Monthly Archives: March 2016

Quick and Easy Healthy Oat Bites (gluten free and vegan).  

 This recipe is perfect for when you want a quick and healthy treat but don’t have much time.  All you need is one mixing bowl (no sink full of dishes!), 1 mini muffin pan and less than 20 mins.  I used buckwheat flour in this recipe because it’s gluten free and nutritious (buckwheat is one of the few vegetarian sources of complete protein), but feel free to substitute a different flour.  

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted 
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 1/4 cup raisins (optional)

Directions: 

1.  Preheat oven to 350*F.  Grease a mini muffin pan and set aside.

2.  In a large bowl, mash the bananas.  Stir in the maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla, and cinnamon.  Add oats and buckwheat flour and combine well.  Stir in raisins.  

3.  Spoon batter into the pre-greased mini muffin tin.  Bake for 10-12 mins until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Remove from pan and let cool.  Makes 24-30 bites, depending on how large you make them.  Enjoy!

Maple Syrup: My Favourite Natural Sweetener 

  Let’s make this very clear:  When I say that maple syrup is my favourite natural sweetener, I mean REAL maple syrup, the kind that comes from a maple tree.  NOT the fake stuff made of high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavours and colours that so many people drown their pancakes in.

Sorry to burst your bubble, but Aunt Jemima duped us all.  Don’t believe me? Read the label.  Real maple syrup should have  only one ingredient: maple syrup.  I stopped using fake syrup a few years ago when I realized there was no actual maple syrup in it.  

If you are still using the fake version, stop poisoning yourself and/or your kids and buy the real stuff.  Yes, it’s definitely more expensive, but it’s worth it.  Read the label when you shop to make sure that you’re getting pure maple syrup.  There are plenty of brands that advertise “natural” or “no high fructose corn syrup” on the front yet the ingredient list on the back is still appalling.  

Why do I like maple syrup so much? 

Well, aside from the great flavour and aroma, real maple syrup contains a moderately high level of antioxidants and has potential cancer-fighting properties.  It’s high in zinc and manganese and contains many other nutrients in addition to the numerous polyphenols that give it anti-inflammatory power.  It has more minerals and less sugar than honey yet doesn’t lose its health benefits when heated the way that honey does, which makes it the better choice for baking and cooking.  Also, maple syrup has a lower glycemic index than table sugar, so it won’t make your blood sugar spike the way regular sugar does.  

When choosing maple syrup, the darker the better.  Syrup that is harvested from the trees later in the season has a darker colour, and also has higher levels of minerals (except for zinc) and antioxidants.  

A word of caution: although maple syrup is healthier than plain sugar, it still contains sugar so consume it in moderation.  The fact that it has healthy components doesn’t mean you can drink it by the glass.  Eating too much sugar is linked to a myriad of health problems so you should always limit the amount of sugar in your diet to as little as possible.  But if you’re going to use sugar anyway, maple syrup is a much healthier substitute.   

References:

1.  Amritpal S. Singh, A. Maxwell P. Jones, Praveen K. Saxena.  “Variation and Correlation of Properties in Different Grades ofMaple  Syrup”.  Plant Foods for Human Nutrition.  March 2014, Volume 69, Issue 1, pp 50-56

2.  Yan Zhang, Tao Yuan, Liya Li, Pragati Nahar, Angela Slitt, and Navindra P. Seeram.  “Chemical Compositional, Biological, and Safety Studies of a Novel Maple Syrup Derived Extract for Nutraceutical Applications”.  J Agric Food Chem. 2014 Jul 16; 62(28): 6687–6698. Published online 2014 Jul 1. doi: 10.1021/jf501924y

Raw Energy Balls (Vegan and gluten free)

  Although I try to eat nuts and seeds on a daily basis, they can get kinda boring which makes it hard to stay consistent.  That’s why I created these healthy raw energy balls; they can be eaten for breakfast or as a mid-day snack when you’re tempted to eat junk food.  To make this recipe even more healthy, you can soak the nuts and pumpkin seeds overnight and then rinse them to remove most of the phytates (phytates in nuts and seeds bind to certain nutrients which prevents your body from absorbing them).  Make sure they are completely dry again before using (wet seeds and nuts will not blend properly and will taste different as well).  Although I stay away from making chocolate goodies due to my husband and daughter’s GERD, you can also add raw cacao powder to satisfy your chocolate cravings.  

