Traditional Greek Salad Recipe

Greek Salad has to be one of the most iconic dishes known to the culture both within Greece and around the world. I really looked forward to having this dish when I was in Greece. In all seriousness, almost every meal I had while there featured a version of it! In Greek the word for Greek Salad is “horiatiki” which means “village salad”.

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Cool, crisp and refreshing this dish is super simple to make but there is something so satisfying in it. It is also full of healthy and empowering food combinations that taste good and are good for you too! With only some basic ingredients (no lettuce is not one of them!) you can have a substantial side dish perfect to accompany many main dish options (check out my recipe for Greek Stuffed Eggplant or chicken souvlaki). It’s always best to pick the freshest ingredients for flavour and nutritional benefit.

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Here are some key ingredients that make this salad health and nutritious and tastes amazing.

Cucumbers are one of the lowest calorie vegetables because of their high water content. This also makes them a great hydrating food.

Tomatoes are a popular vegetable for a variety of different cultures and cuisines. One of their greatest claims to fame is that they are a great source of the plan pigment “lycopene” which possibly helps prevent heart disease. Like many other fruits and vegetables, they are a great source of vitamin C and potassium. They are also a good source of fibre.

Red Onions are low in calories and like other types of onions provide a variety of nutrients such as fibre, vitamin C, potassium and some phytochemical which may raise levels of a protective enzyme which in activates and eliminates cancer causing agents.

Green Pepper provide vitamin C and are a good source of fibre.

Olives & Olive Oil are signatures for many Greek dish. These are ingredients embedded not only in the cuisine but in the very history and culture of Greece. Olives and olive oil are a source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) which are healthy fats found in our diets that may lower the risk of heart disease and reduce levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. They also contain vitamin E which is an especially powerful antioxidant.

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What I love especially is how easy it is to make this salad. The vegetables are roughly chopped so they can be thrown together quickly.

It’s recommended to serve the salad in a shallow dish and don’t mix the dressing into the salad before you serve it. Put all the vegetables in the bowl, drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar and layer with the feta cheese.

Traditional Greek Salad

 

Top 10 Tips for Summer Hydration

Summer is here–and it’s not even half-way over! There are so many fun things to do outside and ways to enjoy the sunshine and beautiful weather. However, it’s important to remember that during exercise the increased temperatures put additional stresses on our bodies from the activity being performed. We might not have control of the weather and the humidity, but we have control over how we take care of our bodies and fuel ourselves for optimum physical performance. Dehydration can suck our energy and can become very dangerous to our health and that’s not something you want to spoil your summer when you can avoid it!

Here are some quick facts and tips on how you can stay hydrated and beat the heat so you can have a safe, happy and healthy rest of your summer!

1. Be familiar with the signs and symptoms of dehydration (i.e. fatigue, dizziness, dark urine, headache, dry skin, confusion). Remember to respect how you are feeling and rest or take a break when you feel you need to!

2. Remember to drink during the day and not just when you are exercising. Even sitting in the sun on a hot day can cause fluid losses meaning you need to drink more water.

3. Did you know? Foods you eat contribute to keeping your body hydrated. Those with a higher water content like fruits and vegetables are the best choices.

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Image by Christine Sponchia from Pixabay

 

4. Drink before, during and after activities. A good way to gauge how much you should drink after your workout is to weigh yourself before and after. For every pound (0.5 kg) of weight lost you should drink about 500-700mL of fluids to re-hydrate after your workout.

5. Do you just forget to drink water? What reminders can you set for yourself to take a few sips of water–even before you get thirsty? If you are driving, you could set an interval of kilometers to drive and take a few sips every time you hit that interval (i.e. every 50 km). Or you could program a reminder into your phone to remind you throughout the day. Or wear a bracelet or elastic band on your wrist–something that will give you a visual cue to remind you to drink more often.

6. If you find it difficult to stay hydrated because you don’t like the “plain taste” of water you can make it more interesting by adding a touch of lemon juice or some fresh fruit and berries to your water bottle using a fruit infuser. This will give your drink a natural flavour boost.

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Image by silviarita from Pixabay

7. Dehydration starts when we lose as little as 2% of our body weight in water and can make you feel tired and irritable. It can start before you know it so don’t wait until you feel thirsty to have a drink!

8. Consider a sports drink if you are exercising at a high intensity and for >60 min; if you are exercising in extreme heat and humid conditions; and if you have over one exercise session in a day. They design sports drinks to replenish fluid losses and balance electrolyte losses and give your body extra energy which can be helpful when you are working hard and sweating a lot. For low intensity activities, your body probably won’t need this extra support so water will be just fine for keeping you hydrated

9. Get a water bottle that you like and makes you feel good. When your water bottle is inspiring and motivating, it will create a positive association for you to remember to drink more often.

10. How accessible are your fluid sources? Keeping a water bottle with you at all times is a good practice to adopt. Sometimes it is easier to have a sip when your water bottle has a straw vs. having a top you have to unscrew, which takes more effort to get out. Find out what is the easiest option for you to make having a drink the absolute most accessible.

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Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

Greek Stuffed Eggplant Recipe

Do you know the power of a family meal? There is nothing like the feeling of coming home to a home-cooked meal and enjoying good food with people important to you. On my recent trip to Greece to spend time with my family. While I was there, I had some incredible home-cooked and traditional Greek meals. I dedicate this recipe to my cousin, who made this very meal for me my first night in her home in Greece.

