Sweet Potatoes 🍠

Five Reasons to Enjoy Sweet Potatoes This Season

It is officially fall, actually, it’s almost winter in some parts and I’m so behind posting blogs! But here I am, and it’s well into the time of year when people get excited for their favorite seasonal foods, Halloween, and the holidays. This year, be sure to include some delicious sweet potatoes alongside your pumpkin spiced latte on the table. They are a nutritional powerhouse and can be prepared in a variety of ways.
The history of sweet potatoes goes way back. Evidence shows they were one of many types of potatoes cultivated in Peru as early as 5,000 years ago. From there, it is said they have traveled around the world, becoming popular and in some areas, very important crops. They differ botanically from yams, their big cousin from Africa. Yams have a rough skin and can grow very large, sometimes weighting in at 150 pounds! The canned yams you see in the grocery store are actually sweet potatoes, and sweet potatoes are not actually potatoes! Sweet potatoes are a part of the morning glory family and the part we eat is the root of the plant. The more common white potato belongs to the nightshade family, which produces tubers, the underground stems that so many know and love.
Back to sweet potatoes. While it is interesting that they are one of the nearly 4,000 types of potatoes that come from Peru, what’s really important is their nutrient density. Wait- I should say first that they are delicious, then add that they are nutritious! Most people eat for flavor, and sweet potatoes have it. They can be served in a variety of ways, from sweet to savory, baked to fried, and every way in between.

Purple Sweet Potatoes
Purple Sweet Potatoes in Laos.

1. Sweet potatoes are a complex carbohydrate. This type of carbohydrate contains starch but it also contains fiber which slows digestion and keeps you feeling fuller, longer. In addition, fiber plays a role in digestive health, helps to keep you regular, and some studies show fiber may reduce cholesterol levels.
2. Need some Vitamin A? Have a sweet potato. Just one half of a medium sized sweet potato provides all your Vitamin A needs for the day. The colorful compounds in these orange vegetables are called carotenoids. Beta carotene is the most important and in the human body, we convert it into Vitamin A. This is a critical vitamin for vision and it aids in proper functioning of both the cornea and conjunctival membrane. The most common reason for night blindness the world over is Vitamin A deficiency, so ensure you get your orange vegetables to protect against eye damage, both now and as you age.
3. Potassium. Most people in the United States do not consume enough potassium, a nutrient that is necessary to help muscles contract and communicate with nerves and to regulate mineral balance in our cells. It can also help maintain a healthy blood pressure and may be protective against bone loss as we age. We need about 4,700 mg/day and one medium sweet potato helps contribute to that daily goal, providing nearly 500 mg.
4. Sweet potatoes, like most other vegetables, are naturally low in fat. While it is important to limit the amount of overall fat we consume in the diet, a small amount of monounsaturated fat helps us to absorb the beneficial compounds found in sweet potatoes. When preparing your delectable dish, use some flavor enhancing olive, canola, or peanut oil, or add some avocado, peanuts, or other nuts and seeds to your meal.
5. Sweet potatoes are delicious. Their natural sweetness pairs well with both sweet and savory foods. Try roasting some with a spritz of lime and a sprinkle of chili powder, or bake some puréed potatoes into a pie this holiday season. Be aware of some toppings, however, as different syrups, brown sugar, and marshmallows all add extra calories with little nutrition. Enjoy the flavor this amazing vegetable has to offer by roasting or broiling it in the oven. The caramelization process enhances the natural sweetness of the potato and you will feel good knowing you’re providing your body with some healthy nutrients.
Get cooking today! Whether you make them baked, mashed, in French fry form, roasted, or into pancakes, pies, or casseroles, don’t leave out this gem of a vegetable over the holiday season, or any time of year for that matter!


