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  1. A Simple Habit to Help You Get Rid of Bloating

    I’m in the midst of an intensive health practitioners’ course all about digestion, and a recent lesson has become a game-changer now that I’m putting it into practice. For all my gals and guys who struggle with bloating and gas after eating, find it hard to lose weight, or feel run-down, this one’s for you.

    The good news? This practice doesn’t involve changing your diet AT ALL. It just requires giving a little more attention to something you already do every day.

    Let’s talk about chewing!

    How often have you thought about chewing? Not much, right? Chewing is a voluntary action (you can stop and start at will), but it’s more like an unconscious reflex. You put food in your mouth, chomp on it a few times, and down the hatch it goes.

    It turns out that chewing is as important as anything going on internally. Since it’s the first step in the process of digesting food, the way you chew, including how long you chew, determines how smoothly the rest of the process goes.

    That’s because the act of chewing not only breaks food down into smaller pieces, it’s also a heads up to your stomach that food is on its way and it should get the place ready. More enzymes and gastric juices are released into your stomach, so when the food arrives, it can be easily broken down, sent through the intestines and then delivered to cells.

    If you’re tossing back big, barely chewed lumps of food at a quick pace, it’s gonna be a ROUGH ride. Your stomach won’t be ready with enough enzymes and gastric acid to break things down very well. Hello indigestion. These oversized particles of partly undigested food then get pushed into your intestines where bacteria start to work on them. This is when bloating and its trusty sidekick gas kick in. You wind up feeling crampy, burpy, gassy, and not unlike a walking parade float.

    The simple act of chewing the right way can get rid of bloating, gas, and stomach pain.

    The longer you chew, the more food gets broken down in your mouth, the more efficiently your stomach will work, and the easier the rest of the digestive process will be.

    Three more reasons to start chewing slow n’ steady:

    1.) You’ll absorb more nutrients from your food. Chewing well breaks food down into small pieces that the stomach can easily digest. This ensures food particles reach your intestines in a small enough size that the maximum amount of nutrients can be efficiently absorbed. If you don’t chew well, you’ll miss out on a lot of nutrients. This is true even if you’re eating the cleanest organic diet known to man.

    2.) More nutrient absorption = more energy. Energy comes from the nutrients we absorb – think carbohydrates, fat, protein, etc. If you’re not chewing well, you’re not absorbing as many nutrients, and you’re not going to have as much energy. The digestive process is pretty demanding on the body and uses up a good deal of energy. If you stress out your body by making it work even harder to break down improperly chewed food, it’ll require even more energy. That’s less energy available to be used elsewhere. This might be one of the reasons you feel so damn tired all the time.

    3.) You’ll eat less food. Chewing more slows you down. Since your body doesn’t know it’s full until after a lag time of 20-30 minutes, building extra time into your meal by chewing longer means your brain has a good chance of getting the “I’m full” message before you’ve cleaned your plate and gone back for seconds. If you feel like you’re eating all the right things and not seeing the weight loss results you want, you might be overeating. Chewing well is one way to address this.

    So, what’s the best way to chew?

    Take smaller bites of food.

    Chew slowly.

    Chew until your bite of food is liquefied mush. Don’t worry about counting chews.

    Finish chewing and swallowing one bite before taking another bite.

    Don’t guzzle water while you’re eating.

    That’s it! It seems like a giant “duh,” but I’d be willing to bet this isn’t how you’re chewing. Give it a whirl! Start at your next meal. If it feels super laborious at first, aim for mindful chewing at one meal a day.

    I’ve been surprised at how much less food it takes for me to feel full and how much more I’m enjoying my meals with all this chewing! It’s also been a good reminder that sometimes it’s the simplest of actions that have the most powerful effect on how we feel.

    Go get your chew on!

    xxT

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  2. My Favorite Healthy Cooking Oils (and How I Use Them)

    There are few ingredients in your kitchen that get more use than oils. No matter what you’re cooking or how you’re cooking it, oil is almost always invited to the party. This is true for salads too (assuming it has a dressing/vinaigrette), so oils are involved even when you’re not cooking.

