Sunday, 6 April 2014

Five Store-bought Foods You’ll Never Buy Again

These days, its possible to eat three meals a day without ever entering a kitchen and doing any sort of food prep. Unfortunately, our society’s obsession with fast, cheap and convenient is wrecking havoc on our health. I’ve never preached Canada’s Food Guide, but instead think we should be focusing on eating real food (Amen, Michael Pollan) and pushing for a ‘back to the kitchen’ movement where we prepare, cook, and enjoy our own foods. As a busy student, there are days I don’t feel like cooking, especially when I’m pressed for time during exam periods. Having said that, a little preparation, less time on Facebook Snapchat, Twitter, what have you, and an appreciation for real food can mean lots of healthy choices you can feel proud about serving yourself and others. Below I have listed five items that are readily available in all grocery stores, but I encourage you to try making on your own and tasting the difference real food makes.

Roast chicken- ah the roast chicken, so easy and convenient, sitting there next to the check-out at Sobey’s, calling at you to pick up along with some other premade sides for a quick and easy dinner. I don’t disagree that roast chicken is convenient, but it’s way healthier and cheaper to make your own at home. I wait for Blue Goose Organic chickens to go on sale, and will buy at least two at once and freeze one right away. It takes about 1-1 ½ hours to cook a whole chicken, so set aside time on a day when you’re home early enough or great for Sunday night and then have leftovers all week long. I season my own chicken with chopped garlic, sea salt, and cilantro, roast it whole with a lemon quarter which I drizzle over with some of the pan drippings at the end. The result is a crispy, delicious chicken that has much more flavour than store-bought, and way less sodium, preservatives and other scary ingredients.

Almond butter- almond butter is expensive! Especially if you buy the good organic stuff by the jar and use in baking, you can easily go through a few jars on one month. I like using almond butter in grain-free muffin and brownie recipes, and discovered that its easy to make your own using a good quality food processor. I followed directions for making homemade almond butter posted here, and made my own delicious creamy almond butter in 15 minutes. I lightly toast my almonds in the oven first for a little extra flavour, and feel free to add some spices (sea salt, vanilla cinnamon) or a little bit of natural sweetener (honey, maple syrup) and other seeds (ground flax, sesame, pumpkin seeds etc.) for an extra rich and indulgent treat. If you prefer crunchy, add a few chopped almonds at the end. Next on my list is homemade cashew butter, I bought a giant 1Kg bag of raw organic cashews by Prana at Winner’s the other day, another great foodie find! I did some number crunching and the price of the bag was comparable to buying cashew at Bulk Barn.

Ice cream
Admittedly, you need to have an ice cream maker or stand mixer attachment for this one, but seriously, once you try homemade ice cream you will never buy store-bought again. I love making dairy free ice cream using a combination of canned coconut milk and almond milk, and the best part is I can adjust the sweetness to taste with organic unpasteurized honey, making it taste way better and substantially reducing the sugar content of store-bought brands. Especially if you buy low-fat or fat-free ice cream, all you are doing is consuming roughly the same calories, but more empty calories in the form of extra sugar to make up for the flavor lost in fat. This peanut butter vegan ice cream was made in my kitchen stand mixer ice cream maker attachment, and poured over a date-almond-cocoa crust for a friend’s birthday party, it was a big hit!

Overpriced  & dry GF bakery items and desserts
The price difference is ridiculous between regular and GF bakery items. If you look at the ingredient list, the first few items listed are often white rice flour, potato starch and sugar, all of which have zero nutritional value and will send your blood sugar soaring. Instead make your own baked goods and desserts at home. It will be cheaper, healthier and taste 100% better I promise. Here are two of my favourite dessert and muffin recipes. For ingredients below, I used PC organics unsweetened applesauce that comes in a pack of 6 individual containers.

