Holiday Gift Guide for Foodies 2016

Hello and Happy Holidays, friends! I realize it's been a minute since I've posted anything on here, but today I'm sharing my top twelve (because ten is not enough) gift ideas for foodies this holiday season! 

  1. Food ornaments.  Fact:  Any self-respecting foodie must have at least 35 food-inspired ornaments on his/her tree or in his/her house. Here's a few of my favs: donuts, macarons, Brussels sprout, pomegranate
  2. Food/Garden calendar.  This hand-made letter-pressed 2017 calendar by Brown Parcel Press is a super special gift for any food lover!  I gifted myself this calendar (oops) and plan to cut off the dates and frame the printed artwork at the end of the year!
  3. Apron.  No foodie can ever have too many aprons, especially those from West Elm or Anthropologie!
  4. Simply Taylor Cookbook.  As you may know, one of my best friends, Taylor Riggs (Owner/Author of Simply Taylor blog), is releasing her first cookbook early next year!  Her recipes are quick, easy, and seriously delicious!  Pre-order your copy now and receive it by January 3rd, 2017! 
  5. Icelandic chocolate. I have no words.  This is by-far my favorite chocolate right now (also available at Whole Foods Market)!
  6. Gold flatware.  Need I say more?  While beautiful, buying multiple sets can be expensive!  Gift just one set for a food-photography-obsessed foodie!  Hello, epic food pics! 
  7. Measuring cups.  A true foodie can never have enough measuring cups (because who wants to clean a cup four times while baking one thing?!). These cups from West Elm are both pretty and practical! 
  8. Mead.  Instead of gifting the usual bottle of wine, give mead (honey wine made from honey and water via fermentation with yeast)!  I personally recommend Brothers Drake’s Apple Pie mead! Cheers!
  9. Glass storage containers.  Foodies have a thing for glass storage because it holds up and doesn’t stain!  
  10. Cookbook stand.  If you have an old-school, cookbook-loving foodie on your hands, give the gift of handsfree cookbook reading!  New-age foodies could prop their tablets up on this stand, too. 
  11. Anything white marble.  From rolling pins, to cheese boards, to cell phone cases, to water bottles, white marble is a foodie favorite!
  12. Spiralizer.  If you happen know a foodie without a spiralizer, be a hero and pick them up one of these bad boys (assuming they have a stand mixer)!  Having the ability to turn veggies into noodles is life-changing.

Happy Holidays, fellow foodies!

 

Juicing vs. Smoothie-ing

Sooo it's been a minute since I've posted anything on the blog, but that's because I've been busy... I promise!  Lame excuse, I know.  But seriously, things have been a little chaotic (in a good way).  

The worst part is that I have had so many ideas for blog posts based on common questions I get from clients, but I haven't had the chance to sit down and write in what seems like forever.  Well, today's the day, my friends.  Today I'm dishing on all things juicing and smoothie-ing because this is by far the most frequently brought up topic in my practice. Ok, let's get to it.

01. Juicing

Juicing is the act of the squeezing/grinding/smooshing/mashing/pressing/crushing the juice out of whole, fresh fruit and vegetables.

Now, what most people think of when they think of "juice" these days is the formidable cold-pressed style of juice.  Cold-pressed juicing refers to a process that "uses a hydraulic press to extract juice from fruit and vegetables, as opposed to other methods such as centrifugal or single auger" (1). Put simply, this is a "cold" process, which arguably helps to preserve the nutrients found in the the fruit as compared to other juicing methods; however, please know, this claim is currently backed by little evidence... just sayin’.

Ok, so should you drink juice?  Maybe not.  Put simply, whole fruits and vegetables are always better. Period.

Why?  Fiber.  

Dietary fiber (i.e., roughage or bulk) includes the part of plants (fruits and veggies) that the body is physically unable to digest or absorb. Instead, fiber passes almost completely intact through the stomach, small intestine, and colon and out of the body.  Because of this, fiber helps to slow down how quickly carbs (sugars) are absorbed into the bloodstream, thus preventing large spikes in blood sugar and insulin.  Fiber-containing foods are also more filling, take longer to eat, and are usually less energy-dense (lower in Calories) — a beautiful combination for weight loss or weight maintenance. 

Now, if you understand the whole “fruits and veggies are better” thing, but still want to sip on juice every once and awhile, there are three main things to keep in mind.

