Stopping the Stigma: #BellLetsTalk

January 25, 2017

535324_10150798966353437_660913436_9592816_663798851_nI’m writing this post as I leave my yoga class with a sense of joy and tranquility – a feeling uncommon to me as of late.

Last week my anxiety caught up to me, which resulted in a very traumatic panic attack at work in front of a majority of my coworkers. Though a number of stressors contributed to my increased feeling of anxiousness, there was one incident in particular that triggered my attack: the belittlement of my anxiety when I reached out to ask for help.

Mental health issues are too often swept under the rug, due to the shameful stigma surrounding them. Not only is it challenging to reach a point where one is able to come forward and say “I need help”. But as my incident last week demonstrates, even when people do ask for help, the seriousness is overwhelmingly overlooked. This causes many to continue suffering in silence, and this is part of the reason we lose far too many lives each year because of mental health issues.

Throughout my life I have witnessed many people and close friends fall victim to a variety of mental health disorders. The most difficult and upsetting memories to recall are the ones involving eating disorders. At a very young age, bulimia was the first mental health issue I became exposed to. Shamefully, I have watched too many beautiful young women become completely consumed by their eating disorders, and the worst part was that I could never do anything to stop it.

Though I had watched many people fight very serious and life-threatening mental health battles, I never realized I too was fighting a battle of a different kind. For nearly my entire life, I tried to suppress my anxiety and write it off as my tendency to be a perfectionist and an “over thinker”. Even when things got extremely unmanageable and I had my first panic attack, I still didn’t want to accept the fact that anxiety was affecting me. I felt embarrassed talking about it, and I feared that it might lead to being medicated.

Ironically, it wasn’t until I encouraged someone very close to me to seek help after experiencing a string of traumatic panic attacks, that it finally registered that I too need help.

Receiving the help and resources I needed has since helped me learn how to better manage my anxiety. Although it tries to creep up on me at times, I no longer feel ashamed and embarrassed to talk about what’s going on and how I feel. It took a long time to reach this point. But now that I’m here, I feel that it’s extremely important to help others arrive at this same destination.

I used to be under the impression that in order to inspire people you need to be perfect. You need to the best. You need to have no flaws. But there is nothing further from the truth. Coming to terms with your imperfections and the way in which you embrace your imperfections, can prove to be just as inspiring (if not more). Sharing your stories, experiences and battles make it that much easier for someone else to find the courage to share theirs. No one deserves to suffer silently, and ending your battle begins with sharing your story.

And that is what today, Bell Let’s Talk Day, is all about: starting a conversation about mental health issues and reducing the stigma surrounding them. Today is a reminder that you can never tell what someone’s going through just by looking at them, reinforcing the fact we should be kind and compassionate to everyone we encounter. For me, today is reminding those around me that they are loved and always supported. That I am someone they can reach to when they are struggling and feel alone.

Take today as a reminder to be kind and gentle to yourself – you’re doing the best you can:)

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Recipe: Curried Cauliflower, Potatoes, and Chickpeas

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June 6, 2016

After learning that 2016 was officially declared International Year of Pulses a couple months ago, I was eager to devote some time to getting creative with including pulses in my diet, and testing out some new recipes. I found this recipe in the Old Farmers Almanac Garden Guide 2016 Special Edition Magazine. The magazine did not mention credit to the cook, so I’m not sure exactly who made this recipe, but I found it in that magazine under the “Cooking Fresh: Fresh is Best” section. This recipe is the first one I experimented with, and I’m ashamed to admit that this is as far as I got. I fell head over heels in love with this recipe, and because it makes around 4 to 6 servings (depending on your portion sizes), I ended up eating this for dinner for nearly a week straight. The funny thing is, I’ve cooked it a couple times since and I’m still not sick of it! This is a MUST try. It is super simple, preparation isn’t too tedious, and it stores well. I would recommend making this dish in advance, and separating and storing your portions in microwave safe containers, as this provides a great lunch or dinner option for those of you who are crunched for time.

One thing I would like to mention about this recipe is that although you can use a skillet, I found it much easier to cook this dish in a large pot. When I tried using a skillet, I found there were too many ingredients, and it made it very difficult to stir because it nearly started to overflow. If you end up testing this recipe out, let me know what you think in the comment section below!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 Onions, finely chopped
  • 1 Head cauliflower, cored and cut into small pieces
  • 3 Potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 Tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 Teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 Teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 Teaspoon ground tumeric
  • 1/2 Teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 Can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained and rinsed, or 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1/2 Teaspoon garam masala

INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat and cook onions until soft and golden. Add cauliflower and potatoes and stir. Add tomatoes, cumin, salt, tumeric, and chili powder. Stir and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, or until potatoes and cauliflower are almost tender, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Add chickpeas, cover, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes.

