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December is Wellness & Reflection Month!

“I don’t think I’ll ever grow old and say, What was I thinking eating all those fruits and vegetables?”

Nancy S. Mure

Credit:paladin1212 - stock.adobe.com

Copyright: ©paladin1212 - stock.adobe.com



Staying Healthy

I expect the term ”staying healthy” to mean many different things to different people. Some may immediately interrupt it as nutritional health and others may think mental and/or spiritual wellness. All these things are correct and as we begin the holiday season this year, part of staying healthy to me also means reflection and asking yourself, “what do I need right now?”

If your answer is a trip to the ocean or the mountains, I’d high five you, but I’m thinking smaller scale like….a walk outside, time to wash your hair or 30 minutes to watch the latest episode of your favorite show you’ve been trying to see for the past week. These are little things but they amount to a huge part of “wellness” and therefore, overall health.

With some of the regular holiday events back on our schedule this year….it’s easy to get caught up in old patterns like carpools, school plays, and gift shopping to name a few. Not that these are unimportant things but that “to-do list” can easily get out of control and replace some of the pleasures of the season with just a bunch of stress. If this resonates with you...it’s no wonder why your favorite day of the year might be December 26th.

I’m inserting a kind reminder to slow down, breath in whatever calm or hectic moment you are in and when you have the time, even 5 minutes before bed or waiting for your tea to steep, reflect on how you are feeling in your body, how you are feeling in your mind and not judge yourself if it’s not where you’d like to be. That last part is easier said than done, I am still reminding myself to let go of self-judgement. It is a process that needs your attention but the good news is that you can make a big difference with a few minutes a day.

I invite you to end this year with some reflection of what has happened, all the good, bad and in-between stuff and think about what, if anything, you’d like to accomplish next year, (remember, no judgement). I’ve added some sections below from posts over the course of this year. If you are focusing on self care, how to add some nutrients to your diet, trying to moderate alcohol consumption or looking to jumpstart some ideas for next spring, I hope you’ll find a few of the suggestions below helpful.


Self Care Suggestions For Those Reset Times

Breathing Exercises: Belly breathing is easy to do and very relaxing. Try this basic exercise anytime you need to relax or relieve stress.


First steps: Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. First, take a normal breath. Then take a deep breath: Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural). Repeat this exercise at least 3 times or until you are feeling more centered.


Take A Walk In Nature: Unplug and get back to basics. Humans evolved in nature and spending some time outside, enjoying the scenery can improve your mood and lower your blood pressure. It’s a free and easy way to clear your head and find some new inspiration and perspective.


Pet An Animal: This is a good idea anytime but research shows that petting an animal can lower your heart rate, and really just put a smile on your face.


Enjoy a Cup Of Tea: I love tea, it’s one of my favorite drinks. Black and green tea contain plant chemicals called flavonoids which provide and antioxidant effect. If it can’t be black or green tea, then enjoy hot water with lemon or herbal tea which is dried spices and/or leaves/herbs and almost always caffeine free.


Mediation: I personally use an app myself for guided meditation sessions. This helps me center myself and focus on what's happening in both my body and my mind. If I am feeling anxious or stressed, I pay attention to where I feel that sensation in my body. If I am feeling relaxed, I focus on where I feel that release in my body. Mediation has taught me to see my thoughts and feelings and recognize them (without judgement) first….BEFORE I react. It’s not an easy transition and it does takes practice but I’m working on it. I hope you give it a try.


Headspace and Calm are both great apps that offer a few free sessions to see if guided meditation is right for you. I was a skeptic for years and actually resented this option when people suggested it but now….I can’t recommend it enough.


Vitamins

There are many different schools of thought regarding vitamins. Some people swear by them and others think they are a waste of money. Both sides are right and wrong because there are always some caveats to flesh out. With mega “Vitamin” stores all over the place these days and more supplements than you can shake a stick at, it’s understandable that learning about vitamins can be intimidating. Even I don’t feel comfortable in those stores and I love learning about this type of stuff. My advice is broken down below to help you sort through what might be the best practice for you. Always consult with your doctor first before starting any new vitamin/supplement program.

Healthy Diet Is Better Than Vitamins

Most health and nutrition experts think that if you eat a nutrient dense diet then you should not need to take additional vitamin/supplement pills. I believe in this school of thought but everyones day-to-day diet is not always this cut and dry. Days are hectic and people are busy. Some may have meal prepped the night before and set themselves up with a healthy breakfast and lunch but a lot of people/families are running to work and school (or both) and that healthy meal plan, however well intentioned has gone out the window. There are also some people out there who really enjoy eating the same things everyday. There is nothing “wrong” with this, especially if they are all healthy foods (caveat...wait for it) but this does limit the variety of vitamins and minerals you will ingest through your food. Eating a wide variety of nutrient dense foods offers you more naturally occurring vitamins and minerals from different food sources.

