Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oh So Sweet Potato

Ahhhh the beautiful sweet potato. Though rarely seen other than under a blanket of brown sugar and marshmallows at Thanksgiving, the sweet potato really should become a weekly family favorite.  The orange hue of this beauty lets you know that it's PACKED with vitamin A, also known as the power-punch-packing antioxidant, beta carotene.  Sweet Potatoes are absolutely loaded with beta carotene, as well as being rich in vitamin C and manganese, and a good source of copper, dietary fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, and iron.  Now, I may be one of the lucky few who enjoys the skin on my potatoes but, if you're someone who always removes the skin before cooking them, then... STOP IT!!!  The skin contains the greatest amount of health promoting, cancer preventing, antioxidant activity so, figure out a way to enjoy your potatoes with the skin on (I recommend starting with this recipe for my Sweet Potato Chips) and enjoy this fibrous food that will make you feel full while providing you with a ton of health benefits.

Shopping List:
2 sweet potatoes (often labeled as "yams" in the grocery store)

From the Pantry:
olive oil cooking spray

cutting board
cookie sheet
sharp knife

Consideration:  These "chips" will bake down in size considerably the longer they're in the oven.  Though your cookie sheet may seem rather full when you begin, by the time they're through, all the chips should crisp up nicely.

Preparation:  Thoroughly rinse skin of sweet potatoes, removing the ends and any indented black spots you see.  Slice sweet potatoes into about 1/8 to 1/16 inch rounds; basically, the thinner, the better the chips will crisp up in the oven.  Spray cookie sheet lightly with olive oil and spread out sweet potato rounds evenly.  Spray tops of sweet potatoes lightly with olive oil then sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika to taste (I add a little cayenne to mine sometimes too when I'm hankerin' for a little heat).  Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Place sweet potatoes in oven for 15 minutes.  When timer goes off, remove potatoes, flip over, repeat olive oil spray and seasonings, and bake for additional 15 minutes.  This dish really seems to delight friends because it's easy, fun, and super delicious (and few people know just how nutritious).  Enjoy sans condiments or with a side of ketchup.

There's really never enough of these to go around so, it's hard to determine a recommended serving size.  Sweet potatoes are virtually fat free, provide about 180 calories, 4 grams of protein, and 76mg of calcium in about a one cup serving.  So just remember,  you get tons of nutrients for relatively few calories, a natural source for dietary fiber, which is great for your digestive health, and a plethora of other wonderful enzymes and antioxidants that work harmoniously to promote health and wellness in your body.

Try and improve this recipe with your own flavor combos and let me know how it goes.  I bet this recipe with a little bit of parsley, garlic, or oregano might be delish but, it could also be the BOMB! with just a sprinkling of cinnamon.  The options are endless and I can't wait to try them all!!!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Why is it that, when we hear of someone deciding to make a positive lifestyle change, more often than not, we somewhat sarcastically say, "Hey, good luck with that," or, "Yeah, but... you don't need to go on a diet." Whether you're the one who's decided to make a change or the person who's not all together supportive, you've probably experienced what I'm talking about.

The thought occurred to me - Is it possible that when we hear of someone else deciding to make a change for the better, we immediately begin to rationalize why they shouldn't or don't need to because their effort to change only highlights the fact that we are not doing anything about our own shortcomings? Is it possible that that initial impulse to tell your friend that they don't need to diet is not as much about them not needing to diet but more about the fact that if they choose to eat more healthfully it only makes you that much more aware that you are still eating the french fries, double patty whatever, and washing it down with a super-sized-double-shot-mocha-whatnot? You see, I wonder if individuals attempting to improve their own lives tends to make others uncomfortable to the point where, on some level, they're willing to encourage the derailment of your goals simply because if you start making all these self improvements, they might start to think about all the areas where they are stagnant - choosing not to move forward, attempting to change themselves or their lives for the better.

Whether it's deciding to make better choices at every meal, or choosing to go on a walk with your friend instead of watching TV at the end of the day, we all have areas in our lives with room for improvement. Let's begin to encourage one another. The choice to eat better, live better, or love more whole heartedly is made one bite, one moment, one fleeting encounter at a time; and these are worth while pursuits.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Oreos are Vegan

So, I was at a dinner party last night with a big group of people. Inevitably in a setting like that, someone will notice that my husband and I are not ordering "off the menu" exactly. Often times, when dining out and trying to stick to the whole foods, plant-based diet, it takes a little creativity to get a meal that works with the diet and is satisfying. In an effort to easily explain what we eat, my husband compared the whole foods, plant-based diet to a vegan diet.

