Category: Nourish (Page 1 of 4)

Brain Food: 7 Ways to Fuel a Healthy Mind

We’re asking a lot of our brain these days.

The brain only weighs about three pounds and its texture is like that of firm jelly (Mmm…), yet it’s our most powerful organ, directing everything we do on a daily basis without our conscious awareness. Most of us are constantly on the go, stimulated by multiple inputs and distractions, demanding our brain to constantly think, learn, process, concentrate, focus, remember, feel, and problem solve, among other things. It’s like our brains are always on, given little to no downtime to relax, recharge, and rest. It’s a struggle for me, too.  I know I don’t give my brain the rest it needs, but I do try my best to give it premium fuel to help it operate effectively.

Our brains are nourished by a vast network of blood vessels, and when we are thinking hard and demanding a lot of ourselves cognitively, our brain may use up to about 50% of the oxygen and fuel in those blood vessels. That’s a key reason we want to nourish our brain with the highest quality fuel available to us, so we can continue to function at a high level.

Many of us have personal experience or exposure to different conditions affecting the brain, including everything from anxiety and depression to brain fog, trouble concentrating, memory loss, and dementia. Over 20 years ago, my great-grandmother passed away from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease. I remember going to visit her in the hospital as a young girl and wondering what was happening. As someone who has always prided myself on my intellectual abilities and capacity, I felt confused and a bit frightened as I watched her brain power diminish over time. It’s a fear many of us have – that we will one day not know where we are or who our loved ones are or that we will lose the ability to recall a lifetime of memories and experiences.

It’s tempting to hear all of that and assume that it’s inevitable we will succumb to some health condition that will impair our brain, but I’ve got good news!

We can influence our brain health by changing what we eat and upgrading our diets to include brain-boosting foods. If you are looking to enhance your memory, improve your focus, get a boost in mental energy, sleep better, concentrate better, and think more clearly, keep reading. Physical activity and mindfulness / meditative practices are both important for optimal brain functioning, but for today, we’re going to focus primarily on the role of food and nutrition in optimizing our brain function.

Our brain is connected to the rest of our body by nerves and blood vessels, so anything we do to support brain health will enhance our overall health. You don’t have to remember a different diet for every body system because everything is connected 🙂

The Best Diet for Brain Health

Each year, U.S. News and World Report publishes its ranking of the best diets. I’m generally not a fan of diets because of their tendency to be restrictive and deprivation-oriented, but if you just think of a diet as a way of eating, you can use the information they publish as a helpful guide. I like to think of what I’m about to share as a way to upgrade your eating habits to enhance your brain power.

From a list of 40 different diet, the MIND Diet ranks among the top five. The MIND Diet is a hybrid of the DASH Diet, which is aimed as preventing or reducing the risk of high blood pressure, and the Mediterranean Diet, which draws on the dietary practices of people living in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.

Photo by Michal Sevcik

Research published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia suggests that people who follow the MIND Diet have substantially slower cognitive decline with age than those who eat the Standard American Diet (SAD).

The top 10 foods recommended by the MIND Diet are green leafy vegetables, other vegetables (especially non-starchy ones like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.), nuts, berries, beans, whole grains (think oats, quinoa and brown rice), fish, poultry, olive oil and some red wine (optional – if you’re not already consuming, starting won’t necessarily benefit you, but if you already drink red wine, a 5-ounce glass daily is recommended).

If you’re looking to avoid foods that have been linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline, reduce intake of butter and margarine to about 1 tablespoon daily (especially margarine because of its trans fats) and limit cheese consumption to less than once per week (Hey, I didn’t do the research; I’m just sharing it!) because of its high saturated fat content. Keep red meat at no more than three services a week and limit fried food consumption to less than once a week because of its pro-inflammatory nature and limit processed sweets to no more than four times a week.

The goal isn’t perfection – just add in a few more servings of the brain-boosting foods as often as you can. Fortunately, even moderate adherence to the MIND Diet has been linked to slower rates of cognitive decline. To learn more about the MIND Diet, click here.

Now, let’s take a look at a few others ways to fuel and boost our brain health!

7 Ways to Fuel a Healthy Mind

1) Hydrate

We know that our body needs water to function, and for optimal brain functioning, making sure we are properly hydrated is critical. Even a small amount of dehydration can significantly impact our body.

A 1-2% loss of fluid levels in the brain has been linked to a wide range of mental impairments, including attention deficit, slower processing, and poorer short-term memory retention. Dr. Daniel Amen, one of the international experts and leaders in brain health, advocates for consuming half your body weight in water. If you weigh 140 pounds, that would mean 70 ounces of water each day. It’s not an exact science but more of a guidelines. What you need will vary based on your physical activity level, other foods you’re consuming with high water content, age, caffeine intake (it’s a diuretic and causes you to lose fluid) and medications you are taking that may interfere with hydration.

Water is the recommended drink of choice, and you can infuse it with fruits, vegetables and herbs to keep it exciting, but you can also consume things like herbal teas and throw in something like Spindrift, a sparkling water made without any artificial ingredients or “natural flavors” that is super low in sugar (about 1 gram per can).

2) Eat Probiotic and Prebiotic-Rich Foods

Your gut is one of the most important organs for the health of your brain.

Dr. Daniel Amen

I’ve written on my blog before about the top steps to optimize gut health, but most of us don’t think about how closely connected gut health and brain health are. The vagus nerve is one of 12 cranial nerves and is part of our involuntary nervous system that commands unconscious body procedures, like controlling digestion. Not only that, but our “gut” or digestive system is often referred to as our second brain because of how important it is in regulating things like mood and energy.

The foods we eat can either heal our digestive system or harm it, so being intentional about upgrading our diet by adding in gut-supportive foods is important. The bacteria in our gut are responsible for the production of neurotransmitters or brain messengers involved in mood, learning, and memory.

Believe it or not, gut bacteria produce about 95% of our body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood, appetite, digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function.

