I hope you all had an amazing holiday season! After much family time and fabulous feasting over the holidays, I decided to kick off the new year with a 4 day cleanse at a spa called We Care in Desert Hot Springs, California. In addition to following their liquid fasting program for a few days I was able to attend several classes on nutrition and wellness. While most of the ideas weren’t new to me, (Eat veggies. Check. Exercise. Check. Meditate. Check. Be Grateful. Double check.) it was a great refresher and reminded me that little steps toward healthier living can make a big difference in how we look and feel. There’s no need for bold proclamations like- “I’m never eating carbs again!” or “I’m going to go to the gym for 2 hours everyday!” Those types of unrealistic goals usually fall by the wayside and lead to disappointment by spring. Instead, I challenge you (and myself!) to make some (or all!) of these smaller changes in 2016. Instead of a short-lived resolution, these ideas can easily be incorporated into our lifestyle without much effort and with a lot of long-term benefits.
1. Drink More Water- A lot of us are in a state of constant dehydration without even knowing it. By the time we’re thirsty we are already a little dehydrated. This can lead to feeling tired, foggy or lethargic, and can also cause headaches and hunger pangs. Drinking enough water can help with digestion, energy levels, clear skin, weight-loss, kidney function and lessen dry skin and dark circles under the eyes. So how much do you need to get these miracle-drug like effects? It might be more than you think. The standard rule of thumb is half of your body weight in ounces, which means a 140 pound woman would aim for 70 ounces per day. Of course, the number is not set in stone. If you’re eating a lot of water filled fruits and veggies, you may need less and if you’re in a hot environment or working out like a champ you’ll need more; but it’s a good general guideline to keep in mind. It can seem like a lot at first, but gets easier as you get in the habit of sipping throughout the day.
One easy way to keep track is to carry a stainless steel or glass water bottle with you. Calculate how many refills equals your ideal water consumption and aim for that. If plain water bores you try adding lemon juice, sliced ginger, cucumber or fresh herbs like mint and rosemary to jazz it up. You can also count caffeine free herbal teas into your equation. Filtered water is best since plain tap water may contain chemicals and additives; and there are both health and environmental concerns around plastic water bottles. If you’re not used to drinking enough water it can take a little getting used to, but you’ll see and feel results really quickly that will keep you motivated to stick with it. Within days of upping my water intake my skin looked more dewy, my eyes were brighter, and I felt less hungry. Overall I would say drinking more water has made me feel and look healthier and what could be better than that?
2. Chew Your Food- We all do this already, but chances are we aren’t doing it enough, especially when we’re busy or on the run. Chewing food enough allows your body to absorb more nutrients from the food. Swallowing chunks of improperly chewed food can lead to bloating and excess gas and who wants that? Well chewed foods are easier to digest, not only because they’re smaller particles and more easily processed in the intestines, but also because there are enzymes in saliva that aid in digestion. Chewing more can also help with maintaining a healthy weight by naturally slowing down your eating. This gives your stomach more time to signal your brain that it’s full. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register fullness so if you are rushing your meals it’s easy to overeat in the interim. Slowing down and chewing well allows us to bring more mindfulness to what we’re eating so we can really taste and enjoy the food.
You may have heard rules like chew each mouthful 32 times, but really it depends what you’re eating. If you eat meat you’ll want to chew it more than say, a strawberry. The key is to chew until it’s about the texture of applesauce. Again this can take a little getting used to but eventually it’s just what you do. Your body will thank you.
3. Start with a Smoothie- A lot of the benefits from #2 apply here, but a blender does the work for you. Normal digestion takes a surprising amount of energy. When you feed your body a bunch of nutrients in liquid form, it can soak them all in with ease and give you a burst of energy to start your day. It’s also a great way to get in a lot of really nutrient dense foods in one sitting. This is especially helpful when you know you’re going to have a really busy day or are going to be somewhere without access to great food choices. The best morning smoothies include vitamin, mineral and fiber rich fruits and veggies; as well as healthy plant proteins and fats to give you sustained energy. You can also add superfood supplements like bee pollen for a dose of B-vitamins including B-12, energizing maca root powder or omega-3 rich chia seeds. Try this Feel Good Green Smoothie recipe or a creamy Ginger-Pear Smoothie.
4. Take More Baths- How often does something good for you feel this good?! Taking a warm bath not only help relax your muscles, but it’s a great way to decompress and sneak in a little alone time. Add a few essential oils for a more spa-like experience with aromatherapy benefits. My favorite combination for bath time is a few drops each of calming lavender, uplifting sweet orange and sexy ylang ylang. Once a week you can take a therapeutic bath that is alkalizing, detoxifying and remineralizing. Remember we can both eliminate and absorb through the skin so soaking in mineral rich water is really beneficial. It can also help with sore muscles and anxiety.
Directions: Add 1/4 cup EACH epsom salt, baking soda, Himalayan or sea salt and raw-unfiltered apple cider vinegar to a hot bath. Add a few drops of your favorite essential oils. Soak 15-30 minutes. Rinse with cool water, pat dry and apply organic coconut or olive oil as a moisturizer as desired.
