Search This Blog

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Gluten-Free Party Mix

When it's holiday time, it's time for Party Mix.  It just wouldn't be right if I had a gathering and there was no Party Mix for guests (or myself!) to enjoy.  When I first found out I was gluten intolerant, I was really upset about not being able to have one of my favorite holiday treats.  Then I figured out a way to make it, with a few slight modifications.  Any of you who have been to any of my parties know I make a great Party Mix.  It's a fan favorite, and a frequently requested recipe, but I've never written it down before.  The recipe only existed in my head.  Here you go!

You'll need to preheat your oven to 250.  While it's preheating, get two 9x13 baking pans and put 3 tablespoons of butter (or butter substitute) into each pan and place them into the oven to melt the butter.

Once the butter is melted, remove the pans from the oven with an oven mitt and add the following to each pan:

  • 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon of onion powder

Mix everything together well in the pan, so it's all combined and evenly spread out in the pan.

Next add the following to each pan:

  • 3 cups of of rice Chex
  • 2 cups of gluten-free pretzel sticks
  • 1 cup of mixed nuts (sometimes I add an extra cup of nuts to each pan, if I have enough)

Again, mix everything together very well in each pan, making sure to coat all of the ingredients well with the seasoning.

Once combined, put into the oven for 15 minutes.  Stir each pan and repeat three more times for 15 minute increments of baking and then stirring, for a total time in the oven of 1 hour.  When done, lay out paper towels on the counter and spread the hot mixture on the towels to cool.  When done, store in an airtight container.  I find it always tastes best if I make the Party Mix at least a day or two before eating, so the flavors really have time to develop.

Enjoy and happy holidays!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Best Gluten-Free Brownies Ever

There are certain recipes everyone loves.  And there are certain types of food everyone loves.  In this case, brownies are always a winner.  But, when it comes to gluten-free brownies, it can be challenging to make them come out just right.  I've tried so many recipes, and most of them don't have the correct consistency, the shiny top with the flaky crust, or just that great-brownie fudgy-chewiness.  My quest for the right brownie recipe ended with King Arthur.  The geniuses in their test kitchen nailed it!  I found a brownie recipe that breaks all boundaries, and is a hit with everyone.  No one would ever know these are gluten-free.  I haven't ventured as far as making them vegan (I'm not sure an egg replacer would work out too well), but these are perfect in every other way.

Here are a few tips for all of you brownie lovers to make cutting and serving them easier:

  • Wait until they are cooled, or they will fall apart!
  • Use a plastic knife to cut them.  The brownie won't stick to the knife, so you don't end up tearing them apart, with half of the brownie stuck to the sides of your cutting utensil!  I actually get plastic knives from the cafeteria and work and use them to cut brownies.  I don't know why this works so well, but it does.
  • Use a small, square-ended spatula to serve them out.  I can't find where on earth mine went in the last few weeks, but I used one like this: (
  • Gluten-free baked goods tend to dry out faster.  Make sure they are in a well-sealed container once cooled.  
  • I also found that this brownie recipe freezes very well, so you can make them ahead.  I stuck a whole pan (sealed with a lid, of course!) in the freezer for about two weeks, and then just took them out about 5 hours before serving.  No one was the wiser!

And here is the recipe, for all of you who have asked for it!

1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon gluten-free vanilla extract
3/4 cup (2 1/2 ounces) cocoa
3 large eggs
3/4 cup gluten-free flour (I've used both Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Baking Flour and King Arthur Gluten-Free Multi-Purpose Flour)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup chocolate chips

1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8" square pan or 9" round pan; either should be at least 2" deep.

2) Place the sugar, butter, and salt in a saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring with a heatproof spatula until the butter melts and the mixture lightens in color. This step helps melt the sugar, which will give the brownies a shiny crust.

3) Remove the saucepan from the heat and blend in the vanilla and cocoa, then add the eggs and mix until shiny.

4) Blend in the flour and the baking powder. Stir in the chocolate chips.

5) Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it to the edges.

6) Bake the brownies for 33 to 38 minutes, until the top is set; and a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or nearly so, with perhaps a few wet crumbs, or a tiny touch of chocolate at the tip of the tester.

7) Remove from the oven and cool for about 15 minutes before cutting. Once the brownies are cool, cover tightly with plastic.

Yield: 16 brownies.

Monday, September 2, 2013

How Do You Get Your Protein? From Plants, Of Course!

A commonly-asked question for most vegans and vegetarians is, "How do you get your protein?" This inquiry is fueled by a misconception that animal products are the main (or only!) source of protein in the diet, thanks to the governing agencies that control the messaging of nutritional information.  For a veteran vegan or vegetarian, this can be beyond frustrating.

For a person new to a vegan or vegetarian diet, knowing where to get protein from plant sources can be confusing and overwhelming, especially if people continue to question what you're eating. If you're not sure about where to get plant-based protein, you may end up eating the same thing over and over, which can get tiring after a while.