Almond butter Banana Muffins with Cacao nibs

1 cup creamy homemade almond butter
1 mashed ripe banana and 1 individual container unsweetened applesauce (or two bananas)
2 eggs and 1 flax eggs or 3 eggs total
1/4 honey (optional, I didn't use because I don't like things sweet)
1tsp cinnamon and vanilla
1/2 tsp ginger
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup optional mix-ins (cacao nibs, raisins, craisins, walnuts etc.)

combine all ingredients very well in stand mixer or use hand mixer. Stir in optional mix-ins, I only added cacao nibs because I am a chocolate addict!
pour into prepared muffins tins with paper liners
back at 350 for 15 minutes.
cool and eat, so good!
Makes 10-12 muffins depending on size. Freeze leftovers immediately as these muffins contain no preservatives and will spoil fast on your kitchen counter

Banana Cashew fudge squares
1 cup soaked pitted dates
1 cup raw walnuts or almonds
3 tbsp unsweetened shredded coconut (optional)
1 small ripe banana, mashed and 1 container unsweetened applesauce (or two bananas total)
¼ cup cocoa powder
¼ cup cashew butter or other nut butter
2-4 tbsp honey (depending on desired sweetness)
1tsp each vanilla and cinnamon

Combine dates and walnuts in a food processor until a ball forms. Add coconut and press into bottom of 8x5 loaf pan.

For the topping, combine banana, applesauce, cocoa powder, cashew butter, cinnamon vanilla and honey in bowl, mixing well. Pour over crust and place in freezer until firm, about ½ hour. Cut into squares and serve or store in freezer. Now get your bum in the get and start cooking!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Read These Books NOW

I know quite a few people who set a New Year's Resolution to read a new book (or two!) every month this year. I am a big fan of reading for pleasure outside of school or work commitments, and wanted to help contribute to this admirable goal.

I got a Kobo E-reader for a gift last year and although I sometimes miss the classic paperback, the convenient user-friendly format makes reading on the go extremely easy. Two of my favorite books I just downloaded and read are:

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of you who think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are by Brené Brown

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

After only one day, I was already halfway through Brené Brown’s new book. I first got introduced to her research through a Ted Talk, and have been addicted to her work ever since. This lady is AMAZING, she really knows how to DIG deep, get to the root of your problems and discover what thoughts, feeling or behaviors are preventing you from living your life to the fullest. One great example from the book is perfectionism and it’s destructive role
According to Brené Brown, “Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfectly, look perfectly and act perfectly, we can avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame.”
The feeling that we need to be perfect is 100% something I relate to and something that probably everyone has struggled with a some point in their lives. Moreso in the past, I had lots of perfectionism tendencies, whether it came to school, relationships, diet, exercise and even the cleanliness of my apartment. I used to think that if I was ______ (fill in smarter, prettier, thinner, blonder) I would make the people around me love me more, and I would be a happier person overall. This thought process had the exact opposite effect, causing strain on my personal relationships, creating undue stress, and blocking me from living an authentic and worthy life. You can strive to be the best you can be, but this doesn’t mean feeling the need to be perfect. Perfectionism is unattainable, no matter whom you are.
The book also spends a lot of time talking about courage, shame, resilience, love and other very important topics. Her writing it light, insightful and humorous, allowing the reader to connect with her thoughts and I can’t recommend this book enough.

If you have read The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns, you will love Khaled Hosseini’s new Book And the Mountains Echoed. Each chapter is a different character’s personal story that leads you across several countries and families over many generations. The book is full of surprising twists and turns, and each new chapter and character will leave you thinking about your life, family, friends and commitment to one and other in whole new light. It focuses on the importance of personal bonds, romantic or plutonic, and I finished the book wanting to call all my family and friends and remind them how much I love them and appreciate everything they do for me.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, 2 March 2014

March SuperFood of the Month Is......Cranberries!