Busy lives and limited diets are two great examples of when adding a daily multivitamin to your breakfast or lunch routine is a helpful way to get all the essential B vitamins and fat soluble A,D,E and K vitamins into your system. Even if you prefer to take a multivitamin every other day, that may still be more helpful than skipping one altogether. The main takeaway is that there is no substitute for a healthy diet and taking a daily (or every other day) vitamin won’t cure any condition, disease or weight issue. It’s just good practice to ensure you get some vitamins and minerals into your system. They don’t have to be expensive and fancy but do look for the USP label explained below.

Since staying healthy is the ultimate goal….and you would rather spend the extra money buying more produce, lean meats and vegetables than supplements...that’s a great too. It’s both sides of the coin of what works best for you, your schedule, and your wallet. (For more information about vitamins and macro/micronutrients, please see my February 2021 post).


Helpful Hint: Since vitamins are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), look for the USP label on your vitamins. The United States Pharmacopeial Convention (USP) is a scientific nonprofit organization.


The USP Dietary Supplement Verification Program is a voluntary testing and auditing program that helps dietary supplement manufacturers ensure the production of quality products for consumers. This is what I always look for on my bottle.


Exercise

You don’t have to start training at 5am every morning for a marathon...but 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days a week is the minimum starting point according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as well as the American Heart Association. With all our busy lives we can sometimes build up 30 minutes to be an extensive amount of time but it really does go by fast. Pick something you love (or even just like to do to start with) that will get you moving. Some suggestions are below:

  • Ride a bike

  • Take a brisk walk

  • Running/jogging

  • Yoga/Pilates (YouTube has lots of videos on each form)

  • Play a sport (join a team with a friend)

  • Take the stairs at work (if that is an option)

  • Park your car at the far end of the parking lot to get more steps everywhere you go. I also find this option to be less stressful in busy lots.

What’s For Dinner?

Hearty, cozy meals during the winter months are some of my favorites all year. And those healthy, delicious meals don’t have to be complicated, expensive or time consuming. Believe me, I am not applying to Top Chef anytime soon, but a simple Crockpot or Instant Pot will make you feel like you could be a professional cook. It is also a great “go to” for a nutrient dense dinner.

When cooking, it’s a good rule of thumb to know that vitamins are vulnerable and minerals are indestructible. Meaning, if you cook a piece of meat until it is very well done (I don’t recommend this personally but please cook it how you like it) the minerals will remain intact. Water soluble vitamins on the other hand such a C and the B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, B6, B12, and folate) are susceptible to heat and hot water and the vitamins will leach out into the water and/or juices. If you are cooking vegetables in hot water, the water is now the most nutrient dense part of that meal...so please DON’T throw it out. Save it in the freezer and make a broth out of it. You can also use it as your water to boil rice or quinoa for added flavor and an extra vitamin punch for another meal that week. You could always try steaming your vegetables to maintain the nutrient integrity of your meal. If steaming isn’t a usual practice, try it out. It’s easy and the veggies are always delicious.


Alcohol

During the holiday season, it is dangerously easy to increase your usual intake of sugar and alcohol. If you are attending a festive party this month and you are talking with friends and colleagues and drinking and eating it could be easy to lose count of how many drinks you had...if you were keeping track at all. Remember, excess alcohol consumption can increase the risk of mouth, throat, liver and colon cancers but it can also increase the rate of developing prostate cancers. The 2020 Dietary Guidelines suggests that both women and now even men limit their alcohol intake to one drink per day (which has been reduced from the previous 2 drinks per day for men). Portion size and alcohol volume breakdown to the following:


Beer: 12 oz and 5% abv

Wine: 5 oz and 12% abv

Liquor: 1.5 oz and 40% abv


Enjoy yourself but drink responsibly. This is a great time to start a mindful eating and drinking practice. Take the time to really enjoy the flavors, smells, and textures of your food and beverages. Can you identify all the nuances of the flavors on your palate? Do they change from the first sip or bite right before they are ingested? Think about it and really dig into understanding what you like about the food/drinks you choose. Examine not only the flavors and textures but how they make you feel. Are emotions involved in your choices as well? It’s a fun and insightful way to learn more about yourself and your food/drink behaviors. Who knows, you may even expand your palate and want to branch out of your dietary comfort zones and try a few new foods, and perhaps herbs and spices.


Keep It Moving With More Fiber

Fiber is an important part of digestive health. It lowers cholesterol, reduces blood sugar, maintains healthy bowel movements and helps with weight control by helping you to feel fuller. If you wish to increase your fiber intake, also increase your fluid intake.

There are two types of fiber: Soluble and Insoluble.


Soluble fiber dissolves and forms a gel-like substance in the gut.

Insoluble fiber adds bulk to the stool and help alleviate constipation


Below are a few foods that are naturally high in fiber according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

  • 1 large pear with skin (7 grams)

  • 1 cup fresh raspberries (8 grams)

  • ½ medium avocado (5 grams)

  • 1 ounce almonds (3.5 grams)

  • ½ cup cooked black beans (7.5 grams)

  • 3 cups air-popped popcorn (3.6 grams)

  • 1 cup cooked pearled barley (6 grams)

When increasing fiber, be sure to do it gradually and with plenty of fluids. As dietary fiber travels through the digestive tract, it is similar to a new sponge; it needs water to plump up and pass smoothly. If you consume more than your usual intake of fiber but not enough fluid, you may experience nausea or constipation so be vigilant of how you feel while adding in more fiber to your diet.


