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!

Healthy Office Snacks

As a dietitian working in a hospital setting, I am constantly exposed to treats and sweets. Whether it’s the weekly Tuesday doughnuts brought by volunteers, or the cannolis and cake at a coworker’s baby shower, they are everywhere…just staring at me.

From what I have heard, this is the case for many people in their workplace. Despite not buying junk food or sweets, and eating healthy at home 98% of the time, temptations at the workplace always seem to get in the way. So what can we do about it? Plan ahead!

In an effort to avoid noming on sweets or afternoon trips to the cafeteria when I’m craving a snack or feeling extra hungry, I have started to keep a few simple, strategic items at my desk. Let me share:

  1. Tea bags or instant coffee: Hot tea or coffee is a terrific way to stave off cravings and maintain focus. One brand of instant coffee I particularly like is Four Sigmatic’s mushroom coffee (no, it doesn’t taste like mushrooms) as it has half the amount of caffeine, but it does wonders for focus without the jitters! I like to leave a reusable coffee cup at my desk so I always have one on hand.
  2. Prunes: Yes, I keep prunes at my desk. They are super filling and perfect when you are craving something sweet!
  3. Peanut or almond butter: When I am running late in the morning, I will grab a banana or apple to go. Having some type of nut butter at my desk makes it more convenient, and adding the healthy fats and protein will keep you full much longer than eating the fruit alone.
  4. Skinny Pop popcorn (or similar brand): This popcorn does not contain any artificial ingredients, is non-GMO, and high in fiber.
  5. Trail mix: Most store bough trail mix is high in added sugar, expensive, and may contain undesirable additives. For this reason, I have started to make my own by adding a variety of nuts, gogi berries (or some type of dried fruit containing no added sugar), a sprinkle of cacao powder, and perhaps a drizzle of honey — mix it together and vwa-la! I keep mine in a mason jar at my desk.
  6. 70% or Higher Dark Chocolate: For the days those doughnuts are staring at you.

What healthy snacks do you keep at your desk? Share below!

Homemade Basil Pesto

Although the ingredients found in store-bought pesto tend to be fairly clean, nothing beats a homemade batch of the fresh stuff! I love being able to customize my pesto recipe as far as the types of nuts and seasonings I use. Basil is also an herb that is very easy to grow (even I haven’t killed mine) so I love making large batches when the basil is ready for harvest and freezing it for later use. This year we have multiple plants that have really flourished, so I have been using it in my salads, omelets and stir-frys as well.

Health Benefits of Basil

  1. It contains powerful antioxidants to fight free radical damage. Two particular antioxidants it contains, orientin and viceninare, help protect white blood cells responsible for immune function, as well as cellular structures where DNA is stored.
  2. Studies have demonstrated its ability to prevent and fight cancer by increasing antioxidant activity, positively changing gene expression, and inducing cancer cell death.
  3. It contains antibacterial properties effective against antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.
  4. Has adaptogenic properties to help individuals adapt to stress
  5. Reduces inflammation

I have found that pesto is a fairly versatile food. I love it on Banza chickpea pasta, spaghetti squash, sautéed vegetables, or even on my eggs!

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 packed cups fresh basil
  • ½ cup raw almonds (I sometimes use a combination of nuts, such as almonds + pine nuts, depending on what’s available)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 Tbs Romano cheese (optional)
  • Sea salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Add basil, garlic and cheese (if using) to a blender.
  2. Turn on blender and slowly add olive oil until it is your desired consistency.
  3. Add salt and any other additional items (ex. pepper, lemon squeeze) to taste.

*Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or freeze up to 9 months

Basil plant from my garden

Freezing Pesto

To freeze pesto, put a couple tablespoons in each compartment of an ice cube tray. When they are frozen, dump them into a larger container with a lid for easy storage in the freezer.

How do you like to use pesto? Share below!

What is “Dirty Keto” and How to do Keto Right

One of the most popular questions I have been receiving lately is “What do you think about keto?” The ketogenetic diet has become very popular due to its potential to help with rapid weight loss. It’s different then other fad diets as the focus is primarily on fats (75% of your daily calories), some protein (20% of daily calories), and a small amount of carbohydrates (5% of your daily calories). The result is you enter a state of “ketosis” where you body is burning fat as its main source of fuel rather than glucose.

This is different from other low carb diets, such as the Atkins diet, as those focus on limited amounts of carbohydrates with no emphasis on fat and liberal amounts of other foods. It is easy to be following a low carb diet but never achieve ketosis.

Dirty Keto follows the same breakdown of fats, protein, and carbohydrates with one key difference – it does’t matter where the macronutrients come from. This has enabled many to use this diet as a way to lose weight while still eating limitless amounts of bunnless bacon cheeseburgers with a Diet Coke. Although this eating pattern may sound tempting, no amount of breadless fast food or artificially sweetened beverages is healthy, even in the presence of weight loss. Micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc.) are a key component commonly lacking in the dirty keto eating pattern. These are just as much, if not more, important than the macronutrient profile of ones meal as micronutrients are essential for system function, keeping a strong immune system, and maintaining healthy looking hair, skin and nails.

Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet

Although it is predominantly known for its potential to help with rapid weight loss, nearly a century ago the Ketogenic diet was used as a tool for clinitians to effectively treat patients with epilpsy. It has also been shown to be beneficial in treating other brain conditions including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and bipolar disorder.

According to this study, a “Spanish Ketogenic Mediterranean diet” (healthy keto with wine, basically) followed for 12 weeks cured people of their metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high cholesterol). In addition, while over 92% improved their liver health, 21% saw complete resolution in their previous diagnosis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

There are also benefits for healthy individuals including:

  • a more stabilized and reduced blood sugar, which will lower the risk of diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
  • improved cognitive performance and decreased brain fog.
  • reduced appetite and cravings.
  • slowed aging through activation of anti-aging and anti-inflammatory biochemical pathways.
  • it provides our cells with a steady source of ketone bodies, which is a cleaner-burning fuel than glucose.