    If your pantry needs some spring cleaning, or you’re doing a full upgrade to healthier kitchen products, take a look at your oils first. 

    If you’ve already done a little research, you’ve noticed there are five bazillion types of oils. You can Google search the heck out of it and still not find any conclusive recommendations on which ones are healthiest. There are debates around the types and ratios of fats in oils, how much heat oils can handle before they break down and release potentially harmful compounds, and all of the labels – expeller-pressed, cold-pressed, extra-virgin, organic, non-GMO.

    It’s a mind scrambler, and all you really want to know is what oil is best to fry my damn eggs in?!

    In hopes of cutting through a lot of the noise and saving you some time, I’m sharing my favorite healthy cooking oils (including one you’re probably not using) and how I use them.

    First, I think it’s important to mention what NOT to cook with, and that’s vegetable oils like soybean oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, and safflower oil. These are heavily processed using toxic chemicals, deodorizers, and extremely high heat to extract the oils from seeds. High in unstable polyunsaturated fats, these oils oxidize easily making them highly inflammatory. Their super high ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to beneficial omega-3 fatty acids also means ingesting these oils regularly creates a prime scenario for chronic inflammation. Most are made from genetically modified crops (GMOs) too. Vegetable oil, especially soybean oil, is in a ton of packaged products and fast food/restaurant food – it’s hard to avoid it! So at least don’t cook with it at home.

    Extra Virgin Olive Oil…the workhorse

    How I use it: medium-heat cooking, sautéing, pan frying, roasting, and salad dressings and sauces

    As you may guess, organic extra virgin olive oil is numero uno for me. I use this most often because I simply love the flavor and body a good quality olive oil adds to whatever I’m making. It’s also rich in vitamin E and heart-healthy antioxidants. Extra virgin means it’s minimally processed, retaining as much olive flavor, aroma and nutritional value as possible. I usually buy Whole Foods’ or Roundy’s brand, but any organic, extra virgin olive oil in a dark-tinted glass bottle or tin from a store you trust is good. If you want an amazing, splurge-worthy olive oil for drizzling over bread or a summer Caprese salad, I highly recommend Columela. It’s sharp, peppery, buttery and SO delicious.

    I don’t know where the idea that you can’t heat extra virgin olive oil came from, but it’s a total myth.

    The smoke point for extra virgin olive oil is about 375ºF (it can vary some depending on the quality and producer), so just keep the flame to medium or medium-high at most when using it on the stovetop. Heating will, of course, lead to some loss of nutrients, but extra virgin olive oil is still a great cooking option and the flavor I prefer with most dishes. For high-heat cooking with olive oil, save the extra virgin good stuff and use the more affordable light olive oil (the other olive oil in the photo). It’s more refined than extra virgin, so not as nutritious, but more stable for high-heat cooking. I mostly use it for making popcorn (and then I dress the popped corn in extra virgin olive oil).

    By the way, every cooking oil/fat has a smoke point. It’s the temperature at which an oil starts continuously smoking when heated. If heated beyond its smoke point, the fat in the oil starts to break down releasing chemical compounds that not only give your food a bitter flavor and rank smell, but also generate toxic fumes that you don’t want to inhale.

    Virgin Coconut Oil…the health-world darling

    How I use it: medium-heat cooking, roasting vegetables, sautéing dark leafy greens, baking

    Coconut oil is mostly saturated fat, which is why it’s solid at room temperature. As we now know, it’s a good type of saturated fat (medium-chain triglycerides) that has been shown to improve overall cholesterol levels and have anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties.

    Virgin coconut oil’s smoke point is about 350°F, and I love it for sautéing greens like kale and dandelion greens (<– it tames any bitterness!) and roasting sweet potatoes. For me, the scent and mild flavor of coconut just don’t work with some things. For example, eggs. No coconut eggs for me, thanks. However, it’s perfect for baking muffins and breads and making dark chocolate candy. If you come across baking recipes that call for vegetable oils (a lot use canola oil), feel free to substitute with coconut oil. I don’t notice the coconut flavor or scent as much when I bake sweets with it.

