Workout: The Agility Ladder Advantage

Agility—it’s the combo of speed and coordination that enables pro athletes to sprint, stop, turn on a dime, and run again. “Ladder drills improve your speed, boost your coordination, and teach you how to control your center of mass.

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46 Crock-Pot Recipes to Try This Summer (That’s Right, Summer)

Summertime, and the living is…well, hot. When stratospheric temperatures make you want to do nothing but sit in an ice bath all day, using a slow cooker might initially seem like a preposterous idea—isn’t that thing just for winter meals?

But don’t put that Crock-Pot into storage just yet! You will be pleasantly surprised at how useful this appliance can be even during the warmer months, sparing you from turning the oven on and turning your kitchen into a sauna. Forget steaming stews and cozy casseroles, and try some tacos, corn on the cob, or s’mores bars. Cooking in the summer just got a whole lot cooler!

Breakfasts

This hands-off meal is perfect for brunch.

Photo: The Foodie Corner

Take the stress out of the next brunch you host with this simple yet produce- and protein-packed frittata. With just a handful of seasonal veggies and eggs and a hands-off cooking method, summer celebrations don’t get much more straightforward than this.

Whether you’re taking it to go or sitting down with it for a leisurely brunch, there’s never a bad time for a burrito. Make it a real summer breakfast by using fresh, in-season sweet corn (did you know it’s a whole grain?) and plenty of guacamole to cool down some of the spice in the hearty filling here.

Making your own granola is a lot easier than you may think—all it involves is throwing fiber-rich oats and light, metabolism-boosting spice into a slow cooker and stirring every once in a while. Scoop some over yogurt and top with berries or bananas for a refreshing alternative to your usual bowl of cereal.

The “Miss Congeniality” of gluten-free foods, quinoa proves its versatility yet again with these sweet, energizing a.m. treats. Set it and forget it as the recipe bakes away in the slow cooker, then grab and go once they’re ready. Ultimate convenience!

Making omelets to order is ambitious (and lets you channel your inner Julia Child), but after a few, all that flipping can become more work than it’s worth. This slow-cooker recipe isn’t just brimming with vegetables that add some fiber to all the protein, but it also serves four to six people at once so you don’t have to stand by the stove crafting individual servings. Bon appetit!

Sometimes nothing but a gooey pastry will do for breakfast. Not only do these caramel-laced rolls use heart-healthy whole-wheat flour and a fraction of the butter used in traditional sticky bun recipes—making them decadent yet still wholesome—but baking them in the slow cooker means no need to heat up the house by turning on the oven. That’s what we call a sweet start to the day!

Delicious as they are, breakfast casseroles can sometimes be uber heavy , leaving you regretting your meal an hour later. This healthier twist is chock full of vegetables and still includes hash browns, bacon, and cheese—all the things you want from comfort food.

With fresh blueberries bursting from their seams and an almond flour-base that’s free from gluten, these scones may look like dessert, but they’re healthy and satiating enough for breakfast. The bonus? The slow cooker method eliminates the need for the dough to rise!

Appetizers, Soups, and Salads

Spinach dip has never been so good.

Photo: The Cookie Rookie

Spinach Parmesan dip is always a crowd favorite, but who wants to get weighed down with all that heavy dairy in the heat? This one lightens things up by using light sour cream and one of our favorite recipe substitutes, Greek yogurt. Serve this one at your next summer tailgate to keep your kitchen cool and your crowd healthy.

Usher in warm weather with a soup that celebrates the best of the season’s produce—yellow squash. The vitamin C-loaded veggie takes center stage in this recipe, with some cashews blended in for richness and herbs to jazz it up. Chilling the batch requires an extra step, but the cool and creamy results are totally worth waiting for.

More often associated with winter, chowder gets a warm weather update with the addition of summery ingredients like zucchini, tomatoes, and basil. If you’re keeping it meat-free, skip the bacon—otherwise, don’t worry about the saturated fat in a few slices; it may actually be good for you (and is quite tasty!).

Not only does this blogger provide a detailed how-to guide for the perfect Crock-Pot-cooked corn on the cob, but she also suggests six different seasoning variations that go beyond the butter—score! From chili lime to pesto to sauce-of-the-moment sriracha, everyone’s favorite summertime side just got a lot more exciting.

