Chocolate Covered Almond Butter Stuffed Dates

Summertime brings to mind hot sunny afternoons and tempting frozen treats. Rather than reaching for an ice cream sandwich try making this recipe! These Chocolate Covered Almond Butter Stuffed Dates are refreshing, delicious and nutritious. They almost remind me of a Turtles chocolate caramel ice cream bar.

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Dates are one of the sweetest fruits and a real treat, but with some significant nutritional benefits as well. They are a rich source of fibre which is important for overall health, helping to control blood sugar and reduce blood cholesterol as well as help you feel full for longer which can support achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight. They also supply good amounts of potassium, an electrolyte which is important in the body’s acidity/alkalinity balance as well as normal muscle contraction, nerve impulses, blood pressure regulation and, last but not least, heart and kidney function. Dates also contain some iron.

Almond Butter is a source of protein as well as healthy fats. The healthy fats found in almonds are important for keeping hair and skin healthy, transporting fat soluble vitamins and providing energy. In particular, monounsaturated fatty acids may reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and improve overall cholesterol levels in the body. Almonds are a rich source of Vitamin E, one of the most powerful antioxidants found in our foods. Vitamin E helps counteract the oxidative damage caused by free-radicals in the body which can lead to numerous conditions and diseases such as coronary artery disease and atherosclerosis which can lead to heart attacks. Almonds also have more fibre than almost any other nut!

Dark Chocolate contains several important minerals including: copper, which helps in red blood cell formation and the construction of blood vessels and connective tissues and several neurotransmitters; iron, an essential part of hemoglobin found in red blood cells that allow them to carry oxygen to where it is needed by the cells in the body; and zinc, which may protect against macular degeneration. Cocoa butter which is a component of chocolate is comprised of oleic acid, a heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acid. The cocoa in chocolate provides flavonols which may lower the risk of heart disease and improve cognition. Phytochemicals called catechins are also provided by cocoa and these compounds act as antioxidants to protect against heart disease and some cancers. When choosing chocolate go for anything above 70%. The higher this percentage the higher the concentration of cocoa, however there is a trade-off in flavour as the higher the cocoa content the more bitter the chocolate will taste.

Chocolate Almond Butter Stuffed Dates

Quick Tip: While easy to make they have to be frozen twice and the freezing process does take some time. I stuffed the dates with the almond butter one night, dipped them in chocolate and froze them the next night and they were ready by the following day.

 

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Spring-Cleaning for Your Nutrition with 5 “Detox” Strategies

Spring is a great time to refresh and renew. Are you feeling the need for some “Spring Cleaning” inside as well as outside? Why not clean-up your nutrition so as to start fresh for the summer?

While detox diets and juice cleanses are still questionable for their benefits, and not meant for everyone, there are other, less intimidating and drastic ways to improve your nutrition and health habits.

If you’re feeling the urge to take action and are looking for some ideas check out these 5 easy tips that don’t require massive changes or restrictions to your diet.

Try one action a day for a week for a quick “5 Day Challenge”.

 

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1.Hit up your hydration. Water is a pure and natural detoxifier. Important to overall health and well-being, water helps flush your body and your cells of toxins. Water makes up over 60% of our body’s ass. You can survive for weeks without food but only a few days without water. At minimum, women 19 years and older need around 2.2 L of water and men 19 years and older need around 3.0 L of water per day (Dietitians of Canada). However, in hot and humid environments or when exercising vigorously fluid needs can drastically increase so as to replace what is lost by sweating. Are you hitting your target? Set a goal and go for it! Try to drink consistently throughout the day to spread out your water intake. A reminder set every hour to take a sip or two can help.

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2. Give technology a break at the dinner table. How often do you scroll on your phone or watch TV while eating? Tune out distractions and tune into your food by turning off your phone and leaving it in another room and switching off any other screens before you sit down. You will be more present and enjoy your meal even more.

