Archive for the ‘Green Living’ Category

Winter Solstice Tea Ceremony

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Photo by Tom Check under CC

With endless holiday commercials since late October, shopping and decorating, you may be holiday cheered out by now.

However, the Winter Solstice is a powerful time for connecting with the natural world. In the Yearly Rites section, I wrote about the importance of connecting with the natural turn of the year. It brings us closer to nature and ourselves.

The Winter Solstice (on Dec. 21 this year) marks what earth-based religions call “the triumph of the light.” After the Winter Solstice, the days will start to get longer again. It’s a marker in the depths of cold days that warmth will come again. Burning a Yule log, bringing a Christmas tree inside and hanging holiday lights are all ancient celebrations of life’s triumph over darkness and stillness.

In order to connect with the Solstice, I have a tea ceremony of sorts I like to do that I wanted to share.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is pick out an appropriate tea. I like to pick out a flavor that is closely associated with the holidays. The herbs usually have a close connection to the Solstice. Some of my top choices are:

Peppermint tea: This one is just a given. Peppermint is an invigorating tea that is closely associated with mental stimulation. It is the perfect choice for combating the surly sluggishness of winter.  This one is easy to find in the store, and you probably won’t have the fresh plant around this time of year.  If you do thanks to an indoor garden, however, here are instructions on how to make the tea.

Pine needle tea: In case you weren’t aware, yes, you can make a delicious tea out of real pine needles. It ties into the season perfectly. Evergreens like pine have strong associations with eternal life and bold heartiness. Here are some great instructions with photos on how to make a fresh, natural cup of pine needle tea.

Cinnamon tea: With this classic holiday flavor, you can brew the tea straight out of cinnamon sticks. Here’s how. Cinnamon is associated with vitality, energy, courage and fortitude. It’s the perfect drink as the light triumphs over the dark.

Once you have your tea picked out, the ritual is simple. You’ll just need your cup of hot tea and a quiet place.

  1. Breath slowly and clear your mind.
  2. Think of the cold winter, the silent earth. Picture snow on the trees (or maybe in your area it’s simply a rainy season). Fully picture and immerse yourself in your vision of winter.
  3. Hold the teacup in both hand and feel the warmth of the tea. Think of the days getting longer and picture sunny days.
  4. Drink your tea slowly, and as you do, feel it suffuse you with vigor and warmth.
  5. While still drinking, focus on a key aspect of the herb in the tea. For instance, if you are drinking cinnamon, could your life use more courage?   Is there an issue you are avoiding? Hold the question in your mind. Answers may come and they may not. Don’t feel forced into anything. But when they come, they’re usually pretty strong.
  6. Once your tea is gone, focus on your gratitude for these gifts.

Once you’re done, you may want to go write down any epiphanies. I also find it helpful to just record my experience; it may reveal some wisdom.

Happy Solstice!

10 Best Natural Health Food Snacks

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Photo by Levin Boland

If you want to live naturally, the best place to start is to put natural foods into your body. That means limiting the crazy ingredients you can’t pronounce, choosing foods that boost your health (thus limiting reliance on modern drugs with nasty side effects, which are also filled with more stuff you can’t pronounce) and simplifying your diet. By “simplifying your diet,” I mean eating the kind of stuff you’d find out in nature: nuts, lean meats, fresh vegetables, etc.

A good rule of thumb is that the more preparation and preservatives the food takes, the more you should try to reduce it in your diet. For instance, forgo the Twinkies and have an apple instead. Ditch the Hot Pocket tonight, make fresh Salmon with greens. Food naturally tastes good on its own, if you give it a chance. It’s the stuff they taught us in grade school during the healthy eating units, but it’s easy to forget.

Now I’m not perfect. I like me my Doritos, but we can all help our health by making the decent choices as much as we can. And the easiest place to start is with the snacks. Instead of reaching for the chips, here are 10 ideas for healthy snacks to incorporate into your day:

Almonds

I cannot overstate the benefits of almonds. I always have a bag of raw, unsalted almonds going. (ProTip: place them right on the counter where you’ll see them before the chips). Packed with fiber and “good for you” monounsaturated fats, two small handfuls (about 170 calories) will fill you up more than a single patty hamburger. They’re great for lowering cholesterol and reducing the risk of heart disease.

