November 26, 2014

Coping with Special Occasions on a Restricted Diet (Gluten-Free, Paleo, Vegan, Vegetarian)


This past weekend I attended my nephew's wedding, which was a very exciting event for our family, especially since he is the first grandchild to get married.

Attending a special occasion when you are on a particular diet can be a challenge. Whether you are gluten-free, paleo, vegetarian, vegan or on any other restricted diet, you may need to plan ahead to ensure your blood sugar stays stable. Otherwise, you may end up paying the price with a massive headache and subsequent inability to fully enjoy yourself!

Make sure to have a snack that includes protein and some good fat before you go to the ceremony. There may be a long delay before you get to eat again! A smoothie that incorporates protein is a good choice that is quick and easy to prepare. Pack some nuts, seeds, a hard-boiled egg or a protein bar in your purse, just in case there is nothing suitable to consume at the reception.

For those on a gluten-free diet, if there is a buffet, you can probably find at least a few things that are okay to eat - raw vegetables and fruit are a couple of examples. For a sit down meal, if you eat meat, you likely will not have a problem (unless the meat is doused in mystery sauces). However, if you are vegetarian or vegan, you are going to have a more difficult time, since pasta seems to be the ubiquitous veg dining choice of caterers everywhere!

If you don't want to draw attention to your dining predilections, have a few bites, if you are not allergic or intolerant, and then just push things around on your plate. No one will be monitoring your intake (unless you draw attention to it yourself) so just eat what you can and don't make a production of it! You can always refuse bread or desert. Special diets are so prevalent these days that most people will not raise and eyebrow in any case.

If you are close to the bride or groom, you might wish to inform them ahead of time of your predicament (since if you don't plan to eat at all, they can save the expense of your plate), but another option is to call the caterers at the event yourself (to see if they can accommodate your special diet) - that way you know what you are going to be dealing with ahead of time.  I like that idea since you can avoid burdening the busy couple with your problems! Another idea is to skip the dinner and turn up afterward for the party.

Due to our Irish heritage (celiac disease is much more prevalent in that population), many of our family have discovered an intolerance to gluten, so there were gluten-free options at the reception. My main problem was trying to not scarf down too many of the gluten-free sweet treats available!

October 31, 2014

More Nutritionist-Approved Costco Finds!


If you have been searching for almond flour to do some gluten-free baking, you can now find a big bag at Costco!


Organic Extra-Virgin Olive Oil is essential to have on hand for delicious salads.


Organic Green Tea is super high in antioxidants. Take a break and sip a cup of green tea instead of that chemical infused Pumpkin Spice Latte you had in mind!


Yummy Medjool Dates, plump and delicious - great in raw brownies.


Asparagus is a "clean 15" vegetable, so safe to buy in conventional form due to low pesticide residue.


It was exciting to find this organic, cultured butter at the Etobicoke location of Costco in Toronto. Butter is not so bad for our cardiovascular system as we previously thought (recent studies have exonerated saturated fats while implicating refined carbohydrates and sugars) so unless you are vegan, you can indulge a little. I still would exercise extreme moderation! It is important, however, that you use organic butter since pesticides, antibiotics and growth hormones are concentrated in the fat of conventional dairy. If you are vegan, coconut oil makes an acceptable substitute.


Costco has a great selection of organic, pre-washed greens including baby spinach, baby romaine and baby kale. These are very handy to throw into a smoothie, salad or soup.


Organic eggs are also available at the Etobicoke location. Make sure you eat the whole egg, since a great deal of the nutrition is in the yolk.



Lemons and limes are alkalizing and useful in all kinds of recipes! I add a whole lemon or lime to my green juice (instead of apple or other fruit) to keep the drink low in sugar but still tasty.


Pom Pomegranate juice is another antioxidant-packed drink. Mix this half and half with some Perrier or San Pellegrino then sit back, relax and enjoy a refreshing, fizzy treat.


Every store seems to have different stuff, so peruse the aisles at your local Costco - there are all kinds of great deals to be found on foods that are really good for you!

October 6, 2014

Low Carb Grain-Free Vegan Pasta!