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3.Ditch the negative food talk. We all have a choice in what we eat. No food is inherently “good” or “bad” but some foods are definitely more nutrient dense than others. Instead of blaming yourself and saying “I shouldn’t eat that” and feeding yourself negativity, be grateful for the food and whatever nutrients and energy it provides your body and make a commitment to make healthier choices for your next meal or two.

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4.Cut down on caffeine. When craving an energy boost it is tempting to reach for coffee or energy drinks which contain caffeine. However, caffeine is a stimulant and thus a synthetic energy boost. It is recommended that we limit caffeine consumption to 400mg/day. That’s about three 8-oz cups of coffee (Dietitians of Canada). If you are in the habit of downing a lot of caffeinated products try to decrease your usual consumption by 1 drink a day.

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5.Clean out your pantry and fridge. When was the last time you did a good cleaning of your cupboards? Do you know everything you have on hand? Has anything expired? Doing a thorough cleaning of where you keep your food is not only important for food safety but also immensely satisfying emotionally. With a better organized food space you will be able to find what you need more quickly and it will be easier, more inviting and motivating to cook and eat healthy.

Cumin Carrots

Here’s an interesting and exotic side-dish. I was inspired to create this recipe from my trip to Morocco.  This dish is bright with the sweet tang of of lemon and earthy from the rich dark tones of cumin. The sweetness of the carrots nicely balances the tartness of the lemon juice. It’s like lying in the grass on a summer day. This definitely makes for a great summer side dish!

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Carrots are a vegetable and the leading source of beta-carotene in the North American diet. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid which is converted after it is eaten into Vitamin A in your body. This adds to your body’s daily Vitamin A requirements. Vitamin A is essential for the function of the retina and therefore effects the health of your vision. Carrots are also a god source of fibre which is important for the functioning of your digestive system as well as lowering unhealthy cholesterol levels. In addition, carrots, like many fruits and vegetables, contain potassium, an electrolyte that helps regulate acid-base balance in the body, is involved in normal muscle contraction and nerve impulses as well as proper functioning of the heart and kidneys. Potassium may also help with lowering blood pressure thus preventing hypertension and the risk for heart attack and stroke.

Cumin is a spice. Spices have been valued for their ability to add flavour to food for centuries. Cumin’s earthy notes give this dish a distinctive and exotic flavour. Not only do spices like cumin add flavour to dishes (without unnecessary calories, fat or salt) but they also may be the source of antioxidants which are important for the maintenance of healthy cells with the reduction of free-radical damage.

Garlic is a member of the allium family with a host of reputed health benefits. It has been used medicinally for many centuries. Alicin is a compound found in garlic which is responsible for its strong taste and aroma. Alicin may function as an antioxidant which could possibly be one of the reasons garlic has been credited with so many medicinal properties.

Onions are also a member of the allium family of vegetables and a rich source of phytochemical which may reduce the risk of some cancers.

Lemons are a spectacular source of Vitamin C, which is a water-soluble vitamin and may reduce the risk of cancer as well as act as a cold-fighter and immunity booster. Vitamin C enhances iron absorption and is crucial to collagen production, which stabilizes connective tissue. Lemons also contain limonene, a phytochemical which could possibly block abnormal cell-growth which suggests anti-cancer benefits.

 

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Braising is a healthy cooking method. It is a moist-heat slow-cooking method. You start with browning the food you are cooking and then adding a small amount of liquid and simmering or steaming the food, covered, until it is coked. You can braise meats, chicken or vegetables. It is a very versatile cooking method. One of the reasons it is such a good way to cook food is that all of the cooking liquid is reabsorbed back into the food while it is braising. This means that any nutrients that were lost into the cooking liquid are reabsorbed back into the food so you still get all of the nutritional benefits of the food!

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Cumin Carrots

This is a great side dish. It goes really well with roast chicken!

