2019 is almost over! One of my goals for the year was to travel more and I'm so excited I did! From St. Martin to Paris, France, I had so much fun exploring the world, meeting new people and eating delicious food.
As I head into 2020, one of my goals for the year is to find more simple, time saving and healthy recipes beyond meal prepped roasted chicken and vegetables. One of my recent favorites is inspired by a salad I ate in Nice, France, that I couldn't get enough of. It takes just a few minutes to prepare and there's something so special about the way the vegetables and nuts mix, and, of course, the fact that it's taken straight out of France. Make sure to serve with an Aperol Spritz and a basket of fresh, warm baguette and you'll be transported into the warm South of France within minutes.
I have a very sneaky sweet tooth. She catches me at my most vulnerable times and then LATCHES onto me like a parasite - once I start eating sweets and treats I can't stop, and I can't help it - I love indulging in the finer things in life. A few years ago, I tried to conquer my sugary cravings for once and for all by completely cutting out any food or drinks with added and refined sugars in it. For the first few weeks, it worked - my cravings were gone, my energy increased, headaches decreased and my skin improved. Of course, my "diet" backfired shortly afterwards and ended with a chaotic episode of buying and eating every baked good available at Whole Foods. As with most diets, it wasn't sustainable for me to completely avoid all added sugars for a long period of time without creating a horrible cycle of binging and restricting. Since then, I've adjusted the way I eat to focus on eating more whole foods that make me feel good instead of focusing on cutting out sugar entirely. It's changed my life and I'm excited to share my experiences with you!
For the sake of clarity in this article, I want to point out that many natural and unprocessed foods, like fruits and vegetables, contain natural sugars. I have not removed foods with naturally occurring sugars from my diet. I also avoid sugar substitutes like Splenda, Sweet and Low or anything with sugar alcohols.
Why I cut down on Sugar
I work in public relations, so I spend a lot of time reading the news. In 2016, I started noticing an increasing number of articles focused on the harmful effects of eating too much added sugar. After some research, I realized that Americans consume way more sugar than the rest of the world, and way more than American dietary guidelines recommend. In fact, the CDC reports that the average American eats between 13 and 20 teaspoons or 45 to 70 grams (!!) of added sugar a day, when the World Health Organization recommends just 6 teaspoons (~25 grams) for adults and children daily.
After compiling my research, I realized that some of the symptoms I was experiencing every day, like headaches, break-outs, unreasonable tiredness, crankiness and fatigue could be attributed to the food I was eating and specifically my high sugar consumption. After reducing added sugars from my diet, I feel so much better. My migraines are nearly gone, I feel like I have boundless energy to go, go, go all day, my skin is clear and I feel STRONG.
The health benefits of sticking to a diet low in sugar go beyond the benefits I've been feeling and are overwhelming:
Are you convinced yet? It didn't take me much longer either to rethink the way I eat after this research.
Easy ways to cut down on Added sugar
1. In general, eat less processed foods and more whole and minimally processed foods.
I consider "processed" foods to be any sort of food that has been intentionally altered before I eat it, like chips, cereal, soda or deli meats. These foods tend to have loads of added sugar in them, including high fructose corn syrup, table sugar and more. I've avoided buying these foods and instead stick to purchasing minimally processed foods like oatmeal, nuts, Icelandic skyr, legumes, frozen veggies, rice and pasta, and whole foods like fresh vegetables and fruits and freshly pressed juices. When you are eating mostly fresh and whole foods, you naturally eliminate foods with added sugars and can control what ingredients you add into your meals. And, if you don't have processed foods in your pantry, you're much less likely to eat them!
2. Start reading the back of your condiment bottles.
Condiments are filled with sneaky added sugars. Start checking the back of your condiment bottles and limiting your intake or switch over to a healthier alternative. A great example is Heinz Ketchup. The regular stuff has high fructose corn syrup and corn syrup added in, for a total of 4 grams of added sugar per tablespoon. Make the switch to their "sweetened with honey" ketchup with no syrup and one less gram of sugar per serving.