A Healthy Thanksgiving

A Few Ways to Healthify Your Holiday

Thanksgiving is a holiday definitely known as a day of indulgence, but it’s not good to stuff our stomach the way we stuff our turkey. Follow these simple steps to improve your health this Thanksgiving day incorporating foods you will already have on the table.
Most people spend part of their day snacking with friends and family members while waiting for the big meal. If you fall into that category, be sure to set out or bring a vegetable platter complete with freshly sliced finger foods that you can dip into some seasoned Greek yogurt or some spicy hummus. Fruit kebabs are a nice addition and provide color and variety to your spread. Before you fill your plate with turkey, potatoes, and all the fixings, fill up on a bowl of salad. Crisp romaine lettuce, crunchy cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers, and tomatoes are not only tasty, but provide water, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, all helpful in filling you up without a lot of calories. Allow a few minutes for your salad to settle. Our brain needs some time to know that we are not starving and you won’t be tempted to fill your plate with too much food once the turkey is carved.
Speaking of turkey, go for the light meat. It is a leaner option and a 4 ounce serving of breast meat provides 170 calories, 34 grams of protein, and less than 3 grams of fat. The same size serving of dark meat (including some skin) has over 200 calories, 30 grams of protein, and over 10 grams of fat, much of which is saturated. Turkey breast is a great source of protein and studies show that lean protein has staying power- it keeps us feeling full, affecting our appetite so we eat less. That is very important on a day when most Americans consume upwards of 5,000 calories. Enjoy your turkey as is, or if using gravy, use in moderation. This condiment can be high in fat and sodium, depending on preparation or brand. For an even better topping, use some fresh cranberry sauce. This seasonal berry packs a nutrient and tasty punch! They are high in antioxidants that fight free radicals, compounds known to cause damage to our cells. Other health benefits include reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, different cancers, and they also aid in digestion. Check out the recipe below for a delicious way to enjoy this fresh berry- it’s much better than jelly from a can!
Hold the sugar on the sweet potatoes! This Thanksgiving day tuber is healthy on it’s own, but so many traditional holiday recipes include sugar or syrup, turning a great side dish into sugary mush. Besides the fact that they are naturally delicious and already slightly sweet, here are four more reasons to enjoy some lightly seasoned sweet potatoes this holiday season:
Sweet potatoes are a complex carbohydrate. The fiber in this type of carbohydrate slows digestion and keeps you feeling fuller, longer. Vitamin A: just one half of a medium sweet potato provides all your Vitamin A needs for the day. Not only is this good for the eyes, but considering most Americans do not get enough of it, now is a good time to get some, not only on Thanksgiving day, but every day! Potassium: another nutrient lacking in the American diet. It helps muscles contract and communicate with nerves – just what you will need to take that post feast walk! And all things considered, sweet potatoes, like most other vegetables, are naturally low in fat.
So, to recap. Fill up on veggies, lean and light turkey breast topped with bright red fresh cranberry sauce, and sugar free naturally sweet potatoes! There will be other foods around your holiday table, but practice moderation, take a walk, and most importantly, enjoy time spent with friends and family!

Fresh Cranberry Sauce

Serves: 8

1/2 cup of water
2 cups fresh cranberries
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup stevia and sugar blend
Zest of one orange
1/4 tbsp French ginger, minced
1 sprig fresh thyme

Bring water, orange juice, and stevia mix to a boil.
Add cranberries, ginger, and thyme and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until mixture thickens.
When desired consistency has been achieved, remove thyme and add orange zest.
Stir well and enjoy.

Packing Tips from a Longterm Backpacker

Are you considering a vacation, a month away, or even long term travel? Living out of a backpack may seem daunting at first, but once you learn how to pack up everything you need, it’s actually pretty easy. Furthermore, living with less is so much more simple than having a closet full of things. It simplifies decision making and makes cleaning up a breeze!

Backpacking Tips
My backpack and I when I first started, my 3rd day in China.

There are two things of equal importance in my book when it comes to packing for backpacking style travel, both short and long term. One is packing what you need and needing what you pack and two: your bag itself.
1. When choosing what will become your shell, your home on your back, comfort is key and a good design is helpful. Choose a backpack that suits your body. If you are small, short stature, or petite, a small bag is best. Don’t get something that towers over you and weighs you down. And even if you can carry a larger bag, ask yourself if you will want to, or even need to. I’m 5’3” (160 cm) and carry a small/medium 44 liter Kelly Redwing pack and it’s perfect. It has a sturdy waist strap, a chest strap, and best of all, perfect compartments. Choose a backpack that can zip open in the front, not a stuff in from the top style bag. That way, you can unzip it and take out what you need without making a mess.
2. Organization is essential. Use packing cubes and small bags to organize specific items. Of all the things in my bag, I actually have more bags than anything else! You can order packing cubes on Amazon or pick them up at some markets if you’re in Asia. They typically come in a variety of sizes per set and mine came with a laundry bag as well. I chose the largest cube to hold all of my pants/shorts/leggings, the medium for shirts and tops, and the small one for undergarments like underwear, my bathing suit, bras, and sports bras. I have a smaller bag for socks that I stick inside of it. All of my clothes fit into three small cubes and they go in the main compartment of my pack.

Backpacking Tips
What I’m currently carrying.