  1. Watch the added sugars. Always choose 100% juice, cold-pressed or otherwise.  Because fruit is naturally high in sugar, it's a good idea to limit additional sugars and sweeteners to help keep things from getting a little too carbalicious.
  2. Watch your portion size. This is a big one (pun intended).  If you’re going to drink juice (again, 100%, cold-pressed or not), aim to drink no more than 4-6 ounces per day.  Yep, that's it. In general, this will contain anywhere between 50-100 Calories and around 8-16 grams of sugar.  Although this is still quite a bit for a beverage with no bulk in my opinion, if you absolutely must have it, please drink responsibly (lol).
  3. Pair it with a protein-, fat-, and/or fiber-containing food.  This is sooooo important.  Because juice only contains carbs (again, sugar), in order to avoid a nasty blood sugar spike (and a potential sugar headache followed by an energy crash), it is best to pair your 4 ounces of juice with a source of protein, fat, or fiber.  These food components help to buffer how quickly the sugar is digested / absorbed, thus preventing large changes in blood sugar.  Also, fiber, protein, and fat help to keep us feeling full, thus preventing us from being hungry again in a few minutes. 

I would also like to share that juice (cold-pressed or not) is not recommended as a substitute for whole, real food as means to lose weight or to "detoxify" the body.  Although juice seems "light" and "clean", don’t be fooled — it is densely packed with sugar and Calories, which can negatively affect your waistline and cause nasty spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels when consumed independently (as mentioned above). Natural sugar or not, the body digests simple sugars in the absence of fiber, protein, or fat in relatively the same way. 

Regarding juice being a "detoxifier": In general, we do not need juice or any external substance in order to rid our bodies of toxins. Our bodies are wonderfully designed to detoxify themselves independently via the kidneys and the liver.  The kidneys filter out toxins from the blood and the liver filters pretty much everything else.  Glad we cleared that up.

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02. Smoothie-ing

Love it!!!!  Smoothies contain whole, real foods that have simply been ground into a drinkable form, thus preserving the fiber naturally present in the fruits and veggies. Weeeee, fiber.

There are three things I recommend keeping in mind though when it comes to making / drinking smoothies:

  1. Watch your portion size.  Even though smoothies usually contain all of the necessary food components to make a balanced meal (protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber), they are often a bit higher is sugar and overdoing anything is no good. I recommend sticking to a 12-ounce portion for all homemade smoothies.
  2. Add a protein and a veggie.  In order to prevent your smoothie from becoming a big sugary heap, be sure to add at least one source of protein (nuts, seeds, nut butter, protein powder) and a veggie (spinach, kale, carrots, beets). Grind these guys up with frozen fruit and you won’t even know they’re there.
  3. Pair it with a little something that requires chewing.  Even though a smoothie may contain all the food components mentioned above, for some people, drinking meals does not provide a sense of fullness or satisfaction. If this is the case, make a smaller smoothie and alternate sips (don’t chug!) with something to chew (i.e., nuts, roasted turkey breast, carrots and dip, a scoop of nut butter, a hard boiled egg, etc.). The act of chewing can sometimes help the brain to register “Hey, I just ate something” so you feel content and satisfied when finished.

My go-to smoothie recipe is as follows: 

  • 1 scant cup unsweetened vanilla almond or cashew milk
  • 1 huge handful baby spinach or kale
  • 1 frozen banana
  • ½ cup combination of yellow fruits (pineapple, mango, peaches, pear)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon unsalted almond butter
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds or ground flaxseed (mixed with a little water to thicken before adding to the smoothie)
  • 1 tablespoon hemp seeds
  • 1 pitted Medjool date OR 1-2 tsp(s) honey OR stevia, to taste

Add all ingredients to your high-speed blender, blend until smooth, and enjoy! Recipe serves one and makes about 12 ounces. (Find more of my smoothie recipes here)

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There you have it — the most concise way (seriously, I tried to cut it down) I can explain my take on juicing versus smoothie-ing.  Let me know what you guys think!  What's your fav smoothie recipe?

Drink responsibly,

 

Grill Talk

Winter is FINALLY over and you know what that means – GRILLING SEASON.  Whether you're simply cooking dinner for two or throwing a big outdoor bash, grilling can be a great way to cook not only for optimal flavor, but for good health.

Now, it is important to note that grilling food (particularly meat) does have its downsides and not all "grill food" is necessarily nutritious; however, there are a few tips and tricks to get the most out of your grill without sacrificing your overall health.