These beans may need some time to cook, but they yield a giant 12-serving batch that’s easily freezable. A homemade recipe also ensures that your taco toppers won’t come with a hefty dose of lard that so many store-bought or restaurant versions use. Stuff them into burritos, scoop them onto salads, or just eat them straight-up—they’re that irresistible!

What summer cookout, picnic, or potluck is complete without potato salad? The mustard-based, mayo-free condiments for this one make it perfect to take to outdoor gatherings without spoiling. Bonus: The hefty sprinkling of dill adds some brightness as well as flavonoids that may relieve an upset stomach.

Who says it has to be cold outside to enjoy warm veggies? It doesn’t get much simpler or more customizable than this recipe: Use your favorite produce, your favorite herbs, and a dash of olive oil to help absorb the nutrients from the vegetables Meal triacylglycerol profile modulates postprandial absorption of carotenoids in humans. Goltz SR, Campbell WW, Chitchumroonchokchai C. Molecular nutrition & food research, 2012, Oct.;56(6):1613-4133.
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If the canned stuff has always creeped you out a bit, this slow cooker recipe may turn you into a three-bean salad fan. Sketchy preservatives and unnecessary sugars are removed from the equation, allowing the beans to cook for all those hours in a much more wholesome mix of vinegar, mustard seeds, and hot sauce.

Meat Main Dishes

Slow-cooked Thai beef makes a tasty main salad.

Photo: The Food Charlatan

A creamy peanut dressing, sweet chunks of mango, and slow-cooked beef makes this salad much more fit for an entree than an appetizer. The chuck steak is tender, the cabbage is crisp, and peanuts add crunch. With so much texture and flavor, you’ll never think of salad as limp, soggy greens again.

Make a batch of this chicken salad on a Sunday, and you’ll have a healthy lunch option at the ready all week long. There isn’t a hint of mayo in the recipe, but the Southwestern flavors of antioxidant-rich cilantro, digestion-aiding cumin, and immunity-boosting garlic impart plenty of taste and healthy benefits Immunity: plants as effective mediators. Sultan MT, Butt MS, Qayyum MM. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 2014, Oct.;54(10):1549-7852.
. Add a scoop of it onto mixed greens, in a pita, or between slices of toast.

Always thought you needed to be near a beach to enjoy a seafood boil? Prove yourself wrong with this recipe, which brings the low country classic home with the help of a Crock-Pot. All the usual components feature here, from potatoes and corn cobs to shrimp, which are a good source of immunity-raising selenium. The bottle of beer is optional, but either way, this boil will bring the summer party straight onto your kitchen table.

Asian cuisine may not be the first thing that comes to mind when it comes to slow cooker recipes, but this hoison sauce-soaked mixture shows that it can be done, and it can be delicious! While light enough for a warm-weather lunch, the addition of rice to the chicken and veggies makes it a full meal while water chestnuts lend a fun crunch and a punch of potassium.

This recipe pushes the envelope in more than one way, stuffing typical casserole ingredients into bell peppers instead and slow cooking rather than baking them. Salsa and homemade seasoning blends are convenient and simple ways to add tasty veggies to the meat, beans, and rice without excess added fat or preservatives.

For most meat-eaters, rarely does a summer go by without chicken wings making an appearance. Rather than trying greasy deep-frying, go the Crock-Pot route with this recipe. Calling for plenty of garlic, a generous pour of antioxidant-rich honey, and an optional hit of cayenne, these wings are the ideal way to kick any get-together up a notch Antioxidant Activity of Three Honey Samples in relation with Their Biochemical Components. Chua LS, Rahaman NL, Adnan NA. Journal of analytical methods in chemistry, 2013, Aug.;2013():2090-8865.
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Nothing screams summer more than a hot dog, and you can recreate this iconic version without a grill. Mixed with tomato sauce, Worcestershire, and plenty of seasonings, the chili will turn out as juicy and flavorful as ever. Pick whatever type of dog you prefer and load them up!



