Thursday, October 22, 2009

Fear --

I'm going to take a little foray away from the topic of nutrition, and focus on mental health - which I also think is key to staying healthy.

I wanted to discuss fear, which I believe can be an emotion that often limits us from living life and pursuing our goals. Fear can manifest in many ways (worry, stress, unhappiness, depression) and often we may not even realize that we are feeling fear. Fear can keep us from following opportunities, pursuing our passions and taking risks; it can stop us from working on our relationships. It is often linked to the unknown and to something we cannot completely control. We feel uncertain about what the future may hold; going down a certain path may seem scary, so we stick with what we know. Even when an opportunity presents itself, feelings of inadequacy may limit us from grabbing hold of it. We may convince ourselves to avoid taking a chance, perhaps applying for a job, joining a club or making a commitment because we think we don't have the skills or knowledge to succeed or because we fear failure. However, in so doing, we end up limiting ourselves, and denying ourselves experiences or successes.

Sometimes fear can also keep us from realizing something remarkable that is right in front of us; fear can be blinding and keep us focused on our current situation, without striving for the possibilities. Fear can keep us from trusting others and trusting life and can keep us from achieving our true potential. Humans are adaptable creatures, but at the same time we fear change, which can lead us to become creatures of habit, not because there are not other things we may want to pursue, but because we are afraid of how to pursue them, or what the ramifications might be.

Sometimes we are afraid to pursue a certain path because we are afraid of how others will react. Humans are sensitive to how others perceive them, and we don't like to fail, especially if that failure is visible by others. This can lead to embarrassment and shame, and past experiences can keep us from seizing new opportunities. What is important to realize is that what we worry about or think about is often not even noticed by others; and when it is it is usually quickly forgotten.

Humans are also very good at imagining, and thinking up worst-case scenarios. However, the worst case is often not as bad as we imagine, and most often does not materialize. It can be hard to change our mindset, but life should be about seizing those opportunities, taking chances, even if you don't know if you will succeed or how you will reach your end goal. Living in a world of fear can keep a person down, people often begin to convince themselves that certain things are not possible, even without trying them. In taking risks and chances, we often learn about ourselves, realize our capabilities and build confidence.

While setbacks may occur, try to see them as a learning experience and not as impossible obstacles. No one would ever succeed if everyone let failures get in the way, and stopped them from continuing to try and reach their goals. We've all heard stories about famous writers or artists who were rejected numerous times before finally having their work published or exhibited. Setbacks and rejections can be difficult to take, but once we realize that they are part of life, that most people experience them and that they are not a reflection of who we are, we can become more comfortable in taking chances and trying something new. Although we might not be successful, taking a chance could also lead to the most wonderful opportunity or lead us down a path we had not earlier even imagined.

However, taking risks does not mean that we should take actions without thinking. It is important to think about how we want to accomplish our goal and to be logical about our actions. Fear is not completely a negative emotion. It keeps us safe and helps us realize when there is real danger. It can also encourage us to be thoughtful about our future, so that we think through our actions, and don't make rash decisions.

Taking risks means trying and not giving up because the path ahead seems difficult or uncertain. It means making efforts towards reaching your goal. For example if you are interested in making a career change, examine the possibilities in terms of your interests to decide what direction you may want to go. If you already know what area you are interested in, take some courses to obtain the qualifications for the position, or talk to others who are working in your desired profession to learn more about the position and make connections with those working in the field. People are usually more than happy to talk about their careers and how they got to where they are - most people enjoy being helpful, and are willing to assist when they can.

Recently in my own life, I have struggled with fear in two different areas of my life. I have struggled with it on a personal level in terms of my own relationships, and on a more superficial level as I have taken up mountain biking.

In mountain biking, confidence and mindset are two of the most important parts to the sport. Having confidence allows you to be a better biker and to take the necessary risks to enjoy the sport. I, however, seem to have a higher fear level than many other people. What this means is that although the logical side of my brain knows that I can ride a certain obstacle, the fear side of my brain steps in and stops me from even trying. This has been frustrating because sometimes I look at something and know that it's no big deal, but have a hard time conquering it. Other times, I gain confidence and feel strong and ride over obstacles that I have found challenging in the past, realizing that in fact, they are no big deal. A lot of it involves letting go of my fear, trusting in my abilities and realizing that there is nothing to be afraid of. I think this translates well into many other areas as well - as when we can let go of the fear, worry, stress or concern and trust in ourselves, we realize that there is nothing to fear and can step into the world with confidence and overcome obstacles that might have seemed insurmountable in the past.

The fear that I have in regards to my relationships is harder to deal with since I am not the sole controller of the result. Fear often creeps up when we cannot control the outcome. This type of fear can easily lead to stress, which is often counterproductive because the stress can lead to illness and unhappiness. Most times when I begin to either feel fearful or stressed because of something that I cannot control, I try to remember that I have done everything in my power in the situation, and to try and find comfort that things will work out okay. Things may not always go as planned, but the result is usually not disastrous either.