If our digestive system isn’t getting the fuel it needs from bacteria-rich, fermented foods, it doesn’t produce the amounts of serotonin and dopamine that we need to feel and function at our best.

Some of my favorite probiotic-rich foods to consume are sauerkraut (my fave brands are Hex Ferments (#1) Farmhouse Culture, Jacob’s Raw and Wildbrine. I chop up sauerkraut and put it in all of my salads. You do NOT want your sauerkraut to be cooked. The beneficial living bacteria are only present in the raw forms. You can also try pickles (made without sugar – check the label), kimchi (a spicy Korean cabbage), kombucha (watch the sugar and don’t drink if you are prone to candida or other sugar imbalance issues), miso, tempeh, and tofu. Fermented foods may be an acquired taste, but think of them as medicine for your body and brain!

3) Focus on Folate

Folate is a naturally occurring form of Vitamin B9. Its Latin roots mean “leaf”, so it’s no surprise that leafy green vegetables are among the best sources of folate.

Folate is the naturally occurring form of the vitamin, while folic acid is the synthetic form found in fortified foods and in most supplements. B-vitamins like folate help support adrenal function and calm and maintain a healthy nervous system. Folate indirectly facilitates the production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine, three neurotransmitters involved in mood regulation.

Here are some top source of folate, as listed on one of my favorite resources for nutrition information – The World’s Healthiest Foods:

4) Eat from the Rainbow

If we know anything about nutrition, it’s that eating a diet rich in colorful, whole foods, especially plants, is one of the most important features of a nourishing diet.

Flavonoids are plant-based compounds with a wide range of health benefits that are present in varying levels in fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. They have strong anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and even anti-viral benefits. I like this handy chart from Dr. Mercola that highlights some of the top sources of flavonoids.

Some of these compounds help repair defective DNA, which is important because defective DNA can lead to cancer, chronic diseases, and aging-related health conditions. They are rich in antioxidants, which helps the body counter the oxidative effects of stress and a processed food diet. Think of oxidation as rusting. When metal is in contact with oxygen and water, it rusts, and too much oxidation inside our cells can cause premature aging and “rusting” from the inside out. In order to repair that damage internally, we want to consume large amounts of ANTI-oxidant-rich foods.

RECIPES: Take a look at some of Rebecca Katz’s top brain-boosting recipes from The Healthy Mind Cookbook. Also, for some of the Brain Warrior Way recipes, check out Tana Amen’s site here.

Veggies at the San Diego Farmer’s Market, including lots of kale!

5) Power Up with Protein

Most Americans are not protein deficient, despite what all of the current food advertising might lead you to believe. However, many of us do not consume the highest quality sources of protein or the amounts that are ideal for optimal brain health. If we are too focused on protein consumption, we will often neglect to fill enough of our plate with the antioxidant-rich foods we just learned about above.

The building blocks of proteins are called amino acids, and they make up our neurotransmitters, enzymes, muscles, tissues, and hormones. We need to consume quality sources of protein in order to give our body the raw materials it needs to function at its best.

Dr. Amen suggests a ratio of 70% plant-based foods and 30% high quality protein as a way to structure our plates. Some of his top recommended protein sources include beans, meat (wild caught fish, pastured poultry and grass-fed beef), eggs, nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin and sesame) and high-protein vegetables like broccoli and spinach.

IMPORTANT BRAIN HEALTH NOTE ABOUT VITAMIN B-12: Animal-based proteins are one of the best sources of B-vitamins, which are essential for energy, so if you are vegan, you will most likely need to supplement with B-vitamins, especially B-12. This is important from a brain health perspective because deficiencies in vitamin B-12 have been linked to an increased risk of dementia. If you or someone you know has been on acid blockers for a while, make sure to have your B-12 levels checked. Those medications interfere with your body’s ability to synthesize B-12 and often lead to deficiencies.

6) Focus on Feel Good Fats

Despite what the 1990s ingrained in us about fearing fat, we need fat to be well. The solid mass of our brain is 60% fat, and the fats we eat directly impact the functionality of our brain. Consuming enough healthy fats reduces the risk of depression and helps brain functions like memory, speaking ability, and motor skills. We need a variety of omega-3 fatty acids, including ALA, DHA and EPA as well as some omega-6 fatty acids. However, we want the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats to be less than 4:1 for optimal health. Ratios much higher than that indicate elevated inflammation in the body, which can trigger a cascade of physical, emotional and mental health issues.

Top sources of omega-3 fatty acids include mackeral, salmon, cod liver oil, herring, oysters, sardines, anchovies, caviar, flaxseeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans. Other decent sources of omega-3 fats are pastured eggs, omega-3 enriched eggs, meats from grass-fed animals, grass-fed dairy products, hemp seeds, and some vegetables like spinach and Brussels sprouts.

Sources of omega-6 fats (which are inflammatory in excess) include vegetable oils, many processed salad dressings, mayonnaise, fast foods, fried foods, cookies and cakes, processed pork products, and dairy. These fats are also found in eggs to some extent and in nuts and seeds. While nuts and seeds do contain healthy fats, it’s possible to overdo it. You can ask your doctor to test your omega 6:3 ratio the next time you have blood work done to find out what your levels are.

If you don’t consume seafood or adequate amounts of the other omega-3-rich foods, consider investing in a fish oil supplement. To get the best recommendations, check out this fish oil buyer’s guide by Chris Kresser (one of my favorite nutrition experts!).

7) Herb and Spice It Up!

For many of us, herbs and spices can seem like an afterthought. After all, most people simply use salt and pepper and the occasional sprinkle of garlic or chili powder to flavor food. We are missing out on a world of flavor and antioxidant power when we don’t use herbs and spices regularly.

I love what Dr. Amen has to say about the healing power of herbs and spices:

Herbs and spices contain so many health-promoting substances that it almost makes sense to store them in the medicine cabinet rather than the spice cabinet!

