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I get that question a lot from my clients, and unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer for everyone. Your water needs can depend on a lot of things: how active you are, the temperature outside, what foods you eat (certain foods are more hydrating/dehydrating than others), how much caffeine you drink, your stress levels, etc. The 8-glasses-of-water-a-day-rule is a good place to start, but you may need to add several more glasses on top of that, depending on your own individual needs.

Enter the Hydration Calculator, a very cool new online gadget that helps you calculate your daily water needs! Now, of course this isn’t fool-proof, since this doesn’t take into account things like the foods you eat and drink, if you’ve been in an airplane (very dehydrating), how stressed out at work you are, etc. But it’s a good place to start. And besides, who doesn’t love online calculating gadgets?! In addition to typing in your gender and weight,  I like that you can type in what activity you’ve done (running, spinning, walking, etc), how intensely you performed the exercise, and the temperature outside to come up with an approximate estimation of your water needs.

Take a look for yourself – and drink up!

The Hydration Calculator

At some point last year, I had a smoothie from Organic Avenue that blew my mind: a creamy, coconuty concoction blended with mint and chocolatey cacao nibs that was positively one of the yummiest things I had ever tasted. A few months & a VitaMix later, I set out to recreate the same smoothie experience. Matt and I were craving something cool and sweet on our balmy June evening, and a mint chocolate chip smoothie sounded like just the thing to satisfy our ice cream urges in a healthy way (not to mention the whole nostalgic factor: “mint chocolate chip” flavor brings me right back to being 10 years old again!)

The results were better than expected. The smoothie was creamy & luscious, slightly sweet and surprisingly refreshing – and the partially blended cacao nibs added  the perfect hint of crunch. I think it’ll be the perfect post-workout snack (coconut water supplies a ton of electrolytes) or filling, summery breakfast. Or  do as we did and split the smoothie into 2 fancy goblets, stick in the freezer for about 30 minutes, and enjoy as a faux ice cream treat! YUM.

Coconut Mint Chocolate Chip Smoothie

Serves 2 as a snack or 1 very hungry person

Water and meat from 1 young coconut

3 tablespoons cacao nibs

Handful of fresh mint leaves

Splash of vanilla extract (I am sure fresh vanilla bean would be even better!)

Maple syrup (sweeten to your liking. I probably used about 2 tbsp)

Pinch or two of good quality sea salt

Blend well until smooth (cacao nibs will still be a bit gritty – that’s OK, they act as the “chips” to the smoothie!)

My favorite part of the year has arrived! The time when you’re able to make delicious, easy meals out of ingredients you can either pick out of your own garden or pick up fresh at the farmer’s market. Here in the Northeast, we had some unseasonably warm days back in April, followed by more warm weather in May. That means that my garden has begun sprouting much earlier than during last year’s cold, rainy spring. I look forward to each morning, when I traipse around back there, peeking around for new growth!

Now, I don’t want to mislead you: as much as I’d like to think of myself as an urban farmer, the truth is that my garden is 95% flowers and plants — ok, maybe 99% flowers and plants — and a couple of percentages edible veggies and herbs. Here in Park Slope, it’s been said that our soil isn’t the safest to grow in, and raised beds are recommended. My husband and I are both handy work-challenged, which means that the raised beds will never happen. Or at least, not any time soon. That leaves me with a couple of planters worth of edibles, and I’m OK with that for now as I get my farm-legs on…

What’s in the garden: Mostly herbs (mint, sage, basil) and tomatoes (cherry and the big guys), potted strawberries (of which I can usually harvest about 2 or 3 teensy ones), and wild raspberries, figs, and concord grapes that have TAKEN OVER the garden!! Their vines and leaves are practically wrapping themselves around my cats. For now, the only things that I can harvest are the herbs and a couple of cherry tomatoes.

What I don’t have in my garden, I make up for through my CSA or local farmer’s  market.

