Boost Your Health: Eat More like a Mediterranean

May is National Mediterranean Diet Month and what better way to celebrate than being fully immersed in the Mediterranean way of life? My husband and I will be doing just that as we spend the next 3 weeks traveling Italy and Greece. If you have ever visited any of the countries around the Mediterranean Sea then you know that the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. (If you haven’t, you can see for yourself in a few pictures I’ve included from our last trip to Greece). It’s hard to say what’s better- the bright blue waters, gorgeous sunny beaches and towering beach-side cliffs…or the FOOD! The food is so bright, fresh and flavorful; offering the best of both worlds- taste AND nutrition. What’s more? The Mediterranean diet is more than just great cuisine- mealtime is used to relax, talk and spend quality time with friends and family. Sounds like a great means to a healthy and happy lifestyle to me! Turns out, research agrees. Numerous studies have linked Mediterranean-style eating patterns to several health benefits.

Studies show that adherence to a Mediterranean diet is associated with weight loss, a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, a reduction in overall mortality- especially from heart disease and cancer and reduced rates of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and Type 2 Diabetes. Bottom line- there is a wealth of evidence that eating like a Mediterranean is beneficial for your health.

So what are the foods and flavors that make up this remarkable way of eating?

The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes eating primarily plant-based foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables are staples- as are whole grains, legumes and nuts. Residents of Greece average six or more servings of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables per day. The average American consumes between two and three servings, or less than half of that. (Yikes!) The grains consumed in this part of the world are typically whole, fresh, and minimally processed- free of trans-fats and artificial preservatives. They are also enjoyed plain or dipped in olive oil rather than spread with butter or margarine. This brings me to another key component of the Mediterranean diet, which is healthy fat- primarily from olive oil, but also olives, nuts, seeds and avocado. Fish and seafood are also eaten on a regular basis in the Mediterranean diet, whereas red meat is eaten sparingly and in small (aka recommended 3-4 ounce) portions. Poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt, are consumed in moderate portions on a daily to weekly basis. Dessert is usually fruit and sweets are only eaten occasionally. Red wine is enjoyed in moderation (one glass for women, one to two for men), but water is the go-to drink. The preparation of foods in the Mediterranean diet is also important to address- almost nothing is processed, deep fried, or contains preservatives. For all of these reasons and more, other parts of the world are starting to take notice as research identifies the Mediterranean diet as one of the healthiest ways to eat.

Here are 10 tips to help you eat more like a Mediterranean:

  1. Load up on fruits and vegetables!! Aim to get at least 3 servings of each per day.
  2. Swap out butter, margarine and refined vegetable/seed oils for heart healthy extra virgin olive oil.
  3. DRINK WATER and enjoy red wine in moderation (optional).
  4. Choose fresh, whole grains that are minimally processed and free of preservatives.
  5. Make meat the garnish on your plate and not the centerpiece. Focus on vegetables, fruit, legumes and nuts.
  6. Eat fish/seafood twice a week and consume red meat sparingly.
  7. Season foods with herbs and spices instead of salt.
  8. For dessert, eat fresh fruit.
  9. Enjoy dairy products like plain Greek yogurt and fresh cheeses- just don’t go overboard.
  10. Eat slowly and in good company- take the time to enjoy your food and surround yourself with friends and family (and when possible beautiful scenery). 

8 So-Called “Health” Foods That Aren’t Necessarily Healthy

If you haven’t figured out already, there is a lot of nutrition nonsense out there. Savvy marketing and false health claims are to blame for most of the confusion. Unfortunately there aren’t many regulations on the labeling and marketing of foods. Therefore, many consumers shop under the spell of food manufacturers who have found several ways of promoting their products as “healthy” which in many cases is absolutely not true. Here are 8 foods and beverages commonly believed to be healthy that may actually be harmful to your health:

1. Vitamin Water. The first 3 ingredients listed on a product make up the majority of what’s in it. Ingredients 2 and 3 (after water) on every flavor of this popular “health” drink are sugar…and sugar. If you’re drinking Vitamin water for the nutrition benefits, you may want to reconsider. You’re better off taking a multivitamin and drinking regular water. Better yet? Focus on getting these essential vitamins and minerals from real food.