I've been asked a few times about good sources of plant-based protein, so here's a list that might be helpful to those of you on a vegetarian or vegan diet, or those of you considering trying it out for yourself. Quite honestly, the possibilities are endless and very tasty!  This list below is also gluten and soy-free, for those of you with those dietary allergies.  I will never advocate anyone eat anything with soy in it, as it's really not healthy to consume, unless it's fermented (miso, soy sauce), so you won't find any soy milk, tofu, edamame or other soy-substitutes in my list!

Lentils – 18 g per cup
Refried beans - 15.5 g per cup
Chickpeas (or hummus) - 14.5 g per cup
Pinto, kidney or black beans - 13-15 g per cup
Peas – 9 g per cup
Quinoa - 9 g per cup
Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter – 8 g per 2 tablespoons
Almond milk - 7 g per cup
Peanuts - 6.5 g per 1 oz
Sesame seeds - 6.5 g per 1 oz (or 8 g in 2 tablespoons of tahini)
Sunflower seeds – 6 g per 1/4 cup
Oatmeal - 6 g per cup
Pistachios - 5.8 g per 1 oz
Sunflower seed butter – 5.5 g per 2 tablespoons
Brown rice – 5 g per cup
Cooked broccoli – 5 g per cup
Sweet potato - 5 g per cup
Cooked kale - 5 g per 2 cups
Cashews – 5 g per 1/4 cup
Chia seeds - 5 g per 2 tablespoons
Walnuts - 5 g per 1/4 cup
Cooked spinach – 5 g per cup
Almonds - 4 g per 2 tablespoons
Avocado – 4 g per cup (or 10 g for a whole avocado)
White rice – 4 g per cup
Flax seeds – 4 g per 2 tablespoons
Baked red potato – 3 g per cup

I hope this list is helpful.  If you have any other plant-based protein sources you include in your diet, let me know and I can add it to this list.  


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Gluten-Free Crustless Cranberry Pie

Being gluten-free, it can be difficult to make pies.  The dough recipes can be challenging to make without the crust falling apart during construction, and the store-bought crusts don't taste all that great.  I found a recipe last fall for a cranberry pie that didn't require a crust, and decided to try to make it gluten-free.  It's one of my most favorite pies, and everyone who's tried it loves it.

I got a lot of requests for this recipe last fall and winter, so I didn't want to miss out on posting it before cranberry season started.  Someone said the following about this pie at a party last year, "What did you put in this, angel tears?!"  You might want to try it out for yourself.  It's that good!

1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour (I used Bob's Red Mill)
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup butter, melted (if vegan, use a butter substitute)
2 eggs (if vegan, use an egg substitute, such as Ener-G or ground flax and water)
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease one 9 inch pie dish.

Combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Stir in the cranberries and the walnuts, and toss to coat. 

Stir in the butter, beaten eggs, and almond extract. If you are using frozen cranberries, the mixture will be very thick. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted near the center comes out clean.  In my oven, especially when using frozen cranberries, it took 45 minutes.

This pie is also great made with blueberries in place of cranberries.  I think you could probably try just about any type of berry, and it would be good.  Just adjust the sugar accordingly, as cranberries are tart and need a bit more sugar than other types of berries.

Raw Kale Crackers

Kale crackers at the grocery store are just ridiculously expensive.  And you get about one serving per bag!  I decided to make my own, because I'm not paying $7 for one bag of kale chips or crackers!  Here's how to make your own.

In a food processor add the following:

  • 1 bag of kale with large stem pieces removed
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce of you're not gluten-intolerant or Worcestershire sauce if you are soy free)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Pulse in the food processor, stopping to scrape down the sides, until well combined. 

Spread out on two Paraflex sheets in a thin layer. Score into cracker-sized squares and sprinkle with sea or Himalayan salt and/or pepper, if desired.  

Dehydrate for 16-24 hours at 114 degrees. You may need to flip the crackers over about half-way through the dehydration process to get them completely crispy.  Store in air-tight containers when finished.

Vegan Cheese Sauce and Cream Substitutes

If you're vegan or lactose intolerant, it can be difficult to find dairy substitutes that taste good and are something you'd want to serve to friends and family without scaring them!  I have two favorite recipes that taste good and have fooled even non-vegans into thinking they were cheese or dairy!

Two ingredients you need for good cheese substitutes - nutritional yeast and raw cashews.  If you're allergic to nuts, sesame seeds work in place of the cashews for the cheez sauce.  I've also seen other recipes that use potatoes in place of nuts, where you boil and mash up the potatoes to add to the mix.  I've never made it myself, but it's an option to try if you have nut allergies.

This first recipe is for a savory cheezy-sauce.  I've used this to make a great mac and cheese, using brown rice pasta, so it was gluten-free as well!  I've also made eggplant and zucchini "parmesan" by layering eggplant or zucchini slices with kale or spinach, tomato sauce and drizzles of this cheez sauce.

