Get the Goodness In

I love avocado. REALLY love it!

It seems to be pretty popular, whether sliced on a sandwich, mashed and spread onto toast or mixed into a fine guacamole. It’s tasty, especially with a touch of lime juice and sea salt, but its most prevalent feature is its creamy, dreamy texture.

The high fat content gives us what we crave, that creamy feel in our mouth.

When you’re watching your weight or monitoring your fat intake, sometimes we feel guilty eating the almighty avocado….until now!

One of the tricks I’ve learned over the years is to add healthy greens or vegetables to dishes where I normally wouldn’t. You’d be surprised how easy it is to get in that extra nutrition once you know this trick.

For instance, like many people, I could LIVE on mashed avocado (with some lime juice and sea salt) on toast. When I crave the big, green fatty-but-awesome fruit, I mash in some extra nutrition by finely chopping whatever greens I have on hand. I use kale, spinach or arugula usually. Greens like romaine would probably be a bit too moist, but they might work.

The trick is to finely chop the greens so they blend in smoothly with the avocado. I just use the old-fashioned knife and cutting board to chop the greens, but I suppose the greens and the avocado together could be put in a food processor? Haven’t tried that.

If not on toast, I might spread my green goodness on some healthy corn chips (made with no oil!). Sometimes I’ll have both (toast and chips). Like I said, I just LOVE avocado.

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If I’m in a hurry, and I just don’t have time to chop up my greens, I might throw those greens right on top of my avocado spread. Works on the run.

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When making my fave toast, I sometimes don’t stop at the extra greens; I might throw on a few tomato or cucumber slices or some onion.

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There are tons of other ways to add in greens or veggies to your snacks or meals. When you do this for yourself, you’re adding oodles of extra phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. I say, “Why not get those nutrients in my body while I’m getting this other stuff in?”

Here are some tried and true ways to get more nutrients into your body:

Guacamole or Dips: add those greens! Finely chop greens into guac or hummus or your own unique bean spread.

Mashed potatoes: can add in finely chopped greens, green onions, or mashed cauliflower. Try one of these and play around with how much you add to the potatoes until you find the right balance that works for your taste buds.

Pasta: add your favourite veggies to your pasta to get in some more of the good stuff. I buy frozen, chopped kale, which is perfect for a last-minute add-in to any pasta dish. Any veggie will do. Sometimes, I just chop up whatever leftovers are hanging around in the fridge and throw them into the pasta. Have little nuggets of goodness around to add, such as capers or sun-dried tomatoes. Add them in. If you get good at this, you can start trying to make your meals more veggie-heavy and less pasta-heavy.

Soups: add almost anything goes here: fresh or frozen veggies, rice or other whole grains, greens etc. If you’re making a nice squash soup, add in some chopped red peppers or even some greens. If you’re making a broth-based soup, try adding barely; it really makes a soup hearty (and healthy too!).

Smoothies: it’s really easy to sneak in goodness in a smoothie. Many people focus on the fruit part of a smoothie. Some parents worry their kids won’t eat a healthier green smoothie. Give it a try, you sneaky cook. Add greens into your smoothies; chances are no one will even notice. You can start with a few spinach leaves, for example, and build up over time. Other things I slip into smoothies that don’t change the taste: turmeric, chia seeds, and ground flax seeds.

Oatmeal: don’t just have plain old oatmeal; load it up with fresh or thawed, frozen fruit, nuts, seeds, cinnamon, ginger etc.

So, before you serve or chow down on your next snack or meal, look around and ask yourself, “What healthy bits can I add to this?”

Wishing you health and success on your journey,

SignatureAli

Let’s have a Look Inside…

We know more about a myriad of topics that we do about how our own bodies work. Sure, we know some basics, but there is so much we just take for granted and don’t really KNOW, you know?

It’s absolutely amazing to think about how our bodies function because the parts seem to run in the background without us even noticing. Heart beating, lungs expanding, blood flowing, nerves connecting etc.

One of the coolest body systems, to me, is the digestion of food. I think it’s the most interesting system. It nourishes us and gives us energy.

Have you ever seen up-close footage of food digesting? Well, it’s super cool.

Check out this video (5 min.) that shows actual food being digested inside the body. Warning for the squeamish: some ooey, gooey moments in this video, but worth watching to really see what is happening.

I think most people are severely disconnected from what they eat and from what happens to the food in their bodies. We almost forget about what we do to ourselves when we eat. Let’s think about this for a minute.

Imagine, you’re eating a salad with spinach, tomato, onions, black beans and a light dressing, preferably with no oil. You know your body is designed to eat that. You know your body knows what to do with it and that it will pull out all the nutrients, help the body function well and discard the parts it doesn’t need.

You feel good right? You feel light and energized after.

Let’s imagine a different meal. This one is deep fried mozzarella sticks with French fries.