2. Granola. Although granola does offer a decent amount of fiber and typically contains more protein than the average breakfast cereal, it’s often very high in sugar and calories. If you’re a granola lover read labels carefully to avoid loads of added sugar and stick with the recommended portion sizes (which are usually pretty small). Using a small amount of granola as a topping on fruit or yogurt is usually the best bet.

3. Sports Drinks. These are drinks fortified with electrolytes and marketed as an essential part of your post workout recovery. It is very important to re-hydrate after exercise and it is equally important to maintain normal electrolyte balance. But the body loses water a lot faster than electrolytes so drinking regular water is usually good enough for the average person.  Unless you’re someone with a very high sweat rate, are working out vigorously in extreme heat or suffer from frequent muscle cramps, it is usually unnecessary to replenish electrolytes during workouts lasting less than an hour. Sipping on a sports drink can actually offset your workout by providing unnecessary calories (usually from sugar) that you just worked so hard to burn off.

4. Salads. This is a tricky one. Salads can and should be insanely healthy offering fiber and essential nutrients found in vegetables and fruit. The problem lies in the toppings, dressings and other add-ons that can quickly pack on unnecessary sugar and calories. Carefully read labels of salad dressings as these are often high in sugar, chemicals and other unwanted additives- especially the fat-free ones! Make your own dressing at home or use oil and vinegar instead. Other healthy alternatives to traditional dressing are cottage cheese, fresh salsa or guacamole. Toppings you should avoid or use in small amounts are: cheese, bacon, croutons or crispy noodles, candied nuts and dried fruit. Aim for a variety of fruits and vegetables, add lean protein and some healthy fat- such as raw nuts, avocado or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

5. Smoothies. Although they may seem like a delicious way to get in recommended fruit servings, some smoothies can pack the same amount of calories and sugar as a milkshake. On top of it, studies show beverages are less filling than whole foods. If you’re a smoothie lover, make your own or look for those made with whole fruit and no added sugar.

6. Energy Bars. Although these popular snacks can provide protein and fiber, they are also typically highly processed and high in sugar and calories. As with everything, read your labels! More often than not you’re better off opting for real food. Equally convenient alternatives are a piece of fruit with nut butter, plain Greek yogurt topped with berries or raw nuts, string cheese, cottage cheese or veggie sticks with hummus.

7. Diet Soda. No calories and no sugar so it must be good for you right? Wrong! Diet sodas are loaded with harmful chemicals, dyes and artificial sweeteners. Studies show that drinking diet soda is associated with kidney problems, metabolic syndrome, weight gain, cell damage, tooth decay and reproductive issues (to name a few). Avoid it at all costs.

8. Low-fat Foods. Low fat almost inevitably means “high sugar.”  Many people still equate low fat in their food to lower fat on their body but this is simply not accurate. Eating fat does NOT make you fat! In fact, refined grains and sugars are more likely to cause weight gain. Low-fat foods are typically laden with sugar, artificial sweeteners and other unwanted additives that are harmful to our health. Low-fat dairy (milk, cottage cheese, yogurt) can be an exception to this, but always, always, ALWAYS read your labels to be sure!

Take away message: Things are not always as they seem. Food is no exception. Ignore the “health” claims made on the front of any food package. Instead, turn the package around and read the ingredients. Opt for products with short lists of easy-to-pronounce ingredients. Use the guidelines in my blog post Identifying Hidden Sugar to avoid added sugar as much as possible. If partially-hydrogenated oil- of any kind- shows up on your ingredient list, this means is contains trans fats- safely place the item back on the shelf and walk away. Your best bet is always to focus on eating fresh, whole, natural foods that don’t require a nutrition label at all.