Cheez Sauce

Soak 1 cup raw cashews in 2 cups of water for at least 8 hours
Drain cashews and add to blender or food processor (I use my Vitamix blender)

Add the following to the blender:

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 3 heaping tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric (not necessary, but give it a cheesy color)

Blend until smooth.  You may have to stop and scrape down the sides of the blender a few times.  This makes about 1 cup of cheez sauce.  Add to the recipe you're using and heat or refrigerate until you're ready to use.
The second recipe is for a cashew creme.  This can be used in place of whipped cream on berries, strawberry shortcake or anything you'd typically use whipped cream.  I make it ahead of time and then refrigerate it for at least 1 hours before serving.

Vanilla Creme

Soak 1 cup raw cashews in 2 cups of water for at least 8 hours.
Drain cashews and add to blender or food processor (I use my Vitamix blender)

Add the following to the blender:

  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Blend until smooth.  You may have to stop and scrape the sides of the blender a few times.  This makes about 1 cup of vanilla creme.  Keep refrigerated and it lasts about a week.

Raw Juicer Pulp Crackers

One day a few weeks ago, I did a LOT of juicing.  I had piles of juice pulp in bowls, and I didn't want to have to put in all into the compost bin.  It just seemed like such a waste to me.  Instead, I decided to experiment and make some juice pulp crackers.  I was pleasantly surprised at how well they tasted!

I did make an effort to separate out the pulp that I didn't think would work well in the crackers.  I removed the orange pulp and cucumber pulp, and I kept the beets, carrots, apples and kale, and just mixed them all together really well in a large bowl.

Here are my recipes (scale them up or down, depending upon how much pulp you have to use).  I made double recipes for everything I made, as I had so much pulp:

"Cheezy" Crackers
1 1/2 cups juicer pulp
1/4 cup chia seeds
1/4 cup nutritional yeast
1/4 cup water

Cinnamon Spicy Crackers
2 cups juicer pulp
1/3 cup chia seeds
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 - 1/2 cup water (add as needed)

Add the ingredients into a food processor and process until well mixed.  Add as much water as needed to get a good, spreadable consistency.  You may need to stop the processor and scrape the sides a few times and continue processing.

Spread the mixture out onto Paraflex sheets into a thin layer and score into a grid of cracker-sized squares.  Sprinkle sea salt or pink Himalayan salt over the top and lightly press into the crackers (so it doesn't blow off once you put it in the dehydrator!)

Set dehydrator to 114 degrees and dehydrate for 16-24 hours, depending upon how wet the pulp is and how thick your crackers are.  When finished, break apart and store in air-tight containers.

They came out nice and crispy and were quite tasty!  I'm not sure which flavor I liked best, as they were both good.  You could also use sesame seeds in place of the chia seeds.  I did make one other recipe with sesame seeds, but I added some garbanzo bean flour to them, and they didn't come out as well (they were a bit "gritty").

These make a great, healthy snack.  They're nice and crispy and the chia seeds really fill you up!

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mexican Dinner Party

We had a great time at our Mexican-themed summer party yesterday.  It was a wonderful day to sit outside and enjoy the warm weather.  Many of our friends asked for recipes for the food served, so I compiled them all here!  All the food prepared was gluten-free, and the desserts can also be made vegan with a butter substitute. Everything was also soy-free.


Berry Sangria

1 bottle blueberry wine (I used Boyden Valley from VT)
1 bottle cranberry wine (I used Boyden Valley from VT)
2 shots brandy
2 tablespoons sugar
2 oranges, sliced
2 cups mixed frozen berries
1-2 bottles seltzer

In a large pitcher, dissolve the sugar in the brandy.  Add in the wine, oranges and berries, stir well and let sit for at least a few hours to chill.  Add seltzer when ready to serve.

Taco Dip (Gluten-Free)

1 (8 ounce) package Neufchatel cream cheese, softened
1 (16 ounce) container Greek yogurt
1 (1.25 ounce) package taco seasoning mix (I used Trader Joe’s)
1/4 head iceberg lettuce - rinsed, dried and shredded
1 cup shredded Mexican Blend cheese
3 chopped tomatoes

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, blend cream cheese, sour cream and taco seasoning with an electric mixer. Spread this mixture in a 9-inch (or a little larger) round serving dish. Top the mixture with lettuce, Cheddar cheese and tomatoes.  I made a double batch of this recipe for the party, and put it in a 9x13 dish.

Main Course
We combined all the taco fixings below into hard and soft corn tortillas, along with shredded lettuce, tomato, cilantro, shredded cheese, bell peppers salsa and guacamole.

Salsa Chicken (Gluten-Free)

6 large chicken breasts
1 cup salsa (I used Trader Joe’s Fire Roasted Tomato Salsa)
2 tablespoons taco seasoning mix (I used Trader Joe’s Taco Seasoning Mix)

Add raw, skinless, boneless chicken along with salsa and taco seasoning to your slow cooker, and mix well to combine.  Cook on low for 4-6 hours until fork tender, shred the chicken with 2 forks, mix with sauce.

