Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A New Beginning and A New Direction

A warm welcome to all of my returning friends and to all my hopeful new readers. Over a year ago, I began an amazing journey, which enabled me to pursue my dream as a Chef, a teacher and a writer. Dreams have a tremendous ability to shift and force us to change along with them. Thinking and seeing clearly can enable ALL of us to see the future and not just dream about it; to reach out and take hold of what we want and desire.

As I began writing, I noticed a trend in my own thinking going towards being healthier, not just with food but with all the aspects of my life. As I explored this thinking and did some research, I discovered some things that had a fairly big impact on where I was in life.

 I wasn't even close to eating healthy and most people I know were in the same place
 Many of the items that I thought of as healthy were in fact full of chemicals that are anything but healthy
 I was missing a spiritual connection in my world, for me though, this did not mean any sort of organized religion
 I had forgotten the simple pleasure of taking a deep breath in the morning and focusing on who I was as a person
The stresses in my life had a signifigant impact on everyone around me, which in turn caused them more stress and anxiety
...and there were even more of these discoveries!!
While this was happening, I took a step back and looked at where I had started and began to think on where I wanted to be as I moved forward. As I often do when I feel a little perplexed as to my own thinking I did two things. First I went and bugged Amy who was patient enough to point out that what I wanted was to express these feelings through my writing and food. Then I went over to my handy laptop and started to browse around, looking for some sort of sign. Imagine my surprise when I found the answers I was looking for!! An old friend from high school, Sandra Keros had a link on her Facebook page to a school out of New York, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition or as it known IIN (a quick note here, I would place that pesky 'tm' next to the name of the school, but can not find a button to do so as I type, sorry IIN). While all this was happening, I had another group of friends step up and really show me some positive support right from my first thoughts of going back to school. Christina, Danny, Peggy, Shannon and Amanda all said that it would be a great step for me and wished me luck. I hadn't even officially signed up for school and even more people were offering support. All of this led me to begin my new studies at the end of the October.
It was during the first couple of weeks that I discovered all the thoughts in my head were not actually bad, they were my bodies' way of telling me that I needed to make changes and open myself up to a more natural and healthy way of living. We, meaning myself, other students and fellow Health Coaches believe and practice Primary Foods. The focus is on the development of a healthy person from the inside and the outside. Relationships, Physical Activity, Career and Spirituality are all part of the Primary Foods that make us who we are. We include teaching on healthy food choices as well, along with a philosophy that not every diet is good for every person. Just like everyone is different from the people around us, the practice of being a Health Coach is about treating people as individuals and working towards goals that are designed for that person.
Since joining IIN as a student, I have strengthened my thinking about being and living healthier while discovering so much about who I am and now look at food and where it comes from much differently. I took a more focused look at what I perceived as my problems and this is what I came away with.
I was not a coffee drinker but I did drink a pretty high amount of soda, full of refined sugars, caffeine and chemicals that my body didn't need. Since cutting back on the intake of soda, I have noticed that I have more energy, think clearer, have become less irritable. All of this is much to the liking of my family and I have been able to lose weight as a result.

I began to read the labels of the food I was pulling off the shelf and was surpised by the volume of chemicals and ingredients that I could not begin to pronounce. Since this started, I now cook with more of a 'from scratch' style and foods are left whole to allow the natural taste to come through.
Spirituality can be defined in many ways, for me it was best stated as 'An inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being'. For me this turned out to be a two step process. First I discovered my inner path through just watching the trees and nature in all its different forms, a rainy day to sun shining on the water as I walk along the ocean. Secondly, this appreciation for something as simple as nature has led me to stop my day for even just a few minutes to breathe. Each morning I climb out of bed and spend a few minutes outside on the deck, I close my eyes and take slow deep breaths focusing on my own energy. At different times in the day, I pause and take the time to center myself by doing the same exercise all over. I have found this to be great stress therapy and it allows me to then go back to what I am doing with more energy and focus. I feel that it is important for people to realize that finding your own spirituality can come in many forms and it doesn't need to be the traditional form of going to church. It needs to be about what you feel and which path you want to find.
Stress -  when you think about it...we all have some in one form or another. It can come at us anytime of the day and has the ability to throw us completely off our planned day. Through the changes I have already made which include the stuff I just mentioned, the levels of stress seem to grow less and less each day. I don't know when it will come get me again, but through understanding myself better I can now manage my stress and still be productive throughout my day.
I would invite everyone who reads this to take a few seconds and give some thought towards your own goals, hopes and dreams. Listen to what your body is saying and more than anything...stop, breathe and enjoy life along with some good food!
Speaking of food, I am a Chef and my world does revolve around good eating. I did some research on finding out ways to make things that were gluten free over the summer and came across some ideas that have been combined many times and in many different forms. This Asian Chicken Salad is colorful, and easy to make. The best part of this, add in as many vegetables as you want. Part of learning to eat healthier is combining foods and adding a new twist into the mix. As an example, remove the snow peas and add in broccoli, or you could change the seseame seeds into pumpkin seeds and chicken to shrimp!!
Snow Peas are not only rich in fiber, they are aslo
low calorie and thanks to Vitamin K...They
also promote bone health!
Asian Chicken Salad
3 Cups Chicken Breast, cooked and shredded
1/4 Cup Snow Peas, remove strings
1/2 Cup Red Peppers, thinly sliced
1/4 Cup Red Onion, thinly sliced
1/4 Cup Carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 Cup Figs, chopped into small pieces
1 Cup Tahini Dressing
(Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds and is gluten free)