#polarvortex have been the bane of my existence this winter. By now, my plan was to have my bike tuned up, and be biking to midtown each day as a way to increase my exercise and split my subway ride in half. Instead, I have become a connoisseur of the Toronto Path system downtown, the lovely underground walkway that literally connects you everywhere and anywhere without having to go outside. I can tell you the location of each Starbucks, Tim’s, David’s Tea, Longo’s and Subway within the downtown core without ever putting a jacket on. To help get into the spring mood, I did some baking the other day, throwing together delicious lemon cranberry scones that remind me of warmer weather. The combination of coconut and almond flour makes for a yummy high fiber, low-carb and protein rich snack. Side note: gluten-free does not mean low-carb when it comes to baked goodies; most are worst then their gluten filled counterparts as companies use truckloads sugar and cheap white rice flour to make them taste good. This recipe at the bottom of this post, an exception, was adapted from this recipe posted on a great food blogger website, I didn’t mean to make so many substitutions to the original recipe, but had to do with what ingredients I had on hand during my post-midterm baking fest on Friday.

This recipe turned into inspiration for this blog post, making cranberries the March Superfood of the month. Cranberries are an excellent addition to any diet, these high fiber berries are powerful antioxidants, rich in vitamin C, E and K, and have long been touted for their ability to prevent (not treat) urinary tract infections. This is where is gets tricky because most version of cranberries sold on the market are not the healthiest form. You are likely to find cranberry juice cocktail, which isn’t even real juice and chocked full of sugar (Mean Girls anyone?) and dried cranberries coated in cheap vegetable oil and sweetened with white sugar. I buy whole frozen cranberries from Loblaws, which work well in muffins, loaves and even oatmeal recipes. If you do buy dried cranberries, look for organic cranberries that are sweetened with fruit juice and contain no added sulfites. For women who suffer from UTI’s but don’t want to drink gallons of sugary cranberry juice each day, try taking a D-mannose or a whole cranberry extract supplement to help prevent the adhesion of bacteria to the walls of the urethra, and also drink LOTS and LOTS of water on a daily basis.

FYI, this recipe is not paleo friendly because off the Greek yogurt. You could try subbing coconut yogurt or coconut cream at your own discretion. Also, I list the details for each recipe item to give you an idea of what products I used, but don’t feel obligated to have the EXACT same ingredients!

·            1/3 cup Let’s Do Organic coconut flour
·            2/3 JK Gourmet’s almond flour
·            ¼-1/3 cup coconut sugar (depending on desired level of sweetness)
·            2 tsp baking powder
·            1/4 tsp sea Salt
·            1/2 cup Liberte Organic 0% Greek Yogurt
·            2 Free run Omega-3 eggs and 2 ‘flax’ eggs (or 4 large eggs total)
·            1/4 cup fresh squeezed organic lemon juice
·            1 Tbsp Artisana Coconut Oil, melted
·            2 Tbsp grated lemon Zest
·            1/2 tsp Pure Vanilla Extract
·            1 cup unsweetened frozen whole cranberries

Preheat oven to 350°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk together coconut flour, almond flour, sweetener, baking powder and salt.
Add Greek yogurt, eggs, lemon juice, coconut oil, lemon zest and vanilla extract and stir vigorously until well combined. Stir in frozen cranberries
Drop by large spoonful onto prepared baking sheet. You should get 8-10 large scones in all. Bake approximately 25 minutes, until firm and light brown
Remove and let cool 5 minutes on pan, then transfer to a wire rack until completely cooled

Store in refrigerator for a few days or freeze.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

WIAW- Winter Edition

Time for my 2nd edition of WIAW. If you find yourself in a food slump and need some meal inspirations for these cold nights, here are some recipes definitely worth trying, all our GF and a few are vegan as well.  Reminder, I am NOT a food blogger or food photographer, I realize my pictures are ugly and taken on my poor quality iphone camera, the purpose of this post is to inspire you to get your bum into the kitchen and start cooking, especially breakfast the MOST important meal of the day!!!