Mexican Steak (Gluten-Free)

2 pounds flank or skirt steak, trimmed of excess fat
4 garlic cloves, minced or 2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 large handful fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 limes, juiced
1 orange, juiced
1 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil

Combine all marinade ingredients in a large 9x13 baking dish and mix well.  Add the steak and make sure to coat both sides well with the marinade.  Refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 8 hours, so the flavors can sink into the meat. Don't marinate the steak for more than 8 hours, or it will get mushy.  Grill to desired doneness.

Cinnamon Pork Tenderloin (Gluten-Free)

For the party, I made it soy free as well with a soy sauce substitute, but below is the normal recipe that uses tamari in place of soy sauce.

1/4 cup tamari
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons dried minced onion
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pinch garlic powder
2 (3/4 pound) pork tenderloins

Place tamari, brown sugar, sherry, dried onion, cinnamon, olive oil, and a touch of garlic powder in a large resealable plastic bag. Seal, and shake to mix. Place pork in bag with marinade, seal, and refrigerate for 6 to 12 hours.  Grill to desired doneness.

Mexican Bean Salad (Vegan and Gluten-Free)

1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 ounce) can kidney beans, drained
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 (10 ounce) package frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 clove crushed garlic
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

In a large bowl, combine beans, bell peppers and frozen corn.
In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, red wine vinegar, lime juice, lemon juice, sugar, salt, garlic, cilantro, cumin, and black pepper. Season to taste with chili powder.
Pour olive oil dressing over vegetables; mix well. Chill thoroughly, and serve cold.

Many of the Mexican desserts I found had marshmallows in them.  I modified the standard "Crazy Chocolate Cake" recipe to make it a Mexican cake.  I also decided Rice Krispies treats would be fitting with the marshmallows!

Crazy Mexican Chocolate Cake (Gluten-Free and Vegan)
This cake is vegan, but frosting is not.  The frosting could be vegan with a butter substitute.

3 cups gluten-free baking mix (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
2 cups sugar

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup cocoa

2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 cup oil
(I used organic canola oil)
1 teaspoon vanilla

2 Tablespoons white vinegar

2 cups cold water

1 cup chocolate chips

Mix the dry ingredients and then add the wet ones, and mix until smooth.  (I beat it for about 1 minute with a mixer.)  Add in chocolate chips last.

Prepare pan(s) by greasing and flouring lightly.  Pour into 24 cupcake pans, two 9-inch pans, or one 9x13-inch pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 20-25 minutes (cupcakes), 30 minutes (9-inch) or 50 minutes (9x13). Test with a toothpick to make sure it is done all the way through.  Cool completely.  Ice with frosting recipe below.

Mexican Frosting (Gluten-Free)

2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 jar (7 or 7 1/2 oz) marshmallow cream (such as Marshmallow Fluff)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Beat butter in a large bowl with mixer on medium until creamy. On low speed, beat in cocoa. Beat in marshmallow cream, then confectioners' sugar. Increase speed to high and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Spread onto cake.

Maple Rice Krispies Bars (Gluten-Free)
These could also be made vegan with a butter substitute.

1/4 cup butter
35 large marshmallows
1/2 cup maple syrup
6 cups Gluten-Free Rice Krispies

In a large saucepan, slowly melt the butter.  Add in the marshmallows and slowly melt, until smooth and no lumps.  Add in maple syrup and then the Rice Krispies.  Combine well and then spread into a greased 9x13 pan with a spatula and a piece of waxed paper.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Homemade Fabric Freshener Spray

There are times when you just need to freshen things up.  Case in point: my husband's vehicle smelling like a locker room.  Between his golf bag, gym bag, climbing bag, spilled coffee and overall dirt, it was not smelling so fresh.  I thought if I finally caved and cleaned the car for him, it would smell better, but it wasn't enough.  Even after vacuuming and wiping down everything, the inside of the vehicle still had a funky odor that just couldn't be ignored (maybe my husband could ignore it, I could not!).  A good coating of Febreze on the carpets would have been great, but I refuse to use the chemical-laden fabric freshener.  I decided to do some searching for homemade fabric freshener spray, and I found quite a few variations.  I settled on the following recipe:

  • 2 cups warm water (you can use cold water if you're not using baking soda)
  • 1 cup rubbing alcohol (to help with evaporation and also disinfecting)
  • 1/2 cup concentrated, natural fabric softener (Seventh Generation or Method, for example)
  • 1 tsp baking soda (to help deodorize, but this will leave white marks on darker fabrics.  In my case, it didn't matter and I needed the deodorizing boost!)
I combined everything in a spray bottle, shook it up to make sure the baking soda was dissolved, and went to town on spraying it all over my husband's vehicle!  It smelled great, and was super-easy to make.  I even sprayed some in my car, since I liked how nice it smelled.

If you're looking for an alternative to Febreeze that's better for you, plus a lot cheaper, give this a try!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Beauty is More Than Skin Deep

Recently, I've been asked by a few people about which products I use for makeup, lotions and other personal care products.  Just as I am very particular about what I put inside my body, I'm very careful about what I put on my body!  Your skin is an organ and if you put junk on your skin, it's going to be absorbed into your body.

