Spring Tips for Eating Well

I know that it is now April (though you wouldn’t be able to tell by the blast of snow we received here in Toronto) but it was just March. For those who do not know, March is Nutrition Month, this is certainly a National Health Observance that I can get behind and the inspiration behind this post. Inspiring people to eat well is something I enjoy so much- especially once people realize HOW GOOD (and how easy) healthy food can be, dessert included!!!

Maybe it’s the (impending) arrival of spring, or the post-easter binge guilt getting to people but over the last few days I’ve had A LOT of friends telling me that enough is enough and they are really needing to get back on the healthy eating train (amen, I am right there with you).

But what is nutrition? What constitutes a healthy nutritious diet? There is SO MUCH information out there. Gluten-free? Sugar-free? Paleo? Vegan? Fat-free? Juicing? It’s hard to wrap your head around it all isnt it? And once you finally get on board with a certain diet, everything seems to change faster than you can say “saturated fat”.

However, it doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, it’s not. Following a nutritious diet is easier than you may think. The first step in this involves ignoring all forms of media you see surrounding healthy eating and health foods, present and past. Okay, so maybe that part is hard. Especially when you see beautiful models promoting a certain diet who tell you if you do what they do, you’ll look like them (they’re lying). Now, once you are able to block that out, throw out what your grandma has told you regarding nutrition (“eggs are high in cholesterol and therefore bad for you!”) and try and ignore your mother too (“whole-fat milk will make you fat!”). Okay, hard part over. Here comes the easy part.

Here’s the secret: Eat real food.

If you follow this rule, you will be healthy, you will feel great and you will be able to eat guilt-free.

What is real food? Real food is something that grows in the ground or is raised on the ground and has been minimally processed. Plants, animals, it’s all real food. Boxed diet chocolate granola bars? Not real food.

Here are the guidelines I follow when it comes to determining what counts as real food:

If you must eat a boxed or packaged meal or food product, read the ingredients. Are they chemicals? Something made in a lab? Do you know what those things are? Can you pronounce them? Are they all things that are grown in the ground? If you can answer “yes” to the last three questions, then go ahead, eat it. Same thing goes for eating out at restaurants.

Limit/eliminate refined sugar as much as possible. But wait, sugar comes from a plant doesn’t it? You’re right it does. But do you know how much work goes into processing that sugar cane to get the sugar? A lot. But what about organic cane sugar? It’s still processed sugar. But what about strawberries? Grapes? They are high in sugar sure, BUT (and this is a big but), they are good sugar, and they aren’t processed. Those grapes and those strawberries are exactly the way nature intended them to be. Eat up. If you need a sweetener for baking, reach for something like pure maple syrup or honey, as they are not as processed and are closer to their natural state compared to something like white sugar.

Do you see where I’m going here?

What about dairy? I thought dairy fat was bad. False! Dairy fat is good and can actually be an aid in weight loss. In fact, go for the full-fat kind. I’m serious. It will fill you up and keep you fuller longer, not to mention it’s full of protein and doesn’t go through as much processing as it’s low-fat versions. (Bonus points if you can get your hands on non-homogenized products that are pasteurized at the lowest temperatures).

What about meat and eggs? Meat is super complicated and as someone who follows a vegan-ish diet, it’s hard for me to tell you what meat to eat and what meat to not eat. Personal opinions and choices aside, meat isn’t bad for you as long as it’s not ALL you’re eating and you don’t eat it with every meal. It is a great source of protein, and rich in B vitamins and iron. Most people will get more than enough protein by eating a balanced plant-based (with or without dairy) diet, but meat can certainly help you get more. The key here: keep it as natural as possible (back to my main theme). Natural means you’re eating a cow that was raised in a natural environment, that ate a natural diet. You are what you eat, therefore, you are what you eat eats as well. If you eat a cow who ate lush green grass and NOT processed corn feed, you are going to get the health benefits of eating something that ate something healthy, as nature intended.

Don’t be afraid of fat. We need fat, it is crucial to brain functioning and as long as we are getting real, good fats, we won’t gain weight. Remember again that dairy fat is good, so is the fat that is found in things like nuts, olive oil and avocados.

Plants. Eat all the plants. All of them. In every form. In any way. Chopped, sautéed, steamed, raw, roasted, purred, heck even fried. Calories don’t count when it comes to veggies. DIG IN.

