Too good to be true?

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I decided to test drive these paleo, vegan, gluten, and corn syrup free (!) pecan bars by @erinliveswhole before Thanksgiving to see if they’re up to par for the big day. Well, the verdict is in: they’re AWESOME. Besides the fact that the house has the most delicious, autumnal baking aroma, they taste fantastic. And, you don’t have to take my word for it. The most discerning, critical, and cheeky voices in my house gave loud “mmmms” and immediately went in for second, third, and fourth bites. If you’re looking to add a dessert to your Thanksgiving feast that is simple to prepare and suitable for people with dietary restrictions, look no further. These definitely passed the pre-Thanksgiving taste test.

Since these bars are void of ingredients typically found in a regular pecan bars (I’m talking about you, white flour, shortening, and corn syrup), you might be tempted to label them as “healthy.” But, let’s not go nuts. They’ve got a fair bit of sugar (albeit, coconut sugar and maple syrup). But, if you’re in the mood for a Thanksgiving day debate that doesn’t involve politics, here are a few talking points for the nutritional benefits of the star ingredient of this dish—the pecan:

  • Help maintain high energy

  • More than half the daily required amount of manganese (which can aid in weight loss efforts) and high levels of copper (necessary for maintaining a fast metabolism)

  • Prevent oxidative stress (increases antioxidants in the bloodstream in the 24 hours after consumption)

  • Contribute to a healthy heart (thanks again to high levels of antioxidants and aid in reducing blood pressure)

  • Anti-inflammatory properties (particularly for pain and stiffness common in arthritis)

  • May prevent osteoporosis-related bone loss in women (manganese, copper, and zinc)

  • Help improve and maintain brain function (copper impacts brain pathways involving dopamine and galactose; also helps stop free radical damage from occurring in the brain)

  • Can reduce symptoms of PMS

So, there you have it folks: a mouth-watering, lightened up, classic dessert, sure to please a wide variety of eaters.

Ingredients

Crust

Filling

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F and grease an 8×8 inch pan.

  2. In a small bowl, use a spatula to mix together the almond flour, coconut flour, maple syrup, coconut oil, vanilla, and salt until well combined. Press into bottom of pan.

  3. Bake for 15-17 minutes or until slightly golden brown.

  4. Let crust cool completely.

  5. In a saucepan, heat coconut oil, coconut sugar, maple syrup, and vanilla until boiling (about 3-4 minutes), stirring frequently.

  6. Once boiling, constantly stir and let bubble for one minute and then turn off heat (cooking longer will result in burnt sugar!).

  7. Stir in almond milk and pecans.

  8. Pour mixture over cooled crust and bake in oven for 20-22 minutes.

  9. Let cool on counter for 15 minutes and then in the fridge for at least two hours before serving or cutting. 

  10. Store in fridge

New Year's Challenge: Small Changes (Day Five)

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Happy New Year! It’s 2019 (hard to believe) and we’ve come to the final stop on this brief, small changes journey. Sugar. You knew this was coming. After all, this is a challenge. Well, here we go. Sugar is in practically everything, even things it really doesn’t belong in, and is sneaky. It can go by a lot of different names (I’ll do a separate post on that another day). We know that ordinary sugar is addictive and can lead to all sorts of health complications like high blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease and all of these things are linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. So, cutting back on sugar, is a really important step towards optimal health. But, eliminating it completely is hard and, let’s face it, life shouldn’t be about complete deprivation. So, here’s a way to have your cake and eat it too.

Wanna date? No, not that kind of date. A Medjool date, silly!

Dates are nature’s power fruit and for good reason. They are a natural sweetener and great sugar alternative. You can eat them plain, buy them rolled in oat flour or shredded coconut for snacking, blend them in a smoothie, soak them in boiling water (or some bourbon...) to use when baking or cooking. The possibilities are limitless. And just like all the other foods and swaps from this challenge, dates are loaded with health benefits:

  1. Decrease cholesterol (when you eat them you increase your insoluble and soluble fiber intake, which can help lower your (bad, LDL) cholesterol

  2. Prevent and relieve constipation--prunes aren’t the only ones up to the task! (thanks again to the high fiber content, these are a smart choice when you are aiming to keep things moving along)

  3. Natural energy booster (high in natural sugars like fructose, glucose, and sucrose which the body easily processes and utilizes for energy)--snack on them plain or throw a few in a smoothie when you’re looking for a healthy energy boost or afternoon pick me up!

  4. Natural sweetener (these really do taste like candy, but they’re completely unprocessed)

  5. Boost bone health (high in calcium and phosphorus which work together to build strong teeth and bones

So, if you’re aiming to eliminate added sugar (which is a great resolution), but find yourself desperate for something sweet, instead of reaching for a highly processed cookie or scoop of ice cream, pop a date and reap some of the many nutritional benefits. Just like all sweet things, savor and enjoy them, but be cautious not to overdo it.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the small changes challenges and learned some new information about cacao, salt, cinnamon, quinoa, and dates. Keep these in mind when you’re grocery shopping and cooking and see where you can add them in to reap all the amazing health benefits they provide. And now that you know how great they are individually for you, imagine what they can do when you combine them! Not literally in a pot together, that would be gross. But, you know, throughout your day, in separate meals and snacks. Cheers to 2019!