Photo by Pratiksha Mohanty

Believe it or not, herbs and spices like cloves, oregano, rosemary, thyme, cinnamon, turmeric, sage, and parsley have some of the highest ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) values of any foods – even more than blueberries! To give you a sense of just how powerful herbs and spices are, the ORAC value of oregano is 1750,000 compared to 9,000 for blueberries. Think of the ORAC value as the antioxidant power of the food. Remember how important antioxidants are to brain health and fighting inflammation and DNA damage?

The next time you’re at the grocery store, spend a little more time in the herbs and spices aisle (we opt for the self-serve jars of herbs and spices at MOMs Organic Market) and in the produce aisle, where you’ll find fresh herbs. Use dried herbs and spices at the beginning of the cooking process to infuse their flavors and medicinal properties into your meals. Finish off your meal prep by adding in some chopped herbs to enhance the brain-boosting power of a dish.

Another one of my favorite ways to easily add herbs and spices into my diet is to drink herbal tea daily. My favorite brands are Traditional Medicinals, Choice, Pukka, Buddha Teas, Organic India, and Yogi teas. Black tea is also an excellent source of plant-based compounds that support health.

So, there you have it, friends! Everything you could ever want to know about how to use food to nourish and fuel your brain. Let me know what you think in the comments below!

To learn more about how to boost your brain, check out the books below:

Chocolate Bliss Aphrodisiac Smoothie

I love chocolate.

I’ve been eating more of it than usual lately, so it’s been on my mind. No holiday in our house is complete without a box of Jinji chocolates, which are raw, gluten-free, and dairy-free.

They are the best chocolates on the planet.

I’ve also been whipping up some chocolate-based treats in my kitchen to share with friends and coworkers, including these no-bake mint chocolate bliss balls and these cherry chocolate brownie bites. We use raw cacao powder – chocolate in its purest form – as the base of those recipes. It’s packed with health and mood benefits like these outlined by Dr. Mercola:

Raw cacao powder contains more than 300 different chemical compounds and nearly four times the antioxidant power of your average dark chocolate – more than 20 times than that of blueberries

Cacao can improve heart health, cholesterol, stress levels, and inflammation, to list just a few physical advantages. Fringe benefits cacao releases into the brain include anandamide, endorphins, phenylethylamine, and serotonin, all sparking descriptives like “blissful” and “euphoric.”

Chocolate is known to increase neurotransmitters like phenylethylamine (PEA), serotonin, and anandamide (the “bliss chemical”) in the brain. That’s just one of the reasons we crave it and feel so good when we eat it.

I opt for raw cacao (not Hershey’s cocoa powder) as my chocolate of choice because in its raw, unheated form, its antioxidant properties and phytochemicals are most potent.

Today’s recipe pairs the blissful phytochemicals in chocolate with the libido-enhancing properties of maca powder.

Maca root is a cruciferous vegetable indigenous to Peru that has dozens of health benefits and is known for its energy-boosting, hormone-balancing, libido-enhancing powers.

It is an adaptogen, which is a “natural substance that works with a person’s body and helps them adapt; most notably, to stress. Adaptogens are a natural ally in dealing with persistent stress and fatigue because they work with regulating important hormones.”

Maca has a mild, malted taste and is a great smoothie add-in, which is how we’re using it today. Make sure you buy gelatinized maca root (it will say it on the bag) because it is easier to digest. I buy mine at MOM’s Organic Market, but you can also find it online or at your local health food store.

This smoothie is thick and creamy thanks for the chia seeds, flaxseed and frozen banana. It’s more like a decadent desert, but I enjoyed it for breakfast!

Nothing like a little chocolate and maca love to get the day started right and put you in the mood for whatever is to come 🙂

Print

Chocolate Bliss Aphrodisiac Smoothie

This smoothie combines bliss-inducing chocolate and libido-enhancing maca powder for a delicious, rich and creamy treat.

Course Breakfast
Cuisine Smoothie
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Servings 1 person
Author Rachel Druckenmiller

Ingredients

  • 1 cup almond milk unsweetened
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
  • 1.5 tablespoons raw cacao powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon maca powder
  • 1 Medjool date pit removed
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1 frozen banana

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients except banana in a blender for about 30 seconds.

  2. Add banana and blend until smoothie and creamy. Pour into a glass and top with raw cacao nibs for some crunch and an extra chocolate boost!

Recipe Notes

Option add-in: 1 scoop collagen protein powder

How I Recovered from Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)

Prior to February 2017, I had never heard of Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV). I had just been diagnosed with it after being sick for four months and not knowing why.

Fast forward seven months, and I know more than I ever thought I would about EBV because of the incredible coaching and guidance I have received from my nutritionist, Kasia Kines. An acute form of mono, EBV occurs more frequently in immunocompromised people, especially after periods of prolonged or intense stress or hormonal changes. The stress that had been accumulating in my life up to that point had nowhere else to go, so it took me down for the count.

As I wrote in a previous post, EBV has been a gift, even though it has been frustrating, confusing and overwhelming to deal with. Since sharing my story, multiple people have reached out to me asking me what I did to treat the virus and quiet it. The truth is, once you get EBV, you always have it, so once it’s been activated, you have no choice but to make some changes to your lifestyle. Most people have the virus in their body but never experience its activation. I had the perfect storm of circumstances come together to turn it “on”.

I’ve since learned how to calm it down, restore my immune system and get my energy back, and that’s what I want to share with you today. I’m forever grateful to my nutritionist, Kasia, for guiding me through this healing process. If you know someone struggling with EBV, tell them to contact her!

1) Rest

This was the most important thing I did.

And one of the toughest.

I had to prioritize sleep more than ever before. In the past, I could easily get a second wind at 10pm and just keep going until midnight reading, writing or watching mindless TV. After EBV, sleep was no longer a negotiable behavior. I consistently got about nine to ten hours of sleep each night in the three or four months following the diagnosis. My body needed additional time to recover and repair itself, so I gave it what it needed. Getting inadequate sleep suppresses the immune system and can trigger a cascade of hormonal changes, which can trigger EBV reactivation.

