Getting Your Veggies In … Even on Super Bowl Sunday!

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So, it’s Super Bowl Sunday – an unofficial national holiday practically devoted to Americans gorging our faces with wings, nachos, burgers, chips and beer. At first glance, it’s probably not the most fitting day to run a blog post about adding more vegetables into our daily meals. On second thought, though, I think we can all benefit from sneaking in more vegetables daily – even on days like Super Bowl Sunday. So, here we go!

As many of you are aware, the standard American diet typically falls short of the recommended servings of fiber-rich vegetables. Vegetables not only contain fiber, which is super important for gut health, they are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that help keep us healthy and ward off disease. Yet, many of us are skipping these healthy vegetables for tastier, empty calorie comfort foods. Let’s face it, we could all use more veggies in our lives.

One of my personal goals for 2017 is to try to eat a healthy serving of vegetables with each and every meal. Yes, even breakfast. Ladies and gentlemen, this has been tough to accomplish every day, especially with a brand new job and a lot going on since the beginning of the New Year. I have been pretty successful in meeting this goal thus far, though.

The good news is that I have found a lot of easy and crafty ways that you too can get your “veggies on” every day. Here are three suggestions to help you add more vegetables on the sly with minimum effort:

1. Make Vegetables the Focus of Your Smoothies

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I’m all for juicing, but sometimes drinking cold pressed juices gives me a bit of a sugar rush. And the juicer is a giant pain in the neck to clean. These are just a few reasons why I usually blend vs. juice. One significant reason as to why I prefer smoothies to juices is because smoothies also contain fiber – which is lacking from most juices.

Smoothies are not always healthy. The biggest mistake that many people make is adding too much fruit to smoothies. I try to make vegetables the star of my smoothies and the fruit has much more of a supporting role.

The fabulous thing about smoothies is that you can really think out of the box when adding vegetables and make up recipes on the spot. I rarely make the same recipe twice. And my smoothie is always dependent on what I have in stock in my fridge or freezer at the time. Here are some vegetables that I regularly add to smoothies:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Arugula
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Swiss Chard
  • Cucumbers
  • Carrots
  • Beets (usually frozen)
  • Celery
  • Squash (whichever kind is in season)
  • Parsnip
  • Turnip

I usually add a bunch of vegetables from the list above to my blender, along with a 1/2 cup of coconut, almond or cashew milk. For a slight bit of sweetness, I add a small amount of wild frozen blueberries, pineapple or acai. To give my smoothies an added boost, I often add:

  • Fresh or powdered ginger (for a little spice)
  • Organic cacao powder (for a healthy chocolate kick)
  • Green Superfood powder (you can never have too many greens)
  • Cinnamon (for a warm flavor)
  • Fresh aloe (helps with digestion)
  • Collagen powder (helps with the gut, skin, hair and more)

As always, consult with your physician before incorporating any of the supplements above.

2. Consider Purchasing an Air Fryer for Quick, Healthy Vegetable Frying

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If you don’t yet own an air fryer, you don’t know what you are missing.

This past Christmas, I was pleasantly surprised when I received an air fryer as a gift from my sister Katie. At first, I thought it might be a fun new appliance that I would tinker with only on occasion. It turns out, though, that I use my air fryer several times a week these days.

Like the name suggests, an air fryer uses air as opposed to oil to fry/cook foods. So, what results is healthy, flavorful fried vegetables. (You can use a smidgen of oil if you prefer in the air fryer, although none is required for most foods.) You can actually cook meats, fish and other foods in the air fryer as well – although I haven’t been that daring yet to test the air fryer with these kind of foods.

I have cooked a number of vegetables (kale, butternut squash cubes, carrots, etc.) and starchy foods (shredded potatoes, sweet potato chunks, etc.) in the air fryer. Most vegetables and potatoes take less than 15 minutes to cook in the air fryer. And the air fryer tray is super easy to clean and maintain.

I typically will put a large portion of vegetables in the air fryer in the evening, eat some with dinner and reserve the rest for lunches I prepare for the next few days. I pair the veggies/potatoes with some form of protein for healthy, nutrient-packed daily lunches.

The best news is that you can snag an air fryer for less than $100. The model I use, pictured, is available at Amazon for $81. Trust me, it will change the way you cook.

3. Substitute Carb-Heavy Sides with Vegetables

When you eat out at restaurants, entrees are most commonly served with sides such as white rice, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, pasta, fries and other heavy foods. These options are definitely comfort foods that you almost expect to see on your plates when eating out. Many folks think of sides in the same way when cooking meals at home. But these carb-heavy sides can make an otherwise healthy meal significantly less healthy very quickly.

On a positive note, many restaurants are offering healthier, less heavy side options that focus more on vegetables and herb ingredients rather than empty carbs. At home, you too can incorporate more tasty vegetable sides into your daily menus. One such substitute is cauliflower rice. Below is a tasty cauliflower rice recipe that incorporates turkey bacon and herbs that will make you forget about white rice (I’m serious).

Savory Cauliflower Rice with Turkey Bacon, Herbs and Balsamic Vinegar

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If orange is the new black, than cauliflower rice is the new kale. Cauliflower rice seems to be everywhere these days – even on the menus of fancy restaurants. For the longest time, you could only find riced cauliflower in stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes. Nowadays, even Walmart carries frozen cauliflower rice. And it is very affordable in all stores.

Back on Christmas day, I wanted to make a new, healthy vegetable side recipe to accompany the usual Christmas sides. So, I devised the recipe below. It is a very flexible recipe so you can use the herbs and seasonings that you have on hand at home.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cauliflower rice (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 strips of uncured turkey bacon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (or avocado oil)
  • 2.5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water (if fresh cauliflower rice is used)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
  • Fresh herbs (In the past, I have used a couple of fresh basil leaves or some fresh rosemary. Use what you have on hand.)
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  1. Over medium heat, add saucepan with 1 tablespoon oil to stove.
  2. Stir in two cups of cauliflower rice (if using frozen cauliflower rice, add a tablespoon of water; if using fresh cauliflower rice, add 1/4 cup of water).
  3. Add balsamic vinegar to sauce pan. Add thyme, parsley, Cajun seasoning and rosemary. Add fresh herbs and salt and pepper. Stir regularly
  4. On a separate pan, cook two strips of turkey bacon until crisp. Add pieces of bacon to the cauliflower rice.
  5. Continue to cook over medium heat for 12-15 minutes and stir often – until cauliflower rice is tender.
  6. Add additional seasoning to your taste preferences

Enjoy and Happy Super Bowl!

 

One Last Pumpkin Recipe for the Season!

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Wow, Thanksgiving was already over a week ago! Tis the season that time truly does seem to fly.

