Diet and Exercise as Healing Practices

For anyone who doesn’t know me personally, you might have noticed the many references on this blog recently to Germany (we are now at the tail end of a summer spent in Cologne, a city in Northwestern Germany), but there’s something you might now know…something that happened during our trip that has had a profound effect on the life of our family, and is the reason I haven’t blogged for a couple of weeks. In the early hours of July 4th, my 6-year-old daughter Christine fell 9 feet from the loft bed where she was sleeping and was severely injured. It’s a very long story, but the ultimate result was that she sustained a skull fracture, a concussion, a temporary facial palsy as a result of the swelling pressing on her nerves, and a broken collarbone.

Not exactly the adventure we were looking for when we set off on our European summer. Also definitely not the July 4th I was planning…or the July 5th, or 6th, or 7th, or…you get the idea.

After five traumatic days in a German hospital, our little girl came “home” to our rented apartment and has been recovering remarkably well for someone with such serious injuries. Her emotions, too, have regulated fairly well after this extreme ordeal–she really is an incredibly resilient person, and always has been.

She doesn’t get it from me.

I’ve still been struggling with negativity, fear, and doubt regarding my daughter’s injuries. I wish I had my husband’s optimism for our daughter’s future to be nothing but bright. I’m getting there, but as someone who is naturally a bit of an Eeyore, it’s an uphill battle.

Thankfully, I have some resources. First of all, as a Christian, I have comfort and peace from my relationship with Jesus Christ, and a belief that throughout this ordeal, God is in control. I have had a strong sense that my daughter has plenty left to do on this Earth–even when things did not look good for her immediately after her injury. Second, I have some very dear friends and loved ones who have offered support, checked in every day from afar, and have even sent money for meals and for me to get a massage. (I will say that you never know who will come out of the woodwork to help when you ask for it on Facebook. I was floored to receive super encouraging messages from two high school acquaintances in the midst of this sad time…and equally surprised to hear nothing from a few friends I consider close.)

I see how it is…

But since my faith and my friends aren’t really what this blog is about, I wanted to share a little bit about a couple of other resources that have to do with the healthy lifestyle message I try to proffer on A Love Letter to Food (can I use the word “proffer” without sounding absurd? Also, can you please ignore my Desserts section when I’m talking about my healthy lifestyle message? Mmkay, thanks.)

Of the constellation of practices that are helping me heal emotionally in the wake of my daughter’s injury, diet and exercise have definitely played a role. As for diet, it might sound surprising, but I don’t mean that my diet has been all sunshine and rainbows and that’s helped me feel great. Besides…please allow me this Derek Zoolander moment… I don’t think sunshine and rainbows are edible.

Anyway, what I mean is that, as a part of my healing process, I have been giving myself some extra grace when it comes to my diet–letting go a little of my usual vigilance over my eating habits. As a temporary measure, I’m finding this a relief. One less thing to worry about. In fact, due to some unfortunate timing, my son and I were scheduled to take a 2-day trip to Rome departing only a few days after my daughter was released from the hospital. After a lot of agonizing, I decided we should still go (and I absolutely don’t regret it–it was a life-changing 48 hours). While there, I decided to let myself have the extra serving of gelato, even though I wasn’t that hungry–and I normally never eat if I’m not hungry. Other indulgences included chocolate croissants for breakfast and a crazy-good lasagna dinner. “When in Rome,” right?

I’m sure eating appropriately for emotional healing is different for every person in or recovering from crisis, and may shift as the situation shifts–and I’m certainly not advocating drowning your troubles in gelato all the time. In general, research has revealed that healthy eating has been shown to improve mood, (and, for the record, the Mediterranean diet seems to be the best option to stave off anxiety and depression). But “comfort foods” get their name for a reason: sometimes, in the short term, they really can help us feel better, especially if we associate them with happy memories. And I certainly am going to associate gelato with this happy memory of eating it with my son on the streets of Rome.

