The Pulse on Pulses

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about pulses – that they’re the new “it” food of 2016. I’ve heard that they provide ample health benefits and are replacing things like quinoa, kale, and other exotic-sounding foods (that are bound to be hard to find and expensive) as the new life-changing power food. The word itself is ugly, and reminds me of a beating heart, and something that I definitely do not want to eat. I will be the first to admit that I actually had no idea what a pulse is. Have you heard of them? I was additionally reluctant to research them to find another nutrition fad that seems utterly ridiculous to me (sorry, Bulletproof coffee fans). But, I must say, I was pleasantly surprised to learn what pulses actually are, and to find that I’ve actually been eating them fairly regularly throughout my entire adult life.

What is a pulse?

A pulse is the dried seed portion of a legume. A legume is a plant whose fruit is enclosed inside a pod. Common legumes include soy, peanuts, and peas. Therefore, examples of a pulses are basically dried legumes. The most common types of pulses include dry lentils, chickpeas, dried peas, and dried beans.

What are the nutritional benefits?

Pulses are a filling part of any meal due to their high fiber and protein content. They are also very low in fat, so they’re a good choice to incorporate into your daily life if you’re looking to lose weight. The high fiber content helps protect against cardiovascular disease by lowering blood cholesterol levels. High fiber also helps to stabilize blood sugar levels by preventing spikes in blood sugar (which will later cause you to crash). Pulses contain a lot of protein for a plant source. For instance ½ cup of lentils contains approximately 9 grams of protein – more than an egg, which contains only 6 grams. Pulses are also nutritionally dense; they pack in a lot of different vitamins and minerals that are essential for energy production and metabolism in a very small package and for not a lot of calories. Pulses deliver a high amount of B-vitamins, folate, thiamin, and niacin, which are all important for neurological function and for energy fuel. The one downside to pulses? They may cause some gastrointestinal discomfort when eaten in large amounts, or if you’re not used to eating them all of the time. If you want to increase your pulse intake, add them into your diet slowly, and make sure to drink plenty of water to help things move through your digestive system smoothly.

How can I eat more pulses?

If you don’t feel like eating straight up beans, you can incorporate more pulses into your diet by eating foods that already contain them! Good sources include hummus, bean spreads, chili with beans, lentil soups, and dips. If you don’t care to be adventurous, you can add lentils, peas, and beans straight into your salad in place of higher-fat meat toppings. I personally love making a baked sweet potato and topping it with black beans, plain Greek yogurt, shredded cheddar cheese, and salsa for a cheap and SUPER filling dinner.

So, there you have the new, fabulous, exotic, and trendy food of 2016. As you can see, they’re really not so scary! Do you normally eat pulses? What’s your favorite way to get in these nutrition superstars?

source.

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Cleanse with Caution

Welcome to December, where we find ourselves on the other side of Thanksgiving and it’s officially acceptable to get excited about the holiday season. People bring in holiday treats to the office on a daily basis “just because” and it’s easy to lose sight of health and fitness goals. Our healthy habits that we’ve spent all year incorporating into our daily lives tend to unravel away as we allow ourselves to indulge in party after party, and treat after treat. Many people turn into panic mode at this time of year as they see the numbers on the scale slowly begin to creep up. A quick fix that many people turn to is the juice cleanse. Juice cleanses are often marketed as a tool to jumpstart weight loss, promote health, and rid the body of all things evil (cough sugar cookies cough).

But are cleanses even that good for you? Are they even safe? Do they actually work? There’s a lot of information out there, and I looked at two different articles that promoted opposite sides of the juice cleanse. I think after reading both, the information is still just as jumbled.

The Real Reasons Juice Cleanses Can Get Your Health Back on Track

Summary Points:

  • This article was written by a doctor, so it’s probably a respectable resource.
  • Drinking juices allows the gut to rest and not work as hard, so phytonutrients can be absorbed more easily.
  • Cleanses rest the liver, which is often overloaded with toxins, so much so that it can’t keep up with how much junk we put into our body.
  • Cleanses do the thinking for us, we don’t have a choice in what to eat so it breaks the habit of making unhealthy choices.
  • Cleanses jumpstart weight loss by curbing the appetite and providing a naturally hypocaloric diet, so your body will “naturally start losing weight.”
  • Juicing ensures proper hydration, allowing metabolic and bodily functions to carry out more efficiently.

OK, OK, but what about the opposite side of juice cleansing. Why is it so polarizing and why do so many people advise against it?