To make the most of your bath eat at least 1-2 hours beforehand. Close to bedtime is ideal. Try meditating for 5-10 minutes as you soak. You might feel a little light-headed or sleepy after your bath so be careful getting up. Have a large glass of water afterward and enjoy an herbal tea before bed to rehydrate.
5. Switch to Sea Salt- Regular table salt is highly processed. Nutrients are removed and anti-caking agents are added. Pure sea salt is harvested with very little processing which means the natural mineral content is left intact. Sea salt can contain up to 80 trace minerals so it’s not only better for your body, but also has a more complex flavor than regular table salt. The depth of flavor means you need less salt to enhance your food making it easier to keep your sodium intake in check. Check labels to make sure they list sea salt as the only ingredient. There are a variety of salts to try from black lava, to grey celtic, to pink Himalayan, all with different flavors, textures and price points; so have fun experimenting and finding your favorites.
6. Eat less Dairy- There are many reasons to limit dairy consumption. Dairy can be high in saturated fat and calories and hard on digestion. Conventionally raised cows are often fed hormones and antibiotics in order to keep them producing milk at an unnatural rate. Though more studies need to be done, there are concerns that a diet high in dairy may contribute to the risk of certain types of cancer. If you do eat dairy, raw organic or fermented types such as yogurt or kefir are best. I must say I thought it would be impossible to give up dairy, but it’s strange, once I stopped eating it, I didn’t really crave it anymore. My palate changed. Where before a salad wasn’t a salad without cheese on top, now I thoroughly enjoy a completely plant filled plate. Another big help is to find alternatives you love. You can watch my video on how-to make creamy cashew milk (It’s so easy!) or check out my recipes for gooey cashew mozzarella and this cheesy spread that is perfect for wraps or sandwiches.
7. Limit Exposure Toxins- We come into contact with toxic chemicals in many different ways so making lots of little changes in trying to minimize our exposure can really add up. Here are some ways to do it: Always filter your tap water to remove harmful unregulated compounds, pharmaceuticals, pesticides and metals like lead and copper from pipes. Store water in stainless steel or glass rather than plastic. Use natural beauty products whenever possible. There are a lot of chemicals that are approved for use in cosmetics that pose a variety of health concerns. Moisturize with organic olive or coconut oil with a few drops of essential oils mixed in instead of using products with 50 ingredients on the label. Use natural cleaning supplies as much as possible, you can read how-to here. Buy organics whenever possible. This will help limit your exposure to pesticides. Avoid processed foods. Most contain artificial flavors and colors that your body is not designed to process. Avoid aluminum cookware and deodorants containing aluminum as exposure may lead to an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. If you use aluminum foil, place a layer of parchment paper between your food and the foil. Use homemade natural room sprays instead of artificially scented sprays. In general it’s about having more awareness about what we are putting into and on our bodies, and trying to keeps things as close to how nature intended as possible.
8. Ditch the sugar- Refined sugar has been stripped of it’s nutritional value. Switch to more natural, whole alternatives like honey, raw agave or dates. These alternatives are more alkaline than refined sugar, contain a variety of nutrients and have a lower glycemic index which means they won’t cause a quick spike in blood sugar. Refined sugar has a highly acidic effect on the body. Many experts believe that an overly acidic diet can lead to a slew of health problems including obesity, heart disease, allergies, arthritis, etc. Other acidic foods to limit are meat, dairy, alcohol, coffee and processed foods. Try these high protein Black Bean Brownies sweetened with dates, maple syrup and applesauce next time you’re looking for a sweet treat.
9. Season with Herbs and Spices- Fresh herbs and dried spices add a ton of flavor to your dishes without adding salt or fat. They also happen to contain an incredible amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Several even have medicinal benefits, so add an extra little pinch of spices to anything you’re making and always garnish with fresh herbs. For example if I’m eating a plain baked sweet potato I might sprinkle some ginger, paprika and nutmeg on top instead of only salt and pepper and garnish with fresh chopped cilantro. (yum!) Here are the most beneficial-
Spices: Cayenne, cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, curry powder, garlic powder, cumin, nutmeg, paprika and saffron
Herbs:Cilantro, parsley, sage, rosemary, basil, chives, dill, thyme, oregano, mint and lavender
Keep delicate herbs fresh by keeping them like cut flowers. Trim the stems and place them in a small glass filled with an inch or two of water in the fridge. Keep your spices within arms reach of your stove top so it makes it easy to grab a pinch while you’re cooking. I even went so far as to organize my spice drawer in alphabetical order, which I know sounds a little crazy, but it ends up saving so much time when I cook since I never have to rummage for the right spice! You can see how I did it here.
10. Drink Ginger Tea- Fresh ginger tea is good for digestion and reducing inflammation in the body. It can help improve circulation and stress levels making it the perfect tonic morning or night. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon to give your immune system an extra boost. Sweeten with a little honey if desired. This tea is both soothing and delicious! It’s my absolute favorite and helps with #1. See how I came full circle? 😉
To make: thinly slice a 1 inch chunk of ginger and place in a cup along with a couple of lemon slices. Pour boiling water over and let steep for 5 minutes. Sweeten with a little honey if desired.
Let me know if you try any of them and what you think or if you have any other recommendations. I would love to hear them. Here’s to a very healthy and happy 2016! Cheers, Jacq