Skin care products are not discussed as much when it relates to health, but it's just as important.  When you think about it, you use at least 10 products in the morning - shampoo, conditioner, face wash, soap, toothpaste, deodorant, lotion, perfume or cologne, hair products, face products and then makeup for females.  There's lots of opportunity for a huge, toxic load of chemicals to infiltrate your system!  Here are some tips that might help you in making better decisions when at the drugstore or the makeup counter.

These are ingredients I look out for and do not purchase products that contain these items - start reading your labels, and you'll be surprised at what you find:
  • Parabens - These are preservatives that act as a hormone disruptor. You often find these in lotions, conditioners, soaps, makeup (eye liner, mascara, eye shadow, foundation). At least 70% of cosmetic products contain parabens! You will often see parabens listed as methylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben, isobutylparaben, ethylparaben, polyparaben and isobutylparaben. I have a no tolerance policy on parabens. They are banned in Europe, but they're in everything here in the US. Parabens act like estrogen, and are especially dangerous for people who have had breast cancer or at risk for breast cancer.
  • Petroleum - This is a by-product from oil refining. Not something I want to put on my skin! Just as with parabens, petroleum is banned in many European countries. Petroleum can contain carcinogens, which are known to cause cancer.
  • Phthalates - A type of chemical that is used to give skincare products a flexible, plastic feel. These chemicals are also hormone disruptors, and can cause reproductive problems, especially in males. Not only this, phthalates can make you fat! Studies have shown they increase belly fat and increase insulin resistance. You will most commonly see these listed on labels as di-2-ethyl hexyl phthalate (DEHP), diisodecyl phthalate (DIDP), butylbenzyl phthalate (BBP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP), diisononyl phthalate (DINP), and diethyl phthalate (DEP). There are many more than this. Check your labels for anything ending with phthalate, butyl ester or plasticizer. 
  • Fluoride - I'm guessing about 99% of people have toothpaste or mouth rinses containing fluoride in their bathroom. Throw it out! Fluoride is toxic. Why do you think the toothpaste labels say not to swallow and to call a poison control center if too much is ingested? I can't even begin to list all of the negative side-effects of fluoride. Do yourself a favor and get fluoride-free toothpaste.  No, you don't need a fluoride rinse or treatment at the dentist.  The fluoride in our water supply is bad enough!
  • Triclosan - This product is found in Colgate Total, and many other "anti-bacterial" products. You can find it in some hand sanitizers. This horrible product was first developed as a pesticide, yet Colgate puts it in toothpaste!! Triclosan is also a hormone disruptor, messing with your endocrine system and thyroid. 
  • Anti-bacterial - If you see "antibacterial" on the label, put it down and walk away. There is no need for antibacterial soaps. All they do is create "super bugs" which become more resistant to antibiotics.  The anti-bacterial chemicals only kills the weak bugs, and the ones that stick around become stronger, so it just makes things worse.  Not only that, but it's harsh on your skin. All you need is plan soap and water, and it will get your hands or dishes plenty clean.
  • Artificial/synthetic fragrances - Most of those lotions and perfumes you layer all over your body are filled with hundreds of chemicals! Those chemicals are made out of petroleum, and have been shown to cause allergic reactions and hormone disruption. The problem with these artificial fragrances is that they are not disclosed on labels. I try to stick with essential oils if at all possible. The same goes for home fragrances. All those air fresheners, Febreeze spray and all that other junk is just filling your air with aromatic hydrocarbons! 
  • Sulfates - These make your shampoo and soap foam.  You can also find sulfates in toothpastes.  Sulfates are harsh detergents that can irritate skin, and are also carcinogens.  Ingredients to look for include: Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (SLS), Sodium Laureth Sulfate (SLES), Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Myreth Sulfate. 
Now that I've told you what not to buy, what do I buy?
  • For facial care products, I use Origins and The Body Shop products (but you have to check some Body Shop labels - they are phasing out parabens, and not all items are in the clear).
  • For lotions, I like Avalon Organics and Origins.
  • For makeup, I use Origins, Tarte and Rejuva Minerals.  Some Bare Minerals items are also safe.  I also like Physicians Formula Organic Wear.  They are free of parabens, synthetic and colors fragrances, no GMOs, etc.
  • For shampoo and conditioner, Kiss My Face, Burt's Bees, Avalon Organics and Jason are good bets.  I use a sulfate-free shampoo from my hair salon, so I haven't looked at labels in the store for quite a few years, so be sure to check before purchasing!
  • For body wash, I use the Kirkland Natural Citrus body wash from Costco.  It smells great, has no sulfates, parabens or other junk in it, and it's very reasonably priced!
  • For toothpaste, Tom's of Maine, Jason and Kiss My Face all make fluoride-free toothpastes.  I also like Tom's of Maine mouthwashes.
  • Perfumes are tough.  I get mine from The Body Shop.  They generally use essential oils for their fragrances.  You can also just buy essential oils and dab those on for fragrances.  I also buy essential oils for home fragrances.  I like lavender and peppermint.  You can put a few drops on cotton balls and put in a glass jar or vase to make a room smell nice.  You can do the same thing with vanilla extract.
A great resource for information about the safety of personal care products is the Environmental Working Group's site, Skin Deep:  This is a huge database of thousands of products and an analysis of the ingredients.  If you're looking to replace a product, this is a good place to look for new alternatives.