Although we like to control things, we are not always able to control everything, and sometimes it is best to just let go and allow things to evolve. For instance, if you are stuck in traffic and are late for a meeting with someone, getting stressed about the situation does nothing to resolve it and just makes you anxious. Instead it is better to do what you can about the circumstance (eg: give your friend a call, if possible to explain), and to try and not get too worked up about the situation because there is nothing more you can do to change it. When I am not in complete control, I try to focus on what I can do and not to worry about the rest. I try and work on my own mindset to focus on the positive aspects, and to exhibit positivity, love, hope and happiness. While, this may not change the result, drawing from a position of strength within yourself will make it easier for you to deal with the outcome.

If there is something that you are passionate about or are interested in pursuing, seize hold of it, trust in yourself and do what you can to achieve it. Don’t be afraid of what the future might hold and understand that we cannot always be in control. If there is a situation in your life that you fear might happen, take control and do what you can to bring about the result you want. Do what you can to bring positivity to the situation, while remaining realistic, and appreciate the beauty and wonder that already exists in your life.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Recipe Ideas

As promised I wanted to share a few relatively quick and easy recipe ideas that provide healthy amounts of vegetarian proteins. In my diet, I try to vary my protein sources: different types of beans, nuts, dairy, eggs and grains, to keep a balanced diet and not become overly reliant on any one food.

I like to cook my own beans using a slow cooker.  Always soak beans overnight or for 6-8 hours.  Dispose of the soaking liquid, rinse the beans a few times and then add enough fresh water to cover the grains, plus a little bit more.  The beans will cook on the slow setting in about 8 hours, or 4 hours on the fast setting.

One of my favorite grains is quinoa (pronounced keenwa), due to its diversity in terms of use, and because of its high protein and nutrition content.  One cup contains 8 grams of protein, 15 % of daily value of iron, and a good amount of fiber, vitamin B, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus.
Because I don't use exact measurements in my cooking, I'm going to give the ingredients, and leave the quantities to individual preferences. 

Lunch or Dinner

Stir-fried rice or quinoa - with variations
Dice different types of vegetables: broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, onions, peppers, sweet potatoes (yams), cabbage, zucchini, garlic
Grain of choice: rice or quinoa
Cook vegetables in a small amount of water, cooking harder vegetables first, and adding vegetables that cook faster in sequence (in order: sweet potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots).
Once the vegetables are mainly ready, add the cooked grain.  Add some soya sauce to taste, and cayenne pepper if desired.
Now, add the protein: chickpeas, black beans, sunflower seeds, nuts, cheese (grated of your choice or cubed feta) or stir fry a few eggs and add them to the dish.

How to cook quinoa: 
Quinoa needs to be rinsed a few times before cooking, otherwise it will have a slightly bitter flavour.  After rinsing, cook quinoa like rice - use two times as much water as uncooked grain.  Quinoa cooks in about 15 minutes. 

Rice or quinoa with Thai curry
Grain: rice or quinoa, cooked 
Coconut milk, one can  
Sweet potatoes (yams)
Bell peppers
(Other vegetables as desired)
Curry paste (I use red curry paste)
Peanut butter (I use natural, crunchy peanut butter)
Sweetener, if desired

Heat the coconut milk (you can add water if desired to increase the liquid amount)
Add vegetables in order or cooking length (sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, peppers, zucchini)
Once vegetables are nearly ready, add the curry paste and peanut butter.  Make sure to mix the peanut butter to avoid clumps.
Add some salt to taste, and some sweetener if you like a sweeter curry.
Ladle curry over the grain.

Note: Coconut oil and coconut milk have been labelled as being unhealthy due to their high saturated oil content.  However, numerous studies have been completed on coconuts, and in fact, coconut oil has been found to be beneficial for cholesterol, to increase metabolism, and has not been linked with an increased incidence of heart disease.  In fact cultures that have traditionally consumed high amounts of coconut products have actually had lower incidences of heart disease.  Coconut oil, however, does become unhealthy if it is hydrogenated - and hydrogenated coconut oil should be avoided.
In my recipes, I prefer to use either butter or coconut oil to cook or fry foods, as they are more stable in high heats.
I will write another entry specifically on oils, and the health effects of different types of oils.

Huevos Rancheros
This is a quick, easy, tasty dish

Small corn tortillas
Black beans

Lightly fry tortillas in a small amount of oil to slightly crispen (only 1-2 minutes per side)
Heat cooked black beans and slightly mash to reduce the liquid
Slice tomatoes and avocados
Cook eggs over-easy (or as desired)
Grate cheese

To prepare take a small tortilla, add one egg, some beans, tomatoes, avocados, cheese and salsa and repeat.  Corn tortillas may be eaten stacked on top of one another or separately.

