All-Canadian Energy Bites

Oh Canada! We’re celebrating 150 years today. In honour of Canada and for Canada Day I created this recipe, drawing inspiration from several traditional Canadian sourced ingredients to celebrate the “tastes of Canada”.

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Being a natural source of energy and providing many important nutrients make these little treats the perfect little snack any time of day. However, I particularly enjoy having them to refuel after a good workout.

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Maple Syrup is one of the most classically Canadian ingredients ever! Canada is the world’s foremost producer of maple syrup and most of that comes from Quebec. The process of making maple syrup is quite intensive which is why it is rather expensive and should be valued even more. Maple syrup is a natural source of energy and sweetener. In addition to its unique flavour, it is also a source of antioxidants which contribute to overall health. A little goes a long way though that’s for sure!

Flax Seeds are a great source of anti-inflammatory Omega 3s as well as fibre.

Sunflower Seeds are grown on the Canadian prairies. They have many nutrients such as magnesium, iron, copper and zinc and they are one of the best sources of Vitamin E, one of the most powerful antioxidants.

Walnuts are found throughout Ontario and there are many different varieties of nut trees grown in Ontario. Walnuts are a source of protein and healthy fats including important anti-inflammatory omega 3s.

Dates are an exception to the theme here, as they aren’t native to Canada, but they are another great natural source of energy as well as a good source of fibre and minerals like potassium and iron which are important for both general health and exercise performance like potassium and iron.

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Enjoy the flavours of Canada and have a Happy Canada Day!

All Canadian Energy Bites

Peas Pack a Powerful Nutritional Punch!

Small and delicate but not to be underestimated, peas are a signature food for springtime. Don’t be deceived by their small size. Peas offer a powerful nutrition punch!

In Ancient Egypt peas were stored in the tombs of pharaohs and mummies because the Egyptians thought them valuable for sustain them on their journey through the afterlife.

There are a few different varieties of fresh peas. These include green peas, snow peas and sugar snap peas

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Peas are low in fat and high in fibre. They offer a good amount of protein and some valuable nutrients including Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and Vitamin K. Vitamin K is particularly important although often found in green leafy vegetables it is involved in wound healing and maintaining blood vessels as well as contributing to bone health by assisting with bone formation thus strengthening bones which may help prevent fractures and the risks associated with osteoporosis. Different varieties have slightly different nutritional compositions. Green peas provide more riboflavin, niacin and zinc than snow peas but snow peas offer more Vitamin C, Vitamin E, folate, lutein and zinc.

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Fresh peas are available from June to July. Always refrigerate your fresh peas to preserve their freshness. Wash peas well. You may have to shell your peas before using if eating green peas. Snow peas and Sugar snap peas do not need to be shelled but you should remove their tips at both ends before you eat them.

Meal Ideas for Fresh Peas

There are so many ways you can use peas to power-up your diet and make your meals more interesting! They are easy to add into many different recipes like soups, salads, pasta sauces or served on their own as a side dish. You don’t need much – one serving of peas is only 1/2 cup (125 mL).

  • Fresh sugar snap peas or snow peas make great healthy portable snack foods. Serve with hummus for extra flavour.
  • Make snow peas part of the vegetable mix for a stir-fry.
  • Steam fresh peas for 1-2 minutes. They make a simple but satisfying side to meats and fish. Be careful not to overcook your peas or else you will have mushy peas.

 

Note: Fresh is best where peas are concerned. Frozen peas are better than canned peas though because the retain more of their flavour and nutrients than canned peas. You can substitute frozen peas for fresh.

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Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

Strawberries and rhubarb are one of my favourite combinations! The sweetness of the berries and the tartness of the rhubarb are the perfect match.

Strawberry rhubarb crisp is a timeless recipe. I look forward to making it every Spring when these two foods come into season. It’s a versatile recipe. You can serve it on its own – hot or cold. You can have it as a snack or serve as desert. It also makes a great snack any time of day – easy and quick to eat.

I took my own twist on recreating this classic recipe to empower-it-up, so to speak. Not only does this version taste amazing, it also has some extra nutritional nuggets to make you feel amazing for having some.

You can read up on all the cool things about strawberries and rhubarb in two previous posts.

Oats are a good source of dietary fibre which may improve blood cholesterol and help control blood sugar levels. Oats are also a whole grain and source of B Vitamins and Vitamin E.

Almonds provide extra protein and fibre as well as Vitamin E and heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids fatty acids.

Hemps seeds are my super special addition. These tiny little seeds are nutrition powerhouses, offering extra protein boost as well as a good dose of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Not to mention a delightful sweet nutty flavour.