New Year's Challenge: Small Changes (Day four)

As you head into the new year and think about making healthy resolutions, continue to stick with me for ideas on small, sustainable changes.

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Today’s add in? Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”).

Quinoa is one of the world’s healthiest foods and has earned the label of superfood for good reason.

  1. Unlike most other plant foods, quinoa is a complete protein source, and is a valuable source of protein for people on plant-based diets.

  2. It can aid in weight loss (high insoluble fiber and protein content increase that “full feeling” you have after eating; it also contains high levels of manganese which impacts digestive enzymes making it easier for your body to digest and use the food you eat efficiently)

  3. It’s gluten-free! Hallelujah!


Like many of the other foods I’ve posted about in the past few days, it can also help:

  • Fight cancer

  • Support a healthy heart

  • Decrease inflammation

  • Support bone health

  • Reduce diabetes risk

  • Provide dose of antioxidants

Cooking quinoa is pretty simple (in fact, you can even buy it precooked and flash frozen for easy preparation). It tastes good hot or cold and is an easily swap for other grains.

One important note about preparing quinoa: make sure to rinse or (if you have extra time) soak it before you cook (not necessary if using frozen quinoa). Quinoa is coated in a natural herbicide called saponin. If you skip the rinsing step, you’ll regret it. Unwashed quinoa is super bitter!

Give it a try this week--where you might have used something like rice or oats,, use quinoa instead.


New Year's Challenge: Small Changes (Day three)

We know that diets don’t work in the long run because deprivation sucks, food is delicious, and we’re human. So, let’s do things differently. Instead of taking things away and making restrictions, we’re going to add in. Crowd out the junky, processed foods, with high quality, delicious, and nutritious foods. We’ve already swapped our cocoa for cacao and traded in the bottle of garlic salt for garlic powder and sea salt. Today, we’re adding in a warm and cozy spice: cinnamon.


Here are some benefits from cinnamon:

  1. High in antioxidants (slows the aging process)

  2. Relieves Inflammation (lowers swelling, decreases menstrual pain)

  3. Protects heart health (reduces cholesterol and lowers blood pressure)

  4. Boosts brain function (thanks again to those antioxidants)

  5. Optimizes oral hygiene (say goodbye to your bad breath and tooth decay!)

  6. Prevents Candida (it contains powerful antifungal properties, that help treat Candida overgrowth in the digestive tract)

  7. Benefits skin health (antibiotic and antimicrobial properties that help protect skin from irritation, rashes, and allergic reactions--best in the form of a cinnamon oil--I use DoTerra)

  8. Sweetens recipes up without sugar (naturally sweet taste, so you can add it to foods and cut back on the amount of sugar you might otherwise use)

Bet you didn’t know your cinnamon stick packed that big of a punch!

Here are a few ways to easily add some cinnamon into your diet:

  • Use a whole cinnamon stick to infuse liquids (hot water, tea, mulled wine, apple cider)

  • Add ground cinnamon to your coffee, oatmeal, yogurt, baked goods

  • Sprinkle cinnamon into your savory dishes to add warmth and depth (think stews and soup)

  • Take a cinnamon capsules or oil for a quick and concentrated dose

Check back for tomorrow’s easy change!

New Year's Challenge: Small Changes (Day two)

Continuing on with the series of small, simple changes to help you reach your health and wellness goals, today’s change is about garlic salt.

Garlic salt is an easy and quick way to boost the flavor of your food without adding any extra calories. Eggs, grilled chicken, steamed veggies all come to life with a sprinkle from a bottle. However, pre-mixed spices tend to be of low quality and any health benefits are typically diminished. Instead of reaching for garlic salt, opt for a separate garlic powder and sea salt.

You may think all salts are created equal, but there’s a big difference between table salt and a sea salt. Table salt is more heavily processed to eliminate minerals and usually contains an additive to prevent clumping. Sea salt, on the other hand, has a wealth of nutritional benefits:

  1. Rich in trace minerals

  2. Prevents dehydration and balances fluids

  3. Loaded with electrolytes

  4. Promotes brain, muscle, and nervous system function

  5. Supports digestive health

  6. Promotes nutrient absorption

In addition to reaping all those health benefits, the two bottles will last longer and enable you to control and create the flavor combination you want.

Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for tomorrow’s small change challenge!


New Year's Challenge: Small changes (Day One)

As we cap off 2018 with celebrations and indulgences and head forward into the new year, undoubtedly you or someone you know will be making resolution to diet in some way or fashion: whole30, paleo, keto, intermittent fasting, juice cleanses, detoxing...the list goes on and on. Instead of starting off the new year with a drastic diet and severe restrictions, how about making small, simple changes that not only can have a positive impact on your waistline, but also improve your health?! Are you up for the challenge?