An Everyday Task that is Harming Your Health

Sweat is associated with body odor and no one wants to smell right? Hence, applying deodorant or antiperspirant has become a non-negotiable part of every Americans daily hygiene regimen. In fact, I am willing to bet that most of you haven’t gone a day without wearing it since reaching puberty! Would you believe me if I told you I haven’t worn deodorant or antiperspirant in over 2 years? (And I don’t smell)! I made this change after learning about the harmful ingredients found in most deodorants and antiperspirants and the health risks associated with them.

First of all, it is important to know that sweating is a natural and very necessary bodily function. Sweat is the body’s way of cooling itself down and eliminating toxins and impurities. It’s also important to know that sweat glands aren’t only for excreting waste from our bodies, they are highly absorbent too! Thus, what we put ON our body, usually ends up IN our body. And possibly the most surprising fact that I’ll share with you about sweating? Sweat itself does NOT smell! Body odor is actually caused by festering bacteria on our skin. Regardless, body odor is a very real thing and the universal solution has been regular underarm application of an anti-stink stick most of us would refer to as deodorant or antiperspirant.

Although the words “deodorant” and “antiperspirant” are often used interchangeably, it is important to address the fact that there is a huge difference between the two. Deodorant is designed to deodorize- aka cover up the pungent smell that can often occur in underarm areas. Some also have anti-bacterial properties to fight off odor-causing bacteria in an attempt to prevent the smell from occurring in the first place. Antiperspirants, on the other hand are designed to clog, close or block underarm pores with aluminum in order to prevent sweat, or perspiration.  This effectively changes the function and physiology of the body, classifying antiperspirants as a drug. Most deodorants on the market today are antiperspirants. Either way, if you’re using traditional deodorant or antiperspirant, you are most likely lathering several toxic chemicals and harmful ingredients directly into one of the most absorbent parts of your body.

Aluminum and parabens found in most deodorants and antiperspirants may be a risk factor for the development of breast cancer. Another common ingredient- Propylene glycol- is a neurotoxin known to cause contact dermatitis, kidney damage, and liver damage.TEA, DEA, Triclosan, FD&C Colors and Talc are more popular ingredients that are known to have carcinogenic (cancer-causing) effects and may disrupt critical hormone systems and cause allergic skin reactions.

The good news is that there are better ways to tackle offensive body odor! So let’s talk alternatives. Several plant oils and extracts contain their very own antibacterial powers and lovely fragrances so in theory you can make your own deodorant- and the internet is flooded with recipes. If you’re not feeling that ambitious, here are a few of my favorite natural products:

Primally Pure makes a natural deodorant from all organic ingredients safe enough to eat. It works really well and comes in 5 scents including lemongrass and lavender.

Mineral salt is another option. It’s typically sold in a rock form and is completely odorless, gentle and fights odor by naturally killing bacteria. Thai and Crystal are two popular brands. Both can be found online or at any health store.

Baking Soda and Baby Powder are other popular alternatives.

Keep in mind that adjusting to 100% natural deodorant may take some time. The more you use it the better it works. Allow your body a couple of weeks to adjust. (During which time you may need to wash more often). It’s also important to note that the foods you consume play a huge role in body odor too. Eating toxic foods may cause you to produce a sour or more pungent smell whereas eating clean, natural foods is more likely to produce minimal smell or a slightly sweet scent.

Take away message: A healthy lifestyle is multifaceted- we must pay attention to every aspect of our lives and make decisions in the best interest of our whole selves.

5 Simple Things You Can Do to Improve Your Health

Contrary to what social norms may have you believe, a healthy lifestyle does not require growing your own food, shopping at expensive health stores, hiring personal trainers or spending hours in the kitchen! These are simply choices that some heath conscious individuals make. There are plenty of ways to be healthy that can fit into your personal life and meet your individual needs. Stop letting what others choose to do discourage or intimidate you. Being healthy looks different for everyone. With that being said, here are a few simple things just about anyone can do to improve their health:

1. Drink More Water: Your life depends on it. About 2/3 of our bodies are made up of water and every single one of our cells relies on water to function. Water increases metabolism, aides in digestion, prevents constipation, optimizes nutrient absorption, regulates body temperature, improves the immune system, helps flush out toxins, improves brain function, wards off illness and helps us look younger. Want to kick your water up a notch? Squeeze a slice of lemon or lime into it for added antioxidant benefits.

2. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are packed with water, fiber, essential vitamins and minerals. They also contain phytonutrients that help your body fight off illness and can prevent chronic disease and cancer. Try to eat at least 3 servings of each per day and aim for a variety of colors.

3. Go for a Walk. Our bodies were made to move. Regular physical activity is one of the most important things we can do for our health. Walking alone can help us control our body weight, prevent chronic disease and cancer, improve our mental health and mood, strengthen our muscles and bones and relieve stress.  Get up and move every day. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity 5 x per week. It may be easier for you to divide your daily active time into two or three segments of 10-15 minutes. Remember, being active doesn’t require a trip to the gym!! Go for a walk on your lunch break or alternate doing jumping jacks, burpees and mountain climbers during the commercial breaks of your favorite evening television show. Whatever you need to do to get your heart rate up, do it.

4. Drink Tea. Tea is a healthy beverage that is high in antioxidants and offers many health benefits (if you skip the cream and sugar). Brew your tea for at least 3 – 5 minutes to bring out beneficial polyphenols.

5. Smile More. Smiling releases endorphins which can improve our mood, decrease stress and temporarily relieve pain. Smiling can also lower our risk of illness and disease by improving immune function and lowering blood pressure.

How to Eat Healthy on the Road

Our bags are packed and my husband and I are headed to Paris for the weekend! Preparing for a 4 hour drive in each direction, I took the liberty of packing some car snacks. In fact, food is usually the first -and last thing I think about when traveling…okay, always. All I ever think about is food. Staying on track when traveling is difficult to do 100% of the time and to be honest, I choose not to! But in anticipation of the fresh local pastries, salted caramel crepes and decadent European chocolates and macaroons I will find in Paris, I am choosing NOT to go off track for a fast food cheeseburger or a truck stop slurpee. Call me crazy, but I like to say I choose my indulgences wisely.  Here are a few tips that can help you do the same:

Pack Healthy Snacks

Your packing list shouldn’t just include your toothbrush, toiletries and an extra pair of underwear… Whether you’re catching a quick flight or planning a ten hour road trip, you should plan to pack healthy snacks. Options on the road are often limited to drive-thru windows and corner store gas stations, so take the extra time to pack something nutritious. Examples of healthy, on-the-road snacks are raw veggies and hummus, string cheese, fresh and dried fruit, yogurt, nuts, granola, and hard boiled eggs. Another one of my favorite snacks to pack, which you will see pictured above, are my 3 Ingredient Chocolate Almond Truffles. (*fun fact: I have never had a problem getting through airport security with a “sack lunch” and I have been known to eat all of the above during my flights*)

Choose Your Stops Wisely

When you’re on the road and deciding where to stop to replenish, choose wisely. If you stop for fast food, your options are limited to fast food. Instead, stop at a supermarket or grocery store that has a salad bar or whole, healthy food options.

Drink Water

Do not avoid drinking water in order to make fewer rest stops. Water is essential during travel to keep you hydrated. It will also help you avoid travel lag and junk-food cravings.

Coffee: Should You be Drinking It?

In this post I shed light on yet another controversial health topic: COFFEE. Coffee has been demonized for decades. Recent studies, however, are finding it may belong in the same category as healthy beverages like green tea. Therein the question lies- Should you be drinking it? My hope is to provide you with enough information about coffee to help you make an educated decision that is in your best interest.

First, let’s take a look at some benefits to drinking coffee…

Antioxidants

Coffee contains a small amount of several essential vitamins and minerals, which can add up over time, but where coffee really excels is in it’s high antioxidant content. Coffee is the number one source of antioxidants for the average American. I’m not saying coffee the best source of antioxidants, but it is the source the average person consuming a typical Western diet is most likely to get them from. (Which really just speaks poorly of our fruit and vegetable consumption!) Regardless, it’s high antioxidant content has linked coffee to a number of health benefits. Studies have shown that coffee drinkers have a significantly lower risk of developing depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 Diabetes, cirrhosis and liver cancer. Given that coffee drinkers have a reduced risk of many deadly diseases, some studies are even saying drinking coffee can help you live longer.

Caffeine

As you probably already know, caffeine is the active ingredient in coffee. Something you may not know is that this stimulant does more than just keep you awake. Caffeine has positive affects on brain function and metabolism too. Many controlled trials have shown that caffeine can improve memory, mood, energy levels, reaction time and overall cognitive function. Caffeine also boosts metabolism, improves athletic performance and is one of the very few natural substances that has been proven to increase fat burning.

Although these benefits may be enough to classify coffee as a true health tonic, it is important to discuss the negative aspects of coffee as well…

Caffeine

Even though I just got done discussing the many benefits of caffeine consumption, too much caffeine can be problematic. Unwanted side effects of caffeine consumption include jitteriness, anxiety, heart palpitations and difficulty sleeping. Caffeine is also an addictive substance. As you consume it regularly you can become tolerant to it. Caffeine can stop working the way it used to or a higher dose may be required to receive the same desired benefits. When regular consumers refrain from drinking coffee, they can experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches, drowsiness, and irritability.

Other Considerations

Certain people should avoid drinking coffee or severely limit their consumption. These include women who are pregnant or nursing and people with anxiety issues, high blood pressure or suffering from insomnia. And something EVERY coffee drinker needs to consider is how they’re drinking it. Believe it or not, the BIGGEST problem coffee poses lies in what we add to it. Store bought sweetened creamers are laden with sugar, chemicals and harmful trans fats. Similarly, some specialty drinks from our local coffee shop contain sugar and calories equivalent to eating a row of Oreos for breakfast! These are NOT healthy and will counteract any health benefit your coffee offered in the first place. If you are someone who can’t enjoy coffee unless it tastes like your favorite dessert, I urge you to try one of these alternatives: Drink your coffee black or switch to caffeinated tea, buy coffee that is already flavored, flavor your coffee with coconut milk, almond milk, soy milk or cream, add cinnamon, nutmeg or other spices and if you really can’t live without sweetened coffee creamer, there are coffee creamers on the market that are trans fat and chemical free. I know Nestle has a line called “natural bliss” because my mother-in-law uses it.

My Personal Opinion

If you’re a coffee drinker and enjoy it without any negative side effects, there is no reason to stop. For most people, the health benefits of drinking coffee seem to far outweigh the risks. If you are not a coffee drinker on the other hand, I don’t think this evidence is good enough reason to start. I personally do not like the idea of being dependent on something, so although I do drink coffee, I consume very little of it. I am fairly sensitive to caffeine so a few ounces of coffee in the morning is enough to energize me for the entire day. Seriously, one 20 ounce black coffee will last me an entire week. Coffee is addictive and extremely habit forming and for that reason some days I simply choose not to drink it. I only drink it if I feel I “need” it. If you drink coffee, I encourage you to find a system that works best for you. For healthy adults with no medical issues, consuming 300mg-400mg of caffeine (or two to three 8-ounce cups of coffee) each day is thought to be safe. I would encourage you not to exceed this safe limit. But, as always, my best advice to you is to listen to your body and determine a comfortable limit for you.

The Healing Power of Sleep

Sleep better, live better. It’s as simple as that.

Hundreds of studies have proven the importance of getting enough sleep, but how much is enough? It is recommended that adults get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Much more or much less than that can put your health at serious risk. For those of you who claim to be “too busy” for adequate sleep, I’m willing to bet there may be some television or computer screen time that can be sacrificed in order to squeeze in an extra hour or two of shut eye each night. The bottom line is that sleep is essential for every aspect of our health: mind, body and soul. It’s not something you want to skimp on and here’s why:

Healthy Mind

Quality sleep is vital for learning, memory, focus, attention and decision making. When we sleep our minds are able to process our day and make memories and connections during a process called consolidation. Adequate sleep also keeps us alert, thinking clearly and ready to seize the day!

Healthy Body

Our hormones, immune system and metabolism are all affected by sleep. Inadequate sleep suppresses our immune function making our bodies more vulnerable to infection. Getting enough sleep will help fight off colds, the flu and other illnesses. Sleep deprivation also causes an increase in inflammation in our bodies. Chronic inflammation is the cause of common aches and pains and has been linked to things such as heart attack, diabetes and stroke. Lastly, inadequate sleep affects metabolism. When we are sleep deprived certain hormones increase in our blood, which drive appetite and can lead to weight gain. Our bodies are much happier and perform more efficiently when they are well rested.

Healthy Soul

Adequate sleep can help reduce stress and support emotional stability. Getting enough sleep won’t guarantee a sunny disposition, but I think we all know that being overtired is when we’re most likely to be cranky. Insufficient sleep has also been shown to contribute to depression. Basically, you’re in an all around better mood when you get enough sleep.

To Buy Organic or Not? That is the Question.

To buy organic or not? This is a question on the mind of many health-conscious consumers today. Followed by, “Is it really ‘healthier’ to buy organic?” and “Is it worth the additional cost?” Let me start out by saying there is no ONE way to eat. Everyone’s story is a different one and I’m not here to tell you where to spend your money. I am simply here to provide you with high-quality information- what you do with it is entirely up to you. My hope is that this post can clear up some confusion regarding organic foods and help you make a decision that is in your best interest.

First of all let’s answer the question What is organic? According to the USDA, organic food is produced using sustainable agricultural production practices. Organic fruits and vegetables are grown without the use of most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. Look for the USDA Organic seal pictured above to help identify organic products. When deciphering other “organic” claims on food packaging, use this simple guide:

So… Is organic healthier? Several studies have found that organic produce contains higher levels of certain nutrients and antioxidants than their non-organic counterparts. However, there isn’t enough research analyzing the nutrient quality of organic versus non-organic foods to deem one ‘healthier’ than the other. The main benefit of choosing organic produce is that it lowers your exposure to pesticides.

Should I be Concerned about Pesticides? Well, pesticides are toxic. They are specifically designed to kill living organisms like insects, plants and fungi that are considered “pests.” Because of their toxicity, many pesticides pose health risks to people as well. These risks have been scientifically proven and linked to problems like cancer, hormone disruption, brain and nervous system toxicity and skin, eye and lung irritation. What’s more? Pesticides can remain on foods even after being thoroughly washed and peeled.

The Good News: Each Year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) releases an annual list called the Dirty Dozen™. The Dirty Dozen™ is a list of fruits and vegetables that the USDA has found to have the highest amount of pesticide residue. It has been estimated that individuals can reduce their exposure to harmful pesticides by 80% if they only switch to buying organic when buying these 12 most contaminated foods. Whether or not the additional cost of buying organic is worth it is entirely up to you. My personal recommendation is to use the Dirty Dozen™ list as a shopping guide and to choose the organic versions of these items when available and choose a less-contaminated alternative when they are not.

2015 Dirty Dozen™ is as follows:

Apples (and apple products)

Peaches

Nectarines

Strawberries

Grapes

Celery

Spinach

Sweet Bell Peppers

Cucumbers

Cherry Tomatoes

Snap Peas (Imported)

Potatoes

Take away message: The message here is NOT to avoid the foods on the Dirty Dozen™ list. The message is simply to buy them organic, when possible, to reduce your risk of pesticide exposure. The health benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables far outweigh the risks of pesticide exposure. Eating conventionally grown produce is better than not eating fruits and vegetables at all.  So organic or not, eat your fruits and vegetables! If you’re worried about pesticide exposure, the Dirty Dozen™ is a resource available to help you shop smarter. The EWG also releases a list called the Clean Fifteen™ which lists produce with the lowest amount of pesticide residue and therefore the safest to buy non-organic. These lists are published annually on www.ewg.org along with other healthy shopping guides. So, “To Buy Organic or Not”? Like I said, that is entirely up to you. My hope is that this post has helped you make an informed decision that you feel good about.

