kris ulland

Your Nutrition Partner

By a certain point in all of our lives, we become creatures of habit. We create patterns that we tend to fall into and perform daily.

So why is it so hard to form new healthy habits?

Even when we set up  a successful health pattern, the impact is often temporary. For example, one study found that distributing financial incentives for weight loss increased the average number of pounds lost during the period of observation. However, once the study ended, so did the behavior change.

Behavior scientist who study habit formation say that many of us try to create healthy habits the wrong way. We make bold resolutions to start exercising or lose weight, for example, without taking the steps needed to set ourselves up for success.

Wendy Wood, the author of Good Habits, Bad Habits says,  “Habits are a learning mechanism. All we have to do is repeat something and get rewarded for it, and we’re learning a habit. In research that I’ve done, we find that about 43 percent of what people do every day is repeated in the same context, usually while they are thinking about something else. They’re automatically responding without really making decisions. And that’s what a habit is. A habit is a sort of a mental shortcut to repeat what we did in the past that worked for us and got us some reward.”

Wendy Wood and David T. Neal wrote an article for Behavioral Science & Policy.  Their research suggests that because people often struggle to delay gratification, a common explanation for when you just cannot make a new habit stick is that individuals lack the willpower to adopt healthy behaviors. However, the researchers found a striking pattern in efforts to change tobacco smoking behaviors that breaks this trend: The most effective interventions changed people’s habits instead of requiring constant impulse control. That is, when a behavioral modification affected a person’s involuntary activity, the new behavior was more likely to stick than when an individual vigilantly attempted to form a new habit.

The researchers suggested that changing health behavior through people’s habits takes on two forms: creating new habits and breaking old ones.

When creating new habits, the process must include:

  • Repetition
  • Context Cues
  • Random Rewards.

Although there are not many interventions that incorporate all three parts, the researchers cited an example of a weight loss program where participants developed new routines, made changes to their environments to trigger new behaviors, and delivered immediate rewards for positive weight loss behaviors. This intervention showed persistent effects well after the treatment period. On average, the group with the habit-change treatment lost about five additional pounds three months after the treatment period, while the control group gained back about five pounds.

When breaking old habits, the researchers outlined critical steps, including:

  • Cue Disruption
  • A change of environment
  • Cautious Monitoring.

For example, one study found that thirty-six percent of people who successfully changed a health behavior also moved to a new location. Furthermore, an intervention that provided free public transit to people who typically commuted by car only worked when the person had either changed the location of their workplace or home within the past three months. This suggests that environmental cues have a powerful influence on habits.

In Wood’s research, she discovered that many people actually confuse habit and self-control. The majority of people in her surveys say that in order to start a new habit you have to exert self-control, but she discovered that’s just not true. The issue with self-control is that we all know people who are just more successful at almost everything they do, and psychologists have developed scales to identify these people by measuring how much self-control they have.

The people who score high on these scales tend to weigh less than the rest of us. They are more likely to have saved enough money for retirement. They have happier relationships, they’re more productive at work, they get better grades at school. These are all things that are associated with what we think of as self-control. But recent research by Angela Duckworth and colleagues at Behavioral & Science Policy Association has shown a fascinating contradiction: people who score high on self-control don’t achieve successes in life by exerting control. They are not practicing self-denial by white-knuckling through life. Instead, they know how to form habits that meet their goals.

Here are some tips – backed by research – for forming new healthy habits:

