Monthly Archives: April 2016

Butternut Squash Pasta Recipe


I love butternut squash.  It’s creamy, slightly sweet, and makes a perfect dairy-free and tomato-free base for pasta sauce.  I’ve been making this recipe from Oh She Glows for over a year now, but I wanted to adapt it to come up with something simpler yet still delicious.  I would probably enjoy puréed butternut squash on its own as a pasta sauce but I added a few more ingredients to give it more flavour.  And some greens because I couldn’t let butternut squash be the lone vegetable in this dish.  However, if you have picky eaters at home who will not eat the greens, feel free to omit them.  

Yield: approximately 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 340g package penne pasta 
  • 1 medium-large butternut squash 
  • 5 cups chopped spinach or kale
  • 2 tbsp grass fed butter (or vegan alternative such as earth’s balance)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp sea salt 
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions:

1.  Preheat oven to 425*F.  Slice off the stem of the butternut squash as well as the opposite end and then cut in half lengthwise.  Scoop out seeds and place the 2 halves flesh side down in a casserole dish with an inch of water.  Place in oven for 30-40 mins until the skin starts to brown and wrinkle slightly.  

2.  Cook pasta according to package directions, then drain and set aside.  Tip: adding a little oil to the cooking water and then rinsing the cooked pasta immediately in a colander with cold water will keep it from getting mushy and sticking together.  

3.  Scoop out the butternut squash flesh, place in a blender and purée.  Set aside.

4.  Heat butter in the same pot you cooked the pasta in.  Add crushed garlic and sauté for 2-3 mins.  Add chopped spinach or kale and cook for 4-5 mins.  Stir in 2 cups of butternut squash purée, mustard powder, paprika, salt, and pepper.  Stir well, and cook for about 5 more mins to thicken the sauce.  

5.  Pour over pasta and top with grated Parmesan cheese if you like.  

Note: if you get more than 2 cups of butternut squash purée, you can refrigerate or freeze the extra for later. 

Epigenetics 102: Prenatal Nutrition and Disease Prevention

I cringe when I hear the phrase “eating for 2”.  Pregnancy is not a license to eat all of your guilty-pleasure foods as often as you want.  Pregnancy is a time when you should be extra cautious of what you put in (and on) your body.  You really only need an extra 300 calories in the second trimester and 500 calories in the third trimester, with no extra calories in the first trimester.  Instead of focusing on doubling the amount of food you eat, you should be focusing on getting the most nutrient-dense foods possible.  Doubling up on empty calories will only harm your baby.  Because what a woman is exposed to during pregnancy through her diet and environment can prevent or cause disease in her child later in life.  

How? 

By changing the baby’s epigenome.  Genes cannot be changed, but they can be turned on or off by your epigenome.  Each cell in your body has the same genes, but not all of those genes are active in every cell.  The cells in your eyes have no use for digestive enzymes (and would probably be harmed by them) so the genes that code for them are turned off in all of the cells in your eyes.  Similarly, the genes that code for photoreceptors are only needed in your eyes and are thus turned off in all other cells of your body.  How do your cells know which genes to turn on or off? That’s where your epigenome comes in.  While your genome is your complete set of DNA, your epigenome is all of the chemical compounds that control your genes.  By binding to or detaching from genes they can activate or deactivate them.  

Some genes are only active during specific periods of fetal development.  Take for example the genes that code for eye development.  These genes, and others, are active only during specific stages of fetal development, and then remain inactive for the rest of your life.  Chemical compounds turn these genes off once they have served their function to prevent you from growing a third eye.  And those genes are deactivated in the rest of your body cells right from the beginning to ensure that you don’t end up with eyes in the back of your head…or on your arms…or feet…you get the picture.  

So that is how your feet become feet and your heart becomes a heart and so on.  Because your epigenome controls which genes are turned on or off in which body part.  This is called differentiation.  Without our epigenome, we’d all be undifferentiated aliens that are not only hideous to look at but unable to function in the world.  Or even survive for that matter.  