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup almonds*
  • 1 cup walnuts*
  • 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds*
  • 4 tbsp ground chia seeds
  • 1/8 tsp of salt
  • 1 1/2 cups pitted medjool dates
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp raw cacao powder (optional)

*preferably soaked for 8 hours or overnight, and then rinsed and dried before processing.  Soaking is not a required step.  


Directions:

1.  Place the nuts and seeds in your food processor and blend until they form a coarse flour.  

 
2.  Add the remaining ingredients and blend until a dough-like texture is formed.   

 
3.  Form the dough into 20-25 balls using your hands.  Keep refrigerated. 

 

Roasted Red Pepper Spaghetti (Vegetarian Recipe)

  

Over the last year I’ve done a lot of experimenting to find healthy yet delicious alternatives to tomato-based pasta sauces.  My daughter has GERD so tomatoes are a no-no for her.  It has definitely been challenging trying to create a red sauce that looks like tomato sauce yet contains no actual tomatoes; but this one is a winner with not only my daughter but also my picky husband.  I like to add lentils for added protein, iron, and fibre, but they are not everybody’s cup of tea.  If you’ve never had them in your pasta before, try adding some to just a portion of the pasta so you can do a taste test before adding them to the whole pot.  

Ingredients:

2 cups chopped mushrooms

3 roasted red peppers

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 onion, diced

1 cup fresh chopped parsley, loosely packed

1 cup vegetable broth

1 cup grated cheddar cheese (optional, vegans can omit or substitute nutritional yeast)

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp black pepper 

340g package of spaghetti, cooked and drained

1 1/2 cups cooked lentils (optional for added protein, iron, and fibre)

Directions:

1.  In a large pot, heat the olive oil on medium heat, add the mushrooms and sauté for 5-10 mins until tender. 

2.  Meanwhile, place the roasted red peppers, garlic, onion, and parsley in a food processor and purée. 

 3.  Add the purée to the mushrooms.  Add the broth, salt, pepper, and oregano.  Stir to combine. 

 4.  Simmer on medium-low heat for 10-15 mins until the sauce thickens.  Remove from heat, add cheese and stir until melted.

 
5.  Add cooked pasta to pot and stir to combine.  If you are adding lentils, they can be added now.  Feel free to add greens or any other veggies you like!

The Effect Of Chronic Stress On Digestion

   
What happens when you feel stressed out about something? Your sympathetic nervous system, aka the “flight or fight” response, is activated.  That means your heart rate goes up, your breathing gets heavier, adrenaline starts pumping through your bloodstream and your body diverts resources away from your digestive system while sending more resources to your brain, heart and muscles.  

Because if you’re under attack, immediate survival trumps digestion.  You need to be able to think clearly, act quickly, and either run or fight. 

But you are likely to never actually be threatened by a predator.  Because humans no longer live among wild animals. Unfortunately, your nervous system didn’t get the memo.  It still functions the same way it did back when humans were rubbing sticks together to create fire.  

We rarely face physical threats in our daily lives (at least not in first-world countries).  Nowadays we deal with more mental and emotional “threats”.  But to our nervous system, they’re both the same.  

While increased adrenaline may help us run away from an attacker, it doesn’t do much to help us with more likely stress-inducing scenarios.  Like being stuck in traffic.  Or writing a test.  Or trying to meet the next deadline at work.  Or tolerating the 10th meltdown of the day from your toddler.  You cannot run away from these “threats” nor can you punch them in the face. 

 The flight or fight response was meant to enhance our performance to deal with short term physical threats, not prolonged emotional stressors.  This is why chronic stress makes us burn out.  When your digestive system is getting short-changed constantly due to stress, it cannot do its job properly.  It cannot extract and absorb the all the nutrients your body needs to function optimally.

Which eventually leads to much bigger health problems.   You could eat the healthiest diet in the world, but if you’re too stressed out to digest it properly, it won’t keep you healthy. 

Prolonged stress can cause gastrointestinal discomfort as well as increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome)1.  So not only does chronic stress make it difficult for you to get all the nutrients from your food, it also causes your gut to absorb unwanted molecules that it would normally block from entering your bloodstream. 

So what can you do to help your digestion when you’re feeling stressed?  