Presumably like you, I spent the holiday weekend consuming heaps of Thanksgiving leftovers, spending time with loved ones and shopping up a storm. Also like many of you, I had a ton of ingredients left over from my holiday baking and cooking feats. So, I put on my thinking cap and began to concoct some new recipes to ensure the ingredients did not go to waste! Here is one recipe that I devised, which uses one of my favorite ingredients of all time – pumpkin:

Gluten-Free, Dairy-Free Pumpkin Spice Pancakes

Beginning in September, manufacturers, coffee shops, juice joints and restaurants seem to add “pumpkin spice” to just about everything. It’s ubiquitous! As the calendar moves into December, most of the population seems to be “over” the pumpkin craze and already have moved on to December flavors like peppermint, cinnamon spice, gingerbread, etc.

Not me! I consume pumpkin all year round. It’s a staple ingredient in my smoothies, baking and other recipes. Pumpkin is actually one of the healthiest vegetables around. This exciting vegetable, which is part of the squash family, is low in calories and packed with fiber, antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and flavonoids galore. These nutrients are why I try to use pumpkin as much as possible in my cooking/recipes. Click here to learn more about the amazing benefits of pumpkin.

The one recipe I’ve always wanted to tackle is a pumpkin pancake recipe. It’s been years since I’ve eaten pancakes, although I have often craved them. I have never been a fan of the pre-packaged, gluten-free pancake mixes due to some of the suspect ingredients added to the mixes. My only alternative to ever enjoying pancakes again was to make my own.

So, I experimented and came up with the recipe below. Since this recipe is a bit rich, I only suggest reserving it for special occasions, holidays or to satisfy a fierce craving. I also tend to make the pancakes on the smaller side – to prevent from over-indulging.

Pumpkin Spice Pancake Recipe with Toasted Pecans Recipe

What you’ll need:

  • Baking sheet
  • Mixing bowl
  • Measuring cups/spoons
  • Mixing spoon
  • Griddle/skillet

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tablespoon of coconut oil
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup pecans
  • 1/3 cup coconut or almond flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened almond milk (or coconut milk or cashew milk or blend)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 4 tablespoons of canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1 teaspoon real maple syrup
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice (Trader Joe’s has an excellent one)
  • Pinch of sea salt

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Spread pecans on an ungreased baking/cookie sheet. Sprinkle olive oil over pecans and bake for 5 minutes. Remove from oven.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, add the almond milk, eggs, canned pumpkin, vanilla extract and maple syrup. Mix together.
  4. Stir in coconut flour, pumpkin pie spice and the pinch of sea salt. Mix until lumps have disappeared.
  5. Heat a skillet or griddle over medium-low heat. Add coconut oil to the skillet or griddle. Once coconut oil melts, add pumpkin pancake batter to the skillet or griddle at the size that you prefer.
  6. The first batch will take longer than subsequent batches. Watch the first batch closely, when the bottom appears to lightly brown (typically takes about 4 minutes with the first batch), flip the pancake until the second side is lightly browned. With subsequent batches, it should take about 2-3 minutes for each side to lightly brown. Add more coconut oil if needed.
  7. Once finished, sprinkle each pancake with a few toasted pecans and drizzle the pancake with real maple syrup.
  8. Enjoy!

I may be late to the Pumpkin Spice party this year, but this is a recipe that can be enjoyed all year round! The pumpkin transforms these pancakes into a recipe that packs a healthy dose of nutrients. Now, that my pumpkin pancake craving is satisfied, I am suddenly craving peppermint….hmmm.

Start Your Day with a Healthy Protein Punch – Almond Butter Cup Protein Smoothie

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Breakfast truly does set the tone for the day. In fact, many nutritional experts agree that it is the most important daily meal. With that being said, breakfast is probably the easiest meal to veer off the healthy eating course.

And it is not difficult to do so! Think about it; many common breakfast foods like cereals, pancakes, muffins, granola bars, tarts and even most yogurts are loaded with sugar and other garbage. Eating these foods at breakfast sets you up for a day of blood sugar spikes and potential crashes by mid-day. This is the last thing we need during our busy days!

A Healthy Way to Start Your Day

There are much better ways to start your day. Why not add some healthy protein power to your mornings? Below is my Almond Butter Cup Protein Smoothie recipe that is not only protein-packed (which will keep you full until lunch) but is healthy, features no added sugar and tastes like a decadent dessert.

It’s called Almond Butter Cup because it tastes similar to the popular peanut butter cup candy – except the recipe features almond butter instead of peanut butter. (Almond butter is much healthier than peanut butter for reasons described in my earlier blog post here.)

Chocolate plant-based protein powder serves as the base ingredient of this recipe. Taste is subjective; so, find a protein powder that tastes great to your palate. Also, look for one without any added sugar and unnatural ingredients. (I also make sure any protein powder I purchase is gluten-free, soy-free and dairy-free.) Below are some protein powders that I recommend:

Rebuild Protein Powder – Chocolate

Orgain Plant-Based Protein – Creamy Chocolate Fudge

Sunwarrior – Warrior Raw, Plant-based Protein – Chocolate

Bulletproof Chocolate Collagen

Almond Butter Cup Recipe

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Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup of unsweetened almond milk, cashew milk or almond milk/cashew milk combination
  • 2 scoops of chocolate plant-based protein powder
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of cacao powder (make sure it does not contain added sugars; I use this one.)
  • 1 handful of spinach (or you may use a scoop of green powder if you prefer)
  • 1 handful of shredded carrots
  • 8 frozen or fresh blueberries
  • 3 tablespoons of canned pumpkin (or you may use one small banana instead)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon of almond butter (pick one without unhealthy or unnecessary added ingredients. Click here for guidance in selecting healthy nut butters.)
  • A pinch of pumpkin pie spice
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 1/4 cup water

Instructions

The instructions couldn’t be any easier. Just place all ingredients in your blender and blend away. A few seconds later, you will have a rich, creamy and protein-packed smoothie that keep you full for hours.

A Tasty Staple in Any Morning Routine

This is one protein smoothie that I can’t get enough of each morning. I literally wake up looking forward to making this tasty treat every day. This smoothie satisfies salty, chocolate and sweet cravings at once – which is rare for a beverage or food. Plus it is not only loaded with plant-based protein, it includes a one-two punch of vitamins and fiber. It’s a must try for anyone who loves peanut butter cup candies!

Just Breathe: 8 Tips to De-Stress During Hectic Days

As the song goes, “Mama said there’ll be days like this.” Days when nothing seems to go right and when stress seems to get the better of us.

We’ve all had these kind of days. Days where we are pulled in multiple directions, get shaken by bad news, have to wear multiple hats or when 24 hours in a day just doesn’t seem to be enough. Even events like the unsettling presidential election and the seemingly unending cycle of disheartening world news can add additional stress to our already overburdened lives.

When life gets hectic, we have been conditioned by TV shows, commercials and movies to reach for a pint of ice cream or a glass of wine to soothe our heavy souls. While there is nothing wrong with imbibing with a glass of wine from time to time or indulging with a little ice cream on occasion, these items only provide us with temporary comfort. In fact, if you have too much of either, they could make you feel much worse.