Whoa! I think your body has its work cut out for it.

Even if you don’t think that kind of food is really bad for the body, you instinctively know the first meal is designed for our bodies and the second meal isn’t.

The cheese and fries meal does eventually get digested, but our poor bodies have to work very hard to do so. The high fat content, along with the lack of nutrients, makes it less likely we’ll be nourished or that our bodies will function optimally. Never mind the fact that there are all kinds of negative effects from eating that food (bloating, gas, etc.).

And the reward, after? We feel sluggish, tired and have little energy.

So, if we instinctively know certain foods aren’t good for us, why do we keep assaulting our bodies with them?

Taste, texture, pleasure, addiction, and a food high for some of us. It’s these things, I believe, that create a struggle for me and for many other people. We want to do the right thing, but…

Lately, I’ve really been trying to think of my gorgeous, made-by-nature insides, and how much they will appreciate a good whole foods meal, preferably consisting of mostly plants.

I picture that food going down my esophagus, into my stomach and then, later, moving through my intestines and colon. I think what the colon leaves us is also highly important, in terms of our health, but that’s for another post. 🙂

I want to treat my body with respect and nourish it, so the days I have on this earth are healthy ones. I continue to work towards this goal each day.

Wishing you health and success on your journey,

SignatureAli

Progress Report #2

It’s been three months since I decided to transform my life, and about six weeks since my last progress report. Here’s how things are shaping up.

No Alcohol at Home

Early in 2018, my husband and I chose to reduce our alcohol intake by not drinking at home. It wasn’t because of an alcohol “problem”, but to change our habits to become healthier. Few benefits come from drinking alcohol.

Whatever benefits are in beverages like wine, which we often hear about, there are more benefits in getting those same nutrients/phytochemicals etc. from the whole food (aka: grapes). Alcohol = empty calories, so since part of my health goals include losing weight, minimizing alcohol is a good thing.

Our mid-January commitment to not drink any alcohol at home was a success! Between Jan. 13 and April 1, we did not drink any wine, martinis etc. at home. We went out on the weekends to indulge, and a few times we went out during the week.

On April 2, we had our first drinks at home, a couple glasses of wine. I actually took a picture and sent it to my friend in a text, to let her know I had caved in. You know what her response was?

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Isn’t that amazing? She saw only the positive, while I viewed the whole thing through a negative lens. I learned something that day, or rather, it confirmed something for me. Even though I consider myself a positive person, I continue to be quite hard on myself.

A goal for me is to look at myself more positively.

What’s really cool about the original alcohol challenge is that I find that I’m just not as interested in drinking alcohol as I was before. I consume less whether I am at home or out.

Healthy Food               

I continue to focus on eating healthy food. After our trip to Mexico in March, I jumped back into my regular routine. We focus on eating whole foods that are plant-based, and we cook our own food at home. I will admit, we do tend to go to restaurants on the weekend.

Do you hear that? That’s me being hard on myself again! Instead of thinking, “Way to go for cooking at home during the week!”, I somehow focused on the treats on the weekend. It takes time to change your thinking patterns, so I’ll keep working on it.

I continue to keep staples, like cooked oatmeal and brown rice, in the fridge. Canned beans and fresh vegetables and greens are always handy. We’re in the habit of keeping healthy, whole foods on hand, so this habit really helps us stay on track.

Exercise

I really haven’t kept up with my exercise goal of moving my body everyday. I walk on the treadmill in my basement occasionally, but I haven’t done that for a little while now.

I’m totally ok with that because I know it’s the food that’s my main problem. Moving my body each day is still important to me, but it’s on the back burner for a bit.

Weight Loss

My weight is the same as it was at my first progress report. I’m still down 5-6 lbs since mid-January. I know I’m doing something right because my weight is not up.

I don’t see the lack of weight loss as a negative at all. I will just continue on my journey, learning from my successes and mistakes.

Attitude

I’m feeling awesome! The arrival of spring has helped I’m sure, but it’s more than that.

I’m continuing with my goals and not giving up. When I veer off course a bit, like when I snacked on potato chips yesterday, I enjoy it and move on. Yay for me!

Just. Keep. Going.

What’s Next?

For the past week I’ve been directing my attention towards consuming food as close to 100% plant-based as possible.

I recently watched a documentary, H.O.P.E.: What You Eat Matters, which was excellent.

During the first part, it addresses the health benefits of eating plant-based. Then it moves on to look at the effects of factory farming on the environment and animals. Very eye-opening.

I’d highly recommend this documentary.  It makes the point that what we put in our mouths DOES matter to our health, to the environment and to animal welfare.

H.O.P.E.: What We Eat Matters reminded me how much I really don’t want to eat animal products. At this point in my life, I am about 90% plant-based. I’m proud of that, but have room for improvement.