  1. Start smart.  One way to prevent yourself (and your guests) from overeating the Calorie-laden grilled meats at a cook-out is to snack on nutritious appetizers.  Choosing or serving appetizers rich in fiber will help to fill you up, without weighing you down. What is a "healthier appetizer" you ask?  A few easy cook-out appetizers include: hummus with fresh vegetables (like celery, red pepper, and carrots), guacamole with corn chips, a lightened-up broccoli salad, lightly salted nuts, or fresh fruit served on toothpicks or skewers (like watermelon, cantaloupe, and strawberries).  If you are attending a cook-out and aren't sure what to expect in the appetizer department, ask the host or hostess if you can bring something to share! 
     
  2. Marinate mindfully.  When it comes to marinating or seasoning meat, choose recipes with minimal sugar. It's totally fine to use sweeteners in your marinades or rubs in moderation (i.e., fruit juice, maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, etc.), but overdoing it can significantly increase Calories and encourage burning, leading to the formation of carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compounds like PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) and HCAs (heterocyclic amines). Instead, opt for ingredients like Worcestershire sauce, low-sodium soy sauce, coconut aminos, tomato paste, and/or spices as the base of your marinade or dry rub, then just add sweeteners to taste (i.e., just a pinch!).
     
  3. Eat your veggies.  Grill and eat as many veggies as your little heart desires!  Vegetables are low in Calories and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making them a welcomed addition to your grilled meal. Veggies are pretty low-maintenance to cook on the grill, too. No need to marinate vegetables, as they naturally become more flavorful when grilled; simply coat your veggies in a little olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and slap those bad boys directly on the grill!  Also, no need to worry about veggies reaching a safe internal temperature. The only real trick to grilling vegetables is cutting them into shapes and sizes that will cook well (and stay) on the grill. Go for bigger chunks, moderately-thin strips, or stacked kabobs for optimal caramelization and easy removal. A few veggies that cook particularly well on the grill include, red, white, or yellow onion (sliced into ½-inch thick rounds or 1-inch chunks strung on a skewer), whole mushrooms (grill portabellas like a burger or them cut into thick slices; grill small mushrooms strung on a skewer), bell peppers (grilled whole or cut into 1-inch chunks strung on a skewer), eggplant (cut lengthwise into ¼-inch slices), zucchini (cut lengthwise into ¼-inch slices or 1-inch chunks strung on a skewer), yellow squash (cut lengthwise into ¼-inch slices or 1-inch chunks strung on a skewer), and asparagus spears (just be sure to trim off the tough ends and grill the spears whole). And remember: never lay your freshly grilled veggies on the raw meat plate...
     
  4. Control carcinogens.  It is important to keep in mind that harmful, cancer-causing compounds can form as a result of grilling food – particularly meat. However, you can limit these not-so-good effects by taking a few precautions: (1) Marinate your meat. Research suggests that marinating meat (even briefly) can significantly reduce the formation of HCAs (see above). (2) Select leaner cuts of meat (and trim the fat) to prevent dripping fat from causing flare-ups, which may deposit carcinogens on the meat. (3) Flip meat often to reduce the amount of carcinogens that are potentially deposited on the meat. (4) If flare-ups are an issue with your grill, use aluminum foil! Lay foil on the grill and make small holes to allow the meat fat to drain.  
     
  5. Be savvy with servings sizes. Control serving sizes by grilling the meat in smaller portions! Prepare ¼-pound burgers instead of ⅓- or ½-pound patties, filet mignon-sized steaks instead of 10-ounce steaks, and kabobs made with small pieces of meat, mixed with vegetables. Or, provide smaller plates so as to physically limit the amount of food you and/or your guests can eat at one time.
     
  6. Choose unprocessed. The AICR (American Institute for Cancer Research) report recommends limiting your consumption of cooked red meat to no more than 18 ounces per week (this would be about 6, ¼-pound hamburgers). However, things get a little more dicey when it comes to processed meats; the AICR found that every 3 ½ ounces of processed meat eaten per day increased the risk for colorectal cancer by 42%. YIKES. Processed meats include hot dogs, sausages, bacon, ham, and some cold cuts, among others.  So, choose unprocessed meats whenever possible, especially if they are being warmed or cooked on the grill!

Okay, now you've got the know-how, so get get 'em, grill master.