I also gave my body a break from movement. Any physical exertion at all seemed to set me back, so that meant no exercise for several months. Gentle walks and gentle stretching or yoga every now and then seemed to be okay, but my body needed to rest in every way, including physically. It took me almost six months to recover the vigor I once I had physically, which was frustrating but necessary. Since then, if I’m feeling mentally or emotionally run down, I am more aware, and I choose to be gentle with my body and movement on those days.

I love taking epsom salt baths, started reading even more than usual, wrote in my journal A LOT, listened to music, read my devotional, and was frequently diffusing calming essential oils like lavender and frankincense.

2) Slow Down + Create Space

Yup. This sucked. I didn’t want to do it. I thought I could keep being superwoman and superhuman.

EBV was the only thing that got my attention and made me take changes to my life seriously. Hormonal changes due to stress and even that time of the month can trigger EBV, so reducing stress is super important.

Prior to the virus, I would jam pack every day and week with as much excitement as I thought I could handle. Sometimes that meant four speaking gigs in one week, often with new content. I had no idea how exhausting that was for my mind and body, even though I love speaking. I had to email my boss and our CEO letting them know the seriousness of the virus and asking for support in terms of time and staffing. I knew I had to protect my calendar, which meant no more than two speaking gigs in any week. Period.

Slowing down meant saying “no” to people, late night socializing and exciting “opportunities”, so I could take care of myself and respect my need to create space in my life.

I’m still working on this, but I am so much more aware when I’m heading in a not so good direction that I catch myself before I go off the deep end. I also started seeing a therapist to start processing and working on some of the emotional and psychological factors that cause me to run myself into the ground. I know I have a lot of emotions inside that I have not acknowledged or addressed that send me into a spiral, and I am committed to getting to the root of them, too!

3) Connect to Community

As someone who finds it easy to be alone and crawl into a hole when I’m feeling down, I’ve learned in the importance of reaching out to people and bringing them into the muck with you. I can’t tell you the number of people who were praying for me, with me, and over me during this time.

I felt like there was an army of love behind me, pleading for my healing.

There were multiple days when I was at an 8-session spiritual gifts training at my church and was so sick I just sobbed out of desperation and pain, and people weren’t repelled by it; they came closer to me. When I was at my worst, people were checking in on me, asking how I was doing, sending sweet text messages, and stopping by to see me. I’m so grateful for all of the people who loved me so well through this period of time.

If you’re going through a difficult illness, REACH OUT to people. ASK FOR HELP. BE VULNERABLE. It’s one of the best things I ever did and that lesson has stuck with me ever since. I feel closer and more connected to my friends and larger community than ever before.

What a gift.

4) Supplement***

Kasia was incredibly helpful and knowledgeable in this area. She was in the process of finishing her final PhD project for a degree in Functional Nutrition and had selected EBV as her topic of choice. Lucky for me! She put me on antiviral, immune-boosting, energy-restoring supplements, which I have listed below.

Exact dosages should be determined by a healthcare provider with experience with EBV.*** For that, Kasia has no equal.

  • Licorice Root Extract (NOT Deglycyrrhizinated Licorice): One of the strongest anti-viral foods out there, I took this every either in the form of tea or a capsule from Vital Nutrients. Licorice root is contraindicated for people with hypertension, as it increases blood pressure. My favorite tea brand is Buddha Teas Licorice Root tea. I buy it at MOMs Organic Market.
  • Selenium: strengthens and protects the nervous system; antiviral
  • L-Lysine: strong antiviral amino acid
  • NAC: anti-replication of the virus and cell system support (energy)
  • Vitamin D3 + K2: increases energy levels and immunity, boosts mood and balances hormones; antiviral
  • B-vitamin Complex: supports balanced moods, healthy energy levels, and the nervous and immune systems
  • Vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin NOT cyanocobalamin – read the label): strengthens the nervous system and increases energy
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: prime modulator of inflammatory hormones
  • CoQ10: a natural antioxidant synthesized by the body that can improve energy production in cells
  • Magnesium: anti-inflammatory for nerves; nerve calmer; reduces constipation
  • Vitamin C: strengthens immune system and flushes out EBV toxins from the liver
  • Vitamin A: immune system support
  • Turmeric: active ingredient curcumin helps strengthen the endocrine and central nervous systems
  • Probiotics: digestive system support. Make sure to get these from foods like naturally fermented sauerkraut (HEX Ferments, Farmhouse Culture, Bubbies brands). Otherwise, use a high quality probiotic with a variety of strains (at least 8 different kinds) and 10-50 billion CFUs.

A few other supplements and herbs I didn’t use that can be helpful are red marine algae, nettle leaf (get in tea form), 5-MTHF, lemon balm (tea form), elderberry, red clover, star anise, rose hip tea, cat’s claw.

***As with any health condition, especially one as serious as EBV, consult with a trusted health care provider. My choice would be Kasia!

5) Eat to Nourish and Heal the Body

Every bite I consumed was intended to calm the raging inflammation in my body and heal my digestive system. I was already dairy-free and gluten-free, which helped because gluten and dairy tend to be key triggers of autoimmune conditions and promote gut dysfunction. They tend to trigger EBV symptoms, too. I pretty much nixed sugar, alcohol, caffeine, corn (digestive irritant) and even eggs for a while because they can aggravate EBV, according to Kasia’s research.

Here are some of the main foods I consumed a LOT of because of their antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and gut-supportive properties.

Veggies: celery (whole plant and juiced), sprouts (I LOVE Potomac Sprouts Company sprouts), cilantro, spirulina, asparagus, spinach, artichokes, parsley, sauerkraut, fermented veggies, lettuces except iceberg, green beans, winter squash, zucchini, kale, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, fennel

Roots: garlic, ginger, turmeric (try this turmeric golden milk smoothie!)

