMILING!

This was earlier in the winter season because now when I go outside, I’m DEFINITELY NOT SMILING!

Hi All! Well, it’s COLD here in the Midwest, and by cold I mean CCCCCCOOOOLD! Right this minute it’s 1 degree here, and with the wind chill it feels like 11 degrees BELOW ZERO! Oh, and it’s gloomy too, we have moments of sunshine but really it’s been quite cloudy. You get the picture, right? If you don’t, here’s the picture. I mean, a picture of what it looks like here at this moment.

Right now at the casa! Taken from inside of course because as I said it's COLD out!!!

Right now at the casa! Taken from inside of course because as I said it’s COLD out!!!

It looks like where Nasa faked the moon landing, doesn’t it? Very desolate and grey, and it’s been like this for a long while. So, the point of this post is that because of the lack of sunlight and inability to go outside, some of us (which definitely includes ME!) are susceptible to the “winter blues”.

Yep, that's what it said this morning when I took my dogs out! Horrid!

Yep, that’s what it said this morning when I took my dogs out! Horrid!

Now here’s an important point that I want to be sure to make from the get go, there is a difference between being sad and a little blue during the winter and real clinical depression. I’m talking about the winter blues here, so if you feel you are clinically depressed (can’t get out of bed, feel suicidal, etc), please talk to a medical professional IMMEDIATELY.

My babies were smiling earlier in the winter too- now they're freezing walking around their college campus!

My babies were smiling earlier in the winter too- now they’re freezing walking around their college campus!

What I’m talking about is something called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It’s so aptly named because that’s the way I feel lately, a little sad. Here’s the 411 on SAD, it’s a feeling of fatigue, sadness and depression that grows as sunlight grows scarce. It’s differentiated from regular depression because unlike regular depression, it totally goes away in the spring and summer months. It’s been estimated that 20% of Americans are affected by SAD each winter.

The reason this happens is that as the days begin to darken and sunlight is at a minimum our health and mood is intricately tied to exposure to sunlight. SAD has long been associated with Vitamin D deficiency, in addition to more chronic depression. Vitamin D receptors appear in a wide variety of brain tissue, and activated Vitamin D receptors increase nerve growth in the brain, so it’s important for brain function and mental health in general. Take Serotonin levels, for example. The hormone typically associated with elevating your mood, Serotonin rises when exposed to bright light.  Also, Melatonin rises and falls inversely with light and darkness. Like, when it’s dark your melatonin levels increase, which is why we feel tired when the sun starts to set. And when it sets so early in the winter, 4 pm?!!, we start to feel tired earlier than usual. Also, our circadian rhythms, or biological clock, is controlled by light and darkness and impacts hormones that regulate appetite and metabolism.

See? This is why we are more sad (lack of vitamin D), cranky (lack of Seratonin), tired (too much Melatonin) and hungry (circadian rhythms are off) in the winter. It’s not our fault, it’s darn winter’s fault! I always feel better if I can blame someone or something else!

Chewie trying to get as much sunlight as he can in these darky, gloomy days!

Chewie trying to get as much sunlight as he can in these darky, gloomy days!

Believe me, though, when I tell you that this is nothing to make light of. It can really throw you off and make you feel pretty darn bad. However, I want to assure my wonderful readers that this is something we can conquer or at least minimize as much as possible. I’ve got a list for you that I’ve compiled from a number of sources (including the one who resides in my home when I needed additional assistance with this issue!) about ways to help make you feel better during the dark, cold winter months. I KNOW it will help you as it’s helped me a lot!

1. Exercise- Get Moving! That’s the best advice for when I’m feeling gloomy and tired, I ride my bike, kickbox, or take a jog with my dogs. Anything to get the blood flowing makes me feel so warm and happy. As Elle Woods in Legally Blonde said, “Exercise gives you Endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don’t shoot their husbands. They just don’t.” Wise words from one of my favorite movies! 🙂

2. Go Outside– It seems like the last thing I want to do when it’s cold and gloomy out but I’ll tell you, it is the most effective cure for my SAD, especially when the sun is out. Sunlight is the best way to boost Vitamin D and seratonin so this is super important in the winter. However, even if it isn’t, I find that just getting a bit of fresh air makes me feel better. I’ve taken my dogs for a walk every day of this winter, except when it’s below zero outside or an ice storm, and it helps not only me but my dogs too. I think Chewie has SAD as well because when we can’t take our walk he seems genuinely bummed.

