Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gratitude: A Healthy Emotion

2009 comes to a close in a few short hours and I'm thinking back to my last year and even the last decade. 2010 marks a fresh new decade with opportunity. 10 years ago, on New Year's Eve 1999, I was back in the Bay Area celebrating with my Silicon Valley-minded friends. We all heard about the Y2K claims that the world would shut down because of a glitch in software code. I didn't believe it, but I did wonder "what if?" in the back of my mind. When the lights stayed on and we were still alive, we all cheered. I remember rocking out to Prince singing "I'm going to party like it's 1999!" What a fun moment in time. Now, a decade later, I'm reminded by how much has changed in my life. In the last 10 years, I traveled all around the world, met my husband, and worked hard on my career. I'm grateful that now we're beginning a new chapter in our lives. In June, we decided to move to Indianapolis to simplify our lives to raise our family. The day after I moved, I found out that we were expecting our baby girl. This spring, we will welcome her to our lives and begin to nurture her to become a healthy, strong individual. Our expectations about parenthood are that it will both challenge and reward us in ways not previously possible.

It's with these heavy thoughts in mind, that I realize how eternally grateful I am for my challenges in my life. Let's face it. I've had more than my share of trauma and drama. But, the important part is that here at age 33 and with a partner who supports me more than anyone can, I'm embarking on the next decade with eyes wide open ready to take on more!

I started this blog to share my tips and strategies for healthy living in the real world. One thing that you don't read about in the media about healthy living is how to balance emotional and spiritual well being. Health studies have proven that overweight people are more likely to permanently lose the excess weight when they practice a healthy lifestyle AND attended counseling sessions to heal their mind. Your mental health is healthy for the body! You hear about the mind and body connections all the time. People are stressed out and then, they become sick.

On the final hours of 2009, I'm sitting in my kitchen, cooking soup in my new house that we moved into earlier this week. My husband is here and we're genuinely happy and grateful to share our lives together. I took this photo of our backyard on the first morning we woke up in our new home from the fabulous sun room where we will share many meals with our family and friends.

My wish for you is to have a healthy heart, body, and mind for 2010. Let's keep the journey going...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Try this Spicy, Healthier Mac and Cheese: Chipotle Mac and Cheese

Ever since this Cooking Light recipe came out in 2004, it's been a favorite in our house ever since! Chipotle Macaroni and Cheese is a healthier version of macaroni and cheese and you can use whole wheat pasta to add more fiber. The smoky chipotle chiles in adobo sauce come in a small can in the Mexican food section of your grocery store. You can freeze the remaining chiles or store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator where they store for months.

This recipe makes 6 servings for an entree portion and you can serve it as a side dish for a dinner party with chicken or pork and stretch it further. I made this for tonight's dinner with steamed green beans. We were happy to have it again since I haven't made it in months. I've made it so many times that I have memorized the recipe. If you have kids you might want to reduce the number of chipotle chilis from 2 to 1.

Chipotle Macaroni and Cheese (serves 6) - photo courtesy Cooking Light

1 (7 1/2-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (ONLY use 1 or 2 chiles)
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 cup chopped green bell peppers
1 clove garlic minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes undrained
4 cupss cooked elbow macaroni 2 cups uncooked
2 cupss shredded cheddar cheese reduced-fat (8 oz)
1 cup 1% cottage cheese
1 cup 2% milk
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg lightly beaten
Cooking spray
3 tablespoons bread crumbs


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Remove 1 tsp adobo sauce from can; set aside. Remove 2 chipotle chilies from can; finely chop to measure 1 tbs. Reserve chilies and remaining sauce for another use.
  3. Melt butter in a Dutch Oven over medium-high heat. Add chopped chilies, onion, bell pepper, and garlic; cook 4 minutes or until onion is tender, stirring frequently. Sprinkle with flour; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Reduce heat to medium; add tomatoes. Cook 3 minutes or until thickened. Add reserved 1 tsp adobo sauce, pasta, chedder cheese, cottage cheese, milk, Parmesan, and egg; stir to combine. Spoon pasta mixture into a 2 quart baking dish coated with cooking spray; top with bread crumbs. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.
Calories: 324; Fat 8.5g; Protein: 34.2g; Carb: 39.6g; Fiber 2g.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Must-Read Guide for Women Thinking of Starting a Family in the Future...

Back in 2007, I decided to take my healthy lifestyle up a notch to prep my body for baby. At that point, I didn't know exactly when we were going to start a family, but I thought it would be best to take advantage of the time to get my body in shape to grow a healthy human. By the time you're in your 30's so many of your friends have had babies or in the process of it so you hear all the things they're going through when they're pregnant with nutrition, exercise, and the cycles a woman's body goes through to make room for the growing baby. I know a body takes time to adapt and optimize so I thought why not start now. I was already committed to a healthy lifestyle of nutrition and exercise, but I decided to improve further.

