Tag Archives: wellness

Chicken Sausage with Gluten-Free Pasta and Veggies

Quick, easy and delicious! A great Wednesday night dinner when you don’t want to take a lot of time to cook or clean up. This recipe orginated from Cait’s Plate but has been modified to make it gluten-free and adjusted based upon what I had in my fridge at the time. Feel free to substitute with any vegetables that you currently have available. I also recently made a version that included only green beans and peas, it was good, but I like this one better.

Chicken Sausage with Gluten-Free Pasta and Veggies

Serves: 4

Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 4 chicken sausages, about 12 oz
  • 12 oz frozen broccoli
  • 8 oz frozen peas
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 15 grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 box gluten-free rotini pasta
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Cook gluten-free pasta according to box instructions. Do not overcook pasta.
  2. Meanwhile, slice the chicken sausage and place into a non-stick pan coated with a bit of olive oil.
  3. Toss the chicken sausage in the pan over medium heat, until slightly browned on both sides. Remove from heat.
  4. Add frozen broccoli and peas to pan over medium-low heat. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring occassionally. Add onions, continue cooking until soften.
  5. Add halved tomatoes, cook until just softened, about 2 minutes.
  6. Add cooked, drained pasta into a large serving dish. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, and then add vegetable mixture. Toss to combine.
Chicken Sausage with Gluten-Free Pasta, Green Beans and Peas

Chicken Sausage with Gluten-Free Pasta, Green Beans and Peas

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The Skinny on Sleep

Maverick Fire

How is your sleep? Do you wake up tired? Have problems going to sleep? Wake up in the middle of the night? Take a gander at the sleep practices listed below and see what you can implement to improve your sleep.

Sleep Hygiene:

Sleep hygiene is a variety of different practices that are necessary to have normal, quality nighttime sleep and full daytime alertness. Sleep hygiene can be compared to any other type of hygiene, like dental hygiene, you brush your teeth at least twice per day as well as use mouth wash and floss daily to take care of your teeth and have optimal dental health. Like dental hygiene, there are things that can be done every day to achieve optimal sleep.

Sleep Hygiene Practices:
  • The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and wake pattern seven days a week.
  • Avoid napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness. If you are still able to sleep well at night, a 30-45 minute nap during the afternoon is fine.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol, causing arousal. This is the reason that you feel exhausted the next day if you imbibed a little too much the night before. Stop drinking caffeine and/or alcohol 4-6 hours before bed time.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should occur in the morning or late afternoon. Try not to do vigorous exercise within 2 hours of going to bed as this can disrupt sleep. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep. There are actually specific yoga positions that help promote sleep.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep; stay away from large meals close to bedtime.  And, remember, chocolate has caffeine. Avoid heavy, spicy, or sugary foods 4-6 hours before bedtime. These can affect your ability to stay asleep. However, warm milk and/or foods containing tryptophan can help with the onset of sleep.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  • Establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine. Pre-sleep rituals, such as a warm bath or a few minutes of reading, can help you sleep. Use deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to help you relax to get you ready for sleep.
  • Relax your mind. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations and activities before trying to go to sleep. If you run through all of the things you need to do the next day while laying in bed, you will have a harder time falling asleep.  Dedicate a few minutes, before going to bed, to create a to-do list for the next day so you can ease your anxiety about forgetting to do something.
  • Still having a hard time pushing stressful thoughts away?  Use distraction techniques such as imagining a peaceful scene (lake, ocean, mountains, forest) including all of the senses you may experience there (what does it look like? smell like? feel like? sound like?) or imagine watching a clock countdown from 100 on a curtain backdrop.  Incorporate deep breathing into these exercises.
Sleeping Environment:
  • Use comfortable and clean bedding.
  • Find a comfortable temperature setting for sleeping and keep the room well ventilated. If your bedroom is too cold or too hot, it can keep you awake. A cool bedroom is often the most conducive to sleep. Recommended sleeping temperature is 62-68 degrees F. Remember to turn that thermostat down as you go to bed each night (or buy a programmable thermostat. . . you will save money and the environment too!)
  • Block out all distracting noise, and eliminate as much light as possible. Use a sleep machine (or sleep application on your phone). Turn off your phone or turn it on to “airplane mode” or “do not disturb”. Sleep in the absolute dark, if possible, or use a sleep mask.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. Do not work in bed.  Don’t stay sit in bed and use your tablet, phone or laptop.  Turn off your electronics about an hour before you plan to go to sleep.
  • Your television, tablets and phones will keep you up and will cause you to have less restful sleep when you are actually able to fall asleep. This is because these electronics are very engaging, you use multiple senses when using these devices.  The radio is a less engaging medium than TV, phones and tablets and may help some people fall asleep.  If you must have a TV in your bedroom, set strict boundaries as to when it is on and when it is off.  Give yourself ample time to reset after the TV is turned off before you plan to go to sleep.
  • Use scents to help you sleep. Lavender, Chamomile, Bergamot, Jasmine, Rose and Sandalwood are all scents that have been associated with assisting with the on-set of sleep.  Feel free to buy lotions or fragrances at most beauty stores containing these scents or buy essential oils and make your own sprays, lotions, etc.
What if I wake up during the night?