Breakfast- Technically I ate this on Tuesday, but it tastes so good I felt obligated to share this recipe. Tuesday morning we have a practical acupuncture class, which means unlike all my other classes, there isn’t a chance to chow down a quick snack during break. Normally by lunchtime I’ve eaten two breakfasts (pre and post workout) and at least one snack, so I find myself needing a really sustainable breakfast on Tuesday to make it till noon. Enter chia seeds, a nutrition power house and an easy mocha chia pudding you can make the night before. I adapted this recipe from several websites.

1/3 cup strong coffee, chilled
1/3 unsweetened chocolate almond milk
1 tbsp chocolate protein powder (I uses vega energizing smoothie)
dash of cinnamon and real vanilla extract
2 heaping tbsp chia seeds
optional: 1 tbsp honey or maple syrup or almond butter for extra richness

Combine coffee, almond milk, protein powder, cinnamon and vanilla in container, cover with lid and shake well. Whisk in chia seeds, cover and leave overnight in the fridge. In the morning, I topped it off with 3 chopped strawberries for a tasty breakfast. Feel free to sub coffee with all almond milk, or canned coconut milk for a richer pudding.

I’ve tried several DF version of Alfredo sauce from numerous websites and this RECIPE by Oh She Glows is by far the best one I’ve come across. I substituted Natura unsweetened organic soy milk for almond milk (because I only had chocolate almond milk open in my fridge), and left out the earth balance spread because I don’t own any and it still turned out very creamy and great tasting. I threw in some pan-seared scallops, sautéed onion and spinach and used kelp noodles to make a delicious seafood fettuccine Alfredo.  Kelp noodles are a delicious gluten free alternative to pasta; they are low carb and taste good cold on salads or in hot noodle dishes. A lot of gluten-free pastas contain white rice flour aka empty blood-sugar spiking carbohydrates, or corn, which is another common allergen especially for people who are gluten sensitive. I rounded out my lunch with some veggies sticks for crunch and added nutrition.

For an afternoon snack, I had a ton of frozen bananas in my freezer to use up. I’ve made a lot of versions of gluten free banana bread, and this RECIPE by Civilized Caveman is by far my favourite. Its moist, naturally sweetened with fruit, and easy to make. I added only 2 tbsp of coconut oil and used a combo of two eggs and two flax eggs and it held together fine. Can’t wait for some more brown bananas so I can make this again. 

Everybody loves chicken wings, but most people’s bodies don’t love them back. Even though a few frozen brands exist that are GF, I often find the rice flour coating way too thick, the sauce too sugary and very expensive for the portion you get. By comparison, 2 pounds of chicken wings from Sobeys were $8, whereas 1 pound at St. Louis Grill is 12.99. Instead, make your own oven baked chicken wings that taste equally delicious without any coating and much healthier. I served this alongside some broccoli rabe sautéed in olive oil and garlic for a comforting meal that’s perfect on a cold winter night.  I wish I had a recipe for the sauce I used but I really just threw together some ingredients from my fridge, a little ketchup, siracha, honey, paprika, garlic and apple cider vinegar. There are tons of healthy BBQ sauce recipes on the web you can search for. I cooked my wings at 425 degrees, turning after 30 minutes and cooking for an additional 15. They came out juicy, meaty and oh so delicious. (I didn't eat the entire tray in one night although it was tempting) 

BTW, if you missed the chance to check out Winterlicious in Toronto,, I suggest visiting Eat Fresh Be Healthy for an unreal prix fix meal all year round. Located at University and Dundas, they offer delicious three course meals with fresh ingredients and friendly service, a steal at $20 for lunch and $25 for dinner. If you have allergies, call ahead and request because the Cajun coat on the salmon contains gluten but can be ordered plain with fruit salsa and still tastes incredible.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Are you guilty of these rookie mistakes?