3. Use lemon and olive oil instead of salad dressing.
One of my favorite switches I've made, is to use a lemon squeeze, olive oil, and salt and pepper for salad dressing. This is an easy swap that you can do at home, at takeout joints and request at restaurants. The dressing tastes just as good as the pre-made stuff, and brings out the natural flavors of your salad. This swap also allows you to control the amount of dressing on your salad so it's not swimming in liquid. If you need an extra flavor boost, add some Grey Poupon dijon mustard into a bowl with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and give it a quick mix before throwing it on your salad.
4. Skip your daily coffee Starbucks order and make your own.
At home or at work, I always drink coffee with a splash of half and half from a french press or our office Mr. Coffee machine. However, when I head to Starbucks for a mid-day pick-me-up, I always end up with a latte or a flavored coffee filled sugar, even when my intention was to get a black coffee. Avoid the trip all-together, and come to work with a thermos of coffee that will last you all day.
5. Stick to water.
Avoid soda, diet soda and juice, and stick to water. Your skin, digestive system and brain will thank you. If you're craving something bubbly, try a plan seltzer water and add fruit to it! Be careful about your alcohol consumption, and stick to these RD recommended drinks.
Craving Sugar? Instead of... Eat...
Instead of cereal...
Eat old-fashioned oats with berries.
Instead of store-bought granola...
Make your own using a touch of honey or pure maple syrup instead of table sugar.
Instead of boxed cake and cookie mixes...
Make an easy and delicious low-sugar dessert from one of my favorite websites, Well & Good.
Instead of a candy bar...
Find a favorite stone-ground low-sugar chocolate bar - for me, it's Taza!
Instead of a margarita...
Try a patron and soda with lime. My girls know this is my low-sugar drink of choice!
finally...don't forget to INDULGE every once in a while
All things are OK in moderation, and the same is true for sugar consumption. Treat yourself to an ice cream cone, have that piece of cake for your colleagues birthday, and order that first PSL of the season. Don't drive yourself crazy by counting grams of sugar, and depriving yourself of an occasional treat.
what swaps have you made to reduce sugar intake? Let me know in the comments!
As you know, I'm obsessed with my Stillman Farm's CSA. Every week, I get local, in-season vegetables for every meal. I love knowing where my food is coming from and truly feel so much more nourished.
I really try to eat clean daily, which means I try to eat whole foods only and avoid processed foods or items that are made in a factory. I'm not going to lie - I partially do it for cosmetic/vanity reasons (they say abs are made in the kitchen for a reason!), but I also avoid processed foods because I feel so much better without them. My mind is clearer, my stomach doesn't hurt after every meal, I have more energy and my muscles recover quickly. Trust me - I definitely have cheat snacks and meals throughout the week but because I'm so specific about my diet for the most part, I don't feel guilty about an occasional pizza night or ice cream sundae.
I plan on doing a "what I eat in a day" post soon, but while we're in the midst of summer with so many yummy fresh produce, I thought I'd share my favorite summer vegetable recipes I create with my Stillman's CSA. I love gathering new recipes - share your favorite summer recipes in the comments!
Raw corn and tomato salad
summer squash medley
Fresh green juice
Cheat Meal: Southern Tomato Pie
I have been STRESSED lately. MAJORLY stressed. Between a tough month at work, pending dance auditions, teaching fitness classes, my relationship, family and so many questions about my future, I have been feeling very, very overwhelmed,anxious and like I'm losing control over my life. Sometimes, it feels so easy to give up and start a new life. And some days I truly think about it and I convince myself that I'll leave Boston in the middle of the night and start fresh with a new name, occupation and hairstyle in the south of France (sound nice, right?).
