Friday, January 27, 2012

Are You Choosing a Good Egg?

Photo courtesy Google Images

Yesterday in the grocery store, I overheard one woman talking to another in the canned vegetables/tomatoes aisle:

“Which brand should we get?” One woman asked.

“Oh”, answered the other, “I just buy whatever is cheapest.”

My heart sank when I heard this reply, and I was disappointed. I wanted to blurt out, “Really? Your health and your body or your family’s health and body don’t deserve more thought than that?”

I was in the same aisle looking for an organic boxed (not canned) tomato product from Italy I adore called “Pomi” – fresh chopped tomatoes. I love them! A little garlic sautéed in olive oil, a box of Pomi, some fresh basil, and salt and pepper and wham bam - a simple sauce that tastes like it came from your garden and is ready in 5-10 minutes. 

But often when Pomi is sold out, I buy any canned organic tomatoes (several brands are available). I choose organically-grown products first and foremost, period. This is one simple healthy choice I make when shopping. Within that category, I pick the brand which may have a weekly special or “buy one get one free” deal to be money wise. After all I love my family and want what is best for them, the flavor is wonderful, and they do not need any extra chemicals (pesticides, herbicides or hormones) in their diet. Neither do you! Please stop using the "cheapest is best" philosophy as an excuse. Illness can be expensive, too.

Don't assume you cannot afford the good organic stuff or that these things do not matter – it is the typical short run vs. long run argument so prevalent in our culture. Over the long run you will pay dearly in poorer nutrition and health. Let’s look at eggs for a minute. Often I notice organically-raised cage-free chicken eggs selling for as little as $2.50 a dozen (which won’t break your budget) and, really, the healthier you eat, the better you and your family will feel. The cage-free eggs taste better, and you are putting a better product into your body – you know the saying “You are what you eat.” Think about these things, make a few small changes; you will notice the difference.

Do you want to put into your body eggs that are laid by hens that are never allowed to walk around in the sunshine and live out their life in a tiny cage? Where the poor sweet chickens never get to leave the nest or use their legs? They defecate on themselves and often are kept in an environment where they do not rest in darkness but are kept in bright light 24/7. Do a quick experiment: compare a cage-free organically-raised chicken egg against a commercially (cramped in their cage for life) processed egg. The cage-free organic eggs will have thicker sturdier shells, deep orange yolks with a clear transparent white; the other commercial eggs have thinner shells, pale yellow yolks and cloudy whites. Which one would you want to put into your body?

Trust me, I am the furthest thing from perfect. It is not that I eat a perfectly healthy diet, but I try to make a few choices to diminish my intake of pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and low quality produce, dairy, and meat. Truth be known, I think Gary Null, nutrition and wellness expert, is a bit off putting. My friend Kari eats a raw foods diet and she has amazing health, bless her heart. She studied nutrition in school and is making an educated choice for her health. However, it is not easy to be true to a raw foods diet. While I choose not to follow her strict diet plan, I do try eating organic, growing organic, and abiding by an 80/20 rule where I choose healthy over unhealthy 80% of the time. There are small changes and choices I can make that will move me in the direction of ingesting better tasting and higher quality food.

I am a proponent of always buying and choosing “real” food first, which means I prefer real butter over margarine. You have heard or seen the advertisements that tout, “I can’t believe it’s not butter,” right? Man-made is not better than natural food. If butter is the taste you are going for, then just use the real thing in smaller quantities. I purchase real maple syrup (delicious sap from the trees) over commercially-created sugar syrup with maple flavoring. To be thriftier, there is always a “real” 100% maple syrup brand from Vermont or Canada that has a weekly special or discount. And I choose “real mayonnaise” over the other sandwich spread. Get where I am going here?

There are always going to be food fads coming at you to cloud your vision. Remember the soy vs. meat controversy? Use a little common sense, and remember the bigger the corporation the greater the advertising to further confuse and overwhelm. If the soybean products are not organic, then you are probably ingesting chemicals you did not pay for and do not want. Think about going for balance in your eating choices - add in other protein sources such as beans, lentils, legumes, seeds, and nuts - balance the sweet tooth cravings with fresh fruit or high quality chocolates. What is good for the yoga practice is also good for other life choices.

And since I love lists I have created a list of ten easy changes one can make to improve their food choices, health and wellness for themselves, and ultimately for the planet. Drum roll please....