Most people wake up one or two times a night for various reasons. If you find that you get up in the middle of night and cannot get back to sleep within 15-20 minutes, then do not remain in the bed “trying hard” to sleep. Get out of bed. Leave the bedroom. Read, have a light snack, do some quiet activity, listen to the radio or take a bath. You will generally find that you can get back to sleep 20 minutes or so later. Do not perform challenging or engaging activity such as office work, housework, working out, etc. Do not watch television, use your phone or tablet.

How do I know the best sleep hygiene routine for me?

If you’re taking too long to fall asleep, or awakening during the night, you should consider revising your bedtime habits. Most important for everyone is to maintain a regular sleep-wake schedule throughout the week and consider how much time you spend in bed, which could be too much or too little.

Sources:

The National Sleep Foundation

University of Maryland Medical Center

Balsamic Chicken with Roasted Asparagus and Tomatoes

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What a great way to start a weekend.  Yum!  This was a great dish adapted from Maggies Bites and I will definitely be making it again.  If you are able to eat dairy, please see her recipe as she adds mozzarella to the dish.  However, I have adapted it to make it Stephanie-friendly.  This was a great, easy way to pump up the flavor profile in plain, old, chicken breasts.  The chicken was flavorful but still moist and the asparagus and tomatoes were delicious. This also re-heated very well . . . easy to bring to work for lunch the next day!

Ingredients:

  • 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1.25 lbs)
  • 1 bunch asparagus (about 2 lbs)
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 Tb balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 t olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper 

Directions:

  1. Combine 1/2 balsamic, 1/4 olive oil, garlic powder and pepper into a Ziploc bag. Add in raw chicken breasts and marinate from 30 minutes to overnight. **I marinated mine for about 4 hours and it was delicious.
  2. After marinating, pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.  
  3. Grill chicken either on the grill or in a pan on the stove. (I would recommend either pounding chicken with the flat end of a meat mallet to thin the breast to reduce cooking time, however, this is not necessary)
  4. Bend ends of asparagus until they break.  You can then choose to cut off ends to even the ends, but this is not necessary. Line cookie sheet with tin foil and place asparagus on cookie sheet in one layer. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and garlic powder (or minced garlic), to taste. Place on top rack of oven for 8-10 minutes until tender (until you can easily pierce with a fork).
  5. In a frying pan, like the one you used for the chicken, place sliced grape tomatoes in 1 teaspoon olive oil and 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Cook until tomatoes start to get soft, about 4 minutes. (Do not overcook the tomatoes as they will become very soft and pull away from their skins and essentially melt in the pan)
  6. Place chicken and asparagus on a serving dish, top with tomatoes.

