Yes You C.A.N.

It sounds overwhelming and vague whenever you hear the well-known phrase: Fad diets are not the answer to lose extra body weight, a healthier lifestyle is. Nevertheless, it is true, diets provide only short-term solutions and could have serious side effects on your health and a healthier lifestyle is the ultimate long-term solution to a healthier weight. In theory, this is a simple notion, yet we find it difficult to put into practice. Because old habits die hard, figuring out how to change our eating habits into healthier sustainable ones can be challenging. The key to an efficient and smooth transition is to take things slowly and simply, one step at a time.

I recently came across a new study about healthy eating conducted by Cornell University and found it really interesting to share with you all as I thought it suggests brilliant yet simple and practical ways to healthier eating. After analyzing 112 studies that collected information about healthy eating behaviors, the study suggests using what they called the C.A.N. approach to achieve a healthier weight. The CAN approach highlights 3 important principals that focus on designing an environment that makes healthy eating simple by making healthier foods easiest to choose and consume. Hence, to get to eat healthier, healthier food must be:

1- Convenient (visible and easy to reach)

2- Attractive (enticingly displayed)

3- Normal (appear like an obvious choice)

The C.A.N. approach

 

For instance, placing a fruit bowl in a convenient place, where people walk by it, make it more accessible hence more convenient rather than storing the fruits in the back of a drawer in the refrigerator where they are out of sight and out of mind. Fruits assembled in a nice bowl are more attractive than fruits stored in a plastic bag or a drawer in the fridge. Making fruits easily accessible, appealing and part of your daily environment will gradually instill them into your daily routine and create healthy long-term dietary habits. Before you know it fruits will become a more popular choice in your household than cookies!

Apples and flowers

Here are some CAN inspired ideas to get you started:

  • Use canned and frozen fruits and veggies for more convenience. Like canned beans and frozen greens
  • If you still prefer fresh, opt for pre-packed pre-cut fruits and veggies for added convenience and accessibility like baby carrots, celery sticks and cucumber slices
  • Have single-servings of various proteins in:
    • the refrigerator (e.g. hard-boiled eggs, string cheese or bite-size cheese, or single-servings Greek yogurt); or
    • the pantry (e.g. packs of trail mix or raisins)
  • Buy a better brand of apples or yogurt that you will be more incentivized to eat (vs. let it perish in the fridge!)
  • Make appealing well-organized colorful veggie platters (tomato, celery, cucumber, carrots, cauliflower) and place them somewhere easy to grab like the coffee table in the sitting room (that could also be an interesting alternative to a flower arrangement for a change!)

It’s all about manipulating your environment to normalize and favor healthy choices at home or even in your office. As for the less-healthy food options, the CAN approach works in reverse: make them less convenient, less attractive and less normal. Although I think a swift shift to this lifestyle is best, you can take baby steps, for example move that Hershey Kisses bowl just 6 feet away from your desk and you will eat, on average, about 125 fewer calories every workday!

Oh and remember… Yes you C.A.N.

Happy International No Diet Day! 🍮

If you’ve just started that latest extreme diet fad, please stop and remember that today thousands of people are:

  • saying NO to diet and weight obsession
  • celebrating the diversity of body shapes and the acceptance of our natural shapes and sizes
  • asserting that a healthy lifestyle is about finding a sustainable way of eating healthy and that is unreachable without a wholesome balance between keeping healthy and enjoying what we like
  • highlighting that drastic and extreme dieting can be very dangerous and could lead to serious physical, emotional and psychological distressesRoquefort & Raspberry JamI’m celebrating this day with a favorite -Roquefort & raspberry jam- breakfast, miam miam! How are you celebrating?!

Slow Down! You’re Eating!

In the past few months, my life has been witnessing drastic changes, mainly as a consequence of welcoming a new baby and moving to the other side of the Atlantic. While, in the balance, the changes have been very gratifying, they tagged along numerous expected and un-expected novel responsibilities that I had to squeeze into my previously busy (yet paced) routine. To say the least, it hasn’t been easy to see my organic life dissipate, as I feel I’ve been entered into an impossible turbo race with time, which has become ever more fleeting and, with the load of my responsibilities, impossible to catch up to. Despite my best efforts, things are still chaotic to my taste and so in order to keep sane I am convincing myself that a meticulously structured and slower paced routine will eventually settle in after this transition period during which I am rarely in a “be” mode, and constantly in a “do” mode.

Juggling a new baby and a toddler, adjusting to a new city, house hunting and so many other challenges left too little time for me for basic necessities like having a proper meal. So I end up either eating on the go or gobbling food like a turkey! Something that has been upsetting not only my stomach but my whole wellness and lately made me reflect again on the risks of rushing meals and eating quickly; an eating behavior I was now sharing with many many other people who slide into this habit because of the demands of their work and family, which in an ever more competitive and interconnected world can be relentless and unrealistic.

However, it’s important that people (myself included), remember that this compromise of finding the additional time one needs by taking time away from food, isn’t without its risks and should be closely re-assessed:

  • Satiety, or feeling of satisfaction, is controlled by signals between the brain and the digestive track. It’s a process that takes at least 20 minutes to take place. When we eat fast we don’t give time for this process to suppress hunger levels and we end up eating more.
  • Furthermore, eating fast often means lazy chewing and swallowing food in big chunks, which can cause poor digestion. Beside discomfort and other digestive conditions like reflux and indigestion, a poor digestion can also lead to further weight gain.
  • Finally, by speed eating we put such little time to savoring food that we get little enjoyment from our meal, which may lead us to add on during our day an unhealthy desert or snack to make-up for this.

