Double Chocolate Muffins

Friends. I discovered something amazing! So, I have a bit of a sweet tooth, and my self-compromise is to only eat “sweets” that are somewhat healthy and homemade. I have a particular preference for baked goods like brownies, cupcakes and banana bread, and I have a few select blogs (I’ll share these at the bottom) that are my go-to’s for finding healthy alternatives for these treats. The other day I was browsing through one of said blogs, and I stumbled upon this awesome recipe!

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My Top Tips and Supplements to Boost Your Immunity Naturally

With cold and flu season still upon us and COVID-19 starting to really fire up, maintaining a top notch immune system is important for protecting not only ourselves, but our family and friends as well. While maintaining good hygiene (i.e. hand washing) is very important, developing and sustaining healthy lifestyle practices is vital for optimizing your immune system so it is strong when times such as this should occur. Below are some of the top ways I have managed to stay healthy and avoid both the cold and flu for TWO years straight (knock on wood)!

  • Get 8-9 hours of sleep every night. Even one night of inadequate sleep can compromise your immunity.
  • Regular movement or exercise. This increases circulation, allowing our immune system to work more efficiently. My favorite at home workouts include: going for a jog outdoors, YouTubing a yoga class, or doing a workout from my SWEAT or ToneItUp app.
  • Eating whole, unprocessed foods. Mushrooms, garlic, ginger, bone broth, turmeric and berries are some immunity boosting superstars.
  • Avoid sugar! This is huge. Sugar can decrease your immune system and is a major contributor to inflammation.
  • Tongue scraping. This is a great way to help remove bad bacteria from your tongue that could lead to bad breath, tooth decay and gum infections.
  • Stress management techniques. Did you know that stress can decrease your immune system?Going on outdoor walks, yoga, cooking, and meditation are all tools I find helpful to reduce stress. Also, the phone app Headspace is currently offering a free selection of meditation, sleep and other experiences designed to support you during this current global crisis.
  • Immune boosting supplements. These are not a replacement for a healthy diet, but could help give you an extra boost when needed.

Here is a list of some of my favorite supplements to boost my immune system naturally:

This past week I made a huge pot of chicken vegetable soup (I used this recipe as inspiration!) and it was delicious. It was a great way to get in a variety of veggies and the broth was super soothing! It is also easy to freeze for use.

Tip: Maintain a supply of frozen fruit and vegetables to ensure continued access to produce in the event you are unable to go to the store for an extended period of time. Green beans, berries, broccoli, cauliflower and mixed veggies are all great choices!

What’s methods do you use to stay healthy?! Tell me about them below!

Meal Planning 101 for Diabetics

A new diagnosis of diabetes can be scary. Individuals often leave their doctors office knowing little to nothing about the disease, feeling completely overwhelmed, and provided only a few words along the lines of “your blood sugar is abnormally high so now you need to check it on a regular basis”. You may be experiencing crazy symptoms like excessive thirst and hunger, fatigue, frequent urination, and maybe even blurry vision. You might be told you need to improve your diet, exercise, and lose weight, but are not explained even the slightest how.

Who can relate to this? Over the years I have dealt with numerous patients who have stepped into my office knowing nothing about their disease or how to control it. Well today I am going to help solve that issue and discuss diabetes meal prep basics.

“What the heck can I eat?”

Whether you’re a new diabetic or have had diabetes for 30 years, it is important to understand how foods will affect your body and impact your blood sugar. Let me introduce you to the diabetes plate method. This is a way of helping you to control your portions of starchy, carbohydrate containing foods. It also will help you be more mindful of what you are putting on your plate.