I hope this information helps you to be a savvy shopper and start looking at labels when you're buying your toiletries.  If you have any questions about a product or looking for other recommendations, let me know.  Remember, what you put on your skin is just as important as what you put in your mouth!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

When Life Isn't Sweet Enough

Sometimes, you just need a little sweetener!  But, with all the choices, what should you pick?  What's the healthiest choice when you're out at a restaurant and want to sweeten your iced tea?  Or when you're at home, and you need something on your oatmeal or waffles?

As many of you might already know, sugar is addictive.  It almost takes people a 12-step program to get off of dumping three packets of sweetener into their coffee.  Once you start backing down on the amount of sweetener you use, you realize you don't need as much as you think you do.

When it comes to what to sweeten with, here are things you should not use.  They are not fit for human consumption, as far as I am concerned:

  • Aspartame, also known as NutraSweet, Equal or AminoSweet
  • Sucralose, also known as Splenda
  • Saccharin, also known as Sweet'n Low

These items are all chemicals.  Your body doesn't know how to process them.  Your body thinks it's getting something sweet, but the calories are not there.  These chemicals make your system go crazy, messing with your blood sugar and your cravings.  You end up craving more calories because your body isn't getting what it thinks it should, so you just end up offsetting any calorie savings you think you had.  And for diabetics, messing with your blood sugar is just dangerous!

Splenda advertises, "It's made with sugar, so it tastes like sugar."  Do you know what else Splenda is made with?  Chlorine!  Yep, that's right.  And once you ingest Splenda, you have chlorine floating around in your body.  I'm no doctor, but that doesn't sound healthy to me!

Another thing to think about.  Most of those pink, yellow and blue packets you see on the table in restaurants are filled with a tiny amount of the chemical sweetener.  The rest of the packet contains filler.  The filler is usually dextrose or something else corn-derived.  And that corn the dextrose is made out of is most likely GMO.  So, not only are you eating a chemical, but you're also eating genetically modified food as well.  Not a winning combination!

Aside from the packets of artificial sweeteners on every table in every restaurant, you'll find these garbage sweeteners in diet drinks, juices, sugar free candies and desserts, sugar free cough drops, and most anything that says "No Sugar Added."  If you look on the labels of many prepared foods, you'll see them starting to sneak in sucralose as one of the last ingredients.  Even things that seem healthy, such as V8 Fusion, english muffins, sandwich thins and breads in the regular supermarket are all full of this junk!  Be a savvy shopper and start to look for this stuff.

Let me put something into perspective for you.  How many calories do you think are in one packet of regular sugar??  It's probably less than you think.  One packet has 11 calories.  That's it.  You could do about 20 jumping jacks and burn that off.  It's not worth eating a packet of chemicals and GMOs to save 11 calories!  Just use less and learn to taste your food, rather than covering it in sugar.  When you're faced with all the sweetener packet options at a restaurant, choose regular sugar.

Now that we've gotten what you shouldn't have out of the way, let's talk about some better options:

  • REAL Maple syrup: No Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Butterworth's!  That stuff is just flavored corn syrup! Costco has good prices on maple syrup.  Or if you live in VT and know someone who boils syrup, get it from them!
  • Raw honey: Look at farmer's markets or natural food stores.
  • Date paste or date sugar: I buy large containers of dates at Costco.
  • Liquid Stevia: I say liquid Stevia because the powdered form is heavily processed.  And just like with the fake sugars up above, the bulk of something like Truvia is dextrose, so you're getting into GMOs again.
  • Organic Evaporated Cane Juice: This looks most similar to white sugar - it's granulated and has an ivory color.  You can find this at Costco for a good price.
  • Low-processed cane sugars: Sucanat, Rapadura, Turbinado. These are a little harder to find in regular stores.  You'll most likely find them in natural food stores or a place like Whole Foods.

I'm a native Vermonter, so I always go for maple syrup.  I love the flavor, and a little goes a long way.  I prefer the dark B grades, as I think it has more taste than a fancy, amber syrup.  Maple syrup contains beneficial minerals as well.  Maple syrup is expensive, so we only use it in small amounts, or in something where the maple flavor is key.  A little is wonderful on oatmeal!

If you can find local, raw honey, buy it!  It's full of beneficial antioxidants and nutrients.  And honey never spoils!  It may crystalize, but it will never go bad!

I make my own date paste by just soaking medjool dates in warm water, draining the water and pureeing them in my food processor.  You can freeze the date paste for months, and just scoop out what you need for a recipe.

