3 Simple* Ways to Stay Healthy This Holiday Season

Love it or hate it, the holidays are upon us. Add holiday stress to what has become known as “cold and flu season” and the odds of coming down with something are pretty good.

Unless you’re me. I’ve got a pretty healthy immune system. I didn’t always though.

I used to hate winter because, for me, it was ear infection season. Now I just don’t like it because I don’t like being cold. But I digress.

So how’s a person to avoid catching everything that’s going around at the moment?

1. Minimize sugar and alcohol consumption.

I knowĀ this is a sacrilege. No cookies?! No festive drinks?! Before you have my head, go back and re-read that. I didn’t say NO sugar or alcohol, I said MINIMIZE. And no, I’m not trying to be a Grinch.

Our immune systems live in our digestive systems. Sugar and alcohol throw off the balance of good bacteria to bad by directly feeding the bad bacteria. This, in turn, opens up the door to viruses that want to get in and wreak havoc on the rest of the body.

Besides keeping consumption down, you can help yourself by getting probiotic-rich foods into your diet on a daily basis. It doesn’t have to be a lot (actually, it shouldn’t be a lot – there is such thing as too much of a good thing with this), a couple swigs of kombucha (I recommend GT’s Organic or homemade because there isn’t sugar added to it) or a fork-full of raw fermented sauerkraut with a meal is all you really need.

2. Prioritize sleep.

What’s this sleep I speak of? This might also land me with a Grinch label but not going to every single party you’re invited to helps twofold: it minimizes your exposure to viruses in the first place and it means you’re able to get a good night’s sleep more often than not.

Why is sleep important? Because it’s when the body heals. There is also mounting evidence to show that lack of sleep directly correlates with increased cortisol production (our primary stress hormone) which also directly affects our immune system. So lack of sleep + excess sugar and alcohol = virus breeding ground.

Set yourself up for good sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene: keep the temp down while you sleep, turn off your electronics at least an hour before bed, develop a routine that encourages rest. Ideally, you’d not have ANY electronics in your bedroom but even I can’t do that as I use my phone as an alarm clock. Just do the best you can.

3. Get outside.

Our grandmothers knew what they were talking about when they said fresh air does wonders for the mind and body. But it’s more than just fresh air; getting into direct sunlight for a Vitamin D boost is great for our immune systems. Going for a walk does a wealth of good for the mind and body but even if all you have is ten minutes to stand outside (with a cup of tea or coffee maybe), do it. Your immune system will thank you. You’ll appreciate the psychological boost as well.

Look, I’m not trying to be a killjoy, I promise. But you have a choice here, sort of a choose your adventure kind of choice. You can either continue business as usual and come down with a cold or 3 and be miserable, or say no more than yes, realize you’re not actually missing out on anything (it’s about discernment here – is the possible outcome worth the indulgence) and sail through the season, if not completely healthy, catching fewer of the creepy cruds and healing faster. Because there’s nothing worse than being sick on Christmas.

*I didn’t say EASY šŸ˜‰

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Holiday Treats – Mindful Nutrition Style

Delicious

One of the HARDEST things for me to reconcile in my health journey has been how to have treats without wrecking my progress or getting sick. This is mostly because grainfree baking is expensive and can be hit or miss, which makes failed experiments very frustrating AND because from a mindset perspective, as a society we “treat” for everything. So the reality ends up being that treats are no longer treats, they are everyday occurrences and a requirement of any celebration.

I am finally getting to the point where I see how and when I can have treats, true treats. Since it’s summer, fruit often forms the base of these treats. Actually, fruit is often what I reach for as a treat since I don’t eat it very often and I don’t really prefer sweet things any longer. Below are a handful of recipes, that while I have not tried myself, check off all of my personal boxes for a treat.

Individual Blueberry Peach Crisps
Chocolate Macaroon Pie
Toasted Coconut Lemon Ice Cream
Lemon Curd Tart with Fresh Berries
Flourless Whole Meyer Lemon Cake

Tell me, what is your perspective on treats? Have you found a balance between that allows you to have the occasional treat while keeping you on track?