3. Keep essential items close by and non-essential, but necessary items in a lesser accessible area. I keep all of my toiletries in a toiletry bag in the right side pocket and a make up bag in the left. It’s always been like that and I never have to fumble around looking for some basic items like my toothbrush and toothpaste. In an even smaller bag that I picked up in Mongolia, I have some hair elastics and barrettes. They stay at the bottom of that outer pocket. The items that I use less frequently, like medicines, a poncho, and my headlamp, are at the bottom of my bag or in the top pocket.
4. Don’t overpack. Before you head out on your adventure, consider the activities in which you will participate. Ensure you have what you need for those main things, like hiking boots if you will be hiking, but if there’s something you won’t need often, don’t take it. There may be certain things that are a must have for you, but weigh the pros and cons and determine if lugging it around will be worth it. I wish I had my own mask and snorkel because I have some quality gear in my small storage unit back home, but carrying it around is cumbersome and space consuming. Although I enjoy snorkeling, it’s not a main focus of my trip so I make do with the cheap equipment available on the different boat and island hopping tours I’ve done.
As you get further into your travels, you will develop a system that’s quick, easy, and works for you. I always allocate a ton of time to pack up before I go somewhere, but the reality is, it usually only takes me a few minutes. I don’t know why I think it will take a long time, I do it regularly and with all the same stuff!
I just wanna delve a bit deeper into my own organizational skills! I do like to be organized, but because I don’t buy souvenirs, (space is an issue, of course), much of what I do buy is functional, if I do buy anything at all. Here’s a breakdown of my bags:
1. New “laundry bag.” I left my original one back in the States for some reason, so I bought a cloth bag in Laos that I can use as a grocery bag when I go home. Sometimes it’s empty, sometimes it’s full!
2. Embroidered toiletry bag from Thailand. I love these bags, they fit perfectly in the side pocket of my pack, and I love the colors and designs that you can find them in. I have bought many for others as gifts as well!
3. Hair elastic drawstring bag. My only souvenir from Mongolia, it doesn’t take up any space and holds all my hair ties, which would have otherwise been lost by this point.
4.Blue mesh zip bag. I picked this up in Vietnam to hold some “emergency” items, medicine, band aids, and that sort of thing. I never use them, but have them if I need them.
5. Textile half oval shaped zip bag: my one souvenir from Bhutan. I bought it to house my electronic accessories: my power bank cord, iPad plug, and my Vivoactive charger.
6.Green embroidered bag: another souvenir from Laos. I just couldn’t pass it up. I loved the colors and embroidery. I even bought one for my Bangladeshi host, Humaira. I put a bunch of misc. items in it like my head lamp, a small flashlight, and the chest strap to my heart rate monitor that I never use. (It won’t connect. Sad face).
7. Blue elephant coin purse. My cousin bought a buttload (official term) of these in Chinatown in Thailand for less than $2.00. I took one to replace the Lululemon one I used. I keep small bills in it and only use that for cash transactions. That way, I’m never pulling my wallet out in public and if something ever happens (God forbid), nobody would gain much from stealing it.
8. Water bottle holder. Yet another souvenir from Laos. That thing is so handy. You gotta keep hydrated in humid Southeast Asia and holding a bottle all day is annoying. I wish I could have bought 100 to give away to friends and family!
9. Plastic make up bag. Just a run of the mill, durable toiletry bag. It came with a suitcase I bought back in the states a long time ago.
10. Multicolor zip bag: my mom gave me this before I left, before I perfected my packing system. It currently holds my Diva burn sample packs. I just like it so I still have it.
11.Eddie Bauer Stowaway Bag. This 21 liter bag is actually pretty awesome. I bought it this summer at an outlet and it’s handy and compact. I use it for day trips, beach trips, and sometimes as a carry on.
12. Eddie Bauer three zip over the shoulder bag. Another handy bag. I don’t like carrying much with me so I use it while I’m out. It fits my phone, wallet, sunglasses, and a few other small items.
13. Eddie Bauer tablet over the shoulder bag. Perfectly fits my iPad.

Backapacking Tips
Your pack can always doble as a weight. Doing squats at the train station in Ella, Sri Lanka.

Oh my goodness! I have a ton of bags. I’m a bag lady! I even have 3 more small ones I gained while in the Philippines. One from a hotel and two from a survey I completed while at the airport in Manila. Crazy thing is, I want them and even think I can use them. 😂🙈 But guess what? All of these things simplify my packing and make the process like a game of Tetris. I’m a good player, it all fits!
What about you? Are you a bag lady? Have you perfected your art of packing? What’s your favorite souvenir to collect while abroad? As for me, I think I need a few more bags! Next up, I need to do a post on what to pack for long term travel.