2.       Sprinkle with garam masala and stir well. Serve warm, & enjoy! 🙂

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Checking For A Pulse

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June 6, 2016

It’s official. The 68th UN General Assembly just recently named 2016 the International Year of Pulses (IYP)! Last year, the same General Assembly declared 2015 as both the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies and the International Year of Soils, so it makes me happy to see that with the declaration of the IYP, we will continue to build directly on the 2015 efforts surrounding soil. I think it’s such a beautiful thing to see this year starting off on such a positive environmental note, first with the Paris Agreement calling for heightened environmental awareness, consciousness, and responsibility, and now with more attention being called towards pulses and the sustainable production of such.

The first time I heard about this declaration, I assumed this was referencing a need to draw more attention to heart health, and encourage individuals to monitor their heart health (via checking their pulses) more frequently. Embarrassing, I know. But for all you smart cookies out there, you probably already know that the term pulses, refers to dried legumes. While a legume can be simply defined as a type of plant with seeds that grow in long cases called pods, a pulse on the other hand, specifically refers to the dried seed found inside the pod. The most common pulses you’re probably familiar with would be beans, lentils, chickpeas, and peas, though many others fall under these four categories.

So what’s the big deal about these things anyways, and why is 2016 being declared the year of pulses? Let me give you the run down.

#1: Sustainable Food Production

One of the things that make pulses so attractive to environmentalists is their nitrogen-fixing capability, and I will attempt to explain this in the least scientific way possible, so I don’t lose you. Nitrogen is undoubtedly the most important ingredient or factor when it comes to producing crops, and this poses huge problems for the environment because fossil fuels are essential to creating nitrogen fertilizer. More simply put, the crop production process is heavily contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, and furthering environmental destruction through its use of nitrogen. What makes pulses so special is that through their biological process, they are actually able to extract the majority of the nitrogen necessary for their growth, from the air. Through this same process, pulses are then able to add nitrogen to the soil, significantly slashing the amount of nitrogen fertilizer needed! As a result of this process, Pulse Canada notes that pulses use half the non-renewable energy inputs of other crops!

In regards to soil management, their biological process also aids in enhancing soil fertilization for surrounding crops in the same rotation. Statistics Canada also notes that growing pulses in rotation with other grains and oilseeds can disrupt disease and insect cycles as well. But the buck doesn’t stop here! Pulses are extremely easy and inexpensive to produce, plus their production doesn’t require large plots of lands, which helps farmers produce a lot more, on less land. Therefore, it is easy to see why it makes so much sense for the UN General Assembly to dedicate increased efforts towards drawing attention to pulses, because of the environmental sustainability aspect.

 #2: Food Security

This is directly tied to my above mention of the General Assembly’s 2015 efforts to increase awareness surrounding soil, when it named 2015 the Year of Soils. In a paper published by the International Food Policy Research Institute, author Sara J. Scherr (1999) notes:

Pulses, because of their role in improving sustainability, notably through soil management, also impact food security. Soil degradation is a major threat to food security in many areas. Africa is particularly impacted by soil degradation, yet pulses are part of traditional diets and often grown by small farmers. By improving the crop patterns using pulses, farmers can improve their yields and limit the long-term threat to food security that soil degradation represents.

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Scherr’s findings also led her to put forth the notion that pulses aid not only the nutrition of humans, but also of animals. Scherr noted that by including pulses in the diet of animals, this also contributes to producing healthier livestock, which also works to further enhance food security. This also leads directly to my next point – nutrition!

#3: Nutrition

Similar to my post about Matcha, the more you learn about pulses; the more you start to think “it’s almost as though pulses sound too good to be true”. Pulses have been proven to aid in illness prevention of serious diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer because of their ability to lower blood cholesterol and attenuate blood glucose. Further, these guys provide an excellent source of protein, they are low in fat, and packed with iron, zinc, phosphorous and fibre (which many of our diets fall short of providing). Beans also act as excellent source of B vitamins. Vitamin B is a crucial staple needed in all diets, seeing as vitamin B deficiency can lead to all sorts of nasty things like anemia, depression, anxiety, poor memory and concentration, poor skin, irregular heartbeat, which we obviously want to steer clear of!