Why make your stress any worse? Instead, try one of these healthy tips to insert some calm in your life, brighten your mood … and perhaps salvage your day!

1) Take a Walk Around the Block

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A simple brisk walk (or any exercise for that matter) can do wonders for your mood and stress. Exercise helps release endorphins, which in turn can help improve your mood. So, stretch your legs and take a little walk around your neighborhood. You might return home feeling refreshed and less stressed.

Click here to learn about how walking can help improve your mood and decrease stress.

2) Incorporate Meditation into Your Routine

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Meditation may seem out there at first. Trust me, it took me a long time to get into it. Finding just 10 minutes a day to let go and meditate can help you tackle your stress. Don’t rely just on my endorsement, though. Some of the nation’s largest institutions, such as Mayo Clinic and Harvard, promote meditation as an excellent stress reliever.

Unsure of how to begin? Guided meditations are available for little or no cost. Subscribe to Hay House Daily Meditations podcast on iTunes or Google Play for free meditations. YouTube also offers a vast catalog of no cost guided meditations that you can peruse.

Lastly, if you crave more structure with your meditations, consider a subscription to apps like Headspace or Calm; these meditation apps offer a multitude of meditations to choose from, help track your progress and send you notifications to motivate you to meditate daily. Both apps offer several subscription plans based on your needs.

3) Relax with Essential Oils

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Taking a whiff of essential oils like lavender, mint and eucalyptus has been known to provide an almost instant calming effect. That’s why places like spas and yoga studios – places where people specifically go to relax – often feature a strong aroma of essential oils when you walk through the door.

These days, essential oils are extremely accessible and affordable. You can find them in places like Whole Foods, vitamin stores, health stores and pharmacies. In fact, I recently picked up a lavender essential oil roller ball applicator at CVS.

As an added bonus, essential oils work wonders for other ailments as well, such as headaches, colds and more.

Need ideas as to how to use essential oils for relaxation? Check out these tips from mindbodygreen.

4) Add a Cup of Chamomile Tea to Your Bedtime Routine

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Chamomile has been used as medicine in some cultures for centuries. Research shows that drinking a cup of chamomile tea not only helps your body relax, it also soothes your digestive tract and can even help you sleep better.

Although not recommended for consumption during the day because of its relaxing effect, chamomile tea might be just what you need to unwind at bedtime. Click here to learn more about the benefits of drinking chamomile tea.

5) Treat Yourself to a Facial or Massage

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There is almost no place more serene than a spa. The aroma, the calming spa music and the overall pampering provide a soothing escape of our everyday stresses. It’s common to leave a spa with the feeling that the weight of the world has been lifted from our shoulders.

Although a splurge, many coupon sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial make facials and massages much more affordable. In fact, it is often easy to find spas offering coupons for facials and massages for $50 or less. So, pamper yourself today!

6) Watch Your Caffeine Intake

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When we are stressed, we often also feel drained and tired. Our instinct when this happens is to grab anything in sight that is loaded with caffeine for some “instant pep.” Proceed with caution, though. Consuming one cup of coffee or tea is probably not going to make your stress any worse; however, a few cups of caffeinated beverages can quickly make you jittery and anxious. Reach for some soothing decaffeinated tea or hot water with lemon instead!

7) Paint or Color!

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Adult coloring books and group painting classes are all the rage now! These activities not only give us nostalgia for our childhood art classes, several studies actually show that coloring or painting can help us relax and de-stress. If you haven’t tried it for yourself, why not pick up an adult coloring book (they’re everywhere these days) or sign up for a  painting class.

8) Try Acupuncture

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Most people tend to look to the Western world for stress relief remedies, but you may find relief from giving Eastern medicine remedies like acupuncture a try. Acupuncture, an ancient Chinese medicinal practice that includes pricking the skin in strategic places with fine needles, has long been touted as a panacea for musculoskeletal pain relief, infertility, digestive issues and hormonal imbalances. Studies also suggest that acupuncture may help with stress and anxiety.

Acupuncture has done wonders for me. I see an acupuncturist weekly for pain relief, but have found that my Friday pre-work appointment also ensures that at least one hour of deep relaxation is on my schedule each week. I often leave feeling refreshed and ready to take on the world.

Acupuncture can be pricey; however, more and more insurance companies are covering (or at least offering steep discounts for) acupuncture services as part of standard health plan benefits. In addition, some community acupuncture centers offer acupuncture for as little as $25 per session. If you are interested in trying acupuncture, I recommend calling your health insurance company and researching practitioners in your area. Look for a licensed acupuncturist with advanced Eastern medicine schooling, one with favorable online reviews and a provider with a clean and comfortable office.

Don’t Let Stress Get the Best of You!

So, the next time you are feeling a bit stressed, keep these tips in your back pocket. There is no need to suffer in silence. Find what works for you and keep stress relief strategies in your arsenal for handling future stressful days. Here’s to less stress and more relaxation!

 

Say What? Affordable Organic and Healthy Food Options at Aldi

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It seems like Aldi is kind of hip now. Last weekend, one of the largest newspapers in NYC, the New York Daily News, featured an article called, “8 reasons why you should shop at Aldi.”

While I hadn’t shopped at an Aldi store in a few months, the article convinced me that I needed to hop in my car and head back there ASAP. In fact, I literally drove to my nearest Aldi within a few hours of reading the article. And I’m glad that I did! Upon perusing the Aldi aisles, my eyes almost popped out of their sockets when I saw all of the new organic and healthy food options – at beyond amazing prices. To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.

The Aldi Experience

For those of you who are not familiar with Aldi, it is a “no-frills” German supermarket chain that seems to be popping up everywhere. In fact, at least 10 stores are now open within 10 miles of my home. Go back a few years, and maybe there were only two stores in my area. You can even find an Aldi in Manhattan! Beyond my immediate area, Aldi stores seem to be expanding in most U.S. states and throughout Europe.

The author of the Daily News article says it best when he described Aldi as the “Jan Brady of supermarkets.” When you first enter an Aldi store, you kind of have to get used to the “no-frills” concept of the chain. You are not going to see the beautiful produce displays and neatly stocked shelves of supermarkets like Whole Foods, Fairway or Trader Joes. In fact, most items are haphazardly placed in cardboard boxes or containers at Aldi.

Aldi has some interesting quirks. Shoppers must insert a quarter to gain use of an Aldi shopping cart. (You get the quarter back upon returning the shopping cart, though.) Also, the store charges for all plastic shopping bags. This policy, though, encourages shoppers to bring their own reusable shopping bags (which I remember to bring with me most of the time).

Aldi stores also carry mostly unique brands. They offer several brand lines that you can only find at Aldi stores, such as Simply Nature (natural and organic products), Fit & Active (food and beverages for healthy lifestyles), liveGfree (gluten-free line), Friendly Farms (dairy and dairy alternatives), Never Any! (meat without antibiotics, hormones or by-products), Little Salad Bar (vegetables/salad items) and more. Aldi stores also carry a limited and rotating stock of name brand items found at traditional supermarkets.

