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The Recipe That Got My Husband to Like Green Beans

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Everyone dislikes certain foods.

For me, it’s olives.

My friend Sam loves olives and would probably put them on just about everything if she could.

I’m just not a fan.

I even lived in Spain when I was in college, and Spain is THE place for olives.

I remember one meal in particular that my Spanish host family served me – a tuna fish, olive, and hard-boiled egg salad.

At the time, those three foods by themselves were a no-go, so the trifecta totally grossed me out.

But I had to at least TRY it because it’s rude not to in Spain (even if you’re 100% sure you won’t like it). After forcing down one nausea-inducing bite, I smiled and politely said, “It’s not my favorite” and was off the hook for the evening. Phew!

For my husband, Bill, that “thanks, but no thanks” food was green beans. 

Until tonight.

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Sometimes, the reason we don’t like certain foods is because we’ve only had them prepared in ways that doesn’t make them taste very good.

When most people think of green beans, for instance, images of the precut, brownish-green, mushy beans that come in a can and are then boiled to death come to mind.

Maybe you’ve only ever had canned vegetables and have never tried those same vegetable prepared a different way – roasted, sauteed, or tossed into a chili or stew.

Consider giving them a second chance…like Bill did!

To put it bluntly, we housed this recipe. We couldn’t stop eating them. They were that good.

Cooked “al dente” (AKA still crispy and brightly colored!), the green beans were tossed in a mixture of garlic, lemon, slivered almonds and a touch of sea salt. They were downright addictive.

We were licking the bowl clean, scraping up the last bits of crunchy slivered almonds before finally putting the bare dish in the sink.

My husband is a green-bean-hater no more. Mission accomplished!

Garlicky Green Beans Almondine with Lemon

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Ingredients

  • Equal parts water and vegetable broth (see step 1 below)
  • 2 pounds green beans, ends cut off
  • 3/4 cup slivered raw almonds
  • 4 cloves fresh garlic, peeled & minced
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2-3 tablespoons coconut oil (The original recipe called for cold pressed extra virgin olive oil, which you could also use. I use coconut oil because it holds up better than olive oil when it’s heated.)
  • ½ tsp finely grated lemon zest
  • sea salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Fill a large stock pot with half water, half vegetable broth and bring it to a boil. Make sure the amount of water/broth is at least twice as much as the amount of beans you intend to cook.
  2. Gently blanch the green beans (cook them in the boiling liquid for about 3 minutes until just al dente (brightly colored and crisp)). Drain beans in ice cold water (or put them in a bowl containing an ice water bath and set aside). This stops the cooking process.
  3. In a wok or large deep frying pan, heat the oil and garlic on medium heat for 2-3 minutes. Don’t let the garlic brown.
  4. Add in the almonds and stir for about a minute. Then mix in the lemon juice and finely grated lemon zest.
  5. Add the cooked beans to the stir fry mixture and toss to combine and coat. Add salt to taste (I added about 1/4-1/2 teaspoon of sea salt).
  6. Top the beans with additional lemon zest, if you prefer.

For more information about WHY green beans are so good for us (including building strong bones, filling us up, and being an anti-fat storage anti-cancer GBOMBS food according to Dr. Fuhrman) click here.

The recipe above is a variation of this recipe from Healthy Blender Girl.

Top 10 Highlights of Natural Products Expo East 2018

Imagine if Whole Foods and just about every natural food store you know of had a trade show and you got to sample something from every vendor.

That’s pretty much what happens at the Natural Products Expo each year, and it’s like trick-or-treating for food nerds like me. Thousands of health practitioners, retailers, wholesalers, press, and bloggers come from all over North America and even beyond to get the scoop on the latest trends in the natural products industry. The show just so happens to be held in Baltimore, my hometown, so I have a 25 minute drive to get from my driveway to the expo.

It’s awesome.

As a blogger who writes about these products, I have the opportunity to attend each year, and it’s always one of the highlights of my fall. I share what I find with all of you and often sample and feature these products in the workshops and cooking demonstrations I teach at companies. As many of you know, I have a gluten-free, dairy-free focus in my food choices because of what I’ve found makes my body feel its best. Expo is a great place to go to find out what’s coming soon, so I can fill you in ASAP. I had fun hanging out with Elyza Dolby and Colleen Howell. Expo is even better when you go with friends!

Each year, I notice a few trends that tend to characterize the expo, and I bring them back to you to make your life easier, better and more delicious. I focus on dairy-free and gluten-free options as well as upgrades to on the go meal and snack foods and some supplements and herbal remedies worth considering!

*Friends, I want to offer this one caveat before I share my updates and trends with you. Regardless of what the trends are, I still focus my eating around my whole foods – mostly plant-based, full of colors, packed with nourishing fats, protein and fiber. To learn more about what matters most to me and what my personal food philosophy is, I’ve got you covered here.*

**If you want to know where these products are sold near you, go to the product’s website and look for the “Store Locator” or “Find Me Near You” page on their site and search by zip code.

RNK’s Top Expo East Trends & Finds

On-the-go nourishment is getting easier and more delicious.

I’ve written before about my top tips for eating healthy on the go, and I’m excited to see so many companies finding ways to prioritize both food quality and convenience. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner on the go, it’s easier than ever to eat well, even when you’re busy.

Some of my favorite newbies to the scene are Purely Elizabeth oatmeal cups (less than 5 grams of sugar per container, which is wayyyy less than most on the go oats), Sprout Living drinkable oats (try the spice or mocha flavors!), Wildscape frozen meals (which are made with totally real food ingredients – they have one gluten-free and one vegan option), Grainful meals, and Path of Life frozen sides.

I was also excited to see the team from Swapples, one of our on-the-go breakfast staples, at Expo for the first time! We love their grain-free frozen waffles. They also won Best of Show at Expo East by Veg World Magazine! Congrats, Rebecca and team! 🙂

New snack bars are aiming for lower sugar.

I aim for a single digit sugar content in the bars that I buy, and the new ones coming to market fit the bill (or are like 1 gram off!). I’ve written previously about my top real food snack bars in this post, including what I look for in a bar (protein + fiber + low sugar), but I’ll need to update it with some new options from this year. Because I travel so much, I don’t always have the opportunity for a full sit-down meal, so sometimes snacking on a bar is my best option. (Hummus and veggies and trail mixes definitely work, too!)

This year’s bar standouts included Purely Elizabeth‘s granola bars (if you like her granola, you’ll love the bars!), Primal Kitchen‘s collagen bars, This Bar Saves Lives (eat for a cause!), evohemp cookie and brownie bars, and Enjoy Life’s allergen-free breakfast bars. For meat eaters, my hubby’s favorites for protein-rich bars that are also low in sugar are Country Archer Jerky Co. (Herb Citrus Turkey bar and Sweet BBQ Pork are his top two) and EPIC bars.

Mushrooms are cool and are being reinvented.

Whether it was in a zesty thai mushroom jerky or immune-boosting tinctures, teas, and hot chocolate mixes, mushrooms are in, and for good reason. I’ve written about the anti-cancer, immune-supportive properties of mushrooms in this GBOMBS post.

A few of my favorite mushroom-centric products are featured below. A few brands I love are Host Defense teas and immune-boosting sprays and drops (expect to see these in upcoming immunity workshops!), Four Sigmatic chocolate milk and latte mixes, Purely Elizabeth’s new grain-free granola bars, and Pan’s mushroom jerky, to name a few.

Beans, beans, good for your heart!

Whether it was a chickpea patty, hummus, chocolate-covered roasted chickpea or crunchy sriracha fava beans, beans showed up in droves this year. Beans have always been popular in the natural food community because of their high fiber and protein content, but it’s been fun to watch how the food industry has made them cool.

Here are some of my favorite bean-based products from Cedar’s Za’atar hummus, Enlightened roasted fava beans (soon to be rebranded as “Bada Bean”), Hempe chickpea tempeh patties, and Hodo ready-to-eat Moroccan-spiced tofu bites (good enough to convert any tofu hater).

Dairy-free cheeses have come a loooong way.

When I found out that dairy was a trigger for a range of health issues for me – from bloating and reflux to bronchitis and ear infections – I removed it from my diet and felt better within weeks. Since then, I’ve tried a variety of options for dairy-free yogurts, cheeses, chocolate, milks, ice cream, and other dairy-based products and have found some options that I really enjoy. For now, I’m just going to focus on the cheeses because, let’s be honest, they’re the hardest thing to change when going dairy-free.

A few cheese brands and products I love are Parmela Creamery (their nacho nutcheese is amaaaazing), Miyokos‘ Cheers to Cheddah (Wispride spreadable cheese fans, anyone?), and Treeline Cheese’s new Maple Walnut flavor coming out this fall.

Dairy-free milks and creamers are leveling up.

Next to cheese, I find that milk and coffee creamers are one of the things people really struggle to go without when eliminating dairy. Fortunately, there are so many options that will not make you feel the least bit deprived!

A few of my favorites are Oatly oat-based milk, Milkadamia macadamia nut-based milks and creamers, nutpods dairy-free coffee and tea creamers and Know Brainer‘s ketogenic (to learn more about keto, read this) creamers. Forager Project is rebranding their products with a green label, so be on the lookout for their yogurts and nut milks. Their full fat yogurts are also delicious!