You could say that it is vegetarian or vegan in that we do not eat meat or dairy products or any of their derivatives*. There are different levels, if you will, of vegetarianism though, from those that still eat dairy called lacto-vegetarians, or those that still eat eggs like ovo-vegetarians, to the strictest form of vegetarianism which would be the vegan diet. Vegans do not eat meat or dairy or use any animal-derived products such as honey or wool. A choice to "go vegan" may be based off of a moral conviction stemming from the animal treatment practices in the meat and dairy industries or for health reasons. Now, a whole foods, plant-based diet is essentially vegan but I do not personally abstain from all animal-derived products, such as honey, for the philisophical reasons a vegan would. What we choose to pump into our bodies be it through sight, smell, taste, touch, or sound is a personal choice that each one of us makes every day and, I think you would agree, is therefore worthy of a little consideration.

Now, back to the dinner party... So, as we're all sitting around the table, someone throws out the idea that Oreos are vegan. I was like, "No way... what about the cream filled center?" So, on the rooftop patio of a little bar downtown, we all busted out the iPhones, jumped on the internet, and began searching to prove each other wrong. The results were surprising. The ingredients of a double stuf oreo cookie were in fact vegan but that does NOT give you carte blanche to just gorge yourself with this "vegan friendly" snack. I was indeed shocked to find that Oreos didn't contain any dairy products but not as much because I wanted to be right and win the argument but because I was just thinking like, "What the heck are they made of then?" That's pretty impressive (or scary) that they can make something look like a cookie, smell like a cookie, and taste like a cookie but it doesn't include any of the components of a real cookie. This my friends is the truth I really wanted to share with you: It is still possible to choose unhealthy foods and snacks and live an overall unhealthy lifestyle while maintaing a vegan or vegetarian diet. The goal for me is to truly be as good to my body as possible; feed it real ingredients from nature in a form that my body can use to promote my best overall health and wellness. Do not be fooled into believing that something is good for you simply because it does not contain one of the ingredients we have learned is damaging to our bodies. Rather, focus on the foods that we KNOW our bodies need and easily draw vital, life giving nutrients from like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. You will be surprised at how great you feel and at how your body will respond in kind, when you start to truly nurture your health.

*While perusing meat and dairy alternatives at the grocery store, I have found that even some packages marked "Vegan" contain casein which is the protein derived from cow's milk. These packages being marked "Vegan" is misleading at best. At worst, it is causing people to unknowingly compromise their position and also consume an animal protein which has been proven to promote cancer cell growth in lab studies. See Ch. 3, "Turning Off Cancer," in T. Colin Campbell, PhD's The China Study for additional information on the effects of casein and the implications for our health.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Hole Mole Guacamole

I recently discovered how super, fantastic, easy, fast it is to create crowd pleasing guacamole. The next time you're going to entertain, whip up this little baby and bask in the compliments of all your hungry friends as they gobble up this delish dish.

Shopping List:
ripe avocado (avocados are ripe when they are soft - not mushy, but soft)
1/2 medium size tomato
1/4 medium red onion

From the Pantry:
dash of salt (about a 2 second count)

cutting board
sharp knife
sandwich size resealable plastic bag

Consideration: Prepared guac tends to spoil very quickly. To keep it fresh, keep the pit with any leftovers and remove as much air as possible from your storage container. I always keep mine in a plastic bag so that I can press as much of the air out as possible before storing it in the fridge.

Preparation: Cut avocado in half. Scoop out the pit and green "meat" of the fruit and place it into your sandwich bag. Discard the soft, seedy part of the tomato and dice remaining skin into small pieces; place into plastic bag with avocado. Dice red onion into small pieces and combine with tomato and avocado in bag. Sprinkle salt* on top of ingredients, seal bag shut, then mush all ingredients together until well combined*. Place guacamole in dish and you're ready to serve! It's that easy. Remember, save the pit to help keep leftovers fresh (if there's any leftovers left!).

Guacamole is extremely versatile. It's great on sandwiches, with chips (duh), or used as a spread with crudités - a traditional French appetizer of sliced fresh veggies served with a dipping sauce. Mix in guac with a couple tablespoons of balsalmic vinaigrette and have yourself a deliciously creamy, blow-you-away salad dressing.

With about 240 calories and 22 grams of fat in 1 cup, avocado is a very rich food and should be consumed in moderation. This is a good rule of thumb in life thought isn't it? Everything in moderation. The fat in avocado is the good kind of fat, but that doesn't mean that you should just pound it without any consideration to serving size. Check out this article from the California Avocado Commission which talks about many reasons, such as their impressive nutrient content, to make avocados a regular part of a whole foods, plant-based diet.

