Happy March!

Did you know there’s only 20 more days until the first day of spring?! This winter hasn’t been easy, but I’ve been trying to focus on enjoyable indoor activities to keep away the winter blues. If you want to improve your mood, I strongly believe distraction is one way to do so. Whenever I felt anxious or down about something in the past I’d divert my attention to something positive and productive. Sometimes this is in the form of reading, blogging, or, of course, cooking. :)

I haven’t shared any new recipes in awhile so here are some that I’ve tried lately:

Balanced Bite’s Smoky Mexican Tortilla-less Soup (which is so good!)

The full recipe is here: http://balancedbites.com/2013/02/easy-recipe-smoky-mexican-tortilla-less-soup.html

It has tons of veggies: onion, red bell pepper, carrots, tomatoes, celery, and poblano pepper. I also topped it with avocado.

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I was also on an italian kick for awhile. I made spaghetti with “zoodles” (zucchini noodles). Here’s the type of vegetable spiralizer I used: http://www.opensky.com/gourmet-kitchenworks-llc/product/spiral-cutter-fw?osky_origin=google&osky_source=pla&gclid=CK_FoM-I87wCFcURMwodgzYAKQ

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I also made “zoodles” topped with chicken marinated in lemon juice, garlic, pepper, and olive oil and homemade bruschetta. The bruschetta was pretty easy, it was just diced cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and chopped basil leaves.

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Has anyone else tried any good recipes lately? I’d love to hear!! :)

2014 Goals

I love the concept of New Year’s resolutions. What’s better than a fresh start? In 2013 my New Year’s resolution was to try the Paleo Diet for one month to see how I’d like it. It ended up becoming a lifestyle that has greatly benefitted me.

In 2014 I would like to focus more on my activity level. When I was in high school I loved sports. I played tennis and ran track and just enjoyed working out in general. The first couple of years I was in college I utilized the gym a lot and still continued to play the occasional game of tennis. Fast forward to today and the only form of exercise I get is walking my dog.

So here is my first goal:

Physical health

Do one of three low impact activities three times per week:

  • Yoga dvd
  • Youtube work out video
  • Hand weight exercises

I’m trying to make this first goal easy and achievable. These are all free, indoor activities so there should be no excuse for me not to do them. I already own a yoga dvd, there are hundreds of work out videos on Youtube, and I also have a set of hand weights. Also, three times per week? My schedule should be able to handle that.

In addition to raising my activity level I would also like to maintain my diet but focus on having a healthy digestive system. Our digestive systems play such a key role in overall health. To aid in my digestive health I would like to:

  • Take a probiotic supplement
  • Add bone broth to my diet (I’ll write a blog post on this later)
  • Consume fermented vegetables like sauerkraut
  • Try different varieties of fermented tea, known as kombucha
  • Add chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp seeds to my diet because they support the growth of beneficial bacteria in the stomach

My second goal is to focus on:

Spiritual Health

I’ve decided that I would like to meditate more this year. My goal is to meditate at least once per week. I like to use meditation as a time to get centered, feel calm, and speak to God. I’m not currently part of an organized religion, but if I had to describe the “religion of Courtney” ;) it would be:

  • Remaining judgement-free and being kind to those around me while appreciating that everyone is on their own unique path and journey
  • Expressing gratitude for being here. In this infinite, amazing universe I’m here living and breathing, which is amazing in itself
  • Believing there is a being or force greater than myself that set life in motion
  • Trying to live in the present moment and enjoying things for what they are, not what they could be

So those are some of my goals for the new year! What are some of your goals for 2014? :)

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Let’s talk about cholesterol

You know what has always confused me? Cholesterol. Conventional wisdom tells us that if we want to have healthy cholesterol levels then we should avoid foods that are high in saturated fat, such as: bacon, eggs, and butter.

After a full year of eating a primarily Paleo diet and consuming a minimum of two eggs almost every single day, with coconut oil (which is loaded with saturated fat), and the occasional slice of bacon, I decided it was time to get my cholesterol levels checked. Now, I’m no expert on cholesterol but I know it takes time for unhealthy cholesterol levels to build in your system. I searched online to see how long it can take for an unhealthy diet to be reflected in a cholesterol test.

On Discovery Health’s website, it says “Your cholesterol levels are also clearly affected when excessive calories are consumed or your intake of saturated fat and cholesterol is increased…To ensure that your test results are consistent, therefore, you need to have the test performed after you’ve maintained your usual diet and weight for at least two weeks. In other words, you don’t want to have your cholesterol tested the day after Thanksgiving…” http://health.howstuffworks.com/medicine/tests-treatment/cholesterol-tests7.htm

Usual diet maintained for a minimum of two weeks? Check. Not having the test done the day after Thanksgiving? Check. I also followed my doctor’s recommendation of fasting for 12 hours before the test to insure the most accurate results.