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Paleo Comfort Food: Warm Banana and Berry Dessert

Banana Berry Dessert

All I can say is “Whoa!” I may have had a stroke of genius this morning (it may not happen often, but every once in a while I am surprised). I had a hankering for something sweet and by sweet, I mean fruit, as those are really the only sweets I eat.  The easiest fruit to grab was a banana but I have really been trying to stay away from them lately. So, I asked myself, how can I add a bunch of protein and fiber to this so I can allow myself to eat it? Hmm. . . Well, I guessed right as I made a delicious little dessert.  I literally was moaning as I ate this by myself saying “Mmm, this is so good, mmm” with every bite. Seriously. I kept looking around all guilty-like as if I was eating a whole pint of sorbet.  I had to keep reminding myself that there were only 5 simple ingredients in the dish and 10 grams of protein.

Warm Banana and Berry Dessert:

Serves: 1-2

Time: 3 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1/2-1 Banana (I used a brown banana, less sugar)
  • 1/4 cup mixed frozen berries (I used blueberries, raspberries and blackberries)
  • 15 Whole Almonds
  • 1 TBSP Almond Butter
  • 1/2 TBSP Chocolate Hazelnut Butter

Directions:

  1. Place frozen berries in a microwave-safe bowl, microwave for about 30 seconds.
  2. Slice banana into 1/2-3/4 inch pieces and place in bowl with berries.  Add almonds.  Microwave for about 20 seconds. 
  3. Add almond butter and chocolate hazelnut butter to bowl.  Microwave an additional 15-25 seconds. (the fruit should be warm and the butters somewhat melted on top)

Enjoy!  Be careful, the fruit will be warm!

*** You could easily substitute any type of nut and nut butter in this recipe. Additionally, fresh berries could be used, just skip the first microwave time. For less sugar, try an apple instead of the banana.

How Food Affects Mood

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“I am too tired to work out or cook tonight. . . really any night.”

I hear it all of the time from people around me. Geez, I used to say it all of the time (and let’s be honest, I still do but not nearly as often). I would get home from work and be exhausted and not want to do, well, anything. I never understood how my diet was affecting my mood until I drastically improved my diet. Now, the more I learn about the connection between diet and emotions, the more I believe that I am in control of how I feel every day. We must remember that the connection between food and mood is complex and varies from person to person. However, studies have shown significant relationships between certain food nutrients and mood that most people can benefit from.

“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.” – Thomas Edison

For those that may be protesting this quote already, I am NOT advocating for doctors to stop prescribing anti-depressant medications to those who are depressed nor anti-anxiety medications to those with anxiety. Far from it actually. (I work in the mental health field, I know the critical importance of medications as they relate to health, especially mental health). However, I do believe that psychotropic medications can be supplemented by diet and exercise just like most other medical medications (ex. doctors often want people to improve their cholesterol levels with diet and exercise, not just a pill). So, will an improved, healthy diet eliminate the need for psychotropic medications in all people? Of course not. Will an improved, healthy diet help someone with mental health issues continue down the road to recovery and overall wellness? Yes, I strongly believe it will.

But this just isn’t about someone with a diagnosed mental illness, it is about anyone that eats food. 

Now the difficulty often lies in how food affects our mood as mood also affects the food we choose to eat (What came first, the sadness or the pint of ice cream?).  This becomes difficult because if you already feel depressed, you want comfort foods or foods that make you happy (read: sugar/refined carbs) but these are some of the very things that can contribute to depression, anxiety and any other number of mood disorders.  The food/mood cycle seems much like quicksand, once you are in it, it is really hard to get out.  Much like quicksand, often the solution to the problem is to do the opposite of our immediate response.  If you find yourself in quicksand, you want to escape, so you move quickly-flailing your arms and legs about, but moving makes things worse. Doing the opposite is the key. . .move slowly, progressively and with purpose (you don’t actually stay still, that will just keep you in the quicksand). 