Fruit: wild blueberries (try this blueberry avocado smoothie bowl), pears, bananas, red-skinned apples, blackberries, melons, raspberries, papaya, apricots, pomegranate, grapefruit

Other: coconut oil, bone broth, herbal teas made with licorice root, ginger, fennel, chamomile, nettle leaf, lemon balm, red clover or rose hips

That’s a wrap, my friends. I hope it helps you and anyone you know on a journey of healing autoimmune conditions or chronic illnesses like Epstein-Barr Virus. Be patient and give your body what it needs to heal, and it will respond.

Sending love and light to all of you!

My Top 9 Healthy Freezer Finds

We hear a lot about pantry staples and the essential items to stock in your pantry, but what about the freezer?

Years ago, mine was full of Vitatops, Fudgesicles, and Lean Cuisine meals. It took me some time to figure out that those weren’t the most nourishing choices and didn’t make my body feel very good.

Since then, I’ve upgraded my pantry and freezer staples to better support how I want to feel. All of the items recommended in this post are gluten-free, dairy-free, and many are either vegan or paleo.

Check out the video below for the top 11 items we (almost) always have in our freezer!

  1. Organic Berries, Dark Cherries and Tropical Fruit for Smoothies. The best deals I’ve found is the Wellsley Farms brand from BJs Wholesale Club. In the video, I referenced this cherry chocolate smoothie and this Caribbean breeze smoothie.
  2. Wild Blueberries. You can find these at most grocery stores, but we get a giant bag from BJs Wholesale Club. Blueberries are antioxidant powerhouses and great for the brain!
  3. Bananas. Peel ’em and freeze ’em! Use them in smoothies and to make this quick and easy banana ice cream.
  4. Veggies. We tend to keep frozen peas and edamame, two plant-based protein sources that are perfect for soups, stews, stir fries or salads. My favorite brand is Cascadian Farm because they are organic and not genetically modified.
  5. Homemade Broth. This is one of the best ways to reduce food waste because you use scraps from vegetables to make broth instead of throwing them away. Check out this post for a simple recipe for how to make your own vegetable broth from scraps! You can do the same for bone broth.
  6. Spinach. Do you ever buy those large clamshell containers of spinach and get to the end of the week having used less than you anticipated? Do you sense that the funky, slimy spinach smell is about to take over your fridge? I’ve got a solution! First of all, ALWAYS put a dry paper towel on top of the greens after opening containers like that to absorb moisture. Once you’re finished with the fresh spinach, you can just take the container (remove paper towel) and put it in the freezer. I use the frozen spinach in smoothies, omelets and soups.
  7. Brown Rice. Sometimes you’re in a pinch and don’t want to wait an hour to cook a pot of brown rice. If you don’t want to purchase an Instant Pot to expedite the cooking process, you can find frozen bags of precooked brown rice in just about any grocery store or Target. You typically get three bags in a box, and Trader Joe’s has one of the best deals on the boxes. We use brown rice in soups, stir fries, and other quick dishes.
  8. Swapples Frozen Waffles. Obsessed? That might be an understatement. Swapples put a new spin on a traditional waffle. They are made without gluten-containing ingredients, vegan, and paleo and can be used as the base of or topping for just about any meal. My favorites are the Tomato Pizza version (top with smashed avocado!) and Blueberry. You can find them in Maryland, Norther Virginia, and DC, and they are expanding into other markets now, too, including NYC! Use their store locator to find them near you.
  9. Hilary’s Eat Well Veggie Burgers and Mini Burger Bites. You have to add these to your grocery list this week. Their certified organic ingredients are real food, minimally processed and as close to their natural state as possible. Their veggie burgers do not have any weird, non-food ingredients in them and are corn-free, dairy-free, egg-free, soy-free, gluten-free, and nut-free. They taste DELICIOUS and my favorite flavors are the Mediterranean Burger Bites and the Hemp & Greens full-sized veggie burgers. They also sell salad dressings and are always coming out with new products. Use their store locator to find out where to buy them near you.

Two that I left off the list because we didn’t have any on hand at the moment were:

  • Beetnik Meals. They are one of the only frozen meals that I recommend because of the integrity of their ingredients…and they taste delicious! Bill takes them to school with him for lunches, and they are filling, tasty and nourishing. They’re the next best thing to homemade. Find them here.
  • Wild Caught Salmon. MOMs Organic Market sells a brand of this product, but you can also find it online at Vital Choice. Here’s what Bon Appetit has to say about wild caught salmon: “A happier, healthier, free-roaming fish delivers more salmon-y flavor and color. The color will be more intense and vibrant than that of the farm-raised stuff—more red-orange than pink— as will the flavor, which will be a lot more savory and complex.” Enough said 🙂

How about you? What are some of your freezer staples?

Minted Chickpea Salad with Creamy Curry Dressing

I’ve been wanting to create a recipe for a curry-flavored salad for months. I’ve come to love Indian food over the past few years and have noticed that curry makes its way into a meal at least every other week in our house. A last-minute dinner date with our friends Lisa and Brody and a whole lot of quinoa and curry powder prompted me to come up with a new recipe.

As a total aside, Lisa and Brody have the cutest kiddos and just welcomed a little girl into the world earlier this month with the same name as my younger sister, Jane! Their kids are always up for trying anything, so that makes experimenting with new recipes that much more fun with their family. They’ve found that introducing their kids to a variety of foods from a young age without making a fuss about it has resulted in kids who aren’t afraid to try new foods!

Now, back to the curry 🙂 I didn’t try anything with curry powder in it until my mid-20s. I was too weirded out by the color and didn’t really know much about it, but since then, it has become a staple in our spice rack. We use it in everything from hummus and curry-roasted potatoes, to fancy pants curried cauliflower steaks and mash and one of my favorite dishes ever – this curried lentil and rice casserole.

Something I didn’t know about Indian food when I first started trying it (no small feat for a picky eater!) was that a lot of it isn’t spicy. Sure, it’s made with lots of spices, but that doesn’t mean that all of it is going to burn your mouth. Some Indian food is spicy and made with different types of peppers, and I’m not a big fan of those dishes, but this particular dish isn’t spicy and is full of flavor and a variety of textures.