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Note: you can certainly use another type of flour for this. I chose coconut because I like that it adds a little extra sweetness and nuttiness. You could also substitute butter for the coconut oil in the recipe or a different sweetener for coconut sugar.

Meet the Superheroes in Your Diet

Super heroes are an important part of our culture. We all love our super-heroes. And for our bodies their superheroes are called antioxidants. The main function of antioxidants is to protect our cells from oxidative damage. Antioxidants may also improve immune function and help prevent chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Oxidation is a natural process of life, it’s one of the contributors to aging. It is a reaction that occurs for various reasons, and results in the production of free-radicals.

The free radicals produced by oxidation are like the villains, they damage the cells of our bodies because they are what we call “unstable” meaning they are missing an important part of themselves – an electron (special sub atomic particle) from their outermost electron orbital. As a result, they are always looking to steal an electron from any innocent cell to complete their orbitol.

It follows that free radicals will produce more free radicals which will do more damage to our bodies. So it’s important we find ways to defend ourselves and stop the destruction before it goes too far. There are many reasons the free radicals get produced in the body, some of them you can avoid like smoking, others not so much like air pollution, sun exposure. EVEN exercise produces free radicals.

Your mission is to counteract the destruction caused by free radical production and save our cells by choosing foods which provide antioxidants to support our systems.

Super hero veggies

But where do we find antioxidants? Fruits and vegetables are the number one go to source for antioxidants. Eating the right number of servings of fruits and vegetables everyday is the best way to get your antioxidants. Other sources include: whole grains, nut and seeds, coffee, tea and even chocolate.

Here are some examples of nutrients that may function as antioxidants and where you can find them:

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is considered one of the, if not the greatest antioxidant.This is the primary function of the vitamin. Nuts and seeds (especially sunflower seeds!), vegetable oils and avocado are very high in vitamin E.

Vitamin C

Most fruits and vegetables, but especially citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruit, will give you Vitamin C. Where Vitamin C is concerned, fresher is better, and you don’t want to overcook your veggies because excessive heat and oxygen destroys Vitamin C.

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Vitamin A

Vitamin A has many functions and one may be to act as an antioxidant. Vitamin A is particularly important in keeping eyes and skin healthy. Find Vitamin A in meat, specifically liver, as well as dairy products and fish.

Selenium

Selenium is a mineral that functions as an antioxidant. Brazil nuts are very high in selenium. Meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans and grains products also provide selenium.

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Carotenoids

Carotenoids are a group of compounds that act as antioxidants. They include beta-carotene, lycopene (found in tomoatoes), lutein, and zeaxanthin. Carotenoids are pigments which give colour to many fruits and vegetables dark green, orange, yellow and red. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid may have additional benefits because it is converted to Vitamin A, another antioxidant, in the body.

Flavonoids

Flavonoids are another group of compounds, many of which have been shown to have antioxidant properties. Flavonoids are found mainly in berries (especially dark coloured ones like blueberries), onions, apples as well as cocoa (think chocolate!) tea (particularly green tea) and wine.

Antioxidant Supplements

There are many supplemental forms of all of these nutrients available. However, as long as you follow an adequate, balanced and nutritious diet and have all the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, in every colour, you should have no trouble meeting your body’s antioxidant needs and therefore not require supplementation. More research is needed into the validity of antioxidant supplementation. You can have too much of a good thing and some antioxidants, like the fat soluble vitamins A & E can be toxic if you exceed the recommended amount.

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Why are Strawberries Red?

Petite, plump and juicy … that’s the making of a perfect strawberry. Strawberries are one of the most popular fruits in North America, with over 70 varieties being grown. There is nothing quite like local fresh strawberries in season. Strawberries are available from June to July, on the edge between spring and summer. Looking for a fun activity and an excuse to enjoy some beautiful weather? Go strawberry picking!

Rich in nutritional benefits, strawberries offer a good amount of dietary fibre and potassium. What’s more, they actually offer more Vitamin C than any other berry! They are low in calories and make one of the best snack foods not only because of their nutritional value but also because how easy they are to transport and consume.

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Generally, the first thing that draws us to pick one strawberry over another is its deep red ruby colour. Strawberries should also be firm, plump and well-shaped with fresh—looking green leafy caps. Give the strawberries a “sniff-test” to see if they have a nice sweet smell to them, that’s another factor to determine which strawberries to buy. Size is not a key determining factor when choosing strawberries. Always check your strawberries carefully before buying them. Examine the package from all angles, not just picking one up and taking it because the berries on top look good; you want to see if you can that none of the fruit hiding below the surface or at the bottom has gone bad. If you get home and find there are some mashed or bad berries discard them immediately.

