A Spanish meal and an inspiring conversation for a healthy new year
Happy New Year! Dinner Table Doctor and I had a very quiet New Year’s Eve celebration, which is my favorite kind to have. This time of year is typically busy for us. We do a lot of holiday celebrating with friends and extended family, plus two of our three children have birthdays right in the middle of all the festivities. It feels like nonstop action from Thanksgiving to our daughter’s birthday on January 2nd. Although I love the excitement, I also relish a peaceful evening to cap off another year.
Since I was a teenager, I have felt New Year’s Eve is kind of overrated. People often have very high expectations for a night to remember, but the only memorable ones I’ve had have been for negative reasons. As a result, my preference is a tranquil evening with an excellent meal and bottle of wine. I like to watch the zany celebrations on tv and be grateful I am not in a crowded venue while I contemplate the year that has ended and make plans for the year ahead. It’s a time for reflection and gratitude and anticipation.
While DTD and I appreciated an easy and delicious Spanish meal consisting of garlic soup and bacon and egg paella along with the perfect Spanish wine, we discussed our resolutions and what we look forward to in 2022. Every single year, one of my resolutions is to lead a healthier lifestyle. Living with DTD is a constant reminder that our health is precarious and I need to take better care of myself. I asked him for advice to help me and all of my readers have a healthier 2022. He suggested these simple steps to help us enjoy a healthy new year.
I have written about the importance of exercise many times, because DTD always seems to work it into dinner conversations. DTD exercises almost every single day. I do not. I work part time from home and have ample time to exercise. He arrives at his office before 5AM and gets home after 5 PM, plus spends a good amount of time on the phone with patients seven days a week. Yet he always makes time to exercise. So I asked DTD how he motivates himself and his patients. He insists it is not a matter of extreme discipline, but being aware of the facts. A sedentary lifestyle is more harmful than being a regular smoker. DTD says we must look at exercise as something essential, just like going to work. We don’t tell people, “you’re so disciplined! I wish I could be like that!” just for showing up at work every day. We go to work because we have to, and we need to look at exercise the same way. You just have to do it.
If you’re having trouble getting started on a regular routine, remember that any amount is better than nothing. If you were trying to make the basketball team, or attempting to be first chair violin in the orchestra, and asked “how much practice do I need?” the answer is as much as you can. Any amount will help you get better. More will help you excel. Start by trying to exercise more than you do now, meaning more time and more effort getting that heart rate up. Just being active is not enough. Thirty minutes of moderate intensity exercise five days a week can help you double the chances of being alive in 10 years no matter what your age! How can you NOT do that? (Moderate intensity means if someone called you on the phone, you would be slightly out of breath when answering and they would ask what you’re doing.)
LIMIT ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION
DTD and I love our wine and cocktails, but too much of a good thing can really be bad. The new recommendation is around 3-4 drinks a week. Alcohol affects weight and increases risks of a whole host of issues from liver and kidney problems to cancer. What exactly is one drink? This handy chart is courtesy of the National Institute of Health:
*It’s very important to keep in mind that a lot of beer nowadays has a higher alcohol content than the one on this chart. Craft beers often have as much as 8% alcohol, so one beer is actually more than one drink in this case.
INCREASE YOUR PLANT CONSUMPTION
It’s no secret that too much meat and too many carbs are not good for our health. Fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds are what we should be eating. This is another frequent topic at our dinner table. There’s nothing like shoving a spoonful of pasta in your mouth while your husband the doctor is telling a guest that white pasta is as unhealthy as a bowl of ice cream.
On many occasions I have told DTD that I can never give up pasta, even if carbs will eventually shorten my life. I would rather die 20 years earlier if it meant that I ate pasta on a daily basis! Yes, I’m dramatic, but I do love pasta. I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day of my life. Of course I don’t, which means I’m already making great sacrifices. How can I give up pasta and meatballs?
DTD advices that, just like exercise, we simply increase our intake of plant based foods. Whatever amount you include in your current diet, increase it as much as possible. Add fruits and vegetables every meal. Snack on an orange or apple. Make some cauliflower and green beans as a side dish with your pasta. Have some bean tacos or lentil soup on meatless Mondays. The more you increase plant based foods, the less bad stuff you’ll eat and the more balanced your diet will be. A great guided image DTD offers is your meal should be like a picture with an average sized frame. The frame should consist of whole grains, natural meats, cheese, and the large part in the middle where the picture is consists of all plants.