Curry likely started as a combination of ginger, turmeric and garlic, the origin of a signature Indian spice blend that has been traced back thousands of years to the Indus Valley Civilization in modern-day India. Most likely rooted in the South Indian term for sauce (kari), British traders adopted the more familiar word curry to categorize these spice blends. It has evolved and been adopted by other cultures since then.

Curry spice blends vary widely, depending on which region they’re from and based on people’s personal tastes, but some of the most common ingredients include turmeric, ginger, fenugreek, coriander, and cinnamon. Other varieties include cayenne pepper, cumin, mustard seed, and cardamom. You can find curry powder in the spice aisle at your grocery store or make it yourself following this recipe if you’re feeling really ambitious.

You’ll notice that I used yogurt in the dressing instead of an oil to serve as the source of fat and a base. I used Forager Project’s plain, unsweetened cashew yogurt instead of a dairy-based yogurt, since dairy products trigger a lot of my past health challenges (allergies, reflux, ear infections, congestion). I wrote all about their dairy-free yogurt and milk products in this post!

Adding some lightly toasted cashews gives each bite a nice crunch. The fresh mint leaves add a pop of color and pair perfectly with the curry spices. The finishing touch, which my friend Brody said really completes the dish, is the raisins. Raisins are commonly used in south Indian cooking, and they round out the dish by adding a hint of sweetness.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as we did! 🙂



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Minted Chickpea Salad with Creamy Curry Dressing

This light and refreshing side salad is packed with flavors and a variety of textures to keep your taste buds happy!

Course Side Dish
Cuisine Indian
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Servings 6
Author Rachel Druckenmiller

Ingredients

Salad Base

  • 1 cup quinoa drained and rinsed
  • 1 15-ounce can chickpeas drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup cashews chopped and toasted
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup mint thinly sliced

Curry Dressing

  • 1/2 cup non-dairy yogurt plain, unsweetened
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice fresh
  • 2 teaspoons raw honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder

Instructions

  1. Cook quinoa according to package directions (or instructions below in notes!). Set aside to cool.

  2. Toss salad ingredients together in a medium bowl.

  3. Whisk dressing ingredients together and pour over quinoa mix. Toss to combine. 

New Series: “I’m Into It!”

I’ve been away on vacation since late last week in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York. My family has a house up here, and we have spent part of every summer up here since I was a little girl. It’s my little slice of heaven on earth. 

Spending time away from all of the distractions and pressures of everyday life is always so restorative for me. My creative juices start flowing and I’m drawn to write again, something I love to do but don’t often make time for at home. As I open up space and give my mind permission to wander, all sorts of new ideas come to me, including what I’m sharing today!

Over the past few years, I’ve also found that people frequently ask me about my recommendations for a variety of things – from food brands and supplements to books, gadgets, bloggers, recipes and words of inspiration. I thought it would be helpful to do a biweekly recap (that feels reasonable to start!) of what I’m exploring and post it on my blog, to share with all of you!

I’ll try to keep it simple and share with you maybe three to five things every other week in a series called, “I’m Into It”.

I’m excited to start inviting you into my world more regularly and taking some of the headache out of the decision-making process for you. I’ll put some affiliate links in the post to support my blogging activities, but I will never in a million years promote something I don’t use myself and believe in, so you have my word that it’s legit if it’s on here!

For those of you who are new to my blog (welcome!), you’ll notice that all of my products recommendations are gluten-free, dairy-free and focus on simple ingredients that we can pronounce and find in the store. To learn more about my personal food philosophy, check out this post I wrote earlier this year.

I will be sharing these posts on the weekend, but I was so ready to get moving that I’m going to give you the first one today, on a Tuesday 🙂 

Let’s dive in to the very FIRST post in this fun new series.

Book: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

“The tricky part of illness is that, as you go through it, your values are constantly changing. You try to figure out what matters to you, and then you keep figuring it out. It felt like someone had taken away my credit card and I was having to learn how to budget.”

As I shared in my most recent post, I’ve been healing from Epstein-Barr Virus and taking steps to restore my immune system after a lifetime of pushing myself too hard. I connected immediately with this passage from the book about the process of healing.

Grab your tissues. In this heart-reaching story of Paul Kalanithi, a neurosurgeon whose life takes a sudden turn when he is diagnosed with terminal cancer, you’ll be taken on a journey of joy, inspiration and sadness. The story is an inspiring testament to the power of the human spirit and the importance of leaving a legacy.

Read It: Order it here.

Supplement: Vital Proteins Collagen Proteins

My sister, Jane, did her third Ironman triathlon in Lake Placid, New York this past Sunday, which marks the 10th time someone in my family has completed the grueling 140.6-mile race.

In the days leading to the race, we always scope out the scene at the Ironman Village, where the athletes check in and amass a collection of Ironman gear and performance-enhancing products.

I was excited to spot the Vital Proteins booth as I wandered through the village.

I’m a fan of their products for a few reasons. They prioritize quality and purity in their products. They source from grass-fed and pasture-raised animals. My favorite product, collagen peptides, contain only one ingredient, mix easily into smoothies and liquids and are flavorless and odorless. One serving contains a whopping 20 grams of pure protein, which contributes to feelings of fullness and staves off cravings. I also use their bone broth and tried their newer line of collagen beauty water (lavender lemon, cucumber aloe or melon mint), which was refreshing and delicious! 

Try It: Order Vital Proteins products here.

Product: Numi Organic Tea – Gratitude

I have a little bit of an obsession with and a growing collection of herbal teas. Drinking herbal tea is a quick and easy way to boost your immune system, balance your mood, and promote healing by reducing inflammation. The exact combination of herbs and spices determines which purpose a particular tea serves, but I was so drawn to this one because of the name of the tea (Gratitude!) and the specific blend of ingredients.