Store your strawberries intact (with caps on), unwashed, in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat them. Rinse gently, drain, and remove the stems before you use them.

You can make use of your strawberries in so many simple and different ways: enjoy them as they are, cook with them, bake with them, make jam with them, add them to muffins, make yogurt parfaits and smoothies. They make a great addition to a spring-themed salad, to say nothing of all the strawberry deserts that are out there! One of my favourite uses has to be chocolate covered strawberries. The possibilities are endless!

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So what does make a strawberry red? Strawberries contain a molecule called anthocyanidin which is the anthocyanin precursor. Anthocyanins are an important kind of antioxidant, and they are also responsible for giving red fruits their colour. Anthocyanidin however is colourless. When the anthocyadin reacts with a sugar molecule to become anthocyanin, the antioxidant, it becomes red. This explains why unripe strawberries are unsweet and colourless and the riper the strawberries the redder in colour it will be. The ripening process is key to the colour change. We infer that to find the best berries look for the deepest, darkest red berry to get optimum taste and nutrition.

Enjoy strawberry season!

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Almond Cranberry Coconut Bars Recipe

This recipe came into being less than a week ago but what a success it has been already!

At only 100 calories and being gluten-free, dairy-free and all natural there’s so many good things about these little bars. What I’m still amazed by is how incredibly easy and fast they are to make. Literally, they are almost effortless to prepare and there’s no baking or cooking required.

Want to know more? Check out what makes these facts about the ingredients in these bars and why they are a real “empowering eat”.

Almonds are a key feature ingredients. Almonds are a super food, they are a source of many nutrients such as protein, heart healthy mono-unsaturated acids and Vitamin E, one of the most potent antioxidants.

Flax seeds are a functional food (offer bonus nutritional benefits beyond food energy) and are a good source fibre, Omega-3 fatty acids, which may lower the risk of heart disease, and phytonutrients which may lower the risk of developing some forms of cancer. Find out more about flax seed here.

Coconut has become very popular recently. While there’s not a ton of research on all the benefits of coconut, it is still a versatile ingredient and adds very nicely to the flavour and texture of these bars.

Cranberries are another superfood source of antioxidants as well as vitamin C and fibre.

Cinnamon is one of the most popular spices and for good reason. With high antioxidant properties. It also has effects on stabilizing blood sugar levels which is good if you want something that gives you long-lasting stable energy levels.

Honey is a natural sweetener and one of the oldest sweeteners ever used. You could substitute agave for honey if you wanted to in the recipe to make these bars vegan.

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For serving, you can make and take these bars with you on busy days to keep you fueled. They also make a big hit for desert at parties and events.

You can also cut up the bars and freeze them individually. They will keep for longer and stay fresher this way.

Enjoy!

Cranberry Almond Bars

Feature Food of the Week – Asparagus

There’s always a sigh of relief when the first crop of Asparagus comes in because that means spring really is here!

Asparagus is certainly a unique looking vegetable with it’s long thin stalks and fgreen-asparagus-1331460_1920unny spiky leaves. it’s been called the “aristocrat of the vegetable” for it’s regal appearance as well as its popularity with the nobility, from Roman emperors to King Louis XIV to name a few.

Asparagus is available in three colours: green, purple and white. The season for asparagus is brilliant and brief – it’s only available May and June – so make sure you try some while it’s here!

Nutritionally, asparagus is low in calories and offers high amount of fibre, iron, vitamin C, vitamin A and B vitamins. Folate in particular is a very important B vitamin found in asparagus.

When buying asparagus, look for stalks that are straight and crisp with tips that are tight and green/purple.

You should eat your asparagus as soon as you can but you can store for up to three days in the refrigerator if you have to. To preserve freshness, wrap the ends of the asparagus in a wet paper towel and cover with plastic warp or place stalks in a glass of water.

Quick Tip: Make sure you snap off the woody end of your asparagus before you cook it! Just hold it at the end and bend until it breaks off.

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Roasting and steaming are two great ways to cook asparagus. Steam asparagus for about 5 to 10 minutes. The time will depend on how thick the asparagus is. Roast asparagus for 12 – 15 minutes in at 425 F . I love how with roasted asparagus the tips become just a little bit crispy. Blanching is another method where you cook asparagus for 3-4 min in boiling water, then drain and run the asparagus under cold water to stop the cooking process.

Roasted asparagus goes really well as a simple side to meats such as chicken, turkey and steak. Asparagus pairs well with other vegetables in medleys. You can make it an addition to pasta dishes or in a stir-fry.

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Rhubarb Compote Recipe

As a follow-up to Monday’s post I’ve been cooking with Rhubarb this week.