I'm 27 weeks pregnant now and enjoying a very smooth and healthy pregnancy. Health professionals say that pregnant women have higher blood pressure/cholesterol/or blood glucose and swelling. I haven't had any of these conditions. I truly believe that my preparations made all the difference. The recommendations that physicians make to pregnant woman are not too far from a non-pregnant woman, except for the part about alcohol. I really do miss wine right now!

There are 4 physical phases for a woman to consider as you plan to bring a child into this world that effect your body. If your body is strong and healthy, you can help ensure a healthier experience for you and baby!
  • Fertility & Conception - lifestyle planning can help set the stage for pregnancy achievement for you and your partner. I tracked my fertility signs for over a year before pregnancy, which was empowering to know MY body.
  • Pregnancy - 40 weeks to grow a healthy human and your body goes through massive changes over this period to adapt for life's miracle.
  • Labor & Delivery - The more medical interventions (induction, c-section, etc), the harder the labor and longer time for recovery. Physical fitness conditioning preps you for the labor and delivery.
  • Lactation - your baby's most perfect and nutritionally balanced food is produced by you! And the health benefits are massive for you and baby.
So here are the health overhauls and steps that I took to plan for baby years before my pregnancy.
  • Read your labels: eliminate dangerous fake sweeteners like High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Aspartame, and Sucralose from your diet. This is really important and harder to do! Everything from salad dressings, condiments (ketchup), cereal, yogurt, bread, are loaded with fake sweeteners. HFCS is particularly dangerous to your metabolism because it encourages over-eating because your body doesn't feel satiated and over time your body becomes less efficient at processing sugar, which can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. After this process my husband is now on-board, too! Perfect timing because I definitely don't want our baby to be exposed to fake food either! I buy organic versions of yogurt, ketchup, cereal and bread to avoid these dangerous sweetners. Instead, I use all natural sweetners that your body can process like pure Stevia Extract (not Truvia), honey, and sugar in moderation. It turns out my nurse told me in the first visit "no pink, yellow, or blue packets, just sugar is ok." I told her no problem, DONE! Remember, your baby is growing in your body and getting all the nutritients that you are good/bad. Do you want your baby to develop his/her own metabolism with food we are not meant to process naturally?
  • Balanced nutrition and smaller meals. I've learned to eat more fresh produce over the years and spreading my meals in smaller portions throughout the day. Your metabolism needs a variety of high-quality foods found in nature (whole foods and complex grains) to maintain a steady stream of energy throughout the day. Physicians recommend that pregnant women eat smaller meals to avoid nausea and indigestion. To be fair, I have had indigestion, but not nausea. I truly believe this is due to my already healthy nutrition habits.
  • Fitness foundation - aerobic endurance and strength training. Labor and birth are one of the most challenging physical experiences a woman can go through in her life. A strong body going into pregnancy helps immensly because physicians do not advise you to START a NEW fitness program during pregnancy. When I met with my OB/GYN for the first time, she asked me what my fitness routine was and I told her about my heart monitor, spin classes, and strength training workouts. This foundation gave her the comfort to allow me to target a 160 bpm heart rate maximum goal rather than the 140 bpm that many women get. This helps tremendously since pregnant women's hearts are taxed more so your heart rate is much higher than pre-pregnancy. This gave me a better buffer for my prenatal fitness routine. Having strong and balanced muscles from strength training help me carry the extra baby weight without worrying about losing my balance or swelling up. Having a fitness routine helps pregnant women maintain a slow and steady weight gain.
  • Vitamins & Fish Oil: Many pregnant women complain that the prenatal vitamins make them sick. I switched to prenatal vitamins from my pre-pregnancy variety (whole foods multi-vitamin from Dr. Mercola), but continued to take my fish oil. Pregnant and lactating women should take 300 mg of DHA found in fish oil capsules for omega-3 fatty acids. It's recommended for the baby's body and brain development and for the woman's general heart health.
  • Final Step: Pre-pregnancy physical and check-up. Back in April, I went to the doctor for an annual physical exam and blood work. They told me that I'm completely healthy and better than optimal in many cases! I had another physical for work a couple months ago and I know that I have an optimal blood glucose, which means I'm not at risk for gestational diabetes. In 2 weeks I'll go for my routine 3rd trimester blood work to screen for gestational diabetes, but I'm confident there won't be any issues due to my previous scores and healthy lifestyle!
  • Finally all this prep work is great, but listening to your body is key to staying healthy in the moment! I haven't gotten extensively sick during my pregnancy. I may feel run down and the start of a cold coming on, but I take the time to rest and sleep, which helps me bounce back faster! I blogged before about not taking the flu shots during my pregnancy. I haven't worried too much about getting seriously sick because I'm proactively listening to my body's signs of exhaustion to ensure a higher immunity.
I'm sure you can tell from reading this that I have thought endlessly about becoming a mother physically and spiritually (that's a whole other topic)! That's why becoming a mother at 33 feels fantastic! I hope you can join me in the smooth journey!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