Non-Starchy vegetables

The focus is on increasing non-starchy vegetables as these are high in nutrients and fiber, and will have minimal impact on your blood sugar. The goal is for these foods to compose 50% of each meal. Yep, I said it, vegetables should be half of your plate! This is also the recommendation for non-diabetics, but yet only ~9% of American’s eat enough. For some, this could seem totally foreign and even impossible. If you do not eat non-starchy vegetables daily, start by including 1 cup at lunch or dinner, and gradually increase from there. Sorry folks — corn and potatoes don’t count as vegetables (they are both high in starch). Some examples include: tomatoes, onions, green beans, zucchini, any type of leafy green, along with all the vegetables listed on the left side of the “Plan Your Portions” guide below.

protein

The next food group to include is a good source of protein. Animal sources (i.e. fish, grass-fed beef, turkey, pastured chicken, etc) will not impact your blood sugar as long as your intake is not excessive (3-6 oz or a portion size equivalent to a deck of cards). Including a healthy source of protein at each meal will help keep you full and balance your blood sugar.

Starchy carbohydrates

This is the group that likes to get people into trouble. It includes all breads, pasta, pizza, rice, corn, potatoes, and crackers, along with all the foods listed in the top right portion of the portions guide. Put simply, the more carbohydrates you eat, the higher your blood sugar can go. Therefore, monitoring your carb intake is vital for improving your glycemic (blood sugar) control.

So how do you know how much to eat? Step one is to determine the carbohydrates in your diet. What are you eating on a regular basis that is impacting your blood sugar? Step two is to limit yourself 1 carb choice per per meal. For example, instead of eating both potatoes and corn, choose one and replace the other with a non-starchy vegetable. Whole food sources are always the best. They will be higher in fiber and less processed, so they will typically have less of an impact on your blood sugar. They also won’t have any of those nasty rat ingredients like preservatives and artificial flavors (check out my post on the 10 Ten Ingredients to Avoid). Some healthy choices include sweet potatoes, lentils, black beans, butternut or spaghetti squash, and black or brown rice.

Another way to determine how much to eat is through counting carbohydrates. This is a strategy used to determine exactly how many carbohydrates are consumed, with the goal of eating a specific and consistent amount of carbs at each meal. This will not only help keep your blood sugar consistent, but it will help you increase awareness on how many carbs you are eating (most people eat more than they realize!). If you would like to learn more about carb counting, comment below!

fats

Although this group is not specifically outlined in the “Plan Your Portions” guide, fats serve an important role in stabilizing blood sugar and helping you feel full until your next meal. Aim to include a healthy source of fats at all meals. Some of my favorite sources include, avocado, nuts and seeds, and a drizzle of olive oil on pretty much anything.

lets end this with a Challenge!

So, now you have a general understanding, lets set some action points to get you started. I will list below some goals. Choose one or a few that you want to start with. Once you master that goal, choose another one!

  1. Eat at least 1 non-starchy vegetable per day. If you are already doing this, aim for 1 per meal or even half your plate, depending on where you’re at.
  2. Limit yourself to 1 starch per meal that is no more than 1/4 your plate.
  3. Replace your juice, pop, sweet tea, or milk intake with water, black coffee or unsweetened tea. Set a more specific goal based on your current habits. Example: If you currently drink 5 cans of pop per day, decrease to 2 or 3 cans.
  4. Include at least 1 tablespoon of healthy fat with each meal.
  5. Replace your snacks with vegetables (Example: baby carrots with hummus, peppers with guacamole).

Often I find it is easier to focus on including more healthy options rather than what you should be avoiding.

Which goal do you plan to start with?! Describe a meal you can you make that will follow the “Plan Your Portions” guidelines.

3 Things You Need to Know About Buying Oil

Fats and oils are a huge part of a healthy diet and should be included at every meal. Optimizing your choice of oils is essential in preserving cognitive function, reducing inflammation, and creating hormones. Unfortunately, understanding what types of fats to eat and avoid has been a huge source of confusion, and as more options become available, I feel the confusion has only increased. This article will serve as your shopping guide on what to use and when to use them.