If you’re thinking, “I am not a vegetable eater” or “I just don’t like apples,” you probably need to grow up. Your tastes are always changing and you don’t want to be a boring, picky eater for the rest of your life. Try new things and try food you don’t like again and again and again. If you have hated green beans since childhood, give them another try. Cook them a different way. You may surprise yourself. I have lived this truth many times in my life. I used to hate eggplant, mushrooms, watermelon, green olives, and more. Now they are foods I absolutely love and I can’t imagine life without them. I’m so glad I gave them a second chance! In some cases I gave them a fourth, fifth or twentieth chance. I was in my late 40’s when I learned to love watermelon. DTD was around the same age when he learned he doesn’t hate all seafood. You just never know. Being adventurous when it comes to eating doesn’t have to mean eating monkey brains. It just means you are willing to try something out of your own comfort zone. Experiment with how you cook plants and try them at restaurants. You CAN do it, and your life will be just a little more exciting each time you expand your palate.
TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR HEALTH
In addition to eating right and exercising, regular health maintenance is crucial. Do what you’re supposed to be doing for your age group. A physical exam, colonoscopy, bloodwork to check cholesterol, blood pressure screening, vaccinations, and more are important to your overall health. Find a doctor you respect and trust for advice, and take control of your health. No one else can do it for you. It’s so tempting to put off that shingles vaccine or COVID booster or mammogram, but doing so could have dire consequences.
ENGAGE WITH OTHERS
There is growing data that to remain healthy you must engage with others. The current COVID pandemic has highlighted this fact, and more and more studies will be forthcoming as a result of the isolation many of us have been feeing lately. DTD has seen this issue in his own patient population. As humans, we need interaction. The old assumption was that as long as we keep our brains active with reading or crossword puzzles we will be fine, but increasingly studies show that in order for humans to be healthy both mentally and physically, interaction with other humans is crucial. Gather with others in a safe manner, or connect on ZOOM or even through a simple phone call. Reach out and engage, because your own health depends on it.
SMALL STEPS CAN LEAD TO BIG CHANGES
You can have a healthier 2022 by following these guidelines. DTD cautions you not to try to make huge, aggressive changes all at once. Baby steps are OK as long as you are moving in the right direction and don’t get so discouraged that you give up. Every little change that you stick with over time will make a big difference. You also can’t allow yourself to get complacent, which is easy to do. We live in a society where we are set up to fail when it comes to being healthy. Bad food is cheap and all around us. We are becoming increasingly isolated. You need to make an effort to live a healthier lifestyle. Write yourself notes. Share your goals with loved ones. Make an appointment with your doctor. Make yourself accountable. Make this the year you take care of you.
A Delicious and Easy Spanish Meal
If you’d like to try something different and NOT completely healthy (remember DTD says occasional celebratory indulgences are OK!) I highly recommend the meal we created for our little New Year’s Eve celebration of two. The garlic soup is very healthy and delicious. The bacon and egg paella is not so healthy but oh so yummy! Paired with a Spanish wine, this was one of our more memorable meals and very easy to make.
This link is for the Spanish garlic soup recipe from abraskitchen.com, a wonderful website filled with all kinds of fabulous recipes. This is a healthy soup which you can make in about 15 minutes. Don’t worry about garlic breath. The garlic is not overpowering at all, and the soup is fantastic. We made the croutons in our toaster oven and ate the soup while the paella was cooking.
Here is the link for the bacon and egg paella. Delicious.com.au is another wonderful site for all kinds of recipes when you’re ready to try new foods. As I shared in my previous paella post, this delectable dish has many forms. Perhaps none is easier than this simple bacon and egg version. You won’t even miss the seafood! We didn’t even serve it with the bread, because the risotto is so filling.
The 2016 Bodegas Antonio Arraez Vividor Bobal is the wine we paired with this meal. It is inexpensive and highly rated. Although many people have never heard of the bobal grape, it is the second most planted red wine in Spain, and it is frequently used as a blending partner with some of the more common varieties. Bobal’s high levels of acidity make it very versatile. There were definite notes of dark fruit such as plums in this bottle, and although it was just OK with the garlic soup, it went very well with the spicy chorizo in the paella.
May 2022 be a healthier year for all my readers! Remember, baby steps are key and each day is a new beginning, so don’t give up! Have you already made a small change that has affected your health in a big and positive way? Feel free to share in the comments and find me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.