January is officially over and already I've seen a huge decrease in the number of people at the gym. Two weekends ago it was PACKED, I couldn’t even get on a cardio machine, last weekend I was the only (read single person) in the gym on a Sunday morning. Considering how many people live in the  condos that share our gym, this is pretty sad. Not to get off topic, but this is why I’m not a fan of resolutions. They are unsustainable and it really angers me to see so many people give up within the first few week; you really need to find the motivation within to stick with it and find a plan that works for you, don’t give up! As people finally started trickling into the gym as I was cooling down, I noticed a couple who clearly fit the New Year’s resolutions stereotype with brand new runners and gym clothes, a beach towel each, two big bottles of Gatorade and enough sweatbands to last them a least 3 hot yoga classes. While I applaud them for making this commitment to a healthier lifestyle together, I couldn’t help but notice the several rookie gym mistakes they made. I have outlined these common mistakes below and I really encourage people who are new to working out to find a good personal trainer and learn to be more efficient, safe and be accountable in their workouts.

1.Static stretching before working out- this couple walked up to the treadmills and preceded to do the typical quad and back stretch before hopping on the treadmills. Numerous studies have shown that static (ie. Standing still) stretching makes exercise performance worse and reduces gains in muscle strength if performed before workouts. Instead, a light warm up of 5 minutes of cycling, walking and dynamic stretching performed properly is way more effective. Save static stretching and a proper cool down for after.

2. Cardio before strength trainingI was first introduced to this topic in my strength and conditioning course in undergrad where the professor was adament that we perform strength before cardio training because cardio is the only thing that should be performed in the fatigued state. This allows for the biggest strength gains, and ensures precise, not floppy form due to tired muscles. I personally like to alternate strength days with cardio days, allowing my muscles to rest and alternate different muscle groups to avoid over training and injuries.

3. Thinking you will burn more calories in the ‘fat-burning’ zone on the treadmill- the girl on the treadmill was clearly working out in the fat-burning zone, and was barely breaking a sweat at a brisk walking pace. At lower intensity aeoribc exercise, your body prefers to burn stored fat over carbohydrates because our fat stores are, in theory, virtually endless and we can sustain this pace for long periods of time. At higher intensities (sprinting, all out running) our body converts to using carbohydrates for a quicker release of energy. Even though you are burning more fat at lower intensities, the total amount of calories burned during the workout will still be way less. Therefore it’s better to do interval training on the treadmill for a greater caloric burn during and after the workout.

4.  Choosing Gatorade over plain water- CBC just put out a great documentary on this topic and I definitely recommend watching on the link below. Most people don’t workout hard or long enough to need the electrolytes and carbohydrates that sports drink supply in order to maintain their performance. Especialy if you goal is weight loss, these drinks can be extremely counter productive and you can end up drinking the same amount of calories you just burned. A lot of sports drinks are the same thing, a bunch of glucose-fructose (sugar sugar sugar) and some sodium and potassium. You’re way better eating potassium rich foods, ensuring adequate fluid intake of plain water before, during and after workouts and if you must, use a sugar free electrolyte like Ultima if training for over 60 minutes and in hot and humid environments.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

January SuperFood of the Month is....... Black Beans!

It’s cold outside. Very cold. Cold enough to make you wanna curl up on your couch all day and avoid contact with anyone in the outside world. These past few weeks I haven’t left the house without hotpaws in my ski mitts, wool socks, a huge blanket scarf, boiling tea and occasionally tights underneath my pants. To escape the freezing temperatures, I have been indulging in more comfort foods lately and been emptying my cupboard of all canned goods to avoid the two minutes dash to Sobeys across the street. One of my favourite finds has been canned black beans. Extremely nutritious, versatile and yummy, black beans are great for vegans and meat eaters alike.

Note: to my knowledge, black beans are not Paleo or GAPS diet friendly, but are allowed on the SCD.

First lets start with the numbers: One ½ cup of black beans contains 110 calories, 1 gram of fat, and a whopping 6 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein.  Here are some of the health benefits of black beans

Black beans are a great source of iron, ½ cup contains 15% of the recommend daily value, which is great for vegans and vegetarians who are often lack iron in their diet.

Adding black beans to main dishes is a great way to boost the fiber content of your meals.