Mayo Clinic’s website says the guideline for total cholesterol is:

Desirable: Below 200 mg/dL

Borderline high: 200-239 mg/dL

High: 240 mg/dL and above

My total cholesterol was in the desirable range at 135.

Mayo Clinic’s website says the guideline for LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) is:

Desirable: Below 70 mg/dL

Near ideal: 100-129 mg/dL

High: 160-189 mg/dL

My LDL cholesterol was in the desirable range at 60.

Mayo Clinic’s website says the guidelines for HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) is:

Poor: Below 50 mg/dL for women

Better: 50-59 mg/dL for women

Best: 60 mg/dL and above for women

My HDL cholesterol was in the best range at 67. My triglycerides levels were also also in the desirable range at 41.

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/cholesterol-levels/ART-20048245

Want to know what else the test revealed? That my sodium level was low. I found this to be very interesting. The normal range for sodium mmoi/L is between 136-145. My sodium level was slightly low at 134. So I actually need to add sodium to my diet to get it back within the “normal” functioning range.

I talked to my doctor about the concerns I had with eating eggs and bacon and it raising my cholesterol levels and he basically said not to worry too much because the cholesterol found in food is completely different from the blood serum cholesterol that causes heart attacks. He also said a lot of the original studies done on the link between cholesterol in food and heart health are outdated and inconclusive.

So, if eating eggs and bacon doesn’t raise your cholesterol and cause a heart attack, then what does? I believe inflammation does. And what causes inflammation? That’s debatable, but I believe it’s: processed and packaged foods, refined white sugar, wheat products, and alcohol (to name a few).

I’m grateful that my cholesterol levels are all within an ideal range and that I confidently eat a breakfast that isn’t limited to eggs whites, for now anyway. Because cholesterol levels can change over time I’ll probably get them checked again in about 3 years. So we’ll see if they remain ideal until then!

If anyone has any thoughts or opinions on food, cholesterol, or cholesterol tests, please share!

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Ready for 2014!

It’s difficult to describe how grateful I am for the abundance of positive changes that took place in 2013. On December 31st, 2012, I was in a much different place than I am today.

I was living with Kevin in a small, one bedroom apartment on Milwaukee’s East Side feeling frustrated. I had been looking to start a career after attaining my Bachelor’s degree for a full year with no luck. I also didn’t have a car and relied solely on public transportation when Kevin was not able to give me a ride. And then there was the seemingly endless struggle with panic attacks and anxiety. I know there are thousands, if not millions, of people struggling with panic attacks and anxiety, and it can be down right debilitating if left untreated. This past year I finally found ways to manage it. I was once told by a doctor that some people are hard-wired for anxiety, and I truly believe that. If I consume a lot of sugar and caffeine, I’ll feel physically anxious, even if there’s nothing to feel anxious about.

In 2012 I heard about The Paleo Diet and how eliminating sources of excess carbohydrates and sugar can improve health, calm your hormones, and soothe your nervous system. On January 1st, 2013 I dove right in and it drastically improved how I feel emotionally, as well as physically. While I can’t say I’ve completely eliminated anxiety from my life, I’ve at least found ways to naturally manage it and gain significant amounts of relief.

Tomorrow will mark one year since I’ve had soda, bread, and fast food, such as McDonalds or Burger King. Aside from a grilled chicken salad from Culvers, a burrito bowl from Chipotle/Qdoba, and gluten-free pizza, I’ve remained fast food free. Do I miss soda, bread, and typical fast food? Sometimes, yes. But I feel my quality of life has improved since eliminating them.

I’m not Paleo 100% of the time because I do consume the occasional legume (beans, peanuts, edamame, etc…), but I try my best to eat as much whole, one ingredient, gluten-free foods as possible.

So that was one big change that started in January of 2013. In March, I was offered my first post-college job at a company I’ve really enjoyed working at. I see myself working at Pinstripe for a long time as I continue to learn about the human resources and recruiting industry. During that same month Kevin also started his new position as an Underwriter.

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Working at Pinstripe afforded me the opportunity to purchase a car! With the help of Kevin, Kevin’s parents, and my parents I was able to find this car within two weeks before my start date. :)

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In April, Kevin and I moved to Menomonee Falls, a suburb of Milwaukee. Our new place is a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment amidst plenty of trails and walking land, which has been perfect for our new puppy, Butters.

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Butters on his first day at home. :)

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Butters at approximately 8 months of age.

And then on our four year anniversary on August 18th in Chicago, I got engaged to my best friend! We’re planning our wedding for June of 2015, so 2014 will be a year full of fun events and planning! :)

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I’m absolutely thrilled for 2014. I have a few goals that I’ll touch-on in an upcoming post, but mostly I’d like to be more active in the new year, spend plenty of quality time with family and friends, plan our wedding, and expand my blog. But more on that later…

My wishes go out to everyone for a safe and healthy New Year and an abundance of joy in 2014!