Who doesn't love a big bowl of pasta on a chilly fall day? What is great about this version is the noodles are actually made of zucchini, so it is super nutritious!

I love my spiralizer, which quickly turns zucchini into thin strands of "spaghetti", but you could also use a less expensive/bulky julienne vegetable peeler to create the strands. The spiralizer I have works well with sweet potato as well, and can create things like "curly fries" from white potatoes.

The zucchini pasta is delicious raw or you can cook it slightly in the sauce (as I did here) for a texture that is very close to al dente pasta.

The sauce pictured above combines cooked tomato sauce (I had a jar of roasted garlic sauce kicking around) with a raw pesto made of fresh basil (from a pot I grew this summer), garlic, walnuts, hemp seed, lemon juice, salt & freshly ground pepper plus olive oil.

October 1, 2014

Beans, Beans .... How Not to Toot!


Many people are very afraid of beans!  They tell me that they cannot eat them due to the unfortunate bodily issues that arise later on. That is a real shame, as beans are very nutritious - a great source of fibre, protein, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and complex carbohydrates. They help with weight maintenance also, since they help you feel full.

I am here to tell you that you can enjoy beans and do not have to suffer this way. You can eat beans without any flatulence at all!  There are a few little known, secret to most, yet traditional methods to ensure their digestibility. I eat beans every day and never have any issues when I follow the following procedures. What is great about beans as a carbohydrate source is the high amount of protein that is provided as well.

When preparing beans properly, it is necessary to think ahead a little (just like you would for defrosting meat) but the steps are not time consuming. It will take just a few minutes of hands-on work to get your beans ready to cook:

1. Buy organic beans or seeds. Non-organic beans will not germinate. Neither will split peas or lentils (dal) as they have had their outer hull removed. Cooking these without soaking will result in less gas than other beans/seeds but may be more gassy than soaked whole beans or seeds.

2. Soak them (I usually do at least 4 cups), in twice as much filtered or spring water for at least 8 hours. Drain through a large colander or sieve with lots of holes. Let them sit there until they start to sprout, rinsing whenever you pass by, at least a couple of times per day. Don't let the tail get longer than the bean. Germination increases the protein value and digestibility.

3. Some types can be eaten raw - adzuki, garbanzo (chick peas), mung and lentils are all good that way, but I usually cook them. Don't sprout kidney beans - they are toxic, so just soak them thoroughly and then cook.

4. When you cook them, rinse then just cover with fresh water, throw a 4" piece of seaweed (such as a large strip of kombu) into the pot. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until cooked to the desired softness. For salads, you will want a slightly more "al dente" bean, but make sure the beans are completely cooked or gassiness will ensue.

5. Cooking time is less for soaked beans and will vary with the size and type of bean. You can speed things up with a pressure cooker or throw them into a slow cooker in the morning (not for kidney beans, they need to boil first).

6. Add salt to beans AFTER they are cooked as it can keep the beans from softening completely. If you have prepared more than you can use up within a few days, they freeze very well!

This is what happens when you let them go too far!

September 29, 2014

The Best Way to Nap for Energy, Productivity and Weight Loss!

You had a sleepless night and are walking around like a zombie. Or, you had to be up super early and now are having trouble thinking straight. You are wondering how you are going to make it through your day.

Lack of sleep is a big problem. It can lead to decreased productivity, fuzzy thinking, weight gain, illness and even accidents and injuries. So, if you want to be energetic, lean and cognitively sharp, learning how to catch up on your sleep deficit is really important!

The Art of the Catnap - Theo manages to nap almost anywhere!
Should you take a nap to try and catch up with your sleep deficit? Or is it better to tough it out and try and hit the sheets early?

If you have even as little as 5-10 minutes, a short nap will enhance your cognitive abilities and alertness. Find somewhere to lie down, put your head down on your desk or just shut your eyes and lean back in your chair. Sleeping in an upright position will keep you from slipping into deeper stages of sleep. Of course, setting a timer is a good idea too. You may even be able do this at work on your break!

