Recipe: Ultimate Turkey and Veggie Burger Mashup

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A good turkey burger is hard to find! Ordering turkey burgers at restaurants is always hit or miss. Many times I have been completely let down when waiters or waitresses have delivered dry, whitish-looking pieces of meat that they attempt to pass off as turkey burgers. Sometimes the burgers even taste like they have been frozen for ages (even if they haven’t). Occasionally, I’ll find a good one that is tasty, juicy and looks appetizing – but sadly my experience is that most turkey burgers at restaurants are pretty lame.

I haven’t had too much luck with store-bought turkey burgers either. Most of the frozen turkey burgers are so incredibly thin, fall apart easily or include preservatives or other ingredients that leave them tasting like anything but turkey burgers. The pre-made and ready-to-cook turkey burgers, which are available in most meat sections of supermarkets, are most of the time okay; however, they are – let’s face it – a bit boring.

A Turkey and Veggie Burger Mashup

As the old saying goes: sometimes, when you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. So, I began experimenting and making my own turkey burgers with turkey ground meat and various other ingredients and seasonings. My favorite creation thus far is a turkey/veggie burger mashup.

Since it is impossible to find a pre-made veggie burger out there that is grain-free, Low FODMAPs diet friendly and soy-free, I decided to add my favorite (and diet compliant) vegetables to the turkey burgers. After a few tweaks here and there, I think I found a turkey burger recipe that will blow you away! I literally can’t get enough of these burgers. Here is the recipe:

The Ultimate Turkey Veggie Burger

This recipe yields 4 medium to large burgers. Double the recipe for larger families.

Kitchen Supplies You Will Need:

  • 2 frying/skillet pans (or 1 frying/skillet pan and a grill or grill pan)
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Grater
  • Chopper or chopping knife (if you don’t buy pre-chopped veggies)
  • Mixing bowl
  • Spatula or grill utensil

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of ground turkey (for best taste, look for ground turkey meat that is pinkish in color vs. white)
  • 1 egg (egg whites only)
  • 1/3 cup of diced celery (I buy pre-diced celery at the store to save time. For those of you on the Low FODMAPS diet, you may want to hold the celery or reduce the quantity – as celery is high in FODMAPS if greater than 5 cm of the celery stalk is used. If you don’t have any FODMAPS restrictions, you can substitute the celery for onions.)
  • 1/3 cup of diced red and/or green peppers (I buy pre-diced peppers to save time.)
  • 1/3 cup of diced carrots (As you probably guessed, I buy pre-diced carrots. You could also substitute with shredded carrots.)
  • 1/3 cup of grated/shredded sweet potato (some folks on the Paleo diet do not consider sweet potatoes to be Paleo compliant while others do. (I eat them!) Simply skip this step if they are not part of your diet.)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt (I prefer fine sea salt)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon of ground pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper (or chipotle seasoning or any spicy seasoning… cut this back a bit if you are not into food that is too spicy; add a bit more if you like your food super spicy!)
  • Cooking oil (avocado oil or other heat tolerant oil if you will by frying your burgers on the stove; olive oil is okay for sauteing the veggies. Click here for information about the best cooking oils.
  • 1 cup of Arugula (optional)
  • Juice from a lemon (optional)

Instructions:

  1. If you didn’t buy pre-chopped vegetables, chop the celery, carrots and peppers using a chopper or knife. You’ll need 1/3 of a cup of each vegetable.
  2. Peel the top portion of a sweet potato. Grate 1/3 cup of sweet potato using a grater.
  3. Add two tablespoons of oil to a hot frying pan/skillet. (Olive oil is okay for this step because you will be using low heat.)
  4. Add the celery, carrots, peppers and sweet potatoes to the pan.
  5. Saute on low heat on the stove for 8 minutes. And remove pan from heat and let cool for 2 minutes.
  6. Add one package of ground turkey to the mixing bowl.
  7. Pour in the salt, pepper, thyme and cayenne pepper.
  8. Add the vegetables to the turkey in the mixing bowl.
  9. Crack one egg and add just the egg whites to the turkey mixture.
  10. Mix all ingredients together well with your hands.
  11. Form 4 medium/large patties.
  12. In a separate frying pan, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of oil (avocado oil is great with this recipe).
  13. Add the turkey patties to the pan. (I tend to cook 2 at a time.)
  14. On medium-high heat on the stove, cook 6 minutes on each side. If your turkey burgers are not ready at that point, cook for an additional 2 minutes per side.
  15. Serve over a bed of arugula (drizzled in a bit of fresh lemon juice) if preferred.

