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Category Archives: health

My thoughts on pregnancy, birth, breastfeeding, parenting and life.

leek & potato sauté: a tasty (cheap) fall recipe

By Suzanne Brown on September 22, 2014 in nutrition, recipes tags: , , , ,

This is one of my favorite fall meals. The first time I had it was when I was training for a marathon and my mom served it one evening before my long run day. I had my best long run of my entire training period, which may have been a coincidence…but maybe not. This recipe is nutritious, easy, delicious, and pretty cheap to make – in fact, all of the main ingredients except the chicken broth are WIC eligible.

 

  • 1/2 cup lentils
  • 1 1/2 cups potatoes, cut into chunks (I prefer Yukon Gold potatoes)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 carrots, sliced (I actually use several baby carrots because I think they taste better)
  • 1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise and cut into thin slices*
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 1/2 cups reduced sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 small ripe Bartlett or Anjou pear (this dish is BEAUTIFUL if you use a red Anjou pear)
  • 1/4 cup parsely, chopped
  • 1/4 cup sharp cheddar, shredded

In large saucepan of boiling water, cook lentils for 10 mintues. Add potatoes and cook 5 minutes longer (lentils and potatoes will not be tender). Drain well.

Meanwhile, in large nonstick skillet, heat oil until hot but not smoking over medium heat. Add carrots, leek, and bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until leek is softened, about 5 minutes.

Stir in lentils, potatoes, broth, salt, and black pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce to simmer, cover, and cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

Stir in pear, cover again, and cook until pear is tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in parsley.

Divide leek-potato mixture among 4 plates, sprinkle cheddar on top, and serve.

 

Red, orange, yellow, green...look at all those colors!

Red, orange, yellow, green…look at all those colors!

*This post has great directions with pictures for how to properly prepare leeks. I prefer not to cut off or slice through the root/little beard though because it makes the leek much easier to hold for cleaning and slicing when you still have that part to hold onto.


how to choose prenatal vitamins

By Suzanne Brown on July 24, 2014 in health, nutrition tags: , , ,

When I was in college, I took Environmental Science. We took a field trip to a wastewater treatment plant and yes, it was as disgusting as it sounds. Basically how the wastewater treatment works is that the water comes in and starts going through a series of filters. The first one is for really big items, mostly things thrown into drainage ditches or stuff that isn’t supposed to be flushed. The filters gradually get smaller, taking out all of the solid items and eventually removing dirt, microorganisms, heavy metals, etc. The part of the trip that horrified me the most was not the thought that some people work with huge volumes of poop all day, every day; rather, it was a particular filter.

A vitamin filter.

The plant employee showed us a filter with a pile of pills at the end. “You can still read the brand name on some of these,” he told us. These things were going into people’s bodies, being “digested” and eliminated still intact. I was horrified. Actually, I stopped taking supplements for a few years.

However, not all supplements are pointless – there are some things you can look for to make sure your supplements are high-quality and supporting your health, rather than basically being a pebble in your digestive tract. Many care providers recommend prenatal vitamins to ensure moms are getting enough of key nutrients, and many moms are reassured by taking a supplement. Some types of prenatal vitamins that are more likely to be used by your body are:

1. Whole food supplements
These are supplements made from concentrated whole foods, rather than pressed synthetic nutrients. Your body is able to use more of a food-based supplement. Some examples would be SuperMom vitamins, Rainbow Light prenatals, New Chapter Perfect Prenatals, and Garden of Life Raw Prenatals. (Bonus tip from the wastewater treatment plant: take tablet-type supplements with an acidic juice to help your body break them down.)

2. Gelcaps
These supplements are powder contained in an easy-to-digest gelatin capsule. Your body dissolves the gelatin quickly, and then the good stuff inside is absorbed. Promise Prenatal is one, and SuperMom has a capsule version as well.

3. Liquid
Liquids are easier to absorb than a tablet, because your body doesn’t have to break down the stuff that holds a tablet together (called, appropriately, “binders”). Some brands that offer liquid prenatals are Liquid Health, Nature’s Plus, and Buried Treasure.

A word about DHA: It is recommended that pregnant women get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids, as these are important components of brain and eye development for babies. (Omega-3s also help moms produce prostaglandins.) Read more about omega-3s in pregnancy here. However, the best sources of omega-3s are cold water fish…and commercially available fish can have high levels of mercury and other toxins (and thus, pregnant women are advised to restrict their fish intake to twice per week). Many women will want to take a supplement to close this gap. Some popular brands are Nordic Naturals and Happy Healthy Smart. Many brands only have 200mg of DHA in them, but the recommended (minimum) amount is 300mg so make sure you select one with at least that amount.