The Basics: A Well Stocked Kitchen

A couple of weeks ago I was caught unprepared at lunch time. Fortunately, my pantry came to the rescue, which led to me thinking about the benefits of keeping it well stocked. But what does well stocked mean and what does it include?

These are the types of things I keep in my pantry:

  • Canned fish – salmon, sardines, tuna
  • Shredded unsweetened coconut and cans of coconut milk
  • Oils – olive, coconut, roasted sesame, avocado, extra virgin olive oil
  • Vinegar – white wine, red wine, rice wine, apple cider, balsamic
  • Tomatoes – boxed whole or diced, paste, fire roasted
  • Artichoke hearts in water
  • Olives
  • Hot sauce
  • Herbs, Spices, & Seasoning Mixes (I consistently use: dill, cumin, oregano, crushed red pepper, Penzey’s Fajita Seasoning, Simply Organic Steak Grilling Seasoning, & Simply Organic Vegetable Grilling Seasoning)

In the refrigerator:

  • mustard – yellow, stone ground, Dijon
  • BBQ sauce – I don’t eat this but my son does
  • salsa – red & verde
  • homemade mayo
  • curry paste – green & red (Thai Kitchen is clean & Whole30 safe)
  • sundried tomatoes
  • capers
  • pickled jalapeƱos
  • Red Boat Fish Sauce
  • Coconut Aminos
  • Almond Butter

In the freezer:

  • one whole chicken
  • 1lb of ground beef or turkey
  • vegetables – cauliflower, broccoli, green beans (because this is what I eat; the point here is to have veggies you like that you can grab)
  • bone broth
  • nuts – usually walnuts and pecans because they don’t get eaten as quickly as the cashews (I keep them in the freezer because nuts go rancid over time)

Obviously, there is a lot of leeway in this list. This is just what I use and what I like. I can get very specific about the quality of each (yellow fin tuna due to sustainability & toxicity, as much as possible ingredients devoid of sugar, etc), but this is meant to be an outline, not a directive.

The whole point of a well stocked pantry, fridge, and freezer is preparedness. If you have this to fall back on, you’ll always be empowered to make the choices that keep you on the path to the life you want.

The Basics: Bone Broth

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Ah, liquid gold…

There are many benefits of bone broth and many ways of making it. I use it for gut healing as my microbiome is still a bit off and the collagen for my skin and joints. I use chicken bones for mine as it ends up being very cost effective for me and I’ve never been a huge fan of beef broth. This isn’t really a recipe. It’s more of a guide so that you can tweak it to best suit you and your resources.

I use a 6 quart slow cooker to make mine as it’s what I have and I like the hands off nature of it. I save all the bones from making Nom Nom Paleo’s Cracklin’ Chicken and then supplement with chicken soup bones that I can purchase at my local Whole Foods. I probably end up with between 5 & 6 lbs of bones, enough to mostly fill the crock. I then fill it with enough filtered water (you don’t want the chemicals from your water supply in this – you won’t get the healing properties) to cover the bones, add 2 tablespoons of organic apple cider vinegar, turn it on and walk away.

I do use two stages in the cooking though – 2 -3 hours on high (depending on whether or not my bones where completely defrosted or not), then 20 hours on low. My slow cooker runs hot and it will simmer the whole time while on low.

So what are you looking for when it’s done? You should be able to squish the bones in your fingers like Play-Doh. You will need to strain the broth through cheese cloth layered in a fine mesh strainer (I suggest doing this into a quart liquid measure for ease of pouring) to get all of the bone waste out of it. Then you can freeze it in the jars – but please leave room at the top for expansion. I’ve learned this the hard way…

So what do you use bone broth for? You can make soups with it, some people drink it as is from a mug, or use it where recipes call for a bit of stock. You’ll notice I don’t put salt in it. I do this so that I can customize the level of salt in each thing I make with it. You can always add more salt. I like to heat up a jar with a minced clove of garlic, a knob of ginger shaved with a Microplane, a pinch of sea salt, and a squeeze of lemon. It’s just right for a night where you want something but nothing heavy.

The Basics: Mayo

There is no shortage of mayo recipes on the internet, but it is one I’m constantly asked for, so here you go.