Gut-friendly foods are everywhere.

From sauerkrauts and kombucha to apple cider vinegar drinks, gut-friendly foods continue to surge, which has been a trend for the past few years. More and more people are focusing on improving digestive health, and with good reason. I’ve written previously about my top ten tips for optimizing gut health in this blog post.

From Buchi’s Kombucha‘s new Kefir Soda (less sugar than kombucha and a pleasant fizz!) and Cleveland Kraut‘s single-serve kraut packets, to Good Belly probiotic shots, and Bonafide Provision and Brodo‘s restorative broths.

My favorite local purveyor of fermented foods is still Hex Ferments in Baltimore, but if you’re outside of this area, try one of the brands above.

Purity of ingredients is paramount.

When it comes to packaged foods, it’s often easier to sacrifice purity of ingredients in order to optimize flavor or preservation. That’s why I’m excited to see so many companies committed to ingredient quality and simplicity. The shorter the ingredient list and the more easily I’m able to pronounce the ingredients, the more likely I am to buy it.

A few of my favorite finds in this category were Primal Kitchen’s ketchup, Jilz gluten-free crackers (holy cow, these were amazing and would be delicious with the hummus or cheeses mentioned above), Cappello’s gluten-free sweet potato gnocchi (omg), and Wildscape and Grainful frozen meals.

Chocolate is getting even better.

You know that shellac that you usually see on chocolate-coated candies? You won’t find it on Hu Kitchen’s new chocolate-dipped cashews and goji berry bites. These were two of my favorite new products at the expo this year. The tartness of the goldenberries combined with the richness and bite of dark chocolate were a killer combo. They should be in stores by Q1 2019.

Some of my favorite chocolate treats were Eating Evolved chocolates, Theo turmeric spice chocolate bar, Hu chocolate-covered hunks, and Better Bites chocolate covered cookie dough bites (these are definitely a special treat!). For a full round-up of my favorite dairy-free chocolate bars, check out this post.

Monk fruit is the new stevia.

Artificial sweeteners often get a lot of flack because of their negative side effects. One of the benefits of the evolving natural products industry is that we are finding better options to things like equal and sweet and low. Monk fruit as a natural, zero-calorie sweetener with a glycemic index of 0, so it’s suitable for diabetics. It’s about 300 times sweeter than sugar. To learn more about monk fruit and other natural sweeteners that I recommend, read this post.

You can find monk fruit in evohemp and Primal Kitchen’s bars, Lakanto’s chocolate and a variety of other products. There were too many to name, but you will start noticing this sweetener shift in 2019!

Okay….and ONE MORE bonus one because I can’t help myself…

Supplements can be fun and not feel like a chore.

With gummies, sprays, and lozenge-style options, taking supplements doesn’t have to mean pill boxes full of tough-to-swallow horse pills. When I discovered I was clinically malnourished, I had to start supplementing to replenish what was lost. My body wasn’t able to properly break down nutrients because I’d been taking stomach acid blockers for a decade, so I turned to easy to digest supplements from the brand Nutrametrix.

While that may not be everyone’s situation, there are still some great options if you are looking for ways to make taking supplements more palatable. For those of you who are vegan, there is a high likelihood you will need to supplement with B-vitamins, especially B-12, so talk to your doctor about that. Many people are supplementing with turmeric these days because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Both B-12 and turmeric are now available in a fun and tasty gummy from Mega Food. Make sure your turmeric is combined with black pepper on the supplement label to optimize absorption.

If you are looking to boost your immune system, Beekeeper’s Naturals propolis throat spray is one of the top sellers on Amazon and a product I have used myself. They just introduced a NEW version for kids, so check them out on Amazon.

Here are a few other trends I spotted that I haven’t found to be relevant to me but were really popular at expo, so I wanted to share them with you:

  • CBD oil is in everything. From water and honey to gummies and supplements. So, What is CBD Oil? Cannabidiol (CBD) is one of the chemical compounds found in the marijuana plant that is known to calm the nervous system, among other things. It showed up at every turn at this year’s expo and is legal to consume in Maryland and in other states. This meant that there were some more out there products on display, like hemp water, which looks to be a really good way to intake the beneficial chemicals and nutrients from cannabis and CBD without the hassle, to name just one. After all, there are loads of ways that people take CBD and there are loads of reasons to why people take it. For example, you could check out something like these cbd sleep drops, which are obviously there to help you sleep. It can be used to calm you down, soothe pain and has many other benefits to some people. If you would rather not take sleep drops then there are many other alternatives that you could take a look at, as the most important thing is finding the thing that works best for you. So this might mean that you buy cbd gummies or something completely different. It’s just up to you though.
    Which is why it is becoming increasingly popular for people. To learn more about CBD oil’s benefits and uses, click here.
  • Natural sleep aids are on the rise. It’s no secret that many of us struggle to get a good night’s sleep, which is why natural sleep aids are popping up everywhere from Som Sleep drinks to supplements.

If you’re not already hanging out with me over on Instagram, check out my page here. I share all of the latest and greatest food finds, recipes, blog posts and inspiration on that platform, and I’d love to connect with you!

A Healthy Foodie’s Ultimate Guide to Chicago

My husband, Bill, and I were recently in Chicago for a week, celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary. We had an amazing time. Think of all of the offerings of New York City but in a friendlier, cleaner, more laid back environment.

That’s Chicago.

We believe in really celebrating each year of our marriage and travel to a new city each year to eat, explore, rest, and spend most of each day outdoors. We splurge in just about every way because we believe our relationship is worth it.

Our trip to Chicago was no exception.

We had beautiful weather (apparently, August is the time to go…not so much in February or one of the winter months). Most of the time when we travel, we go for less time or have other commitments like weddings to break up the trip. This time was the most like our honeymoon – seven days with just the two of us!

One of the things that surprised me most was that Chicago is one of the cleanest cities I’ve ever been to and one of the most beautiful.

There were flowers and parks at every turn! I felt like I was in a cute European city at times.

Dozens of people shared recommendations with us and we followed quite a few of them. I thought I’d put together a post with all of the places we ate, things we did, and where we stayed. If you are ever planning a trip to Chicago or know someone who is, you’ll have it all in one place!

Because of my dietary restrictions (no gluten or milk products), I could have been limited in Chicago – the city of deep dish pizza – but I’m happy to say we had lots of incredible meals that both of us enjoyed. Everywhere we went was accommodating and many places had gluten-free menus, so I didn’t feel the least bit deprived. Here’s the scoop on places to eat and fun things to do! Click on the red hyperlinked titles to go to each place’s website to learn more.

Where We Ate

Beatrix

The Scoop: With multiple locations throughout the city, this place is a solid pick for any meal, and it was our very first stop once we arrived. According to their website, Beatrix is a neighborhood coffeehouse, restaurant and meeting place in Chicago’s River North, Streeterville, and Fulton Market neighborhoods. The menu features healthy meets delicious options, and also includes an iconic coffee and pastry counter, including signature cookies and in-house bakery favorites. That was enough to sell us, so we went for lunch.

What We Ate: Bill had the Kennebec fries with crispy lemons and chilis and Dr. Bob’s turkey burger served with poached egg mayo and a quinoa & almond kale side salad. I wanted something simple, so I opted for the grilled chicken kebab served on top of English pea hummus with lemon vinaigrette and a cucumber salad. I could have eaten an entire bowl of the hummus. The flavors were on point. Visit their website here for menus and a list of their locations.

The Purple Pig

The Scoop: When one of my coworkers found out I was going on a trip to Chicago, without hesitating, she said: “You HAVE to go to The Purple Pig.” She had recently been and said the trip wouldn’t complete without a meal there. Another Facebook friend also recommended it, and even our Uber driver was jealous as he dropped us off because he hadn’t been in some time. Since opening in 2009, The Purple Pig has been named one of the “10 Best New Restaurants in America” by Bon Appétit magazine, showcasing the flavors of Italy, Greece and Spain. They don’t take reservations, so it’s best to go as early as possible because they’re pretty much always busy.

What We Ate: Despite its name, there are a bunch of vegetarian and seafood options available in addition to their signature trio of “cheese, swine and wine”. I had my eye on the octopus appetizer because it was so highly recommended, but we arrived so early that the chef hadn’t fully prepared all of that day’s octopus.

Womp womp. Bummer.

We started with an appetizer of shaved carrots with kumquats (a small citrus fruit) and spinach served on top of a tahini-based spread and sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and peanuts. The flavors and textures were out of this world amazing. We had another seasonal appetizer of mussels served with cauliflower, mushrooms, and rice, and Bill had the milk-braised pork shoulder (the best he’s had, he said).

Just as we were closing out our check, our waitress came up to us with a smile, “The octopus is ready!” We knew we had to try it, and OH MY GOODNESS are we glad we did! It was Bill’s first time eating octopus, and he devoured it along with me.

The grilled octopus was served with fingerling potatoes, green beans, and the best salsa verde I have ever had in my life. It was one of our top three dishes of the entire trip! Check out The Purple Pig’s menu and learn more here.

Hi-Vibe Superfood Juicery

The Scoop: After getting pretty stuffed the night before at The Purple Pig, we wanted something light to get the day started on the day of our anniversary, so we jogged to Hi-Vibe Juicery, which was about a mile from our hotel. I had stalked their website and knew they had a variety of elixirs, smoothies, juices, and broths that would nourish my body (and they’re all paleo and 100% organic, too!).

What We Drank: We started the day with a Kill Shot (camu camu berry, oil of oregano, echinacea, ginger, turmeric, black pepper, lemon, green apple) to get our immune system and digestion going. We also had one of the coconut and apple cider vinegar drinks (the name is escaping me!) to rehydrate.

I ordered a serving of their activated bone broth made with these nourishing and immune-boosting ingredients: 100% grass-raised beef + pastured chicken bone broth spiked with a signature blend of ginger, turmeric, apple cider vinegar, coconut cream, and sea salt, brain octane, MCT, oil of oregano, black pepper extract, cayenne, grass-fed butter, and dulse (seaweed). It was so full of flavor, and introducing a warm, healing liquid like that to your stomach first thing in the morning can really help rev up your digestive system to take on the day. I also stopped by their second location a few days later and grabbed the Mood Mylk, but I’d love to try their Shaman Shake and Golden Mylk. This place is one of the best juice and smoothie bars in Chicago. For more info and the full menu, click here.

Wildberry Pancakes & Cafe

The Scoop: Bill and I love breakfast food, so we wanted to go to a top-rated spot for brunch on our anniversary. What drew me to this place was the variety in the menu and the fact that they have gluten-free breakfast options. Apparently, the waits can run nearly 90 minutes on weekends, so get there early!

What We Ate: We had a delicious meal, and I was even able to have gluten-free pancakes (you wouldn’t even know they’re gluten-free!) as a side to my meal. I got the vegan breakfast hash served with hash browns, spinach, wild mushrooms, avocado and their homemade gluten-free veggie burger. I topped off the burger with an overeasy egg.

Bill had the Fresca omelet made with sundried tomatoes, provolone, basil and avocado. I had a bite, and it was delicious! He also got a side of their cinnamon roll pancakes, and both of our bellies were happy when we left. Here’s their full menu and website with locations.

Maple & Ash

The Scoop: We wavered between several options when deciding where to spend our anniversary dinner but ended up picking Maple & Ash because of their high reviews online. What an experience! From the photo booth (which included a GIF-maker!) on the first floor to the buzz and vibe of the main restaurant, we knew we’d made the right choice.

What We Ate: Everything! At least that’s what it felt like when we left 🙂 We were welcomed with a dish of blistered shishito peppers and radishes served with sea salt and chilled butter along with a welcome cocktail made with vodka, blood orange bitters, lemon juice, elderflower, and vermouth. I’m a bit of a teetotaler and usually get mocktails when we go out to eat, but this drink was one of the best I’ve ever had. It was so light and smooth that I ended up having two.

Dinner was over the top delicious and fun. Bobby was the best waiter and really made the meal special. We started with the roasted beet and shaved greens salad served with rosemary roasted almonds and ordered their signature fire-roasted seafood tour (YOU HAVE TO DO THIS), and it was divine. I had the halibut for my main course, and Bill had the Skuna Bay salmon. Despite how majorly stuffed we were, we had to say “yes” to the make your own sundae dessert bar. I opted for blueberry sorbet, and Bill had ice cream.

Girl and the Goat

The Scoop: Bill and I have been fans of the Bravo show, Top Chef, for years, so when a friend recommended this restaurant and we saw that Top Chef’s first female winner was in charge, we knew we had to go. Reservations are tough to get at this place, so I would suggest booking at least a month out or do what we did and stop by at the start of dinner service at around 5pm on a weekday. We were seated immediately and just had to be out by 6:30, which wasn’t hard.

What We Ate: Girl and the Goat is a small plates restaurant (think tapas-style), so we ordered a few different dishes to share before heading to see Hamilton in downtown Chicago. We started with the kohlrabi salad, which was served with fennel, evalon (on the side – this is cheese), toasted almonds, roasted shiitake mushrooms, and blueberries. It was a neat combination of flavors and textures but was a bit salty for me. We tried the roasted cauliflower served with pickled peppers, pine nuts, and mint and enjoyed that.

Our favorite dish was pan-roasted halibut served with marcona almond butter, white asparagus, blueberry nuoc cham (a Vietnamese dipping sauce), and beech mushrooms. The marcona almond butter was out of this world. We wanted to lick the bowl when we were finished. We also ordered the sautéed green beans topped with a fish sauce vinaigrette and crunchy cashews and the seared scallop & sausage summery succotash served with green harissa. This place is a must-stop dining spot on a trip to Chicago, so check it out!

Real Good Juice Co.

The Scoop: I love food puns, and this place was full of them (how about the Kal E. Kapowski Smoothie…Saved by the Bell, anyone?). For more punny names, check out their full menu here. According to their site, this is what they do: “We are a company that makes juices that are real good. Cold pressed juices, locally sourced and organic smoothies, salads, granola and other stuff.” I’m in.

What We Ate: We stopped by for a late lunch after our day at the spa (info below!) on our anniversary. We shared an order of their avocado toast served on gluten-free bread, and I had one of their elixirs. What really brought us there was the promise of dairy-free frozen yogurt (chocolate!). We shared a serving of that topped with chocolate avocado mousse (like this recipe on my blog) and cacao nibs, which I’ve written about here. We swung by again on another morning midway through a run to have a juice to start the day. I always look for less than 10 grams of sugar in juices and make sure they are cold-pressed. Check the label because a lot of “healthy” juices can be super high in sugar.

Wheat’s End Cafe

The Scoop: If you are gluten-free and miss things like biscuits, donuts, bread, muffins, and even bagels, Wheat’s End Cafe has you covered! The cafe is located in the Lakeview area of Chicago and is 100% gluten-free. In 2007, a friend of Wheat’s End co-owners Susan McMillan and Amelia Fonti was diagnosed with Celiac Disease. Soon after, Amelia learned that she, too, was gluten intolerant. They became aware of the growing unmet need for gluten-free food that did not compromise taste and texture.

What We Ate: We started with a warm cinnamon roll because who doesn’t love cinnamon rolls?? Bill ordered avocado toast with an overeasy egg on top and gobbled his up. I ordered the shakshuka pizza, which is basically eggs on a pizza (all dairy-free, too!), served with a vegan pesto sauce. I wanted to love it, but the crust was a little tough to cut through, and the cheese slid off pretty easily. The flavors were great, but I’d definitely order a biscuit, avocado toast, or a pumpkin donut next time since those were all highly rated…and more breakfast-like. The menu was so extensive, I’d definitely want to go back to try more!

Left Coast Food & Juice

The Scoop: This place was recommended by my boss’s daughter, Ann, who recently moved to Chicago. After checking out their website and learning a bit more about their story, I was sold. Here’s what they have to say: Left Coast was created from the idea that eating healthy should be quick and easy and still taste delicious […] Our philosophy is to change the perception that eating healthy is dull and flavorless.

YES. YES. YES to all of that.

What We Ate: I wanted something light and refreshing, so I ordered the Jimmy Ching salad made with napa cabbage, romaine hearts, snow peas, crunchy quinoa, cashews, green onion, mint, sesame seeds, and a Chinese mustard vinaigrette. I added some tofu to my dish for a bit of protein. It was the perfect summer salad. Bill ordered the morning buzz smoothie: espresso, cacao, peanut butter, maca powder, banana, and dates. I had a few sips, even though I don’t love the taste of coffee and really liked it. This is a great place to check out for a salad, bowl, juice or smoothie!

?ma

The Scoop: My friend Sara, who is a fellow gluten-free foodie, enthusiastically recommended this tapas restaurant after a recent trip to Chicago. I’m so glad she did! Everything was delicious. When we arrived at the hostess stand, I saw a business card with the name “Aaron Covert, Executive Chef” on it and instantly recognized the name. We graduated from college together, and he has clearly made a name for himself, so we were that much more excited to eat there.

What We Ate: It was so hard to choose from their menu, but we were happy with everything. To simplify things for you a bit, we had the following dishes:

  • Basmati and Beluga Lentil Salad served with crispy shallots, yellow tomatoes, cucumbers, pistachios, and an orange vinaigrette. It was a light, refreshing summer salad and a great start to the meal.
  • Green Falafel with garlic tahini (I asked for a side of their garlic hummus, too – AMAZING!
  • Brussels Sprouts with crispy shallots, pumpkin seeds and sherry glaze
  • Black Lime Shrimp served with tomatoes and aleppo pepper.
  • Sea Bass special served with thinly sliced summer squash

We could have easily ordered five other dishes because everything sounded so amazing. We will definitely be back! Make sure you get a reservation, as this place gets quite busy.

The Chicago Diner

The Scoop: Because of its gluten-free options and focus on plant-based eating, The Chicago Diner was recommended by several friends. It’s in a cool artsy area of Chicago that we hadn’t been to and was within walking distance of Wrigley Field, so it was a great stop before the game. The diner is 100% vegetarian and full of vegan and gluten-free options.

What We Ate: I went with the potato tempeh hash, which consisted of crumbled tempeh, sliced potato, roasted red peppers, and onions seasoned with crushed red pepper and fennel seed. I ordered it with scrambled tofu that looked like and actually had the texture of scrambled eggs. Even Bill was surprised and approved of it, and he doesn’t even like tofu. You have to try it. It was so full of flavor and well seasoned. If we weren’t feeling so pleasantly full (but not stuffed) from brunch, we might have gone for one of their signature vegan milkshakes or their vegan and gluten-free cheesecake. Maybe next time!