The burgers are also fantastic on the grill (or on a grill pan)! Heat the grill to medium and cook for approximately 10 minutes per side or until the interior of the turkey burger reaches 160 degrees on a meat thermometer.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

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Recipes: Chipotle Chicken Meatballs With Crunch and Easy Asian Salad

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It’s summertime! The season of barbecues, swimming, vacations, mesmerizing sunsets, boat rides and lounging at the beach. If you’re anything like me, you try to spend as much time as possible outdoors during these spectacular warmer months.

The last place that most of us want to be when it is so beautiful outside is slogging away in our kitchens preparing complicated dinners. Summer dinner prep should be simple and require minimum fuss. Some of my favorite dinners to prepare during the warmer months require almost no thought and just a few easy steps.

While I confess that most of my favorite recipes for the summer months require the use of an outdoor grill, I also have a few tasty and simple “indoor” recipes for days that we need a break from the grill.

Today, I am sharing one of my recent favorite concoctions: Chipotle Chicken Meatballs with Crunch paired with an Easy Asian Salad. These two recipes are a perfect pairing of spicy and slightly sweet. The food is incredibly quick to make, super healthy and scrumptious! Best yet, the recipes take practically no time at all to prepare – so you can get yourself back outside to enjoy the glorious warm weather!

Chipotle Chicken Meatballs With Crunch

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This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, Paleo and Low-FODMAP diet friendly.

Kitchen Tools You’ll Need:

  • Large mixing bowl
  • Measuring cup and measuring spoons
  • Chopper or knife (if not buying pre-chopped celery)
  • Baking dish

Ingredients:

  • 1 package of ground chicken (14 oz. – 20 oz.)
  • 1 cup of chopped celery or red peppers (If you are following a strict Low FODMAP diet, use the red peppers instead of celery. Feel free to substitute with onions if you are not following a Low-FODMAP diet)
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons of ground chipotle seasoning (feel free to substitute chipotle for any other spicy seasonings in your pantry) Note: I like my food moderately spicy; use less or more depending on your tolerance for spiciness.
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • Oil to coat the baking dish and 2 tablespoons to sprinkle over the meatballs

Instructions:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coat the bottom of a baking dish with the oil of your choice (I typically use avocado oil but check out this article for some other ideas: The Best Oils for High Heat Cooking).
  3. Add the ground chicken to the large mixing bowl.
  4. Pour in the 1 cup of chopped celery. (To save time, I buy pre-chopped celery at the store but you can also use a food chopper or knife to finely chop the celery.)
  5. Add the cinnamon, chipotle seasoning, black pepper and salt.
  6. Mix all of the ingredients with your hands.
  7. Form meatballs and place them in the coated baking dish. (The recipe makes 12-15 medium to large meatballs.)
  8. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the meatballs. (For extra zing, sprinkle a little extra chipotle seasoning over the meatballs.)
  9. Bake for 30 minutes.
  10. Remove and serve … and pair it with Easy Asian Salad below.

If you are someone who is obsessed with grilling just about everything during the summer months, do not fear; instead of forming meatballs, you could always make chicken patties with this recipe and pop them on the grill!

Easy Asian Salad

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This recipe is gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, Paleo and Low-FODMAP diet friendly.