1. Breathe.  Make a conscious effort to breathe slowly to calm your nerves and activate your parasympathetic nervous system which counteracts your sympathetic nervous system.  It helps you calm down and sends blood back to your digestive system so that it can function efficiently.  Do some breathing exercises just before eating, as well as afterwards. 

2.  Practice “mindful eating”.  Focus on chewing your food thoroughly, and take time to relax after eating.  Your body needs time to digest the food you just ate.  If you regularly eat on the go, scarf down your food, and take little to no time to relax after meals, then you are not getting the most out of your food.  This is definitely challenging in today’s society where 30 min lunch breaks are the norm.  But it can be done if you carefully plan out your day.  If you don’t have time to sit and relax after you eat, try to schedule the least stressful tasks on your to-do list for just after mealtimes.   Consume your biggest meal of the day when you have plenty of time to not only eat but also have some down time afterwards to allow for optimum digestion. If you are hungry and have no choice but to eat on the go, eat a small snack to tide you over and save full meals for when you have more time.  

2.  Don’t eat when you’re angry.  And don’t eat with people who tick you off.  Anger triggers your sympathetic nervous system the same way fear does.  Either eat by yourself or eat with people who make you happy. 

3.  Listen to relaxing music while you eat.  This has been proven to activate your parasympathetic nervous system1.

References

1. LABBÉ, E; et al. Coping with Stress: The Effectiveness of Different Types of Music. Applied Psychophysiology. Biofeedback. 32, 3/4, 163-168, Dec. 2007. ISSN: 10900586.

2. LI, X; et al. Combat-training increases intestinal permeability, immune activation and gastrointestinal symptoms in soldiers. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics. 37, 8, 799-809, Apr. 15, 2013. ISSN: 02692813.

Healthy Apple Pie Recipe (gluten free, grain free, and vegan)

 
I haven’t been to a McDonald’s restaurant in ages but the one thing I miss is, believe it or not, their apple pies.  What I don’t miss is the sick feeling I would get afterwards due to who-knows-what ingredients they add to make it so artificially tasty and addictive.  So I decided to make a healthy version.  A healthy, gluten free, vegan version that I could enjoy with no guilt or sick feeling afterwards.  Not only can you have this for dessert, but you can also enjoy it for breakfast as well since it is basically nuts and apples combined into a delicious pie.  

Ingredients

For the filling:

  • 10 medium apples
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice 
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt 
  • 3 tbsp arrowroot powder

For the Crust: 

  • 1 cup almond flour 
  • 1 cup unsalted cashews
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • Water


Directions
:

1. Grease a 9 inch pie dish and set aside.

2.  Peel and thinly slice the apples.  Stir in lemon juice, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt until well combined.  Remove 1 cup of seasoned apples and set aside.   

 3.  Cook the rest of the apples in a pot on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until apples are fork-tender (about 10-15 mins).  Remove from heat and add arrowroot powder.  Stir until well combined. Set aside.  

4. Place the cashews in a food processor and process until powder-like.  Add the almond flour and salt and process until combined.  Add the coconut oil and combine.  Add a teaspoon of water at a time and pulse until a dough ball forms. 

 
5.  Press the dough into the greased pie dish with your hands until flattened out and even.

 
6.  Pour in cooked apples. 

 
7.  Arrange the remaining cup of uncooked apples on top of the pie as shown below (or however you like). 

 8.  Bake at 400*F for 35-45 mins, until crust is golden.  

Now even though this is a healthy pie, try not to eat it all in one sitting. The nut base adds a good dose of healthy fats so enjoy in moderation!

Junk Food Police: Why I don’t allow my child to eat what all the other kids are eating 98% of the time.  

    

 
I can’t count how many times someone has told me that kids shouldn’t be deprived of junk food or that “all the other kids eat it”.  If all the other parents were letting their kids jump off a bridge, would you let yours? 
I didn’t think so.  

So why on earth would you feed them junk that not only provides little to no nutrition but also contains toxins that could harm them in the long run?  So they can “fit in” or “be a kid”?  Playing and having fun is a normal part of childhood.  Consuming food and beverages that sets kids up for a lifetime of health issues should NOT be a normal part of childhood. 

But unfortunately it is.  Because we made it so.  