If you can find 10 to 20 minutes for a break, it turns out that a 10 to 20 minute nap to recharge is often the ideal solution for sleep deprivation. It will refresh and re-energize you, but since you will not go into REM sleep, you won't wake up groggy and feeling worse than ever.

However, depending on your situation, a longer nap could be in order as well. Taking a half hour nap is not usually a great idea, unless you down a cup of caffeinated coffee just before the nap. You will start to slip into deeper sleep and will likely feel terrible upon awakening due to sleep inertia. The nap will help your thinking ability, but the grogginess will be brutal. The coffee is a good solution for some people (you know who you are) since the caffeine will kick in just as you have to get up. Don't do this too late in the afternoon or you will mess up your sleep again!

If you have time for 90 minutes of napping, you will have completed a full sleep cycle, with all the stages included. This nap will enhance your memory and creativity and you should avoid the miserable feeling of sleep inertia which results from interruption of REM.

Finally, practice good sleep hygiene on a regular basis to avoid this problem, including a regular schedule, no screens for two hours before bedtime, in bed before 10 pm, dark room, quiet room, cool room and avoid caffeine after noon if you are sensitive to it.

September 22, 2014

Nutritionist's Picks from the Freezer at Costco - Part 4

It is nice to have a few frozen items on hand to use when you are in a hurry. Frozen foods can have even more nutrients than fresh (especially when fresh produce has been picked long before it even hits the store shelf and transported from a distant land). 

Here are a few favourite items spotted at my local Costco location:

1. Sweet Organic Corn - this is delicious in soups and stews. I love corn chowder and Mexican flavored bean dishes (chili, burritoes, tacos) with some corn thrown in for sweetness and crunch. Buying organic corn is crucial due to the fact that corn is one of the most genetically modified foods and we do not know the extent of health problems stemming from GMO foods.


2. Organic Green Peas - these add color, flavour and even some protein to dishes. They are super high in manganese, Vitamin K and fiber. Despite their rather common reputation, they really are a superfood. They also have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant benefits! They contain a unique phytonutrient called coumestrol (a polyphenol) which has been shown (with daily consumption of green peas or other legumes) in studies to prevent stomach cancer. The compounds found in green peas and other legumes are also proven to help reduce the incidence of Type II Diabetes. I usually use them in vegetable soups and stews.


3. Blueberries (Non-Pesticide Sprayed) - Costco used to carry organic blueberries in the freezer, but these are the next best thing and the price is unbelievable. Blueberries are known to be super high in antioxidants and their skins have a beneficial effect on insulin release and blood sugar regulation. They are beneficial for weight loss too!


4. Pineapple - If you are on a budget, frozen fruit (especially in winter time, especially in places like Canada) is a great buy. Some fruits are very important to consume only if organic (google "dirty dozen, clean 15" to find out which ones to watch out for) but some regular produce fruits and vegetables are okay, including pineapple. Pineapple, super high in Vitamin C and manganese, also contains copper and many other vitamins. It is anti-inflammatory and provides digestive benefits. The core and skin of pineapple are particularly rich in bromelain and enzymes, so juicing the core (or soaking the skin in water and drinking that, as they do in some South American countries) will provide health benefits beyond those provided by eating the fruit.



5. Mango - Both pineapple and mango are on the "Clean 15" list, so okay to consume in non-organic form, which is a good thing as they are hard to find as organically grown. Mango is sweet and delicious in smoothies, adding a creamy texture similar to banana. As you can see from the photo, I have a hard time keeping it in stock in my own freezer!





6. Finally, for those who eat fish and seafood, there is a large selection of frozen options, including marinated wild salmon, sole and halibut. Just steer clear of breaded and deep fried concoctions, and watch your intake - Dr. Oz was recently diagnosed with very high levels of mercury after over-consuming "healthy" salmon on a regular basis!