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Pineapple slices give this sandwich its tropical twist plus a dose of the anti-inflammatory enzyme bromelain. Teamed up with slow-cooked chicken doused in barbecue sauce (make your own!), and layered onto sandwich buns with salty slices of cheese, it’s a veritable carnival of tastes and textures.

Cook shredded beef to succulent perfection, infused with the mildly smoky duo of cumin and paprika. Then invite your friends over and put out some warm tortillas, guac, salsa, cheese, and all the veggie toppings, and have a DIY taco party.

Putting the salmon in another dish before placing it all in the Crock-Pot is the key to prevent it from getting overcooked, plus the juices from the veggies provide some extra moisture. With a bit of olive oil to help the seasonings stick, it’s a light and fresh way to get your daily mono- and polyunsaturated fat fix.

A summer recipe roundup without mention of the Caribbean? Inconceivable! Using lean pork shoulder can not only save a significant amount of fat, but its typical affordability can save your wallet too. Use your favorite jerk seasoning to give meat that distinctive island flair, while citrus in the rub and mango in the salsa take the summery vibe over the top.

You may be surprised at how many ingredients for this seemingly exotic recipe you already have in your pantry. Tomato paste, brown sugar, and garlic lend a decidedly barbecue-like hint to the Asian-inspired tastes of sesame oil and soy sauce that marinate the lean meat. Go liberal with the sesame seed garnish—those little guys are packed with B-complex vitamins to promote eye, muscle, skin, and hair health.

Vegetarian and Vegan Main Dishes

Lasagna in a slow cooker? Oh yes.

Photo: Oh My Veggies

Lasagna can be an all-day affair to make between cooking noodles, whipping up sauce, and making all the fillings. Forget about that with a Crock-Pot. Cook a veggie mixture, then layer it with sauce, noodles, and cheese, and let your slow cooker do all the magic. Vibrant, lycopene-rich cherry tomatoes and fresh corn make summer’s bounty shine all the more in this classic winter dish.

Using calcium-filled dates rather than sugar in this sauce makes it healthier than most barbecue recipes out there. Freezing the tofu helps it really soak up the sweet, spicy sauce. Serve over greens with an Asian dressing for a colorful meal that proves tofu is anything but blah!

Make this Mexican favorite without needing to babysit the veggies over the stove. Bursting with tomatoes and multicolored peppers, these convenient fajitas make getting your daily dose of vitamin C a cinch.

While we’d make this with brown rice for the more fiber, the recipe is still great for warmer weather. The classic Greek flavors of red pepper, olives, feta, parsley, and oregano are perfect as a side dish or meal, hot or cold.

No sketchy mock meats here! This recipe uses tempeh to step in as a vegan substitute for ribs. An unprocessed form of soy, tempeh is also fermented, which means it’s great for promoting gut health. Let it cook with loads of spices and some summer veggies, and the sumptuous results will delight everyone at the table.

They’re cheap, versatile, high in iron, low glycemic… and that’s just the beginning. Our love for lentils runs deep, and this recipe showcases them in a much more creative way than basic soup. Let them hang out for a few hours with some vegetables and spices, and they’ll reduce down to a hearty mixture boasting eight grams of protein per serving—not bad for a meatless meal!

If they can eat curry in the tropical temperatures of Thailand, you can eat it during your summer too. Usual suspects found in the cuisine, like coconut milk, scallions, and soy, come together in this vegan and gluten-free recipe, while the unconventional addition of chickpeas lends some protein to amp up the nutritional profile still further.

Sure, it takes more work than popping open a jar of store-bought sauce, but you won’t regret being able to control the sugar and salt in this produce-packed homemade version. Keep it slightly chunky to give it a rustic flair, and don’t skimp when stirring in the basil—it’s got memory-boosting properties, and this is definitely one meal you won’t want to forget.

Put a Mediterranean spin on a Southern summer favorite, replacing lima beans with cannellinis and tossing in just a sprinkle of feta cheese and Kalamata olives to add a salty bite. You’ll be amazed at how much four hours in a slow cooker can do for the flavors in this dish!

Pizza in a Crock-Pot? Oh yes. Ditch the meat and go for much more season-appropriate ingredients with this Caprese-salad-inspired rendition. All it takes is six ingredients and no worrying about tossing around dough (a skill we have yet to master).