Unfortunately, it requires a little bit of extra work to locate a quality supplement – they generally aren’t on the shelves at regular big box or grocery stores. You will probably have to make a trek to a health food store or order online. Talk with your care provider about which form of supplements will best suit your needs…and you won’t be flushing your prenatal vitamins down the toilet.

NOTE: I am not a care provider of any type. I just went on a field trip to a wastewater treatment plant that instigated some research into supplements. Check with your care provider before adding any dietary supplements to your life.


dealing with diastasis recti – the dreaded “mom tummy”

By Suzanne Brown on April 5, 2014 in diastasis, fitness, health, postpartum tags: , , , ,

After I had The Boy, I was shocked at what my midsection looked like. Horrified, really. “What happened here?!?!??” Postpartum bellies just look weird (and they’re supposed to). I would never in a million years have taken a picture but here’s a pretty typical tummy:

from http://happilydomestic.blogspot.com/2013/05/healing-my-postpartum-tummy-diastasis.html

from http://happilydomestic.blogspot.com/2013/05/healing-my-postpartum-tummy-diastasis.html

However, my belly button had also disappeared. I just didn’t have one any more. Not an innie, not an outie…there was a discolored blotch in the vicinity where a belly button used to be but that was all that remained of my own umbilicus. And when I was holding my new baby up on my chest, if he stretched a little leg down into my tummy it HURT. Like something was ripping. A baby foot shouldn’t feel like it’s tearing your midsection apart. I thought it was just the stretch marks, that they were tender and that weird tearing feeling would subside…but it never did.

When I was 8.5 months pregnant with The Girl I learned about diastasis (or diastasis recti), which is a separation of the abdominal muscles. One of the symptoms is that your belly button becomes an outie after being an innie previously; I’ve never seen anyone say that diastasis can make a belly button disappear but I was convinced that’s what I was experiencing. I couldn’t tell for sure how big or deep it was because there was a baby’s back in the way but I’m confident that I had a sizeable separation. The tell-tale signs of diastasis are:

  • protruding tummy (a “pooch”)
  • low back pain
  • pelvic floor problems/stress incontinence (that’s the polite way of saying you leak pee when you cough, sneeze, or laugh)
  • general core weakness

After I had The Girl, I started working out with Fit2B. Fit2B is an online fitness studio that is diastasis aware (surprisingly, many health and fitness professionals know little about diastasis, or believe it’s only worth worrying about when it’s severe and recommend surgery for treatment). I also splinted my abs for several weeks after her birth as well, and after that I at least had a belly button again (!). However, last fall I realized I needed more help. Bethany (the genius behind Fit2B) is always raving about The Tummy Team and how they helped her heal. The Tummy Team is in Washington so I thought it would be impossible to go there…but they now have an online program! I signed up for the Core Foundations, which is an 8-week program to rehab your core. I learned so much about alignment and my core during this program. And – I dropped jeans size! Without losing weight. Actually I don’t have a scale so I don’t know for sure that I didn’t lose any weight, but I eat chocolate chip cookies pretty much every night so it’s not likely I lost weight. I exchanged a pair of jeans I got right before starting the program for a smaller size, and by the time I finished those jeans were a bit loose, so I may have actually dropped 2 sizes; I just couldn’t exchange them again at that point.

My favorite part of Core Foundations was learning how to do everyday things like move clothes from the washer to dryer in a diastasis-friendly way (or, your dryer could break! Then you wouldn’t have to worry about that one at all! Except then you couldn’t snug up your newly loose jeans.). I don’t think my separation is closed all the way – I don’t check it very often at all – and I could definitely stand to tone up a bit more in the midsection (it’s still obvious that I am, in fact, a mother). But I have much better posture and much better functional strength – like I’m able to sit up straight for much longer now, and I even noticed yesterday that slumping was uncomfortable. That is a HUGE win for me. When I was going through the program I wondered if I would ever get to the point where sitting up straight was more comfortable than slumping. I’m not all the way there yet but I’m creeping along, turtle-style. And, I’m still nursing The Girl which reportedly lengthens ab recovery time, especially because that is one time I just get comfy and don’t worry about posture at all (that is NOT what Kelly of The Tummy Team recommends, by the way!).

Several people have asked me what the difference is between The Tummy Team and Fit2B, and which I would recommend if I could only recommend one. The difference between them is that The Tummy Team is a specific rehab program for your core, while Fit2B is more general fitness that incorporates core work. I can’t recommend only one! If you can only afford one, I would say it depends on how severe your diastasis is and how weak or strong your core is. Some people are able to close their diastasis with Fit2B workouts alone. If you have a wide separation and/or a weak core, I would recommend The Tummy Team‘s program first. But, I do think it’s best to follow up with Fit2B, or do both simultaneously. Being aware of alignment and protecting your core is a completely different way of thinking so whatever you choose to do for fitness, it’s important that you not exacerbate your diastasis or undo all your hard work to fix it.

So, I’m not really into taking pictures of my belly, but I can tell you it has improved drastically thanks to The Tummy Team and Fit2B. You’ll just have to take my word for it.


why I believe in whole foods

By Suzanne Brown on August 13, 2013 in health, nutrition tags: , , ,

Birth Boot Camp advocates a “whole foods diet with emphasis on protein.” Actually, that’s just a really great way to eat, even if you’re not pregnant. Whole foods are “unprocessed and unrefined, or processed and refined as little as possible, before being consumed.” (source) An easy way to think of this is that the item’s name is also its ingredient list. For example, margarine has a bunch of different ingredients, but butter is just…butter. (Okay, okay. If you look at the ingredient list, actually it will say sweet cream. It may also have salt but that’s it – hopefully no artificial coloring or flavoring. If you had to add flavor to butter you did something wrong, butter is delicious.)

I was going to put a picture here of a butter ingredient label. It is surprisingly difficult to find one from real butter on Google images. I took one of my own but it was blurry, so just imagine it here. It says, “SWEET CREAM, SALT.”

Another way to think of is to do the majority of your grocery shopping on the store’s periphery – produce, meat, dairy, etc. I used to not buy into the “organic” thing because I thought it was a marketing gimmick and I just can’t afford to spend 3 times as much on produce, but ever since I’ve been purchasing my own groceries I’ve been getting free range eggs. I do believe that the way an animal is raised affects its products. I still wasn’t sure it made a difference, it just made me feel better to think of a happy hen laying eggs somewhere than some poor, scrawny, miserable fowl being fed little pellets and stuck on a nest turning out eggs all day, sitting in poop. Then, a few years ago, we were on WIC for a while and WIC only provides regular store eggs. I usually eat a lot of eggs though so after we used our egg allowance I got the free-range ones again. (In case you’re wondering, I can get free-range eggs for a little over $2 a dozen so it’s not like I was breaking the bank while on WIC. Just to clarify.) Anyway so one day I made egg-in-a-hole and used the last one from a WIC set and the other was free range. I saw something like this:

The top one is a free-range egg with the rich golden color; the bottom is a regular egg from a caged, grain-fed hen and is pale yellow. Which do you think is more nutritious?

Let’s go back to butter for a moment. I think it’s good to look at things like eggs and butter where you can see the difference, as opposed to meat where it may look the same but have very different nutrients.

The left is “regular” butter, the right is grass-fed butter. And, I can’t speak for that particular “regular” butter, but pretty much all of them have artificial coloring. Isn’t that sad?! They put artificial color in it and it still can’t come close to the color of what it should look like. And the taste…you will notice a difference in the taste. The first time I bought Kerrygold butter, I made cookies with it. My husband asked if I used a new recipe because they tasted so different (by which he meant, better). Grass-fed butter has a lot of beta carotene in it, which is why it is that rich golden color. Your rule of thumb is: rich golden color = awesome, pale yellow = not awesome. Except when you’re talking about something that’s a different color entirely, such as tomatoes:

On the left is a ruby-red organic tomato; on the right is a pale conventionally grown one.

On the left is a ruby-red organic tomato; on the right is a pale conventionally grown one.

So, as it turns out, things grown the way God intended as opposed to a science experiment actually ARE better for you and not just a marketing gimmick. Now I can’t afford to buy all organic, all the time, but I am trying to change my thinking. When you buy food, you are buying your family’s nourishment. If the food you buy doesn’t actually nourish then you’re kind of wasting money. Purchase the best quality you can afford. For me, right now, eating whole foods means cooking from scratch. I really try to avoid prepackaged stuff and stick to buying foodstuffs that need to be prepared. As we are able, I buy things that are “better,” either fresher or less processed if we can’t afford organic. I can usually get a better quality of the smaller, cheaper things like eggs and butter. Eventually I hope to be buying meats and other animal products directly from a farmer but for now, only 2 or 3 years into my whole foods journey, I just try to make sure that the vast majority of what my family eats was prepared in my own kitchen.