September 21, 2014

Shopping at Costco Part 3 - More Nutritionist Approved Pantry Staples

Costco is a big place and it takes awhile to get through all the aisles. Make sure you have enough time and energy before venturing into big box stores! Here are a few more essential pantry items found on the shelves at Costco:

Sea vegetables are a great source of iodine, an essential mineral which is deficient in many people due to either inadequate intake or receptors being blocked or displaced by similarly shaped minerals (in the same column on the periodic table) such as bromine (dough conditioner in bread), fluoride (from dental treatments and water) and mercury (from dental fillings and fish). These Kirkland Roasted Seasoned Seaweed snacks provide a salty, crispy, crunchy experience that is miles ahead of potato chips. Yes, they do have a little oil (sesame) and are not organic, but I still think they are a great treat with nutrients we do not usually see in the Standard Canadian Diet and the value is fantastic. These are great for traveling or lunches too.


My absolute favourite crackers are Mary's Organic Crackers! They are crunchy, delicious and also gluten-free. They are fantastic topped with almond butter, hummus or avocado. I like to add some vegetable toppings such as chopped tomato, grated carrot or sliced cucumber.


I really like using raw honey, but this organic honey at Costco would be great for baking (where it will be heated anyhow) or in hot tea.


For those who like a cup of coffee in the morning, Costco has organic coffee beans. Coffee is a highly sprayed, pesticide-laden crop so it is absolutely essential to buy organic coffee. Unless you seek out organic sources for your coffee, you are placing yourself at undue risk for diseases like cancer.


I was happy to see some steel cut oats on the shelves at Costco. Previously, they only had packets of extremely processed, chemically flavoured and sugar infused instant oatmeal. Oats are a great source of fiber and have been known to stabilize blood sugar, enhance immunity, reduce heart disease, strengthen blood vessels and lower cholesterol levels. They are also delicious (I like mine topped with pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of dark maple syrup) and keep you feeling satisfied all morning.


So that is it for this shopping trip as far as pantry staples go - next time, I will show you some items from the frozen food case to have on hand!

September 19, 2014

Shopping at Costco Part 2 - Nutritionist Approved Pantry Staples

Continuing our shop for pantry staples at Costco, keep in mind that it is important to stay hydrated (so bring some water or herbal tea in a travel mug) and eat something before starting out. It is easy to lose energy and motivation to venture down all those aisles! Also, if you are hungry, you may somehow inadvertently end up with a huge bag of caramel and cheese popcorn in your cart!

Coincidentally, Costco sells some great metal, thermos type to-go containers for hot beverages. They are completely sealed so you can even throw a container full of hot tea in your purse and the contents stay hot for a very long time! When you want a sip, just push a button.

Hemp hearts (or seeds) are a fantastic superfood, containing complete, plant-based protein, magnesium (which is calming), essential fatty acids and fiber. This large bag is a great value. Hemp seeds taste great by the spoonful, sprinkled on salads, yogurt (dairy or non), cereal like oatmeal or blended into smoothies, where it forms a creamy "milk". I like to store the hemp hearts in my fridge or freezer, although they last well in the cupboard too.


Coconut oil is one of the most versatile products you can have on hand. It can serve as a super mouthwash (google oil pulling if you are curious, it claims to whiten teeth and kill bacteria), moisturizer for face and body, cooking oil (it has a high smoke point) and is delicious in delectable treats like raw cheesecakes, for instance. Costco has a big tub of shelf stable, virgin, organic coconut oil at a great price, $25.99 Canadian.


Walnuts make a delicious, crunchy snack. They contain Omega-3 fatty acids and protein. This big package is less than $20 and should last a long time. I soak these (removes enzyme inhibitors and bitterness) with sea salt for a few hours and then dehydrate for crunch. Keep them in the fridge or freezer to maintain freshness unless you have a big family!


I use vanilla extract in my morning coffee (fake Dandyblend or real organic), in smoothies and in recipes for treats. Costco has a big bottle at a great price!


I buy my organic raisins in bulk, but these would be great to have on hand, especially if you have kids, for a quick snack or in a lunchbox:


Sea salt is another staple at my house (along with pink Himalayan and Celtic salts). These will last you a long time - they come in a three pack


When tomatoes are not in season, if you have not taken the precaution of preserving your own home-grown tomatoes, purchasing canned tomatoes is the best option - however, we do not want metal cans, due to the harmful BPA (cancer-causing Bisphenol A in the can lining). I like to use these glass jars with Italian tomato puree:



I will be posting another bunch of great Costco pantry finds tomorrow!