If you’re wary of experimenting with new grains, the slow cooker takes the intimidation factor out by doing all the work for you. Here, barley adds some uniqueness (along with fiber) to these vegetarian tacos along with the usual suspects of black beans and corn. Cool the mixture down with an avocado-Greek yogurt cream topping, and you’re ready for a meat-free fiesta.

If a heap of warm noodles and cheese still sounds like a bit too much when temps outside are simmering into the 90s, try this pasta-free, all-vegetable lasagna instead. With five types of veggies layered with tomato sauce, herbs, and melty cheese, it’ll go a long way to helping you reach that five-a-day recommendation.

Desserts

Sweet, warm peaches and ice cream screams summer.

Photo: Taste and Tell

If you’re tentative about your dessert-making ability, these scalloped peaches are both impressive and won’t make you break a sweat. If your fruit is especially sweet, try reducing the sugar a bit, and then let the spices and the slow cooker do the rest of the work. Try serving topped with banana ice cream.

The cocktail already takes like dessert, so why not make it into a real one? You’ll get healthy, good-cholesterol-boosting fats from the shredded coconut and coconut milk, plus vitamin C from pineapple. Go ahead and add some rum, we won’t tell.

What better way to bring back memories of summer camp than homemade s’mores? With a full cup of butter and no skimping on the sugar, these confections may not be everyday treats, but cut them into small pieces and savor every messy bite.

Fresh berries are one of the best parts of summer: They’re sweeter than ever and insanely versatile cooking ingredients. In two hours they reduce to a sweet, syrupy goodness with a crumbly topping in this recipe that’s perfect to serve after burgers.

Combining two time-honored summer desserts, this naturally gluten-free creamsicle tapioca pudding gets a nutritional update by using non-dairy coconut milk instead of heavy cream and no added sugars. A few hours of chilling in the refrigerator later, it’s ready for spooning up!

Don’t put baking on the back burner after Memorial Day. The refreshing burst of lemon and mint keeps this pound cake from being too heavy, while silken tofu gives it a velvety texture As the blogger suggests, use whole-wheat pastry flour to up the fiber content and serve with fresh fruit for pound cake that’s about as healthy as you can get.

The Best Thing I Learned From Completely Changing My Diet? Sometimes It’s Not Enough to Get Healthy

From 2013 to 2014, my life imploded. After 25 years of being totally healthy, I was diagnosed with three major medical conditions out of nowhere. While in recovery from two brain surgeries—one for a congenital blood vessel abnormality and the other for a cerebrospinal fluid disorder that my doctors think developed as a result of the first—I learned I have a rare, incurable autoimmune disease that attacks the joints of the spine and causes terrible back pain. I was losing my health, close to losing my sanity, and everything besides merely staying alive had to be put on hold, including my career, relationships, and hobbies.

After being offered a medication that can have devastating side effects, such as cancer and sudden death (no big deal, right?) to control my autoimmune disease, I sought out another opinion from Elizabeth Boham, M.D., who practices something called functional medicine at the UltraWellness Center in Lenox, MA. Having seen Boham on the Dr. Oz Show and then reading about her work online, I was drawn to her emphasis on looking at the body as a whole, integrated system to uncover the underlying causes of dysfunction. My body seemed to be falling apart, but my doctors insisted that one condition had nothing to do with another—they saw each part of my body as separate.

Tons of testing lead this woman to a restrictive, expensive diet Boham had survived breast cancer herself at age 30, so she knew what it felt like to be young and sick, and understood the challenges of navigating the healthcare system, which I was having so much trouble with. Something inside of me just clicked—I had to meet her.

WTF Is Functional Medicine, Anyway?

Functional medicine is a fairly new field of medicine that uses diet modifications, supplementation, and stress reduction (sometimes in conjunction with medications) to address disease. Most insurance companies don’t cover functional medicine, so I shelled out a pretty penny (four months’ rent, to be exact) for my appointment as well as dozens of tests, including saliva, urine, blood, stool, and hair samples.