3 Common Mistakes

  • Not eating enough non-starchy vegetables. These are vegetables that are low in carbohydrates and will have a minimal effect on your blood sugar. They should compose at least half of your plate. Examples: peppers, asparagus, tomatoes, any type of leafy green, Brussel sprouts, onions, celery, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower.
  • Eating the wrong types of fat. Obtaining the majority of fat from conventional meat, dairy and ranch dressing is not only unhealthy, but it may not be enough to get you into ketosis. Drizzle your vegetables with extra virgin olive oil and cook your eggs with a little extra butter or coconut oil. Healthy fat sources: avocado, olives, avocado oil, coconut oil, butter, olive oil, tuna, sardines. Refer to this post for more information on fats.
  • Eating too much protein. Because it is a protein-sparing diet, protein requirements are lower than when you rely on carbohydrates for energy. Consuming too much protein could also kick you out of ketosis as amino acids can be converter into sugar when consumed in excess. Limit your meat to 3-6oz per meal.

Sample Menu

Breakfast:

  • Eggs scrambled with spinach, onions and mushrooms, drizzled with olive oil and served with a side of avocado
  • Beverage options –
    • water
    • hot water with lemon
    • black coffee, coffee with stevia, coffee blended with coconut cream
    • unsweetened hot tea

Lunch: Keto Salad

  • Ingredients –
    • 2 cups wild greens (romaine, arugula, kale, etc)
    • 2 hard boiled eggs or 4-6oz smoked salmon
    • 1/2 avocado
    • 1/2 bell pepper
    • sliced cucumber
  • Dressing-
    • olive oil and balsamic vinegar

Dinner: Chicken Thighs with Roasted Brussel Sprouts

  • To cook the chicken:
    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
    • Rub thighs with olive oil and sea salt. May also add additional seasonings such as rosemary and paprika.
    • Place on baking sheet and bake until no longer pink, ~30 minutes.
  • To cook Brussel sprouts:
    • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
    • Place on a baking pan and drizzle with olive oil or cover with butter.
    • Sprinkle with sea salt and turmeric.
    • Bake for 25-35 minutes, until tender.

Have you tried the Ketogenic diet before? How was your experience?

2 Ingredient Banana Pancakes

Over the years, as I started paying more attention to food labels and limiting processed foods, pancakes were on of the foods I started making homemade rather than buying a mix. Unfortunately, top brands are most often made with highly processed white flour, sugar, dextrose (aka more sugar), unhealthy oils (soybean, palm, canola),  and have very little, if any, fiber.

My favorite part about these pancakes is that they only have two main ingredients and can be made in a matter of minutes! They are also very easy to customize by adding blueberries, chia seeds, nuts, cinnamon, cacao powder or dried coconut. Additionally, since the banana gives them a natural sweetness, minimal syrup is needed.

INGREDIENTS

INSTRUCTIONS

-2 eggs
– 1 banana (I typically make this recipe when my bananas are about to go bad as that is when they are the most sweet!)
– Optional ingredients to add to batter: cinnamon, cacao powder, coconut flakes, chia seeds.

– Top with: berries, nuts
– Drizzle with: honey, pure maple syrup

  1. Mash banana in a bowl using a fork.
  2. Add 2 eggs and scramble together with the banana.
  3. Add optional ingredients and mix together.
  4. Cook pancakes on preheated griddle or large pan for 2-3 minutes or until bubbles form.
  5. Flip and cook and additional 2-3 minutes until they are done in the center.
  6. Enjoy!

NOTE: I prefer to use coconut oil on the pan as it is stable at high temperatures and adds great flavor to the pancakes.

Zucchini and Tomato Frittata

In an effort to save time and keep my meals nutritious during my busy workweek, I am constantly planning ahead. I pack my lunch the night before and place it, ready to go in my lunchbox, in the fridge. As for breakfast – although I prefer to cook breakfast, early morning alarms and a long work commute make cooking chaotic and time consuming.

This recipe has been one of my favorites for years. I make it all the time as part of my regular meal prepping and mix up the ingredients to get a variety. These are not only great for adults, but are perfect for little hands too!

The eggs serve as a great source of protein and healthy fats* to stabilize your blood sugar and help keep you full all morning. The vegetables are a great source of fiber and micronutrients. This is also a great way to get an additional serving (or two) of vegetables in each day!

*Eggs from organic, free-range chickens have TWICE the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in them compared to conventional eggs.

Here is the recipe:

INGREDIENTS

INSTRUCTIONS

8 organic, free-range eggs
1 zucchini (green or yellow)
1 sweet onion
grape tomatoes
sea salt
oregano or seasonings of choice

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Scramble 6 eggs in a medium size bowl.
  3. Dice 1/2 the sweet onion and 7-10 tomatoes. Add to the scramble.
  4. Spiralize then lightly chop OR grate the zucchini then add to the mixture.
  5. Using a muffin tin, grease 8-10 cups or line with paper cups. Spoon mixture into tins and bake for 20 minutes or until edges are lightly golden.
  6. Enjoy!

Avocado Cracker Recipe

Avocados have gained massive popularity in recent years, and for good reason! They are unique in that they are virtually the only fruit (yes, they are a fruit!) that is high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. They are also extremely nutrient dense as one serving, or 1/3 of an avocado, contains 20 different vitamins and minerals including folate, vitamin K, potassium, vitamin E and magnesium. One serving also contains 3 grams of fiber which, along with fat, helps stabilize blood sugar and keep you full for longer. 

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