  • Stack Your Habits The best way to form a new habit is to tie it to an existing habit. Think about something you do every day and build from there. For example, with your morning cup of tea, start a one-minute meditation practice. Or, while you are brushing your teeth, you could do squats or stand on one foot to practice your balance. Do you flop on the couch after work and turn on the TV? That might be a good time to do a single daily yoga pose.
  • Start Small B.J.Fogg, a Stanford University researcher and author of the book “Tiny Habits” notes that big behavior changes require a high level of motivation that cannot be sustained. Make the new habit as easy as possible. Taking a daily short walk could be the beginning of an exercise habit. Or, putting an apple in your lunch every day could lead to better eating habits.
  • Do It Every Day You are more likely to stick with an exercise habit if you do some small exercise every day. Try jumping jacks, a yoga pose, a brisk walk. This is going to stick better than trying to get to the gym three times a week. Once the daily exercise is a habit, you can explore new, more intense forms of exercise.
  • Make It Easy Habit researchers know we are more likely to form new habits when we clear away the obstacles that stand in our way. Packing a gym bag and leaving it by the door can help motivate you. Or, chose an exercise that doesn’t require you to leave the house, like sit ups.
  • Reward Yourself Rewards are an important part of habit formation. Because weight loss or the physical changes from exercise sometimes take a while to show up, it helps to build in some immediate rewards to help you form the habit. Listening to audiobooks while running or watching a favorite show on the treadmill can help reinforce an exercise habit. Or, plan to exercise with a friend and look forward to catching up.

Adzuki Beans

These small beans are native to East Asia and the Himalayan region and are more common in Japan, China, Korea, and other Asian nations than in the US. The name adzuki comes from the Japanese language, although the pronunciation often sounds like “azuki”. These beans are primarily red in color, but white, black, and mottled beans can be found. The scientific name of the beans is Vigna angularis, and they grow annually.

These beans are primarily used for sweetened dishes in Asian nations, such as in the preparation of natto in Japan. The adzuki bean is  even used to make ice cream. Most people think of beans as savory, but adzuki beans are meant to be sweet.

Like most beans, adzuki beans are loaded with fiber, protein, complex carbs and beneficial plant compounds.

A 3.5-ounce portion contains:

  • Calories: 128
  • Protein: 7.5 grams
  • Fat: Less than 1 gram
  • Carbs: 25 grams
  • Fiber: 7.3 grams
  • Folate: 30% of the daily value (DV)
  • Manganese: 29% of the DV
  • Phosphorus: 17% of the DV
  • Potassium: 15% of the DV
  • Copper: 15% of the DV
  • Magnesium: 13% of the DV
  • Zinc: 12% of the DV
  • Iron: 11% of the DV
  • Thiamin: 8% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 5%
  • Riboflavin: 4% of the DV
  • Niacin: 4% of the DV
  • Pantothenic acid: 4% of the DV
  • Selenium: 2% of the DV

Adzuki beans also provide good amounts of antioxidants, which are beneficial plant compounds that can protect your body against aging and diseases. Studies show that adzuki beans may contain up to 29 different types of antioxidants, making them one of the most antioxidant-rich foods available.

However, like all beans, adzuki beans also harbor anti-nutrients, which reduce your body’s ability to absorb minerals from the beans.  Soaking, sprouting and fermenting the beans prior to eating them are three good ways to reduce antinutrient levels and make the beans easier to digest.

Adzuki beans may improve your digestion and gut health. They are particularly rich in soluble fiber and resistant starch. These fibers pass through your gut undigested until they reach the colon, where they serve as food for your good gut bacteria. When friendly bacteria feed on the fibers, they create short-chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, which studies link to a healthier gut and a reduced risk of colon cancer. Animal studies suggest that the high antioxidant content of the beans may reduce gut inflammation, further boosting digestion

Adzuki beans may also contribute to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. This is due in part because they are rich in fiber, which helps improve insulin sensitivity and reduce blood sugar spikes after meals.

Test-tube and animal studies report that protein found in adzuki beans may block the action of intestinal alpha-glucosidases. Alpha-glucosidases are an enzyme needed to break down complex carbs into smaller, more easily absorbable sugars. Therefore, blocking their action may reduce blood sugar spikes like some diabetes medications. Adzuki beans are also rich in antioxidants, which experts believe may have some anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetes effects.

Some evidence suggests that compounds found in adzuki beans may increase the expression of genes which decrease hunger and increase feelings of fullness. Adzuki beans are rich in protein and fiber, two nutrients shown to reduce hunger and increase fullness, potentially leading to weight loss. In one six-week study, participants who consumed at least a 1/2 cup of legumes per day lost 6.4 additional pounds compared to those eating no legumes.