Aside from focusing on eating more whole, plant-based foods, I don’t have any other changes planned. I’ll continue my journey, and I look forward to taking a break from teaching when my summer vacation arrives in late June. Until then…

Wishing you health and success on your journey,

SignatureAli

1, 2, 3… Salad Dressing!

Recently for lunch, I made a quick salad and a homemade dressing. Making your own salad dressing is probably easy for most people (blend oil, some kind of vinegar and add some spices) but making a healthier version can be trickier if you don’t know what to do.

Here are my rules/steps to make your own, oil-free dressing, which is low in fat and made with mostly whole foods. It treats your body with nourishment, your taste buds with delight and does NOT bog down your arteries:

  1. Choose a base: You need something that will serve as the base for your dressing. Look for something that will blend nicely and not be too thin or thick of a consistency.

I often use fruit. Mangoes and oranges are my favourite, but others like kiwi, pear and berries work well too. Some veggies work, like tomato or cucumber.

In addition to fruit and veggies, you can also use things like balsamic vinegar, but it is thin and strong. Balsamic vinegar can be overpowering and if used as a base, will make your dressing to thin/watery.

Another fantastic option is hummus. Ideally, you’ve made it yourself, and it has no oil. Store-bought hummus works just fine too. I almost always have store-bought hummus in the fridge because it is so handy.

  1. Choose a flavor: What kind of zing do you want? Add garlic, herbs, spices, or condiments to experiment with tastes you like. Sometimes, fruit will work to tone down some flavors. Dates add a little sweet taste to balance with dressing that seems a bit tart or bitter. Here are some faves of mine:

-ginger and garlic

-cilantro and garlic

-cilantro and lemon

-lemon and Mrs. Dash Original or Mrs. Dash Lemon

-soy sauce, ginger and garlic

-balsamic vinegar and garlic

-tomato, garlic, dates and chili peppers

Start to pay attention to flavors you enjoy and think about how they might fit into a salad dressing. Look online for flavor combinations that seem to work.

Other herbs/spices/condiments to try:

Mustard, dijon mustard, horseradish sauce, parsley, dill, basil, celery salt, ground pepper etc.

How did I figure out what I like? By experimenting.

I usually just open my fridge, see what’s there and then start to put together some ideas. Don’t be afraid to try things. Believe me, I’ve made some dressings that weren’t great. So what? I also made beauties I loved. You just have to try. Have some fun!

  1. Blend and Adjust:I combine my ingredients together and blend them. At this point, I’m checking for consistency. Is the dressing too thin? Too thick? If it is, and I’m in a rush, I might leave it. If I have time, then I’ll see what I can add to thin it out or make it thicker.

Too thin? Add a bit of tofu, hummus or a small handful of chickpeas or other legumes. Maybe a bit more fruit or veggie.

Too thick? I find this is the easiest fix. Just add a bit of water or other liquid like veggie broth or orange juice.

Blender Tip: I usually make dressing as I need it…just a small batch, so I use my Magic Bullet. I like it because it’s fast and easy to blend and clean up. However, it doesn’t blend dressing as smoothly. This means there might be some chunky parts. If I’m making dressing for a few people, for guests, or if I want to keep it in the fridge for a few days, I’ll definitely use my Vitamix. It blends dressings so smoothly, but it takes a few seconds longer to clean up.

Here’s what I did for the dressing I made a few days ago.

Let’s call it Mandarin Garlic Dressing

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Base: mandarin orange

Flavor: garlic* and cilantro

*If you notice the garlic has a bit of a dark colour, it’s because I buy peeled garlic in batches. The cloves go bad in the fridge before I can use them all, so I put only what I think I’ll need over a couple of weeks in the fridge, and then I freeze the rest. When a garlic clove thaws after being frozen, it has that dark colour. The taste doesn’t seem to change.

Consistency: It was a bit thick, but I didn’t mind; it tasted so fresh and delicious.

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The dressing I made may not be the prettiest you’ve seen, but frankly, I don’t care what my dressing looks like, as long as it tastes delicious!

Salad dressings provide the perfect situation for experimenting. There are only a small amount of ingredients, so if things don’t turn out the way you’d hoped, then that’s ok!

Making your own dressings is one of the secrets to eating healthy salads, without adding all the fat, sugar and unpronounceable ingredients included in most store-bought dressings. The big secret is finding ways to replace that ever-expected ingredient: oil.

If you really want to cut out oil, try your own homemade dressing. Become your own food scientist by experimenting in the lab in your home: your kitchen.

Wishing you health and success on your journey,

SignatureAli

Back to Reality

I’m back from Mexico, sunned and relaxed.

We stayed in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle; it was my first time in Mexico not at an all inclusive. Our condo was about 5 min. from the beach and the marina in this quaint fishing village.

Although we prepared a few meals in the condo, most of our meals were from restaurants or markets. My daughter is vegetarian, and I am mostlyplant-based, so we focused on meals without meat or seafood.