Today’s lunch: I made a simple basil pesto from my own garden’s basil (2 cups), olive oil (1/2 cup), pine nuts (2 tbsp), and a clove of garlic — blended in the blender. I used that drizzled on top of a salad made with local lettuces from my CSA, topped with sauteed local garlic scapes, a nice scoop of brown rice, and my go-to combo of canned white beans and canned wild mackerel. YUM. It was light-yet-hearty, satisfying and flavorful. I may just eat the same thing for dinner!!

A few weeks ago, my husband and I finished a “beginners mediation” course held by Nancy O’Hara at the fabulous NY Open Center. I was drawn to this course because, while I have been preaching the benefits of meditation and active stress relief to my clients for years — confession time! — I was unable to ever really stick to a regular meditation routine myself!

I’d tell my clients, “just find 5 minutes in your day to “hit pause,” do some focused breathing, and you’ll find you the benefits will follow you into the rest of your day!” But when it came to me finding those spare 5 minutes in my day, there was always something else to be done…Cats to feed, garden to be weeded, clients to email, groceries to be picked up, finances to be sorted through, paperclips to be un-bended (and then re-bended)….you get the point. Excuses, excuses.

So my hope was that by forcing myself to show up for 6 weeks in a structured setting, and having to report back to my teacher and peers every week on my meditation practice, I’d be able to get a regular meditation practice going.

The results: Well, I’d be lying if I told you I still wasn’t struggling — there are many days when the thought of sitting in silence for 20 minutes feels terrifying. And it’s not the same instant-gratification effects you feel after, say, running 3 miles. There’s no way to “measure” how good your sit was, and while I’ll often end the sit feeling more relaxed, other times I don’t feel much of anything. But I know this isn’t the point.

Meditation is meant to give our busy, busy brains a break. To allow our minds to settle down a bit from the constant thinking, anxiety, judging, and “what’s next?!” mentality that tend to accompany us throughout the day. And I can tell you that when I get into a regular routine (such as sitting for 5 days a week, for 15-20 minutes per session), I’ve noticed I feel more patient (both with myself and with others) and more, well, at peace. “Problems” roll off my back more, and I find myself feeling more love for myself and others in my life. So I suppose if I were to “measure” the effects, those are some pretty darn great ones.

I haven’t meditated in about 2 weeks now. I was on vacation, and the time leading up to and after my vacation were hectic with plans and appointments, etc. The usual life stuff. So I’ll be getting back on the bandwagon today, and hope to continue with momentum into the weeks ahead.

Do you struggle to create a regular meditation practice? What active forms of stress relief do you practice in your life? I’d love to hear from you!

Think you need to supplement with calcium to prevent osteoporosis and keep your bones strong? Think again!

Find out the shocking truth about which foods & lifestyle behaviors can decrease bone mass, and how calcium supplements may actually increase your chances of getting osteoporosis!

Andrea will be debunking the calcium myth and letting you know the healthiest way to build strong bones and prevent fracture – and how to keep your flexibility and mobility as you age.

If you are a woman, you can’t afford not to dial into this teleclass.

The Bone Myth Teleclass

Wednesday, June 23 at 8p EST

Fee: $15

Includes handout on the best foods and supplements to keep bones strong and prevent osteoporosis.

Email us at info@sparkyourwellness.com to register and get your dial-in information.

Can’t make the live call? You can still purchase the recording by emailing us at info@sparkyourwellness.com.

I am always on the lookout for healthy snacks that I can recommend to clients – especially kid-friendly snack foods – so I was delighted when I received a package of crunchy fruit snacks from the folks over at Funky Monkey.

Advertising their product as “the fruit that crunches,” these snack packs contain real fruit – nothing added – that’s been freeze-dried to a crunch! A totally fun concept that parents can pack guilt-free into their little one’s lunch box (or, in my case, in my kid-at-heart husband’s lunch bag).