Maple Macadamia Energy Bites

Put a little spring in your step with these energy bites! These snack balls are full of a mix of ingredients to give you a delicious and sustaining energy boost. These gluten-free and vegan treats are sure to help you get your day off to a successful start or give you that little pick-me-up to help you power through even the toughest afternoon slumps!

What’s even better is that this recipe is so fast and easy to make. They are really portable and make a great go-to snack when you are on the go!

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Macadamia nuts are a source of both protein and healthy fats. Protein helps keep you feeling fuller for longer. The healthy fats in Macadamia nuts are called mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) which are important because of their effect of improving your cholesterol profile and lowering triglyceride levels which lowers  your risk for heart disease and stroke. Eating healthy fats is also important for the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins in your diet. In addition, macadamia nuts contain trace amounts of magnesium, calcium, iron, copper, chromium, manganese and zinc.

Maca is a root that comes from South America. It is said to help balance hormones, increase energy, improve stamina and athletic performance and promote mental clarity. Maca powder is available from many bulk food stores or at health food stores. A little goes a long way that’s for sure!

Cashew butter (or any nut butter) is another great source of protein and healthy fats (more MUFAs!) for long lasting sustainable energy. I felt that peanut butter would have been to be overpowering so went with cashew butter instead. I also made a batch with peanut butter pecan butter which was very good too.

Maple syrup is a natural sweetener and contributes to the unique and distinct flavour combination in these bites. As well as energy it is also a source of antioxidants.

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maple maca energy bites

Uncovering the History and Mysteries of Pumpkin Pie Spice

It seems like everyone can’t get enough of Pumpkin Pie Spice. Pumpkin pie is a favourite fall desert but its signature spice has permeated into all other sorts of products like lattes, cakes, muffins and scones to name a few. It may appear a modern fanaticism but it is truly rooted in a history and in mysteries that go back centuries.

Spices have always been very important. Originally from India and the Orient, they have an infamous reputation for being exotic and valuable. There have been wars and obsessions over spices for centuries. In fact it was because of the war over spices, which was a reason for the search for better routes to the East, that the Europeans originally discovered North America, without which there would be no Pumpkin Pie Spice.

Pumpkin pie spice (or just Pumpkin Spice as it seems to be more commonly called now) is a signature American spice blend. There is no set discovery of the first mixing of Pumpkin Spice. That is destined to be a mystery hidden in the sands of time. However, it is known that this spice blend has its heritage with the pilgrims. We say it is a mixture of “warming” spices. Pumpkin is a food found the New World. So the creation of is an example of the interaction of Old World meets New World.

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What makes this signature spice blend? The spices in pumpkin pie spice are cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cloves and allspice. Cinnamon will always be featured in the greatest amount and quite a lot more than the other spices. Next, ginger and nutmeg are featured in second highest amounts with cloves and allspice being featured in the lowest amount. This is because cloves and allspice are fairly strong and pungent spices and will not be as pleasing in large amounts as cinnamon, ginger or nutmeg. The precise amounts of spices may vary but the proportions in relation to one another of the other spices will remain similar.

You can buy the spice already premixed or you can by individual spices to create and customize your own special blend.  Spices should be stored in air-tight containers in a cool, dry dark place for up to 6 months.

Here’s a quick recipe for Pumpkin Spice. Simply mix all the ingredients together.

  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • ½ tsp cloves
  • ½ tsp allspice

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Not only does this spice mix add flavour to your cooking and baking but they also provide hidden benefits to your health. Spices add flavour which reduces the need for extra sugar, salt and fat to recipes helping you to cook and eat healthier. There is some research into the antioxidant activity of spices which contributes to keeping us healthy by reducing free-radical damage to our bodies – protecting our cells and reducing the risk for many diseases.