4 Myths About Juice Cleansing

Summary Points:

  • Cleanses and juicing programs that last 3-5 days (the typical length) are expensive.
  • There’s no scientific evidence backing long-term health benefits claims made by juicing companies.
  • A healthy set of lungs and kidneys, as well as liver and GI tract are in a constant state of cleansing and detoxifying the body, so why do you need juice to do what your body already does naturally?
    • In regards to the “overtoxifying” point made in the previous article above, if your liver was not able to handle the overload of toxins you ingest, well, you would likely be dead by now.
  • The weight loss from juice cleanses is likely from water elimination, as the body burns through its glucose stores for energy, it pulls water out with it.
  • The lack of calories leads to irritability, shakiness, headaches, as well as constipation from a lack of fiber.
  • The “glow” many people experience from a cleanse may just be psychological.
  • The weight loss is unsustainable, rendering juice cleanses a “quick fix.”

So what’s the verdict? Both articles bring out excellent points, though on opposite sides of one another. I’m leaning clearly towards the second article, which also happens to be backed by a dietitian. I just simply don’t see how cleanses can really detoxify your body and jump start healthy weight loss.

From what I learned throughout graduate school and my dietetic internship, providing an inadequate amount of calories can put your body in starvation mode, encouraging it to hold on to as much fat as possible (your long-term energy storage) while expelling protein, causing you to lose muscle mass. Additionally, your liver and kidneys are natural detoxifying agents; providing them with easy-to digest juice is not going to lighten their workload any more. If anything an abundance of these nutrients is only going to be expelled in the urine (except for the fat soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K). Additionally, the juices eliminate the pulp and skins of the fruits, which contain all the fiber. The fiber slows down the absorption of the good nutrients and allows the GI tract more time to get all of those nutrients into the bloodstream. Fiber also slows down sugar absorption, so taking these juices that are naturally high in sugars while eliminating the fiber can lead to blood sugar spikes and subsequent crashes. Not good. This may not be the case in juices that are made mainly of vegetables (with one or two fruits to flavor it, like lemon and an apple), but still, these mainly-veggie juices may lack adequate fiber.

My personal advice: If you find that you’re slipping off track during this time of year, don’t be so hard on yourself. Allow yourself the treats and holiday cookies, just don’t go overboard. Instead of eating 5 cookies in the office, try to only eat 2. Make sure the rest of the meals you eat throughout the day are in line with your personal health goals. If you want to keep your weight down, load up on healthy fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins like you normally do. Continue to fit in exercise into your daily routine. When at a party, try to be mindful by savoring every flavor and don’t show up hungry, so you’re the one making the choices, not your grumbling stomach. If you still want to try a juice cleanse, that’s fine, just try to eat at least 1 meal per day that consists of healthy, real, non-pulverized fruits and vegetables with protein.

A cleanse is a simple fix. You’ve been doing so well all year, so why change what you’re doing now? Keep working at building up your healthy habits, because that is what’s going to give you the long-term benefits.

What are your thoughts on juice cleanses? Have you ever done one? What was your experience? Sound off in the comments!

And happy eating!!

Brace Yourself, the Pumpkins are Coming

Linus from Charlie Brown was on to something when he sat around for hours on Halloween waiting for the Great Pumpkin. In fact, his obsession with the pumpkin has made me think that he was quite the trendsetter. Seeing that we are well into my favorite season of Fall, I’ve noticed that everyone has officially gone off their rocker, and pumpkin is cropping up in everything. EVERYTHING. So far I’ve seen the likes of pumpkin spiced lattes (of course), lip gloss, yogurt, Pringles, even hummus.

But, I deplore you to stay away from these pumpkin-themed foods (yes, even the latte). For the most part, the flavor in these products comes from chemicals and artificial flavoring, and are not the real deal.

Enter one of my favorite supermarket buys in the fall and winter months: a can of pumpkin puree. A brand that I trust is Libby’s and the ingredients list reads: PUMPKIN. And that’s it. To compare, the ingredients in Pumpkin Spice flavoring syrup used in Starbucks reads as: “SUGAR, CONDENSED NONFAT MILK, HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, ANNATO (FOR COLOR), NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS, CARAMEL COLOR, SALT, POTASSIUM SORBATE (PRESERVATIVE),” and can be found here.

Real pumpkin offers so many health benefits, and all of these pumpkin-flavored imitators offer none of them. That’s why I choose to skip the imposters and buy the pumpkin puree, which is versatile and can be used in a variety of recipes. Like applesauce and other fruit purees, pumpkin can substitute butter and oil in baking recipes to provide that wonderful fall flavor while upping the nutrient value. Click here to learn how to substitute butter and oil with pumpkin in your favorite baking recipes.

More importantly, the bright orange color, as seen in the sweet potato, is enough to tell you that the pumpkin is bursting with nutrients. Pumpkins are a great source of potassium and magnesium, which help to lower blood pressure; vitamin C, to boost immunity and to fight those winter colds; and fiber, which not only keeps you super full but also improves GI health, lowers blood cholesterol, and prevents blood sugar spikes. Not to mention there is only 1g of sugar and 0g of fat in a 1/2 cup serving of pumpkin puree, so it’s truly good for your waistline (unlike the Pumpkin Spice Latte syrup mentioned above, which is seriously just pure sugar and empty calories).