3 things everyone should know about buying oils

  1. Understand essential fats. Most have heard of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. These are types of fats the body cannot create and relies on adequate amount from food. The problem is the Standard American Diet (SAD) is too high in omega-6 and too low in omega-3 fatty acids. While the ideal ratio of omega-6 : omega-3 intake is 4:1, the SAD is in the 10:1 to 20:1 range. As omega-6 are pro-inflammatory and 0-3 are anti-inflammatory, this imbalance can create low-grade chronic inflammation, increasing the incidence of cardiovascular disease, obesity, irritable bowel disease and cancer. So what oils contain which type of fatty acid?

    Action point: Refer to the chart below. Try to avoid/limit processed foods with omega-6 oils in them. If you can’t find a healthier alternative, try making the food on your own!
  2. Know the smoke point. It is important to be aware of a fats tolerance for temperature to prevent it from burning and going rancid. When this happens, the nutritional value of the oil declines and oxidized compounds created can damage healthy cells in your body. And more importantly, it affects the taste of your food! Therefore, for high temperature cooking,  you will want to use an oil with a high smoke point. Oils with a moderate smoke point, like coconut oil and butter, can be used at mid-temperatures (if the oil is crackling in the pan it’s too hot). Oils with a lower smoke point, including extra virgin olive oil, should be added raw to foods after cooking.

    Action points:
    – Use oils with a high smoke point for cooking at high temps: avocado oil (520 def F) , ghee (clarified butter – 485 deg F)
    – Oils to cook with at moderate temps: butter, coconut oil, unrefined sesame oil (350 deg)
    – Drizzle on after cooking: extra virgin olive oil, unrefined flaxseed oil (225-320 deg F)
  3. Understand the food label: Refined oils refer to oil that has been extracted using some type of chemical or high heat process. This process can damage the delicate oils, causing them to loose nutritional value. Refined oils are also often bleached and deodorized. This process extends the shelf life and decreased the price of the oil, making them hot commodities for “big food” companies.

    Cold pressed is the gold standard method of oil extraction, as oils are extracted very slowly through pressing and grinding. This process results in the least amount of heat, and therefore, the least amount of oxidation, so the oils retain their aroma, flavor, and nutritional value. Have you ever smelled light olive oil versus extra virgin olive oil? The difference is very noticeable as extra virgin olive oil refers to oil that was extracted from the first pressing. Due to the delicacy of these oils, they should be stored in dark amber glass out of direct light and heat — leave it to an Italian to know all the deets about olive oil 😉

    Action point: When possible use organic, unrefined, cold-pressed oils. These will be the least processed and have the highest nutritional value.
High in Omega-3 Fatty AcidsHigh in Omega-6 Fatty Acids
Salmonsafflower oil
Tunasunflower oil
herringsoybean oil
green leafy vegetablescorn oil
flax seed oilcanola oil
     *Notice that the oils high in o-6 are most commonly found in packaged products (i.e. chips, breads, crackers, etc)

Takeaway

Optimizing the types of oils you consume will have a huge effect on overall health. They can help reduce inflammation or be a cause of it. They can provide essential nutritional value or be a source of toxicity to our bodies.

Want to learn more about the health benefits of fats? Check out my post Fat: Friend or Foe? for more information!

What types of oils do you usually use when cooking? Share below!

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Top 10 Heart Healthy Foods

Did you know February is Heart Health Month, hosted by the American Heart Association?! Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. It is an “umbrella” term that includes a number of conditions such as coronary artery disease (atherosclerosis), heart valve disease, heart attack, and heart failure.

Conditions such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol often lead to heart disease so dealing with (or avoiding!) these risk factors early on is crucial. Aside for a few uncontrollable factors such as age, race, and genetics, the majority of causes are modifiable and, as expected, include poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity. Other factors such as stress and smoking may also contribute.