Exercise, too, is something that for the first week after my daughter’s injury fell by the wayside. Self-care just didn’t mean going for a brisk jog in those first few days when I was getting three hours of sleep a night and spending all day at my little girl’s bedside. But now that Christine is on the mend, I’ve begun to return to my usual routine of yoga and running. Today, after the kind of run that makes all the song lyrics feel like they’re all singing your story (“and I don’t really care if nobody else beliEEEEEves, cause I’ve still got a lotta fight left in MEEEE!”) I read this awesome article–please, please read it–that confirmed the rejuvenating feelings running always brings. Aerobic activity literally clears your mind by generating new neurons in the area of your brain linked to emotion regulation.

Hey, here’s a pic of me on my run with no makeup! You’re welcome.

My takeaway: in times of crisis when emotional healing is needed, listen to your body when it comes to diet and exercise. And then, if after awhile, your body is still telling you to eat fried chicken and Twinkies and get under 500 steps in a day, be gentle with yourself as you ease into healthy habits. And of course, for anyone in crisis, please seek professional help for emotional and physical issues.

What are the diet and exercise habits that have brought emotional healing in your life?

Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon

Quick nutrition question: what do you know about omega-3 fatty acids? My guess is there are a few bits of info that probably come to mind when you think of omega-3s:

  • they’re found in fish, walnuts, certain oils, and other foods
  • alternatively, you can take them in pills that are pretty pricey and can tend to give you fishy burps
  • they’re somehow supposed to be good for you, despite how unappealing the term “fatty acid” may sound

But have you ever wondered what exactly they are and why they’re good for you?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat. They are referred to as “unsaturated” because of their chemistry: the carbon in the fat is not “saturated” with hydrogen molecules surrounding it (as in, it contains less than the maximum number of bonds possible–when the maximum number of bonds are attached, it becomes “saturated”). Also, fun fact: like other unsaturated fats, omega-3 is liquid at room temperature, so if you could buy it in pure form at the store, you’d find it alongside the oils. Fill the carbons up with those hydrogen bonds, though, and you’ll get solid-at-room-temperature saturated fat, as in butter.

The reason these particular fats have the name “omega-3” is also chemistry-related. There is a double bond between carbon and hydrogen on the carbon molecule third from the end (called the “omega”–you know, like “the Alpha and the Omega,” i.e. “the beginning and the end”) of the chemical chain. So, if it helps you, think of omega-3s as the “third from the end” fats. I do!

So, what are these fatty acids supposed to do for us, and why should we care? Evidence-based research shows that omega-3s help reduce inflammation in the body–always good for protecting our hearts from heart attacks and our brains from strokes, among other benefits–and may also lower blood pressure and triglycerides. Some studies have also shown them to have a cumulative positive effect on cognition.

For my part, I’d rather get my omega-3s through tasty foods than through pills (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with taking them in pill form). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 recommend eating 8 oz. of fatty fish each week, which breaks down to about two servings. And I’ve got a recipe for one for you right here.

This Mediterranean-inspired Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon is a delicious source of those all-important 3s, as it’s packed not only with tuna, but a good dose of olive oil. And, like any other meal, this one is a sum of multiple nutrition parts, which includes whole grains in the spaghetti, immunity-boosting raw garlic, and a respectable chunk of calcium in the form of Parmesan cheese. Not only that, but it’s a super easy, flavorful dinner that can be thrown together in 30 minutes or less with inexpensive ingredients.

I’d say that’s a good deal for your heart, your brain, your stomach, and your wallet!