Summer House Santa Monica

The Scoop: Our host at the Thompson Hotel recommended this place and we were so glad he did! What a beautiful spot. You feel like you’ve been transported to California and are hanging out in a Santa Monica summer house! It was about a mile and a half from Wrigley Field and served as our post-Cubs game meal. We had a fantastic experience and can’t say enough about how the generous and hospitable staff there treated us as we celebrated our anniversary.

What We Ate: We love guacamole but hadn’t had any yet on our trip, so we started with the guac appetizer (freebie as a result of using the Yelp! app!). We shared a few small plates including caramelized Brussels sprouts served with pancetta, whole grain mustard, and balsamic vinegar and the Emerald Kale Salad made with shredded brussels sprouts, local apples, toasted cashews, and mustard-citrus dressing. We also shared the wood-grilled fish taco platter served with black beans and rice, cilantro, salsa, and guacamole. Everything was on point, and even though we were full by the end, we each snagged a cookie from their pastry bar on our way out. They have a talented pastry chef onsite, who also happens to make gluten-free and dairy-free cookies as well, so I got the chocolate walnut cookie, which tasted just like a brownie. It was decadent and no one would possibly know it was gluten and dairy-free.

The Little Beet Table

The Scoop: We checked out one of these on a recent trip to NYC, and after scoping out the menu, we decided to go there for our final brunch. We got there just as they were opening, so we were served quickly and had a wonderful experience. It helps that the restaurant is 100% gluten-free, which meant my options for ordering were endless!

What We Ate: We started with their banana bread served with housemade hazelnut butter. Oh my goodness. We ate the whole thing. If you can’t tell that I have a deep affinity for Brussels sprouts, you’ll know that now because we ordered them for the third time in one week – roasted Brussels sprouts served with salsa verde and sea salt. For our main entree, Bill had the avocado toast with bacon (some of the best he said he has ever had – perfectly cooked bacon), and I opted for something out of the ordinary – crispy spirulina rice. It was a round of jasmine rice served with shishito peppers, garlic, soy, ginger and topped with a farm egg. It was one of my top three favorite meals of the entire week. Perfectly seasoned, packed with flavor and fun textures, and covered with a sauce that put it over the top, this meal was a winner.

Brightwok Kitchen

The Scoop: This was our final food stop in Chicago and definitely the right choice. Brightwok Kitchen is a veggie-focused, Asian-inspired restaurant. Think of Chipotle for Asian food or sweetgreen for salads and add some on-the-spot wok preparation, and you’ve got Brightwok Kitchen.

What We Ate: It was hard to decide what to get, but I went with the Earth, Curry and Fire bowl served with chili coconut curry (I asked for mild), brown rice, tofu, kale, onions, carrots, bell peppers, and a crispy egg on top. Bill ordered the Everyday Eat Right Bowl with thai basil dressing – holy flavorville! That thing was the best. With so many options, many of which are gluten-free, you can’t go wrong!

What We Did

So, it might seem like all we do on vacation is eat, but we also love to explore new places. I’ve listed below some of the places we went to and things we did. Feel free to click each title to be linked to the website, so you can learn more.

For more recommendations in and around Chicago, visit Time Out Chicago Magazine.

  • Allyu Spa: Bill took me here for our anniversary for their couples retreat package complete with a 90-minute couple’s massage and sauna treatment. It was incredibly relaxing and one of the highlights of my week.
  • Wrigley Field: If you’re in Chicago, go see a Cubs game. It was the first time in years that I’d been in a full stadium (the Orioles are pretty terrible!), and the fans there are passionate and die hard. The chant they sing at the end when they win and the real organ that plays at each game are worth the price of admission!
  • Wendella Architectural Boat Tour: You absolutely have to go on one of these if you are in Chicago. Our tour guide was entertaining and incredibly knowledgable as he taught us about the history and architecture of the city. There are other boat tour companies that you can get deals to on Groupon.
  • Millennium Park and Cloud Gate: This is where you’ll find the famous reflective bean, tons of green space and outdoor events happening throughout the summer.
  • The Escape Game Chicago: This was one of the coolest escape rooms we’ve ever been to. We did Gold Rush by ourselves and got out with 13 minutes to spare and teamed up with another group to escape Mission Mars. I highly recommend this place for an hour of fun! If you are interested in joining the fun, you could search online for: escape room near me and see what comes up.
  • The Great Escape Room Chicago: Can you tell we are a bit addicted to escape rooms? This one was one of the most unique experiences we’ve had. We did the Sherlock Library and escaped with under two minutes to spare!
  • CIBC Theater: We had to see the broadway show, Hamilton. It was amazing. The music is stuck in our heads days later. Go if you can!
  • io Improv: The improvised Shakespeare shows are phenomenal. A member of the audience gives the cast the title of a play and in 60 minutes, the actors come up with a completely improvised play. It was so fun and full of laughs.
  • Navy Pier: This is the most visited spot in Chicago and for good reason. It was one of the first places we walked to when we arrived in the city and offered a beautiful view of the city. From the new ferris wheel to the botanical garden and award-winning theater, it’s a spot you won’t want to pass by on a trip to Chicago.
  • Lincoln Park Zoo: We stopped by the zoo for about an hour or so before heading out on the boat tour, so we didn’t see much, but going to the monkey house was enough for me! I could watch the monkeys and gorillas for hours. The best part about the zoo? Admission is FREE!
  • Division Street Farmer’s Market on Saturdays from May-October. From the gluten-free crepes to the dozens of produce and flower vendors, this is worth a stop on a Saturday!

Where We Stayed

I have to admit. We did it up with hotels this trip. We usually stay in Airbnbs for the bulk of our trips and use Hotels.com or HotelTonight to book one night. I had a connection in Chicago who was kind enough to help me coordinate our stay at two of Chicago’s best hotels in the Gold Coast neighborhood. Both were in the best absolute best locations.

  • Thompson Hotel: Nicholas, who was at the front desk, gave us great recommendations for where to eat, including Summer House Santa Monica. We also had a treat in our room on our anniversary sent by a colleague, so that was a special touch!
  • The Talbott Hotel: We were warmly greeted by Perry when we arrived at The Talbott, which is run by the same group as the Thompson. Perry made us feel so welcomed and special, and he is one of the kindest people I’ve met and always had a smile on his face. We received two free drink coupons and food vouchers upon arrival and had a lovely stay for our final three nights of the trip.

I highly recommend both of these hotels! If you’re looking for regions to stay, try for east of Route 90 and North of Roosevelt Road. There’s a lot going on in North Chicago as well, like in the Lakeview area, but it’ll be a little more of a drive to the heart of downtown.

Reader Feedback

That’s a wrap, my friends! A labor of love to share with you all of the greatness and deliciousness we found on our trip to Chicago. Feel free to chime in with anything we’re missing below!

7 Healthy Dining Spots in Lake Placid, New York (And Why You Should Go There on Vacation!)

Since I was a little girl, my family has spent our summer vacation in the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate New York.

My mom’s family is from the area, and she spent summers as a kid in Keene at her parents’ farmhouse, working at The Land of Make Believe as a teenager. My dad fell in love with her and the area over 40 years ago when they started dating. My parents love Upstate New York so much that, after decades of renting other people’s cabins, they bought their own place in Wilmington, just outside the resort village of Lake Placid. It’s been in our family for over 15 years and will remain for years to come.

Each summer, Bill and I return to our grounding place, to small towns where time stands still, and to the breathtaking beauty of the Adirondacks. We go to be near the mountains, lakes, streams, cleansing air, and for peacefulness that being in nature brings.

If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it as a travel destination, especially if you like being outdoors. The days are typically mild, and the summer nights are often so chilly that you need to bundle up and wear a sweatshirt or jacket.

Our favorite thing to do while we are up there is hike one of the hundreds of peaks in the region. If you’re looking for options, I suggest checking out this site, which sorts hikes by distance and difficulty. Bill and I try to climb one of the 46 High Peaks each year, but we also love to do shorter climbs, including Ampersand, Round Mountain, and Hurricane. With all of the lakes in the area, we also love to canoe, paddle board, or make friends with people who have boats 🙂 It’s also a great spot for fishing.

My family of triathletes swims, bikes and runs throughout their time there. I love to go for a run around Mirror Lake or near my parents’ house and take in the mountain views. One of the Ironman triathlons (140.6 miles – 2.4 mile-swim, 112 mile-bike, 26.2 mile run) takes place in Lake Placid each July and draws in thousands of athletes and their friends and family. If you’ve never witnessed an Ironman race, I highly recommend attending one. We volunteer each year at one of the bike aid stations and cheer in the runners at the finish line in the evening. It’s an incredible testament to the power of the human spirit and a feat of the body and mind. My dad has finished the Lake Placid Ironman six times; my sister, Jane, three times; and my husband, Bill, once. To learn more about the race, click here.

When Bill and I are on vacation, one of the things we love to do is find delicious and nourishing places to eat. With my dairy-free, gluten-free limitation, I have to be selective about where to dine out, but I have become particularly skilled at discerning where to go. I don’t think that being away from home means that we have to sacrifice nourishing ourselves. My goal is to find places that serve delicious and nourishing food. It’s totally possible.