When I bake, I use either maple syrup, date paste, bananas, apple sauce, evaporated cane juice or sucanat.  For a traditional recipe that needs a granulated sugar, I generally cut about 1/4 or 1/3 of the amount of sugar called for from most recipes, and I don't notice the difference.  And those of you who have eaten my baking have had the reduced sugar recipes, and you didn't even know it!

For in coffee or tea, we use honey, or maple sugar granules.  This would also be a good time to use the liquid Stevia.

We try to stay away from regular white sugar.  It's so heavily processed, it doesn't have any nutritional value, and some sugar cane is GMO.  If you're vegan, white sugar is also processed using animal ingredients, so you'd want to stay away from it anyway!  You usually see GMO more with sugar beets, but sugar cane is also starting to go into that evil territory as well.

Each of the above sweeteners work best for different applications.  Some of the sweeteners are liquids, others are granules or pastes.  You have to choose what works with the recipe you're using.  And also be prepared to adjust the amount of each sweetener you use.  You may find with honey or syrup, you need to use less.  Something like a date paste works best in baked goods, since the date paste won't dissolve like an evaporated cane juice crystal.

There are a lot of options for sweeteners out there, and it's getting more and more confusing.  The big pharma companies who developed all these fake sweeteners want you to think they're healthy.  I work in advertising, so I know how marketing can twist things around!  The bottom line is go for "real" foods.  Stay away from all the calorie-free, chemical garbage.  I hope this information helps you to make better decisions when you're faced with the rainbow colors of sweetener packets at a restaurant, or cooking at home.

Live life to its sweetest and stay healthy!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Healthy Eating and Living Tips

It has been almost a year and a half since my last blog post.  Sad, I know!

Over the past few months, I've been asked quite a few times for nutrition and health information.  It's no secret to those who know me that I spend a lot of my free time reading blogs, books, articles and other information about health and food.  It's a passion of mine, and I always like to share my learnings with others to help them live better lives.  I just recently pulled together a brain dump of information following a request from a family member.  After typing it all up, I thought this info might be helpful to others, and my blog was a good place to post it!

Let me know what you think and if you have any other tips to share with others about how you eat and live healthy.

My top tips for eating healthier for anyone:
  • Go for fresh, unprocessed food
  • Stay away from fast food
  • Buy organic as much as you can
  • Eat less meat.  Not only is it expensive, but studies have shown eating less meat is healthier for you.  Even eating it two less days per week brings big health benefits.
  • Reduce or eliminate dairy consumption.  Many people have lactose problems and don't realize how much pasteurized dairy inflames the body.
  • Reduce or eliminate gluten consumption.  I have helped many people solve their health issues by cutting out gluten completely.  You would be amazed at how many people have health issues (migraines, rashes, eczema, canker sores, digestive problems, join pain, fatigue) from eating gluten.  The wheat of today has much more gluten in it than wheat of decades ago, and some think this is causing more and more people to have gluten sensitivity or intolerance.
  • Stay away from artificial anything - colors, flavors, sweeteners
  • Buy in bulk - the bulk bins are your friends and full of healthy foods that are cheap.  Think of oatmeal, dried beans, peas, seeds, nuts and other grains.
  • Stay away from packaged foods.  They are more expensive and full of preservatives and chemicals.
  • Eat like someone would have eaten 100 years ago.  Fresh, local and homemade.
  • Take the time to cook and prepare your food.  Make batches of soups, stews, salads, and sauces on the weekend and enjoy them throughout the week.

Remove the following food ingredients from your home NOW.  Absolutely no exceptions:
  • Trans fats (partially hydrogenated oil)
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Artificial sweeteners - Splenda (sucralose), Equal, Sweet & Low, aspartame, etc.  You'll find this in yogurts, diet drinks, gum, etc.
  • Margarine (full of trans fats, rancid GMO oils, other bad crap.  It's not really food)
  • Foods with nitrates.  This includes cold cuts, hot dogs, bacon
  • Corn oil or non-organic Canola oil (these are both GMO = bad news)
  • Farm-raised fish - full of PCBs
  • Soy anything - fake soy meat, soy crisps, tofu (soy is not a health food!).  It raises your estrogen levels and risk of breast cancer and more.
  • Anything that says "Diet" on it - if it says that, it's probably full of artificial sweeteners and chemical junk!
Once you've gotten past those "worst offender" items, my next phase of removal would be:
  • White bread/white rice
  • Soda - this should only be a treat, and never diet soda
  • Skim milk (at this point, the milk is a "food-like substance".  It is so processed, it's not good for you anymore).  If you are going to drink milk, try to find raw milk.  If you can't find that, try to find an organic milk from pastured cows.  In general, cow's milk isn't good for human consumption, and most people have issues digesting lactose.
  • Non-organic meats
  • Regular eggs 
  • Packaged juices - orange, grapefruit, etc. (they are all pasteurized and no longer beneficial.  All the good stuff has been killed by heat!)
  • Imported shrimp - full of contaminants
  • Any non-organic produce in the dirty dozen list:
  • Agave - contrary to popular belief, this is not a healthy sweetener.  It's just as bad as high fructose corn syrup
  • High sodium, prepared foods - frozen dinners, canned soups, canned broths
  • Cereals.  Most cereals from the big brands (Kellogg's, General Mills, etc.) are full of GMO (genetically modified organisms.)  Most of the corn and soy in the US is GMO, unless it's organic.  Most of the sweeteners in the US (such as high fructose corn syrup) are all made with GMO corn.  If you are going to eat cereal, make sure it's organic and does not have soy in it.  Soy is awful for you, and they sneak it in everywhere they can!  Kashi cereals are notorious for their use of soy and GMO corn in their cereals.