Paleo Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

I can’t get enough of this recipe. There are some gluten-free muffin recipes that are noticeably gluten-free. The texture of the muffin will be too dense or too dry…but not these. I brought these into an office potluck and no one knew they were gluten free. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. So if you’re looking for a good muffin to have with coffee, or as a dessert, or just because you want to indulge in some pumpkin-y goodness, try these!

I found this recipe on Paleomg’s website: http://paleomg.com/pumpkin-chocolate-chip-muffins/

Paleo Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Ingredients

  • ⅓ cup pumpkin puree (I used canned)
  • ⅓ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup coconut flour
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or ¼ nutmeg, ¼ ground cloves, ⅛ powdered ginger)
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • ½ cup Enjoy Life Mini Chocolate Chips (try this brand if you want a soy-free option, otherwise any brand will work)

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Mix together wet ingredients in a bowl: pumpkin puree, maple syrup, coconut oil, eggs, and vanilla extract
  3. In another bowl, whisk together coconut flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, powdered ginger, baking soda, baking powder, and salt
  4. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and mix well
  5. Fold in chocolate chips
  6. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. Use an ice cream scoop to one scoop of batter per muffin
  7. Bake for 35-40 minutes

Tip: After the muffins have cooled I store them in a container and then keep them in the fridge. If they’re left at room temperature they tend to dry out a little after a day, but if they’re refrigerated they stay pretty moist.

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Maple Bacon Pecan Roasted Butternut Squash

Before this year the only squash I had ever tried was pumpkin (that I can recall, anyway). This year I feel like I’m on a roll. I’ve cooked with pumpkin, spaghetti squash, and now butternut squash! I’ve found squash to be quite the comfort food. I like that it can be used in savory dishes as well as sweet dishes.

I found this recipe on the Paleomg website: http://paleomg.com/thanksgiving-side-dish-maple-bacon-pecan-roasted-butternut-squash/

It’s so easy to make and it makes for a great side dish!

Maple Bacon Pecan Roasted Butternut Squash

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 pieces of bacon
  • 5 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
  • 1 cup pecans, roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup maple syrup
  • 2-3 tablespoons bacon fat
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼-1/2 teaspoon salt (I didn’t add any salt because I felt the bacon was salty enough)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Place strips of bacon on a foil lined baking sheet
  3. Cook bacon for 20 minutes. Bacon should still be slightly soft (not crispy) when you pull it out of the oven. Remove from baking sheet to cool on a paper towel lined plate. Chop bacon into small pieces once cooled. Place the rendered bacon fat in a large bowl.
  4. Add the cubed butternut squash, pecans, maple syrup, cinnamon and salt to the large bowl with the bacon fat.
  5. Mix together to coat the squash well. Add pieces of bacon to the mixture and mix well.
  6. Add mixture to a 9×11 glass baking dish.
  7. Increase oven temperature to 400 degrees.
  8. Place dish in the oven to bake for 35-40 minutes (depending on size of cubed butternut squash) or until squash is soft.
  9. Serve immediately.

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And here it is paired with an Italian seasoned chicken breast and asparagus!

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21 Day Cleanse Follow-up

Well guys, I have to own up to the fact that the 21 Day Cleanse was pretty tough. I didn’t make it the full 21 days but I did learn some valuable lessons from the experience.

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I would like to try the 21 Day Sugar Detox from Balanced Bites again in the future. It was a good experience to add more vegetables to my diet, but it was difficult to limit fruit to one banana or one green apple per day. I love fruit. Berries, grapes, apples, pears… I could eat them with every meal. So that was difficult but at least it made me realize that I don’t need sugar with every meal.

Remember those Young Living products I was going to use? The ParaFree softgels and DiGize essential oil? They were an intense addition to the cleanse. The softgels were like swallowing potpourri. Spicy, cumin-flavored potpourri. After you took one (if you could stomach swallowing it) you’d taste it in your mouth for hours afterward. I also tried to drink the DiGize essential oil in a glass of almond milk (as recommended in the Young Living book)…nope, couldn’t do it. It was too strong to drink so I just applied it topically.  And just as a reminder, DiGize is an essential oil blend of: tarragon, ginger, peppermint, juniper, fennel, lemongrass, anise, and patchouli.

So those were a little intense but I did like the addition of probiotics to my diet! They were easy to take and my digestive system felt more “settled” overall.

Another thing I also enjoyed was dry brushing. It was an easy and surprisingly relaxing way to exfoliate and stimulate the lymphatic system to aid in good, overall health. All you need is a dry, boar-bristle brush and about 10 minutes per day to lightly “brush” your skin, paying special attention to areas that have lymph nodes (neck, collar bone, under-arms, etc…).

The one thing I didn’t try? An epsom salt bath. I kept meaning to try it then I’d run out of time in the evening. I still plan on trying it in the near future though so when I do I’ll report back!

Even though I didn’t make it through the full 21 days of the cleanse, I did feel better overall toward the end. Cutting back on sugar, utilizing essential oils, and dry brushing are all things I’ll continue to do in the future.