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Archive for July, 2009

It’s no secret that I’m a huge advocate for salad. I eat a large salad for two meals of the day on average. But no matter the combination of vegetables, greens, and pat├ęs, salad can get a little redundant. That’s where dressing comes in.

Nearly all dressings you buy in a bottle are full of chemicals, additives, thickeners, and sugar. A quick check of the ingredient list tells all. But an easy, healthy, and considerably more delicious option is to make your own dressing. Fresh squeezed lemon juice and a good quality olive oil make a nice dressing, but sometimes you want something with a little more pizazz.

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Personally, I’m partial to creamy dressings. I use nuts and seeds to achieve a rich, creamy dressing while adding healthy fat. I have never measured the ingredients while making a salad dressing, but I’ll give you a basic template to experiment with, as well as some of my dressing recipes.

Template for Salad Dressing
1/2 cup nuts or seeds. Try cashews, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, or a combination.
Tangy component. I prefer fresh squeezed lemon juice (one lemon’s worth) which is detoxifying and alkalizing to the body. You can also use 1 tablespoon raw, unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, which has many known health properties as a detoxifier. Avoid other types of vinegar as they encourage “bad bacteria” growth in the intestines and don’t offer anything nutritionally.
Fresh herbs or spices. I will use almost a full bunch of cilantro or basil to make a dressing flavorful. Herbs and spices have great medicinal properties and can be used in abundance. Don’t be stingy; this is creating your dressing’s flavor identity! Basil, cilantro, dill, parsley, and thyme are all good options. If you don’t have fresh herbs on hand, try spices like cumin, curry powder, or powdered ginger.
A little kick. I will often add 1-3 cloves of fresh garlic. You can also use a bit of red onion. Remember that because these ingredients are raw, they will be quite pungent. A little goes a long way. If you like a spicy dressing, add cayenne pepper.
Sea salt. How salty you like your dressing is up to you, but certainly add some to enhance the flavor. You can also use raw soy sauce (Nama Shoyu) or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos.
Water. I’ve never measured how much water I use, but I estimate around a half a cup. Add more as needed. How thick you want your dressing is up to you. Remember that once you refrigerate your dressing, it will thicken.

Combine all ingredients in a blender. I use my high powered Vita-Mix. If your blender is not very strong, consider grinding your nuts/seeds in a food processor first. Store in a glass jar or tightly-closed tupperware container in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Here are a few of my dressings to get you started.

Creamy Cilantro Dill Dressing
(pictured above; quantities of ingredients can vary)
– 1/2 cup combination of pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
– 1/4 to 1/2 cup water
– 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
– 1/2 bunch to 1 bunch fresh cilantro
– 2 tablespoons dried dill
– 1/8 cup chopped red onion
– sea salt

Tahini Dressing
(quantities can vary)
– 1/2 cup sesame seeds
– 1/4 to 1/2 cup water
– 2-3 cloves of garlic
– 1 tablespoon cumin
– juice of one lemon
– sea salt

Basil Pesto Dressing
(quantities can vary)
– 1/2 cup combination of cashews and almonds
– 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup water
– 1/2 bunch to 1 bunch fresh basil
– 2 cloves of garlic
– juice of half a lemon (optional)
– drizzle olive oil
– sea salt

I hope this inspires you! Do you have any good ideas for salad dressings? Share them with me. I’m thinking of attempting an Asian-inspired dressing next, using fresh ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil. If you need a little salad inspiration, be sure to check out my post, Salad Making 101 for a step-by-step guide. Keep your salads interesting!

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Eat well,
Emily

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My philosophy is that diet is the single most important factor in reaching good health. I believe food has the power to affect all aspects of physical as well as mental and emotional wellness. I am often asked about my take on exercise and fitness and where that fits in a healthy lifestyle. Some people claim that with enough exercise, the proper diet is not necessary. Many athletes consume a wealth of processed, chemically-ridden sports drinks and supplements to “improve performance,” or insist on a high protein, meat-based diet for muscle recovery. I’d like to address a few of these issues and also talk about what I believe is an adequate amount of physical activity to maintain good health.