After looking at the results, in a follow-up appointment, Boham said that autoimmune disease is usually triggered by a bacterial infection of some sort, oftentimes in the gut, and I had multiple strains of harmful bacteria in mine. (High levels of bad bacteria in the intestines is one of the suspected causes of inflammatory autoimmune disease now recognized by the National Institutes of Health.) So she recommended completely overhauling my diet since food makes a major impact on the health of our gut flora.

Learning to nourish myself properly felt like the best gift I could give myself.

Desperate to heal and hoping to avoid heavy-duty medications, I decided to go all-in on this experiment. Western medicine wasn’t offering me anything other than an Rx to keep symptoms at bay, but what I wanted and needed was healing. I told myself that if I didn’t try to correct the deeper imbalances that brought on this disease, I might suffer from even bigger problems down the road. Plus, learning to nourish myself properly felt like the best gift I could give myself—I’ve always believed that diet has a big impact on health, but I never had the time to put much thought into mine—and if there was even a sliver of a chance this could help ease my chronic pain, it was worth a shot before going whole hog on a dangerous medication for the rest of my life.

Organic or Broke (Literally)

Some studies show there’s no real difference between conventional and organic produce in terms of nutrient content, but according to a 2014 meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Nutrition organic food has higher concentrations of antioxidants and lower toxic pesticide residues—and Boham said that organic food would offer me more health benefits 1 .

So my “prescription” was to eat as much organic as I could afford, and to cut out gluten and dairy, both of which can promote inflammation in the body. I also had to stop relying on processed foods and almost anything sold in a package, meaning I’d need to cook most of my meals. Any meats and fish had to be grass-fed, antibiotic-free, and wild-caught as much as possible, because whatever the animal is exposed to, you eat, Boham said. And research has shown that growth hormones and antibiotics in meat and PCBs in farm-raised fish may harm our health in various ways, including impacting reproductive health and raising the risk for some cancers 2 .

Is that cucumber organic? To say this required a major lifestyle change is an understatement. On my first trip to the grocery store, my bill was close to $300. And that didn’t even last a week—I often shopped two or three times weekly to prevent my produce from going bad.

My income wasn’t high enough to afford the added expense, so I more than dipped into my savings: I blew through them. As my friends were going on vacations and having fancy dinners out, I was shelling out any money I’d normally use on fun at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. And then I’d come home and spend two or more hours every day planning, prepping, and cooking—rather than working, so my job as a freelance writer and editor started to suffer.

When I did dine out, my restricted diet sucked almost every ounce of fun out of the experience. I was always the most high-maintenance eater in the room, turning ordering at a restaurant into an Olympic endeavor. I ticked off more than a few waitresses rattling off questions—“Is the broccoli organic?” “Is this grass-fed beef?”—that sent them running to the kitchen to interrogate the chef. While my boyfriend didn’t mind the extra 20 minutes it took me to order, others, like my mom, thought the whole thing was ridiculous and tried to get me to order a cheeseburger.

The idea of going into debt didn’t feel as scary as the thought of being chronically ill the rest of my life.

I quickly learned that most restaurants don’t have organic menus, so I started to bring my own pre-cooked food in containers everywhere I went. (Totally normal, right?) But on several occasions, I didn’t have time or forgot, so I was stuck somewhere with no “allowed” food available—and I went hungry, got low blood sugar, and felt dizzy and sick.

Another time, the check I sent to pay my health insurance bounced because I had accidentally spent the money on groceries. And one day, upon realizing I was going to miss a work deadline, I broke down in tears on my kitchen floor while blanching collard greens and sautéing ground turkey. And then I got back up and returned to the stove, ignoring work.

I didn’t know how much longer I could manage this lifestyle, but I ignored my fears (and thoughts that I was more than a little insane) and kept moving. I wanted to believe this would work—and the idea of going into debt didn’t feel as scary as the thought of being chronically ill the rest of my life.

It’s Working… Sort Of

Sacrifices and mental health notwithstanding, I did start to feel physically better pretty quickly. Within a few weeks, I noticed I had more energy, less acne, and fewer sugar cravings, though those weren’t the complaints that brought me to this diet.

