What’s The Big Deal About Chia Seeds?

Last week a client asked me if there were any health benefits in chia seeds. Good question, as it seems like multi-level marketing of chia seeds has SPROUTED!

Chia seeds were made popular by the Chia pet product. Strange but true. Turns out these tiny black seeds are a good source of fiber and are rich in antioxidants, and plant based omega-3 fatty acids. More than flaxseed even. And they provide you with iron and calcium.

Chia seeds were a staple food in Aztec and Mayan cultures.

Recently they’ve been shown to help people with diabetes manage blood sugar and protect heart health too.

Unlike flax seeds, you do not need to grind chia seeds. Eaten raw they are light and easily digestible. You can sprinkle them into yogurt, cereal, salads, and smoothies.

So there you have it. Hope this helps answer the question!

Great Way To Eat Beans!

On a trip to Italy, I found myself enjoying cannellini beans. I’ve been meaning to write about this white bean native to the Tuscany region of Italy, so no time like now!

In Italy they are known as fagioli. They are a great source of fiber and protein and are perfect for a low-glycemic diet. They also contain iron, folate, and magnesium.

You can find them in bulk or canned. You can use them in any recipe that calls for navy beans or northern beans. They have a nutty flavor and are creamy in texture after cooking them. If you puree the beans with olive oil, lemon, garlic, and sea salt you’ll have a creamy dip similar to hummus. You can also use them in salads the same way you would use kidney or garbanzo beans.

Here’s a white bean soup recipe for you. In Italy they would pair up this soup with a crusty bread, a salad, and of course some wine!

  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 12 ounces lean, ground turkey breast
  • 2 15 ounce cans cannellini beans
  • 1 16 ounce jar green salsa
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

Saute the onion in the olive oil. Add the turkey and cook the meat through. Add all the other ingredients. Simmer covered for 15 minutes. This will serve four. Each portion has 38 grams of protein and 12 grams of fiber!

See what you think!

Antioxidants: Don’t Leave This One Out!

We hear the message about antioxidant supplementation and how good they are for us. Yet there’s still a controversy as to whether they have benefits or have harmful effects.

Yet research supports that one kind of antioxidant is GREAT for us. It’s called regular, moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise. Combine that with a diet high in natural antioxidants and you have a winning combo.

Food choices such as fruits, particularly berries, vegetables (like beans and artichokes), nuts (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts), and spices (cloves, cinnamon, oregano) are high in natural antioxidants.

So stay committed to your exercise programs and be creative in your antioxidant food choices and enjoy abundant long-term health!

Spending Money On Healthy Foods Now Will Save You Money In The Future!

Penny wise, pound foolish is an interesting way to look at the financial costs of maintaining a diet full of fresh healthy foods.

When I go over food choices with my clients, I often sense a resistance to my advice to shop more selectively for healthy items. They tell me about their budgetary constraints. I understand this.

However now, besides just presenting them with anecdotal evidence about how eating well and spending wisely on the best possible diet will save them money in the long run in terms of stress and potential medical costs, I have some scientific evidence to back me up. I thought I’d share it with you as well.

A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition confirmed that the healthiest female eaters spent 24% more on groceries, BUT had lower rates of angina, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. So while it’s more expensive to eat well, it’s clearly better for one’s health profile.

And here’s some more statistical evidence for you. A recent analysis of previous studies that looked at the economic impact of obesity found that for obese women, annually $4,879 was spent, and for obese men annually $2,646 was spent out of pocket for extra medical costs and lost income. When they figure lost years of life, the dollar values jumped to $8,365 for women and $6,518 for men. These costs go for higher medical bills, sick days, lost productivity and wage differences.

Yes, I know there are no guarantees, but I’m willing to bet that by investing in fresh, healthy foods now, I’m saving myself not only money every year, but in the future as well. I’ve been making this choice for years and at 60 I’d say it’s paying off rather well!

I hope it is for you too!

What’s So Special About Greek Style Yogurt?

I was in Greece recently! I’ve always loved Greek food and eating Greek food in Greece was beyond fantastic!

Each morning for breakfast I enjoyed a Greek yogurt and fruit cup. So I thought I’d write about Greek Yogurt.

In general, yogurt is a healthy food to include in your diet, but Greek yogurt……OPA! It’s a superstar. Up until a few years ago it seemed hard to locate Greek yogurt, but these days it’s readily available.

Let’s look at regular yogurt vs. Greek yogurt.

In Greece, yogurt is made with sheep’s milk, and this style of yogurt can be found in the United States. In the states, however, most yogurt, including Greek style, is made with cow’s milk. The process is the same, but Greek style strains even more of the whey from the solids producing a creamy texture that often feels more like sour cream. Greek yogurt has slightly more calories than regular yogurt (about 100 vs. 80 for 6 ounces) and 18 grams of protein compared with 8 grams in regular yogurt.