This recipe for rhubarb compote that I came up with is incredibly easy to make recipe to make and so good. This compote is super versatile. It goes great as an accompaniment to so many things: over oatmeal, with yogurt you can use it to make a parfait, or even on top of pancakes or French toast.

In this recipe, I love the interplay of sweet and sour on the taste buds and the hint of spice gives just a little extra something that makes the flavour pop.

You can look back at Monday’s post to see all the good things about rhubarb. Honey is an all natural sweetener which has been used for thousands of years. It was very highly prized in Ancient Rome. In addition to being a natural sweetener it may provide some antioxidants and antibacterial activity.  You might think it interesting that ginger is included in this recipe. Ginger is often featured with rhubarb, and as you’ll see they make a great pairing. I put cinnamon with everything I can because it’s a great spice, I love it’s flavour, and it has great antioxidant properties as well as effects on controlling blood sugar.

There are suggestions for two different amounts of honey. Personally, I like things less sweet and thought ½ cup was too much but others told me that they preferred the recipe with this amount over the other. You’ll just have to give it a try and decide for yourself!

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The Story Behind the Slice Pt 2 – What You Need to Know When Choosing a Loaf of Bread

bread-933228_1920Bread, it’s been a staple forever it would seem. If you’ve read Tuesday’s post you’ll know more about all of that, where it came from and how it all came to where it is today.

Bread is part of the Grains and Starches Food Group. They are an important source of energy and nutrients to the human diets, particularly B Vitamins and Vitamin E in addition to minerals such as copper, iron and selenium. Moreover, grains are a good source of fibre which contributes to the maintenance of good health in many ways, such as reducing the risk of heart disease and diabetes, controlling blood sugar, lowering cholesterol as well as maintaining a healthy weight.

Nowadays, there are so many different kinds of bread available and they come in all different sizes, shapes and colours and even flavours. The question therefore is, with so many options on the shelves– which one do you choose?!!

 

In today’s post, I’ll give you a glossary of grains terminology to help you demystify some of the terms you might see or hear about as found on packaging and what they mean when trying to decide which loaf of bread to buy.

But first, here is a very quick overview of the anatomy of a grain. A grain is made up of 3 parts:

  1. Bran – outer layer or protective shell of the grain. This part provides fibre as well as some B-vitamins and minerals.
  2. Endosperm – middle part of the grain, and the largest component, which acts as a food source for the seed. This part provides carbohydrates (starches) and proteins.
  3. Germ – innermost and most nutrient dense part. This is where you will find the key nutrients of the grain.
PARTS OF THE GRAIN

Anatomy of a Grain

Now here is the overview of what terms you might see when you go to buy a loaf of bread and what you need to know so you can make an informed choice:

Whole Grain – all three parts of the grain kernel (bran, endosperm, germ) are found in relatively the same proportions as in nature. Whole grains undergo the least amount of processing of any grains. This is the most advantageous choice from a nutrition perspective. It is recommended that at least 50% of our grains be whole grain. Look at the ingredients for the word “whole” in front of grains to make sure you are getting a whole grain product and try and choose whole grains whenever you can!

Whole Wheat –made from the entire wheat kernel.  This makes it sound like it is  a whole grain, however in Canada, whole wheat flour has a product can labeled “whole wheat” has to contain only about 95% of the wheat kernel, so some of the germ and bran may be missing so.Whole wheat flour is first processed to separate the parts of the kernel, then the parts of the grain are recombined to make the flour “whole” again. Up to 5% of the bran and germ can be left out, which is done to decrease the risk of rancidity and improve shelf life. Thus when a product is “whole wheat” it may not actually be a “whole grain”. Check the ingredient list to be sure!

White/Refined Flour – the bran and the germ are stripped from the flour and only the endosperm (the soft starchy portion) is left through processing. Why remove these important components? One reason is that it improves the shelf life of the flour. Another, refined grains provide a softer and lighter texture to baked goods; however with the bran and the germ removed you miss out on the real nutritional value to be gained from eating grains such as the vitamins, minerals and fibre. Moreover, because you are missing the fibre found in whole grains, refined grains will cause a greater and faster rise in blood sugar and do not keep you full as long. Obviously, it is not possible to use whole grains for everything (i.e. cakes and pastries) but it is encouraged to limit the amount of refined grains in the diet as much as possible.

Enriched/Fortified – refined flour that has had the nutrients that were lost when the bran and germ were removed are added back into the flour. This means that enriched flours are slightly more nutritional than straight white flour but still falls short when compared to whole grain flour.