Kitchen Tools You’ll Need:

  • Salad Bowl
  • Measuring Cups

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 bag/container of mixed greens (organic preferred) Note: If you are cooking for 3 or more, double this recipe.
  • 1/4 cup of mandarin oranges (in water not syrup)
  • 1/4 cup of blanched slivered blanched almonds (purchase a bag with no added ingredients or salt; if you can’t find a bag at your regular grocery store, they also sell these online at retailers like amazon.com.)
  • 1/4 cup of chopped celery (use red peppers instead if you are following a strict Low FODMAPS diet)
  • (If you are not on a Low-FODMAP diet, add 1/4 cup of green or white onions)
  • 1 teaspoon of black pepper
  • Healthy salad dressing of your choice (I use olive oil and fresh lemon)

Instructions:

  1. Empty 1/2 bag or container of mixed greens in a salad bowl.
  2. Add the chopped celery and slivered blanched almonds to the bowl.
  3. Mix the salad
  4. Sprinkle the black pepper over the salad
  5. Drain the water from the can of mandarin oranges. Add the oranges to the top of the salad.
  6. Dress conservatively with the dressing of your choice.

Enjoy!

 

 

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Recipe: Delicious and Easy Ground Turkey Italiano

Lately, it is almost impossible to get through an entire day without seeing at least one advertisement for the many meal kit home delivery services available these days. Companies like Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated are spending a pretty penny on advertising their meal kits in every communications channel possible.

We’ve all seen the B list celebrities on Instagram (who are clearly getting paid ridiculous endorsement cash) post pictures while gloriously preparing one of these meal kits. Naturally, these celebrities are typically wearing a full face of makeup and freshly blown out hair – which is how all of us look while we cook. Right?

While I confess that I have never ordered meal kit delivery from any of these companies (mostly due to my dietary restrictions), I know several people who have given these kits a try. While there is no argument here that these meal kits are generally very healthy and can offer a fun family activity on occasion, I have also heard quite a few complaints. For starters, the meal kits can be fairly expensive. Although cheaper than a lovely meal at a fancy restaurant, the meal kits will definitely make your wallet a lot leaner if you order them regularly.

I’ve also heard rumblings that these kits require a considerable amount of preparation time. And some recipes might be more complicated than others to prepare. Sadly, none of the chefs that star in these companies’ commercials come in the box to help you get the dinner on the table.

Lastly, and probably most applicable to me, many of these kits do not work for people who have multiple food allergies and restrictions. You might be able to find one that is gluten-free but not Paleo. Or soy-free but not Low FODMAP friendly. So, I have to permanently pass on these meal kits and go with plan B.

Plan B: A Quick and Easy Meal With Simple Ingredients

While I can’t purchase the meal kits, I love the idea behind them. These kits provide families and individuals the opportunity to cook meals that are a million times healthier than fast food, take-out, processed foods and TV dinners.

If you have the extra cash, the time and a relatively normal diet, by all means order away! If you don’t, no need to fret. There are plenty of other meal options that are much more inexpensive, safe for most food allergies/restricted diets and take no time at all to prepare! In fact, I have a few recipes like this that are in my regular rotation. Below is my first in a series of simple and healthy recipes that I am thrilled to share with you and your family.

Ground Turkey Italiano Recipe

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I’d like to be able to sit here and tell you that I spent a long time dreaming up this recipe, but that is far from the truth. In reality, this recipe came to life in a matter of minutes. Basically, I was hungry and running low on groceries. As many of you can relate, I simply relied on what I had in stock in my kitchen. To my amazement, this recipe turned out to be a pretty tasty concoction. In fact, I have made versions of this recipe dozens of times. It is a top request of family members.

What You’ll Need:

Slow cooker (crock pot), large mixing spoon, food chopper (optional)

Ingredients:

  1. 1 20 oz. package of ground turkey
  2. 2 cups of tomato sauce (If you are following a Low FODMAP diet, it is often difficult to find a jar of tomato sauce without onions or garlic. For Low-FODMAP diet followers, purchase a 14.5 ounce can of plain tomato sauce (preferably organic). Open the jar and pour the contents in a mixing bowl. Add an ounce and a half of water and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add dried basil, oregano, salt pepper and any other seasonings that you prefer. If you are not following a Low-FODMAP diet, purchase a 16 oz.jar of tomato basil sauce (preferably organic). Make sure the sauce does not include added sugar.
  3. 1/2 cup of chopped celery or red peppers (Use red peppers instead of celery if you are following a strict Low FODMAPS diet. If you are not following a Low FODMAP diet, feel free to substitute the celery or peppers with onions. Also, if you are looking to cut down time, purchase pre-chopped celery or red peppers from the store. You can use the rest of the celery or red peppers in your omelette, salad or other recipes. Otherwise, a food chopper would save you some chopping time.)
  4. 3/4 cup of shredded carrots (I typically purchase shredded carrots in a bag at the grocery store. You can also substitute shredded carrots for diced carrots.)
  5. 2 teaspoons of dried basil
  6. 2 teaspoons of dried oregano
  7. Sea salt and pepper to taste
  8. 3 cups of arugula or mixed greens (raw or cooked)

