Why Wednesdays? – Why I Eat . . . To Heal and To Fuel – #5

A Note About This Feature:  Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about.  Currently, the focus is on food, cooking, and eating.

 

I absolutely eat for enjoyment and pleasure.  I love food, after all.  I eat things that taste good and make my taste buds happy.  None of this, however, means that I sacrifice nutrition.  The combination of getting older and discovering my inner long-distance runner has made eating food that nourishes me critically important in my life.  I need to eat food that is delicious – but I also need to eat food that provides sustenance, energy, and valuable nutrients.

Cucumber Sandwich at The Hazel Room

While I was once fairly oblivious to my body’s needs, I have worked to become in tune with them now, and it’s amazing how much my body will tell me when I listen to it.  Instead of making food decisions based solely on what is in front of me and what my pleasure sensors encourage me to snap up, I now make choices that are much more well-informed and in tune with my body’s needs.

With all of this in mind, I want to talk about food for healing and fuel both from my perspective as a burgeoning endurance athlete, but also just as an ‘average’ person with a desire to live a generally healthy life.  Certainly, the running side of me has nutritional needs that may be fairly specific, but I truly believe the values and concepts are fundamentally the same for athletes and non-athletes alike.  Even if I never ran another mile (yikes – that hurts to even think about!), I would still want to be as healthy as I can.  If I have the ability to ward off illness and disease, why the heck wouldn’t I?

Eating to heal – as a runner:

When it comes to healing, I truly believe in the power of food.  As a runner starting to train for my first marathon, I need food that is going to promote repair and regeneration within my body.  Each time I push myself to increase my long run mileage, fervently engage in plyometrics or strength training, or complete high-intensity speed work, my body breaks down a little.  Healing and recovery after those workouts are crucial and I know that what I eat matters above all else in this regard.

Eating a post-workout meal designed to feed my muscles and joints plenty of healthy carbohydratess, proteins, fats, and loads of vitamins and minerals is crucial.  I have (at times) adhered to this plan well and (at other times) ignored it completely.  I have most definitely noticed the difference.  The speed and quality of healing and recovery is evident when I eat nutritiously.  My body feels all that much stronger, all that much faster.  I experience less soreness, stiffness, and inflammation.  This all results in less turn-around time needed between training sessions, less injury, less muscle fatigue, and continued training that is safe, effective, and high in quality.

Chopped Veggies

Eating to heal – as an ‘average’ gal:

Running aside, food is frequently at work healing me.  And, possibly more importantly, it prevents me from needing much healing in the first place.  On a small scale, this is clear when I’m under the weather.  Eating vitamin-rich foods when I start to feel run-down and sniffly is incredibly effective in providing my system the nourishment it needs to recharge and heal.

Since I’ve changed my eating habits, I’m rarely ill.  I battle allergies at times, but true illness happens much, much less often than in my devil-may-care style eating days.  There is incredible research that shows the benefits of certain foods (unprocessed or minimally processed, of course) to prevent major illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke, and dementia.  If a small amount of extra time and money spent now prevents hospital stays, medical bills, loss of independence, and a shortened life span in the future, you bet I believe that the extra time and effort put into my diet is also warding off more minor ailments, as well.  There were loads of seasonal colds and flus flying around my office in the last couple of months at my office and I am happy to say that I have seemed to avoided the worst of it.

Eating to fuel – as a runner:

Just like I need to heal and recover as a runner, I need to GO.  To MOVE.  When I first started running, I naively didn’t think too much about what I ate and when. Of course, I wasn’t run very long or far at that time, so the relationship between these two wasn’t immediately clear, but that sure changed over time!

Now I can’t imagine heading out for a long run (anywhere between 13-17 miles for me currently) without adequate nutrition.  A Picky Bar is my fuel of choice.  It’s a perfect combination of nutrients and energy to get me going and not upset my stomach.  But in reality, proper nutrition working to fuel my runs happens around the clock, not just 30-60 minutes before I head out the door.  It’s all so clear. If I’ve had a drink or two the night before, I’m inevitably dehydrated during the run.  If I haven’t eaten enough, I’m quickly fatigued and my legs feel like lead.  Too few carbohydrates during the day and I have no kick in my step at all.  Watching the patterns develop between my dietary choices and my running performance with such consistency leaves me with no doubt that making the ‘right’ choices for fuel is crucial for performance (and enjoyment) as a runner.

