What should I eat?
I feel like we are living in an era of eating confusion. I hear these terms repeatedly: vegan, primal, gluten free, dessert fear. There are so many competing theories on nutrition; it’s confusing! What should I eat? It's why I'm writing my first cookbook with the goal of helping people overcome this food confusion.
I believe that food is a highly personal choice. It's cultural, emotional, social, political and health-related. You are the only one who can make the best possible decision for your body and your life.
That being said, the way I grew up eating is what I continue to practice. In British Guyana, South America, we ate a mix of all-natural whole foods focusing on fresh vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and sweets, but we ate in moderation and we stayed active. A well-balanced mix can provide a full range of vitamins and minerals while being deliciously satisfying. Experiment and discover what you like.
Here are a few tips that can guide you to eating better without feeling deprived.
- Skip most processed foods, meaning anything in a can, box or bag. When choosing the occasional processed food, read the label and avoid anything with ingredients you don’t recognize. Choose non-GMO or organic items.
- Skip trans fats, which are hydrogenated oils that can be found in everything from margarine to french fries to crackers. Trans fats can clog arteries, so eat them sparingly.
- Minimize sugars and refined carbohydrates, which are inflammatory. Following this tip is huge, even 70-80% of the time. No one is perfect, but the idea is to keep track of how much and how often you are indulging in eating unhealthy products.
- Look for pesticide-free vegetables and fruit. This can be expensive, so swap out the most contaminated produce first: salad greens, apples, strawberries, blueberries, peaches, grapes, bell peppers and potatoes. Local farm produce usually has fewer pesticides, is fresher and more flavorful and is more environmentally-friendly. Some farms do use pesticides, so ask before you buy.
- Focus on high-quality protein choices that are high in omega-3's, such as beans, legumes, walnuts and salmon.
- When eating animal protein, focus on antibiotic-free, humanely-raised meat. Most factory-farmed livestock is raised in poor conditions, and is consequently fed antibiotics to keep it healthy. An antibiotic-free label usually indicates it's humanely-raised. This is very important to me. Organic doesn't necessarily mean antibiotic-free or sustainably-raised, so check labels for that.
Some people feel better when they eat meat, grains or dairy; others can’t tolerate them. Many people have unknown food sensitivities that cause symptoms not typically associated with food, such as exhaustion, brain fog, pain or headaches. To figure out whether you have any food sensitivities, you can try a five-week elimination diet, removing the major allergens: dairy, gluten, soy, eggs and corn. Eliminate them for three weeks, then add each back one-by-one for three days per food, and notice how your body responds. I've learned that I cannot tolerate whole wheat, but I'm fine eating whole grain and white bread. Bananas and almond nuts affect the way my body works to break them down, but I still eat them, just in moderation (twice a month); I just consume them sparingly. Don’t deprive yourself of food; it's needed fuel for our bodies. Just remember to eat in moderation, limiting portion size, and pay attention to how each food affects your body. Don’t be afraid to eat your sweet treats just as long as you know what they are made with. Desserts don't have to be made with only refined sugars and preservatives. There are better, healthier options to eating desserts. You can find better quality and tasting desserts at my company: www.ladyrens.com
Practice a new habit of cooking with fresh ingredients. Visit farmers markets during the summer for fresh vegetables, meat, fish, eggs and more—then have fun creating recipes. They don't have to be gourmet, just tasty and healthy.
Here’s one of my summer salads that's easy to prepare. It will be among the collection of simple, yet healthy and tasty recipes in my upcoming cookbook. I like the combination of chicken, melon, grapes, nuts and cheese atop mixed salad greens. Feel free to use your favorite summer fruits and nuts in place of the ones I listed.
REFRESHING SUMMER FRUIT CHICKEN SALAD
- ¼ cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1-2 tablespoons apple cider or other fruit-flavored vinegar (to taste)
- 1½ teaspoons poppy seeds
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 2 bags of mixed salad greens
- 2 cups sliced cooked chicken breast (see tip)
- 2 cups chopped melon, such as cantaloupe or honeydew
- 1 cup red seedless grapes
- ¼ cup sunflower seeds or chopped walnuts
- ¼ cup crumbled feta or goat cheese
Method: Whisk Greek yogurt, vinegar, poppy seeds, salt and pepper in a large bowl until smooth. Reserve ¼ cup of the dressing in a small bowl. Add the mixed greens to the large bowl and toss to coat. Divide among plates and top with chicken, melon, grapes, nuts and cheese. Drizzle each portion with 1 tablespoon of the reserved dressing.
Tip: To poach chicken breast: Place boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a medium skillet or saucepan and add low sodium chicken broth to cover; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer gently until chicken is cooked through and no longer pink in the middle, 10 to 12 minutes.