I packed some of the Funky Monkey snack packs along with me on a recent road trip, where fresh fruit was hard to come by, and they really hit the spot when I had a sweet craving in the afternoons. They have kid-friendly flavors like “Applemon” (freeze-dried apple with cinnamon) or “MangOJ” (mango with orange juice), but also sophisticated, adult-appealing options like “Purple Funk” (freeze-dried banana with acai) and “Jivealime” (pineapple pieces with lime juice).

I will admit that these snacks can be a bit on the sweet side for me, so I decided I liked them best alongside some nuts for a make-shift trail mix.Yum!

Want to try Funky Monkey snacks for yourself? Post a comment for a chance to win a 3-pack of Bananmon, MangOJ, and Pink Pineapple!

Today we are kicking off Spark’s! new interview series: “5 questions with…”

This monthly post will introduce you to amazing people in the health & wellness field who are doing incredible work to make our world a healthier, happier, more enjoyable place to live. And I can’t think of a better person to introduce you to to launch our monthly interview series than Lisa Byrne, from the popular blog The WellGrounded Life

Lisa Byrne: The WellGrounded Life

I met Lisa at nutrition school at IIN about 2 years ago, and have watched her business flourish into a beautifully supportive space for busy women: particularly mothers. As the mother of three little ones (all under the age of four!), Lisa lives in New Jersey with her husband and a yellow lab. She manages to prioritize her health and find ways to bring healthy living into her family life, while generously sharing the wisdom she’s gained with her lucky readers over at her blog.

For all you moms out there, Lisa’s blog is a wonderful resource for tips on staying grounded and bringing more happiness into your daily life. In Lisa’s own words, “When I’m not burping a baby, bouncing after a toddler or kissing a boo-boo, I love to help busy moms find ways to bring more health, balance and energy to their days.”

Andrea: Lisa, you describe your blog as being primarily for mothers “who intimately know the joys and challenges of the work-family-life balancing act.” The balancing act is difficult for every woman, but when you have 3 young ones at home, I’m sure it gets a bit more intense! Can you share some advice for the other mothers out there on the ways you stay grounded during your day-to-day life?

Lisa: Great question, Andrea.  And you are absolutely right, it does get pretty intense some days caring for so many little ones right now in life.  I learned the hard way, though, that if I don’t make my own health a priority, then everyone suffers–including my family.

Something that has been helpful for me is to think in terms of “wellness anchors”.  Those things that keep me staying afloat and not drifting too far off into danger zones.  They seem to change for me during different periods of my life, but right now I try to focus on these:

  • Eat excellent foods that fuel me well (for example, I start my days with green smoothies, drink lots of water, eat fresh fruits and veggies throughout the day, emphasis healthy fats, and am sure to have plenty of quick, healthy options available).
  • Take a few minutes throughout my day to practice deep breathing.
  • Prioritize my marriage relationship so that I have strong and open lines of communication with my husband and we become each others allies when the going gets tough (it is very easy for the stresses of family life to weaken your marriage).
  • Make time for prayer and connection to God.
  • Laugh.  It amazes me how some days I need to intentionally bring in the lightness and joy, I can so easily get bogged down in being task-oriented.  But getting to ground level with my kids and laughing with them dissolves so much stress it is amazing.

Andrea: Lisa, I so agree with what you said about the importance of prioritizing your health. As women, we tend to be care-givers, and it can be easy to fall into a pattern where you care for everyone else but yourself. I love the idea of using your “wellness anchors” to keep you balanced and on course with your own health.

Now, you have a background in serious science (hello, biochemistry & quantum physics nerd!). What inspired you to enter the holistic health world?

Lisa: I have always loved science – but most especially I am in awe of the workings of nature and the wisdom of our body.  The power and connection between our minds, spirits and bodies is so evident to me, I never needed much “evidence” beyond personal experience.  I see science as a tool, very helpful in understanding parts of the whole picture, but ultimately every tool is limited in some way. We must care for the whole of who we are or we become seriously lacking and deprived in some areas.  Holistic health simply makes sense to me.