Anti-viral licorice, anti-inflammatory turmeric, calming chamomile, and libido-boosting maca (a Peruvian herb from the cruciferous veg family) are just a few of the supercharged ingredients in this amazing tea. Holy basil, tulsi and ashwaganda are three additional ingredients that have adaptogenic qualities. Adaptogens (notice the root word, “adapt”) help our body respond better to stress by promoting a sense of balance and calm. You can get all of them in supplement form, but why not just drink a cozy cup of tea instead?

Try It: Order online here or buy in person at The Vitamin Shoppe and at some Whole Foods Markets.

And that’s a wrap! I’d love to hear from you if you’ve used any of these products or read the book, When Breath Becomes Air.

The Secret Ingredients for Anticancer Salads

I didn’t eat my first salad until I was in college.

I liked vegetables but just couldn’t get excited about a plate of raw ones and was always grossed out by condiments and anything besides butter and parmesan cheese being on my food, so salad dressings were out.

Fast forward to my 30s, and I am a salad fiend! I love them and do what I can to make them exciting, colorful and delicious.

My husband is a teacher and was telling me about a potluck they recently had at his school. One of the teachers wanted to go in on a salad with him, and they were going to bring the standard lettuce + tomatoes + carrots + cucumbers with ranch dressing.

Now, as a disclaimer, I believe that eating fresh, whole foods, especially vegetables, is a wonderful idea. But what if you could supercharge your salads with more medicinal, disease-preventive, feel good ingredients??

This video from nutritionfacts.org has gotten me to think differently about salads, and I think it will do the same for you. It also reveals the #1 anticancer vegetable, so check it out!

Based on that video, I thought I’d share the template that I use to mix and match ingredients when making salads. I still include all vegetables but ordered them based on how cancer preventive they are, so use this as a guide for upgrading your salads.

The key with keeping salads exciting is to use a variety of colors, textures, and flavors. Based on this list, you can come up with endless combinations of beautiful, nourishing and delicious salads!

  • Base: spinach, kale, arugula, Romaine, spring mix, watercress, Bibb lettuce, red leaf lettuce, green leaf lettuce, radicchio, bok choy, endive
  • Veggies: broccoli, cauliflower, shredded cabbage, shredded brussels sprouts, scallions, shallots, onions, leeks, fennel, celery, peppers, beets, radishes, roasted sweet potatoes and other root vegetables, cooked asparagus, sun-dried tomatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots
  • Super food add-ons: broccoli sprouts (Potomac Sprout Co. is my favorite!), lentil sprouts, bean sprouts, hemp seeds, goji berries, mulberries
  • Chopped herbs: basil, parsley, cilantro, dill, oregano, mint
  • Fruit: berries are my go to but sometimes apples, pears or peaches fit the bill! Avocados are a great substitute for cheese (and they’re a fruit!)
  • Fermented Food: chopped sauerkraut, fermented beets (Farmhouse Culture), or kimchi. Adding these to your salad will enhance digestion and leave you feeling less bloated.
  • Protein: lentils, chickpeas, black beans, pinto beans, cannellini beans, chicken, salmon
  • Crunch: roasted chickpeas (Chickpeatos and Saffron Road are my top two brands), sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, slivered almonds, chopped walnuts, pecans or cashews
  • Dressing: check out over a dozen dressing recipes below, most of which include the all-star ingredient – GARLIC! My favorite brands of store-bought dressing are Tessemae’s and Bragg’s.

In the next post, I will be sharing 16 supercharged salad recipes, so you have some ideas for how to make this happen…and keep your salads exciting!

Meet Crunchy Kat: Living Well Made Easy

For the past three and a half years, I’ve written every single post on this blog. I love sharing what I’m learning and creating, but I also have a desire to build community in a more intentional way. For that reason, I’m going to start introducing you to some amazing people I’ve connected with along my journey, so you can get to know them and what they have to offer, too. These are people I align with philosophically and people who bring hope, light, nourishment and passion to the world with the goal of making it a better place.

My hope is that you will connect with these great people, too, and follow their work to learn about different aspects of health, wellbeing and nutrition that I may not cover. We’re better together 🙂

I’m excited to introduce you to my friend and fellow blogger, Kat Downs from Crunchy Kat. I think you’ll really love her and will be inspired to check out the cool work she is doing, too. Here she is!

I first met Rachel at a Swapfoods Swapple tasting back in February, and I could immediately tell she was someone I wanted to get to know. So when she asked if I wanted to write a guest post for her blog, I was pumped!

In getting to know Rachel, it’s clear we have a lot in common. I love Rachel’s post on her food philosophy because mine is almost exactly the same!

I launched Crunchy Kat in August 2016, but I’ve been learning about health and wellness for more than five years. I’ve always had an interest in food and nutrition, even though I’m not a Registered Dietitian or Nutritionist. I’m an average person and a former athlete, and by all accounts, I was a fairly healthy person. But I’ve noticed that I feel so much better when I feed my body real food.
I didn’t always used to be like this though.

I’ve always loved food, but it’s taken me awhile to refine my eating habits, and it’s still a work in process. I’ve realized that I feel better when I eat a mostly gluten-free, dairy-free diet, but it’s sometimes hard to make those choices.

I’m the first one to admit that I like to streamline things in the kitchen.I believe food and cooking shouldn’t be complicated, so on Crunchy Kat I talk a lot about eating real food with simple ingredients. You’ll never find me whipping up a 12-course meal all day on a Saturday. That’s just not my thing! I’m all about simple, healthful recipes that are quick and easy. Click the picture below for some of my favorite salad dressing recipes!

I love thinking about where our food comes from and how it sustains us. I also love researching information about what’s in the products we put in our bodies and on our skin. I’d been spending so much of my free time finding better food and beauty products that I decided to share what I was learning with others.
My goal is to take the work out of it for you and offer solutions I’ve found. I know how confusing and overwhelming it can be to eat well, so I want to bring healthy products and options to people who don’t have time to do the research themselves. I want to help people make good choices when it comes to food.

One of my favorite things is to do is grocery shop or visit a farmer’s market. I love exploring the grocery aisles for new products and dreaming about how I can incorporate them into my next meal.