Jazz up your summer wardrobe
Just because we're over 40 doesn’t mean we can't be chic and fabulous! I've loved dressing up and playing with fashion since I was a child. My mom was a seamstress, and I was lucky to have a new dress sewed by her every week. I still reflect on how she would take me to the store to pick out fabric, then design and sew me a new dress. I would play around with her makeup and jewelry, and try on her high heels. I certainly learned to be fashionable from her.
As I've gotten older, my personal style has evolved. However, I don’t tell myself that I am too old to wear certain outfits just because society made up that rule. Rather, I changed my mindset to take on the styles and clothing options for women over 40 that make me feel comfortable and beautiful. Mini skirts are a no-no for me, but I still love to wear a sexy knee-length skirt and high heels.
Have you ever looked back at photos where you looked older than you actually were? The reason is you were wearing clothes that conflicted with your natural beauty. Younger girls can easily pull off trendy outfits and still look pretty good, but older ladies should wear only those outfits that really make them look beautiful (the wrong style will age you fast). For example, not every woman over 40 can wear bright or totally printed outfits and look good. It's important to know your body type and then take the time to shop for beautiful outfits that make you feel comfortable and beautiful. Oh, and here’s a tip I picked up from a stylist: Don’t buy clothes that oversized or too loose; they will not shape you well. It’s a mistake most of us (myself included) make.
Before we know it, summer will be here. Once Memorial Day arrives, it’s upon us! Many of us dread stepping into clothes that won’t cover our curves as well as winter outfits do. Sometimes we get comfortable in that we wear and find it a bit challenging to pick outfits for the warmer months. I'll share a few ideas I find to be helpful when it comes to picking out clothes that will make us look beautiful and feel amazing.
I like to set up my summer wardrobe so that it's visible; otherwise, if my clothes are stored in totes, I'll forget they even exist. I arrange garments according to purpose: work, casual outings and evening wear. Switching into lighter wear, bright and fun colors are a great change to uplift your spirit.
I try to mix it up during the summer months. Here are a few favorite styles I’ve picked up during my shopping trips:
Business wear: cream belted blouse with a cream/white wrap cardigan and a pair of black trousers, light pink or cream handbag and peep-toe cream patent cuffed heels
My weekend outfits are as important as my everyday looks. A few pretty styles for lunch or hanging out with friends include:
- A pale yellow cardigan styled with a floral spaghetti strap slip-top, grey trousers and yellow flat pumps
- Black bootcut trousers or dark bootcut jeans look awesome with a dark turquoise tunic-shirt, statement necklace and leopard print pointed toe flat pumps. A brown leather tote bag adds great pop to the colors.
- A white t-shirt, pale turquoise jeans, beige-orange tote bag, flat sandals and pale peach bracelet
- A pair of jeans, a slouchy sleeved black floral top, silver wrap bracelets, light green flat sandals and blue handbag
- Go for wide-striped long sleeve top, slim jeans, orange flat sandals and white classic handbag
- Another casual day off look can be simple blue jeans, tunic top, striped white tote bag and flat sandals
Family Fun Days: A blush-colored sleeveless top looks great with dark blue denim trousers and a blush-colored leather handbag. Complete the look by adding a lightweight shawl and thong flat sandals embroidered with flowers.
For casual celebrations, such as birthdays, try a grey-blue denim jacket, salmon pink top, gold colored clutch, slim white bootcut jeans and pale turquoise flats.
Errands and casual dressy can be comfy and dashing with straight-fit jeans, white tank top, wrap navy cardigan, cotton printed scarf, dark blue flat pumps and a white handbag. Or, try green crop[ed pants, a white t-shirt or blouse, a light blue handbag and tan ballerina flats.
For afternoon outings and casual shopping or meeting friends, try blush skinny jeans, a grey long-sleeved top, a blush scarf, fun tote bag, grey pumps and pale pink earrings and bracelet.
On Fridays dress down at work: deep blue slim jeans, a navy tank top, a white blazer, light brown flat ballerinas and a cream/white clutch bag.
A white dotted semi-sheer yellow tank blouse can be styled with straight fit jeans, a white wrap cardigan and flat white sandals.
Shorts and pretty colored tops works well for at-home outfits. White jeans, a pale yellow semi-sheer sleeveless blouse, a pale blue V-neck buttoned cardigan, white low-heeled flat ballet pumps and pastel yellow handbag is an ideal outfit for summer, and the colors are mood brighteners. A beautiful white dress with turquoise necklace, earrings and bracelet with a brown tote bag and brown or turquoise heels is also a nice statement.