What you should make sure you have in your house for healthy foods
  • Organic coconut oil or Avocado oil - for cooking and frying
  • Pastured, organic butter - for cooking and frying
  • Himalayan or sea salt - full of beneficial minerals
  • Wild-caught fish - Salmon, Halibut, Cod
  • Pastured, organic eggs
  • Pastured, organic meat (grass fed is best - it has more omega-3 fatty acids and is much better for you)
  • Unsweetened coconut or almond milk in place of dairy milk
  • Raw cheese
  • Organic fruits and vegetables
  • Raw nuts and seeds (roasted nuts have many of their vitamins and minerals depleted)
  • Oatmeal
  • Fresh-squeezed juice
  • Raw honey and maple syrup for sweeteners.  For granulated sweeteners, organic evaporated cane juice or sucanat
  • Quinoa, brown rice, brown rice pasta, quinoa pasta (I've found that many people have reactions and inflammation from products containing gluten.  Eating gluten-free grains seems to benefit many people)
  • Unsweetened yogurt - just add fruit and sunflower seeds or flax.  Yogurt is full of beneficial probiotics.  
  • Another good source of probiotics is sauerkraut, but it has to be the kind that's kept in the refrigerated section in the grocery store.  Any sauerkraut that you buy that's shelf stable has been pasteurized and has killed all the good bacteria.
  • Low sodium broths - look for the ones in the septic packages, rather than cans.  The canned ones have BPA in them from the can linings.
  • Canned, low-sodium beans.  Look for Eden brand.  They don't use BPA in their can linings.
  • Pomi tomatoes - they come in the septic packages, rather than cans.  The acid in the tomatoes eats the BPA off the linings of canned tomatoes, and you don't want that!
  • Dried beans, lentils, peas.  Great for soups, stews, etc.
  • If you're like me and must chew gum, get Glee Gum!  It's all natural and made with real mint.
Beneficial Supplements
  • Most vitamins you find in a typical drugstore are all synthetic and cannot be processed by the body.  They end up doing more harm than good.
  • If you want to supplement a healthy diet, I recommend food-based options or non-processed supplements:
    • Probiotics - I like Dr. Mercola's or Dr. Ohhira's
    • Fish Oil - Carlson's Lemon Flavored Cod Liver Oil is good
  • Ground flax seed - great for omega-3 fatty acids
  • Cinnamon - helps to regulate insulin levels.  Add it on your fruit or oatmeal
  • Maca root powder - add to smoothies for helping with engergy and stress
General Home Well-Being
  • Ditch your air fresheners - they are just spewing chemicals into your air
  • Get rid of your plastic shower curtain.  It's also spewing chemicals into your air.  Just get a fabric one instead.  The other benefit is you can put it in the washing machine!
  • Stick with natural cleaners.  I use Seventh Generation and Method.  You can also make your own, if you're so inclined, with vinegar, baking soda and other household items.  I can give you recipes if you want them.
  • Look at your personal care products.  Get rid of anything containing parabens.  They are hormone disruptors.  You'll find them in lotions, conditioners, makeup, etc.
  • Get rid of fluoride toothpastes and rinses.  Fluoride is toxic!  Try Tom's of Maine or Kiss My Face Fluoride-free toothpastes instead.
  • If you burn candles, look for soy wax or bee's wax.
  • Stay away from plastics in the kitchen.  For food storage, use glass.  Get rid of plastic cooking utensils and use wood or bamboo instead.
  • Stay away from non-stick cookware.  Use stainless steel, glass, cast iron or enameled cookware instead.
Here are some Web sites, books and other reference items you might find helpful:

Vegan sites:
Happy Herbivore
Happy Herbivore Abroad is a great cookbook

Dr. Fuhrman
Two good books by him are Eat to Live and Eat for Health

Raw Sites:
Choosing Raw

Ani Phyo
Ani's Raw Food Essentials is a great book

Health/Well Being:
Dr. Mercola: (he can be a bit extreme at times, but has good information)
Rodale News:
Natural News: (again, sometimes extreme, but has good alternative, homeopathic information)

Mark's Daily Apple:
Joyful Abode:
Against All Grain:
He Won't Know it's Paleo:
Paleo Mom:


Books - Local eating and and understanding the food supply system in the US:
Any book by Michael Pollan.  In Defense of Food and An Omnivore's Dilemma were my favorites.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Movies to watch:
Supersize Me:
Forks Over Knives: