Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer

It’s fall! And you know what that means: pumpkin season is among us! Pumpkin junkies unite as pumpkin flavored everything crowd grocery store shelves and fill people’s Pinterest boards. This time of year there seems to be nothing made without pumpkin! Today I would like to address perhaps the most beloved pumpkin treat of all: Pumpkin Spice coffee drinks and flavored coffee creamers. See, most traditional coffee creamers and specialty coffee drinks are made using all kinds of unwanted ingredients. Artificial flavors, artificial colors, refined sugars, preservatives and trans-fats are often added to these popular products and can wreak havoc on our health. What most people don’t realize, though, is just how simple it really is to forego these chemical concoctions and simply make your own.  Choosing to make your own coffee creamer at home allows you to not only skip all the artificial junk and unwanted additives in store bought creamers and specialty coffee drinks, but also gives you the health benefits of using nutrient dense, whole food ingredients!

Pumpkin is loaded with essential vitamins, minerals and fiber that provide us with a number of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting properties.

100% Pure Maple Syrup contains several essential nutrients and is packed with polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants that benefit our health tremendously. (Keep in mind pure maple syrup is 66-67% sugar so it should be enjoyed in moderation.)

Pure Vanilla Extract contains about 200 different compounds, many of which have antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties.

Pumpkin Pie Spice is a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice- all of which act as potent antioxidants and offer a whole slew of proven medicinal benefits.

I have created a delicious coffee creamer recipe using all of these ingredients that will not only make your taste buds overflow with immense joy but will drastically up the antioxidant power of your morning coffee!

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Ingredients:

2 cups Half-and-Half

(to make this dairy-free or paleo-friendly, use unsweetened almond milk)

1/4 cup Pumpkin Puree

1/4 cup 100% Pure Maple Syrup

2 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice

1 tsp. Pure Vanilla Extract

Directions:

  1. Combine the first four ingredients in a small sauce pan and whisk together over low heat until simmering (don’t boil).
  2. Remove from heat and add vanilla extract.
  3. Allow to cool and store in a sealed container.
  4. Keep in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

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This also makes an incredible gift for any fellow pumpkin lovers…so if we’re being honest: it makes a great gift for just about everyone!

*Expert tip: Whenever I cook with pumpkin, there always seems to be a random amount left over and it doesn’t last very long. Pumpkin can be frozen for later, otherwise, here are some simple and creative ways to use up what’s left.

Enjoy!

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.

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.

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.