Test-tube and animal studies link adzuki bean extracts to lower blood pressure, as well as lower triglyceride, total and LDL cholesterol levels and less fat accumulation in the liver. Human studies also consistently associate the regular consumption of legumes with lower cholesterol levels and a reduced risk of heart disease. In one small study, women given adzuki bean juice for one menstrual cycle reduced their blood triglycerides by 15.4–17.9%, compared to increased levels in the control group. Randomized controlled studies report that diets rich in beans may lower risk factors for heart disease, including blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides.

Adzuki beans may offer some additional benefits. The most well-researched include:

  • May help reduce birth defects: Adzuki beans are rich in folate, a nutrient important during pregnancy and linked to a reduced risk of neural tube defects.
  • May fight cancer cells: Test-tube studies indicate that adzuki beans may be more effective than other beans at preventing the spread of cancer cells in the gut, breast, ovaries and bone marrow.
  • May help you live longer: Beans are naturally low in the amino acid methionine. Diets low in methionine may be linked to an increased lifespan.
  • May strengthen your bones: Frequent bean intake may help strengthen bones and reduce the risk of hip fractures.

How to Buy

Buy adzuki beans in bulk or in cans. Look for beans canned without salt.

How to Store

Store dried adzuki beans in an airtight container or jar. Cooked adzuki beans can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days or in the freezer for up to six months.

How to Cook

One popular preparation for adzuki beans is to boil the beans with sugar and mash them into a sweet red paste. This paste is used as a filling in several savory dishes and Asian desserts.

I make a soup with adzuki beans and lentils in a savory preparation.

Adzuki beans can also be ground into a flour and used to bake a variety of goods. Moreover, they make a nice addition to soups, salads, chilis and rice dishes.

Natto is another food made from adzuki beans. This popular Japanese fermented bean dish is usually made from fermented soybeans, but some people enjoy the milder flavor of fermented adzuki beans instead.

A simple adzuki bean preparation:

  • 4 cups of dried adzuki beans
  • 8 cups of water

Instructions:

  • To cook adzuki beans, first, sort the beans to remove any bad ones.
  • Place the beans in a strainer and rinse underwater.
  • Once washed, place them in a large pot and cover with enough water so they have room to expand.
  • Refrigerate the pot and let the beans soak for a minimum of 8 hours, if not a full day. You can also boil the beans for 2-3 minutes and let them sit for a few hours. This way, the sugars that cause digestive distress are reduced.
  • Drain the beans, and refill the pot with three parts of water for one part beans.
  • Boil and then lower the heat to let simmer.
  • Check on the beans after 45 minutes by sinking a fork into one bean. If the bean can be cut easily, the batch is done. If not, continue to cook until it becomes tender.
  • Turn off the heat when done, and drain the water. The beans are now ready to be added to any dish of your choice.
Simple adzuki bean recipes include seasoning the prepared beans with sea salt, pepper, garlic powder and chili powder along with chopped cherry tomatoes, and mashed sweet potato. You can also consume adzuki beans as sprouts. They can be easily sprouted at home as you would other beans like mung and soy.

Caribbean Adzuki Bean Stew

The Essential Ayurvedic Cookbook/ Lois Leonhardi

3 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 3 tbs avocado or algae or sunflower oil
  • 1/2 cup minced onion
  • 2 tbs minced fresh ginger
  • 1 cup cubed peeled sweet potato, squash or pumpkin (1⁄2-inch cubes)
  • 1/4 tsp Himalayan salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbs light (fancy) molasses or coconut sugar
  • 1 can (14 to 19 oz) adzuki beans, drained and rinsed
  • 3/4 cup frozen corn
  • 2 tbs fresh chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbs freshly squeezed lime juice

Instructions

  1. In a small bowl, combine allspice, cinnamon, cumin, thyme, nutmeg and cayenne.
  2. In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and ginger; cook, stirring, for 3 to 5 minutes or until onion is soft and translucent. Add spice mixture and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
  3. Stir in yam, salt, black pepper, water and molasses; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or until yams are tender and sauce is thickened. Stir in beans and simmer for 1 minute.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in corn. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes or until corn is tender. Stir in cilantro and lime juice.

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