'Tis the Season for Tea: Yerba Mate

A couple years ago, I discovered Yerba Mate tea. I love brewing tea in the Fall and Winter seasons and it's fun to try different varieties. I stock wide varieties in the pantry in case I have a craving for chamomile, green tea, or mint and it's great for guests to choose their favorites. Then, I spotted Yerba Mate one day and I was intrigued by smoky flavor and the health advantages like antioxidants, improving digestion, aiding mental clarity, and boosting your natural energy. Maybe that energy comes from the natural caffeine, but I do enjoy the flavor!

Yerba Mate is grown in South America and enjoyed by the people of Argentina, Uraguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, and Brazil.

I buy the Guayaki brand pictured on the right because it's a fair-trade product and it supports the native people to grow and harvest the plant.

To brew, I warm the water in a tea kettle on the stove. I use an average size tea pot and place 2 tea bags at the bottom. Pour the hot water in the tea pot with the bags and brew for 3-5 minutes.

Try it with sweetener (sugar, honey, stevia extract) and even a splash of vanilla soymilk or milk. The smoky flavor is very soothing and rich.

You can buy it in the natural foods section of your local store, Trader Joe's, or Whole Foods.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Been Super Busy! My Healthy Tips for a Crazy Schedule

It's been a month since I've had the chance to blog! I didn't mean to be quiet for so long, but Aaron and I have been so insanely busy that I haven't had time. Remember back in June, we decided to move to Indianapolis? We've been busy looking for a house for the past month. We're not just going to buy "any home" either. We're buying "the" house to raise our family and settle into our new city. Aaron is the king of thorough research so by the time we've been actually looking at the homes, he's already scoped out all of our desires and balanced against our budget. Once we were approved for financing, we went out with our realtor. Then last week, we visited my family and friends in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving and one last trip to CA before the baby is born! This picture with my mom and aunt is from my baby shower that my friends hosted while were were out visiting in CA. While the girls were visiting at the shower, Aaron went golfing with the guys.

During our trip, we negotiated with a buyer and now we're under contract to close on our future home on Dec 22! We are so excited because it's a new home in an older neighborhood, not far from downtown. Life has been very hectic because evenings and weekends were devoted to house hunting and traveling.

Here's a few things that I've been doing this past month, even with a crazy schedule....
  • Getting 8-hours sleep is still a top priority to stay healthy, especially with my pregnancy. Sleep helps rejuvenate your body and balance your metabolism.
  • I pack snacks when we're on the go. I cut up apples and put them in my purse in case I get hungry.
  • Homemade trail mix is a easy when you stock your pantry. In a plastic bag, I throw in a handful of nuts (cashews, peanuts, or almonds), some dried fruit (dried cranberries, apricots, or raisins), and honey whole wheat pretzels from Trader Joe's. I put in a single serving and drop it in my bag and go!
  • Stocking the basics: whole wheat bread, sliced low-sodium turkey or ham deli meat, eggs, milk, sliced cheese, fresh fruits and veggies. Instead of takeout when we get home really late from house hunting or traveling, I make all natural tomato soup (box from Trader Joe's) and a grilled cheese and ham sandwich. Or you can always cook eggs and toast for dinner! If you have carrots in the fridge, it's easy to peel and cut them for a quick snack for later in the day.
  • A frozen meal works in a pinch. Trader Joe's has better-than-most frozen meals that I can pack for lunch for me or Aaron in the morning with fruit. There have been many nights lately that I didn't cook the night before and there's no time to make lunch before bed. I select the higher vegetable quantity, lower fat/sodium varieties like spinach lasagna for example.
  • This Monday, I made dried pinto beans in the crockpot (see my recipe from dried black beans). I picked up pre-cooked chicken breast from yes, Trader Joe's, but you can get a rotisserie chicken from any grocery store. I made corn tortilla chicken tacos with tomato, avocado and lettuce (from my produce box) and served the beans on the side. It was a healthy and easy meal that produced a lot of leftovers.
  • Don't skimp on vitamins. I take my prenatal vitamins and fish oil caps daily, but when I'm feeling extra tired or when I'm fight a bug, I use Emergen-C to boost my vitamin C and electrolytes.
These are some strategies that have helped me, if you want to share your tips, please add a comment!