    Trader Joe’s Organic Virgin Coconut Oil is a steal at $5.99 for 16 ounces.  Like olive oil, there’s also refined coconut oil that stands up well to higher temperatures – up to 400°F. Nutiva makes an excellent organic refined coconut oil.

    Avocado Oil…the healthiest cooking oil you aren’t using yet

    How I use it: high-heat cooking like searing meat and fish, frying and stir frys, roasting over 400°F, broiling, making mayonnaise

    Avocados are LIFE.  They’re the most perfect food, if you ask me. So, it’s no surprise that I’m a huge fan of avocado oil, which is pressed from the flesh of an avocado. I started using refined avocado oil about a year ago, and it’s become my go-to oil for high-heat cooking like searing and frying. In this case, refined simply means filtered more using mild heat – not heavily processed with chemicals. Refined avocado oil has a very high smoking point – 500°F – and a clean, slightly nutty flavor that’s like BUTTAH. I love pan frying salmon with it. The pan and oil can get ripping hot and yet…no smoke! The only downside is that avocado oil can be pricey. For me, it’s worth the investment because I don’t use it daily.

    Moral of the story, for healthy high heat cooking get you some avocado oil! Chosen Foods and Spectrum Naturals make high-quality, non-GMO refined avocado oils. Be sure you’re choosing the refined avocado oil and not virgin/extra virgin avocado oil, which shouldn’t be heated.

    Ghee…the better butter

    How I use it: frying or scrambling eggs, searing meat, caramelizing onions

    It’s not an oil, but organic ghee is an excellent cooking fat worth including here, especially as you’re probably seeing mentions of it pop up more and more. Ghee is butter that’s been heated to the point where the milk solids are separated and removed. There is no water, protein or sugar in ghee, making it a great option for anyone with digestive issues or allergies related to the whey, casein or lactose in milk and regular butter. Ghee is pure butter fat, i.e., insanely delicious and rich in vitamins A and D. It’s my new favorite cooking fat for eggs, since it doesn’t brown like butter does. Ghee can also be used in baking, as well as any high-heat cooking thanks to a smoke point of 485ºF. I’ve only used Purity Farms ghee and haven’t switched it up yet because this one tastes like a dream.

    If you have any questions about oils, lay ’em on me in the comments!

    xxT

     

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  3. Healthy Travel Tips & Snacks

    If you struggle with the balance of indulging and healthy eating when you’re away from home, I FEEL you. Making healthy choices while traveling is tough stuff. I just got back from a couple weeks away, and I was reminded how easy it is to let things fall to the wayside when I’m out of my normal routine (especially in Wisconsin where they really know their way around sausages and tasty cheesy things).

    I managed to not go far off the rails though, and that’s all because of a few simple shifts, a little planning, and some healthy, travel-friendly snacks. I’m sharing my strategies here, along with snack ideas and suggestions for navigating the minefield of terrible-for-you crap in airports and off-the-highway joints.

    Whether you’ve got a vacation on the horizon (beach-bound? take me!), a little Labor Day getaway planned, or work-related trips coming up this fall, I encourage you to give these ideas a whirl and see what works for you!

    First, a Few Best Practices

     

    Make a Bare Bones Game Plan. Before you leave, decide on two or three non-negotiable, baseline, healthy habits that you’ll maintain while you’re away. Keep these basic and choose no more than three, so sticking to them is actually doable. Examples: eat greens/vegetables at every meal, drink 75 ounces of water a day, avoid gluten, walk/jog/exercise for 30 minutes, get at least 7 hours of sleep. Wherever you are, whatever else you eat or drink during your day, you’ll know you’ve taken care of yourself in these few ways everyday.

    BYOW. Not earth-shattering news, but worth emphasizing – nothing prevents post-travel bloat and fatigue as effectively as drinking water. (And hand-washing. Lots of hand-washing.) Relying on in-flight beverage service doesn’t cut it. Plane tap water is poor quality (this article is slightly terrifying). Besides, they give you tiny pours and there’s usually a long wait until they get to your row. The best solution: bring your own water. And drink a bunch. Aim for at least 8 ounces per hour. If you have to deal with some stink-eye from the folks in your row as you fumble across them to get to the bathroom, so be it. It’s better than the crankiness, headaches, and bloat of dehydration.