Andrea: That clicks for me: the idea that science is so helpful in seeing parts of the picture, and by incorporating a holistic view point, it helps connect all the dots to see the whole picture. Very cool.

I am sure our readers are really curious about how you get your three little ones to eat health food! What are your favorite “kid-friendly” health foods?

Lisa: Kids and healthy eating– great topic!  I actually just wrote a blog post on this subject.  Honestly, I believe that kid-friendly health foods are just like adult-friendly health foods.  They are healthy foods that they enjoy.  We often underestimate our kids by assuming they won’t like “adult” foods…we better hide the spinach in brownies and shape the chicken into Dora figures 🙂  My kids like a whole range of healthy foods, and there are many they don’t like…just like most of us.  I think the best way to approach helping kids eat healthy is by speaking to their nature…I outlined 5 natural traits of children and how to use them to help kids eat healthy here if any one is interested 🙂

Andrea: Yes! We are interested! You can view Lisa’s great article on ways to get your kids to eat healthy HERE.

You write a popular blog while taking fantastic care of a very busy household. Do you have any secret tips for increasing energy on days when, well, you have hardly any?

Lisa: Oh yes, do I know the days of hardly any energy!  There are a few things I do that help on those days I’m really dragging.  First I slow down and take anything non-essential off the plate for the day.  I breath deep.  I stretch.  I drink lots of water.  I get as many dark leafy greens in as I can.  I take a nap with my kids.  I use essential oils of peppermint or citrus to freshen the air.  I get outside.  I try to remind myself to respond to people (and my children) slowly and gently– nothing saps your energy like misdirected tiredness!

Andrea: We can get so swept up in how quickly we think we should be moving. I really like the idea of slowing down to actually help increase our long-term energy levels, and our well-being in general.

And speaking of energy & well-being, how do you find time for movement and exercise in your day?

Lisa: Andrea–you caught me on this one.  Getting consistent exercise in daily is something I still need to work on.  I am only 2 1/2 months postpartum 🙂  so that does count, but I know that beginning to bring exercise into my days will go a long way in helping my mental health.  Since having children, I’ve always been most successful when I have a specific goal or carved out time I set for exercise.  After my first son, I decided to run a triathlon, so the training schedule helped me keep exercise a priority– it also helped others in my family become more willing to make the space in their schedule to help with childcare when I needed to workout.  My plan this time is to sign up for pilates classes.  I’ve always wanted to try this and by having specific class times, I’m more likely to make it work.

Andrea: Good luck with the pilates classes – sounds great, and like a lot of fun. And of course being only 2 1/2 months postpartum certainly gives you a good reason to take it easy and be gentle with your body right now! I am sure you are getting a tons of exercise just keeping up with all of your little ones!

Lisa, thank you so much for sharing your inspirational words of wisdom with us. Keep up all of the amazing work, and we’ll keep looking for your great posts on The WellGrounded Life!

I’m all about stocking the pantry & fridge so that I can make quick & easy meals on the fly, and so that I can make the fewest weekly trip to my food co-op ( a 12 minute walk from my house – not the easiest trip when you’ve forgotten an ingredient).

These 3 dishes have been my go-to meals lately. Each one feels light and just right for spring, packs a good nutritional punch, can be whipped up in under 10 minutes, and – most importantly – is delicious. I can also keep most of the ingredients stocked in my freezer, fridge, or pantry, which making throwing together a good meal a cinch.

Sunshine Burgers with Mashed Avocado, Sprouts, and Shredded Carrot

Essential Freezer Ingredients:

Sunshine Burgers

Ezekiel Whole Wheat Pita Pockets (or other bread or wrap of your choice)

Heat Sunshine burger (IMHO, the best veggie burger out there) in a pan over low heat, about 4 minutes each side. In the meantime, toast the pita pocket. Slice open toasted pita pocket and place 1/2 of a mashed avocado, sprinkled with sea salt, inside. Grate 1 whole carrot and place shredded carrot on top, followed by a handful of sprouts or whatever else I have on hand: sliced onion, tomato, or orange bell peppers would all be delish. Voila! Lunch or dinner in about 10 minutes.