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How Much Exercise is Enough?
I think it’s very important to emphasize an active lifestyle. This doesn’t necessarily mean setting aside hours to spend at the gym each day. Making time to use your body on daily basis has enormous immediate benefits. It invigorates you, it keeps your metabolism happily spinning, and it undoubtedly improves your mood. If you’re looking to lose weight, you’ll certainly benefit from a setting a clear routine (more on that below). If you’re simply looking to maintain your weight or improve your physical health, start by finding easy ways to be active each day. Opt to walk or bike to any destination that’s close enough. If nice out, enjoy the weather and go for a leisurely jog. Find some simple home exercises that don’t require equipment (push-ups, crunches, lunges, and stretching) and make time to do them each day. Even a shopping trip will get you on your feet for a few hours!

Which Types of Exercise are the Most Beneficial?
I cannot stress enough the importance of variety. Our bodies are programmed to be as efficient as possible. When we work out the same way every day, like plugging along on the elliptical trainer for half an hour, our body learns to burn less calories in the process. By changing your work out every day, your body stays challenged. You also ensure that you’re working different muscle groups in different ways. If you always work out the same way, you are inevitably neglecting certain muscles or motions. If you have a gym membership, alternate between the elliptical trainer, stairmaster, treadmill, and stationary bike. Try interval training, an extremely effective way to burn more calories and improve your cardiovascular health. Simply alternate between going at an easy pace, a challenging pace, and your maximum pace. By switching between these “intervals,” your heart works much harder and your body stays challenged. Outdoor jogging is significantly different from running on a machine and is worth incorporating into your exercise routine for variety. Just be sure you have good, stable footwear and start slowly. Also, don’t neglect strength training. Strengthening your muscles improves your overall fitness level and speeds up your metabolism. Many muscles can be trained at home without any equipment. A quick google search can give you easy, at home exercises for your abs, arms, chest, glutes, and legs. Remember to always use proper form when doing strength training exercises. Without good form you drastically decrease the effectiveness of the exercise and risk injury.

How Does Diet Affect Exercise?
We all know someone who is very diligent about working out, yet they remain overweight and seemingly unhealthy. As I mentioned, I believe strongly that diet has a much greater affect on weight loss and health than exercise. That being said, the benefits of exercise should not be overlooked, and a healthy diet can make exercise yield better results and be executed with greater ease. Food is our fuel; without quality fuel in our bodies, they cannot perform. If your diet is rich in processed foods, sugar, and conventionally-raised meat, your body will not be nearly as energized as someone with a diet abundant in vegetables and natural, whole foods. If you keep processed foods and simple carbohydrates out of your diet, you will naturally have more energy, making your workouts more effective and less torturous. There is a misconception that we must load up on carbohydrates before exercise. If you’re choosing simple, refined carbohydrates like white bread, you are choosing a nutrient-deficient food. Even if simple carbs offer a quick burst of energy, they are not improving your overall health. The most important “food” to consume before and after a workout is not a food at all; it’s water. Keeping your body hydrated is of the utmost importance. Another misconception is the necessity of protein. Muscles are built from healthy blood. Healthy blood is made from alkalizing foods, namely green vegetables. Why do you think Popeye ate spinach?

Don’t I Need Protein and Sports Drinks and Supplements?
Let go of the conventional ideas about nutrition, even in regard to fitness. In order for your body to repair and rebuild your muscles after exercise, it needs a consistent supply of nutrients. If you’re eating a diet based around vegetables, you are meeting nearly all your nutritional requirements. You can make sure you’re taking in adequate healthy fat by including raw nuts, seeds, oils, and avocado in your diet regularly. Adequate protein can be obtained by incorporating organic eggs, organic grass-fed or raw/unpasteurized dairy, and organic grass-fed meat. With all of these as the foundation for your diet, there is no need for fitness supplements or sugar-laden sports drinks. These are just products covered in marketing and false claims. No chemical concoction can fuel your body like real, pure food. In the past year, I’ve taken to fitness as somewhat of a hobby. I work out, on average, one hour a day, six days a week. I incorporate both cardiovascular workouts and strength training. I eat a diet of mostly raw vegetables, nuts, and seeds. I don’t consume what most people would consider “enough” protein, and I certainly don’t look malnourished (that’s me in the picture at the top of this post).

I hope this gives you some things to remember when considering an exercise routine. If you are looking to add more fitness to your life, or you’re already an avid exerciser, I’d like to point you over to Stay Well, a health and fitness blog that gives great unconventional workout advice with a strong emphasis on natural health and well-being.

As always, thanks for reading. I’m always happy to take your questions and hear your comments.

-Emily

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