Here are some ways to use Greek style yogurt.

  1. In any dish you can substitute it for regular yogurt.
  2. Substitute it for sour cream on potatoes, in dips, or on tacos/burritos.
  3. Try it as a substitute for cream cheese.
  4. Mix it with fruit and/or drizzle some honey into it, creating a delicious dessert.

My favorite way to use Greek yogurt is as TZATZIKI. Tzatziki is a creamy cooling salad that can be used as a topping, a dip, or with roasted meats in the Greek style. I had tzatziki every day in Greece.

Here’s a recipe for tzatziki.

  • 1 1/2 cups of quality Greek yogurt, strained
  • 2 English cucumbers, peeled and finely chopped or grated
  • 1-2 minced garlic cloves
  • A few stems of dill, finely chopped
  • 1-2 tbs of fresh mint, chopped
  • 1 tbs of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbs of red wine vinegar
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste

After you combine all the ingredients, refrigerate it and let the flavors blend.

Coconut Oil: It’s Back In Favor!!

I’m back on a coconut oil kick since I found a great sale and bought a few jars. I do love anything coconut!

Once maligned as a cholesterol-raising, artery-clogging, waist-widening ingredient to be avoided, coconut oil has made a surprising comeback among health enthusiasts.

While the science of nutrition has long been recognized as volatile and fluid (e.g., Are eggs healthy or not? Is soy good or bad? Margarine or butter?), there’s been an unexpected change of coconut oil from a demonized “bad” food to the purported “cure-all” for a variety of health ailments. The nutritional composition of coconut oil remains the same, namely, about 90 percent saturated fat, so I started wondering why it was back in favor.

The growing interest in coconut oil seems due to at least two factors. First, scientific understanding has evolved regarding the effects of saturated fat (the main ingredient in coconut oil) on heart health. And second, a growing number of people who either avoid animal fats or are looking for a new flavor have discovered that coconut oil, among its other purported benefits, can transform a bland dish or baked food into a culinary masterpiece.

As science has evolved, the villains have become less villainous!

The next few paragraphs contain some thorough scientific information. If you just want the bottom line, skip ahead and go to the key recommendation section.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the American Heart Association recommendations for optimal heart health advise consumers to avoid saturated fats and restrict intake to less than 10 percent of total calories consumed. Physicians, nutritionists and other health experts have long warned patients and clients of the risks of a diet that contains too much saturated fat. Primarily, they are talking about a sharp rise in low-density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as the “bad” cholesterol.

As a reminder, saturated fats typically are solid at room temperature. Saturated fat comes in primarily four forms in the food supply: lauric acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid and stearic acid. Animal fats such as red meat and full-fat dairy products contain mostly palmitic and stearic acids, while tropical vegetable oils such as palm and coconut oils contain primarily lauric and myristic acids.

As you might imagine, the different types of saturated fat have different effects on cholesterol. Compared to other saturated fats, stearic acid exerts a beneficial effect on cholesterol, in that it decreases LDL cholesterol and decreases the ratio of total cholesterol to high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Lauric acid and myristic acid cause a much greater increase in total cholesterol than palmitic acid.

While lauric acid, the main saturated fat in coconut oil, causes a large increase in cholesterol, the increase comes mostly from increasing the high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the so-called “good” cholesterol. This differential elevation in “good” cholesterol (and thus a decrease in the total cholesterol:HDL cholesterol ratio) is one reason that many health enthusiasts are embracing coconut oil with such enthusiasm.

While coconut oil is mostly comprised of lauric acid, it does contain other types of saturated fat that raise the “bad” LDL cholesterol level.

However, even though saturated fat raises LDL levels, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that saturated fats may not be quite as bad as previously believed.

Last year, the Journal of the American Dietetic Association published a series of short articles written by leading nutrition experts that summarized what they called “The Great Fat Debate” (Zelman, 2011). Overall, the debate provided these key recommendations and findings:

  • It is not the amount of fat intake, but rather the type of fat that is important for health. With that said, fat is more calorically dense than carbohydrates and proteins, and consumers should be careful to balance calories consumed with calories expended.
  • The evidence against saturated fat is “not as strong as the dietary guidelines may have interpreted,” but polyunsaturated (especially) and monounsaturated fats are clearly healthy.
  • Saturated fats should not be viewed as “good for you,” but a healthy, balanced diet can include saturated fats.
  • Replacing saturated fat with polyunsaturated fat (like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) is beneficial for overall health and cardiovascular disease-risk reduction.
  • Trans fats are unhealthy and should be avoided.
  • Remember that dietary fats are never purely one type of fat, and thus the goal should be to eat a balance of food types, rather than focus on specific nutrients.

So what does all of this mean in the case for or against coconut oil?