The epigenome of a fetus or young baby can be altered by environmental chemicals in a way that increases disease susceptibility even in adulthood.   This explains why seemingly healthy people can still end up having a heart attack or getting cancer.  It was most likely programmed into their epigenome before or shortly after birth.  This doesn’t mean that eating healthy, exercising, and avoiding toxic chemicals is pointless.  An unhealthy lifestyle will only speed up disease progression and make recovery that much more difficult.  More importantly, unlike genetic changes or mutations, epigenetic alterations are reversible.  Research is showing that it is possible to make beneficial epigenetics alterations through diet and lifestyle.  So you are not doomed if you didn’t get the best nutrition in the womb or during infancy; there is still hope of changing your fate.  

Maternal stress as well as early life experiences have been linked to epigenetics changes in babies that can increase susceptibility to mental health disorders later in life.  That doesn’t mean that if you had a highly stressful pregnancy your child is doomed to become depressed or schizophrenic in adulthood.  It just means that you need to be extra mindful of providing a warm and loving environment for your child to grow up in while avoiding exposure to toxins through food and environment.  Remember, epigenetics changes are reversible.  

One of the most hopeful areas of research regarding the epigenome is the field of nutritional epigenetics.  There is potential for chemopreventive agents such as phytochemicals in food to prevent genetic diseases when administered prenatally or during early infancy by influencing the epigenome.  There is hope that even for babies who are genetically predisposed to disease, the right prenatal nutrition can alter their epigenome in a way that keeps those disease-causing genes inactive from infancy all the way through adulthood.  So perhaps the prenatal vitamins of the future will create a generation of super-babies who are immune to disease.  

My journey to a healthier, clean lifestyle started when I was pregnant with my daughter. There is no greater motivation than the daunting reality that your diet and lifestyle choices are directly responsible for the lifelong health of your precious baby.  For any of you that are pregnant or breastfeeding, please understand the importance of what you eat/drink and expose yourself to through personal care products, cleaning products, and your environment. You can either set your child up for a lifetime of good health or a lifetime of health struggles.  Your child does not have a choice, but you do.  Pregnancy is not a license to eat anything and everything.  Make healthy choices now and your child will reap the benefits for a lifetime.  

References

Kaur, P., Shorey, L. E., Ho, E., Dashwood, R. H., & Williams, D. E. (2013). The epigenome as a potential mediator of cancer and disease prevention in prenatal development. Nutrition Reviews, 71(7), 441-457. doi:10.1111/nure.12030

Sasaki, A., Vega, W. d., & McGowan, P. O. (2013). Biological embedding in mental health: An epigenomic perspective1. Biochemistry & Cell Biology, 91(1), 14-21. doi:10.1139/bcb-2012-0070

Apple Pie Muffins (gluten free and vegan)

 
I was craving muffins this morning and I happen to have an excessive amount of apples in my fridge right now so I decided to wing a recipe.  Since my daughter scarfed down two of these muffins in record speed I figured the recipe was blog-worthy.  These muffins are healthy, gluten-free, and vegan too! They don’t rise like regular muffins which means they are more dense and filling, making them great for a quick grab-and-go breakfast. 

Yield: 12 muffins

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups oats
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp cloves 
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 apples, peeled and grated
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 chia egg* (or regular egg)
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • *to make a chia egg, combine 1 tbsp ground chia with 3 tbsp water and let sit 5 mins

Directions:

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

2.  In a large mixing bowl combine all of the dry ingredients and stir well.  Add in the rest of the ingredients and combine well.

3.  Fill pre-greased muffin pan.  Bake in oven for 28-35 mins, until edges are brown and toothpick inserted in centre comes out clean.  Let sit in pan for 5-10 mins before removing.  