Biscuit, jam, and coffee

Eating to fuel – as an ‘average’ gal:

I’ve heard people say that because they’re not very active, they don’t need to worry about ‘fuel’ or specific energy gains from food.  I’ve also heard these same people say that they’re often tired, that they feel hungry even though they’ve just had a meal, and that they feel distracted and unfocused at specific times of day.  Daily diet is often a culprit in these issues.

Whether you run a marathon, you ride your bike to work, or you walk little more then to get from your car to the couch, you still need the right combination and amount of nutrients to get you through – that is, at least, to get you through it without feeling miserable.  Life is taxing.  You don’t have to be super active for that to be true.  Even at my most sedentary, it’s a glaring truth.  When I eat too much salt, I wake up with puffy eyes and hands.  Yep.  It’s true and it’s not pretty.  When I don’t eat a balanced lunch, I am a scatterbrained mess around 3pm.  And, I just can no longer function without breakfast.  I get light-headed and cranky.  You do not want to be around me if I am denied a healthy, fresh breakfast to start my day – just take my word for that.

If you are aware of your own patterns with nutrition, healing, and energy, I commend you!  If you’re not, I really encourage you to spend some time paying attention to it.  Tracking your food, your moods and energy levels for a few weeks can be an incredibly insightful experiment.

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 Previous Entries in This Series:

#4 – Why I Eat . . . Food From My Own Kitchen

#3 – Why I Eat . . . Plants!

#2 – Why I Eat . . . With Reverence

#1 – Why I Eat  . . . Thoughtfully

Why Wednesdays? – Why I Eat . . . With Reverence – #2

A Note About This Feature: Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about. Currently, the focus is on food, cooking, and eating.

For most of my life, I didn’t have much respect for food. I grew up on a diet made primarily of fast food, microwaveable meals, and processed junk food. Without getting too much into the details, I was essentially raised in a single-parent household and my mom was busy. She worked. She went to school for a few years in addition to work. Every once in a while she would cook on a weekend or a holiday, but it wasn’t the norm, so we did what we needed to. When your food comes in a cardboard box or is handed to you through a window, it’s easy not to have much respect for it.

I ate it. I enjoyed it. I craved it. But, I didn’t really think about it much.

I didn’t think about its nutritional content (or lack thereof) or its cost. I certainly didn’t think about where it came from or what it took to make or produce my food. As far as I was concerned, if The Hamburglar wasn’t trying to steal away my Happy Meal, all was well.

As I’ve grown, this has changed dramatically, especially in the last couple of years.

Coffee Pickers in Timor-Leste

I work with individuals living in poverty. Good people who take their $200 of ‘food stamps’ each month and do what they can to ensure they won’t starve until the 1st of the next month rolls around and they get their next $200. That inevitably makes me consider the cost of food.

Now that I’m an active runner, I notice how even subtle changes in my diet impact the way my body feels and works and moves. Eat the ‘wrong’ thing and my body feels sluggish. Eat the ‘right’ thing and I have the energy and strength I need to run as far as I choose. That certainly makes me think about nutritional value.

I stay well- informed on world events and social issues, so I read all too often about the abuse and maltreatment of crop pickers and dangerous conditions in food production plants. So that definitely leads me to ponder the ethics of food production.

And, tending to be the introspective-type, I frequently consider my personal relationship with food and food-related issues, which is a complex relationship to say the least. My grandfather was, essentially, a farmer for many years. He worked hard, every day, to produce crops that raked in money for those he worked for, though he certainly never saw huge paychecks himself. He tended and toiled and understood food in ways that I likely never will. I belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture plan) during crop-producing months and sometimes I think about him when I unpack my goodies. Vegetables that were actually watered and touched and picked and packed by people who cared about what they were producing. Sometimes I get excited about this and think I will start a balcony herb garden! I must have some ‘green’ genes in me passed on by my grandfather, surely! Right?!

Then I remember the last three times that I did try to start a balcony herb garden. I recall the shriveled herbs, dirty pots, and withered plants creating an eyesore on my balcony and mocking me with my urban farming failures. And as I remember them, I have all that much more respect for the skill and patience that it takes to grow something beautiful and bountiful.