My favorite, and probably also the easiest, way to eat pumpkin is in a smoothie. This recipe is great for breakfast, after a workout, or even dessert, and, it’s made even better when topped with this yogurt dip that I’m now obsessed with made by Something Swanky (find her original recipe and post here). 

Pumpkin Spiced Cinnamon Shake

Servings: 1, Prep time: 5 minutes, Cook time: 0 minutes.

Ingredients

1/2 cup pumpkin puree

1 banana, frozen

1/2 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk

1 scoop vanilla whey protein

1 T honey

1/2 tsp pumpkin spice

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Instructions

Place all ingredients in a high-powered blender and mix until silky smooth. Best when eaten with a spoon and/or slurped with a straw (depending on the thickness and your mood on that given day).

Demolished.

Nutrition Information (for shake only, excluding the yogurt dip): Calories: 309, Total Fat: 3g, Cholesterol: 45g, Total Carb: 55g, Dietary Fiber: 8g, Protein: 22g. *

*This recipe meets 158% of your Daily Value (DV) of Vitamin A, 19% DV of potassium, 20% DV of Vitamin C, 38% DV of Calcium, and 14% of Iron, woo!

How do you like to cook with pumpkin? Have you seen any other bizarre foods that have been pumpkin spice-ified? Sound off in the comments!

Vegetties

Who out there isn’t a sucker for a good impulse buy? On my most recent trip to Bed Bath and Beyond, or as I like to call it, the Abyss (meaning I can get lost for hours in there thinking that I need things that I definitely do not need), I was feeling accomplished with myself as I was waiting in the checkout line. Everything in my basket was on my original list, and I didn’t stray from that list at all. That is, until I laid eyes on this funny-looking and oddly-named contraption called The Vegetti. At an attractive price of only $14.99, the Veggetti promised to “turn veggies into healthy spaghetti instantly!” I was intrigued.

The cashier saw me eyeing it and said, “I bought that and I LOVE IT! I’m on a no-carb diet and am obsessed with pasta and that thing has literally saved my life.” Well, first, I had to do a little internal eye-roll because any vegetable that you put through the Vegetti is going to be made of carbohydrates – complex carbohydrates that would be healthier than the carbohydrates in pasta (think – more fiber!), but carbohydrates nonetheless. However, the cashier seemed really excited, which made me really excited, so I overlooked her error and bought it.

Well, tonight was my first experience with the Veggetti, and I must say I was impressed. It has two openings that lets you pick between thin strands or thick strands, is very lightweight, and easy to handle. I Veggettied a zucchini through the thin side and a yellow squash through the thick side and ended up with really cool-looking noodles that were full of fiber, not to mention they were also completely gluten free. Don’t get me wrong though, because I seriously LOVE gluten. However, for anyone who suffers from Celiac’s disease, a gluten intolerance, or who loves pasta but doesn’t want to overdo it with the calories (cough cough me), then these Veggetti noodles make for a wonderful alternative.

Zucchini

The package comes with a little booklet that has cleaning instructions and a few recipes. It seems as though you can cook the vegetable noodles in the same way that you would cook freshly-made pasta. Pretty cool! My only criticism is that it can be hard to clean, as food particles can get stuck in the blades and those babies are SHARP. However, the pieces of food eventually broke free using a cleaning brush and the Veggetti is dishwasher safe, so that may solve the problem.

So, what did I make for dinner tonight? I honestly just threw together all the frozen vegetables I had in my freezer (corn, broccoli, and mushrooms) into a pan with some olive oil, and let them defrost and cook. Then I added garlic, a cooked chicken thigh, and both the zucchini and yellow squash noodles. I then cooked for about 5-6 minutes until the noodles were tender and topped with parmesan cheese. One zucchini and one yellow squash yielded  A TON of noodles so I even have leftovers for tomorrow. This dinner was nothing super fancy but it was easy, filled with veggies, satisfying, and tasted delicious. I must say I’m excited to keep trying new dishes using vegetable pasta instead of regular pasta; my absolute FAVORITE dish in the world is fettucine alfredo with broccoli, garlic, and spinach, so I think I’ll make that next time with zucchini noodles rather than real fettuccine.

Pro tip: cut the noodles after you’re done Veggetti-ing (this word doesn’t get old) in order to “create shorter, easy to manage strands,” according to the booklet that comes in the packaging.

dinner

You can read other people’s reviews and buy the Veggetti (at a cheaper price than I did – that’s the beauty of doing your research rather than succumbing to the impulse buy) at Amazon here: Buy the Veggetti! 

What’s your favorite impulse buy? Do you have a good dish that incorporates spiralized veggies? Share in the comments!