Play around with accessories: belts, hats and jewelry. They’re a lot of fun. All these tips are subject to personal taste; you know what works best for you. Let your beauty shine, try a few of these fashions and be stylish this summer.
Caring for aging parents
When you've inherited your elder parents and they're moving in, it can feel like you’re caught between a rock and a hard place. One of the most emotionally complex and difficult things a person can experience is taking care of their elderly parents, more so if they are living with you. It’s been almost eight months since I began tending to my aging parents, who now live with me and my family. It has not been easy, because they each have their own personalities (that, honestly, can drive me crazy). Some days I’m faced with stress, frustration and anger. One bright point: My husband has been extremely supportive and instrumental in helping me during this season of my life where I am running a business, running the household and now trying to run from my parents (not really). It took me a while to get used to having them live here, and I thought I’d pass along some things I'm learning, each of which I found to be significantly helpful.
- It’s a new season—accept that things have changed. When parents have to start depending on their child, the world has turned upside down; it's a reversal of life as everyone has known it. Be prepared for that new pattern to feel drastic. Keep in mind that it's not any easier for them than it is for you.
- Take it slowly. Caring for them is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t rush it. You and they are in uncharted territory. Let the process reveal itself to you to the degree that you can, and let whatever happens unfold naturally. Be prepared for one doctor’s appointment to turn into five appointments with other doctors. Your schedule will change. Rather than becoming angry or frustrated, think about a solution and how you will manage those appointments. Call on family members or friends who can assist you. Do not try to do it all.
- Expect their anger. When you become the caretaker of your parents, they lose the one thing they’ve always had in their relationship to you: authority. That’s not easy for them to give up. Expect them, in one way or another, to lash out about that loss.
- Help them to have independence. As much as you can, offer your parents options instead of orders. It's very important for them to continue to feel as if they, and not you, are running their lives. Let them decide everything they can about their own care and situation. Let them know what you can and cannot do for them so they can decide how they want to depend on you.
- Ask their advice. A great way to show your parent love and respect — and, especially, to affirm for them that they are still of true value to you — is to sincerely ask them for advice about something going on in your life.
- Set boundaries. Parents need boundaries too. Have a discussion with them and let them know that you aren't available 24 hours a day/7 days a week. That doesn’t mean they can't let you know if something doesn’t feel right with their health; it just means that they can't pounce on you each time you show up. Set a time of day to connect and go over doctor appointments or other needs. No one in this world knows your emotional buttons like your mom or dad does. They are bound to push them on occasion, if only to establish dominance over you. Don’t let them do it. You might owe them your care, but you don’t owe them your emotional well-being. All of this boundary setting can be done in a loving and respectful way.
- Depend upon your spouse. You may find that your parent is more comfortable relating to your spouse than to you. (My mom feels this way with my husband.) Though that can certainly hurt your feelings, don’t let it. It’s simply because your parent doesn’t share with your spouse all the baggage they do with you; mainly, they’ve never been the dominant force in your spouse’s life. Your spouse and your parent are peers to a degree that you and your parent can never be. Let that work for you. Take advantage of it. Depend upon your spouse to be as instrumental in the care of your parent as he or she wants to be.
- Practice self-care. It’s easy to create a routine where you get caught up in the care of your aging parents and neglect caring for yourself. But caring for yourself makes your more able to serve them. You need to take time out for walks, to stretch out, to eat right and to spend quality time away from them. Taking time to rejuvenate yourself is as critical a part of your care routine for your parent cooking their meals, taking them to appointments or making sure they take their medications. Your life still needs to be about you.
- Talk to a friend. If you have a friend with whom you can regularly meet and talk, or even chat with on the phone or text with, then do it. The input and love of a friend is invaluable to you. Sharing what you’re going through with someone who's not immediately involved can be like a life preserver when you’re bobbing in the ocean. As soon as you get involved with tending to your parent, call your best friend, and tell them that you’re going to be depending upon them to do what friends do best: care and listen while you vent. No doubt they'll need to do the same someday.
- Have fun! One of the things we most need in life is the one thing we most often forget once we begin caring for our elderly parents: Fun! Have lots and lots of fun. Share memories of laughter, play pranks that you know they'll enjoy. Watch a movie that makes you all laugh. Do whatever it takes. And remember: A day without fun is a day you cannot get back. A thought habit I live by is: “In 10 years will it really matter?” And that’s how I manage the stress of living with my wonderful, loving parents.
It takes patience and a mature mindset to understand what our aging parents are facing at this phase of their lives. It's important to take a step back and look through the lens of their eyes and imagine being in their shoes. Enjoy the season, and make the best of it, because they come and they go. Remember: It’s just a season.