Looking To Get A Jumpstart On Spring?

Between now and March is the perfect time to start thinking about growing an herb garden. The first thing you want to do is pick a location. Perhaps you have the perfect patch in mind that you’ve been threatening to grow your own tomatoes in for the past 2 years? Or maybe you live in the city and you can only do a small box of herbs outside your kitchen window. Whatever the set up, there is an answer for everyone.

Some of my favorites are listed below for suggestions:

  • Thyme

  • Sage

  • Oregano

  • Chives

  • Mint

  • Lavender

Soil & Sun

Make sure your soil has good drainage and enough room for the roots to sprout. This is very helpful for the herbs to grow successfully. Prepare the soil using a garden fork, as this will help to break up old soil that has been compressed over time. Not all soils are created equal and some herbs prefer gritty soil such as rosemary and bay. Some herbs will rot in heavier soils but will do better in raised planters or pots. My advice is to know what you’d like to plant first before moving forward.


You will also want to take spacing into consideration when digging your holes for seeds or putting in whole herb plants. Measuring your herbs 1-4 feet in diameter is a good rule of thumb so the roots have some space to settle.

Most herbs will need 4-6 hours of sunlight per day. Summer temperatures do matter and anything above 90 degrees can be harmful for your herbs. If you have a location that gets morning sun and afternoon shade during high temps, that would work best.


Benefits of Growing Your Own Herbs

There are several benefits to adding culinary herbs and spices to your daily meals. Herbs are known for containing antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-carcinogenic properties. Frequent consumption of herbs and spices can lower your heart rate and reduce cholesterols levels. Herbs such as basil, rosemary, sage and oregano can have great antioxidant benefits. Let’s not forget about spices such as turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and cayenne pepper. These also have individual properties that can aid in fighting inflammation, relieving nausea, lowering blood sugar, and easing pain.


Everyone loves to save money! At the end of the summer season my husband and I always pick the remaining herbs and freeze them in a tight container for winter. A great way to use up the rest of your basil is to make a delicious pesto which is also freezer friendly. Defrost is for a quick and delicious meal sometime in December and it will bring back the tastes of summer. Freezing your herbs is a great way to conserve the plants themselves and save you money on having to buy more of what you grow later that year.

Adding in more fresh (or previously frozen) herbs into your dishes can also help you acquire a new taste for them and you may feel compelled to add less salt to your dishes. Try to swap out herbs and spices instead of sodium.

Fun Fact: Did you know it only takes ten days to re-acclimate your taste buds! This means you can retrain your buds to crave new foods...even as an adult. This can also help curb sugary food cravings as well as the salty! And Remember….Health starts from the inside out….but also from the ground up!

To discuss more detailed information regarding the topics within this blog, or to inquire about customized nutrition plans, please reach out to Cathleen Winter at cathleen@wellnesswithincw.com


A Little About Me

My name is Mary DeBlasio, and I live in Silver Spring, MD. I recently graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics in May of 2021. I am very interested in mindful eating, and foods that correlate with the seasons. My goal after graduation is to pursue a dietetic internship with a focus on clinical dietetics. I would like to concentrate on patients suffering from gastrointestinal issues. All my information is backed by credible sources cited within the blog.


Sources

Cholesterol in the blood. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/high-cholesterol/cholesterol-in-the-blood.

Ellis, R. by E. (n.d.). Healthy Eating for Men. EatRight. https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/healthy-aging/healthy-eating-for-men#:~:text=Moderately%20active%20males%20likely%20need,%2C%20lentils%2C%20fruits%20and%20vegetables.

How to Calm an Anxious Stomach: The Brain-Gut Connection. Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. (2018, July 19). https://adaa.org/learn-from-us/from-the-experts/blog-posts/consumer/how-calm-anxious-stomach-brain-gut-connection.

Larson, H. (n.d.). Easy Ways to Boost Fiber in Your Daily Diet. EatRight. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/easy-ways-to-boost-fiber-in-your-daily-diet.

Litterless. (2020, January 10). How to compost in an apartment. https://www.litterless.com/journal/how-to-compost-in-an-apartment

Madison, A., & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K. (2019). Stress, depression, diet, and the gut microbiota: human–bacteria interactions at the core of psychoneuroimmunology and nutrition. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 28, 105–110. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2019.01.011

Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, January 6). How to add more fiber to your diet. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/fiber/art-20043983.

MD, E. S. (2020, March 31). Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-psychiatry-your-brain-on-food-201511168626.

Reynolds, M. C. (2021, November 5). Useful links. Johns Hopkins Medicine, based in Baltimore, Maryland. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/cam/Internet%20Resources/useful_links.html.




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