The very same concept can be applied to the food/mood cycle.  If you are already feeling bad (read: anxiety/fatigue/depression) you may choose to go for comfort foods first, but it is those very foods that have the ability to exacerbate your feelings of anxiety, depression and/or fatigue. By doing what our body is telling us to do, we make things worse, dragging us further into the quagmire.  However, the solution, just like with quicksand, is to do the opposite. Eat something you are not craving: does that ice cream look appealing? Eat an apple.  Want potato chips? Choose carrots.  Feel as though you want to lay around all day? Get up and do something physically active.  (In mental health, specifically, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, this is called Opposite to Emotion). This actually works and works well, but the key is to actually do it.

There are numerous studies that attempt to identify what foods and nutrients affect certain moods and there is conflicting information. However, most studies agree on about 10 different mood enhancing foods and/or actions.

Tryptophan: It increases serotonin levels (a mood regulator) with the help of B vitamins. Foods thought to increase serotonin levels include fish and vitamin D. However, it is easier to get tryptophan into the system through smart carbohydrates: whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

Omega-3s: These may assist with decreasing symptoms of depression. . . the verdict is still out. However, there are many other benefits to getting your daily dose of Omega-3s (so take that supplement!).

Eat Breakfast: A good breakfast is associated with more energy throughout the day, possibly better memory and more feelings of calm. A good breakfast = lean protein, healthy fats and healthy carbs (think whole grains/fruits).

Eat Regularly: Seriously, eat every 3-4 hours, excuse me, eat something that includes protein every 3-4 hours. Don’t just eat three meals a day. If I don’t eat every few hours, I notice my energy levels depleting and my mood worsens. (Just the other day, I literally started to cry because I needed the sheets washed at that moment, then realizing that I had not eaten anything yet after being up for over an hour . . . ridiculous). It isn’t just me, eating something that includes protein every few hours helps keep blood sugar levels and mood stable.

Folate and Vitamin B12: Studies have shown that as folate and Vitamin B12 consumption decreases, depression rates tend to increase. So eat more leafy greens (not just iceberg lettuce), lentils, asparagus and peas.

Vitamin D: Remember that whole tryptophan/serotonin connection? (if not, you totally skipped ahead and didn’t read it, didn’t you?) Well, it is made possible partly due to Vitamin D which increases levels of serotonin in the brain. However, it is really not known how much you need every day the recommended dosage is about 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day (however, make sure to talk to your doctor first).

Selenium: May improve symptoms of depression. Foods rich in selenium include: seafood, nuts and seeds (particularly Brazil nuts), lean meat (lean pork and beef, skinless chicken and turkey), whole grains (whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, etc.), beans/legumes, low-fat dairy products.

Caffeine & Alcohol: In people with sensitivity, caffeine may exacerbate depression. (And if caffeine keeps you awake at night, this could certainly affect your mood the next day.) Alcohol is actually a significant depressant and it negatively impacts your sleep, which can make your mood even worse the next day.

Simple Sugars: Carbohydrates from simple sugars are the classic comfort food. Carbs that produce a short surge of glucose in your bloodstream (think carb foods made from white sugar, white flour, white rice, etc.) you’ll get a short-lived sugar high and then get hit with a mood-wrecking crash. For a consistent positive mood, choose whole grain, high fiber carbohydrate sources with lasting powers.

Dehydration: Not having enough water in your system can cause all sorts of problems including: dry mouth, hunger, headaches, low blood pressure and altered mental status. It also can be a very common contributor to fatigue. 

With all of those diet books out there (and everything you see in this blog), the perfect diet to enhance mood and performance remains unknown.  There are many studies that have shown relationships between certain foods and nutrients and mood but some of these findings are still controversial. The best thing to do is eat a well-balanced diet that is rich in numerous vegetables and fruits, high in lean protein and includes healthy fats.  Additionally, getting enough macronutrients is important, so take those supplements! 

The Breakdown:
  1. Eat smart carbohydrates
  2. Get your Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  3. Eat Breakfast
  4. Eat Regularly
  5. Get enough folate and vitamin B12 .
  6. Get enough Vitamin D.
  7. Get more selenium.
  8. Limit caffeine and alcohol intake.
  9. Avoid trans fats and refined sugar.
  10. Drink enough water.

Sources:

Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science

Livestrong

Psychology Today

WebMD