Greek stuffed eggplant,  also known as melitzanes papoutsakia. The translation of papoutsakia is actually “little shoes” which I think is rather cute, and so is this dish!

It is a very filling dish and one or two eggplants will be more than enough to satisfy you!

Not only does this meal taste incredible, but there are so many good things about the ingredients! Check out the nutritional benefits that some ingredients offer:

Eggplant is a very high-fibre vegetables which is one reason this dish is so filling! Owing to their purple colour, eggplants are high in anthocyanins, the blue-purple pigment with antioxidant properties which can help protect cells from free-radical damage.

Onion are a vegetable low in calories but which provides moderate amounts of fibre, vitamin C, vitamin B6 and potassium. Onions are also a source of a phytochemical which may raise levels of a protective enzyme that inactivates cancer-causing agents in the body!

Tomatoes are highly nutrient dense providing fibre and many vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C and potassium. The red pigment “lycopene” which gives tomatoes their colour which may act as an antioxidant in the body to reduce the risk of some cancers, and cardiovascular disease.

Olive Oil must be the most iconic of Greek cuisine ingredients. Olive oil is a source of mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) which may lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. Olive oil is a staple in any Mediterranean diet and may be one reason for lower rates of chronic diseases observed in those who follow a Mediterranean diet. Olive oil is a source of two powerful phytochemicals which may protect against breast cancer, clogged arteries and high blood pressure.

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There are some variations you can try with this recipe. You can top your eggplant with cheese or a slice or two of tomato.

Whatever meat you choose, look for lean ground meat as it is lower in less healthy fats (the olive oil we use in this recipe will still provide with fat – which is important for good health – but a much healthier fat). If you really want to make something special, try substituting ground lamb for ground beef in the recipe below.

Of course, you can always make this meatless by swapping the ground beef for a can of lentils, rinsed and drained.

This recipe goes great paired with a Greek Salad!

Greek Stuffed Eggplant

Sharing some of my favourite photos from Greece below to make this even more authentic!

 

 

Getting Back on Track with your Nutrition or Life

It happens to all of us at one point or another in our lives. We lose focus, get “off track” and suddenly are feeling lost, limited and inauthentic to who we are or who we know ourselves to be.

I am just back from two glorious weeks on vacation in Greece, but I am noticing how I have slipped in some respects from where I was in my health and nutrition habits and now it is time to get back to reality and back on track. I’m ready to get back on track with blogging so that’s why I posted this now.

Now you may not be ready to get back on track, summer is only just getting started, and some might say this is a topic more suited to fall. However, summer has a way of slipping by all too soon and with fall we all will feel the rush of going back to school and back to routine. So why not look for ways now to start the process or even just reflect on what it would look like for you? Just remember, there’s no “right time” for anything and if we are always waiting for the perfect time or perfect conditions to “get back on track” then we may never do so.

Wherever you are in the journey to aligning with your ultimate self in your nutrition and life, here are some reflections on how to get back on track and suggestions to empower you with realigning your fitness and nutritional habits.

Stop blaming yourself. It’s nobody’s fault. Things happen in life, sometimes they are in our control and sometimes (more often) they are not. Everything happens for a reason and it’s up to us to notice what happens and then decide upon the best course of action that takes us from where we are and move us toward where we want to go. Forgive yourself and move on. Forgiveness sets you free.

Be honest with yourself. It is one of the hardest things any of us will have to do but to get back on track you must be honest with where you are at and get clear on where it is you want to be. Also, realize that things are not necessarily as negative as they seem. Look for the good things too! At first you will probably be able to make a list of a multitude of unhealthy eating habits or practices but try to look beyond that and create a separate list and space to consider and recognize all the good practices you are doing regularly and think about how those practices make you feel.

Acknowledge the uncomfortable and unfamiliar feelings that change brings and then move forward. As human beings, our instinct is to stay in our comfort zone. But when it feels unfamiliar be forward thinking and remember why you have started on your journey to change and why it matters. Everyone must go through this and experiences the same feelings when entering foreign territory and unfamiliar ground.

Think of the long term and trust in yourself. Change is not always easy. Results take time. The most important thing is to believe in yourself and believe in what you are doing and what you are working towards is worth it. Writing a long-term vision or goals and looking at them every day is a motivational reminder to help you get back on track and keep you on track.

Be patient. When we think about where we were or where we want to be, we may get impatient and want to be there right now. Often improving our habits and well-being will take a lot longer than we would like or even plan for. Real and lasting changes take time and consistency. The work you do day by day is worth it. Just keep reminding yourself that. What would that look like and how would you feel?

Get over the overwhelm. When considering a big change, it can intimidate and even frighten us a little. This is probably the biggest thing that keeps people from changing their nutrition and lifestyle, no matter how important and worthwhile the change will be. When working on getting back on track, it’s important to have a goal, but also be realistic in what you are trying to achieve and where you are trying to get to? If it is a big goal, try breaking it down into more manageable sub-goals. That can make it more manageable and build your confidence. So maybe rather than a complete overhaul of your diet, try making one change this week and focus on that. For instance, adding new healthy foods to your dinner every day. Once you’ve accomplished that, move on to the next thing and so on.

How will you know you have arrived? For me, I think of it as a state of flow, like life is moving forward and I’m making progress while living each day at an optimal state of well-being. So, what does “getting back on track” mean to you?

 

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.

 

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