Here is my list of seven spots to dine in Lake Placid, New York!

Green Goddess Natural Foods

Locations: 2051 Saranac Avenue, Lake Placid, NY; 2419 Main Street, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-523-4676, www.GreenGoddessFoods.com
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snack

This is my #1 spot because it’s a cafe and a grocery store. If you consider yourself to be a healthy foodie, then you have to know about this place. Originally located on Saranac Avenue on the way out of Lake Placid, Green Goddess Natural Foods has expanded and recently opened a second location on Main Street.

At both locations, you can build your own smoothie, smoothie bowl, grain bowl, breakfast bowl, and salad. You can also get homemade, cold-pressed juices there, too. The markets have hundreds of gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo, and vegan options including products, soups, baked goods, grab-and-go deli sandwiches and dips, snacks, and even supplements.

I’m a fan of the make-your-own-salad option, and if you get one, I highly recommend including the curried cashews and green goddess tahini dressing (seriously awesome). My husband is a fan of their sandwiches loaded with local ingredients. Local ingredients are one of his main criteria for selecting a local sandwich shop. He’s very picky when searching sub near me!

For a look at the Green Goddess and Scape Cafe menus, click here, and for updates to daily specials, follow them on Instagram.

The Good Bite Kitchen

Location: 2501 Main Street, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-637-2860, www.TheGoodBiteKitchen.com
Meals: Lunch, Snack

It’s easy to pass right by this little gem, but we were stoked to discover it a few years ago. The Good Bite Kitchen is an “inventive vegetarian” cafe with lots of plant-powered, gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan and paleo options. They change out the selection on their chalkboard menu on a daily basis and have everything from soups, salads, sandwiches, and smoothies to grain bowls, zucchini noodle bowls, and sweet treats.

Seating is extremely limited, so depending on what time of day you’re there, you might want to get your order to go and sit by the water to eat your meal. A few of the my favorite meals that I’ve gotten there are the Mung Bean and Zoodle (zucchini noodle) bowl served with a vegan ranch dressing and topped with pumpkin seeds. I’ve also tried a zoodle bowl made with toasted cashews and chickpeas. They always have some combination of a veggie noodle and/or rice bowl loaded with lots of other veggies and something crunchy.

Bill loves the GBK Tomato, which can be prepared as a sandwich or salad, and includes heirloom tomato, balsamic hummus, basil vinaigrette, pickled onions, feta and greens. Follow them on Instagram to keep track of daily specials.

Note: As of this blog post publication, they are open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11a-5p.

Salt of the Earth Bistro

Location: 5956 Sentinel Road, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-523-5956, www.SaltoftheEarthBistro.com
Meals: Dinner

Most of the time, Lake Placid seems like the town that time forgot. Very little changes from year to year, so it’s obvious when a new store or restaurant comes to town. As we were searching on yelp (my go to app for finding dining options), we stumbled upon this farm to table spot. After checking out the menu and seeing icons designating gluten-free and vegan options, I knew we’d found a winner! We went with my parents and everyone loved their meal and the appetizers. There aren’t many high quality dinner spots in Lake Placid, but this is definitely one of them.

We started with an appetizer of onion fritters breaded in chickpea and cauliflower flour and served with an addictive tamarind dipping sauce. Everyone at the table raved about them and the goat cheese stuffed piquillo peppers drizzled with honey and chopped hazelnuts, topped with microgreens. I couldn’t eat the cheese but did manage to snag a bite of a pepper with some honey and hazeluts, and it was delicious. I had eyed up their curried chickpea dish served with cauliflower, red peppers, carrots, plump raisins, and chickpeas atop a bed of turmeric rice. It had a bit of a kick to it, but the flavors were on point. My mom had the special, which included perfectly seared sea scallops on a bed of black quinoa and sautéed spinach served with a beet yogurt sauce.

If you’re looking for a spot for nice night out in Lake Placid or for a place to go for a celebration, I highly recommend Salt of the Earth Bistro.

Big Slide Brewery & Public House

Location: 5686 Cascade Road, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-523-7844, www.BigSlideBrewery.com
Meals: Brunch, Lunch, Dinner, Dessert, Drinks

Another newer addition to the Lake Placid dining scene, Big Slide Brewery received about 4.5 out of 5 stars on yelp, which caught my attention. It’s a great spot for a group and you could easily spend an afternoon there. Their farm-to-table menu that sources ingredients locally had plenty of options for gluten-free, dairy-free and anyone without restrictions, too. Bill and I had a great meal there. I’m not much of a drinker, but their mule served with cranberry maple ginger beer was calling my name, so I got that to start, and it was definitely the right call.

To start, I loved the humor they put into their menu titles. With names like The 40 Year Old Vegan (a vegan pizza), The Yawner (a traditional house salad), What a Fun-gi (mushroom pizza), and Trout It Out (my second choice for an entree!), just reading the menu put me in a good mood. I have an appreciation for puns.

For dinner, I opted for the Thai Cobb Salad (another funny play on words, right?), and Bill had the pork chop entree. My salad was made with julienned carrot, cabbage and jicama; spicy micro greens; tomato; avocado; applewood smoked bacon; peanuts; and a 7-minute egg and was topped with a lime and smoked chili vinaigrette. I wasn’t starving, but if I wanted to amp it up a bit more, I could have added grille chicken. It hit the spot, and I would highly recommend it!

Bill’s entree was a bone-in pork loin chop served with caramelized onion, blueberry and bacon salsa, roasted carrot and spinach lentils and finished with an apple bourbon jus. I don’t think anything else needs to be said other than it was awesome. Like, ridiculously awesome and packed with flavor. We can’t wait to go back to Big Slide Brewery for another mouthwatering meal!

Caffe Rustica

Location: 1936 Saranac Avenue, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-523-7511, www.CaffeRustica.com
Meals: Dinner, Dessert; Closed on Sundays

This place is easy to miss if you’re not aware of it because it is off the main drag and in a shopping center with a Price Chopper grocery store. We first went to Caffe Rustica (yup, it’s spelled differently) a few years ago with family friends who live in the area, and it has become one of our annual dinner destinations since.

I started with a house salad made of mixed greens, poached pears, charred onions, walnuts, and avocado (they let me sub that for cheese) topped with a maple balsamic dressing. What a perfect way to start a meal. I had the fish special, which was a meaty white fish served with a homemade basil marinara sauce and served on top of sautéed broccolini. It was a light meal, great for the hot summer day we were there. I’ve had the salmon before, too, and it is often served with root vegetables and quinoa, so I’d recommend that, too.

Photo credit: Olivia Serafini, Whole Cal, So Cal. Used with permission

After dinner, if you’re looking for something to do, play a round of mini golf at Pirate’s Cove. It’s a fun course. The last time we were there, Bill got four holes in one!

Lake Placid Pub & Brewery

Location: 813 Mirror Lake Drive, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-523- 3813, www.UbuAle.com
Meals: Lunch, Dinner, Drinks

If you want to hit up the beach at Mirror Lake and then walk to lunch or dinner or to grab drinks with friends and family, then the Lake Placid Pub & Brewery is your spot. We went there with a group of almost 20 people last summer after my sister, Jane, did her third Ironman triathlon, so this is a great spot for groups.

Once again, this is another spot that accommodates gluten-free, plant-based diners. All items are prepared in the same kitchen as gluten-containing foods, but they label their menu with a GF symbol to indicate which items are made with gluten-free ingredients. I’ve gotten the hummus starter (lots of crunchy veggies for dipping!) and superfood salad (kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, and mixed greens galore) with salmon on top. My mom loved the salmon bowl with maple and brown sugar glazed salmon served with cilantro lime rice, radishes, cucumbers, scallions and toasted sesame seeds. If you’re gluten-free, ask for a gluten-free sauce / glaze option, as it appears that something in that dish is not gluten-free.

If you’re in the mood for a pizza, burger or sandwich, good news! LP Pub & Brewery offers gluten-free pizza crust and burger buns.

Lisa G’s

Location: 6125 Sentinel Road, Lake Placid, NY
Contact: 518-523-2093, www.LisaGs.com
Meals: Lunch, Dinner, Drinks

This is a popular neighborhood restaurant and bar and tends to get busy around dinner time, especially on weekends. Lisa G’s has something for everyone a menu that labels menu items as “gluten-free” or “vegan,” which is super helpful for someone like me.

Here are a few of the gluten-free options: Lentil Salad with mixed greens, green lentils, carrots, scallions, roasted red peppers, and green olives tossed in a thyme vinaigrette and topped with walnuts and feta. I’d hold the feta and ask for avocado instead, which most restaurants are willing to accommodate. Lisa G’s has a few side dish options that I’d recommend mixing and matching with a protein to build a nourishing, fueling meal, including roasted veggies, sautéed kale, rice pilaf and rice and beans. For entrees, you could try the Sweet Potato Chili and Salmon dishes (ask for a different sauce on the salmon if dairy-free), as both are gluten-free (hold the corn bread for the chili).

If you don’t have any dietary restrictions, you have a broader menu to choose from, including salads, apps, wings, sandwiches, tacos, burritos, and land and see entrees.