3. Light therapy– If there is no way to get natural sunlight, sun substitutes must be employed to help vitamin D production. I have a full-spectrum light box, and I use it every morning to help stimulate vitamin D and serotonin levels naturally. A good quality light box is around $150, and for me totally worth it to help give me a natural boost. I also advocate the use of ELECTRONIC BALLAST tanning beds. Most commercial tanning salons utilize magnetic ballast systems which generate potentially harmful electromagnetic fields (EMF), and the electronic ballast systems do not. I know this is a controversial topic. I know this because in my own family the fact that I have an electronic ballast tanning bed has caused a lot of angst and fighting. All I can say is that it is my belief, no my certainty, that sunlight (and tanning beds) DO NOT CAUSE SKIN CANCER. conversely it is the LACK OF VITAMIN D (or avoidance of sunlight) that causes cancer. Now, I have certain caveats to my beliefs in this regard, first, NEVER EVER BURN YOURSELF IN THE SUN/TANNING BED/OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT.I have not ever burned to my knowledge and I never intend to. Second, while it is not my belief that sun/tanning beds cause skin cancer, I know they cause premature aging of the skin so I always cover my head with a hat and my eyes with sunglasses when I’m in the sun. Third, everything in moderation. I only utilize my tanning bed twice a week because I don’t want to be one of those leather skinned old ladies who walk on the beach in Florida, even though I have one in my home. I mean, just because I have bottles of wine in my home I’m not going to drink them all at once, am I?

4. Supplementation– I highly recommend everyone to go and get their vitamin D levels tested. Any doctor can write a prescription for the test. Then, you’ll see how low it probably is. I say that because the National health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 50% of children aged 1-5 years, 70% of kids 6-11, 50% of people under 60 years old, and 95% of all senior citizens are deficient or have insufficient vitamin D. So basically, many of us have low vitamin D. I had mine tested in the summer when I was getting plenty of sun and IT WAS STILL LOW. So I take a daily vitamin D3 (there are different D’s but D3 is the best one for absorption) supplement of 5,000 IU (international units). The ideal amount of vitamin D you’re looking for is 50-70 ng/ml and you want to maintain this year round. Vitamin D is key for so many other of our bodily functions, and low vitamin D has been tied to all kinds of cancers so this is one of the major things you can do for your health in general. I also take a SAMe supplement which helps increase serotonin levels. Remember, always buy pharmaceutical grade supplements and don’t buy them at the grocery store or a big box store. That way you know you’re getting a quality supplement that will actually do what it’s supposed to do. And always check with your physician before taking any supplements.

5. Cuddling– Cuddling up with your husband/wife/significant other/children/pets is one of the good things about this cold, miserable weather, and it benefits your body as well. Hugs increase your endorphins which are your “feel good” hormones, and when you’re chilly it feels so good to snuggle up with a warm body, so by all means, increase those endorphins and get warm and cozy too. You’ll all benefit from that! 🙂

6. Keep it bright– have a roaring fire in your fireplace, turn on the lights, and keep the shades/curtains open to let in as much light as possible. It will help stimulate vitamin D and serotonin levels.

7. Get enough sleep and the right kind of it- It’s important to stick to a pattern of going to sleep fairly early and getting up that way too. If we stray too far from our biological patterns of going to sleep when it’s dark and awaking when the sun rises it can disrupt the hormonal cycles of our bodies which can affect both mood and health. Aim for 8 hours of sleep per night, and try to get them at a reasonable time. I usually go to bed around 10:30-11 and awaken around 7. Insomnia is one of the biggest links between depression and health, with half the people who are diagnosed with depression also struggling with insomnia. Try to keep it dim in the bedroom and DON’T FALL ASLEEP WITH THE TV ON. Besides the noise the tv creates which can disrupt sleep, it also emanates blue light which is a stimulant and can keep you from falling into a deep sleep. In fact, eliminate all electronic devices in the bedroom. There are no laptops, ipads or computers in our bedroom, although we do have our phones next to our beds which serve as our alarm clocks. We have a tv too, however we don’t usually watch tv in our bedroom preferring to watch in the family room.