Vegan Pumpkin Cheesecake

Still looking for the perfect holiday desert? Look no further! Cheesecake is one of the world’s most popular deserts! It’s a hallmark to any desert table. From simple beginnings the evolution of a basic cheesecake has morphed into the creation of multitudes of variations in flavour combinations. Cheesecake is thought to have originated in Ancient Greece. And almost as soon as the recipe was born so too began the quest for the perfect cheesecake – a universal endeavor the spans countries, continents and centuries. The Romans are said to have brought cheesecake to the rest of Europe. From there is spread to the Americas.

Regrettably, this delicious dessert is a lost hope for many, owing to various food allergies ad intolerances. That’s why I created this recipe. This ‘cheesecake’  can be made gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo-friendly as well as vegan so it is more inclusive than most other cheesecakes could ever be. There’s more to it than that. With the tweaks I’ve made not only does this cheesecake taste rich, delicious and creamy but it is also high in protein, contains healthier fats and is more nutrient dense than the standard cheesecake.

 

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Some ingredients to highlight that make this an empowering eat are:

Pumpkin is a vegetable very high in cholesterol-lowering fibre and rich in Vitamin A which is important for maintaining normal vision and keeping the immune system at its best. Pumpkin adds texture to this cheesecake – without extra fat and calories.

Almonds, pecans and walnuts are all nuts which give the graininess to the crust. Nuts are a source of healthy polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fatty acids which are good for your heart and may help reduce the risk of developing heart disease. They also are a vegan source of protein and source of fibre.

Flax seeds add texture and a heap of nutrients to the crust. Flax is a source of omega-3 fatty acids, important for heart health, and fibre which helps achieve healthy cholesterol levels.

Cashews are the major ingredient in the filling, providing creaminess and texture. Cashews, like other nuts, are a source of vegan protein as well as fibre. In addition, cashews are rich in Vitamin E, magnesium and zinc.

Coconut milk is a dairy-free milk which gives creaminess to the cheesecake but keeps it vegan friendly.

Maple syrup is a natural sweetener used to give flavour to the filling. It is a source of antioxidants, which are important for helping the body cope with free-radical damage and may help reduce your risk for disease such as cancer and heart disease. Maple syrup also contains important minerals like zinc and manganese which keep you healthy by boosting your immune system.

 

There are several ways you can make this cheesecake. You can use a spring form pan for a traditional cheesecake.

You can also use a square 9-inch baking dish and cut up the cheesecake into squares and make cheesecake bars.

If dairy is not an option you could use a plain Greek yogurt instead of the non-dairy alternative.

If you want to be decadent, try drizzling with a spoonful of maple syrup then sprinkling with walnuts. You can also us a dollop of yogurt on top to replicate whipped cream.

Adding a sprinkling of cinnamon over-top is a really great addition too!

Sunbutter cookies

How to Eat Healthy and Still Be Happy Over the Holidays

The holidays are here! How does that make you feel? Excited? Anxious? Overwhelmed? The holidays full of stresses in one shape of another for all of us. Especially when it comes to holiday eating and festivities. The anticipated holiday weight-gain from eating too much or eating the wrong foods is probably one of the biggest stresses there is.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. With just a few shifts in attitude you can make a whole lot of difference to how you feel coming out of this holiday season. These how-to’s, habits and hacks are here to help make your holidays healthier, less stressful and a whole lot happier so you can start the New Year feeling empowered and ready for action!

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Listen to your body. Stop eating when you are no longer hungry vs. when you are full. If you have choices make switches and substitute healthier options. Try and fill your plate with as many vegetables as you can and look for preparation methods such as baking, steaming, and braising. Meats that are baked and grilled are better than fried. Avoid heavy cream based sauces which add extra fat and unwanted calories.

It’s important to have a healthy breakfast every day and eat regularly throughout the day to curb hunger and keep your blood sugar stable so you can function optimally. This will keep your energy level steady throughout the day, making you feel better and decrease the likelihood that you will overeat at any specific meal. Have snacks that have a good source of protein to promote satiety levels.

Out of sight and out of mind is what they say. And it’s a good way to control temptation and practice moderation to put extra holiday treats out of sight in a cupboard or pantry. This way you will have to go to more effort to get to them and it will give you more time to consider if you really are hungry and really want to have that treat or not.

