At the top of every year, grand health commitments and declarations are made: Eat better, work out more, get on a regular sleeping pattern, lose weight, and get that summer body ready. There are an abundance of resources available to help you achieve those goals, but what we lack often is the long haul consistency. Just saying “healthy” sounds boring, basic, and raisins in potato salad-ish. Not today!
Food is meant to be enjoyed and it also gets to be functional. We can dance when we taste the morsels of something decadent and we can be “healed” by a medicinal soup.
Upgrade Your Pantry with Healthy Staples
When you have a good foundation of spices and herbs to use, it makes turning any dish from bland to outstanding. spices are multi-faceted from enhancing taste, to preserving food, and having health supportive properties.
Level up your pantry with these delicious alternatives to traditional salt:
Spices and Sauces: Turmeric, fresh ginger, smoked paprika, garlic (fresh and powdered), sea salt and/or Himalayan pink salt, Coconut Amino Acids.
The power of turmeric is enhanced by pairing it with black pepper. The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin which has powerful anti-inflammatory (almost as strong as medication) and antioxidant properties.
Seeds: chia seeds, hemp seeds
Chia seeds are a good source of calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, iron, and fiber. They can be ground and mixed with water as an egg replacer. Chia seeds are also very filing, so adding them to smoothies or soaking them as they become gelatinous, helps create a fuller felling and keeps you hydrated longer.
Preferred Healthier Oils: Olive, Avocado, Algae, Coconut (debatable but less so for brown folks), Sunflower.
Let’s say no to vegetable oil which typically is pure soy bean oil (that is not a vegetable). Let’s opt for using less oil and when we do use it, choosing to use it very lightly to finish off our food.
Institute the 80/20 Rule When Making Meals
By instituting a system of checks and balances in your food habits, it makes it easier to not calorie count. The principle of 80-20 is applicable in many eating scenarios. Eighty percent of our plate should be food from plant-based sources. This makes the process of digesting our food easier and helps our waistbands not expand. Twenty percent can be your source of protein. Another way to establish an 80/20 rule is to maintain a clean diet 80% of the week or month and use the 20% to enjoy more indulgent foods.
Flavor Profiles and Cooking By Spirit
Many of us cook from the guidance of our ancestors. You feel the spirit of an aunty yelling at you to add more until she yells stop! Recipes are not the end all, be all of cooking. Since baking is a science, measurements matter more. In cooking, not so much. There are variations of food profiles from cultures like the Caribbean (Haitian, Jamaican, Bajan, etc) to the hundreds of profiles that exist in Africa. Let’s look at the basic profiles: Salty, Sweet, Bitter, Sour, and Umami (which is your palates distinction of glutamates and nucleotides). They all send signals to your brain from the nutrient benefits to telling you if something is good or bad. Learn the profiles of your favorite dishes and start experimenting to recreate them in healthier ways.
How to Manage “Hey Big Head” Messages from your Salt and Sugar Cravings
If you give into it, balance it out. Eat a salad. Have a green juice. One hack is to identify the food profile of the food you are craving: is it salty, sweet, bitter, sour or umami? Then try to figure out what the best alternative option to that craving is. Because if I want something salty like potato chips but eat a few olives, that sometimes does the trick. But if it is the crunchy texture, then a piece of toasted sprouted bread with tapenade and avocado may be a new love affair.
There are fond memories of taking change to the corner bodega store and loading up on every five and ten cent piece of candy they had. My sweet tooth is rampant along with us knowing that sugar is not our friend in the long run. Sugar is sugar no matter what form it comes in, even the “healthy” stuff. In the summer, it is easy to satisfy cravings with the fruit that runs abundant. In winter, it can be a little trickier. And sometimes that sweet potato pie wants to be besties. Here are some substitutes that are available: Coconut sugar, honey, molasses, date and raisin paste, ripe bananas, stevia, agave.
For liquid sweetness and to avoid the aftertaste of stevia, add a packet or two to sparkling water and 2 tbsp of unsweetened cranberry juice or half a lemon/lime. For a quick dessert, in a food chopper, I blend avocado, speckled, ripe bananas, cocoa or cocoa power, and sometimes I add a date. That can be eaten as a pudding or put in the freezer for a gelato type dessert.
Let’s stop pretending we aren’t lactose intolerant if we are
We already know what is about to happen if we eat mama’s mac and cheese. And who can be mad at us!? It can be delicious. No. It IS delicious. The way our stomachs are set up, as we get older, our ability to handle dairy decreases. There are some great non-dairy alternatives available from butter to “cheese” and all the milks. One year I made a spinach artichoke dip that one of my siblings asks for at least twice a year. The first rule of food club is experiment. The second rule of food club is when you prepare and serve it, don’t tell anyone it doesn’t have dairy. Let the success of your impeccable food speak for itself. Then hit them with the “Woohah”. That is how I got my family in check in the beginning stages.