And there you have it! Those are my top seven, tried and true dining spots in Lake Placid. Looking for more options? Here are four other spots to check out in town:

  1. The Cottage: 77 Mirror Lake Drive, Lake Placid, NY. The view from the outdoor patio of The Cottage is beautiful, sitting right on Mirror Lake. I’m a fan of their House Salad served with artisanal greens, heirloom cherry tomatoes, roasted butternut squash, sweet and spicy almonds and served with their maple balsamic dressing.
  2. Base Camp Cafe: 2488 Main Street, Lake Placid, NY. Breakfast the other day was a toss up between this place and The Breakfast Club. We didn’t make the right choice (the food and vibe were not so awesome at the Breakfast Club) and wish we’d gone to Base Camp instead. They serve old fashioned oatmeal and have build-your-own omelette or scramble options served up with home fries. They also have all day breakfast bagels that can be made with gluten-free bread instead. Base Camp also serves hot and cold sandwiches and variety of drink options, including a wide selection of specialty lattes.
  3. Top of the Park: 2407 Main Street, Second Floor, Lake Placid, NY. Tapas / small plates restaurant with creative but limited menu and a few vegan and gluten-free options. We haven’t been yet, but this place comes highly recommended by the staff at Green Goddess Natural Foods for the quality of their food and willingness to accommodate different dining preferences.
  4. Liquids & Solids: 6115 Sentinel Road, Lake Placid, NY. If you consider yourself to be a bit of an adventurous eater, check out this spot. Their menu is heavy on animal products and not an ideal spot for plant-based diners. They’re also known for their extensive and ecclectic drink menu.

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. By simply switching up your diet and maybe adding a few supplements (you only want to use trans-pterostilbene if you’re interested in taking brain-boosting supplements), you can give yourself a healthier brain later on in life! 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. We obviously need places like www.starmed.care to have annual checkups and make sure everything is healthy with ourselves but that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to improving your general health through improving the way we treat our brains.

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. People also choose to take supplements to help with inflammation, as CBD helped reduce inflammation in mice and humans alike.

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:

A Letter to My Sister on Motherhood

It was a Monday in September.
“Gym day” at school.
I was in third grade.
Zack and I were dressed in our green sweatsuits that made us look like little lanky string beans.
Mom and dad sent us to the neighbor’s house after school while we waited for the news.
“It’s a girl!”
We jumped up and down and cheered.
We had a little sister!
We drove the hospital and could barely contain our excitement.
We arrived, beaming with joy, and could hardly wait to cradle you in our arms.

Sweet Baby Jane.

I couldn’t get enough of you.
Your tiny fingers and tiny toes.
Your big blue eyes.
You were a special one, a gift, a long-awaited blessing.
About a year before, Zack and I sat dumbfounded at the kitchen table as mom sobbed because she had lost the baby she was carrying.
The little one we’ll never know.
We mourned the loss, not even knowing if the baby was to be a brother or a sister.
And then came you.
A little one whose arrival was an answer to prayer.
I remember singing you to sleep to Colors of the Wind,
Rocking you, holding you, kissing your small round face.
I adored you.
Everyone did.

I look back at gratitude journals from high school.
“I’m grateful for my little sister, Jane” was written on every other page.

You brought so much joy to our lives.
You made us laugh until we cried.
You amazed us with your intellect and maturity.
But you had a secret.
We didn’t know you felt so much pressure to always be funny, always be sweet, always be okay.
We didn’t know you felt so alone, so unknown, and so misunderstood.
We didn’t intend for you to have to hide that pain for so many years.
If only we’d known.
I’m sorry we didn’t know, sweet sister.
I’m sorry you carried that alone.

The Surprise

It’s now 24 years later.
On a Friday night in August.
Bill and I have just finished a game night with you and your boyfriend, Patrick.
We like him. He’s kind. He’s gentle. He’s funny. You suit each other.
We’re sitting on the couch in our basement as you look at us and say,
“Patrick and I have something to share with you guys.”
I pause and glance at your hand.
Engaged?
No ring.

“I’m having a baby in March.”

Time stands still.
I don’t know what to do.
Instead of reacting (my norm), I respond to you with love.
I draw toward you and hug you, holding you tightly, trying to process what you’ve just told us.
You begin to cry.
Both of us do.
“It was a surprise, but we’re excited,” you continue through tears and a smile.
You’ve always been so good with children, so I imagine how you’ll be with one of your own.
You are 10 weeks along but had only known for about three weeks.
Just a few weeks before, you had finished an Ironman triathlon…pregnant.
You are already a fighter, someone who persists in the face of difficulty.
“We’ll figure it out. We’ll be okay,” you assure me, as you wipe away tears from your cheeks.

I want to ask you so many questions.
But they would likely have been condemning and shame-inducing.
And I know there is no place for condemnation or shame in this situation.
Because shame and love cannot coexist, and it’s not my role to judge.
Instead, I tell you about grace and love and compassion.
That all life is a gift.
That I’m glad you are keeping the baby.
That we love you, support you, and are here for you.
We hug again.
I don’t want to let you go.
I pray over your belly and the little one inside.
I pray for protection, peace, health, and strength.
For casting off any feelings of shame, guilt or judgment.
For wisdom about how to tell mom and dad.

The Awakening

I wake up the next morning.
I didn’t sleep well.
I reach out to a few friends to begin to process the news.
One is a pastor and a friend of 15 years.
“It’s normal to grieve the unmet expectations of a life…but then you have to let go.”
I lament how you don’t have a strong community of support, a close network of girlfriends who can rally alongside you during this part of your journey.
Tori reassures me.
“She has you.”


Bill and I spend the morning in the car, driving up to Pennsylvania for his alumni soccer game.
I go to the outlets while he relives his glory days.
Maybe some retail therapy will help.
On the way there, something in me breaks open and pours out.
Something painful.
Something raw.
I sob uncontrollably.
I cry the ugliest of cries.
I wail from the depths of my soul.
I cannot remember a time I have felt so intensely.

As I walk from shop to shop, I feel increasingly numb, listless, overcome with sadness.
I try to hold it together and pull myself together, as I always do.
But every few minutes, I start crying again.
I can’t snap out of it.
The sadness won’t lift.
I call Bill through tears.
I’m supposed to meet him and his buddies post-game at a bar.
“I can’t be around anyone right now. I can’t stop crying.”

I meet him at a restaurant for lunch.
He holds my hand.
Just when I think it’s over, another wave of tears and sadness passes over me.
I wipe away my tears and attempt to eat my lunch.
I’m not hungry, but I need a distraction.
As we drive home, I feel sad, broken, emotionally exhausted.

I had just started seeing a therapist a few weeks prior.
I share the news with her at my next appointment.
I don’t spare any details.
I cry some more.
She listens.

At the following appointment, she checks back with me to see how I’m doing.
“When you left last time, I couldn’t help but think, ‘That’s an awfully strong reaction to someone else’s pregnancy.’”
I sat there in stillness,
Feeling the weight of her words.
“Yes, I think you’re right.”

What if I was actually grieving the unmet expectations of my life?

You see, I’ve always been the career-driven woman, climbing the ladder of success.
I’ve defined myself and found my identity and worth at work.
By society’s standards, I’ve been successful.
But I can’t fight the feeling that something is missing.
That all of my efforts to impress and achieve are empty because they are trying to fill a void that no recognition, promotion or word of praise can fill.
For years, I’ve feared what having a kid would do to my future.
How could I handle my career and a baby?
How could I walk away from opportunities to advance, to be known, to build my platform?

I was blind to the possibility that motherhood could be beautiful and wonderful and fulfilling.
Because I was so wrapped up in the fear that it would destroy all that I thought I wanted.
So I suppressed my desire to be a mother.
For my entire adult life.

I recalled mom telling me she never saw herself as a mom before becoming one.
She didn’t see herself as the nurturing type.
“Maybe I’m not meant to be a mom,” I reasoned.
My body gave me plenty of signals that this might be true.
Half a year of missed menstrual cycles and clinical malnourishment a few years ago.
Sacrificing my immune system and being diagnosed with mono last year.
Monthly cramps that were a recurring source of agony,
A reminder that something was wrong with my body.
I braced myself each month, anticipating the debilitating pain they would bring.

But now, in light of your pregnancy, the cramps took on new meaning for me.
Maybe they were a sign that my body was longing for something I refused to give it, that my empty womb was yearning to be filled.
I began to realize I had never truly opened myself up to a desire buried deep down in my soul that was now being stirred and awakened.
The desire to be a mom.

The Gift

On March 11th, he arrived.
7 pounds, 11 ounces.
With a name that means “strength” in Celtic.
Bryce Allen Wood.

You became a mom.

I went to the hospital to see you and hold this precious little life we’d prayed for months ago.
You courageously made it through a challenging and unexpected turn of events with his delivery.
You were beaming, proud to be a mom, enamored by your sweet baby boy.
It made me happy to see you so happy, so full of life and joy.
You were born to be a mother.
I held his tiny hand, kissed his tiny toes, gazed down at his little round face.

What a gift, what a blessing, what a wonderful surprise.

Nearly two weeks later, it’s a chilly Friday morning, and I awaken from a dream.
I rarely remember my dreams, but this one is unforgettable.
I dream that I am pregnant.
With a little bump under a pale pink shirt.
A symbol of a little girl, perhaps?
“It happened on the first try!” I excitedly tell my friends in the dream.