Ten Positive Healthy Grocery Shopping Food Choices

1. Cage-free/organic eggs over commercial cramped chickens’ eggs. Remember the more the shopper chooses the cage free over the commercial eggs produced by caged chickens with no freedom or outside time, then the commercial egg producers are losing business and money and perhaps may change their ways. Well, it is a nice thought anyway.
2. Organic over non-organic produce, period.  Whether it is tomatoes or applesauce, choose organic if you can find it. It tastes better and your family is worth the extra few cents or dollars. At least my family is worth it.
3. Real 100% products over man-made and processed.  Real vanilla over imitation vanilla, real maple syrup (that means 100% Maple syrup) over processed sugar/corn syrup with maple flavoring; real organic butter over margarine;  real mayonnaise (which is simply eggs, oil and lemons) over the other brands with processed chemical ingredients; real peanut butter over the commercial sugar-added brands. (Note: There is a delicious organic peanut butter that does not contain added sugar and completely blends the peanut oil in so it does not rest on top, which can be off putting (yes, I understand). Your kids will not tell the difference from the big name brand.
4. Grass-fed organically-raised animal meats over hormone and feed-lot fed animals.  See references below for a better understanding.
5. Healthy processed vegetable oils.  Look for the words “virgin, cold-pressed, non-hydrogenated, organic." Try oils such as: olive, soybean, grape seed, flax, walnut, sesame, peanut, sunflower, and eliminate the overly processed oils that contain the words “partially hydrogenated" or GM (genetically modified) or GE (genetically engineered) corn or canola oil, to name a few.
6. Unbleached organic flour over bleached non-organic flour. The bleaching process can damage some of the protein content. Furthermore, unbleached flour will naturally lighten and get softer with aging. Of course, try whole grain stone-ground flour added to your white flour recipes to increase healthy benefits.
7. 100% Whole grain breads over plain white bread. Look for stone ground flours (whole wheat, rye, oats, etc.) and try many brands until you find one that your palette loves. Whole grain means that the bran and wheat germ are intact in the flour and have not been removed by milling. Whole grains are better sources of fiber and other important nutrients, such as selenium, potassium and magnesium. Whole grains are either single foods, such as brown rice and popcorn, or ingredients in products, such as buckwheat in pancakes or whole wheat in bread (MayoClinic).
8. When in doubt read the labels if you are in a quandary. If one of the first ingredients is sugar or sodium think about that and compare with other brands. If the label ingredients list “tomatoes and basil” without a long list of additives, this is a good thing!
9. Monitor shopping, cooking and eating choices for illnesses that concern dietary issues. With lactose intolerance remove dairy such as milk or cheese, but include kefir and yogurt which contains the good bacteria that can produce lactase; with Celiac disease choose gluten-free items; with hypertension lower salt (NaCl) intake; and with diabetes reduce consumption of processed sugar.
10. Know your Super foods and include them in your weekly diet. These are foods that give a big nutritional bang for your buck such as: green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach, yellow vegetables like sweet potatoes/yams and carrots, blueberries, salmon, avocados, kefir or organic yogurt, almonds, beans, dark chocolate, eggs, to name a few.

So be a good egg - make better choices in the grocery store. Have fun choosing, tasting and experimenting with products that will benefit your health, your family's health, and the health of the planet.  Stay informed and open-minded always!


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Strong to the Finish - Spinach

Popeye picture - compliments of free Google Images

Family: Amaranthaceae (originally Chinopodiaceae)
Genus: (Spinacia oleracea)

When I was a kid I had a thing for Popeye cartoons. It was a mixture of Popeye’s more-than-muscular forearms sporting tattoos and bursting out of his cool sailor outfit, Wimpy with his passion for eating stacks of juicy burgers, and the strangely awkward Olive Oyl.  Here is what I figured as an equally awkward kid: if Olive could get Popeye and Bruto to swoon and fight over her, then all of us females had a chance for romance. Who knew that one day I would grow up and marry a man with only one good eye just like Popeye!

The spinach magic that Popeye used to boost his power was not lost on me; if my mom served it for dinner, I ate it – even if it had a slightly bitter taste. As I grew older, I realized the canned vegetables that Popeye devoured were inferior to the taste and nutritional goodness of fresh vegetables.  I wish I could have talked to Popeye about that and offered him a baby spinach salad.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard about the “super foods” – foods that are packed with a powerful punch of nutrition and should be included daily (or at least weekly) in the human diet. In my blog I have discussed several super foods (i.e. Yams/Sweet potatoes, cabbage). Spinach is one of the green leafy super foods. Read up on the fun facts I gathered from various sources and then check out the spinach salad recipe with pears and O & CO balsamic vinegar. Popeye, would devour this recipe and then go on to save the world. Well, somebody has to.