While kind of odd for a supermarket, these unique policies, unstructured looking aisles and limited brand options help Aldi keep overhead low. For example, they don’t need to hire as many employees for stocking shelves and no employees are needed for parking lot cart retrieval. The money they save on overhead translates into better prices for us consumers!

The “New” Aldi

Aldi had somewhat of an undeserved bad rap a few years ago. Back then, Aldi’s brand game wasn’t as strong and their shelves featured less healthy options. However, most notably there seemed to be somewhat of a stigma associated with shopping at Aldi a few year back. I remember shopping at an Aldi store in 2012 and overhearing a conversation between two neighbors who ran into each other unexpectedly at the store. Both ladies were acting somewhat embarrassed to be “caught” shopping at Aldi and were overtly making excuses as to why they weren’t shopping at the “regular” supermarket instead. Their exchange was almost humorous.

Back then, Aldi stores were not very crowded. Fast forward a few years later and Aldi stores are now super popular. Parking lots are jam-packed and the aisles are crammed with frugal-minded shoppers. Shopping at Aldi definitely seems more mainstream today.

Aldi’s low prices (especially when standard supermarket prices continue to rise) along with the expansion of healthy and organic food options continue to attract new shoppers and keep returning customers like me satisfied. As we all know, it’s very expensive to eat mostly organic and healthy foods – so Aldi’s incredibly low prices make healthy eating more accessible for everyone.

And there are so many great finds available at Aldi now! I am excited to share some of the organic and healthy items purchased at my recent Aldi shopping run:

Organic Arugula

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Arugula, which is hands down my favorite kind of salad green vegetable, is only $2.49 at my Aldi store. And it’s organic! Most supermarkets seem to offer organic arugula (with the exception of rare sales) at a price point of $3.99 or greater. My savings: at least $1.50

Organic Spinach

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Spinach is my go-to green veggie for juicing and smoothies. Organic baby spinach at Aldi is only $2.49 (compared to over $3.99 at standard supermarkets). My savings: at least $1.50

Organic Frozen Blueberries

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Blueberries are packed with antioxidants. Frozen organic blueberries are a regular staple item in my freezer. While packages at standard supermarkets could cost you around $4.99, Aldi sells frozen organic blueberries for only $2.79. My savings: around $2.20.

Organic, Antibiotic Free Chicken Breast

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This one is a total steal. It is hard to find affordable organic chicken at grocery stores. While some chicken will be marketed as antibiotic-free, the chicken will often not be organic. Aldi sells organic, antibiotic-free chicken breasts for an incredibly low price. The large chicken breast that I purchased (enough for two full servings) was only $5.33. I have been unable to find anything similar in standard supermarkets for under $10. My savings: approximately $5.

Organic Baby Carrots

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Baby carrots are fabulous in the juicer, in smoothies and are the perfect afternoon or anytime snack. Aldi sells a 16 ounce bag of organic carrots for $1.89. Compare this to $2.49 at a nearby standard supermarket, and I saved 60 cents by shopping at Aldi. Below is a juice that I made with these carrots:

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Pure Coconut Water

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Stores like Whole Foods sell pure coconut water for about $3.99 a pop. (Pure coconut waters need to be refrigerated and aren’t as widely available compared to the shelf stable coconut waters.) Trader Joes offers a great deal for pure coconut water for $2.99 a bottle; however, Aldi offers even a better deal at $2.29 per bottle! That is a saving of at least 70 cents per bottle. Needless to say, I stocked up on these coconut waters during my last Aldi shopping trip.

Unsweetened Almond Milk

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I love almond milk. The unsweetened almond milk varieties are a must for my smoothies and protein shakes. I can’t believe that unsweetened almond milk is only $2.29 at Aldi! The brand I typically buy at other supermarkets is at least $3.29. My savings: $1 or more. Note: They also sell coconut milk at Aldi, but I didn’t see any unsweetened varieties available.

Other Sweet Deals at Aldi

  • Slivered Almonds $2.99 – These almonds are usually very expensive at standard supermarkets. I am talking at least $5.99 at other stores. I use these almonds in many recipes including my carrot slaw and Asian salad recipes.
  • Bag of Lemons $3.29 – I use lemons often in hot water and to dress my salads. Lemons can be pricey at regular supermarkets. This Aldi bag featured a whole lot of lemons at a great price!
  • (Whole) Pineapple $1.99 – Wow! The cheapest price I have found outside of Aldi for a whole pineapple is $2.99.
  • 24 Pack of Spring Water $2.49 – I love the taste of Aldi spring water and the water comes in BPA free plastic containers. As an added bonus, the water bottles are made of recycled plastic.

A Word of Caution

While I have focused on the healthy food and beverage items that I have purchased, keep in mind that Aldi also carries a lot of junk and heavily processed foods also at great prices. Just like any supermarket, these not-so-healthy foods are definitely abundant at Aldi. I encourage all shoppers to carefully read labels of products before purchasing them. I tend to stick to certain Aldi brands, such as Simply Nature, Friendly Farms (for unsweetened almond milk only), Little Salad Bar, etc. to ensure that I am selecting only healthy and/or organic items.

Keeping Aldi in Mind for Future Shopping Sprees

While I can’t rely on Aldi for everything on my shopping list, it is a fantastic spot to save money on the healthy items above and more. I’m definitely going to try to shop there more often! Aldi is also a great store to shop at for large parties or holiday meals – which can often set you back hundreds of dollars at other stores. You can definitely save a bank load of money on key staples and ingredients at Aldi compared to traditional supermarkets.

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Some of the fabulous organic and healthy food finds that I picked up at Aldi.

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming Less Reliant on Microwave Cooking

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A few weeks ago my microwave oven stopped working. I was attempting to heat turkey meatballs quickly between meetings while working from home when my microwave flatlined. Basically, it was completely dead; the time started blinking and the buttons refused to work.

I must admit that I began to panic a bit when my microwave stopped working. Would I have to (gasp!) use my oven to reheat my food? How long would that even take? With limited time for breaks due to my hectic work schedule, I had definitely become reliant on my microwave over the years to reheat or cook food in a pinch. In fact, probably too reliant!

The broken down microwave didn’t cause a total disaster. In reality, the meatballs only took a few minutes to heat up in the oven. And they tasted a million times better than they would have in the microwave. Most importantly, I still had plenty of time to prep for my next work meeting.

While my food was heating up in the oven, though, I began to ponder if it was necessarily a bad thing that my microwave oven seemingly went kaput. After all, as an otherwise healthy person, I knew that I used my microwave way too often. I began to think for a moment that maybe I wouldn’t even replace my defective microwave at all. I even daydreamed about what I would do with the extra counter space – as my microwave took up prime real estate in my tiny NYC area kitchen.