Black beans are also an excellent source of other important micronutrients, including folic acid, and high in cancer fighting antioxidants

If eating black beans raw in a salad, be sure to soak ahead of time to reduce their phytic acid content (binds important nutrients) and raffinose content (the reason beans are called the magical fruit)

What to do with that lonely can of beans? Black beans make a great addition to salads, soups, and casseroles. Especially good with Mexican flavors (think taco salad), I love adding black beans to Mexican style soup or egg scramble with spicy salsa. I’ve also made a delicious chipotle black bean dip before. Black beans also make GREAT desserts. The best part is that canned beans last forever. When on sale, I'll always buy a couple cans at time and that way I never run out or pay full price. 

Here are some of my favourite black bean recipes



Vegan Black bean brownies

Vegan Brownie Batter Dip
(sub black beans for garbanzo beans)

For all the above recipes, don’t be afraid to adjust seasoning to taste. I always cut down the amount of sugar I add to recipe (I don’t have a very big sweet tooth) and usually replace any sort of vegetable oil with coconut oil and applesauce in dessert recipes!

Sunday, 19 January 2014

How to Make Friends with Salad

Anyone who’s ever travelled with me knows I always bring enough food to feed an army in my suitcase. I never leave for a trip without packing a few granola bars, peanut butter, almonds, and some veggies sticks and fruit (unless I’m going to the USA where they are strict with produce)

The other day, I packed up, left my apartment and was a good 20 minutes away when I realized I had forgotten my lovely homemade turkey soup that was supposed to be my dinner in the fridge. I immediately cursed myself for this silly mistake. Fortunately, there are TONS of dining options in the Toronto underground PATH system. Unfortunately, there are tons of unhealthy and expensive options to choose from.

Here to save the day, the Longo’s salad bar. I know a lot of people that ‘don’t make friends with salad’ but given that it’s the New Year, I felt this would be a good post to include for people who are looking for better lunch options at work. The BEST option is of course to pack your own lunch, but I realize this isn’t always possible and it’s nice to treat yourself every once and awhile.

The biggest downside to the salad bar? Not knowing how much your lunch costs until you reach the checkout. I once made a delicious salad at whole foods, and enjoyed every bite of my $20 creation, but I would rather keep the price down if necessary. I don’t have a picture, but this time I managed to make a salad of mixed greens, peppers, onions, artichokes, zucchini, chicken pieces, and some seaweed salad with tofu and shrimp for just over $10, pretty reasonable considering the ingredients and ample portion size.

Here are some tips for avoiding sticker shock at the till and ensuring a nutrient packed lunch

1. Best, and Cheapest Portions
Spinach or mixed greens
Plain peppers, onions, mushrooms, zucchini
Sunflower seeds, plain nuts and dried fruit
Plain shrimp or tofu cubes

2. Good, but Heavy Water Weight and Expensive
Fruit- very expensive when paying per weight, better off buying a whole piece and chopping it up
Chicken- I read some blogs that say shrimp and tofu is lighter by weight
Beans and chickpeas- healthy, just heavy, way cheaper to bring a small container of your own and add

3. Worst- Avoid
Croutons- empty carbohydrate calories
Anything marinated or slathered in mayonnaise- adds weight and often made with cheap processed vegetable oils
Crumbled bacon- enough said
Pasta salads- cheap, heavy and not filling
Cheese- if dairy intolerant or watching your weight, cheese is a good thing to avoid, a serving of cheese if the size of two dice and easy to overeat

Most salad bars will put the heaviest and cheapest items (pasta salad) at the front, and the most expensive and lighter options (shrimp) at the end of the salad bar so that you load up on the cheap stuff and don’t have enough room at the end. Do a scan of the entire salad bar and decide what you want before filling up.

I’ve also bought a salad before and added my own hardboiled egg for added protein at a fraction of the price. Also bring your own dressing or skip altogether as dressings can add a lot of weight (especially creamy ones) to the salad.

What's your favourite thing to put on a salad? I go through phases; sometimes I'm all about a mixture of spinach with fruit, other times I like a more asian inspiration with kimchi and seaweed salad