On the days when I'm about to give up, I do a variety of things to stay motivated and put my mind at ease. I find that staying productive is the best way to overcome stress, but when it's hard to feel productive, I use these tricks below. What helps you when you're feeling overwhelmed? Let me know in the comments below!
1. clean your room
I'll admit it - I'm a messy person. As I've gotten older, I've realized that the neater my personal spaces are, the clearer I'm able to think, which is especially important to me when I'm busy, working towards a goal or just want to enjoy my space. In season 3, episode 8 of Queer Eye, Bobby said something (and I'm paraphrasing here) that really rang true to me - the state of your physical space often reflects your mental state. If your house is in disarray, it's possibly because you're completely overwhelmed with some aspect of your life, and that's completely true for me.
When I'm feeling overwhelmed, the FIRST thing I do is to tidy up the house and my bedroom. For me, it helps to complete small tasks and see almost immediate results in a beautiful house, especially when I'm not seeing immediate results in my long-term goals. It makes me feel like I can accomplish something, even if it is as small as running the dishwasher or organizing my sneakers. Not to mention, it's so much easier to think when your not tripping over last week's gym clothes and can find a clean water glass among the 18 dirty ones on your coffee table.
2. move your body
Exercise is on every list for stress management, but I don't consider hard-core, sweat your brains out cardio to be the form of exercise to cure stress. If I'm feeling overwhelmed at work, the first thing I do is get up from my desk and take a walk - whether it's to the water fountain or a longer mile-long walk around the building, it helps me to clear my mind and leave my problems at my desk for a second.
How I exercise based on stress-level:
When I need mental clarity: North End Yoga class with Shuli Burke or sweat it out at Corepower Yoga
When I feel like I need to scream for an extended period of time: Download the SWEAT app for some HIIT exercises I can do in my living room
When you want to escape from reality: Bounce & Barre at Barre Groove (personal plug) or dance at 305Fitness
When you need to just get up and move: Walk or run along the esplanade
3. Fall Back on routine
When my schedule is frenetic, I find comfort in routine. It might be a small routine, like weekly meal-prep, or a pre-bed time routine, but it's an easy way to stay sane and stay feeling like yourself. Create a daily routine and stick to it, because in times of stress you'll be happy to do something you have control over.
4. make a to-do list
Perhaps it's the Virgo in me, but there is no better way to stay motivated than to create a to-do list. I write to-do lists for everything - a to-do list for the year, for every Saturday, for work, for work-outs, pageants, grocery shopping, etc. I even keep a to-do list notebook in my purse at all times. It helps me to put down my thoughts on a paper and to create a commitment to what I need to get done. I also find that breaking up big, overwhelming tasks (like an audition or pageant) into smaller tasks that can easily be checked off a list (like booking a spray tan or buying snacks for the big day) helps me feel accomplished, organized and productive.
5. cut out coffee and cut back on alcohol
Anxiety and stress can lead to exhaustion. It's so easy to reach for that extra cup of coffee when you're on the brink of exhaustion, but it's one of the worst things to do. Caffeine can lead to exasperated symptoms of anxiety like an increased heart rate, racing thoughts, perspiration, etc. Try to stick to your usual amount of coffee when you're stressed and...
Try to cut back on alcohol. This is advice I have a hard time taking but I promise that a shot of Patron will not solve your problems (it certainly doesn't solve mine). Even worse than the drinking is the hangover and the feeling of unproductiveness that comes with it. To me, there's nothing worse than an unproductive Sunday as a result of a hangover and having to play catch up with your errands for the rest of the week and asking your body to cooperate. It feels great waking up on a Monday morning without a two-day hangover, trust me.
6. If you clench your jaw, chew gum
When I'm stressed, I clench my jaw and grind my teeth while sleeping. It's caused all sorts of dental problems and as a result I now have to sleep with a $650 custom mouth guard (!!!!). Instead of clenching my jaw, I chew gum all day at work and I go through packs of gum like a chain smoker goes through packs of cigarettes. It helps to know that if I'm stressed, I won't have jaw pain on top of it all.