Crispy & Creamy Grain-free Breaded Eggplant

When shopping for produce this week, I chose eggplant as my “something purple”.  Eggplant is a beautiful vegetable known for it’s unique taste and texture. High in B-vitamins, fiber, bone-strengthening minerals and several potent antioxidants, eggplant has a lot more than remarkable beauty and flavor to offer. Eggplant supports heart, brain and bone health as well as aides in both cancer prevention and weight loss.

Eggplant is a vegetable that people are commonly intimidated by.  I personally love eggplant no matter what method is used to cook it, but I know several individuals who would disagree. Depending upon how it’s prepared, eggplant can often acquire a “slimy” or “mushy” texture that can be less than desirable. This recipe is a way in which I believe everyone can enjoy eggplant. This cooking technique gives eggplant the perfect texture. The seasoned breading in this recipe will brown in the oven giving each bite of eggplant a crispy quality with a gentle kick of spice. This is balanced perfectly when you bite into the smooth, creamy center. Here’s how to achieve melt-in-your-mouth perfection:

Ingredients:

1 Eggplant

2 eggs

1 1/2 cup raw almonds, whole

1/2 cup coconut flour

1/2 Tbsp coconut oil

1/2-1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (depending upon how spicy you want it)

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 415 degreees F. Lightly grease baking sheet with 1/2 Tbsp coconut oil.

2. Wash and cut eggplant into strips 1/4-1/2 inch thick.

3. Grind almonds in food processor until crumb-like consistency (should not be quite as fine as flour). Then, stir in coconut flour and spices until well combined.

4. Set up a three bowl “breading station”: Bowl 1: place about 1/3 of the almond & coconut flour mixture. Bowl 2: Add 2 eggs, whisked. Bowl (or plate) 3: Add the remaining 2/3 of the almond & coconut flour mixture. *(This is the same breading concept I use in my Coconut Crusted Tilapia recipe).

5. Take each piece of eggplant through the breading process: One strip at a time, you will want to cover both sides of the eggplant in flour, dip in egg wash and then press almond/coconut flour mixture onto both sides (until well coated). Place breaded eggplant onto greased baking sheet.

6. Bake 15-20 minutes or until crisp and lightly browned. (I will often broil for the last 2 minutes for additional browning)

7. Enjoy!

4 More Big Fat Nutrition Lies (Part Two)

Welcome to Part 2 of 5 Big Fat Nutrition Lies. Here’s to clearing up a few more common misconceptions in the world of nutrition:

Lie No. 6: Carbs Should be Your Biggest Source of Calories (and fat should be your smallest).

Fact: Extensive research has proven a low-fat, high-carb diet to be ineffective and potentially dangerous. If you remember back to the days of the food pyramid, grains found their home at the base of the pyramid, suggesting they should be our biggest source of calories. Fats hung out at the very tip of the pyramid, suggesting we should consume them sparingly. This outdated reference was finally revised by the USDA and the food pyramid has died a long overdue death. Unfortunately, confusion regarding this topic continues to linger.  Allow me to explain…Many years ago, it was believed that dietary fat led to weight gain and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. This was based on low quality, flawed studies that since have been proven wrong- repeatedly! Regardless, the low-fat diet craze began and in addition to consuming less fat, it was recommended we eat more carbs (about 50-60% of our calorie intake!). Around the time this low-fat, high-carb diet was implemented, the health of our nation plummeted. The obesity epidemic began and disease rates sky rocketed. Decades and several massive studies later, this diet has been proven ineffective and even harmful to many individuals- specifically those with obesity, metabolic syndrome or diabetes.