I too, end up allowing my child to eat junk occasionally (and by occasionally I mean at birthday parties or other events).  I too, see the sad puppy dog look on her face when she wants to eat what everybody else is eating at a social gathering, and give in to spare her the feeling of being left out.  Sometimes this even means giving her small wheat or chocolate-based goodies, both of which cause her varying degrees of gastrointestinal trouble.  I understand that she needs to be healthy not only physically but emotionally as well, and fitting in or feeling “normal” in social settings is important, within certain boundaries.   While I want her to learn to think for herself and not do what everybody else is doing, I also don’t want her to feel like the oddball at every single party.  I too, struggle with balancing all of her needs.  And in the modern world that sadly means feeding her the occasional toxin.

But what I don’t do is make junk food available at home.  Because if everyone is eating healthy at home, there is no opportunity for her to feel left out.  There is no sad puppy dog look, no guilt, no feeling of being the oddball.  And home is where she is going to eat most of her meals and snacks.  I know that if I lead by example, she is more likely to make healthy choices on her own outside of our home when I am not there to make those decisions for her.  I also make healthy homemade baked goods so that she can still enjoy treats without the excessive sugar, preservatives, food colouring and other additives.  Do the processed, toxin-filled, store bought versions taste a little better? Of course.  But if I keep my child away from the processed stuff, her taste buds will develop normally; and real, wholesome food will continue to taste good to her as she grows older, if not better. 

The more exposure kids have to processed junk, the more desensitized to regular food they become until real food is simply not enjoyable anymore.  I wish more parents understood this.  
I think most parents believe they are depriving their kids if they don’t give them junk food and candy because they themselves feel deprived if they don’t eat those things.  We project our own feelings on to our kids.  We think our kids will feel the same joy and pleasure as we do, but they don’t get the same feelings of nostalgia when eating a Twinkie or Oreo.  At least not yet.  If you choose to make these things a part of your kids’ childhood then they too will grow up to have an emotional connection to unhealthy food.  

There is also the theory that kids (and adults) who are deprived of junk food and candy will “binge” when tempted, but if it is made available regularly it will lose its allure; therefore kids will learn to eat those items in moderation.  And moderation is better than bingeing.  

I am living proof that this theory is hogwash.  

Growing up, I had an ample supply of junk food and candy available 24/7.  Did I learn to eat things in moderation? Nope.  Did junk food become less alluring? Ha!

For example, I would regularly consume 7-8 chocolate chip cookies, 2-3 packets of “Gushers” fruit snacks, and a large handful of candy in one sitting as a bedtime snack.  And that would be the same day that I ate a couple of Pizza Pops followed by half a container of Pringles chips earlier as an after-school snack.  Not to mention all the Pepsi, Popsicles, and slurpees that I regularly consumed.

 I wish I was exaggerating but unfortunately for my future health, I’m not.  

My mother always prepared a fresh, balanced and healthy dinner every night; but because my taste buds were so badly tainted by the junk, I would eat a small dinner and just follow it with a large unhealthy snack later.  Despite having access to BOTH healthy food and junk food in my home, I did not learn to balance both.  Miraculously I never struggled with my weight, which is probably why I continued eating so much junk for so long.  

 Now that I’m eating healthy every day I still cave and “binge”once in awhile when I’m exposed to junk food and candy, but my idea of a “binge” from then and now has changed drastically.  I still use the word binge, but you can’t really call 2-3 small Halloween-sized candies a binge.  

Yup, my occasional weak moment now equates to less than ONE full-size chocolate bar or a couple of small cookies. 

 I was at a baby shower recently and all I chose from the impressive dessert table was ONE cupcake as a treat.  Anyone who knew me 5 years ago would have expected me to eat everything on the table and then go back for seconds.  I wasn’t restricting myself, I honestly didn’t want anything more than that.  

Despite not buying any type of soda pop for the last 4 years, I have no desire to drink it when I have access to it outside of my home.  I simply lost the taste for it.  

By “depriving” myself of junk food, I am slowly but surely losing the desire to consume it.  There are many foods that I used to love that no longer taste palatable.  When I eat them now, the strong, processed taste actually makes me feel sick.  (I still can’t say this for chocolate unfortunately).   There are many processed foods that I no longer consume or even want to consume, but I didn’t quit them all at once. I gave up one thing at a time as my knowledge of toxic substances in our food grew.  

Kids will only crave junk food and sweets if you allow them the opportunity to become addicted to them.  Because that’s essentially what cravings are, a strong desire to consume something that your body either needs or is addicted to.  You don’t need processed food, you are simply addicted to it.  Do you want your kids to be addicted too?