I also began to really appreciate and savor the food on my plate, for perhaps the first time in my life. I didn’t grow up eating sit-down dinners with my family, and once I entered the workforce I never seemed to have time to prepare a real dinner. At last, I felt like I was getting to do something I had missed out on my whole life.

My bloodwork pointed to some improvements too: At the beginning, my iron, magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D levels were all in the tank, and I was prediabetic, meaning my hemoglobin a1c level—the measure of how much sugar is in your blood over a three-month span of time—was creeping up. After three months of my new diet, all of my blood levels went back to normal, and I was no longer prediabetic. The nurse who reviewed my results with me remarked about how unusual it is not to have a single value out of range.

At the four-month mark, Boham did some more stool testing and found that the balance of flora in my gut was much healthier too. All but one of my infections had cleared, and my digestion reflected that: No more bloating or gas, better digestion, and easy poops every morning like clockwork. It made sense: I had given up sugar and refined carbohydrates, which bad bacteria feed on, and started eating more prebiotic and probiotic foods, such as asparagus, garlic, leeks, and sauerkraut, which good bacteria need in order to grow. I felt so proud of myself for sticking to it.

The bad news: At that same time, my joint pain and swelling weren’t getting any better, and I was having so much trouble walking that my rheumatologist feared I was doing permanent damage to my joints by holding off on medication. So I started taking a drug to control my autoimmune-related chronic pain, and it put me into remission within one month. (Western medicine, for its drawbacks, is pretty amazing when it works.)

My Personal Prescription: Moderation

While my autoimmune disease can’t be managed with diet alone, I rest easy knowing my improved diet is keeping the rest of me healthy—and maybe keeping some of the ill effects of my medicine at bay (I can only hope). Plus, in a few months I may try coming off the medicine to see where I stand now that my gut is healthier.

Would I do this very costly, totally enlightening, and frequently maddening experiment again? Yes.

Would I do this very costly, totally enlightening, and frequently maddening experiment again? Yes. It made me a smarter consumer, a better eater, and quite a talented cook. I know multitudes more about the healing properties of food, how to feed myself, and what I need to do in order to stay as healthy as I possibly can in spite of my health issues. I have peace of mind knowing that I tried virtually everything in search of a natural cure-all, but ultimately, a balance of modern and functional medicine is the magic elixir that’s giving me the best shot at a good quality of life. And the time and money investment was healing in and of itself, because it was an act of self-love.

Still, I became more lax at the one-year mark, allowing some takeout and refined treats on occasion, because I just. couldn’t. do. it. anymore. I buy about half organic and half conventional food now, and rely on some pre-cooked meats and pre-packaged salads and snacks, but I’m still gluten-, dairy-, and sugar-free (save a square of 85-percent dark chocolate in the afternoon).

While I know it’s valuable to continue to use the dietary knowledge I’ve gained, I also recognize the importance of keeping my mental, emotional, and financial health a priority—which means not allowing my diet to isolate me from friends or put me in the poorhouse, and not planning my day solely around my meals. Health means more than just eating healthy food. Now I’m trying to live with everything in moderation.

Works Cited

  1. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Smith-Spangler C, Brandeau ML, Hunter GE. Annals of internal medicine, 2012, Nov.;157(5):1539-3704.

    Higher antioxidant and lower cadmium concentrations and lower incidence of pesticide residues in organically grown crops: a systematic literature review and meta-analyses. Barański M, Srednicka-Tober D, Volakakis N. The British journal of nutrition, 2014, Jun.;112(5):1475-2662.

  2. Effect of occupational polychlorinated biphenyls exposure on quality-adjusted life years over time at the HELPcB surveillance program. Esser A, Gaum PM, Schettgen T. Journal of toxicology and environmental health. Part A, 2015, Jan.;78(2):1528-7394.

    Case-control study of breast cancer and exposure to synthetic environmental chemicals among Alaska Native women. Holmes AK, Koller KR, Kieszak SM. International journal of circumpolar health, 2014, Nov.;73():2242-3982.

    Persistent organic pollutants in young adults and changes in glucose related metabolism over a 23-year follow-up. Suarez-Lopez JR, Lee DH, Porta M. Environmental research, 2015, Feb.;137():1096-0953.