When it comes to my own eating I follow this one simple rule, as said by Michael Pollan: “Eat real food. Not too much. Mostly plants”

The “not too much” brings me to another important point. Eat until you are full. Eat when you are hungry. If you eat mostly real foods, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll eat too much.

One last thing to remember- eating well doesn’t always mean total deprivation of all the yummy things. Sure, if you want to be the absolute best you can be, by all means, go all in. I just don’t think that this type of lifestyle is realistic or sustainable for most of us. What is a birthday without a birthday cake? What is a trip to the cottage without some chips? It’s all about moderation. Moderation doesn’t mean you can eat these things in moderation once a day, but maybe once a week or once every other week. When you do indulge, please don’t feel guilty, the last thing anyone wants is to have a negative relationship with food. Food is amazing, it brings us together, it nourishes us and it gives us energy- not to mention, it brings us so much joy!

Keep it simple, remember these few things and you’ll be feeling great in no time at all!

 

Some suggested reading:

“In defence of Food, An Eater’s Manifesto” -Michael Pollan

“Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us” – Michael Moss

“Eating Animals” – Jonathan Safran Foer (this is a good read if you are pondering the philosophy and the ethics behind eating meat, of course it encourages a vegetarian diet but it talks about how unnatural the meat industry is, worth a read even if you vow to not never up meat)

How to Deal- Late Night Snack Attacks

IMG_2150

I don’t know about you, but I have a serious love affair with snacking and always have. I find during the day I am very mindful about what I eat and what snacks I consume. However, once I’m at home, dinner finished, workout done and cuddled up on the couch, my snacking becomes completely mindless. This is a phenomenon that has been observed time and time again so I know that I am not alone in this. Yet, even as someone who is completely conscious of living a healthy lifestyle, that all seems to so quickly fly out the window the second I sit down in front of the TV at night (which I will admit, in the winter it has become a daily thing- I’m not perfect). It doesn’t even matter if I’m full from dinner still- all of the sudden I want to eat EVERYTHING (and usually everything that is bad for me). Today I thought I’d share with you what I do to help combat this:

  • If I’m not hungry and I keep feeling like I need to eat something, I’ll TURN OFF THE TV and go into my bedroom and read. Reading stimulates my mind enough for me to stop thinking about eating ALL THE SNACKS.
  • As soon as I find myself wanting to snack while I watch TV I stop and ask myself “am I really hungry? did I eat enough today?” If I am not really hungry, I’ll drink a big glass of water or make some tea and then reassess. If I realize that I didn’t eat enough, I’ll then consider having a snack. This helps me with make my sense of my snack cravings and makes me conscious of what is going on in my body and mind.
  • I think about how I will feel tomorrow. Sure, a giant bag of bulk candy or a bag of chips may sound great in the moment, but how will I feel after I eat it or the next morning? Chances are, not great. Knowing this and keeping it in mind is sometimes enough to prevent a snack attack.
  • I’ll brush my teeth. Once my teeth are all minty fresh I am less inclined to snack.

IF I must snack simply because my craving is taking over or I really am still hungry, here is how I deal, because let’s get real, I can’t watch “The Bachelor” without a snack…

The key here is to make CONSCIOUS and MINDFUL decisions of what goes in to my body, and yes, I do believe that night time snacking is not always a bad thing and can be a part of a healthy lifestyle:

  • As noted above, I will always try and drink a big glass of water or have a tea first and then see if I still want to snack.
  • I always make sure that I have healthy snacks on hand, so even if I eat a lot of said healthy snack, it won’t throw my body off that much. Preparation is key here. When planning out my meals and writing my weekly grocery list I always include healthy snacks.
  • Keep rich, “healthy” chocolate on hand, a.k.a. NOT Cadbury mini eggs. I can eat a million of those without stopping. However, when I have good, rich, dark and low-sugar chocolate around, I can eat one to three pieces of it and feel totally satisfied.
    • I recommend chocosol or something similar
    • A quick trick to make a healthy chocolate bar in a pinch- melt some coconut oil on the stove top and add cocoa powder and natural sweetener of choice (maple syrup or honey) to taste. Poor into the bottom of a muffin cup or small container and place it in the freezer. In a short period of time you’ll have a delicious creamy chocolate treat!
  • Bake healthy and satisfying “treats” ahead of time to have on hand when you want a snack! Anything packed with healthy fats and superfoods that mock a traditional treat is great:
  • If you’re more of a chips and salty/crunchy kind of snacker, reach for (or make) some of these healthier choices:
    • Popcorn! An air popper is a quick and easy way to make a healthy snack. Popcorn is packed with fibre and when you make it yourself you aren’t going to be eating a bunch of chemicals like the ones found in the microwave varieties. Top with whatever you like- butter, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic powder, or my personal favourite- nutritional yeast
    • Kale chips as so easy to make (and way cheaper than buying store bought kale chips) and almost taste exactly like potato chips. Follow this recipe and use an oil spray bottle for flawless results
    • Olives are good for you and taste delicious too. Plus, they’re so salty it’s hard to eat too many
    • Pickles- same as above!