Khichadi Recipe (Healthy Indian Comfort Food)

  
Most of you have probably never heard of khichadi.  It’s basically an Indian comfort food made with rice and lentils.  Khichadi is traditionally made for someone who’s sick or recovering from surgery or childbirth; it’s healthy and nutritious while also easy to digest.  My mom made it for me frequently after I gave birth to my daughter and I now make it regularly using sprouted rice and lentils.  I know I sound like a broken record but sprouted grains and legumes are better for you since the sprouting process makes them easier to digest while increasing nutrient bioavailability. So always choose sprouted when possible (Costco sells large bags of both sprouted brown rice and sprouted lentils).  

Yield: 3-4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp oil or ghee
  • 1 1/2-2″ piece of ginger root
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cumin or whole cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 1 cup lentils of choice (I use a mixture of green, brown, and black)
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 5 cups water
  • Garnish: Handful of chopped cilantro (optional)

Directions:

1.  Wash rice and lentils and set aside.

2.  Chop up the ginger and garlic and throw it into a small blender or food processor (a bullet works great for small quantities like this).  Add just enough water to blend into a thick paste.

3.  Heat oil or ghee in a large saucepan or small pot on medium heat.  Add garlic-ginger paste and cook until it has thickened, about 5-7 mins.  Add cumin, turmeric, masala, and salt.  Cook for 1-2 mins more.  

4.  Add rice and lentils and toast for 2-3 mins, stirring constantly to keep them from sticking to the bottom.  Add water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 35-45mins until the rice and lentils have softened and absorbed all of the water (the texture will be mushy, not like traditional rice). If you prefer a thicker or thinner consistency you can adjust the water content.  

5.  Garnish with fresh cilantro (optional)

Eat Everything In Moderation: Truth, or Excuse? 

  

One of the most frustrating arguments that I hear from friends and family whom I try to persuade to eat healthier is that “everything in moderation is perfectly fine”.  But is it? 

The first problem with this reasoning is that everyone’s definition of moderation is different.  Eating a doughnut on Monday, a drive-through burger and fries on Tuesday, greasy pizza on Wednesday, a full size chocolate bar on Thursday, and fried chicken on Friday is NOT moderation. Eating a pastry with sugary, cream-topped coffee at breakfast plus a bag of chips in the afternoon and a few unhealthy cookies after dinner all in one day is DEFINITELY NOT moderation (I actually know a few people who argue that it is, you know who you are 😉). Eating healthy meals every day drowned in unhealthy sauces (ketchup is NOT healthy!) is also not moderation.  

Yet so many people don’t realize that what they think is moderation actually isn’t when they tally up all of the different foods that they claim to eat only occasionally.  One common mistake that I see people make is to look at each type of junk food they eat individually instead of looking at all the junk food they eat in a day or week collectively.  Sure, one doughnut a week is moderation, as is one bag of chips or one chocolate bar or one pizza etc.; but when you add all of these things up its simply too much.  

The second problem is that a lot of what you hear and read is promoted by companies who stand to lose a lot of money if everybody were to eat healthy.  Just like the tobacco industry had doctors and researchers on its payroll for decades to convince people that smoking didn’t cause lung cancer, the junk food industry has people out there promoting the idea that a little junk food isn’t all that bad.  And just like smokers who couldn’t fathom the thought of quitting supported and perpetuated the tobacco industry’s denials of a link to lung cancer, junk food addicts also support the junk food industry’s motto “everything in moderation is safe”. 

 If this were true, smoking crack in moderation would be safe too.  

Every time a new study comes out confirming the ill-effects of a certain unhealthy food or additive, junk food addicts are quick to argue “well it’s still ok in moderation” 😒.  Just like addicts of any other substance, they will ignore reason and logic and look for any excuse to continue eating the crap that they think they can’t live without.  And taking the moderation angle is the perfect excuse. 