Moreover, because pulses provide an excellent source of protein, they also act as the perfect alternative to red meat. I briefly noted this in my tips for Earth Day, but I will also mention it in this post because it is something that is extremely important. Reducing the amount of meat in your diet (even if it’s only once a week) can REALLY help the environment a lot more than you think. The meat industry requires so much energy, and to put this into perspective, 1 pound of beef actually requires the use of 1,799 gallons of water. Yes. GALLONS. If you were to swap out meat at least once a week, and substitute pulses instead, you would not only be helping the environment and contributing to environmental sustainability. Your body would also be reaping a number of nutritional benefits as well. Bringing awareness to the nutritional value, and encouraging everyone to make a conscious effort to include more of them in their diet, is one of the core aims of the General Assembly.

Below I’ve compiled a couple of links you can check out if you’re interested in learning more about pulses. Before I sign off, I also want to share one of my favourite pulse recipe with all of you! Be sure to check it out because it is amazing. I hope after reading this post, you too, are encouraged to include pulses in your diet more frequently. Happy Monday to you all, and I wish you a happy and healthy week ahead!

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Pulse Recipes:

Additional Information on Pulses:

 

Recipe: Vegan Chana Masala

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April 22, 2016

  • Cookbook: (Adapted from) The Oh She Glows Cookbook – Angela Liddon
  • Recipe: Vegan Chana Masala
  • Cuisine: Indian
  • Prep time: Twenty minutes
  • Cook time: Twenty minutes
  • Total time: Forty minutes
  • Servings: Four

I first came across this recipe two years ago on one of my favourite vegetarian food blogs, Cookie+Kate. She adapted this recipe from the vegan cookbook titled ‘The Oh She Glows Cookbook‘, written by Angela Liddon. I am most certainly not a vegan, nor do I even come close to identifying as one. But funny enough, some of my favourite restaurants and recipes are actually vegan! As I mentioned in my post about the Paris Agreement, one vegan meal saves more water than skipping 176 showers, because as we all know, the meat industry requires the use of large amounts of energy. In honour of Earth Day today, I have chosen to stick to a vegan diet, which is one of the many ways I am showing my support towards helping the planet today.

This recipe is not challenging whatsoever, it just requires a bit of time in the kitchen. My favourite part about this recipe is that my kitchen always becomes filled with the most beautiful aromatic scents, as all the different Indian spices fuse together to create this classic and comforting dish. I’ve made this dish for both lunch and dinner, and I personally love eating it when I’m craving something a little more substantial and filling after my workouts.

Make sure you prepare all ingredients before you start cooking, as this is a fast paced recipe!

INGREDIENTS
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil or olive oil
  • 1½ teaspoons cumin seeds (scale back a little if you’re not crazy about cumin)
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon pressed or minced fresh garlic (about 5 cloves)
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and minced fresh ginger (about a 1-inch piece)
  • 1 green Serrano pepper, minced (seed it first if you want to tame the spice level)
  • 1½ teaspoons garam masala (or tikka masala)
  • 1½ teaspoons ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • ¾ teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes, with their juices
  • 2 cans (14 ounces each) chickpeas (or 3 cups cooked chickpeas), drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup uncooked brown basmati rice, for serving (rice is optional, I like to cook extra rice to have on hand for other meals)
  • Lemon wedges, for garnishing
  • Fresh cilantro, chopped, for garnishing (optional)
INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Cook the rice (if you want to serve the chana masala on rice): Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Pour in the rice and give it a stir. Boil the rice for 30 minutes, then turn off the heat and drain the rice. Return the rice to the pot and cover the pot. Let the rice steam for 10 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff the rice with a fork and season with sea salt to taste.
  2. Cook the chana masala: In a Dutch oven or large saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. When a drop of water sizzles upon hitting the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low and add the cumin seeds. Toast the seeds for a minute or two, stirring frequently, until the seeds are golden and fragrant. Watch carefully to avoid burning the seeds.
  3. Raise the heat to medium and stir in the onion, garlic, ginger and serrano. Cook for about five minutes, stirring often. Stir in the garam masala (or tikka masala), coriander, turmeric, salt and cayenne (if using), and cook for two more minutes.
  4. Add the whole peeled tomatoes and their juices. Use the back of a wooden spoon to break the tomatoes apart. You can leave some chunks of tomato for texture.
  5. Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chickpeas. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes or longer to allow the flavors to develop.
  6. Serve over basmati rice, if desired, and garnish with a lemon wedge or two and a sprinkle of fresh cilantro.

You can definitely play around with this recipe a bit (as I often tend to do), to suit your personal taste and preference. As you can see from my picture, I added a lot more than a sprinkle of cilantro!

 

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Matcha Matcha Matcha

April 19, 2016

If you’re not drinking matcha, I don’t know what you’re doing! Although I’ve been aware of the stir and buzz surrounding this magical drink for quite some time, I never took it upon myself to actually adopt matcha as a part of my morning routine. But now that I have, I must admit this is an absolute game changer. Mark my words.