Print Recipe
Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon
An easy Mediterranean-inspired pasta packed with omega-3s and bright flavors.
Instructions
  1. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. In a large bowl, toss with olive oil, lemon zest, minced garlic, Parmesan, tuna, and basil. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

Share this Recipe

Raspberry Cornmeal Muffins

 

Generally, I’m not much into specialty ingredients. If it can’t be found with relative ease at my local Fry’s or Trader Joe’s, I tend to feel I can pretty well do without it or find a reasonable substitute. We don’t need no hifalutin’ muscovado sugar, soy flour, or buffalo yogurt around here, thankyouverymuch. Especially here on the blog, I like to feature recipes that don’t require excessive effort, whether in techniques used, time spent, or ingredients called for. (And I tend to roll my eyes and click right past when other food bloggers post recipes that want you to track down some vegan hemp matcha flax milk. Ain’t nobody got time for that, and the 2% in my fridge will work just fine.)

But today I’m going to make a small exception to my no-specialty-ingredients policy, because my muffin world was recently rocked by the discovery of whole grain medium-grind cornmeal. (Yes, when you make muffins as often as I do, you can legitimately claim to have a “muffin world.”) My dear husband brought me back some cornmeal from the U.S. to Germany when I couldn’t find any here, and lo and behold, it was whole grain medium-grind–something I had never heard of before, since I always buy the cheapo generic 89-cent cornmeal.

Bob’s Red Mill…the FANCY stuff

When I used this semi-specialty ingredient to make the Raspberry Cornmeal Muffins featured here, I fell in loooooove with the result. The grittier texture it yields might not to everyone’s taste, but I found it super hearty and satisfying, like the kind of cornbread the pilgrims would have had at the first Thanksgiving before we got all technologified with grinding our cornmeal into powder.

Come to find out, there is also a difference between whole grain cornmeal and “regular” cornmeal not labeled as whole grain. As a nutritionist, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never really given whole grain corn much thought, but it stands to reason that, just like with any other grain, when the bran, germ, and endosperm of the corn are left intact, the corn will be more nutritious. Therefore, whole grain cornmeal contains more fiber and B vitamins than non-whole grain. Bonus! Awesome taste and texture PLUS better nutrition. And some mega-tasty muffins to use it in.

So there you have it…not too crazy a special ingredient, but maybe a fun one to give a try. After all, the Bob’s Red Mill brand seems to be sold in most mainstream U.S. grocery stores, so I imagine whole grain medium-grind cornmeal won’t be too tough to find if you want to try using it in these summery, bursting-with-berries muffins. When you taste them fresh out of the oven with a schmear of butter and a sprinkling of cinnamon-sugar, I think you’ll agree they’re worth it.


Print Recipe
Raspberry Cornmeal Muffins
Medium-grain whole wheat cornmeal gives these summery, bursting-with-berries muffins their hearty texture.
Course breakfast
Servings
muffins
Course breakfast
Servings
muffins
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder.
  3. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add melted butter, eggs, honey, sugar, yogurt, and milk, stirring to combine. Gently stir in frozen raspberries.
  4. Divide batter among the prepared muffin cups and bake 18-20 minutes.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe

Share this Recipe

Peanut Butter Apple Baked Oatmeal

After you’ve been grocery shopping in Germany for a few weeks, you begin to realize that there are numerous food items European supermarkets simply do not sell that American shoppers take for granted as regular possibilities. Chocolate chips, brown sugar, vanilla extract, and corn meal are all examples of foods that seem standard to my American mindset but are absent from all but the most specialized German grocery stores. (They all, for some reason, also seem to have to do with baking…why?) If you go looking on online message boards for answers to this culinary conundrum, you will inevitably come across the TOP most discussed edible scarcity for Americans living, eating, and shopping in this country: PEANUT BUTTER. No peanut butter cookies, chocolate-peanut butter ice cream, peanut butter-filled pretzels, and no floor-to-ceiling, chunky vs. smooth, Skippy/Jif /Peter Pan peanut butter section at the grocery store.

Some of these people online are VERY worked up about the peanut butter desert that is the European continent. (Now I think I know how Australians feel about Vegemite.)

So when my mom asked if there was anything I wanted her to bring from the U.S. on her recent trip here, peanut butter was at the top of my list. When she pulled it from her suitcase two weeks ago, I all but held it close to my face and whispered “sweet cream of the humble legume, I shall preserve thee as long as I am able.” I mean, let the record reflect that I didn’t.