September 18, 2014

Nutritionist Approved Pantry Staples at Costco - Part 1

My recent trip to Costco (in Vaughan, Ontario) included spotting a lot of great dry goods and other shelf stable, minimally processed or unprocessed, whole food products to have on hand. I have found that every Costco location is unique and not all have the same products. Things do change quite often, so make sure to poke around a little if you have time!

Chia seeds are truly a superfood, delivering tons of nutrition. They are packed with fiber, complete protein and essential fats. They also contain minerals that are important for bone health, so are great for people who do not wish to consume dairy. The antioxidants in chia help fight off free radicals that can lead to aging and disease. They help you feel full and do not raise blood sugar. They are super easy to incorporate into your diet - a tapioca-like pudding can be created in a couple of hours or you can toss them into smoothies or sprinkle on cereal.



I usually prefer to mix up my own cereal combinations from whole, raw, unprocessed ingredients, but for those in a rush, here are some healthy, organic and gluten-free options, containing chia, hemp and buckwheat. As you can see, you pay for the convenience of having these three ingredients combined into one bag with a little flavour added:


Cranberry Vanilla flavour:


Apple Cinnamon flavour:


For those on the gluten-free wagon, I found some ancient grain pasta that makes a delicious substitute for the usual wheat-based penne:



Here is another delicious, gluten-free grain substitute which conveniently combines quinoa, amaranth and millet:

Come back soon to see Part 2 of my Costco pantry staple shopping trip!

September 4, 2014

Eight Easy, DIY Money Saving, Non-Toxic Ideas for Personal Care Products!

Over the past few years, I have discovered many inexpensive, natural solutions to pricey packaged products, which often contain toxic chemical ingredients.

The following super simple recipes utilize ingredients that cost pennies, many of which you probably already have in your home:


1. Grind together equal parts of raw oat flakes or groats plus almonds in a spice grinder, coffee grinder or high speed blender; rub on damp skin to exfoliate and nourish, then rinse with water and pat dry.

2. Olive oil mixed with salt (equal parts) makes a great DIY exfoliating and moisturizing manicure treatment to keep your cuticles free of dry skin and hangnails.

3. Apply olive oil to your face at night to moisturize (the oil in vitamin E capsules are also great); olive oil also makes a good body moisturizer when rubbed on still damp skin as soon as you finish your shower or bath.

4. Coconut oil is another excellent body moisturizer; it can also replace mouthwash due to it's antiviral and antibacterial action - swish for 10-20 minutes, spit out (not in sink) and then scrape your tongue and brush your teeth.

5. Make your own remineralizing toothpaste by stirring together 1/4 c. coconut oil, 1/4 c. calcium carbonate, 2 T. baking soda, 2 T. granulated xylitol (which tastes sweet and is anti-bacterial) plus 1/4 tsp. vanilla or mint extract; another flavour option is to add several drops of an essential oil, like cinnamon or grapefruit. Store in a small glass jar. I like to save the tiny jam jars you get on planes for this purpose!

6. While you are in DIY mode, whipping up some deodorant is also easy! Mix 2 T. each coconut oil and baking soda plus 1 T. cornstarch or arrowroot powder. For a nice scent you can add a few drops of high quality essential oils. For both the deodorant and the toothpaste, warming the coconut oil (by placing it in a small bowl, then placing that bowl in a larger bowl containing hot water) makes it liquid and easy to incorporate the other ingredients. Pour into a small glass jar and cool for a creamy, solid texture. In summer, store in the fridge.

7. Preparing your own homemade eyeglass cleaner is another incredibly quick task. Simply combine water, plus an equal part of rubbing alcohol, with a couple of drops dishwashing detergent. Pour into a spray bottle, then mist your glasses and polish with a clean, dry cloth for streak-free results.

8. Get rid of toxic fabric softeners - instead, try throwing a few whole cloves in dryer (put them in a tiny, sheer fabric bag from the dollar store) to make your clothing smell nice; include some crumpled tin foil in the load to get rid of static cling!
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