I place my hand on my lower abdomen right where the bump would be.
I call Bill into the room.
“I had a great dream last night. I was pregnant.”
He hugs me and smiles,
“What a happy dream.”

I’m grateful for you, my sweet, brave sister.
I’m grateful for all the lessons I’m learning from your journey to motherhood.
For the unexpected news you shared with us last summer.
For all that it broke open in me that I have worked so hard to suppress.
For the hope and excitement I now feel as I think about motherhood.
For taking me from fear to the possibility of life and love.
For unlocking my heart and its desire to be a mom.

Love,
Sissy

The Ultimate Guide to the Best Dairy-Free Chocolate Bars

One of the things I love to do on this blog and on social media is give you recommendations for the best products to buy to help you save time (and money!) at the grocery store. I’ve been wanting to write today’s post for years but never took the time to do it, but with Valentine’s Day approaching, I thought now was the perfect time to see what option there are for vegan chocolates, both fancy or novelty chocolate gifts!

I consider myself to be a qualitarian, which is just a fancy term coined by Dr. Mark Hyman that means consuming the highest quality foods and ingredients possible, as often as possible. If you haven’t checked out my food philosophy to learn more about my approach to eating, you can find it here.

When it comes to quality, I’m not just talking about fresh, organic fruits and veggies. Every food counts.

Including chocolate 🙂

That’s why I look for chocolate that has been fairly traded, has a short and simple ingredient list, and is organic (just like the other plant-based foods I consume!). Each of the brands I recommend have dairy-free options and many of their bars are gluten-free. Spoiler alert! Dove, Hershey’s, Lindt, and Ghirardelli aren’t on the list.

It’s time to upgrade your chocolate!

Believe it or not, only 5% of the world’s chocolate is made in a way that respects the humans who grow the beans and environment. Here’s one of my favorite videos from Equal Exchange about why fair trade matters. It’ll open your eyes and give you the nudge you need to upgrade your chocolate the next time you’re at the store.

Supporting a company that exists for a noble purpose, other than just making money, is one of the most important ways you can vote with your dollars. Every decision makes a difference and has the potential to impact the life of someone you may never meet, so buy consciously.

I opt for 70%+ dark chocolate to maximize the health benefits, but start lower if you’re not used to it yet. Your taste buds will adapt! The longer you let the dark chocolate melt in your mouth, the more the enzymes in your mouth activate the sugar in the chocolate to make it taste sweeter and more pleasant.

By the end of today’s post, I bet you’ll have the urge to make a grocery store run and stock up on some chocolate bliss 🙂

Pure Chocolate by Jinji

This is my #1 chocolate choice. Even though it’s mostly truffles and other treats and not mainly bars, I had to include it.

About four years ago, I discovered this gem in the heart of Baltimore and befriended the muse behind the magic, Jinji Fraser. It’s been voted Best Chocolate in Baltimore, so I’m not alone in my love for these raw, vegan chocolates.

I wrote a whole blog post about their chocolate and her story a few years ago, but the good news is that you don’t have to be local to Baltimore to enjoy her bliss-filled treats.

Where to Buy: For a full selection, visit the storefront in Belvedere Square Market. You can also find Jinji chocolate products in stores. Learn more about her Cacao Crossings subscription service to bring them to your home.

Charm School Chocolate

Another Baltimore-based brand that’s making its way around the U.S., this 100% dairy-free, vegan chocolate line includes milk, dark, and while chocolate bars. On their website the meticulous process by which their chocolate is made. It’s clear how much love and intention goes into each batch, from bean to bar. I love how incredibly smooth this chocolate is and how it melts in your mouth and coats your tongue.

Some of their flavors include Vanilla Bean White, Coconut Milk Chocolate, 70% Dark Belize, Vanilla Bean Rice Crisp, and Coconut Milk Chocolate Maple Pecan. Depending on the season, they release limited edition bars like Caramel Malt and Black Sesame.

Where to Buy: Buy them on their website or find where they are sold near you here.

Equal Exchange

A few years ago when I had the opportunity to speak at the WELCOA National Training Summit in Orlando, I did an activity with all of the attendees and invited them to savor a piece of dark chocolate. The company whose chocolate I used was Equal Exchange. This chocolate is some of the smoothest and creamiest out there.

Equal Exchange puts people and the plant before profits and elevates the sourcing of their ingredients. Their organic cacao and sugar are sourced directly from small-scale farmers co-operatives in Latin America.

With flavors like Dark Chocolate Mint, Dark Chocolate Almond, Dark Chocolate Orange, Dark Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt, Dark Chocolate Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper and cacao content ranging from 55% to 88%, there is something for everyone, no matter where you are on the chocolate preference continuum.

Where to Buy: Find them online on their website or in stores. Locally, I’ve found Equal Exchange at MOMs Organic Market, Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Giant.

Alter Eco

These are some of my favorite bars and other chocolate treats. Not only do they have a wide variety of chocolate bars, but they also make decadent truffles and chocolatey clusters.

If the description below doesn’t make you want to try one of their treats, I don’t know what will 🙂

Plucked from organic trees in the Peruvian Amazon and Ecuadorian Coast, our cacao beans journey to the base of the Andes Mountains, where they are transformed into some of the world’s finest cocoa products. The final destination is Switzerland, where expert chocolatiers craft our unique and habit-forming bars and truffles.

Their cacao beans from Ecuador and Peru, and their products are always fair trade, organic, non-GMO and never made with soy lecithin (a common ingredient in chocolate bars that acts as an emulsifier).

Some of their dairy-free options include Dark Salted Almonds, Deep Dark Sea Salt, Super Blackout (90% cacao!), Dark Quinoa, Dark Cacao, Dark Almond, and Dark Mint. All of their chocolate bars (except Dark Salt & Malt), truffles, quinoa pouches, and rice pouches are Gluten-Free Certified.

Where to Buy: Buy them online or use their store locator to find where they are sold near you.

Goodio

I first found out about this company at the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore and fell in LOVE with their Chai flavor. The company was started in Helsinki, Finland by Jukka, who used to work for the gaming company that created Angry Birds. On a quest to optimize his own health, he ditched dairy products and started adding raw cacao and noticed significant changes in how he felt.

Goodio’s cacao is sourced from South American and African farms. What I love is the company’s commitment to sustainability and integrity. As their founder said, “There has to be greater transparency in where our food comes from, how it’s sourced, and how it’s treated.”

I couldn’t agree more!

All of their chocolate bars are vegan and made from raw cacao that is stone ground in Helsinki for three days. Here’s a quick look at their story.

Goodio brings unique flavor combinations through their bars, including Chai (my #1), Ginger and Lemongrass, Wild Blueberry, and Cranmary. They also have some familiar staples like Mint, Coffee, Sea Salt, and 80% dark Peruvian (Nacional), among others.

Where to Buy: Use their store locator to find where they are sold near you. I buy them at MOMs Organic Market in Maryland.

Hu Chocolate

Last summer, Bill and I went to NYC for a long weekend and hit up Hu Kitchen, a paleo restaurant, about three times. We had to grab one of their paleo, vegan chocolate bars while we were there, and I’m glad that we can find them closer to where I live, too.

Their dark chocolate is stone ground organic and fair trade, and it contains NO dairy, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), emulsifiers, soy lecithin, gluten, refined sugar, cane sugar or sugar alcohols.

They have fun flavors (some with punny names), including Why the Fig Nut?, Almond Butter and Puffed Quinoa, Cashew Butter and Vanilla Bean, Salty, Vanilla Quinoa Qrispy, Hazelnut Butter, Crunchy Mint, Crunchy Banana and Simple Dark Chocolate.

Where to Buy: Find them online and in health food stores near you. We buy them locally at MOMs Organic Market.

Eating Evolved

All of their products are certified organic, dairy free, gluten-free, paleo, and vegan, and they don’t contain any additives. They use coconut sugar as their sweetener of choice, which has a lower glycemic effect than other sugars. In addition to selling yummy chocolate products, they also have dozens of free recipes on their site that use them.

They sell dark chocolate bars and coconut butter cups (Caramel Sea Salt, Banana Cream, Mint Cream and Strawberries and Cream) as well as chocolate bars with flavors like 72% Signature Dark, Almond Sea Salt, Crunchy Caramel, Midnight Coconut, Cashew Milk, and Cashew Milk and Almonds. Their recently released Keto Cups (high fat) are likely to be popular, too, considering the popularity of that trend. If you would like to learn more about the keto diet and how you can introduce it to your life, then you may want to have a look at the best keto diet pills to get you started.

Where to Buy: Find them online and in stores like MOMs Organic Market and Whole Foods Market, or use their store locator to find them where you live.

Salazon Chocolate Co.

With Jinji, Charm School and Salazon Chocolates all originating within a half hour of where I live, I feel like one lucky woman 🙂 Fortunately, you don’t have to live in Baltimore to buy their products!

Salazon’s 100% USDA organic, Fair Trade certified, Hispaniola cacao beans sourced from CONACADO, a democratically run cooperative of small-scale producers in the Dominican Republic. These farmers grow their cacao using sustainable practices and put great care into their work.