I’m going to be posting a series of small, simple changes (think swaps and add-ins) you can make starting now and moving forward into the new year. Not only will they help you start 2019 on the right foot, they also provide many health benefits that will keep you in good shape for the future. Let’s play the long game, people and make sensible resolutions you can actually maintain. Challenge yourself and try to start swapping these ingredients one at a time. Are you with me?! Let’s go.

Starting off with a ridiculously easy and incredibly delicious switch: swap out your cocoa for cacao. Common “cocoa” has been chemically processed and roasted, destroying and eliminating a large amount of the naturally occurring goodness in raw cacao. Raw cacao is a superfood for good reason. Here’s are a few reasons you should make the change and start consuming one of the healthiest foods on the planet:


  • It contains over 40 times the antioxidants of blueberries. Yup, you read that right! In case you don’t know, antioxidants are molecules that inhibit damage to cells and can help you balance free radicals and fight tissue damage that can lead to diseases such as cancer. And let’s not forget the visible benefits like glowing skin…

  • It’s the highest plant-based source of iron. Since it’s not a meat-based iron, for maximum results, you’ll want to combine it with a form of vitamin C (there’s a reason chocolate and oranges taste so good together).

  • It’s rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium (important for things like heart and bone health, digestion, and brain function).

  • It’s a natural mood elevator. Raw cacao is a great source of scientifically proven bliss chemicals like serotonin and tryptophan. These neurotransmitters are associated with feelings of happiness and can help to reduce anxiety and alleviate depression. What a tasty way to get your happy on!


Now that you know some of the health benefits cacao provides, here are some easy ways to incorporate it into your diet:

  • Sprinkle it in your oatmeal

  • Add it to a smoothie

  • Brew a hot chocolate

  • Make a chocolate banana “ice cream” (throw some frozen bananas in your blender or food processor until it turns to ice cream consistency)

  • Bake some cacao muffins (our whole family can’t get enough of @thebettyrocker Chocolate Black Bean Muffins)

  • Grab a bar of raw, organic chocolate

Don’t forget to check back in tomorrow for day two of the small change challenge!

Double duty snack

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Travel. It’s exhausting and stressful under the best of circumstances. Throw in holiday crowds and something like SIBO, and the simple act of going from location A to B can set your gut health into further disarray. Do yourself a favor, pack a snack and eliminate the complicating factor of trying to determine what to eat when you’re on the run. When I was following a SIBO diet, I kept a pack of these olives from Trader Joe’s in my purse at all times. As you can tell from some of my other posts, I’m all about double duty products: makeup as skincare? Yes, please! Bees wrap that seals products AND has antibacterial qualities that helps keep food fresh? Sign me up!

When it comes to an on the go snack with amazing health benefits, these olives do the trick. They can be thrown in your bag, will fill you up until your next meal, and they are chock full of health benefits. To name a few, olives:

  1. Provide tons of antioxidants (anti-cancer, anti-diabetic, anti-aging effects)

  2. Lower cholesterol and high blood pressure (full of good fats that can help decrease inflammation)

  3. Relieve pain (think of olives as natural ibuprofen)

  4. Boost heart health (provide a great supply of copper and vitamin E)

  5. Natural probiotic (increase the number of bifidobacteria which can enhance microbiome function)

  6. Lower risk for diabetes and obesity (high in monounsaturated fats which can help reduce risk for type 2 diabetes)

  7. Help fight infections (effective in fighting off certain microbial, viral, and fungal infections--who doesn’t want THAT when you’re traveling on a plane?!)

  8. Prevent osteoporosis (olive polyphenols are beneficial in preventing bone loss)

Did I just hear a Trader Joe’s bell? Plus, if you’re on a plane and things are delayed, you have the fixings to make yourself a martini. Just saying...


How I got here

A little bit about how I got to where I am today: about a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with both hydrogen SIBO and an overgrowth of Candida. I couldn’t figure out why, no matter what I ate, I felt sick all the time. As someone who studied nutrition, I was dumbfounded because I was eating well. I researched and consistently ate foods known to help create a healthy microbiome. I ate fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, and kombucha (supposed to deliver health-promoting bacteria to the GI tract). I cooked with and swallowed garlic cloves whole (an prebiotic infection fighter with antibacterial properties). I took probiotics, in hopes that they would help heal my gut from the times in my life when I had been on antibiotics. Despite doing all these “healthy” things, I was unknowingly feeding the bacteria in my system. When I was finally diagnosed (shout out to the brilliant and amazing team at Capital Integrative Health!), I learned all about what foods I needed to eliminate in order to heal my gut. It wasn’t an easy journey, but I’ve come so far and learned so much. I am grateful for this experience because now I am able to help my clients navigate their journey to wellness and healing.