7. When all else fails, Schedule a beauty appointment
I feel unstoppable with a fresh spray-tan, mani/pedi, eye lashes and blow-out. I hold my head higher, feel more confident when speaking with colleagues and even just walking down the street. When all else fails, I take comfort in knowing that at least I look and feel my best.
Hello Guide by Nicki V readers! It's been some time since I've written a post and I'm so excited to be back!
I am absolutely pumped to be writing this blog about the benefits of community supported agriculture, better known as CSA! As I'm writing this, I am just hitting "purchase" on a produce CSA through my local farm, Stillman's Farm. It's my second year participating after a great experience last year. If you sign up, I guarantee you'll love it too.
what is community supported agriculture?
About Stillman's farm csa
Benefit 1: local produce are healthier
benefit 2: local produce are better for the environment
The average piece of produce in the U.S. travels 1.500 miles (!) to get to it's destination, according to researcher Rich Pirog at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University. Buying local produce reduces the amount of food miles and therefore reduces CO2 emissions.
Choosing more plant-based foods is also important for the environment as it significantly reduces water use. According to UCLA Sustainability, if every person in the U.S. gave up meat and dairy products one or more days each week, we would reduce our water use by at least half. By having so many fresh produce on hand, you're a lot more likely to eat more plant-only meals.
benefit 3: csa support local, small businesses
Benefit 4: variety of produce leads to creativity
I certainly get into a Whole Foods rut and find myself buying the same bags of frozen veggies week after week (I'm looking at you broccoli, brussel sprouts and cauliflower). I get so excited to open my CSA box to see what's in store. June usually calls for leafy greens. July provides bright, fresh fruit. August has lots of green veggies and eggplant galore. September shifts into root veggies and October launches into squash season. It's so much fun to cook creatively with the vegetables I get and I love being surprised by what's in the box every week.
i actually Saved Money
This one is HUGE and was very unexpected for me. During January, I was focused mostly on the health benefits of not drinking and didn’t notice that in the meantime, I completely adjusted my spending habits. My monthly spending went down $1070.75 (!!!) in January 2019 from my average monthly spending in 2018. I attribute this to a. spending less money at restaurants when I went out to dinner and b. choosing to stay in and cook dinner on a Friday or Saturday night instead of going to a bar. Because of all the money I saved, I was able to finally splurge on a much-needed vacation without seeing a big dent in my bank account.
my skin is clear
January was a wildly busy month for me. I wore heavy makeup 3-4 times a week and was always on the go. With these conditions, I usually find myself breaking out around my nose, cheeks and jawline, but this month I was almost entirely break-out free. My skin remained smooth and clear and I even felt confident going makeup-free (a rarity!) on several occasions.
i toned up
I work out 5-6 days a week on a regular basis but don’t always see the muscle tone I desire. By the end of January, I noticed a sort of muscle definition I have desired for months. Although I didn’t change my fitness routine, I believe I can attribute this increased muscle definition mainly to Dry January and the lack of empty calorie consumption I usually have from my occasional glass of wine. When I've worked out this month, I've also noticed I have more energy and am more likely to work out vigorously on the weekend, as I’m not tired from the night before.
My Immune System is strong
I touched upon this one in my blog post on staying healthy during flu season, but I truly believe I have had a stronger immune system since cutting out alcohol. Alcohol is proven to reduce your body’s natural ability to fight off bacteria and virus’, so it’s no wonder I am feeling healthier during Dry January.
Cheers to February!
We're halfway through the NBA season, which also means we are halfway through cold and flu season. At the height of basketball season, I am performing at up to 3 games a week and I have to do all I can to stay healthy. I rely mostly on a balanced diet and exercise to avoid getting sick but I've also learned some tips (besides getting a flu shot) along the way that tend to work for me. Whether you have a big event coming up or just want to make it through the work week without sniffling, I hope these tips can help you stay healthy too.