These bars are gluten-free but are made in a facility that also handles peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy and milk, so if you are super sensitive, be aware of that. All of the bars are vegan except for the Sea Salt & Caramel Bar. Here’s a peek at some of their flavors: 57% Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt; with Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar; with Sea Salt and Black Pepper; with Sea Salt and Coffee. 72% Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt & Almonds, with Sea Salt and Coconut; with Sea Salt and Cayenne; with Sea Salt; with Sea Salt & Orange Zest.

They recently rebranded, so be on the lookout for their new packaging the next time you need a chocolate fix.

Where to Buy: Buy them online or find them near you using their store locator.

Theo

Theo’s model is based on a core idea – chocolate can be made in a way that allows everyone in the bean to bar process to thrive.

Now that’s the kind of company I want to support. Theo was the first organic, fair trade certified chocolate maker in North America, and they remain committed to pushing the industry forward today. To learn more about what makes Theo different, click here.

A few of their gluten-free, dairy-free options include: Black Rice Quinoa Crunch 85% Dark, Coconut 70% Dark, Raspberry 70% Dark, Salted Almond 70% Dark, and Ginger 70% Dark. I also love their Salted Dark Chocolate Almond Butter and Peanut Butter Cups, which are vegan as well.

Where to Buy: Online on the Theo website and in stores like MOMs Organic Market, Whole Foods, Wegmans, Giant, and other natural food stores.

Divine

Divine Chocolate is co-owned by the 85,000 farmer members of Kuapa Kokoo, the cooperative in Ghana that supplies the cocoa for each bar of Divine. As owners, they get a share in the profits, a say in the company, and a voice in the global marketplace.

Flavors include 85% Dark Chocolate, 70% Dark Chocolate and Mint Dark Chocolate; Dark Chocolate with Pink Himalayan Salt; Dark Chocolate with Toffee and Sea Salt; 70% Dark Chocolate with Raspberries; Dark Chocolate with Hazelnut Truffle; 70% Dark Chocolate with Ginger and Orange; Dark Chocolate with Almonds; Dark Chocolate with Mango and Coconut; Dark Chocolate with Almonds and Raisins; Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts and Cranberries.

Where to Buy: On their website, Whole Foods Market, Amazon, Walgreens, Giant, and some Target stores.

Endangered Species

If you care deeply about the environment, especially about wild life, you may want to switch your chocolate to this company.

10% of our net profits are donated annually to current 10% GiveBack Partners; each is guaranteed a minimum annual donation of $10,000 and is free to use the funds on projects they deem most important. With over $1.3 million generated in the past three years alone, each chocolate purchase adds up to big support that helps wildlife thrive.

They are the first American-made chocolate using fully traceable fair trade beans from West Africa.

Here are a few of their dark chocolate flavors: Sea Salt and Almonds; Forest Mint; Peppermint Crunch, Lemon Poppy Seed; Cinnamon, Cayenne and Cherries; Cacao Nibs; and 72% Dark Chocolate.

Where to Buy: Buy them at one of these online retailers or at MOMs Organic Market, Giant, Wegmans, Whole Foods, and other natural food stores.

Green & Black

“Green symbolizes our commitment to always sourcing ethical cocoa. Black stands for our high quality and the delicious intensity of our chocolate.”

This company’s new signature Pure Dark Chocolates are sourced through Cocoa Life, a holistic, third-party verified cocoa sustainability program, that will invest over $400 million by 2022 to empower over 200,000 cacao farmers.

Their organic flavors include Mint Dark Chocolate, Hazelnut and Currant Dark Chocolate, Ginger Dark Chocolate, Maya Gold Dark Chocolate, and 70-85% Cacao Dark Chocolate.

Where to Buy: Find them online and in stores like MOMs Organic Market, Whole Foods, Wegmans, and Giant.

And this last one doesn’t align with the fair trade model (as far as I know), so it’s not one of my personal top pics, but it is an option for diabetics because it has zero impact on blood sugar 🙂

Lakanto Chocolate

If you or someone you know struggles with blood sugar control or are consuming no added sugar in your diet, the monk fruit and erythritol-sweetened chocolate from Lakanto could be an option for you. It’s diabetic-friendly because it scores zero on the glycemic index due to its combination of sugar-free sweeteners. This chocolate is also vegan, gluten-free, keto, and paleo-friendly! This will please many of the Keto fans out there, as would reading these Ketogenic Supplement Reviews!

I’m confirming the sourcing of their beans (whether they meet the same standards as the bars above!), but for someone who wants chocolate without the impact of sugar, give these bars a try. The three varieties are 55% chocolate plain, with almonds and with cacao nibs.

Where to Buy: Find them online.

Aaaand that’s a wrap, my friends! This post was a labor of love, so I hope it helps you and those you love upgrade your chocolate to the best you can buy. Feel free to leave a comment below about your favorites and about any that I may be missing and should consider.

I’m Into It! Grainful, Chickpea Croutons & Yoga with Adriene

I started this “I’m Into It” series back in the summer, and I’ve gotten great feedback from you about it, so thanks for taking the time to let me know what you think! With all the rage about Instant Pot these days (especially post-Black Friday and Cyber Monday), make sure you check out my last post in the series about my favorite Instant Pot recipes.

Today, we’re going to be looking at one of my favorite frozen meal options, what I use to add some crunch and protein to just about every salad I make, and take a look at my #1 channel on YouTube for at-home yoga classes. I hope you learn something that inspires you to take action and try one of these!

Grainful

I found out about these guys at the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore in September. I almost missed their booth because it was off the beaten path, but I’m so glad I stopped by. Grainful puts a savory spin on a breakfast favorite…steel cut oats!

Most of us don’t think that oats can be used for anything but oatmeal, but we’re selling them short when we think that way.

Grainful products are chef-inspired frozen entrees and meal kits made with 100% whole grain steel cut oats. They are certified gluten-free, non-GMO (not genetically modified), high in fiber and protein, and made with REAL ingredients. Many of them are vegan or vegetarian, too.

Most frozen meals have an ingredient list as long as your arm, but what I love about Grainful products is that I recognize everything on the ingredient list. Take my favorite meal they make – Tuscan Bean and Kale. Here’s the ingredient list:

Water, Kidney Beans, Garbanzo Beans, 100% Whole Grain Steel Cut Oats, Tomatoes, Kale, Tomato Paste, Onions, Garlic, Tomato Flakes, Olive Oil, Salt, Spices (Granulated Garlic, Parsley, Oregano, Basil).

That’s what the ingredients would look like if I were to make that dish at home, which is exactly how it should be. We don’t have to sacrifice quality just because we’re not making it ourselves.

Buy It: You can find Grainful products near you by using this store locator. Where I live (Baltimore area), you can find their products (frozen case and in the natural food aisle) at ShopRite, Safeway, Giant and Wegmans.

Biena Snacks

Over the past few years, roasted chickpeas have become a pantry staple for us. They are a good source of fiber and protein, make a great substitute for the crunch of croutons on a salad, and are a filling snack. I’ve even added them to trail mix for a protein boost and a hint of salt.

I love knowing the stories behind the companies I support, and Biena’s is worth sharing!

Biena started with Poorvi Patodia. While pregnant, she was searching for a healthier way to satisfy her snack cravings. Inspired by a favorite childhood snack, she started experimenting with roasted chickpeas in her own kitchen, developing a unique way to roast chickpeas to make them light and crispy, yet still maintain the protein, fiber and nutrients of a whole chickpea. Poorvi launched Biena in 2012, at a time when the trend around plant-protein snacks was still in it’s infancy.

They have a ton of flavors, but I’d say the Sea Salt and Rockin’ Ranch are my favorites. Both are vegan, too!

Buy It: Find Biena Snacks near you by using their store locator. For all of my local peeps in Baltimore, you can find them at Target, Giant, and CVS.

Yoga with Adriene

If I lived in Austin, Texas, I would want to hang out with this woman ALL THE TIME. I’ve been using her yoga videos for the past three years for my at-home practice. She posts hundreds of FREE videos on YouTube, and with 2.8 million subscribers, she clearly has a huge fan club.

My favorite series (so far!) is 30 Days of Yoga, but she has others like Morning Yoga, Yoga for Digestion, Yoga for Beginners, Yoga on the Road, and even Yoga for Anxiety.

If you’re looking for an easy way to move more without having to leave the comfort of your home, you have to check out her videos. You could even go through a series with a friend, so if any of you want to start one of her series and want me to partner with you, so we can hold each other accountable, let me know!

Try It: To subscribe to Adriene’s channel and check out all of her free yoga videos, click here.

There you have it, my friends! Those are just a few of the things I’m “into” at the moment.

What about you? Have you tried any new recipes or products that you think I should know about? Feel free to email me or leave a comment below!

With a whole lot of love and gratitude for YOU,

Rachel

How I Recovered from Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV)

*The information in this article reflects my personal EBV journey. It is not intended to be medical advice, and I am not a health care practitioner, so I cannot advise on clinical recommendations. For those, please contact Kasia Kines (linked below) or a functional medicine practitioner.

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.

Sending love and light to all of you!

*The information contained in this article reflects my personal EBV journey. It is not intended to be medical advice, and I am not a health care practitioner, so I cannot advise on clinical recommendations. For those, please contact Kasia Kines (linked below) or a functional medicine practitioner.

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!

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