Trader Joe’s Must Haves: The Best Finds!

Well, it’s been a minute since I updated my blog. In reality, it’s been more like 481,800 minutes (which equates to 11 months). Yikes! Starting a new job this year, planning a large celebration and more have unfortunately kept me focused on things other than this blog. I can’t think of a better topic to reemerge from my hiatus, though, than one that involves one of my favorite stores: Trader Joe’s.

My obsession with Trader Joe’s is almost two decades in the making. When I think of Trader Joe’s, I am always taken back to my college years spent in Fairfield, CT. My friends and I would flock to the Trader Joe’s on the Post Road a few times a month and stock up on essentials and the latest unusual finds. Back then, Trader Joe’s was one of only a few alternatives to traditional grocery stores.

When I moved to New York City years later, my regular weekend routine would include walking 17 blocks to the Trader’s Joe’s in Union Square. At the time, it was the only Trader Joe’s in NYC – so the lines were beyond insane and would literally wrap around the entire store. It was not unusual to have to wait 45 minutes or more (gasp!) on the checkout line. Despite the crowds and lengthy checkout wait, shopping there was always an experience. I would often head into the store with the intention of buying 3-4 items, and leave with about 20 or more. At that point, walking the 17 blocks home was not an option; so my bags were often taxied home in the trunk of a yellow cab.

Fast forward several years and another state later, and I am still a Trader Joe’s regular.  The best thing, in my humble opinion, about Trader Joe’s is that they are always changing things up. They update their stock with the seasons and are quick to embrace the latest health trends. As an added bonus, Trader Joe’s always stock their stores with many healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free and other options. Plus, they have some of the best prices around on organic produce.

When it comes to my favorite products at Trader Joe’s, I can easily think of 20 products to feature in this blog post.  But, in the interest of not losing your attention, I will limit my favorite things list to just seven. Well, without further adieu, here are my Favorite Things: The Trader Joe’s Edition:

DBD96077-A201-4849-82E8-D310289DFA181. Organic Coconut Oil Packets To Go – Trader Joe’s sells these amazing coconut oil packets that you can take with you on the go. Every store it seems these days sells coconut oil containers; however, these packets take things to another level of cool.  Instead of practically breaking my spoon attempting to retrieve some coconut oil from the containers, I just grab one of these packets. I use these packets in smoothies, on sweet potatoes and even use it as a make-shift lip balm in the winter months. You can’t beat the convenience! Check out 101 ways to use coconut oil here.

142CA78A-93ED-4A83-9EB2-2841C6E071112. Frozen Cauliflower Pizza Crust  – Oh my goodness! This frozen crust made of cauliflower and corn flour is absolutely amazing. Let’s face it; gluten-free pizza crust is usually pretty dreadful. (In fact, cardboard is probably more flavorful.) But, this pizza crust is delicious. My favorite “pizza” to make using this crust is topped with pesto (see next item) and arugula. On Christmas, I used this crust to make an appetizer with tomato sauce and veggies – which received rave reviews from my family of taste testers.

E991E68D-3E26-4D0F-AA57-BFC25D5DAB303. Vegan Kale, Cashew & Basil Pesto – While I am definitely not a Vegan (see next item for proof), this pesto is mouth-wateringly good. It is next to impossible to find a pesto made without some form of cheese. Finding this pesto, which has a tendency to sell out quickly at Trader Joe’s, has saved me from having to make my own dairy-free pesto.  Try this pesto as a dip with vegetables, with chicken or turkey, as a burger topping or on a cauliflower crust pizza. It can be found in Trader Joe’s hummus section.

1ED5F327-E1B2-4230-B392-E698CE75086B4. Grass-Fed Angus Beef Burgers – Quality beef can be expensive. Trader Joe’s, however, sells these tasty grass-fed burgers for a reasonable price compared to their competitors. I don’t eat beef too often, but when I do, this is my go-to burger.

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5. Unsweetened Golden Oolong Iced Tea – Unsweetened iced tea can sometimes be a bit bitter and unappetizing. This tea, made from oolong tea leaves, has a natural bit of sweetness without any added sugar or artificial sweetener. This tea is a staple in my refrigerator.

IMG_03816. Organic Ginger and Turmeric Tea – Speaking of tea, Trader Joe’s has a fabulous assortment of tea bags that often change with the season. My pantry currently has about six or more different varieties of Trader Joe’s tea boxes. At the moment, my favorite is the ginger and turmeric tea. It is surprisingly sweet with a just a hint of spice. And ginger and turmeric are both soothing on the stomach and help combat inflammation. (My honorable mentions for tea are Trader Joe’s Winter Wake Up Tea and the Bed Time Tea. The Bed Time Tea is an effective cure for insomnia!)

DC833244-95FE-4880-A84E-2B18E2562E2C7. Colorful Carrot Coins – I am always looking for new foods to try in my air fryer, which I have had now for just over a year. Trader Joe’s sells a ton of great fresh and frozen vegetable options. These colorful carrot coins are my go-to veggies at the moment. I heat these in the air fryer as a side dish or on the stove as part of a stir fry. These carrot coins are also great on a pizza (see #2 above).

Well, I could go on and on about my love for Trader Joe’s and ramble on about their fabulous products all day. In closing, they also have some pretty excellent bath, face and body products too. (Check out their Coconut Body Butter…it’s considerably cheaper and arguably better than any body butter/lotion around.)

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.

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.

 

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!

 

 

 

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!