From an equipment perspective, this is the perfect recipe for an immersion blender. Why? Because you can literally dump all the ingredients in and blend until thick and creamy. Of course you can use a standard blender, you’ll just need to drizzle the oil in slowly as the mayo will break if you do put it in too quickly. This is really, really basic and a great beginner recipe. A good mayo is the base of so many great sauces so this is really a staple.

1 large room temp egg (best quality you can get)
1/2 tsp ground mustard
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
pinch of salt
1 and 1/4 cups olive oil or avocado oil (you can use EVOO, but it’ll be very green and the flavor of the oil stands out)

That’s it. If you are using a standard blender, blend the 1/4 cup of oil with the other ingredients first, then drizzle in the rest of the oil.

If you want to make this aioli, use lemon juice and add a clove of garlic. Fresh herbs make a lovely addition when topping a burger or sandwich, as does roasted garlic. If using dried herbs, make it ahead of when you’ll use it so the herbs can permeate the mayo. I also like making chipotle mayo by mixing in some chipotle hot sauce and my buffalo dipping sauce is just mayo and Frank’s. Easy peasy.

The Basics: Coconut Milk

Welcome to the first installment of The Basics. I often am asked how I make certain things or for recipes for others and often times these are what I would consider basic ingredients or recipes, things everyone should know how to make regardless of where they are in their health journey.

I’m starting with Coconut Milk largely for selfish reasons: I wanted to see if I could make it for less than I was spending on the multiple cans I go through each week. Because I’m dairy sensitive, I use coconut milk in my coffee. I first started doing this about a year and half ago with my first attempt at a Whole30. Drinking my coffee black was, and still is, something I just cannot do.

Turns out I can and I like my homemade so much better.

This was my second batch. I’ve made two more since I took these pictures and I’ve finally got my method down. The key is the length of time you blend. It makes a hug difference in the end result.

All you need is 8 ounces of unsweetened dried coconut (organic if it’s within your means, though this bag is organic from Trader Joe’s and was only $1.99 – less than a single can of coconut milk), 3 cups filtered hot water, and a blender. That’s it. One of the best things about homemade coconut milk is that there are no emulsifiers, something that many people seem to be sensitive to.

Dump the coconut and the hot water in your blender and let sit for at least 5 minutes. Then you get to blend the heck out of it. Blend for a minimum of 10 minutes. Longer is better if you want it even creamier.

The optional equipment here is the nut bag, but I strongly recommend getting one if you intend to make this with any regularity.

The next step is the strain and squeeze step. If you aren’t using a nut bag, you’ll need several layers of cheese cloth and a fine mesh strainer. If you are using the nut bag, the fine mesh strainer is more for a resting place. Pour the coconut milk into the cheese cloth/nut bag. If it’s cool enough to handle, you’re then going to squeeze as much liquid from the coconut as possible. If not, let it sit until it is and then squeeze. Yes, I know this sounds obvious, but I did actually try to squeeze it hot. I do not recommend it…

Let everything rest for 15 to 20 minutes (this is kind of a lazy recipe). Come back and squeeze again. This is a good test for your grip strength. You want the coconut to be as dry as possible when you are done squeezing. And that’s it. Pour into jars and refrigerate. This should keep for 3-4 days. If you aren’t going to use it all, freeze it.

One of the things I noticed was that mine stays fluid, which I love. A quick shake and it’s ready to pour in my coffee. But I only got it to do this with a longer blend. I think my first two batches I blended for just under 10 minutes. Both times the cream solidified in the refrigerator.

A quick note on the leftover coconut: this is what coconut flour is made from. If you use coconut flour, do not throw this away. All it needs is a few hours of drying in the oven at about 200 degrees F, then a whirl in a food processor to make it into flour. If you don’t want to do this right away, just put it in the freezer to come back to at another time. But I have to say that this is one of things I like about this process: zero waste. If nothing, you can make Paleo pup treats. Because our doggies aren’t meant to grains…

**A small housekeeping note: I’m still playing around with the functionality of this site. This means some changes you might notice, others you (hopefully) won’t. Please know that it’s not my intention to confuse or annoy you. If you have any suggestions, things you’d like to see, functionality that really doesn’t work for you, shoot me an email. I’m always happy to take suggestions: barbara@whathealthcoacheseat.com. **