  • Spinach is a dark green leafy cold-weather annual. In most zones you can plant seeds in March and have baby spinach salads in about 4-6 weeks, then plant again in the fall for a later harvest.
  • Origin is not precisely known but spinach possible hails from Persia or Nepal. How exotic!
  • The Chinese consider it a “cooling” vegetable or having the yin effect of calming the body. It is helpful for people who often feel hot and perspire, have red eyes, skin issues, heart burn, and constipation.
  • Vitamin A – a whopping 31,882 IU of A (carotenoid form) and 1595 of A (retinol or RAE form) in a bunch of spinach (USDA Nutrient Data Library).  Vitamin A enhances skin and mucous membranes, vision, immune system, bone growth, infection fighting, and reproduction. It also reduces risk of cancer; also it is a skin-enhancing and healing antioxidant compound that fights free radicals.
  • Vitamin C – with almost 50% of the daily requirement in 100g of spinach, the positive healing properties of ascorbic acid are:  Anti-oxidant that boosts the immune system and assists the body in making collagen, a protein necessary for skin, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and blood vessels. Vitamin C is needed for healing wounds and for repairing and maintaining bones and teeth (National Institute of Health).
  • Vitamin K – K for koagulation (German spelling), essential in blood coagulation and for bone strength and formation (Linus Pauling Institute). Spinach (100g) contains an amazing 400% of the daily requirement of K (USDA).
  • Folic acid or B9 - available in spinach and needed by the body to manufacture red blood cells; a Vitamin B9 deficiency can cause certain types of anemia.
  • Iron – 100g of spinach contains 25% of our daily requirement of iron. Iron, as part of the protein hemoglobin in our blood, carries oxygen from our lungs throughout our bodies as well as assisting our muscles to use and store oxygen. 
  • Spinach plays a pronounced role in healing age-related diseases. It contains zeaxanthin, a cartenoid, which when absorbed into the retinal macula lutea is beneficial in fighting Age Related Macular Disease (ARMD). In addition, the Vitamin K in spinach plays a role in limiting neuronal damage in Alzheimer’s and also is enormously important for bone strength and mass!
  • Contains oxalic acid - which can have the positive effect of stimulating colon activity but the negative effect of crystallizing as oxalate stones in the urinary track (so drink lots of water!) However, cooking/steaming will reduce the oxalic acid quantities.
  • Last but not least - there was an E. coli and salmonella scare in the last few years attributed to fresh spinach; this can occur in any agricultural environment. The situation  was investigated and corrected. Always be sure to wash your spinach very well making sure each leaf is rinsed. 
Spinach salad ala fancy balsamic vinaigrette and pears (note the O &CO balsamic vinegar)

SPINACH SALAD - ala fancy balsamic vinaigrette and pears

When Bumble and I were in Paris for a divine travel vacation, we stumbled across the 
O & CO on Rue Cler, a Mediterranean food merchant emporium specializing in all things created from the olive (olive oil, tapenades) along with products that compliment like vinegars, sauces, and crackers. It was here we sampled and tasted their best-selling “Premium Balsamic Vinegar of Modena.”  Quite frankly, it takes balsamic vinegar to a whole other heavenly level. Worth every cent of the $34 price tag, it will make anything you top it with sing an opera.  We were thrilled to find out we have an O & CO right here in Cherry Creek, and we don’t have to order this scrumptious vinegar from France.

1 package organic baby spinach (washed, drained and spun)
1-2 ripe pears sliced thin
1 C. cherry tomatoes (amounts can be adjusted)
½ C. dried cranberries or more to taste
½ C. honey roasted pecans or slivered almonds
½ C. crumbled goat cheese (Feta) - if you dislike goat cheese sprinkle on Parmesan instead
Note: add any other fresh vegetables you love such as avocados, peppers, green onions
Salt and pepper


2 T. Tamari or soy sauce
3 T. O & CO Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (really crucial to divine flavor see photo)
3-4 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Whisk the 3 ingredients together and adjust for flavor and consistency. Use your taste buds to determine. Toss with the spinach salad ingredients above and serve. Enjoy the benefits from all the vitamins and minerals!


Monday, January 9, 2012

Native Voices

Fancy Dancer Rylan Baker - Photo courtesy Google Images and

Every January the cowboys come to town. All things cowboy and western - from livestock to leather boots, felt fedoras to bucking broncs – gather at the Coliseum to swing their tails and tell their tales in Denver, Colorado. For a few weeks in January, the well-known and infamous National Western Stock Show which began its century-old tradition back in 1906, comes to town. The Stock Show, as it is known locally, was born 106 years ago as an idea invented by livestock growers in Colorado to boost recognition (and sales) for their work (i.e. livestock and agricultural products) and compete with more popular meat-producing cities in the east such as Kansas City and Chicago. January was chosen as a great time (after the holidays and a winter lull in sales) to command attention from the public. It has been a dramatic draw ever since, growing from a local event to a national one. For more information see

However, long before all the old world animals such as sheep, cattle and pigs were introduced to the Americas by European invaders and shown at the stock show; the magnificent American bison (Bison bison) roamed the western Great Plains. Before the West was overrun with gun-clad cowboys and Stetson-hatted stockman, there lived an indigenous people. These people hunted the wild game and bison of the region and this food source was crucial to survival. Interestingly, today the bison is finally being recognized as an important source of nutritious, low-fat and naturally grass-fed meat.

