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.


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


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


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!


Become Unbeatable … with Beets!

There is something stunning about the deep ruby red beet that creates a dramatic effect wherever and whenever it is presented. Beets don’t have to be red though, although that is probably the most common conceptualization of this vegetable; they also can be yellow or striped. Did you know that not only can the roots be eaten but you can also eat the leaves?


So, what are the benefits of beets? With their deep colour it’s understandable why beets are a stellar source of many vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health and nutrition. As with other fruits and vegetables beets provide Vitamin C, a vitamin that also acts as an antioxidant. Folacin, a powerful B-vitamin with preventative effects for birth defects, cancer and heart disease. Potassium found in beets may contribute to reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Iron is another important mineral found in beets.


When buying beets try and get ones that are equal in size so that they will cook evenly. Make sure your beets are firm and their skin is dry and there are no mushy parts. Keep your beets in a cool dry place, like the refrigerator, loosely wrapped in a paper towel. If you are not going to eat the beet leaves you can chop off the stalks for easier storage.

Before cooking your beets scrub them well under running water to remove the dirt. Then dry them well with paper towels.

Beets have many different uses. You can roast them, boil them, steam them. They can be pickled (I’ve always have a thing for the little pickled salad beets!). You can shave them and add them to salads raw. Beets can be added to smoothies or beet root juice is also very popular. And of course they are the signature ingredient in Borscht – a traditional Eastern European soup.

If you can, try not to peel the beets before you cook them. Leaving the skins on preserves valuable nutrients, as well as the colour of the beets. It’s okay to leave the beet tops on and remove them after cooking.

A big question in preparing beets is “what to do about the red stains”? Beets will stain your hands if you handle them either raw or cooked. The simple solution is to wear gloves. Just get a thin pair of plastic gloves. Beets will also stain surfaces. Wood and marble are especially difficult to get stains out of. You can remove the skins of cooked beets with paper towels. Cover surfaces with parchment paper to prevent beet staining.


Beets and Athletic Performance

One area of interest for beets in research is for their effects on athletic performance. Beets have been found to improve endurance and athletic performance. Beet root and beet root juice have been tested in various studies, such as this one in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which  found that consuming whole beetroots improved performance with increased running velocity and decreased ratings of perceived exertion. Beets provide these effects because they are a natural source of nitrates which increases nitric oxide bioavaiability which is important to exercise performance.


FYI – Beets are red because of the red pigment “betacyanin”. Some people cannot properly metabolize betacyanin and it will pass through the digestion process unchanged and then be excreted. This is not something to be worried about.

Fall in Love with Food Again

It’s been said: “September is the new January”. September is a popular time for making resolutions, getting back into a routine or starting new ones, going back to school … the list goes on. We are presented with a new season, a beginning and new energies to work with.

Changes start to become visible everywhere. Fall is special for so many reason, not only for the colours and the vigour of crisp, clear autumn days, but also because there are so many fantastic fall foods we have to enjoy. We’ll be exploring some of these in the weeks to come.


At this time, many set goals around improving their health, nutrition and eating habits. It can be tempting to lean towards the latest fad, quick fix, diet plan or supplements – all of which there are many – drawn in with promises of extraordinary results with little to no effort. But in choosing a quick fix do we become destined to fall? A “diet” that is overly restrictive, excludes certain foods or entire food groups, and does not provide adequate energy and nutrients will ultimately do more detriment to health, happiness and well-being by crushing motivation and even hampering physical and mental performance.

It is often more challenging to follow strategies that are complex, demanding or overly restrictive. As such, we are setting ourselves up to fail and fall into despair. A spiral of negative emotions and eating habits and patterns can result; founded on fears and anxieties over what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat. Food is tied to emotion in so many ways. When we feel like we have failed or fallen in our eating patterns we develop negative emotions and aversions to certain foods or to eating in general. This can lead to more serious health and well-being issues, as the many eating disorders that exist are proof.


So now the question becomes how do we fall in love with food again?

Keep it simple. Food is meant to renew and empower. It serves us by providing energy and nourishment to create and do what we need to do.

How can you simplify your eating? Make a resolution to eat real food – and enjoy it too! Enjoy it in it’s purest form. The way it was gifted to us by nature.

The closer it is to that state when you take it from the earth the more natural it is. When you compare an apple to apple sauce to apple juice – you can see the progression of processing and which choice is most pure and closest to what nature intended.


When was the last time you sat down and enjoyed a real meal? Do you have a favorite meal you haven’t made for a while?  If you don’t have one pick something new. Make a plan to eat at home plan to cook a meal from scratch. It’s a new season so time for new adventures! Is there a food you have always wanted to try but have not. What’s the reason? Why not now?

Have you enjoyed food that was picked fresh and grown in the soil close to where you live? Why not pay a visit to your local farmer’s market and get some real, fresh local goodies. There’s no better time to develop an understanding and appreciation for what is grown in your region than now with the bounty of the harvest season available to us. Eating local produce and products has a way of really connecting and grounding us.


Happy first day of Fall everyone!


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.

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/