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Time to Up Your Fiber Intake: 4 Benefits You Never Realized

Although fiber is most well-known for keeping your digestive system rolling smooth, the benefits don’t stop there! Additional benefits include:

  • Slows stomach emptying: This suppresses a hormone called ghrelin — a hormones that triggers hunger — resulting in you maintaining a sense of fullness for longer
  • Balances blood sugar: Fiber is a non-digestible carbohydrate, meaning it slows down the breakdown of foods into glucose. Balanced blood sugar not only means fewer high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) but also fewer lows (hypoglycmeia)
  • Lower LDL (bad) cholesterol: Since fiber is not broken down in the intestine, a specific type of fiber, called soluble fiber (well get more into this) can bind to LDL cholesterol and remove it from the body. In addition, this study found that an intake of 30 grams or more per day may be helpful in increasing your HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Promotes healthy gut microbiome: Did you know that fiber is the food for our gut microbiome?! Without not only enough fiber, but a variety of different fiberous foods, our microbes will not have sufficient nutrients to thrive, resulting in “a loss of species reliant on these substrates”. This disruption could lead to a host of diseases. In fact, long-term studies consistently show an inverse relationship between dietary fiber intake and all-cause mortality!
Continue reading “Time to Up Your Fiber Intake: 4 Benefits You Never Realized”

Your Quick and Easy Guide to Magnesium

Magnesium is a mineral essential for overall body function. It is involved in over 300 chemical reactions including:

  • Supporting healthy bones and teeth
  • Maintaining proper muscle and nerve function
  • Keeping heart rate steady
  • Regulating blood sugar

While 50-60% of it can be found in the bones, the rest is in the tissues, muscles and organs.

Magnesium Deficiency

Despite magnesium being widely distributed in both plant an animal food sources, deficiency is extremely common, affecting about 50% of Americans. Those at risk include people with gastrointestinal diseases (i.e. Crohn’s, celiac disease, IBS) due to malabsorption, alcoholics, athletes, postmenopausal women, those taking medications causing excessive urination, and those consuming a highly processed diet.

symptoms of deficiency

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Severe PMS
  • Personality changes
  • Memory loss

Recommended intake and food sources

The recommended dietary allowance is 400-420 mg/day for men and 310-320 mg/day for women. Below you will find a list of 10 foods high in magnesium. Nuts, seeds and fish are among the best sources!

FoodAmount of Magnesium (per 100 grams)
Squash and pumpkin seeds534 mg
Dark chocolate327 mg
Sunflower seeds325 mg
Cashews292 mg
Peanut butter154 mg
Mackerel97 mg
Soybeans86 mg
Spinach79 mg
Dried figs69 mg
Brown rice44 mg

Supplementation

In some cases, magnesium supplementation may be appropriate or recommended. If so, be sure to choose a high quality supplement that has been tested by a 3rd party or has a GMP (good Manufacturing Practices) stamp of approval. You should also read the ingredient list to identify the presence of any unwanted fillers, additives, artificial colors or flavors, etc.

In addition to boosting magnesium levels, certain forms provide additional therapeutic benefits and have different levels of bioavailability. For example:

Magnesium glycinate: Very easily absorbed so best if you have a deficiency. Provides mood boosting benefits by helping user to relax. Also good for nerve pain.

Magnesium citrate: Commonly used to help relieve constipation. Recommend taking before bed as it can also help support sleep.

Magnesium threonate: Best for neurological and cognitive symptoms.

I recently had my lab values tested and have you know, my magnesium was slightly low! It is always a good idea to ask your doctor to have your micronutrient levels tested at least yearly, particularly magnesium, vitamin D, and a few select others depending on your dietary preferences or restrictions.

*TIP: Make sure you ask to actually see your results! Providers can miss deficiencies or other less-than-optimal laboratory values

Got a Sweet Tooth?