Watermelon

Watermelons are basically all water, obviously. So they hydrate, fill you up, satisfy that sweet craving and only have 40 calories a cup. They have vitamins A, B6 and C, lycopene, antioxidants and amino acids. Lycopene is linked with heart health, bone health and it is a powerful antioxidant (antioxidants remove potentially harmful oxidizing agents from the body). Eating a decent amount (175-200 calories worth) provides soluble and insoluble fiber, which are good for your digestive and cardiovascular systems.

Olives

Also a superfood for antioxidants, olives are a great source of fiber and more “good for you” fats. They have great anti-inflammatory properties and are a decent source of vitamin E and iron. Random facts: they’re technically a fruit and feature heavily in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet. Make sure to limit servings, as olives can be very high in sodium.

Popcorn

Unfortunately, I’m not talking about the butter-soaked, salt bomb monstrosity barrels of popcorn you get at the movies. Air popped popcorn with a little light olive oil can be a delicious snack, and it’s a way to get 100 percent whole grains and much needed fiber in your diet when you think you’re just chomping on movie snacks.

Green Tea

Ok, not technically a snack food, but green tea deserves to be on every healthy foods list. When you think you’re hungry, you may actually just be dehydrated. Sometimes a cup or two of tea is really all you need. Another antioxidant superstar, green tea is also associated with increasing metabolism. It’s purported to be this amazing panacea with a million health benefits. Go here for the complete list of the health benefits of green tea with supporting studies. Plus I think it just tastes amazing.

Bell Peppers

Bell peppers are a zesty snack packed with vitamin C (so much that I feed them to my guinea pig, an animal that is very susceptible to vitamin C deficiency). They’re great for getting fresh vegetables into your diet, since the flavor is more vibrant and interesting than, say, broccoli, so you may be more inclined to eat it. Plus they’re only 45 calories a cup.

Shredded Wheat

This one is hard to eat when it’s not sweetened, I’ll admit that. However, if you can get used to the bland taste of it, it’s high in fiber and potassium. Skim milk will give it a boost of protein and a sliced banana may sweeten the deal.

Spinach

This is another one of those super foods that is purported to prevent cancer and inflammatory diseases (like all antioxidant-rich foods), and the vitamin K helps with bone health. It’s a vitamin-packed powerhouse that is a great feature of any salad. The vitamin list of what’s all in spinach looks like the nutritional label on my multi-vitamin. You can view it here.

Fish High in Omega-3

Omega-3 is a type of fat that can increase cardiovascular health and brain function, so you’ll want to include this in your new diet. It especially appears to be very helpful in reducing the risk of heart attacks. Omega-3 can be found most in fatty fish, like salmon, lake trout, herring, sardines and tuna. Try some herring on whole grain crackers or tuna in a small, whole grain tortilla wrap.

Pink Grapefruit

Much like oranges and bell peppers, these are another vitamin C superfood. They can also lower cholesterol, inhibit tumor formation, prevent kidney stones and protect against colon cancer. With their tart taste, you either love them or hate them, but they’re one of those foods that might be worth trying to acquire a taste for.

To look up more information on these and other natural health foods, a great resource is whfoods.com, a non-profit devoted to healthy eating based on scientific research.

 

What Makes a Product “Green,” Anyway?

For a while it seemed like every product was “green” or “eco-friendly.” I almost expected to see eco-friendly toilet plungers. The green industry is full of devious claims and meaningless marketing terms. Consumer Reports has a great guide to green products and what is meaningful here.   The takeaway is to weed out the terms that don’t mean anything. You can bet “USDA Organic” means that the product is at least 95 percent plant-based, but terms like “nontoxic,” “earth-friendly” or “natural” implies no standard. Remember, arsenic is a natural element.

The best thing you can do is look for certifications like Energy Star for appliances and electronics, a USDA Organic Seal for cosmetics and food, Green Seal for cleaning products and the Forest Stewardship Council logo on wood and paper products. Do your research, find out if there’s a standard that manufactures are held by. Sites like Consumer Reports’ GreenerChoices.org and http://www.responsiblepurchasing.org can help you figure out what’s the best option.

Also use your common sense and follow your instinct. Both you and I know that putting a little corn into the oil is not going to make the lasting impact on the planet we need (I encourage you to look up the good folks and their all-electric vehicles at Tesla Motors). Read the ingredients and don’t trust something because it says “all natural.” Shopping green will take some research, but it’s well worth it to not be a sucker.