If you must indulge in the less-than-good kind of snack (hey, it happens) the key thing to remember is portion control. I know that if I buy a Costco size bag of mini eggs or a family size bag of chips, I will eat the whole thing (it’s not my fault!) so if I do give in to my less-than-ideal cravings, I make sure I only buy a small quantity so I literally can’t eat more than that small amount. Think a mini bag of mini eggs, a snack size bag of chips, a mini cupcake. BUT, always remember, the less you eat these things, the less you want them. Giving into these cravings is a sure fire way to make you crave even more (it’s science guys, I’m not making this up).

I hope this helps those late night snackers like me! Have a great night everyone and happy (healthy) snacking!

Creamy Cashew Chai Milk

Something about the Holiday season that just makes you crave delicious warm and cinnamon-y flavoured things, amiright?

After seeing some chai flavoured nut milk in a store a few weeks back, I thought I’d have a go at it. This could be made with other nuts (almonds, coconut) or hemp, or a combo of any of these but I was really looking for something rich and indulgent (tis the season!) which I why I went with cashews.

When I visited Kenya 7 years ago we had chai every afternoon. “Chai” literally means tea, but in North America, we call it chai tea because it has a distinct flavour different than our every day black tea. The chai we had in kenya was super creamy, slightly spicy and so full of flavour. It didn’t need much sweetness (or any at all). When I returned to Canada, I couldn’t drink a chai latte again- it was all wrong! I’ve tried many times to re-create the chai that I had in Kenya by boiling the spices directly in water, adding plain black tea and then adding milk and letting in simmer. It’s not quite the same, but it’s pretty close.

This cashew milk was inspired by 1. seeing chai nut milk in a store as mentioned and 2. my recent fondness of putting cardmom in my coffee. Throw all of this together with my never-ending quest to create that super creamy Kenyan chai experience and this is what I came up with.

Yesterday morning I tried it in my latte and OH MAN was it all the Holiday cheer I needed to get through a busy day of running errands and hosting friends.

DSCF7644

Cashews are incredibly versatile when it comes to vegan baking and cooking. Use them to make cashew sour cream, cashew “cheese”, as the base in a vegan cheese sauce or as a creamy filling in a raw pumpkin pie. Seriously, they’re amazing. I often have some laying around soaking and ready for use because I end up using them so often. For this recipe, I soaked 1 cup of raw cashews overnight in water (to speed this up you can soak them in boiling water for an hour or so).

DSCF7628

I also added 2 medjool dates for a little bit of sweetness. I recently discovered that my older dried out looking dates can simply be rejuvenating by giving them a little soak (this makes it easier for blending).DSCF7633

Once the cashews and dates were good to go, I rinsed the cashews and added them to my blender with 3 cups of water, pitted the dates and threw them in and then added the spices.DSCF7632

After a good blend on high for a few minutes, the creamy milk was pretty much ready to go!DSCF7636

I strained the milk with a nut milk bag but this step isn’t necessary. Cashews (especially once soaked) blend up really well and creamy and don’t really produce much pulp, but I do prefer to strain mine, totally just a personal preference. Once blended, store in the fridge in a container with a lid. 

As mentioned, it was amazing in a latte, but this would also be delicious with some granola or cereal, in a smoothie, in some oatmeal, or simply warmed up on it’s own for a cozy evening drink.

This recipe can be made with either more or less water, depending on your preference for creaminess. Less water gives it more of a coffee cream consistency, whereas the 3:1 water to nut ratio that I used gives it the consistency of whole milk.


Creamy Cashew Chai Milk

1 cup raw cashews, soaked

2 medjool dates, pitted

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. ground ginger (this would be amazing with fresh ginger as well)

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/8 tsp. cardamom

A couple twists of ground black pepper

3 cups water

Directions

Add all ingredients to a high-speed blender and blend for 1-2 minutes. Strain through nutmilk bag (or omit this step) and pour into container with lid and refrigerate. Enjoy within one week.