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Remember to stay hydrated! This means drinking water throughout the day as well as when you are at social functions. If at a party try alternating alcoholic drinks with water. Alcohol is a diuretic so can lead to a dehydrated state. This is also a great strategy to keep you from drinking excess calories. Dehydration can lead to overeating because we are looking to fulfill a physiological need, but go about it the wrong way. Also, staying hydrated reduces bloating which is another effect that often comes on from holiday eating – which is a contributing factor to perceived holiday weight-gain.

Stay active! Just 30 minutes a day is all you need. Physical activity helps decrease stress and increases your metabolism so you are burning more calories throughout the day. Make physical activities a part of your celebrations and time together. There are many great winter out-door activities like going for a walk, tobogganing, skiing and snowball fights! This takes some focus off the food and gives you a chance to enjoy time with family and friends.

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You can best buffets with a few simple strategies. Choose a seat on the other side of the room from the food table and sit with your back to the food. The more food we see the more likely we are to eat. Use a smaller plate so you will have less room to fill . Be a picky eater – you don’t have to eat everything that is offered. Pick and choose those few things that you think you will really enjoy.

If you are going to a party or potluck bring your own food – this gives you some control about what options you have to eat and you can make sure you have something that you will enjoy eating.

When eating at a restaurant look for menu items that are prepared using healthy cooking methods – i.e. baking, braising, steaming – and minimal sauces. You can always take half of your entrée home as leftovers. Ask if you can get a take-out container brought to the table with your meal so that you can package up your meal as soon as you have eaten enough.

At parties it’s easy to munch away on little appetizers and hors d’ouevres, not realizing how much you have eaten. Limit mindless eating by holding a drink in your dominant hand so that you are less likely to unconsciously pick up food (it takes more concentration and effort to use your non-dominant hand). Get into a good and engaging conversation. When you are talking you can’t be eating and a good conversation will make the time go by much more quickly with less time to eat.

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Remember healthy eating is not about total denial. That is no fun and definitely not empowering! Food is an important part of our existence and something that has been intrinsic to celebration and festivities since the beginning of time. It’s part of our culture and who we are. You can still eat things you enjoy. If you have a favourite holiday meal or treat, go for it! But maybe you could have a smaller portion size or try and make the same recipe but with healthier ingredients and less fat and sugar? Or why not change up your traditions? Look for ways to make your family favourite recipes using healthier cooking methods or try incorporating some new healthy recipes.

Happy Holidays!

 

The Science of Saying Grace

Thanksgiving may have come and gone but don’t stop being grateful just yet! Saying grace or giving thanks for food is a centuries old tradition. It is one of the oldest and most universal human behaviours and is still in existence today. The word “grace” comes from the Latin word “grātia” meaning “favor” or “kindness” and in our context it is a short prayer said before or after a meal. Long ago food was more scare and harder to grow without modern technology so having food was seen as a kindness from the gods and/or the universe. Many religions have special prayers they will say before an everyday meal or for specific ceremonies that involve food but although the religion connections exist, you don’t need to follow any specific religion to recognize and be thankful for your food. In fact saying grace and showing appreciation for our food is showing to be beneficial on many levels for physiological and psychological health and well-being.

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On one level, saying grace is your chance to recognize and honour who got you your food, how you got your food and how fortunate you are to have the food you are about to eat. If it were not for many people and circumstances the food you are about to eat would still be out there – on a tree or in the ground.

Moreover, only a few words before eating will slow you down while giving you a moment to appreciate your food which makes the meal more enjoyable and promotes a more harmonious relationship with food. Eating more slowly is better than shoveling down your food and cleaning off your plate in 10 minutes flat because a measured pace assists the digestive processes of your body while improving satiety and helping you eat less. Being distracted and hurried eating can lead to over eating. Eating more slowly gives your body and brain the time it needs to recognize that you have eaten all your body needs.