My daydream was short-lived, though. Later that evening, I noticed a small piece of paper towel wedged in the microwave oven door. I swiftly removed the paper towel piece …and my microwave came back to life again.

While my microwave is now in working order, I have decided that I am going to make a concerted effort to try to use it less often.

The 1980s: Where it all Began for my Family

I remember my family’s first microwave oven. My parents purchased it in the early 80s on the way home from a visit with family in New York. It was an enormous contraption that was so big that it wouldn’t even fit on the countertop. At probably two to three times the size of a microwave today, my parents had to buy a large stand to hold the darn thing.

For the longest time, the microwave oven remained pretty much idle. It was rarely used – almost as if we were slighly skeptical of it at first. Then, seemingly overnight, it became the most popular appliance in our kitchen.

By the mid to late 1980s, microwave cooking became a hot trend. All of the ladies in the neighborhood, like my mother, had cupboards filled with microwave cookbooks and recipes. There were even cake mix kits that allowed you to make entire cakes in the microwave. (They tasted pretty dreadful, had a sponge-like consistency and didn’t last too long on the store shelves, though.) During this time, grocery stores started carrying TV dinners galore, microwave popcorn, soup that could be microwaved and so much more.

Almost everyone had a microwave. And it also became the go-to appliance for reheating food for families – moving ahead of even the regular oven.

Sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s, word seemed to spread that microwave cooking was probably not the safest method of cooking. I remember being told repeatedly by my mother to step back from the microwave while it was in use. The words “radiation” and “potentially dangerous” became synonymous with microwave oven use. However, that didn’t stop most people from using microwaves.

Fast forward 30+ years, microwave ovens are now much smaller and sleeker than the 1980s models, and most of us still use them at least once everyday. It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t use a microwave for at least some form of cooking/reheating.

In fact, I have only met one person in my adult life who didn’t own a microwave. A former boyfriend lived life microwave free and cooked all of his meals strictly on the stove or in the oven. He would even buy TV dinners, transfer them to oven-safe dishes and heat them in the oven. I used to think it was kind of unusual that he didn’t own a microwave (and had no desire to ever own one), but now I think he was kind of on to something!

How Does a Microwave Oven Work?

A microwave oven heats food through microwave radiation. Rather, than boring you lovely readers with my attempt at scientific speak, I found a few articles that explain the science behind microwave ovens succinctly:

How Do Microwaves Work?

Explain that Stuff – How Microwave Ovens Work

What are the Dangers?

Well, the good news is that most experts agree now that the radiation that emanates from microwave ovens is not as dangerous as originally thought. Back in the day, it was widely believed that microwave ovens could cause cancer through excessive radiation exposure. No studies related to modern microwave oven models seem to suggest that this is a valid worry, though. Many experts still recommend standing a few feet away from a microwave that is in use, as a small amount of radiation exposure is possible.

All of the news about microwave oven use is not positive, though. Research indicates that microwave ovens can alter the nutrients of food, heating food in some plastic containers could be dangerous as toxins from plastic could leach on to food during the heating process and microwave ovens heat larger food items inconsistently which could result in some food borne illnesses. And that’s just the beginning. For more details about potential microwave oven dangers, check out the articles below:

The Hidden Hazards of Microwave Cooking

Why You Should Never Microwave Your Food

Tips for Using the Microwave Less

As I previously exclaimed, I am now committed to using my microwave less often based on the articles above and my own belief that microwave cooking is probably not the healthiest heating/cooking option. I have done a pretty good job so far of weaning myself off regular microwave use. It can be done! Below are tips that may help if you too are ready to give your microwave a bit of the cold shoulder treatment:

  1. Plan your meals and snacks for the day: The simple task of planning your meals will help you avoid using your microwave so often. For example, I will often have a sweet potato with lunch or dinner. I’ll now factor into my schedule that I need to place the potato in the oven about 45 minutes before I plan to eat. This planning also helps to curb mindless eating throughout the day or in the evenings.
  2. Consider buying an inexpensive electric kettle for heating liquids. This was the best $22 I’ve spent in a long time! Instead of plopping a mug in the microwave and having some of the liquid explode all over the place (not to mention having to use a towel or oven mitt to handle the scorching hot mug!), I now heat liquid in my stainless steel electric kettle. The kettle only takes about 2-3 minutes to heat liquid and shuts off when it is done. I no longer have to worry about being burned by a hot microwaved mug when making tea again. Here is an electric kettle for only $20 and change at Amazon!
  3. Use small/medium glass storage containers for leftovers. Transfer your restaurant or home cooked meal leftovers into versatile glass storage containers. These glass containers make reheating food in the oven super easy. Just make sure that your glass containers are safe for the oven. Here are affordable Pyrex glass storage containers for under $20! (If you must use your microwave, these glass containers are also a much safer alternative than most plastic containers.)
  4. Keep more raw foods and snacks handy. One way to use the microwave less is to keep your fridge or pantry stocked with fruits, salad ingredients, nuts, nut butters and snacking vegetables. I always keep some protein handy that I can to salads. If I make grilled chicken or meatballs for dinner, I will often refrigerate the leftovers and add them cold to my salad. These meals are quick, easy and don’t have me going anywhere near my microwave oven.

 

Knocking Out Migraines with a (Natural) Punch!

 

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The throbbing pain. The nausea. The head pain that shoots from back to front. The aura. The chills. The neck stiffness. The extreme sensitivity to light, to sound and to smells. The vision disturbances. The extreme fatigue. The dizziness. The hoping and praying that your rescue medications will kick in any minute now.

Yes, as you probably can surmise or know firsthand, this is the common yet horrendous experience of many unfortunate migraine sufferers – myself included. When migraines hit, they sweep into our lives with such a disruptive force that they can leave us down for the count for days.

Migraines are much more than terrible headaches, they are a debilitating neurological disorder. And, more people are afflicted with migraines than you might realize; the Migraine Research Foundation states that a whopping 12% of the population worldwide experience migraines. That’s approximately 888 million sufferers across the globe! While our individual symptoms and even the type of migraine may vary from person to person, the common thread is that all of us just want these migraines to go away…permanently… and never ruin another day/week/month again.

While combatting migraines can be a lifelong battle for some, natural remedies are available that can help prevent new migraines and alleviate migraines when they attack. I am excited to share my migraine prevention “bag of tricks” below that have helped me reduce my migraine attacks by over 95%.

I recognize that we are all unique beings. While the strategies and supplements that I share below have proven to be successful in my migraine journey, they might not work for everyone. I encourage you to discuss these and any other strategies with your physician (traditional or functional) and any other health professional that may be involved in your treatment

My Top 5 Migraine Prevention Strategies

1. Find a Top Migraine Specialist in Your Area

I experienced my first migraine at age 17. I was lounging on my sofa while recovering from a lengthy bout of mononucleosis when my head began pounding like never before. After the first hour or so of intense pain, I was convinced I had a brain tumor or possibly hit my head the day before and didn’t remember. Little did I know that this would be the first of many migraines to follow.