When being introspective, I also think about how I eat differently these days. Like, literally, how I consume my food. You see, I used to generally eat one of two ways. I all too often ate on-the-go. I can’t even begin to count up the thousands of meals I have eaten in my car. Alternatively, even when I actually ate at home or somewhere similar, it was usually while multitasking to the point that I barely even noticed what I was eating at all. I ate while working, studying, cleaning, you name it. There was pretty much zero connection between the behavior of eating and the experience of it. Now, though probably busier than ever, I slow down to eat. I take my lunch break away from my desk. I eat dinner with others in my household. When I eat at a restaurant, I take the time to enjoy the experience of it. Changing this approach to eating has given me an appreciation for the ways that food connects me to others. The conversations shared over a meal are some of my favorite and the act of sharing a personally prepared meal with others feels comforting and intimate in a way that few other acts do. Plus, as someone with a bit of social anxiety disorder, I have found that strangers can always talk about food – and it tends to be a bit more interesting then discussing the weather.

photo credit: stijn via photopin cc

photo credit: stijn via photopin cc

Food is a common, shared denominator, a linking factor in all of our lives and it nourishes us (or hurts us) in innumerable ways. The relationships that it builds, the work it takes, the care it demands, the desire it elicits and the frustration it can bring are more powerful than we often acknowledge. I have certainly been guilty of taking it all for granted in the past, though I’m trying a bit of a different strategy these days, one with much more respect for the food on my table, the people behind it, and those that I share it with.

Happy eating.

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Previous Entries in This Series:

#1 – Why I Eat . . . Thoughtfully

Why Wednesdays? – Why I Eat . . . Thoughtfully – Reason #1

A Note About This Feature:  Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about.  Currently, the focus is on food, cooking, and eating.

I have a lot to say about food and I am looking forward to doing so in the next several weeks in this particular series of Why Wednesdays.  I thought it would be best to start by discussing why I think so much about food and why I feel it is such an important topic to explore (beyond the simple fact that I just love to eat, that is).

Food is fraught with implications and contradictions.  Food can be political or personal.  Utilitarian or indulgent.  Hot or cold.  Filling or meager.  Shared or eaten in solitude.  Bland or flavorful.  Nutritious or harmful.  You see what I mean?

photo credit: ilmungo via photopin cc

photo credit: ilmungo via photopin cc

Food is an enormously complex issue, but all too often that complexity is not given the consideration that it’s due.  What we eat and how we eat it has deep impacts on health, economics and the environment.  Plus, food is intricately connected to social status and political ideology.

But so very often we cook and eat without thinking about any of this.  We eat unconsciously –   in front of the television, at our desks, in our cars, running out the door, standing in the kitchen, etcetera.  You’ve done this, right?  I know I’ve certainly had my moments years of doing this.  You get so busy you can’t remember if you ate lunch or you finish off a box of Cheez-Its while in front your computer screen, not even noticing the flavor, the crunch, the point at which you reach fullness.

Even when we sit down to eat an honest to goodness planned meal at a table, it is still unconscious in many ways.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it’s probably pretty uncommon for people to consider how their food was prepared, how it is impacting their bodies, where it came from, if chemicals are on it or not, how it fits in to their budget, and so on.

Now, before you protest and begin to tell me how exhausting all that would be to consider all the time and that you just don’t have the time or that it doesn’t really make much of a difference anyway or whatever other arguments spring to your lips, just wait a minute, please.   Take note that I am not going to say you must know the answers to each and every one of these questions in great detail every time you take a bite of food.  But I will say that adopting a more conscious approach to these things in general will change the way you eat, the way you look at food, and will have huge impacts on your life (both short and long term).

I’m willing to bet that at some point or another, you’ve complained about your weight, lamented about the rising costs of groceries, been a bit confused about what it really means to be GMO or non-GMO, wondered why you didn’t feel full after eating a large meal, or been outraged when you’ve read an article about slave-like conditions of produce pickers.

These are just some of the issues that affect us all day in and day out.  And, we can understand them more fully and we can make changes to them to better our bodies, our health, our communities, our environment, and our lives in general.  We absolutely can.

But it takes thought.  It takes consideration.  It takes some education and some willingness to make some tough decisions about what and how you consume.

It also isn’t as difficult and time consuming as you may first think.  Once you start to consider these issues, do a bit of research, and keep your eyes open, you’ll start to develop a base of knowledge and understanding that easily informs your food choices.  You’ll know which stores you can (mostly) trust and which ones you can’t.  You’ll have brands that you can feel good about buying and others you’ll steer clear of.  You’ll know what foods nourish your body accordingly and which ones, well, just simply add to its volume.