Tortilla (whole wheat, corn, spelt or any grain of choice)
Black beans, crushed and heated
Tomatoes, diced
Pickles, diced
Carrots, grated 
Cheese, grated 

Fry the tortilla in a small amount of oil to slightly crispen on both sides.  Then add black beans, diced tomatoes, cheese, pickles (if desired), carrots, salsa, lettuce and avocado.  Roll up and eat.  Simple and tasty. 
I also like to add some flax oil and soy lecithin granules to my tortilla - sometimes I use this instead of cheese.

Hearty Salad 
Bell peppers
Carrots, grated
Sunflower seeds 
Choice of: chickpeas, cooked kamut or spelt kernels, black beans, hard-boiled eggs and cheese, cottage cheese
Dressing - I use lemon juice, apple cider vinegar or balsamic vinegar, flaxseed oil, salt, and lecithin granules.
Other dressings: garlic, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, flaxseed oil and salt - mix in blender.
Ginger, flax oil, lemon juice and apple cider vinegar - mix in blender.
Miso, peanut butter, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, flax oil - mix in blender.

Note: Kamut and spelt add a wonderful addition to salads. The kernels can be found in health food stores.  It is best to soak them overnight or for a few hours before cooking, to decrease the cooking time.  Otherwise cook like rice: use 2 times as much liquid to uncooked grain.  It takes about 50-60 minutes to cook.

Lunch - Wrap
Whole-wheat, spelt or other grain tortilla.
Spread tahini or sunflower seed butter on the tortilla.
Add the salad ingredients from above, minus the additional grains or beans (add lettuce first).
Add some feta cheese, cottage cheese and/or grated cheese.
For dressing: use balsamic vinegar and flaxseed oil.
Variations: you can also add olives for a greek type of wrap or black beans and salsa for a mexican type wrap.

Breakfast Recipes 

Quinoa porridge
Cooked quinoa
Fruit of choice: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, pears, banana etc.
Sunflower seeds (or walnuts or other nuts)
Milk - almond milk, soy milk, rice milk
Sweetener (I use Agave nectar and stevia)

To prepare - heat on the stovetop: quinoa with milk, add fruits, seeds or nuts, sweetener to taste and a bit of salt (the salt brings out the flavour of the grain and the sweetener).
Alternatively, this can be prepared cold and heated in a microwave.

Steel-cut or Scottish Oatmeal 
Steel-cut oats and scottish oats take longer to cook than regular rolled oats, but have a nice crunchy texture, and I find them more preferable to eat.  Steel-cut oats take about 20 min to cook, while scottish oats take about 10 minutes.  Time varies depending on how soft or crunchy you like it.

Milk - Almond, soy, rice
Fruit: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, peaches, pears, banana etc.

Cook oats in water and milk, the amount of water depends on how liquidy you like your oatmeal.  You can add more liquid as it cooks.
Add cut-up walnuts, while the oats are cooking.  Add fruit when the oats are nearly ready, so they don't get too mushy. Add sweetener to taste and a dash of salt.

Cottage Cheese with fruit and nuts 
I use dry cottage cheese.  It's a much more natural form of cottage cheese and does not include the preservatives that are found in regular cottage cheese. However, as it does not contain any salt, and is quite dry, it needs a bit of processing to make it tasty.

Cottage cheese
Flax oil
Yogurt or milk 
Fruit (berries, bananas, pears, peaches etc)
Walnuts or other nuts

Mash the cottage cheese with a little bit of flax oil and salt using a spoon.  You want to break up the cottage cheese pieces so the texture is smoother.  Then add some yogurt or milk, the fruit, nuts, and sweetener to taste.
I would start with about 1/2 cup of cottage cheese per person.

Home-made Granola 
Rolled oats
Sunflower seeds
Pumpkin seeds
Slivered almonds
Sesame seeds
Coconut, shredded (unsweetened)
Water or juice

I use about 5 cups of oats and about 1/2-1 cup of each of the different types of seeds and nuts to create a pretty good size batch of granola.
Mix the oats, seeds and nuts together.  Add liquid sweetener to taste (I use a mixture of molasses, agave nectar, maple syrup and honey). Then add about 1/4-1/2 cup of water, some melted butter (1/2-1 cup) and some salt (3/4 of tsp). The mixture should be somewhat sticky and clumping together.
Place the granola mixture on baking sheets - spread out evenly.  Cook in oven at about 275-300 degrees until crispy.  Make sure to stir the granola every 5-10 minutes to ensure it cooks evenly, and the sides do not burn.  Keep a close eye on the granola, to avoid burning -- it can cook quickly.  Once the pumpkin seeds have popped and the oats are somewhat brown, take it out of the oven to cool.  Add raisins to the cooked granola.

I'll add more recipe ideas in future posts. Happy cooking and healthy eating!