Grill well,

Sarah
 

Vegan and Gluten-free Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies

If you are currently following a gluten-free and/or plant-based (vegan) eating plan, you might be feeling a little left out when it comes to baking and/or eating cookies.  Scenario #1: You think you've found what seems to be the perfect gluten-free and vegan cookie recipe, but then realize it contains a million (yes, one million) and/or obscure ingredients that are definitely not in your pantry or available at your local grocery store.  Scenario #2: You find a practical cookie recipe that's quick and easy and...  the cookies taste terrible. Well, the search is over, my friends.  With just the right amount of sweetness and only a few common ingredients (like whole oats, ground flaxseed, and unrefined coconut oil, as pictured below), you can once again experience the joy that is the homemade cookie – even without gluten, dairy, or eggs.

OK, so these cookies are easy to make and taste really good... but there's more!  These little guys are also nutritiously superior to traditional chocolate chip cookies, as they contain far less sugar and a good amount of fiber. So, regardless of your dietary restrictions (or lack there of), these cookies are definitely worth a try.

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What's the deal with sugar, anyway? While sugar is fine to use as a sweetener in cooking and baking in moderation, overdoing it can wreak serious havoc on your health. From negatively affecting your blood sugar and triglyceride levels, to contributing to excess weight gain, sugar can be a bonafide health-wrecker.  The American Heart Association currently recommends that we limit our intake of added sugars (includes table sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, etc. AND the sugar found in fruit juice) to no more than 6 teaspoons per day for women (24 grams) and 9 teaspoons per day for men (36 grams). To put this in perspective, just one can of regular soda contains about 40 grams of sugar (10 teaspoons) and a 'traditional' chocolate chip cookie contains about 12 grams of sugar (3 teaspoons). Eeeeek. 

THREE QUICK SUGAR-REDUCING TIPS:

  1. Say 'so long' to soda. Soda contains sugar, Calories, and... yep, that's it. It's nutritionally void and you just don't need it – I promise!
  2. Try replacing sugar with SteviaStevia is a Calorie-free and more natural sugar substitute. Yep, zero g's of sugar.
  3. Read food labels, and more specifically, ingredients. If any type of sweetener is listed as one of the first two ingredients, chances are pretty good that food item is packed with sugar. Leave it on the shelf and walk away.

What about fiber?  Fiber plays a vital role in establishing and maintaining healthy digestion. Fiber actually binds to the food in your intestines and keeps things moving at a healthy pace (yes, I'm talking about poop movement). Fiber also helps our bodies absorb beneficial minerals from our food, fight free radicals, sustain a healthy population of gut bacteria, and maintain healthy cholesterols levels. Eating fiber-containing foods also helps to slow down the overall digestion process, thus preventing blood sugar levels from spiking too high and/or too quickly. The Institute of Medicine currently recommends women aim to consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day, and men consume at least 38 grams per day*. THAT'S A LOT OF FIBER. For some perspective, one medium apple provides about 3 grams of dietary fiber and ¼ cup of oats provides a little over 4 grams of fiber. However, please do not eat 8+ apples per day in order to meet this recommendation... that would not end well. Which reminds me: add fiber to your diet gradually and make sure to drink plenty of water while doing so.  Drastically increasing your fiber intake may make you feel bloated and/or gassy, so depending on how much fiber you're currently consuming, TAKE IT SLOW and you can thank me later.

THREE QUICK FIBER-INCREASING TIPS:

  1. Choose whole grains (gluten-free or not). Unlike refined grains (white flour, etc.), whole grains are minimally processed after harvest, and thus retain not only fiber, but also healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals. 
  2. Replace fruit juice with whole fruit. Although fruit juice does contain vitamins and minerals, it lacks fiber. Without fiber, juice is digested and absorbed very quickly, spiking the blood sugar in a similar way as refined table sugar.
  3. Go nuts for nuts (and seeds). Nuts, nut butters, and seeds are PACKED with fiber, along with heart-healthy fats and protein. Try replacing your mid-morning, sugar-laden granola bar with a handful of lightly salted nuts instead.

I'll be the first to admit, these recommendations are difficult to meet!  However, by limiting your intake of processed foods (refined sugars / syrups, white flours, convenience foods, etc.) and eating the recommended 2 cups of whole fruit, 2-3 cups of vegetables, and 6 ounces of whole grains per day, meeting these nutrient goals will likely take care of itself.

Whether you're looking for a new simple gluten-free and vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe, or just want to add a more nutritious cookie recipe to your usual dessert repertoire, these cookies are it. GET THE RECIPE▸

Eat (better-for-you homemade) cookies (in moderation),

Sarah
 

 

*Individual fiber recommendations may vary depending on disease state(s) and/or condition(s). Check with your physician and/or registered dietitian before changing your fiber intake.