The third problem is that because we are exposed to an increasing amount of harmful stuff that we cannot control (pollution, radiation, etc), we must do everything in our power to avoid exposure to the toxins that are in our control.  And that includes food.  Yes, our bodies can handle a small level of toxic substances without any ill-effects; but when you add the cumulative effect of pollution, stress, radiation, and decreased nutrient content of food, there really isn’t any room left for “moderate” consumption of processed junk food.  Eating mostly healthy food is not a license to eat whatever extra junk you want.  

I dont believe in quitting all processed food cold turkey, as that is likely to be short lived. The transition to a clean diet and lifestyle should be gradual and taken one step at a time.  The best way to start your road to healthy eating is to slowly eliminate unhealthy foods that you know you can live without first, then work your way up to foods that are harder to part with.  Pick a few select “junk foods” that you absolutely love and use those as your occasional (not daily) treats.  For everything else, find a healthy alternative. 

 This may seem difficult but it’s not; a simple Google search will show you that for any type of food you can think of, there is someone out there who has come up with a healthy version of it.  If you love French fries, learn to make your own healthy baked version, or ask for your fries to be baked at restaurants (more and more restaurants are accommodating this request).  If you love sweets, try making a big batch of naturally sweetened baked goods at the beginning of the week that you can eat when you get a craving.  If you can’t survive without coffee every day then cut the sugar and cream and find healthier ways of flavouring it.  If you fall off the healthy eating wagon a few (or several🙄) times, don’t beat yourself up about it and don’t give up.  Just get back into it the next day.  The further you go on your clean eating journey, the less those relapses will happen because you will simply lose the desire to eat or drink things that you once thought you could never give up.  

If you are pregnant or have kids, it is even more important for you to understand that everything is not safe in moderation.  Babies and kids are developing so fast that exposure to toxins can have a negative impact on not only their growth and brain development, but also on their future health (more on that in a future post).  The field of epigenetics is discovering exactly how early exposures to the right or wrong chemicals can have lifelong consequences.  So stop including that mini chocolate bar in your child’s lunchbox every day as a treat for eating their vegetables.  You’re basically just negating the positive effect of the healthy foods that they eat.  

Healthy Oat and Buckwheat Gluten-Free Pancakes

  
I’ve been trying to incorporate buckwheat into my family’s diet more often because it’s one of the few grains that counts as a complete source of protein.  Despite having wheat in its name, it actually contains no wheat or gluten so it’s perfect for anyone on a gluten-free diet.  

Ingredients:

  • 2 very ripe bananas 
  • 1 egg or chia egg*
  • 1 cup milk of choice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract 
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup + more for serving 
  • 1/2 cup buckwheat flour
  • 2/3 cup oat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder 
  • 1 tsp baking soda 
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • Butter or oil, for greasing the pan

*to make a chia egg, mix 1 tbsp chia seeds with 3 tbsp water. Let sit 5-10 mins until a gel forms.

Directions

  1. In a medium mixing bowl, mash the bananas and then whisk in all of the wet ingredients.  Combine well.  
  2. In a separate mixing bowl, combine all dry ingredients.  Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk until well combined.  
  3. Preheat a skillet on medium-low heat.  Brush with either butter or oil and pour 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the batter onto the skillet.  Cook for a few minutes until bubbles form on top, and then flip over and cook a 1-2 mins more.  Makes 6-9 pancakes, depending on size.  Serve with maple syrup and fresh fruit.  Enjoy!

Invest In Your Health: Eat Real Food

   
One of the reasons why people choose processed food over real food is the cost.  Real food costs more, and if you’re comparing organic food the price difference is even greater.  I understand that it’s hard for a lot of families to afford fresh, wholesome food.  But it needs to be at the top of everyone’s priority list.  Your health and your family’s health should come first.  That may mean cutting costs in other departments (housing, clothing, entertainment, etc), but nothing is more important than your health.  The old saying goes “you are what you eat”, NOT “you are what you wear”, or “you are what you live in”, or “you are what you drive”…..

Good quality food made with real ingredients and nothing artificial is worth the investment; your return on that investment will be good health.  That, in my opinion, trumps everything else.