I like offering easy-to-follow recipes for people who may not have the energy to think about their next meal. Because of that, experimentation in the kitchen is something that excites me, but I know not everyone has time for that. That’s one of the reasons I started Crunchy Kat.

Some of my favorite things to experiment with are smoothies (like this cherry banana almond butter smoothie), energy bites (like these coffee cacao bites), easy weeknight meals (like this cauliflower fried rice), and homemade dairy-free milks (like this coconut milk). And you can always find me posting impromptu recipes on my Instagram account.

Would you try any of these recipes? I’d love to know which ones you might like to try! Thanks for letting me hang out with you today! 🙂

Vegan Carrot Cake Smoothie

Since I’ve been feeling better, I’ve been back in the kitchen experimenting with recipes. My most recent hit was this vegan, gluten-free carrot cake muffin topped with creamy cashew icing. If you haven’t already tried it, you totally should!

It’s been a while since I posted a new smoothie recipe, but since I was already tinkering with the ingredient profile for carrot cake, I thought I’d try coming up with a carrot cake smoothie.

Some recipes come together easily, and after one or two attempts, it ends up tasting good. This smoothie took about six attempts before I came up with something that I really liked! I have to give a shout out to my friend, Kat Downs, who writes the awesome blog, Crunchy Kat, for being willing to be a recipe tester for me! She will be featured in my next blog post, so I’m really excited for you guys to meet her.

In the meantime, give this tasty carrot cake smoothie recipe a try. You might be surprised to find that it contains a secret ingredient you won’t even taste that will give you an extra serving of vegetables. When I think of upgrading what I eat, this is one of the easiest ways to do it!

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Vegan Carrot Cake Smoothie

If you like all the flavors of carrot cake as much as I do, you're going to love this creamy, dreamy smoothie!

Course Breakfast
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Servings 1
Author Rachel Druckenmiller

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup carrots peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 zucchini peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons raw cashews
  • 1 Medjool date pit removed
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 pinch nutmeg
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 piece frozen or fresh pineapple Trust me, this makes a difference!
  • 1 frozen banana

Instructions

  1. Add all ingredients through almond milk to the blender and blend until smooth.

  2. Add frozen fruit and blend until creamy. 

Recipe Notes

For some reason, I find that the smoothie turns out a bit creamier when you combine all ingredients besides the frozen fruit FIRST and then add it, but you can totally just blend everything at once. That's just my preference 🙂

3 Beautiful Smoothie Bowl Recipes to Try

I’ve been a fan of smoothies for years because of how many nutrients you can pack into one meal. But I’ve also noticed something you may find to be true as well.

I tend to drink them fast. Like, under two minutes fast.

That’s a lot of food entering your stomach at an unnaturally fast rate, which can lead to things like bloating, gas, indigestion, and overeating. You can drink fruits and vegetables at a rate of about two cups per minute when you get them through a smoothie. This can undermine your body’s capacity to recognize that you’re full because the body needs about 20 minutes to register that you’re satiated once you start eating.

So, what’s one idea for slowing down your smoothie drinking pace?

Put it in a bowl!

Yup, make a smoothie bowl.

It’s not that complicated either. All you’re really doing is using slightly less liquid (1/4-1/2 cup less than usual), so you end up with a thicker consistency that can be poured into a bowl instead of into a glass. It’s also important to use thickening ingredients like chia seeds, avocado, frozen banana, soaked raw cashews, and even peeled zucchini to reach your desired consistency.

Now, I do have a few words of caution and something you’ll want to keep in mind when going this route. Smoothie bowls are often topped with heaps of granola, honey, maple syrup, nuts, a whole banana, etc., which makes for a pretty picture. But, on top of all of the ingredients that are already in a smoothie, this can be overkill, so use your toppings sparingly. Try not to overdo it. Notice how your body feels and adjust accordingly! Less is more 🙂

Check out the three smoothie bowl recipes below that I’ve previously posted on my instagram page. If you’re looking for even more smoothie bowl inspiration, here is a list of nine smoothie bowls from Greatist and 11 from Buzzfeed!

Berry Good Smoothie Bowl 

Ingredients

1 tsp flax seeds or flax meal
2 teaspoons hemp seeds
2 teaspoons chia seeds
1 teaspoon coconut butter (optional but tasty!)
1 teaspoon vanilla powder or extract
1/2 tsp raw honey
1 cup baby spinach
1-1.5 cups almond milk (start with one cup for a thicker bowl)
1 cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup frozen raspberries

Directions: Blend all ingredients, except the berries, in a high-speed blender for about 15-20 seconds. Then, add berries and blend until smooth, adding additional almond milk, as needed, until it reaches your desired thickness. Pour into a bowl and top with additional berries and a sprinkle of hemp seeds.

Shrek Smoothie Bowl

Ingredients

1/2 cup frozen mango
1/2 cup frozen pineapple
1 tsp fresh ginger root
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 small avocado
1 cup baby spinach
1 scoop unflavored protein powder (I like Vital Proteins and Bulletproof Collagen Protein because they are flavorless!)
1/2 tsp raw honey
1-1.5 cups water (start with 1 cup and add more as needed)

Directions: Blend everything together until you reach a smooth, thick consistency. Pour into bowl, sprinkle with shredded coconut, and serve with a spoon!

Berry Chocolate Smoothie Bowl

Ingredients

1 cup frozen mixed berries (strawberries and raspberries)
2 tablespoons chia seeds
1.5 tablespoons raw cacao powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 Medjool date, pitted
1 scoop unflavored protein powder (I used Vital Proteins)

1 – 1.5 cups dairy-free milk (start with 1 cup and add more 1/4 cup at a time)

Directions: Put everything in a blender and blend for about a minute or until smooth. Pour into bowl and sprinkle with goji berries and cacao nibs.

So, what about you? Are you a fan of smoothie bowls? Do you have any favorite recipes? Feel free to share them below!

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