Virgin coconut oil may exert a modestly beneficial effect on blood lipids (through elevation of HDL cholesterol) and its regular consumption probably will not lead to harmful cardiovascular health outcomes.

However, oils that are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (e.g., safflower, poppyseed, flaxseed and grapeseed oils) and monounsaturated fatty acids (almond, avocado and olive oils) probably provide greater health benefits. Note that partially hydrogenated coconut oil is detrimental to health due to its high trans-fatty acid content.

Of course, coconut-oil lovers like me value it for much more than its health profile. While some mono- and polyunsaturated fats may be healthier, they do not have the same desirable cooking characteristics of coconut oil, such as the stability to withstand high temperatures, the sweet texture or the rich taste, all of which make it ideal for cooking.

While many of the purported benefits of coconut oil have not been rigorously studied, some people report improvements in weight, diabetes, chronic fatigue, Crohns disease, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid conditions, and skin health. One of my favorite uses for coconut oil is on my skin. It feels great to moisturize my face with coconut oil. As research evolves, these claims may be substantiated or proven incorrect. We’ll wait and see.

In the meantime, it may be time to give the illustrious coconut oil a try.

Do You Know Which Foods Have The Most Fiber?

A recent study from the American Dietetic Association revealed that even though two groups of individuals ate the same amount of calories, individuals who ate 30% more of one particular nutrient had low levels of body fat while the other group was clinically overweight and/or obese.

Any guess as to what this nutrient is?

I’ll give you a few hints. It’s found in foods like:

  • Apples
  • Pears
  • Berries
  • Beans
  • Avocado
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • 100% Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Brown Rice
  • Artichokes
  • Oatmeal
  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • As well as many other foods.

The nutrient is fiber. Are you getting enough fiber? Thirty grams a day? I hope so because the benefits are too good to pass up.

  • Slowing digestion and gastric emptying to support stable blood sugar levels and decreased insulin output (this means more fat loss)
  • Signaling the release of hunger crushing hormones, which supports feelings of fullness and appetite control
  • Promoting weight control independent of calorie intake (as the ADA study revealed).

Fiber is one of those super nutrients that you should be consuming with every meal. It’s found in abundance in most fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, so stock up and fill up your plate with fiber.

Are You Reading Food Labels Correctly? Or Even Reading Them At All?

Reading food labels is an essential step in maximizing your health. You are, after all, what you eat!

It also helps you select high quality products for your diet. In fact, I consider it so essential that I take my classes into food stores and we go up and down the aisles discussing foods and reading labels. It’s actually quite fun!

It may seem simple, but often I find people neglect to take into account nutrition facts as a whole. It’s easy to fall victim to the flashy marketing on the front cover, or go immediately to checking the macronutirent breakdown (protein, fat, carbohydrate). Often though, you’ll end up selecting foods that seem like better choices than they are, and discard many good choices you believe to be “unhealthy.”

So, how should we read the labels?

First, make sure you look to see how large a single serving is. This is often the most deceptive part. Many foods advertise calories per serving. However, a single serving will be much smaller than what you think. Even products as small as a 16oz beverage or single nutrition bar will show a food label that is representative of a single serving, not the total amount within the package or bottle. Interesting, huh? And I don’t know too many people who would only drink a single serving of a beverage or eat only a small portion of a bar once they start eating.

So don’t skip the first line; make sure you know how big a serving is, and how many servings you are buying in all.

Next is the most popular part of the label: the middle portion. Here you will find information on calories, protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Additionally, you will see information on sodium content, as well as how many grams of fat come from different fatty acid profiles, and how many grams of carbohydrates come from sugar and fiber.

These are obviously important considerations, but view them within the context of the product as a whole. And remember to view these within the parameters of a single serving. For example, many canned products will provide an entire day’s worth of sodium!

Moving down the label, vitamins and minerals are featured next. This is important for everyone, and a good gauge of how nutrient dense a product is. You should be filling your diet with as much nutrient dense foods as possible. The bigger the numbers you see here, the better.

Last, but surely not least, is the ingredients list. I usually start with this part! Why? Because many items can be okay until this piece of information. As a general rule I like to limit ingredients to five or less, and I look at the order of them as well. When sugar is the second ingredient after water, you can be pretty sure that you’re about to consume sugar.

I hope this gentle reminder about reading labels will keep you in the label reading habit, or get you started again. And if you eat really healthy foods, you won’t have many labels to read at all!!

Why You Should Be Putting Salt On Everything You Eat!

Would you be surprised to know that I put salt on everything I eat? Well, not in my morning smoothie, but just about on everything else!

People are often shocked. But here’s why I do that. Salt is good for you!

So for you “salt shakers,” here are some facts to consider.