They were the original inhabitants - native peoples that inhabited this new world - and they were comprised of well over 500 tribes, numerous nations, and countless clans. While the Spanish Conquistadors were annihilating the peoples in the southern regions - Mexico, Central and South America - the English, Dutch and French were incrementally taking over the North American region. The take-over was complete long before the 19th century came to a close. Like many things from nature that are made near-extinct, their habitat was stolen to make way for a new society and ways. Not only did they bring non-native animals, birds and plants, but diseases such as smallpox which devastated the native populations. These first people’s way of coexisting with the land - the native animals and plants - was destroyed and the American Indians were relegated to spend their lives on reservations. The land of the reservations was too small to sustain a hunter/gatherer society with enough habitat to support herds of native animals. Their ghosts whisper to me of tremendous loss and what it means to be made powerless and marginalized.

Miraculously every Sunday morning without fail at 7 a.m. they have been given a voice to be recognized and heard. Colorado hosts a public radio program called alter-Native Voices in Denver and Breckenridge on KUVO (89.3 FM), in Vail on KVJZ (88.5 FM), and live-streaming on  For one hour on Sunday morning Susie Aikman, your host and DJ, shares the music of such talents as: Arvel Bird, Bill Miller, Buffy St. Marie, Brule´, Jana, Red Feather Woman, Robert Mirabel, and Carlos Nakai. Interwoven into the playlist are stories, brief history lessons and Native American community events shared to enlighten the listener. Every Sunday, Bumble and I share morning coffee and awaken our ears to hear these voices. It is like being in a church filled with Great Spirit. Tune in and listen to an alternative voice and you will not be disappointed.

Another January tradition happening in Denver that balances the cowboy event of Stock Show is the Colorado Indian Market and Southwest Showcase held January 20-21-22,2012. Beautiful artwork, pottery, jewelry, clothing, furniture, and entertainment are tightly packed into the Denver Merchandise Mart. Here on their stage you can experience live the music you may have sampled listening to at alter-Native Voices. This month you can hear the music of award-winning Brule´ and Shelley Morningsong, and experience Tom Ware's American Indian Exposition Dancers. Watching Native American dancers is heart-stopping. The energy, rhythm and colors will mesmerize and make a deep impression. I urge you to hear these native voices (on the radio, at the upcoming Colorado Indian Market or a local Pow Wow) and to be changed forever!

Three children dancers - Photo courtesy Google Images


Monday, January 2, 2012

Real Resolutions

My homemade wreath longing to stay outside and 
not be put away in the closet for 11 months.

Nope, I am not going to set myself up for failure with the usual New Year’s resolutions like “lose 15 pounds” or “become fluent in French” or some such unachievable goal.

Instead,  I am going to create a list of resolutions that are achievable and contain a confident spirit; a list that consists of what I know I can do, not what is wrong or missing with my present self. Everyone has heard them before, nothing much new but they are definitely doable.
  1. Choose to exercise an hour every day. It can be any variety of movement – walking, jogging, swimming, biking, practicing yoga, etc. And always allow for one rest day each week. 
  2. 80/20 rule - Choose healthy food over junk food 80% of the time and 20% of the time indulge and eat that piece of cake your hostess made. I can do this!
  3. When feeling low, be kind to self and venture out into nature – go to streams, woods, snow-capped mountains, grassy plains, lakes, or beaches – and simply marvel at something greater than oneself. 
  4. Choose to create a little something every month – write, paint, sew, re-pot a plant, make earrings, try a new recipe. Laugh at the childlike joy of creating.  Come on, it’s only once a month.
  5. Once a month attend one cultural event that will enrich and inspire - go to a museum exhibit, hear music, see a play at a local theater, attend a Native American Indian pow-wow, etc. This is fun!
  6. Listen to my French language tapes 2 or 3 times a week (you can substitute Spanish, Chinese, Italian, etc.) - the goal is to just listen! I may absorb more and improve without any pressure to become better.
  7. Choose to watch TV less and read or meditate instead. I can do this!
  8. Find one awesome thing about Bumble every week (or every day) and tell him about it. 
  9. Be grateful for the things I do have and learn to let go of things I will no longer have. Gotta do it.
  10. Gravitate toward the people who show love and kindness towards me and let go the people who don’t. It is sad and necessary.  Being unloved and treated unkindly will only make one feel “not good enough” and lacking; this is a recipe for self-loathing. Stay close to the folks who accept the way you are and who forgive your imperfections.
OK, what are yours?