    Pack a Stash. As you’ll see below, there are so many easy, delicious, travel-friendly alternatives to airport, fast food, or gas station options (many of these are great for bringing to work too). Grab ’em at your local grocery store before your trip or go with the time-saving approach of ordering snacks pre-trip from my new favorite online source for high quality, healthy foods, Thrive Market. (<– LOVE it! I’ll do a post soon on my favorite buys from Thrive.) I’m all for indulgences while traveling, but not wasting them on crappy airport food, like the plastic-wrapped nightmares that favor sugar, salt, refined carbs, and inflammation-inducing vegetable oils over anything with real nutritional value. You typically avoid fast food in your day-to-day life – why not when you travel? Save the splurge for something that’s worth it, like the local restaurants you’ll hit up wherever you’re going, or the home-cooked food you’ll have with the family and friends you’re visiting. You’ll start your trip and return home feeling lighter, more energetic, and relaxed. No crappy food = no crappy mood!

    Get Up & Out. While on your trip, find a way to move, ideally, first thing in the morning, since that’s when you’ll likely have the most uninterrupted free time. Going for a jog or walk around town is my favorite way to get to know a new place. You can also look up a local yoga studio or do an online workout in your room. I’m into the free Tracy Anderson workouts on YouTube. If your co-worker/travel companion is game to join you, even better. Having a workout buddy can make all the difference between waking up for some exercise or slapping the snooze button. Though a casual workout won’t cancel out the second margarita I may have later that night, it never fails to keep me feeling good when traveling. Plus, it’s a lot easier to jump back into my exercise routine once I’m back home.

    Ideas for Your Stash

     

    In my day-to-day life, I’m not much of a snacker. I believe that if your meals have the right amount of protein and good fat, you won’t be hungry in between. But traveling is a different story because everything (schedule, where you’ll eat. etc.) is less predictable. So, I travel prepared.

    Bars – Most nutrition/protein bars are garbage, so I’m always on the hunt for bars that aren’t full of artificial sweeteners, soy, and grains. Look for those with the shortest ingredient lists that focus on nuts, seeds, and fruit. I don’t love KIND Bars because they contain glucose (aka, plain ol’ sugar) and soy lecithin, but the low-sugar varieties (5 grams or less) work in a pinch. A couple other bars I prefer:

    Simple Squares

    Simple Squares are similar to Larabars, but they’re organic, contain less sugar (9 grams each compared to the 18 – 22 grams in most Larabars), and they come in flavors like Rosemary, Cinnamon-Clove, and my favorite, Coconut.

    coconut_hero

    Health Warrior Chia Bars are super tasty, a little crunchy, and deliver a solid dose of omega-3s and fiber. The original Chia Bars have 3 grams of protein, which is fine for a light snack (once again, Coconut is the best!). The new Chia Protein Bars, though a tad starch-heavy, have 10 grams of plant-based protein and will hold you over for a few hours. Chia seeds stick in your grill like crrrrazy, so have a look in a mirror after eating one of these.

    Meat snacks – It’s tough to get high-quality protein from packaged snack foods, and one can only eat so many nuts. Enter: beef sticks, meat bars, and meaty trail mix. A mash-up of the salty-snack trend and the healthy protein trend, meat snacks are becoming the next big thing. I have ZERO hunger after eating these, and I love that their sugar content is super low. They’re great for travel because they don’t need refrigeration and stay fresh for months. A couple I’ve tried and liked:

    Chomps

    Chomps Snack Sticks look like Slim Jims, but that’s where the similarities end. Chomps are made with 100% grass-fed beef, spices, and celery juice (a natural preservative). That’s it. They have 9 grams of protein and taste surprisingly delicious and well-seasoned with a nice chew (no gnawing action required with this jerky). Sugar-free, gluten-free, and no artificial nitrates or preservatives. If you haven’t tried meaty snacks before, Chomps are a great starting point.