Mediterranean Beans

I will write more specifically about these individual topics in the weeks to come, but to start, I am encouraging others to cook and eat with some thought and consideration.  Ask questions (even if it’s just to yourself or to Google) about the food you eat and the way it’s grown or prepared.   Ponder the flavors and feelings it gives you, rather than just consuming it, distracted by the goings on of life.  Talk about food (and recipes and food production and nutrition and grocery inflation and all of it) with others.

In fact, I propose this: treat it like those classic tenets of journalism. Consider the who, what, when, where, why, and how of it.  Get conscious in your food choices and really experience the act of eating.  Try to consider it a little experiment.  And, if it helps, go ahead and practice this experiment on cookies.

Cookies make research better.

To read the previous series in this column, select the ‘Why Wednesdays’ tag in the right side column.  Prior series in this column include ‘Why I Run’ and ‘Why Creativity Counts’.

Have A Surplus of Springtime Zucchini? Make Brownies!

I hear/read a lot this time of year about the abundance of zucchini.  Many who are a part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program, like I am, find themselves flooded with the little green vegetable.  It is not entirely uncommon to hear a bit of groaning about it.  Zucchini isn’t the most popular of vegetables, though I must admit that I’m not entirely sure why.

I personally don’t mind the plenty of zucchini that the warm weather brings.  I love it.  I cube them and sauté them with corn, lime juice and Mexican seasonings.  I slice them thin and eat them raw after marinating the slices in a delicious vinaigrette for several hours.  I stuff them in burritos.  I roast them!  I bake them!!  I julienne them!!!

You get the idea.

I happen to think that one of the most ingenious methods of using up zucchini is to put them in brownies.  I’m sure you are all familiar with zucchini bread, which is delicious in its own right, but baking brownies with them takes the concept of zucchini-filled baked goods to a whole other level.

A whole other scrumptious chocolate-y level, that is.

I baked these brownies a couple of weekends ago and am excited to share them with you now.  These are the kind of brownies that are chewy and fudgy, almost cake-like (as opposed to the slightly more dry, crumbly kind of brownies).  They are super moist and taste more than a bit decadent, though they also happen to be pretty darn nutritious as far as baked chocolate treats go.  They use whole wheat flour, no oil or butter and the zucchini adds moisture and richness to the brownie, while also providing you with nutrients that promote a strong nervous system, keen eyesight, and healthy skin.  How can you pass up a brownie that does all that?

You can’t.  You mustn’t.

And, I’d be willing to bet that if you bake them in secret, your brownie-eating friends and family won’t even know they’re getting a healthy dose of vegetables until you tell them!

Fudgy Zucchini Brownies

Adapted slightly from blissful eats with tina jeffers

Ingredients

  • 2 tblspns egg replacer, mixed with 6 tblspns water (or 2 large eggs)
  • 1 tblspn vanilla extract
  • 1 cup granulated sugar (I think turbinado sugar would work well here, too)
  • ¼ cup smooth unsweetened applesauce
  • ¼ tspn kosher salt
  • 1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
  • ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ tspn baking soda
  • 1 tspn ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tspn ground cardamom
  • 2 cups shredded zucchini (about 2 large zucchini)
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chunks (or chips)
  • Sea salt or vanilla-flavored salt (optional)

Preparation

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare an 8×8 inch baking pan by spraying with cooking spray.
  2. Grate zucchini.  Once grated, squeeze out excess water from the zucchini.  This step is important in order to prevent too much moisture in the brownies.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg replacer (mixed with water), vanilla, sugar, applesauce, zucchini, and salt until combined.
  4. Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon and cardamom until well combined.  Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and stir until just combined.
  5. Add in the chocolate chunks (or chips) and mix to incorporate.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  If desired, sprinkle sea salt or vanilla-flavored salt on top.  Bake the brownies at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until the center is just set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  7. Allow the brownies to cool before slicing into squares (I cut mine into 16 pieces).

** Note:  Because these brownies are on the moister-side, I found them to hold up better stored in the refrigerator rather than out on a counter.  Let cool completely before covering and storing in order to prevent any steam/condensation from forming.  They are best eaten within 3 days of baking.