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In my family my sister was always the last one to finish her meal, and it drove the rest of the family crazy. Quite the opposite, I was the champion of speed eating, as I was always the first to finish. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that her slow eating was to credit for her being able to eat smaller portions and the secret to her flawless tummy. So some of us may be born slow eaters or figure out its benefits early on and don’t deviate from it easily, but for those of us who aren’t, or who are pushed more easily into speeding up our eating habit, here are some tips to start practicing Slow Eating:

Eat Slow

This month, many people are fasting in observance of Ramadan and they too should be careful with the risks of fast eating at the time of breaking their fast for the same reasons discussed above, so to them I would say: Ramadan Karim, Fast & Don’t Eat Fast Later! The key is to break your fast gradually and slowly to gauge how hungry you really are, rather than just starting to eat an industrial amount just because you now know you can and think you should because you haven’t eaten all day.

Last Days of Winter

The last stretch of winter is the toughest. You’re sick and tired of the gloomy weather, beaten by the cold and worn-out by the toll of heavy coats and layers on your shoulders. When these blues hit me, I take shelter in my kitchen where I always end up finding my remedy: Hello food innovation! Here are a couple of cold-weather-worthy recipes to try shortly before kissing wintertime goodbye!

Cabbage Cigars

photo 1-19I find that cabbage is usually not given its turn in most people’s diet from both gastronomical and nutritional perspectives. When raw, it’s commonly associated with abdominal conditions (such as bloating and flatulence) and is often kept away from cooking pots, as many find the smell of dissipating sulfur compounds in cooked cabbage unpleasant. Work around its minimal drawbacks and you’ll discern a smooth texture, a sumptuous flavor and a distinguished comfort in this winter veggie, a really great fix for cold days! You’ll also benefit from a great dose of vitamins such as vitamin K, vitamin C and folic acid in as little as 20 calories in a serving (75g).

Here is my favorite approach to savor cabbage:

*For a better digestion: parboil before cooking

*To mask its sulfuric smell: add some lemon juice and/or herbs (such as fresh or dried mint) to the cooking water

Cabbage Cigars is a melting-in-mouth dish! Cabbage leaves are stuffed in minced beef, rice and spices and seasoned with sautéed onion, garlic, mint and lemon juice. Here’s my recipe:

(Makes 6 servings)

1 whole cabbage

Filling:

  • 1 cup of sushi or Egyptian rice
  • ½ lbs. of ground beef
  • 1 tsp. of each: black pepper, allspice, ground cinnamon and salt

Seasoning:

  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 1 head of garlic peeled (half of the cloves mashed and the other half left to distribute between rolls)
  • 3 Tsp. of crushed (dried or fresh) mint
  • 1 cup of lemon juice
  • 1-2 cup of water (or just enough to cover the cabbage in pot)
  • 2 Tsp. of vegetable oil

Blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling water until they are tender. Cut the leaves in half if necessary and take the thick stems out (save them to line pot). Mix the meat with rice and spices and put aside. Stir-fry onion, garlic and mint in vegetable oil in the bottom of the pot then line the pot with the cabbage stems. Stuff the leaves by placing a tablespoon of the filling mixture in the middle and rolling it like a cigar. Place each stuffed leaf in the pot, one tight layer at a time. Add some garlic cloves here and there. Place a small plate on the cabbage rolls to hold them in place and to avoid the stuffing from coming out. Pour the lemon juice over the rolls and add water to cover the cabbage. Cook for about 1 hour over low heat or until the leaves are very tender and the stuffing is well cooked. Serve warm with plain Greek yogurt or with a minty cucumber yogurt accompaniment. Yum, trop chou!

Spinach Stew 

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Spinach is a treasure food for a light and healthy cuisine. Rich in water, super light in calories and unlike other veggies, its nutritional profile is enhanced once it’s cooked. Known for being packed in iron, thanks to Popeye, spinach also provides an exceptional amount of other vitamins and minerals (vitamin A, vitamin B9, vitamin K, magnesium and manganese). Furthermore, some antioxidants in spinach are particularly beneficial for the eyes.

Spinach stew is a zesty wholesome dish, a great consolation on cooler days. Moreover, lemon complements spinach perfectly as it enhances beautifully its flavor and improves iron absorption. Here’s my recipe:

Makes 6 servings

  • 1 kg of  frozen chopped spinach
  • ½ lbs. minced beef
  • 1 onion
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • ½ cup Lemon juice
  • 1 bouquet of fresh cilantro
  • ½ tsp. of: black pepper, allspice, 7 spice mixture (optional)
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 2 Tsp. of vegetable oil
  • 1-2 cups of water

Blend the garlic and cilantro into a paste and stir-fry it in vegetable oil on the side. Stir-fry the onion in main pot with the rest of the vegetable oil. Add the meat and cook it while breaking it into very small pieces. Add the spices and salt. Cover the meat with the spinach and add water. Let it cook for 15-20 minutes. Add the lemon juice, cilantro-garlic paste, and stir all the ingredients together. Cover the pot again and cook for 5 more minutes. Serve warm with whole grain rice.