Green Eggs & Salsa

Essential Fridge Ingredients:

Organic eggs (these should keep for several weeks in the fridge)

Bottled organic salsa (also has a long fridge life)

Essential Pantry Ingredients:

Onions

Garlic

(Both of those will keep for weeks if kept cool and dry.)

Essential Freezer Ingredient:

Corn Tortillas (I like Ezekiel sprouted corn tortillas)

Saute chopped onions and garlic in a little olive oil over medium-high heat, then add 2 beaten eggs and cook, over low heat, stirring constantly. When eggs start to firm up, add a lot of chopped greens of your choice. (These days I’m really digging watercress and dandelion greens – two essential spring greens that really help us detox.) Cook until desired doneness. Serve on warmed corn tortillas, topped with sliced avocado and salsa.

Sauteed Beans with Fresh Herbs, Garlic, and Smoked Trout

Essential Pantry Ingredients:

Can of your favorite beans (I’m into white northern beans these days)

Cole’s Smoked Trout, or other canned fish of your choice (wild salmon, mackerel, or wild sardines)

Garlic

I grow fresh herbs on my windowsill so that I can add easy, fresh, nutritious spice to my meals.  Plus, you can add fresh herbs to a mostly canned meal like this one and it really kicks it up a notch and makes it taste like a high-class meal!

Saute a clove or two of minced garlic in olive oil over medium heat. Mix in 1 can of rinsed beans and heat through. Throw in the can of smoked trout, drained of oil, and flaked into chunks. Squeeze in some fresh lemon juice, sprinkle some sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, and add fresh chopped herbs of your choice (I like sage and basil, at the moment). Serve on top of a bed of lettuce or leftover grains, or simply eat on its own.

As friends, family, and clients know by now, I am a huge fan of the smoothie. It’s a great way to pack in a ton of nutrition into 1 meal, it can be thrown together in minutes, and it can be a delicious and health-packed way to start the day.

I am always looking for new and exciting (and tasty!) smoothie recipes, and I whipped a new one up this morning that was so amazing that I am super eager to share!

My husband is enrolled at IIN this year, and David Wolfe, raw foods star and spokesman extraordinaire, presented a lecture yesterday. Anyone who has seen David Wolfe speak can tell you that he is very charismatic and persuasive, and I dare you to hear him speak and not run out and immediately stock your home with raw superfoods! So of course Matt came bounding through the door after class, eager to tell me about all of the superfoods we HAD to buy to increase our lifespan, our health & happiness, our libido, and to save the world.

It doesn’t take much to persuade me to buy a new health food, so we set about picking up all the new fangled ingredients to make our superfood smoothie. Some of these we had on hand, others we picked up at Whole Foods:

Camu Camu powder: According to the Navitas Naturals site, camu camu “is a milled powder made from wild-crafted camu berries from the Amazonian rainforest. The most potent known source of vitamin C in the world, Camu contains 30 to 60 times the amount of vitamin C found in oranges.” Camu also contains a wide range of antioxidants and other phytonutrients, and helps reduce inflammation in the body.

Cacao Nibs: These partially ground cacao beans (aka chocolate beans)  are very high in antioxidants and contain trace minerals magnesium and iron. I’ve kept them around the house before to sprinkle on yogurt or ice cream – love their crunch and bitter-yet-creamy taste. (This is “real” chocolate, before it gets blended with sugar and other stuff and poured into bar form.)

Acai Berry Powder: No doubt you’ve been hearing a lot about Acai berries in the past year or two. The nutritional benefits of this Amazonian berry are being touted all over the place, and for good reason. Acai berries contain a ton of antioxidants (known as anthocyanins), which can help prevent cancer and fight heart disease. The berries also contain healthy doses of omega-9 and omega-6 fatty acids, and has heart-healthy fiber and protein. And the deep purple hue is gorgeous!