My greatest rookie mistake was not seeing a neurologist who specialized in migraine care sooner. Instead, I relied on the limited migraine expertise of my general practitioner (GP) at the time – who simply told me to take the maximum amount of ibuprofen to reduce any migraine pain. There was no talk of prevention strategies or discussion about triggers. We were basically just putting a band-aid on the bigger problem.

It was an unusual migraine and an ER visit that finally prompted me to schedule a visit with a neurologist almost 10 years after my first migraine. I experienced an attack that I like to refer to as a “runaway migraine.” (I have experienced two other similar migraine attacks but thankfully not recently.) This runaway migraine lasted almost a month – which is very unusual for a migraine. Family and friends urged me to go to the ER and I obliged. After a battery of tests (CT-scan, blood work and neurological exams) came back negative, the ER doctor directed me to seek follow-up care from a neurologist.

It took me a few months to find a top-notch neurologist. My GP recommended my first neurologist. And he turned out to be a dud. He ordered an MRI and prescribed rescue meds and other meds that I probably didn’t need. My migraines actually got even worse during this time. To make matters worse, he was a terrible listener; it was nearly impossible to get a word in edgewise with this guy.

My desire to get better kicked me into action. I did my research and found an amazing neurologist – who not only was a stellar doctor but was a migraine sufferer herself. She helped me with the short-term migraine issues by prescribing a new rescue medication, but her main focus was long-term relief. She recommended an arsenal of “weapons” to prevent future migraines, encouraged me to track my migraines to better understand triggers and even helped me to recognize signs that a migraine was about to come my way. All of her strategies, plus some that I adopted on my own, have reduced my migraine episodes from several a month to just a few a year. Best of all, I no longer need prescription medications to treat my very infrequent migraines.

My advice to you: Do your research when selecting a neurologist for migraine treatment:

  • Look at patient reviews online via your health plan or other sites
  • Review “Top Doctor” lists in your area
  • Ask other migraine sufferers for recommendations in migraine forums
  • Before you make an appointment with neurologists, read their websites – which often include great information about their approach to care and areas of specialty

2. Know Your Triggers and Look for Clues that a Migraine is About to Arrive

Knowledge is power. The more you know about your migraines, the better prepared you are to prevent future migraines and reduce the intensity of any migraines that happen to pop up in the future.

My neurologist strongly recommended that I keep a headache diary. This seemed like a tedious and time-consuming task at the time; however, she recommended the iHeadache app (available for iPhones) which is an extremely quick and easy tool to use to track migraines. The app is free. (There is a paid version of the app available but it is exactly the same as the free version but without the ads). Those of you with Android devices can use the online version of the iHeadache tracker or can use similar tools available via Google Play (such as Migraine Buddy).

I used the iHeadache app religiously for two years. It enlightened me to potential triggers and also made me tap into the clues that my body were giving me to warn me that a migraine was about to ruin my day.

For example, I learned that I almost always experienced a migraine during “my time of the month.” In addition, a migraine always seemed to appear after consuming large quantities of caffeine or a glass of red wine. Tracking my migraines also allowed me to realize that a good chunk of my migraines came after stressful and action-packed weeks (otherwise known as stress release migraines). So, after completing a giant project at work on a Friday, a migraine was usually there to greet me on Saturday morning. Lastly, prolonged exposure to bright or flashing lights have triggered some of my worst migraines. I now avoid these triggers at all costs.

Tracking my migraines also made me evaluate potential clues that would alert me that a migraine would arrive in a few hours. I began to see that I was usually more absentminded than usual (making more typing errors, losing my train of thought, missing my exit on the highway, etc.) and became inexplicably overtired a few hours before a migraine would come on. Visual disturbances (or aura) also would appear just shortly before the pain would arrive. I learned if I took my rescue medication (these days it is strictly ibuprofen) when I first started experiencing these “clues,” I could either avoid the migraine entirely or reduce its intensity dramatically.

While we all may have distinct triggers, some triggers seem to be more prevalent than others. Click on the link below to see some common triggers:

Common Migraine Triggers

My advice to you: Consider downloading iHeadache or a similar app today. I guarantee that most of you will begin to see a pattern when it comes to what triggers your migraines. As an added benefit, most of these apps include a physician sharing feature – so that your neurologist can also help evaluate your migraine data for trends and treatment.

3. Consider Adding a Riboflavin (B2) Supplement

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Riboflavin or vitamin B2 seems to be the forgotten stepchild of the vitamin B family. More notable B vitamins, like B12, B1 and B3, seem to hog the spotlight.

While all of the B vitamins offer substantial health benefits, riboflavin may actually help to prevent migraines. Several studies link riboflavin to fewer migraine episodes and decreased usage of migraine pain relief medications (or rescue medications).

My neurologist recommended 400 mg of riboflavin per day. Taking this supplement helped reduce my migraine attacks significantly. If I skip a few days of taking this vitamin, I will often get a mild headache if not a full-blown migraine. So, this vitamin bottle is always in my medicine cabinet.

The only down side about riboflavin is that it is hard to find at regular drug stores or grocery stores. On the plus side, it is readily available online and at vitamin stores, health food shops and some specialty supermarkets like Whole Foods.

My advice to you: Talk to your doctor about adding riboflavin to your own medicine cabinet and to your migraine preventive care plan.

4. Why Not Try Magnesium?

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Along with riboflavin, magnesium is another go-to supplement in my quest to end my migraine suffering. Magnesium is an integral water soluble mineral that is involved in many of our bodily functions. Magnesium is often lacking in our American diets; in fact, the World Health Organization estimates that up to 75% of Americans do not get the US RDA for dietary intake of magnesium. Could this be a contributing factor as to why so many of us are afflicted with migraines? Hmmm…

And like riboflavin, the medical community continues to study how magnesium supplementation may help us migraine sufferers. My neurologist is a big proponent of taking magnesium for migraine prevention; in fact, it was her very first suggestion to me. My doctor recommended that I take 500 mg daily – but others on migraine forums have been instructed by their physicians to take more or less. Go with what your doctor recommends!

Magnesium is now a permanent fixture in my supplement routine. I recently switched from magnesium citrate to magnesium glycinate at the advice of my functional medicine doctor.

One thing to note about magnesium: it is always best taken at night – as it can make you quite relaxed and sleepy.

My advice to you: Add magnesium to the list of preventive care strategies to talk with your neurologist about at your next visit. Ask if he or she recommends other supplements or herbs as a prophylaxis as well.

5. Evaluate Your Diet

Certain foods in your diet can trigger migraines or make an attack worse. (Yes, you chocolate lovers out there – even chocolate.) An elimination diet may help you pinpoint some of your unknown triggers and avoid future migraine agony.

Around the same time that I first adopted many of the strategies discussed above, I changed my diet (for health reasons not related to migraines). I went 100% gluten and dairy free. I noticed after this diet switch-up that my migraines were much less frequent and those that appeared were much less intense. I already knew that gluten and dairy were wreaking havoc on my body in other ways, but they also might have been contributing to my migraines. This diet change, couple with my other prevention strategies, proved to be the winning combination in significantly reducing my migraine episodes.

My advice to you: Elimination diets are a great tool to uncover digestive issues; why not give it a try for migraines as well! Although challenging and time-consuming, it might provide you with the insight that you need to prevent these suckers (migraines) from creeping up on you again.

Get on the Path to Wellness

I am hopeful that these strategies as well as the countless other strategies out there (either from fellow sufferers on the Internet or from medical professionals) will get you on the path to feeling well. Find what works for you and embrace it!

In closing, I will leave you with a few other  supplements I take or dietary choices I make that likely contribute to my significantly improved migraine health:

CoQ10

Fish Oil

Curcumin (turmeric)

No added sugar (or almost no added sugar) in my diet

It’s a Bit Nutty What’s In Most Nut Butters

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Yesterday while food shopping at my favorite grocery store, I spent at least 15 minutes reading label after label of the various nut butters stocked on the shelves. (I know; I totally need to get a life!) I thought it would be quick and easy to find some new and nutritious nut butters to add to my regular dietary line-up. After all, I was shopping in the “healthy” foods section of the store.

Boy, was I wrong, though! What I found instead was some sneaky and unhealthy ingredients being added to these “healthy” nut butters.

A Good Nut Butter is Hard to Find

Nut butters are one of my favorite sources of protein from a non-animal source. Because I am an omnivore, I like to diversify my protein sources as much as possible. While I avoid peanut butter (for reasons I describe below), a broad selection of other nut butter options are readily available in most supermarkets and health food stores these days.

My typical poison, or so to speak, when it comes to nut butters is almond butter. I always have almond butter stocked up and ready to eat in my kitchen. It’s a great go-to afternoon snack on its own, fabulous in smoothies and just delightful paired with fruit.

I have been purchasing the same brand of almond butter for several years: Woodstock Natural Almond Butter. It’s one of the few almond butters available in regular supermarkets without any troubling added ingredients. On the plus side, this brand is 100% natural (almonds are literally the only ingredient). The down side is that it is a bit pricey (close to $13 a pop). In fact, the only other nut butters without additives I found at the well-stocked supermarket last night were even more expensive ($15 and up!).

Additives We Just Don’t Need

Why Added Sugar?

Almost nothing annoys me more than when manufacturers add sugar to products that really don’t need sugar. Most of the cheaper nut butter jars and even some more expensive options at the supermarket I shopped at last night contained added sugar. And I studied all of the different varieties (e.g., almond, cashew, hazelnut, brazil, walnut) on the shelves. Seeing cane sugar pop up time and time again in many nut butters just left me shaking my head and wondering why extra sugar is needed in nut butters at all? We all get enough sugar in our diets; so, the last thing we need is sugar in hidden sources.

Palm: The Unnecessary Nut Butter Oil

Another troubling additive that I found in a lot of nut butters is palm oil. It turns out, palm oil is one controversial oil. It is not only super high in saturated fat; the palm oil industry is linked to some pretty serious environmental issues.

Palm oil is derived from the palm oil fruit, which is grown on trees in palm oil plantations (typically in Indonesia and Malaysia). Since palm oil is used in many food and products beyond nut butters, the demand for palm oil continue to grow. As a result, farmers are clearing out rainforests and other forest lands to expand palm oil plantations. This expansive deforestation has been linked to reduced biodiversity and increased greenhouse gas emissions – which of course is linked to climate change.

Regardless of the environmental implications, palm oil is absolutely unnecessary in nut butters. The 100% natural, one ingredient nut butters taste amazing without this oil; so why add it in the first place?

Skipping the Peanut Butter All Together

One “nut” butter I will never drop in my shopping cart is peanut butter. (I put nut in quotations because the peanut is not technically a nut; it is a legume.) Even though peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were a staple growing up, I’ve since learned that peanut butter consumption can be harmful to our health.

Peanuts contain toxic molds, too much Omega 6 fats which can cause inflammation and often have high levels of pesticides. Some even have trans fats due to added vegetable oil. See the articles below for more information about the dangers of regular peanut butter consumption:

Hidden Dangers of Peanut Butter

Reasons You Should Not Eat Peanut Butter

Why I Gave Up Peanut Butter?

Finding Healthy Nut Butters Online

If, like me, you run into trouble finding a good selection of natural and healthy nut butters at your regular grocery stores, online stores are another option. In fact, sometimes you can snag even better prices online on amazon.com, vitacost.com or via Thrive Market. Here are a few excellent online options:

A Final Option: Make Nut Butter Yourself

One last option is to make your own nut butters at home. I have yet to make nut butter but plan to give it the old college try in the future. If you want to try to make your own nut butters, check out sites like Pinterest and YouTube for some guidance from experts!

The Great Olive Oil Mistake

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I used to make a colossal mistake when cooking with olive oil. Whenever I was frying or sautéing practically anything on the stove, I would crank up the heat to the highest possible level and drown the frying pan with copious amounts of olive oil. Growing up, this was pretty much the only acceptable way of cooking anything on the stove. Even the chefs on early cooking shows (and I’m talking way before The Food Network), would following this approach … well, when they weren’t cooking with lard and vegetable oils; it was the 1980s after all!

Olive Oil is Best Served Cold

In recent years, I’ve been enlightened that olive oil is best used in cold dishes such as salads or on low heat settings. All oils have something called a “smoke point,” where the oil begins to lose its nutritional value and flavor. With olive oil (especially extra virgin olive oil), the smoke point is relatively low. So for years and years, I thought I was making extremely healthy dishes when cooking with olive oil in high heat; in reality, I was smoking out most of the nutrition, antioxidants and flavor.

On occasion, I will still add olive oil to dishes on the stove; however, I will keep the heat extremely low to retain the oil’s natural nutritional value and flavor profile. While olive oil isn’t ideal for medium-high or high heat cooking, there are plenty of oils and fats that are perfect for more intense flames.

The Best Olive Oil Alternatives

Unrefined and Refined Coconut Oil

My favorite olive oil alternative is coconut oil, which I use on a daily basis. I fry vegetables, turkey burgers and chicken in coconut oil, add it to smoothies and even use it as a butter/olive oil replacement on sweet potatoes. I believe that coconut oil adds such a unique flavor profile to most dishes. I truly cannot get enough of coconut oil!

Coconut oil not only tastes amazing – it contains some of the healthiest fats that you can consume. Coconut oil contains medium-chain fatty acids (e.g., Lauric Acid, Caprylic Acid and Capric Acid) which research has shown to be easier to digest and process than other fats. The Internet is riddled with thousands of articles about the benefits of coconut oil and I happen to believe every single one of them. I totally drink the coconut oil “Kool-Aid!”