Then, the next week, I saw peanut butter for sale at the grocery store. Ha!

This peanut butter sighting was, of course, awesome, but because it was certainly not a familiar brand and I frankly have some doubts about how authentic it could be when it’s only been in this country a pretty short time, I’m still spreading my American peanut butter stash as thinly as possible. Since my precious jar arrived, I have rationed it out into three peanut butter sandwiches, one or two dips of a pretzel, and this, one of my very favorite breakfasts, Peanut Butter Apple Baked Oatmeal. (And yes, this is the fourth baked oatmeal I’ve featured on the blog…because baked oatmeal is the BEST for a breakfast that’s make-ahead, tends to use only one bowl and one pan, tastes delicious, is super forgiving no matter what you put in it, and is usually healthy.) This peanut butter apple version is no exception.

With whole grain oats, plenty of apple, minimal sugar, and low-fat milk, it’s a winner of a breakfast that also serves to remind me that every time I eat an apple with peanut butter, I go, oh yeah! These are so good together–why don’t I eat this combination more often?

Totally worth using up half a cup of my treasured peanut butter supply. Try it out and I think you’ll agree.

P.S. For the record, I have not seen any horse meat for sale here, either…which I mention not because I WANT any, but because I had read online that it was a normal grocery store item in Germany. You’re safe for now, horsies!

Print Recipe
Peanut Butter Apple Baked Oatmeal
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8 x 8 baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix dry ingredients: oats, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, and baking powder. In a smaller bowl, combine milk, egg, applesauce, and vanilla. Add wet ingredients to dry and mix. Add peanut butter and mix again until well distributed. Finally, add diced apples and stir to incorporate.
  3. Pour into prepared pan and bake 35 minutes or until the top is golden. Let sit at least 5 minutes before serving, or, to make ahead, cool completely, refrigerate, and serve in the morning reheated with a splash of milk.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod.

Share this Recipe

Strawberry Applesauce

Aww, I totally missed it. May was National Strawberry Month, and I really meant to squeeze this recipe in before May ended three days ago. Then again, I’m not actually in the country, so I think I kind of get a pass on being up to speed on the whole “National (insert item here) Month” idea (though June is National Dairy Month, which I can totally get behind–and also, weirdly, National Potty Training Awareness Month? I’m as aware as I want to be on that subject…)

Plus, it seems to me like the entire summer should be called National Strawberry Season. Strawberries are one of those foods that just scream summer. When I think of strawberries and summer, I think of a refreshing poolside snack, sweet strawberry ice cream, and the edible red stripes on the American flag of a Fourth of July dessert. And now, after this recipe, I think…applesauce! Incorporating strawberries into applesauce is a great way to use up those last loner berries you got on mega summer sale that have faded from their grocery store beauty contest-best and are a wee bit too mushy to be featured in your attractive strawberry dessert. After all, in applesauce, everything is supposed to be mushy and mixed! It’s like the meatloaf of snacks.

So if you’d love a new spin on a healthy, whole foods classic or your kids are home for the summer and you need something a little different than the granola bars on repeat at snack time, give this easy strawberry applesauce a try! (And don’t think too hard about that whole “meatloaf of snacks” comment…I promise, it’s really tasty. 😉)

P.S. For more strawberry fun, read my 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Strawberries post!

Print Recipe
Strawberry Applesauce
An easy, refreshing spin on the snack classic!
Instructions
  1. In a large pot, bring apples, water, and cinnamon stick to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until apples are tender, about 15 minutes. Mash until chunky.
  2. Add strawberries and cook another 5 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick. Using an immersion blender, puree until the mixture reaches a consistency you like. Remove from heat and stir in sugar to taste.
  3. Serve warm or chill until ready to serve.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Food Network.

Share this Recipe