The human body cannot survive without salt (which is why you get a saline drip when you are in the hospital). Sodium is an essential nutrient that your body can’t manufacture on its own, therefore it must be consumed.

Here’s the problem though. Most people are eating the wrong kind of salt. The only way to receive all the benefits of salt is to eat unrefined sea salt, NOT processed table salt.

The reason why salt has gotten such a bad reputation is because 99% of the world’s salt research has been done on commercial table salt, the only salt most people know about. Some of the best scientific research on the healthy properties of unrefined sea salt are written in French, German, and Portuguese.

So that’s the first clue; it must be unrefined sea salt.

You must add sea salt to your diet because:

  1. Sea salt aids in balancing blood sugar levels and is needed for the absorption of food particles through the intestinal tract.
  2. It can help prevent muscle cramps, is needed to make bones strong, and regulates and normalizes blood pressure.
  3. It increases energy levels, helps regulate the metabolism, helps maintain proper electrolyte balance, and supports the immune system.

What salt should you buy?

Look for unprocessed, unrefined sea salt. My favorite brands are Celtic Sea Salt, Redmond’s Real Salt and Himalayan Sea Salt (but any unprocessed, unrefined brand is great.) Trader Joe’s also carries a sea salt, but I once poured a whole jar of it, by mistake of course, into my blender while I was making hummus, so be careful with that one!!

And if it doesn’t mention unprocessed and unrefined on the label, assume it is not sea salt.

And yes, avoid refined white table salt.

So the next time someone tells you to take it easy on the salt, tell them Shelli just sent me this great article about the benefits of sea salt and forward them this article! They’ll be glad you did.

Recipe For Homemade Chocolate!

Who doesn’t love chocolate, right? Well I guess some people don’t, but I haven’t met them yet! And we’ve discussed the health benefits of chocolate many times.

So I wondered what it would take to make my own chocolate, and thanks to my colleague John Berardi, here’s the recipe I’m going to use.

See what you think.

Remember that the type of chocolate we benefit from is the really rich, high quality, low sugar chocolate that contains 85% or more cocoa.

The First Step – Raw Cocoa

Raw chocolate is made from cocoa beans which haven’t been roasted. You see, roasting changes the molecular structure of cocoa beans, reducing the enzyme content and lowering the overall nutritional value.

Unfortunately, commercial cocoa (and the chocolate made from it) is made from roasted cocoa beans. So, this recipe includes raw cocoa rather than roasted. And you’ll notice a huge difference between the two.

The ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup cocoa butter
  • 1/2 cup virgin coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup (raw) organic cocoa powder
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup agave syrup for sweetening (organic honey, stevia or raw cane sugar is okay too; or you don’t have to use any sweetener at all)

Now, the basics above form the foundation of your recipe. However, if you want to jazz it up a bit, here are some ideas for what you can add.

  • lucuma powder (sweetener, also makes the chocolate more milk-chocolate like)
  • berry powders (blueberry and buckthorn berry)
  • purple corn powder (high antioxidants)
  • cocoa nibs
  • goji berries
  • dried berries
  • raisins
  • dates, chopped
  • crushed nuts, almonds, seeds
  • chili powder
  • maca
  • green tea extract
  • carob
  • or anything else you like!

Here are the steps for making your own raw chocolate.

Step 1.

Grate 1/2 cup of the cocoa butter. It will melt easier when it’s grated. Measure also 1/2 cup of coconut oil.

Step 2.

Place cocoa butter and coconut oil in water in a small, heat safe cup or bowl. Then place the cup or bowl in a shallow pan containing a small amount of warm (not boiling, but nearly) water. Stir the oil and butter occasionally until it’s smooth.

Step 3.

Measure 1/2 cup cocoa powder. If you’d like to add any other dry ingredients, measure them out now and stir them together with the cocoa powder. Note: in this recipe, I used 1/4 cup lucuma powder and 1 tbsp maca. Natural vanilla or vanilla extract would work here also.

Step 4.

Pour the dry ingredients in the bowl with melted oil and butter. Stir continuously until smooth.

Step 5.

If you want to sweeten your chocolate, pour 4-6 tbsp agave nectar into the mix and stir. If not, skip this step.

Step 6.

Have someone check the quality This means go ahead and check if the chocolate is sweet enough. You can also add the rest of the additions at this point (like chili/cayenne, dried fruit, nuts, etc.)

Step 7.

Pour the melted chocolate on a pan / plate / ice cube tray. You can also throw some of the additions on top of the chocolate. It looks nice. Place the chocolate for 30 minutes in the freezer or 60 minutes in the refrigerator.

Step 8.

Here’s the hardest part! Enjoy in MODERATION with good friends or family. The more you share, the more you enjoy. I can assure you your friends will be astonished by how delicious REAL chocolate is!

Please let me know when you try this recipe. And send me some samples!! Thanks……..