And, coconut oil is ideal for medium and high heat frying. For high heat, I recommend refined coconut oil. Unrefined coconut oil is ideal for medium or low heat dishes on the stove.

Coconut oil is gaining quite the following. In addition to its traditional cooking uses, many are also discovering other fabulous multi-functional uses of coconut oil, such as using it as a facial moisturizer, scalp treatment, body lotion, shaving lotion, conditioner and more. Manufacturers are even adding it as a key ingredient to many leading beauty brands and products.

Avocado Oil

My second favorite olive oil alternative is avocado oil. I only started cooking with avocado oil about a year ago, but it was love at first taste.

Avocado oil has a slightly nutty taste. It really is a super oil, though, as it is tasty in cold dishes such as salads and in hot dishes alike. I use it in salads as well as cook chicken, turkey meatballs and veggie burgers in avocado oil. Avocado oil is excellent in stir fried recipes!

Similar to refined coconut oil, avocado oil retains its nutritional value in high heat. Avocado oil is packed with monounsaturated fats, potassium, vitamins (such as A, E and D) and antioxidants. Like coconut oil, avocado oil makes a great moisturizer or deep conditioner for your hair. You can’t go wrong with avocado oil!

Refined Sesame Oil

My third olive oil alternative recommendation is sesame oil. While not the perfect oil for all dishes due to its strong flavor, sesame oil is spectacular in any dishes that you want to create with an Asian flair. I typically saute green beans, carrots and sometimes chicken in sesame oil. And of course, sesame oil is ideal for most stir fried dishes.

Sesame oil, which is best in medium or low heat dishes, also contains a healthy dose of fats as well as minerals (copper, zinc and calcium) and amino acids.

Honorable Mentions

Here are some other olive oil alternatives (oils and fats) that are medium and high stove heat friendly:

  • Macadamia oil (best for medium heat)
  • Almond oil (best for medium heat)
  • Walnut oil (best for medium heat)
  • Ghee (best for medium or high heat; ghee is a clarified butter where most of the milk solids are removed; tread lightly with this one if you have a dairy allergy)

I personally don’t cook with these oils/fats but many others do and they too can withstand higher levels of heat.

For many health reasons, that I won’t get into now, it is always a good idea to avoid the following oils/fats (even if they are high heat tolerant):

  • Vegetable oil
  • Canola oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Butter

A Little Goes A Long Way

Just remember to avoid having a heavy hand with any oil that you use. A healthy meal can quickly turn unhealthy if your food is saturated in oil. For most dishes, a few tablespoons or less is sufficient. Here’s to creating healthier dishes with healthier oils starting today!

Say Sayonara to Soda and Hello to Better Options!

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It’s no secret to anyone I know; I am no fan of sugary or fake sugary (diet) sodas. In fact, my family members, friends and twitter followers are likely growing weary of my regular tweeting and lecturing on the topic.

I gave up sugary and diet sodas about 10 years ago. The truth of the matter is that soda and I were growing apart for a long time before that. My initial “a-ha” moment about the potential dangers of soda came to me when I was just out of college. While at my first post-college job, I received a forwarded chain message about 50 unknown uses for Coca Cola. (Remember those forwarded chain emails that people would clog your email with 24/7; thankfully, that trend fizzled.)

I don’t remember who sent me the email about the uses of Coca Cola, but the more I scrolled through the list, the more mortified I became. Coca Cola was not only the refreshing beverage that I had come to know and love – it included chemicals that were capable of bleaching a toilet, removing oil stains from a garage floor, dissolving a tooth, stripping paint off metal furniture and more. Ick! In case you’re curious, here’s a similar list:

50+ Uses for Coca Cola

A Slow Goodbye

You would think that forwarded email would be enough to end my relationship with Coca Cola (and soda in general) once and for all; but it was not. Soda was a tough habit to break. It took a few more years and lots more articles and research on the topic before I said goodbye for (mostly) good.

I haven’t really thought about soda much in the last 10 years. On a few EXTREMELY rare occasions, mostly at parties or when it was the only option available wherever I was, I have splurged and sipped on a glass of Sprite or Ginger Ale. Soda is just not worth my time or energy overall any more, though. I have become content with the many other safer and healthier beverage choices out there. (See some healthier options below.)

Soda is Not Just Unhealthy…It’s Dangerous

Scientists and physicians have long studied the effects of regular soda consumption. For years, we were warned about the high sugar content of regular soda and the dangers of the artificial sweeteners in diet soda. Soda has been linked to everything from obesity to diabetes. Some of the latest research is even more troubling, linking soda consumption to higher rates of stroke, tooth decay and reduced bone density.

Consider the soda facts and research: It’s downright shocking that one 12 oz. can of Coca Cola includes almost 40g of sugar!  A 20 oz. bottle of Mountain Dew contains 77g of sugar. Diet soda is often branded as the healthier soda option. While diet soda does not contain sugar, the artificial sweeteners have been linked to weight gain and increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, large waist circumference and elevated glucose). Check out the research for yourself: 

Stop Drinking Soda

Risks of Diet Soda

Soft Drinks and Disease

Not to Fret…Better Options Are Here

Nobody can deny that soda provides the ultimate thirst refreshment; however, I’ve found a few fizzy beverage options that come pretty darn close to a satisfying glass of soda but without the health red flags. Here goes:

1)      Plain Old Seltzer or Mineral Water

It may be the obvious substitute but chilled seltzer or mineral water is almost as refreshing as soda – without the sugar or artificial sweeteners. If you are buying seltzer from a store, just make sure you steer clear of the options with added flavors or other additives. If you want to make your own seltzer, SodaStream is a great option; just avoid any of the SodaStream flavorings which are riddled with sugar or sweeteners.

2)      Seltzer with a Twist

My sister enlightened me to the art of doctoring up a seltzer. Here are a few things that you can add to seltzer to immediately up the flavor ante:

  • Fresh lemon or lime juice (or both)
  • Cucumber slices
  • Fresh ginger slices
  • A half teaspoon of vanilla or almond extract
  • Sliced strawberries, raspberries and grapes… in fact, why not make a pitcher of seltzer and make a seltzer sangria!

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3)      Sparkling Kombucha

Kombucha, which is fermented tea with a culture of yeast and bacteria, is an acquired taste for some. I’ve heard it compared to skunked beer, vinegar and much worse (if you could imagine). I actually found a sparkling kombucha that is mild and refreshing: Raw & Organic Live Kombucha – Sparkling Ginger. It’s much healthier than soda (about ¼ of the sugar) and contains billions of live probiotics in one bottle. Plus, the founder’s personal story is inspiring – as he was on a quest to create a healthy and tasty kombucha following the death of his sister to cancer. If you have shied away from kombucha in the past, give this one a try.

4)      Sparkling Herbal Tea

Make your regular tea a bit more exciting by adding some sparkling water. Simply brew your favorite herbal tea (my favorites include ginger, chamomile and mint), chill and add sparkling water. Enjoy!