-Pau D’Arco: Another South American superfood, pau d’arco bark comes from an evergreen tree. It’s often sold as tea, and contains powerful natural chemicals that hel strengthen the immune system by helping to kill off bacteria, fungus, and yeast in the body. It’s also suspected to increase heart health and help prevent cancer.

-Raw honey: Anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal. And delicious!!

-Maca Powder: Maca root is native to the high Andes of Bolivia and Peru, where it’s been used increase energy, combat stress, increase stamina and – most famously – boost libido! It contains plant sterols, essential minerals, amino acids and healthy fats.

Coconut Water: I’m a huge fan of this stuff. Packed with electrolytes, coconut water is the perfect pre or post-workout beverage, great to boost energy levels or help nurse you back to health if you’re hungover. I always keep this on hand.

-Chia Seeds: Your beloved chia pet’s seeds turn out to be edible. Aztec warriors used to eat chia seeds for basic survival, and they have been used medicinally for years to relieve joint pain. That’s probably because chia’s rich levels of omega-3 fatty acids (more than in flax seeds!) help keep joints supple. Chias also provide good amounts of fiber, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, copper, iron, molybdenum, niacin, and zinc. And they act a bit like gelatin, thickening up your smoothie when mixed with other liquids.

Talk about packing a nutritional punch! The smoothie recipe that we put together below is chock full of antioxidant power, healthy fats and proteins, and staying power: it kept me quite full from 8a to 12p. If you try it (or have any additions you can suggest), let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

Chocolate Berry Superfood Smoothie

Serves 2


11 ounces coconut water

6 ounces pau d’arco tea (made the night before by steeping a tea bag in 6 ounces of boiling water)

1/2 teaspoon raw honey

1/2 cup mixed organic frozen berries

About 10 frozen cherries

2 teaspoons maca powder

2 teaspoons camu camu powder

2 scoops (6 grams) acai berry powder

1 tablespoon chia seeds

4 tablespoons cacao nibs OR 1/3 cup raw cacao powder if you don’t have a high-speed blender

1 tablespoon raw almond butter

1 tablespoon flax seed oil or 1 tablespoon coconut oil

Add all ingredients to blender. Blend until smooth and desired consistency, adding a little water if you like it on the thinner side. YUM!

Just as we get the craving to start cleaning out cluttered closets and drawers come spring time, our bodies also crave some spring cleaning. As we (finally!) move away from winter and leave the cold weather behind, our bodies naturally begin to crave lighter, cleansing foods. Seasonal spring foods help us drop that winter weight, tonify our blood, and help the body detox after several months of the heavier foods we consumed during our winter hibernation. Following our bodies natural rhythms and eating with the seasons can help us stay in balance, both mentally and physically.

Greens, sprouts, and berries help purify our systems and get things moving again. Spring is a wet, muddy time of year, and our bodies can also get congested with allergies. Bitter greens and pungent, spicy foods (like chili peppers) will help clear out the mucus and dry things up. Start checking your local farmers market and keep an eye out for new spring greens and asparagus. Try having a couple cups of dandelion root tea to help your body detox.

And add in one of my favorite greens to your mix: Basil. This delicious, anti-inflammatory green is packed with vitamin A and a good dose of magnesium (both are great for heart health) and contains natural oils that help relieve rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel conditions. Make a simple pesto and use it to top fish, chicken or steamed veggies, place a dollop on a baked potato, drizzle a generous amount over whole wheat pasta or whole grains, use a spoonful on scrambled eggs, or mix it into your salad for a healthy dressing that will put a spring in your step!

Spark! Wellness

Spark! is a NYC-based consortium of practitioners providing holistic services in nutritional counseling, yoga, fitness, and acupuncture to health-conscious New Yorkers (and beyond!) who want to look and feel their best.

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