If your holiday and end of year celebrations were anything like mine, they were probably overloaded with candies, cakes, your aunt’s delicious cookies, endless vino, and so forth. By the time New Year comes around I am exhausted, bloated, and feeling something like this:

This inspired me to complete 30 days of no sugar, no booze, no excuses. Since I started this past Monday, January 6, I have already lost count of the number of times I have been asked “….why?” Sugar has become so mainstream in our diet it has actually changed, for many, the ability to appreciate unsweetened foods. A perfect example of this is peanut butter. Many brands are loaded with high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar, and when individuals try clean, raw peanut butter with no additional ingredients, it tastes off. Sugar lights up the reward centers in our brain, similar as to cocaine for an addict. After going a period of time without it, as the body stars to rebalance, you start to crave them all over again.

Sugar is also a tremendous contributor to blood sugar dysregulation (another cause of sugar cravings). According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2015, an estimated 33.9% of US adults 18 years or older had prediabetes along with 48.3% of adults age 65 or older. An additional 9.4% (30.3 million) of the population has actual diabetes. My family has not been an exception, so preventative measures early on have been a priority of mine!

Chronically elevated blood sugar (BS) levels result in inflammation as high BS is damaging to our nerves and small blood vessels. High intake of refined sugar also results in the formation of AGEs, or advanced glycation end products, which are destructive molecules that trigger inflammation. Inflammation is thought to be the underlying cause of many chronic diseases.

If I have not yet convinced you that sugar is evil, this study demonstrated that ingestion of sugar can alter the function of phagocytes (cells that ingest harmful bacteria, particles and dead cells) for at least 5 hours. In other words, after eating a piece of chocolate cake, your immune system will become suppressed, leaving you more susceptible to catching a cold or flu. Not ideal this time of the year.

There are several steps I took to prepare for this little endeavor:

  1. Recruit a support system. Maintaining any type of lifestyle change is not only easier but can even be fun when you have a team that supports you, or even better, will do it with you! Two of my sisters and my fiancé have agreed to participate. This has been a gamechanger in maintaining my motivation.
  2. Prepare. Don’t start immediately. I took a couple days to get rid of any leftover holiday goodies and meal prep for the week ahead. My sisters also took time to read food labels and clear out any foods that would not be acceptable to avoid temptation. We also discussed healthy, sugar-free alternatives.
  3. Make specific goals. I wrote out a list of guidelines and ingredients that were to be avoided for the next 30 days including: all added sugar, artificial sugar, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, agave nectar, cane juice, caramel, barley malt, and glucose to name a few.
  4. DO NOT say “I will try”. This is one phrase I always make a point to avoid saying, otherwise I might as well not waste my time. It indirectly gives me permission to fail, which I do not want as an option.

What healthy habits have you committed to this year? If you are interested in trying 30 days No Sugar. No Booze. No Excuses. the guidelines are as follows:

30 DAys no sugar. no booze. no excuses. guidelines

  1. No sugar or hidden sources of sugar (refer to chart below)
    • Beware of foods such a bread, peanut butter, ketchup, dried fruit, chips, milk alternatives, and pasta sauce that could unexpectedly have some form of added sugar (TIP: if it has a barcode, check the ingredients)
  2. No honey, agave nectar, coconut sugar, maple syrup or any other “healthy” form of sugar
  3. No alcohol (wine, liquor, beer, etc).
  4. Approved:
    • Fruit (beware of sugar added to store-bought smoothies or açaí bowls). Ideally no more that 2-3 servings per day. Berries are best as they are lower in sugar.
    • Stevia or monk fruit (0 calorie natural sweeteners) in small amounts

Healthy, Dairy-Free Eggnog! (AKA Banananog)

This time of the year we are bombarded with sugar overload! You can only resist turning down unhealthy sweets for so long (or maybe not at all). Rather than inflicting hyperglycemia, bloating, fatigue and food remorse secondary to 2-3 long weeks of gluttonous feasting, I prefer find healthy alternatives.

This eggnog recipe is a fun twist on the typical sugar loaded version. It has no added sugar and has great nutritional value. Bananas are an excellent source of prebiotics (the food for probiotics), are great for digestion, have high levels of vitamin B6, and contain nutrients to help lower blood pressure.