Tahini Dressing
1/2 Cup Tahini
1/2 Cup Olive Oil, you can substitute sesame oil if you would like
1/4 Cup Tamari, make sure to read the label and verify that it is indeed wheat free. Soy sauce contains wheat products. Tamari may also be labeled as Gluten Free Soy Sauce
1/2 Tbs Fresh Ground Ginger
3 Tbs Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 Tbs, Chopped Garlic
Sea Salt as needed

Did you know that Ginger soothes the stomach
and it also aides in the digestion of the food we eat
Take the Snow Peas and dip them into hot water for 30 to 45 seconds and then quickly shock them with ice water to stop the cooking. For the Carrots, dip them into boiling water for about 3 minutes and repeat the cooling procedure. The idea is that the carrots become softer but still maintain that satisfying crunch. Combine all the ingredients into a large bowl and toss together. Pour half of the dressing over the top and again toss together. Add more dressing according to your own taste preferences. When ready to serve, top the salad with a tablespoon of black sesame seeds.

Thats all I have for today!! I hope that everyone will join me as I begin my journey towards being a healthier person. I am always available to anyone who has questions or if you feel that a one on one coaching session might help you out. Remember to take those few moments for yourself and read those labels. Have a fantastic day!! Also don't forget to see my page over at Facebook, which can be found by clicking this link Kitchen Time With Chef Sean
-Chef Sean Pike

Monday, February 4, 2013

Let's get busy with what Organic really means!

Some of the best produce around can be found at the local
farmers market. Here where I live it begins in June and goes
all summer!!
Organic. It is a word that for some conjures up images of hefty price tags and for others it is a way of life that is full of benefits without the use of chemicals. The best place to start when the discussion about being "organic" begins to start is to understand what it actually means to be organic. Simply put, being organic means that produce and other ingredients are grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, genetically modified organisms (GMO's) or ionizing radiation. Animals that produce meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products do not take antibiotics or growth hormones. I like to say that food is grown the way it is supposed to be...which is naturally. The way good old mother nature made it originally.

In the past year we have all heard about GMO's being in the food we eat. I am against any form of modification of food through the use of chemicals. In most of the world where food is being produced the governments and growers have all banned this process. Here in the United States, the debate is still going strong as to whether or not this form of alteration does any harm to the people eating the food. You will be the final judge of what goes into your body, but before you do I want to let you know what a GMO actually is. As both a Chef and Health/Nutrition Coach, I feel that everyone should know that a GMO is a plant or animal that has had its overall DNA changed or altered. Altering any food item on the level of its DNA, without clearly knowing the possible side effects on the people eating it is irresponsible for everyone involved. Please be aware of what you are eating and what you are feeding your family. Now let's get back on track to our original post about being organic!

Before a product can be listed as organic, it must be inspected and approved by an inspector which has been approved by the USDA. This includes farms where food is grown and companies that handle or process the food before it reaches the market place. So the first question on most peoples' minds is this, "What are the rules for being called organic?"

Well this is where the educated consumer really comes into play. The USDA has essentially 3 distinct categories for an item being called organic.