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For those of you unfamiliar with matcha (as I was too until about a week ago), it is a finely ground green tea powder, which has been used in Chinese and Japanese tea ceremonies dating all the way back to the ninth century. But over the past two years, this powder has become a widespread, mainstream phenomenon to say the least. It may even be more accurate to classify this phenomenon as more of a “green tea cult” that is continuously proliferating. Not only has the drink become super popular to the point that Starbucks is carrying it, but I have also observed an explosion of it being used in all sorts of dishes ranging from pasta, and pancakes, to nearly every dessert imaginable.

So what makes matcha so special? The answer to this question lies in its preparation process, wherein the whole tea leaf is actually consumed. If you think about drinking a regular cup of tea, you steep the leaves in hot water until it reaches your desired strength, then you discard the leaves. With matcha, the health benefits and antioxidants you receive from one cup are far more abundant because you are actually consuming the leaves in their entirety!

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What originally sparked my interest of incorporating matcha into my morning routine was my feeling of wanting to break-up with coffee. I absolutely love coffee – I mean who doesn’t!? – but I found as of lately it was making me feel extra jittery for some reason, and if I drank coffee too late in the afternoon, I always experienced difficulty falling asleep at night. I thought it would be beneficial to experiment with replacing coffee with some other type of beverage, and that’s what led me to test out matcha. Plus, I needed to find out firsthand what all this hype was about.

In the past I have tried replacing coffee with loose leaf tea, but I found that it didn’t come close to the ‘kick’ coffee gave me (and let’s face it, that kick is necessary for most of us to help turn us from zombies to humans each and every morning).

Enter matcha. About ten minutes after consumption, I felt a boost of energy, mental clarity, and awareness. It was almost as though I had drunk a large cup of coffee, but without all the negative side effects my body typically associates with such. I was instantly hooked at that moment. I was eager and excited to go to the gym (which is rarely the case), and I felt absolutely fantastic.

Typically I like to do my research ahead of time, before diving into anything new. But when I tried my first cup, I knew virtually nothing about matcha other than the fact it was green, and it made me feel thoroughly invigorated. I decided to go online and learn a little bit more about the green tea powder, and I stumbled upon a very insightful article written by Dr. Sara Soloman, BSc, PT, DMD which I found on thebodybuilding.com. Not only does this article list all of matcha’s magical capabilities such as helping to lower blood-pressure and bad cholesterol, ward off cancer, prevent aging and promote longevity, speed up your metabolism, and a wide range of other positive side effects. But what I found most interesting was Dr. Soloman’s explanation as to why this drink was providing the same energy boost as coffee, but a much better version:

Matcha green tea contains up to 5 times more L-theanine than conventional green tea. L-theanine is an amino acid with psychoactive properties, capable of inducing alpha wave activity in the brain. Stress is known to induce the brain’s beta wave activity, leading to a more agitated state. Alpha wave activity can relieve stress, promote relaxation and even lower blood pressure. Although matcha contains some caffeine, the relaxing properties of L-theanine counterbalance the “jittery” effects of caffeine. Therefore, a cup of matcha green tea promotes concentration and clarity of mind without producing any of the nervous energy typically associated with coffee.

If you’re still skeptical about joining us on the green tea cult side, I highly suggest you do yourself a favour and just try it for yourself. I know it sounds too good to be true, but it really is that amazing. For some of you, it may take a bit of a time to adjust to the taste, and I would suggest the fearful beginners to ease their way into the cult with a matcha latte. That way the taste isn’t as pungent, plus, you can easily do this at home. I often switch between drinking the traditional-styled matcha and matcha lattes (in which I combine hot water with warm vanilla almond milk).

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Now the only possible downside I can really point out, is that this stuff definitely does not come cheap. Not only is the powder costly (for 20 grams of Organic Rishi Teahouse Matcha it was about $18 CAD), but you also need a bamboo whisk ($12-21 CAD) to prepare the tea. Although it is not crucial, another cost to consider is the purchase of a special matcha bowl to prepare the tea in. You can opt out of purchasing one, and use a wide, deep bowl instead if you have one at home. I invested in the “The Matcha Essentials” kit from David’s Tea ($40 CAD), which I think was worth the money, but it would likely cut costs if you were to purchase each piece separately.

Stay tuned for many more matcha posts to follow, including my experimentation with using this stuff in cooking and baking…the matcha madness is real! It is definitely safe to say I am now a #matchamaniac, and I hope some of you will be converted after trying it as well!

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