8. Proper Nutrition– The link between food and overall health cannot be overstated (especially by me).  Avoid processed foods which have a detrimental impact on brain function and mental health in general because of the SUGAR PROCESSED FOODS CONTAIN. Because your gut actually produces more serotonin than your brain does, optimizing gut health by eating fermented vegetables and taking probiotics every day really helps with SADAlso, increasing animal based Omega 3 fats is essential for mood, especially because your brain consists of about 60% fat and you need a constant input of them for your brain to work properly. A 2009 study showed that people with low levels of Omega 3’s were more likely to have symptoms of depression than those with higher levels.

There you go! That’s what I’ve learned about SAD and the ways to prevent it. Now if spring could FINALLY get here I know I’ll feel better. I’m also looking forward to our upcoming (3 weeks!) trip to a warmer state than Indiana which will really help as well. Until then, I will try to stay warm and utilize the strategies I’ve outlined above to help me cope. Let me know if you try any of them, and if it helps you too! Overcoming SAD will help you live a life of vitality- with Valerie!

 

 

Gluten Free by Necessity!

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A year ago my younger daughter, Danielle, began experiencing significant stomach aches and gastrointestinal distress. She was losing a lot of weight and was absolutely miserable so our doctor tested her for food allergies and found that she has an allergy to gluten and yeast, among other things. This has necessitated a complete change in the way our entire family eats. When one person has a food allergy it’s very difficult and can be dangerous for the person who is allergic if I’m cooking the things they’re allergic to right next to the gluten free items. Also, I have to be extremely careful not to use the same cooking utensils, for example, when I’m making gluten free and regular pasta side by side I have to be careful not to use the same spoon to stir the two pastas. In addition, I have to be careful not to confuse the non-gluten free item with the one that contains gluten, and often they look exactly the same.

I found that it was easier just to switch the entire family and for the most part we all eat gluten free now. Many gluten free substitutions are available now and they taste very good to us. Most of the time the family can’t tell the difference and don’t even ask what they’re eating, although sometimes Danielle will clarify that what she’s eating is in fact gluten free because it tastes so good that she’s sure I accidentally gave her gluten by mistake! Many delicious gluten free options exist on the market now, especially when I go to a health food grocery store, although the traditional grocery stores now have more gluten free options as well. Health food grocery stores are a better fit for my family so that’s where I shop most of the time. I now use gluten free bread, pasta, bread crumbs, flour,etc, and I carefully read the ingredient list at the store before purchasing items, because I have come to find that MANY things contain gluten that were surprising to me, like tea bags and salad dressing. In fact, quite a few prepared foods contain gluten so I am a very careful ingredient reader in the store, but I don’t use many prepared foods anyway because I prefer to make food from scratch whenever possible.

What’s really convenient is that at my local health food grocery store, Earth Fare, the shelves containing gluten free items are wooden and the ones containing gluten items are metal so I can quickly go down an aisle and visually scan for the gluten free items without having to read every ingredient on every product. My daughter has an app on her iphone called scan avert app in which she enters her dietary restrictions, for her it would be gluten free of course, and then she can scan the barcodes of products and it will inform her whether it complies with her diet. It’s a very cool way to keep her safe!

Another danger for her is when it comes to eating out at restaurants. Restaurants hide gluten in lots of food items so I always make sure she asks for a gluten free menu (which most restaurants have readily available) as soon as we sit down so that she can peruse her choices. She has another useful app on her iphone called “find me gf” which shows her gluten free restaurants around our area. Of course eating gluten free is not just for those with gluten allergies; in fact many people are forgoing gluten these days and feel much better for the absence of gluten in their lives. In fact, I read that 70% of people have some kind of undiagnosed gluten sensitivity so many of us could go without gluten and will probably find that we feel better.

I began to have some gastrointestinal issues this past winter and on the advice of my doctor I began eating gluten free as well. I found that my stomach feels better now and I actually have more energy too! Danielle and I both take probiotics, which helps to aid our digestive tracts to function more effectively, but for both of us the biggest difference has been achieved by cutting out gluten in our diets. Try it and see if it helps you live a life of vitality, like Valerie! 🙂