Multigrain – made from different kinds of grains (i.e. wheat, oat, rye, corn etc.). Note that this does not mean the bread is made from whole-grains; you will have to check the ingredient list to make sure.

Sprouted Grains – the sprouting process is stimulated under controlled conditions before the grain is used to make bread. You will still get all the benefits of whole grains, because all parts of the grain must be present, but in addition, enzymes activated as the sprouting process begins break down some of the starches in the endosperm making the grains easier to digest and making the vitamins more bioavailable. Ezekiel Bread is an example of a bread made from sprouted grains which is it’s claim to fame.

Gluten-Free – bread made from grains that do not contain gluten (these are wheat, rye and barley). Usually a mix of different grains such as rice, corn, tapioca are used to create a similar quality product to those that are made using gluten containing grains (more to come on what gluten is!).

Artisan Breads – specialty breads made from a variety of different grains to create different flavours and textures. They may or may not have whole grains. Just because a bread loos “special” or is darker in colour it is not a good indicator of the true nutritional quality of the grain product.

Final Thoughts:

In the end, we all have a choice and a right to choose what we eat. The important thing is that you take the time to consider your options and take responsibility for your choices. A healthy diet is about balance and moderation so having refined grains once in a while is okay. Enjoy and be grateful for what you eat! Go out and try new types of bread and ways to have your grains. There are so many good things to be gained from grains!

Want more? For more information on whole grains and choosing grains visit: https://wholegrainscouncil.org/

The Story Behind the Slice – Do You Know Where Your Loaf of Bread Came From?

There is nothing quite like the smell of freshly baking bread. The moment I say this you know what I mean. It casts a spell, stimulates the senses, lifts the spirit and has an overall incomparable effect on the human psyche.

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Bread is one of the principal and most important sources of nutrition ever known to human beings. It has been with us since the beginning and, in many ways, it was a spark for the growth of all civilization. There is much more that lies behind the bread you contemplate at the bakery; that you slice and toast for breakfast; that you pack or pick-up for lunch; or even the ordinary dinner roll. Where did it come from? How did it all come to this? Questions that lead to a fascinating story.

The domestication and cultivation of grains like wheat caused our nomadic ancestors to become stationary. This was a revolutionary lifestyle change. The discovery of bread making closely followed. Non-leavened flat breads (think of Indian naan or chapattis, Middle Eastern pitas, Mexican tortillas) were the first types of bread, produced by mixing flours with water to make a paste and then heating this to bake bread. This method made food more compact, easier to store and transport, and last longer. But bread making did not stop there.

The first recorded leavened bread (what you see now when you visualize bread) is traced back to ancient Egypt around 3000 BC. It was the discovery of yeast, also used for making beer, changed the course and preparation of bread forever. Apparently, the discovery of leavened bread was accidental, occurring when an air-born yeast randomly landed on some unbaked bread, thereupon reacting and catalyzing a transformation in the process of bread making. Yeast produces carbon dioxide gas which is what gives bread it’s puffiness. From there leavened bread became the new norm and popular throughout the globe.

Bread has maintained a singularly important role in history, culture and religion. Bread symbolizes prosperity. The bread riots of the French Revolution are infamous. For Christianity the reference to bread is common throughout the bible. In Judaism, the gorgeous braided Challah featured as part of the Sabbath and important holidays. Even in popular culture “bread” or “dough” is synonymous with “money” – again symbolizing abundance and prosperity.

Over the years, the simple loaf of bread has seen many developments and transformations but it has remained integral to survival. The processes of refining flour have been an ongoing mission since the beginning. White flour naturally requires more effort in processing and refining and it was considered a status symbol: whiter, finer breads for the higher classes and darker, denser and more coarse breads for the lower classes. Nowadays, it’s interesting to note how the mindset has shifted to the reverse with current nutrition knowledge promoting the importance of whole grains for their higher vitamin and mineral content.

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Considering where it has come from and where it is at today, it will be interesting to see what lies ahead in the story of bread. Unfortunately, the question always arises – have we gone too far? The addition of preservatives, high amounts of sugar and over-processing is stripping bread of the simplicity with which it started and the nutritional advantages with which it served our ancestors. In Canada from 2006 – 2011 there was limited or stagnant grown and some decline in certain sections and specific bread products. Nevertheless, innovation has always been an important hallmark in the history of bread. Already we have seen the diversification of special products and flours made from grains other than wheat, owing to the massive dietary shift to go gluten-free. Artisan breads are seeing a comeback, and they are more similar to what our ancestors would recognize as bread.

One thing is certain, awareness is of first and foremost importance. Realizing how the decisions we make affect our health and the power we have to make decisions for our own health and well being and champion change for ourselves, our families and our food systems.