Thousands of years ago one meal could make the difference between life and death. There was a lot more uncertainty about food safety and availability. Our circumstances have drastically evolved since then but there is always and time and place for saying grace and being thankful for our food.

If you’re looking for something to say check out these 11 Beautiful Ways To Say Grace for some inspiration.

 

It’s Squash Season!

I love winter squash! It’s probably one of my favourite vegetables! Winter squashes come in all different shapes, sizes and colours. They are diverse in appearance but all are solid in nutritional quality. Due to its orange colour, squash is a superb source of the carotenoids beta-carotene and lutein. Carotenoids which ac as antioxidants, reducing free radical damage, and may prevent heart disease. Lutein may also help preserve eye health by decreasing the risk for macular degeneration. Squash is also a source of potassium which is an electrolyte involved in fluid and electrolyte balance for the body as well as heart health and blood pressure regulation. Like most fruits and vegetables squash also offers Vitamin C. Folacin, also found in squash, functions in the prevention of birth defects and reduces the risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Of course, if you’ve ever tasted the creamy, smooth and satisfying texture of a squash you will realize that it is also an excellent source of fibre, which helps regulate cholesterol levels and keep digestion regular. 1 cup of cooked acorn squash has 11 grams of fibre which is almost 50% of what you need in a day! Fibre is important for keeping your regular as well as Winter squash is also a low-fat source of Vitamin E.

Squash seeds are also very nutritious. They are a good source of iron, another important mineral involved with oxygen transportation in the book. Save the seeds from your squash, wash them and let them dry and then bake them in the oven at 275F for about 15 min until they are crispy and crunchy.

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Squash starts to become available towards the end of August. They are a harvest vegetable and once harvested and stored properly you can find local squash available until about March. It’s an great ingredient for many fall and winter dishes because of it’s heartiness and time of availability.

When buying a squash pick one that has a hard surface free of soft spots and bruises. You can buy a squash and keep it stored in a cool dry place with good air circulation for a couple of weeks.  Be sure to turn it over every once in a while to make sure that there are no mushy spots hiding underneath!

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There are so many things you can do with squash. It’s amazing! But due to its hard flesh winter squash will have to be cooked before it is eaten. Most often you will hear of roasting squash. This is an easy way to cook it. Cubes of squash can also be added to soups, stews and chilies. Squash soup gives a creamy consistency when it is pureed which is one of the beauties of squash soups. It’s also used in sauces to give that same creaminess – without the cream and extra fat and calories.

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Roasted Beet Hummus

This hummus is striking! Both for its flavour and vibrant colour. Hummus is a popular dip found commonly found in Middle Eastern cuisines. Traditionally made from chickpeas, tahini, olive oil lemon juice and garlic, there are many variations made by introducing additional flavouring and ingredients.

Beets are the key feature ingredient that give this hummus it’s rick colour and earthy flavour. Beets are a source of many antioxidants, rich in folacin and other nutrients. You can read more about the benefits of beets in this previous post.

Chickpeas are an important ingredient in hummus. They are a great source of protein and fibre which promotes satiety.

Olive oil is a source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids, which are healthy dietary fats that may have a role in reducing the risk of heart disease.

Tahini is a paste made from sesame seeds. Tahini provides protein and is a source of many minerals like calcium and magnesium, which are important for bone heath, as well as iron.

Garlic not only adds to the flavour of this hummus but also adds antioxidants that provide protection against free radical damage and have antibacterial properties. It may reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer as well as lower cholesterol.

The spices in this recipe are cumin, coriander and allspice which intensify the earthy flavour of the hummus.

Roasted Beet Hummus with Veggies

 

Hummus is a great portable snack to have with chopped up vegetables or crackers. It would make a very appealing appetizer (especially for holiday entertaining!).  You can also use hummus as a spread for sandwiches or in wraps.

roasted beet hummus