    Epic Bar

    I first tried Epic Bars a couple of years ago simply out of curiosity (and to support a business based in my favorite city in all the land, Austin, TX). They have the familiar rectangular shape of most nutrition bars, but they’re made with 100% grass-fed meats, including bison, beef, turkey, lamb, pork, and chicken. So, yeah…they’re a little intimidating at first. The Bison Bacon Cranberry Bar is a nice gateway. The meaty flavor is well-balanced by the sweetness of dried cranberries and the salty deliciousness of bacon. Super filling and great for zapping a sugar craving. I haven’t tried their new trail mix product, Hunt & Harvest Mix, so that’s next!

    Nut butters – Stock up on single packets of Justin’s Nut Butter, Barney Butter, and Artisana Coconut Butter for putting on fresh fruit or eating straight out of the packet.

    Flax-Chia packets Carrington Farms Organic Flax Chia Paks are an easy way to add  omega 3s, fiber, and a bit of protein to yogurt, oatmeal, and smoothies. They don’t change the flavor of your food, and will add a little crunch.

    Fresh fruit & veggies – Apples, pears, carrots, celery sticks, sliced bell peppers, cucumbers, berries, bananas (the latter two bruise easily, so they’re better for road trips than stuffing in an airplane carry-on). If you have a mini-cooler with a gel ice pack, bring along single servings of Wholly Guacamole for dipping.

    Popcorn – Pop it at home and bag it up. Quinn popcorn has insanely good flavors (Hickory Smoked Cheddar!) and is preservative- and GMO-free.

    Make-your-own trail mix – The bulk bins at the grocery are your friend, as is Trader Joe’s. A general guideline is two parts nuts and seeds to one part dried fruit.

    Quinoa patties – For a longer flight, bring along something more substantial, like these genius baked quinoa patties from 101 Cookbooks made with herbs, greens, onions, and garlic. Easy, filling, and so delicious.

    Ginger chews and dark chocolate – Ginger is a natural remedy for anxiety and motion sickness. Chocolate is a remedy for the pains of flights changes, asshole people, lost luggage, and other frustrating travel moments.

    Just in Case

     

    If you didn’t have time to stock up and buying food along the way is your only option, here are some of your best bets:

    In the airport – Buy a container of full-fat yogurt (yes, full fat) or a package of two hardboiled eggs, an apple, plus almonds from the newsstand and you’ve got your own breakfast combo. Skip the pizza and burgers and look for make-your-own salad and sandwich places so you have more control over what goes in it. Burrito joints (like my fave, Burrito Beach in Terminal 3 at O’ Hare) will often have the option of burrito bowls (all the fillings, minus the tortilla) and can be vegetarian and even gluten-free.

    At gas stations & rest stops – Even when it’s slim pickin’s, you can usually find at least a couple of these: yogurt, nuts, apples and bananas, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, string cheese, and hardboiled eggs. If going with the eggs, grab a cup, a fork, and a packet of salt and pepper so you can mash them up with some seasoning.

    Fast food – If you’re in a food desert and this becomes a must, Wendy’s (cup of chili and a garden salad), Arby’s (Roast Turkey Farmhouse Salad), and Chick-Fil-A (Chargrilled Chicken Garden Salad and a fruit cup) have relatively healthy options.

    On the road – Put Siri to work. Search “health food store” along with the name of the next town you’re approaching. I did this recently on a long drive and found a cute place half a mile off the highway that sold freshly made salads, hummus, organic fruit, green juice and smoothies. You never know!

    Above all…

     

    Try not to stress out about eating “perfectly” when you’re traveling. Stress is hard on your digestive system, preventing you from breaking down and absorbing nutrients properly and leading to issues like indigestion, bloating, and the dreaded travel constipation. UGH. Do the best you can with what’s available and stick to your non-negotiables. And have some freakin’ fun, ok?!

    Do you have favorite travel-friendly foods that I missed? Do tell! Questions about anything I’ve shared here? Ask away in the comments.

    Cheers to good times and healthy, safe travels this Labor Day weekend!

    xxT

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