*The salt in this recipe is optional but, I find that a little bit gives the flavors that last punch that pulls them all together.  
*I like my guacamole a little chunky but if you prefer a completely smooth texture, combine all ingredients into food processor and grind until smooth. Move contents to plastic bag before refrigeration.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How do you get Enough Protein?

One of the first questions asked when someone finds out I eat a whole foods, plant-based diet is, "If you don't eat meat, how do you get enough protein in your diet to stay healthy and strong?" The answer: a diet rich in a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and seeds adequately provides all the protein you need.

In the modern American diet, protein is pretty much synonymous with meat. Plants do, however, contain ample protein of their own. For example, 100 calories of broccoli (about 10 ounces of food) contains 11.2 grams of protein while 100 calories of sirloin (about 1 ounce of food) contains 5.4 grams.1 As you can see, not only do you get to eat more food without blowing your calories for the day but you also get more and better protein.

In addition to getting to eat more and fill fuller, plants contain a slue of other beneficial nutrients such as antioxidants and phytochemicals which have wonderful cancer prevention properties. Phytochemicals are plant-derived chemicals which occur naturally in plants. Phytochemicals work as cancer inhibitors and support immune system health. Antioxidants function as "scavengers of toxins"2 and thus have the ability to help fight off cancer causing toxins in the body. Antioxidants can be colorless but they're what give many of our plants their beautiful hues. Cartenoids are one form of antioxidants. You may have heard of a couple of cartenoids such as beta-carotene (gives carrots and pumpkins their red-orange coloring) or lycopene (gives tomatoes their rich red color) because they have been popularized for their anti-cancer activity. The most important thing to remember though is that these are just a few of the thousands of compounds that, when consumed as whole foods, work synergistically with our bodies to create optimal health. You can get all the protein you need along with an array of health promoting benefits when you eat a diet rich in whole, plant-based foods.

1 Caloric example taken from: Fuhrman, Joel M.D. Eat to Live. New York, Little, Brown and Company, 2003, p59-60
2 Fuhrman, Joel M.D. Fasting and Eating for Health. New York, St. Martin's Griffin, 1995, p37

Monday, May 10, 2010

Homemade Butternut Squash Ravioli

This dish is a labor d'amour. The process is time consuming and a bit high maintenance but, I promise the results are gobble em' up good. Each mouthful is an absolute treat and will have your friends and family begging for seconds.

Shopping List:
7 lb. butternut squash
4 generous size garlic cloves
18 whole wheat lasagna noodles
2 Tbl. Tahini (ground sesame seed butter)
1 c. Pasta Sauce
1/4 c. ea. shelled pecans, walnuts, pistachios, and almonds

From the Pantry:
11/2 Tbl. paprika
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp ground ginger
cayenne (optional)

9x13 baking dish
sharp knife
electric hand mixer
medium size mixing bowl
large spoon
1 gal. reclosable plastic bag
food processor

Consideration: As mentioned above, this dish is rather time consuming simply because there are a number of phases involved before getting to the final product. If preparing this dish for a special occasion or gathering, you may want to do a majority of the work before hand, leaving the final baking time for right before the event.

Preparation: Prepare butternut squash according to directions in Butternut Squash Bake making the following modifications: omit the scallions, bake only 1 hour and add ground ginger, adding cayenne to taste if you like a little more heat. After baking, move squash into mixing bowl and add tahini.* With hand mixer on the lowest setting, begin to blend tahini into squash, gradually increasing speed until squash is puréed. Prepare lasagna noodles according to package directions. Lay cooked lasagna noodles on flat surface, cut in half and let cool while you prep squash. Spoon squash purée into plastic bag, seal it, and cut off about a 1 inch corner. Squeeze about one heaping tablespoon's worth of squash mixture into center of one half noodle. Fold up the ends to create ravioli and place into 9x13 baking dish. Do this with half your raviolis (18 pieces). Cover raviolis with 1/2 c. pasta sauce and sprinkle the top with chopped mixed nuts. For mixed nut topping, place pecans, walnuts, pistachios, and almonds into food processor and chop. Use only about a fourth of your total nut mixture per layer; this means you will have about half left over for other dishes.* Repeat with second layer of raviolis, sauce, and nuts then cover and bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Please share with me how you make this dish your own. You could add sauteed onions before you purée. You could add red pepper flakes or jalapeno paste if you love a meal that makes you sweat. I love to top my finished raviolis with a dab of vindaloo indian sauce. To each his own! Make your taste buds sing, that's the most important thing, and do it all on a delicious, whole foods, plant-based diet.

Nutrition per serving: Makes 9 servings of 4 raviolis
352 cal, 16.5g fat, 0mg chol, 136.2mg sodium, 909.3 mg potass, 64g carbo (8.6g dietary fiber, 7.3g sugars), 11.44g plant protein, 146mg calcium

*Tahini is ground sesame seed paste. Used in many ethnic cuisines, tahini is served in popular Middle Eastern dishes and is very versatile because of it's rich, creamy, nutty flavor. Search for it in the grocery store or explore your local ethnic groceries. You may find this and many other wonderful smells, flavors, and seasonings to incorporate into your ever increasing recipe book.
*Use your remaining nut mixture as a fancy salad topper, surprising pizza topping, or add it to your favorite sandwich. The crunch is a sure crowd pleasure and the taste is always a hit!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

you don't need CHEESE Pizza

This pizza will fill your home with the mouth watering aroma of a pizza kitchen and fill your stomach with it's beautiful array of colorful vegetables and hearty whole wheat crust. Make it your own by using your favorite vegetables and seasonings.

Shopping List:
2 c. whole wheat flour
1/4 c. wheat germ
.25 oz. pckg. quick-rising active yeast
1 c. warm water
1 Tbl. honey
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbl. olive oil
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
14 oz. can artichoke hearts
3.8 oz. can chopped black olives
1 medium green bell pepper
1 small red onion
14 oz. jar prepared pizza sauce

From the Pantry:
1/2 tsp. italien blend seasoning
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional; add more or less for desired heat)

pizza dish
knife & cutting board
1 small & 1 large mixing bowl
pizza cutter
small cooking brush

Consideration: You don't have to know how to cook to make this pizza but you may feel like a chef once this baby comes out of the oven. Be adventurous when choosing what vegetables you'd like to test. You may just surprise yourself with an extraordinary outcome.

Preparation: CRUST - Begin by combining your quick-rising yeast with 1 c. warm water in a small mixing bowl. Let that stand (at least 10 min.) while you mix whole wheat, wheat germ, and salt together in large mixing bowl. Once the yeast appears creamy, create a well in the center of your flour mixture. Pour in the yeast and honey; mix together until dough forms. Cover and let stand while you prepare your vegetable toppings. TOPPINGS - Rinse all canned and fresh veggies. Halve artichoke hearts. Chop up about 1 1/2 c. bell pepper and slice about 1 c. red onion. Set toppings aside. PUT IT ALL TOGETHER - Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place a generous amount of flour on the surface of the pizza dish. This will be helpful as you shape the dough for the pie crust but also for removing the pizza after it has baked in the oven. Spread dough out on pizza dish. Spread half of the contents of the jar of pizza sauce onto crust (a note about store bought pizza sauce - make sure to check the ingredients to ensure that you are selecting a sauce that does not contain any meat or dairy products). Spread vegetable toppings on top of sauce and sprinkle entire pizza with italian, garlic, and red pepper flake seasonings. For the final touch, combine 1 Tbl. olive oil and 1/4 tsp. garlic salt and brush liberally onto crust of pizza. This will give your crust a lovely crispy, crunchiness while adding a hint of garlic flavor to the bread. Bake 30 minutes, remove from oven, and slice eight ways. Be prepared to bask in les compliments of your delighted friends and family as they chow down on this veggielicious pizza pie.

Nutrition per serving: Makes 8 servings
180 cal, 3.13g fat, 0 mg chol, 732mg sodium*, 30g carbo (2.3g dietary fiber, 4.2g sugars), 5.8g plant protein, 161.25mg potass, 22.4mg calcium
*For a low sodium alternative, leave salt out from the crust, use chopped garlic for flavor instead of garlic salt, and dab plain olive oil onto crust prior to baking.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

So... what is a whole foods, plant-based diet anyway?

A whole foods, plant-based diet consists of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and whole grains and is free of any meat and dairy products.

Why would anyone eat this way?
Simply put, "Plant-based foods are linked to lower blood cholesterol; animal-based foods are linked to higher blood cholesterol. Animal-based foods are linked to higher breast cancer rates; plant-based foods are linked to lower rates. Fiber and antioxidants from plants are linked to a lower risk of cancers of the digestive tract. Plant-based diets and active lifestyles result in a healthy weight, yet permit people to become big and strong."

This information comes directly from The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D. This book will be the basis or, at the very least, a jumping off point for a great deal of the nutritional information I plan to share here.

In the scientific community, The China Study is touted as, "The most comprehensive study of nutrition ever conducted," and, because of the empirical evidence it presents, it's referred to in nearly every other book I've read on nutrition. Only after reading it myself did I realize why the information presented in The China Study was worthy of such an audacious claim.

For anyone remotely interested in health and nutrition, you've got to put this book at number one on your list of "Must Reads." You can easily purchase the book by visiting

Check back soon for more of my tips & tricks, recipes & advice on how to live your most nutritious and delicious life ever.