100% Organic,  must be made with all organic ingredients
Organic,  allows a product to be made with at least 95% organic ingredients
Made With Organic Materials,  allows a product to be made with at least 70% organic ingredients

The USDA goes a little further to say that a product which has less then the 70% minimum ingredients, to label a package as having organic ingredients. These ingredients must be listed on the side of a package, they can be separate from the base list, and the product cannot make any organic claims on the front of the packaging. Under the guidelines set by the USDA, becoming organic certified is a long process that takes 3 years. During the time span, farms must allow the soil to become fertile once again. These same farms are inspected annually and have a system in place which details the records of all products grown. For farmers and producers of livestock, which includes poultry and pork the organic certification product is just as strict. All animals must have access to the outdoors, given organic feed, they cannot be given any antibiotics, growth hormones or animal by-products.

Lets take a look at a list of the benefits from buying organic products and the ripple effects that it causes...

You have to worry about chemicals such as herbicides and insecticides. These sort of items are widely used on commercial farms and even when washed they will still remain on and in the food you eat. Food produced without these chemicals are healthier for our bodies.

Organic food is fresher. Preservatives are added into and onto different foods to make it last longer. Food not treated in this fashion not only tastes better but because of the decrease in shelf life it is coming from more local sources. This helps stimulate the local economy and the lack of chemicals is always a good thing for our bodies.
Organic farming is great for the environment. By not using the harsh chemicals to treat products, we are not causing issues with native plants or animals which eat the different produce located on farms. The soil is healthier and the danger of chemical run-off into water sources is eliminated.
Animals not treated with growth hormones or antibiotics promote total body health. By treating animals with such a vast range of antibiotics, we are constantly building an immunity to certain strains of bacteria. What this means in the long run is that when we get sick, the chance of antibiotics working are lessened.
That grown local idea for foods being fresher, here is another quick way in which it helps the environment. We use quite a bit of fuel in those trucks delivering products hundreds of miles each day. By cutting down on the use of fossil fuels we are helping to keep the air cleaner, reducing the need to spend extra on food because of fuel cost concerns and the food is still fresher because it is local.
Here is a list of some of the more harmful fruits and vegetables on the market, in terms of the amounts of pesticides and other chemicals being used. Products on this list are MUCH better off being purchased as being organic...


So now that we have a basic understanding of what it means to be 'ORGANIC', lets look at some other terms that are fairly commonplace in the market.

Natural, this term gets tossed around more than it should and it is VERY important to understand that natural doesn't mean organic. Calling something natural is something anyone can do because it is a non-regulated term for food producers.

Natural, not a typo or a repeat because this time the word natural concerns meat and dairy. In this description the product is minimally processed. Meat cannot have any artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. It can however contain growth hormones and antibiotics.

Grass Fed, this term describes animals that have been fed a diet of grass or hay exclusively and that they have access to the outdoors. Some studies have shown that beef which is on  a grass fed diet actually contain higher amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids which are good for the body.

Free Range, a few short years ago there was quite a buzz about meat being labeled as this way. What it means is that the animal was not confined to a cage or pen. The downside of this however is that we as consumers don't have a way of knowing if the animals are packed into a small space or even how long they are allowed outside. It also doesn't exclude the use of any types of hormones or antibiotics.

No Hormones Added, As the name suggests, animals receive no type of growth hormone. Beef and dairy products benefit from this label. When you see it on pork and poultry however it has less meaning due to the fact that in the USA, it is against the law to inject poultry or pork with hormones.

Nothing is better then fresh herbs when cooking!!
Did you know that farmers markets sell
fresh herbs? Just like this Rosemary!!
After the day is over a couple of questions still come up on a regular basis when it comes to foods being organic. Nutritionally, organic food is still in the infant stages of testing and at this point there are no definitive tests which can state without a doubt that organic fruit is more nutritious then conventional. Given the conditions in which food must be tested it is difficult to isolate the various factors of soil samples, density of chemicals, climate and variety. We do know that the use of certain chemicals does have an adverse effect on the human body and can cause any number of side effects including certain types of cancer. When it comes to taste, it is a matter for each consumer to judge. As a Chef, I have cooked with both conventional and organic products and given a choice I would choose organic each time. The quality of the product and flavor always seems fresher and more desirable. The best way to determine if eating organic is right for you and your family is to try it out for yourself. Today supermarkets and specialty food stores all have a wide variety of local, fresh and organic products to try out. During the warmer months, go out and visit a local farmers market or if you are able to, pay a visit direct to the farm...and remember...happy eating!!