For breakfasts, our favorite place was Don Simon Café, a small café with delicious food and friendly service.

There’s no better way to start the day than with a nice hot cappuccino. They provide a nice large serving in a comforting cup, and is topped with cinnamon.

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Sitting outside, watching the locals going about their day is a treat.

In the picture below, my daughter and hubby walked across the street while we waited for our breakfast. The man who owned the white truck and dogs used to have nine dogs. He had five in the truck. It turns out that the other four were killed at some point during one or more burglaries of the pharmacy next to his home. So sad.

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In addition to our cappuccino infatuation, we also looked forward to the fresh juice. The café had three different choices, but our favorite was the green juice. I can’t recall all the ingredients, but the focus was spinach, pineapple and parsley. So fresh and tasty.

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For breakfasts we had egg dishes such as omelettes. Often, breakfasts were served with fruit or potato as well as toast.  Sometimes they were served with refried beans, but I wasn’t a big fan (usually made with lard). We also found fresh fruit with yogurt and granola as a tasty breakfast item. Overall, I was satisfied with the choices. If I’d been eating 100% plant-based, I would have asked for sautéed or grilled veggies instead of eggs and had them with fruit and toast.

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Other meals in Mexico were veggie tacos, burritos and fajitas. Corn tortillas were abundant, so with some fresh guacamole, I was in heaven.

I came back from our trip the sameweight, which is a bonus. We walked a lot most days, and I didn’t have much alcohol. Some wine here and there and a few margaritas.

Overall, I feel like I had not only a relaxing time away, but I feel revived from the sun and from the healthy and fresh food options.

Now that I’m back to reality in cold Canada, I am ready to  focus on the next part of myhealth journey-continuing with my goal of eating mostly plant-based, with little alcohol and moving my body regularly. Stay tuned.

Wishing you health and success on your journey,

SignatureAli

Screw it! 6 Days till Mexico

In my last post on Feb. 26, things were going well. My hubby and I started our Healthy Liquids After 5 plan…to trim down a bit before Mexico. A short-term, pre-vacation plan.

The rest of that week went well, and we stuck to our plan. It was awesome! I had energy and felt great.

Then Friday of that week hit me….with a chest cold. Damn! I was sick all through the weekend and for most of that following week. Can you sense what’s coming?

That’s right…I went OFF my healthy eating. When I’m sick like that (and still have my appetite), all I want is comfort food. I just give in to the easy convenient foods like restaurants and takeout.  Or I buy the ingredients to make crappy comfort food like macaroni and cheese. And…I don’t even do a great job at it! I haven’t sunk into the depths of junk food like chips etc., thank goodness.

So, I didn’t really veer off course; I did a 180 degree turn.

A few days ago, I started to feel normal, and then on a Friday, again, I was hit with another issue…massive headache and an overall lethargic level of energy all through the weekend. My husband’s cold has now taken different twists and turns and he’s back in bed today, sick, as well.

It’s frustrating because I allow being sick to be an excuse to put my goals on hold.

While I’m eating unhealthy food and lying on the couch coughing etc., I know what I’m doing, and I don’t care. What the heck is that anyway? Where’s my enthusiasm, my commitment, my pride in myself? How can I be so NOT like me? I guess I just don’t have the oomph I need to kick myself in the butt.

I think what I do is just give myself permission to stop thinking so much about what I’m doing and how I’m doing. I give myself permission to just say “F*&# it”. And it feels good because I think A LOT.

Until it doesn’t feel good.

I’ve been feeling low for most of the weekend. So, I guess I truly didn’t give myself permission, like I thought, or I wouldn’t be feeling guilty. I’m responsible for my own actions and for my own thinking. I deeply believe this.

I KNOW how powerful my mind is and how I can turn my thinking around. I just haven’t been able to do it today or yesterday.

I think the struggle continues to be: It’s OK to not be perfect. Somehow, I still beat myself up now and again even though my mind knows I’m human and it’s ok to screw up.

I’ve decided to just ride it out.

There is one thing I KNOW to be TRUE…every time I get low or when it seems I can’t get out of a mental slump.

I T    A L W A Y S    P A S S E S !

What a relief and how awesome is that? I’m feeling better already!

I’m proud to say that my husband and I have still stuck to our no alcohol at home plan, since mid-January. Woo hoo! It feels good to stick to a commitment.

We leave for Mexico this coming Saturday, and I’m really looking forward to the warm weather. Hopefully we can kick aside the germs that have been hovering around us. Hopefully, I can focus on the present and enjoy the time with my husband, my daughter and the friends we’ll be staying with.

Living life is about sharing life with others.

I WILL get back in the saddle wholeheartedly when I return. I WILL continue to blaze a trail on my health journey because I have that power…so cool.

Wishing you health and success on your journey,

SignatureAli