Instructions:

  1. Add the 20 oz. package of ground turkey to your slow cooker. (If you prefer, you can lightly brown the ground turkey on the stove before adding the turkey to the slow cooker.)
  2. Pour the two cups of tomato sauce on top of the turkey.
  3. Next, add the 1/2 cup chopped celery (or onions)
  4. Add the 3/4 cups of shredded or diced carrots to the slow cooker
  5. The last ingredients are the seasonings. Add 2 teaspoons of basil, 2 teaspoons of oregano and sea salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Mix the ingredients together.
  7. Set the slow cooker to the 8-10 hour setting if you plan to cook the meal in the morning to serve at dinner time. Stir regularly if you will be home while the meal is cooking. (If you want to start the meal in the evening, set the slow cooker to the highest setting. The dish will be ready to serve in about two hours.)
  8. Serve over raw or sautéed arugula or mixed greens.

Or simply watch this video:

Bon Appetit!

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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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!

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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!

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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!

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The Great Salt Debate

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While scrolling through Twitter last week, I came upon a tweet about the dangers of consuming too much table salt. Table salt (otherwise known as iodized salt) has gotten a bad rap for a long time. For as long as I could remember, it was linked to everything from increased blood pressure to heart disease. Doctors often advise most patients to “go easy on the salt.”

So many of us listened. In fact, I stopped cooking with salt for a short time and even shunned the salt shakers on restaurant tables. But, that didn’t last long. Let’s face it; salt makes everything taste better. So, salt came back in my life in an entirely different form: unrefined sea salt. But is sea salt really better than table salt? Let’s discuss.

What’s the Deal with Table Salt?

Pros

  • Table salt contains added iodine which many of us are lacking in our diets.
  • It’s available everywhere (food stores, restaurants, pharmacies, etc.).
  • Table salt (in my humble opinion) is sometimes easier to use while cooking.

Cons

  • Table salt is highly processed to remove minerals.
  • Iodized salt contains additives (including some potentially dangerous ones such as silica, talc and ferrocyanide)
  • Many of us consume way too much salt (predominantly table salt) as it is contained in most processed foods.

  The 411 on Unrefined Sea Salt

Pros

  • Unrefined sea salt is natural and unprocessed.(Unrefined sea salt is typically not bright white in color, but may be pink, beige, gray or other colors.)
  • It contains no additives.
  • Unrefined sea salt contains trace minerals which could be beneficial, including selenium and boron.

Cons

  • Sea salt contains the same amount of sodium chloride as table salt – so even sea salt must be consumed in moderation.
  • Unrefined sea salt is typically more expensive than table salt and not as widely available.
  • It’s easier to add too much or too little salt to recipes when cooking with sea salt. (Practice makes perfect though!)

 Moderation is Key

Regardless of which type of salt you fancy, moderation is key! And you must also factor in salt added to the processed foods you may consume. In fact, most of the sodium that you consume (up to 75% according to the FDA) may be in the packaged foods you eat every day. So, it is important to read food labels carefully.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends that Americans over the age of 4 consume less than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day. (If you have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, it is recommended that you consume less than 1,500 milligrams of salt per day.)

Do Your Research

Based on dozens of articles on this topic that I have read, I have decided to stick with unrefined sea salt (in moderation of course!) and continue to limit my table salt intake (knowing that some of the packaged foods and restaurant foods will contain table salt). Since I am not a medical expert, I highly recommend that you do your own research or consult your physician or nutritionist for advice on this topic.

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