Coconut is loaded with healthy fats, particularly medium chain triglycerides, which can be used as a quick source of energy and to promote weight loss.

*This recipe serves 4

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 bananas
  • 3 cups coconut milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg

*Note: For a creamier recipe, opt for full-fat coconut milk

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Add bananas, coconut milk, and vanilla extract to a blender
  2. Blend until creamy
  3. Pour into 4 serving glasses, and sprinkle nutmeg on top
  4. Enjoy!

*Optional (but more fun): add a splash of rum to make it an adult beverage

Need some inspiration? Chocolate Covered Katie is a healthy dessert blog with alternatives to almost any sweet treat!

What are your favorite healthy desserts? Share below!

Recipe courtesy of the Institute for Transformation Nutrition

3 Warming and Nutritious Beverages

As winter approaches I find myself constantly preparing different types of warming beverages to sip on throughout the day. Waking up to an energizing cup of hot water with lemon and settling down in the evening with a soothing mug of herbal tea has been part of my winter routine for years.

These beverages also have many nutritional properties such as aiding in digestion, lowering inflammation, and providing beneficial antioxidants!  

My Favorite Types of Tea

  • Green tea has been used for medicinal purposes in China and Japan for thousands of years. It has been boasted for its powerful antioxidant content (100x more than vitamin C!), along with its ability to reduce inflammation, lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and boost metabolism. Caffeine content ranges from 30-50 mg per 8oz (compared to 95 mg for coffee). 
  • Tulsi tea is a more bitter type of tea that enhances liver detoxification and can help prevent cancer by inducing cell death in precancerous and cancerous cells. It is most well know for its natural adaptogenic properties, or its ability to help the body adapt to stress, making it a perfect beverage during the stressful winter holidays!
  • Hibiscus tea has been shown to decrease both systolic and diastolic blood pressure by an average of 7.58 mmHg and 3.53 mmHg, respectively (according to a 2015 review of 5 studies). 

*I prefer to buy organic, loose-leaf tea – it is cleaner, cheaper, and has less packaging so it’s better for the environment!

Hot Water With Lemon

The benefits of water with lemon should not be underestimated. Drinking a warm cup first thing in the morning on an empty stomach has been part of my routine for years! Below is a list of some of its wonderful benefits.

  • It can help improve digestion by increasing production of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in your stomach, which further helps to increase important digestive enzymes. 
  • An increase in acid and digestive enzymes can lead to more regular bowel movements (at least 1 per day is optimal).  
  • It can be a natural remedy for acid reflux. This may sound counter-intuitive, but many people with heartburn are actually under-producing acid! When you increase your digestive secretions you may notice a decrease in your symptoms.
  • Aids in detoxification of of anything potentially harmful or toxic (such as pesticides, alcohol, caffeine, prescription drugs, and chemicals from personal care products) by increasing the livers detoxification processes.  

*Be sure to drink a cup of plain water after to rinse your teeth of the acidity

Healthy Hot Cocoa

An obvious fan favorite during the winter. However, with all the sweets floating around this time of year, sometimes I want that amazing chocolaty flavor without all the added sugar. Many commercial hot cocoa mixes also contain artificial flavors, caramel coloring, artificial sweeteners and trans fat. This recipe eliminates those toxic ingredients, replacing them with healthy fats and antioxidants.

Recipe

  • 1 cup boiling water or warmed nut milk
  • 1 heaped Tbs cacao powder
  • 1-2 tsp MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil or (my favorite) coconut butter
  • 1/2 tsp monk fruit extract or natural sweetener of choice (I prefer local honey)
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • Optional: 1 tsp Ashwaganda
  • Optional: 1 tsp Lion’s Mane mushroom
  • Blend until frothy and enjoy!

What are your favorite healthy winter beverages? Share below!