Studies today consistently show that diets that are high in fat and low in carbs are much more effective for weight-loss and preventing disease. Stop fearing fat! The truth is we need fat to utilize essential fatty acids, support a healthy immune system, proper metabolic function, strong bones and muscles. Healthy, natural fats that are found in fish, animals, animal products, nuts and natural oils are very good for us and actually help protect against cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. So if you have been avoiding fat, stop! Enjoy it, it’s nutritious AND delicious! (The only fat that needs to be avoided is Trans Fat– it is not natural and very harmful to the human body.) *Also, please remember not all carbohydrates are “bad” and they are absolutely an essential part of our diet- they just don’t need to make up 50-60% of it. Focus on getting the majority of your carbs from fruits and vegetables.

Lie No. 7: Everyone Should be Eating Whole Grains.

Fact: Grains are not a necessary part of our diet and can actually be harmful to our metabolism. Whole grains have been all the rage lately and although they are more nutrient dense and less processed than refined grains, that doesn’t mean that they are appropriate for everyone.  If you are someone who does not enjoy eating grains or they are problematic for you, it’s perfectly fine to avoid them. Your health is not at risk because we don’t NEED to eat whole grains. Every beneficial nutrient (fiber, vitamins, minerals) found in whole grains can be found in several other foods. In fact, most fruits and vegetables are better sources of fiber, vitamins and minerals than the average whole grain. The most common grain in the United States’ diet is wheat, which contains gluten that a significant portion of our population may be sensitive to. Intolerant or not, gluten causes inflammation in the body, which can lead to a whole slew of chronic diseases. If you are a grain-lover, I challenge you to expand your horizon beyond wheat and incorporate a variety of grains like quinoa, barley, rye, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, farro, millet, Kamut and oats in your diet.

Lie No. 8: Vegetarian & Vegan Diets are the Healthiest

Fact: Vegetarians and Vegans Can Be Missing Key Nutrients for Health. Let me start out by saying that I completely respect individuals choosing to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet for moral or religious reasons. However, if you’re following one of these diets simply because you have heard it’s healthier, you may want to reconsider. Vegetarian and Vegan diets tend to be very high in carbohydrates and low in protein and fat, which has been scientifically proven to be problematic for overall health promotion and disease prevention. Individuals following a vegetarian or vegan diet are also at a very high risk of developing a Vitamin B12 deficiency. Vitamin B12 is an essential nutrient that helps support bone health, muscle mass, healthy hormonal levels and cognitive function. This nutrient is ONLY found in animal-based proteins so if you are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, it should be supplemented. Vegetarians and vegans also tend to consume a diet rich in soy and soy products. Soy has been a very controversial topic, but what we do know is that it contains phytoestrogens and high levels have been associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s, Type 2 Diabetes, infertility, depression and several cancers. If possible, I recommend incorporating responsible animal products such as grass-fed meat, free-range poultry and fermented dairy to your diet. If not, at the very least take a Vitamin B12 supplement, focus on getting plenty of healthy fats and protein from vegetarian sources and consume soy in small amounts.

Lie No. 9: You Should Eat 5-6 Small Meals Per Day to “Keep Metabolism High”

Fact: Eating all the time doesn’t make you healthier or help your metabolism. It’s true that your metabolism increases slightly when you eat in order to digest the food, but it’s the total amount of food consumed in a day that determines the energy you use, NOT the number (or frequency) of meals. Several studies have put the small, frequent meals method to the test and found it ineffective. It’s also not natural for the human body to be continuously in the fed state. Fasting, or not eating for a while is natural and good for you. Your body uses this time to burn fat more efficiently and clean waste products out of our cells. People also tend to feel fuller with fewer, bigger meals than with smaller, frequent meals. Your digestive system prefers to move food in bulk too. To help curb in-between meal hunger, make sure you’re getting enough protein and fat at mealtime. They both increase satiety and will help keep you feeling full until your next meal.

Feel free to comment with any questions.