My hubby and I are invited to a holiday party tonight and my friend asked me to bring a “healthy but yummy Sara” dessert. So I decided to come up with a new recipe! I used my ‘formula’ for flax muffins – and took it the chocolate peppermint route. They turned out delish!!
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Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.
©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.
These “better for you” banana muffins are easy to make and instead of being full of white flour, they use ground flax seed*, which is rich in ALA omega 3s. They are high in protein due to the eggs and nut butter, and have way less sugar than most muffins.
Optional additions (fold these in later after mixing together the above):
Omega 3 fats are delicate. Make sure to buy cold pressed ground flax and store it in your refrigerator to prevent oxidation.
Note – if you are used to super sweet muffins – these might not taste sweet enough at first – but once you get used to eating less sugar – these will taste plenty sweet enough! It takes time to adjust your taste buds to enjoying less sweet foods.
I love the Fall – the leaves are changing, there is a bit of a chill in the air, and we get to pull out the sweaters. But perhaps one of my favorite things about the Fall – is pumpkin!
Pumpkin is a member of the winter squash family – an excellent source of fiber, which supports a healthy digestive system. The deep orange color of the pumpkin flesh tells us that it is a rich source of beta carotene (vitamin A) – which is important for healthy eyes, and boosts the immune system too (important this time of year).
Growing up, it just never quite feel like Fall until my mom made a batch of her pumpkin bread. Moist, delicious, pumkin-y and fragrant with spices. But her recipe was made with white flour, lots of sugar, and vegetable oil (the recipe actually calls for ‘salad oil’). So I decided to reinvent her pumpkin bread into these delicious grain free anti-inflammatory pumpkin mini muffins – with healthy coconut oil replacing the ‘salad oil’, ground flax and coconut flour in place of the white flour, and waaaay less sugar. Plus, these are also nut free for my friends that can’t have nuts.
The plethora of spices in these muffins fill the kitchen with the scent of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves while they bake.
Mini Pumpkin Flax Muffins
Makes about 24 mini muffins.
Serve & enjoy! These are extra yummy with a little grass fed butter on them.
I had a big bunch of mint and a fresh pineapple, and some coconut in the freezer – so this morning I whipped up this pineapple mint smoothie – it was absolutely delicious and refreshing, it made me feel like I was in the tropics!! Pineapple, mint, coconut and chia seeds all support healthy hydration and digestion. I think this will be a new staple for Summer/Spring for me, and I hope for you too. This recipe is dairy-free, vegan and gluten free.
Put the coconut water and chia seeds into the blender – allow to soak. Add in the rest of the ingredients and blend to combine. Add in a handful (or whatever amount desired) of ice cubes and blend. Serve immediately!
*Note: If you are prone to getting canker sores from pineapple, you might want to substitute mango for the pineapple in the smoothie recipe.
Save your pineapple core in the refrigerator or freezer – I am posting a recipe tomorrow that will make use of the core!
A few years ago, I used to be a wheat-loving gal. I pretty much sustained myself on it – most mornings I would have a high fiber cereal for breakfast, a sandwich on whole wheat for lunch, pretzels for a snack, and quite often pasta for dinner.
After years of trying to figure out what was causing my laundry list of health complaints (joint & muscle aches, foggy brain, thyroid issues, fatigue, general puffiness, etc), I finally found significant relief by giving up gluten and wheat, and increasing my intake of inflammation-lowering omega 3s. Although the transition was not easy initially (what change is easy??)…now, I can’t imagine eating that way anymore! Instead of cereal I usually start my day with a superfood smoothie with energy and mood-boosting chia seeds, I have salads or soups instead of sandwiches, and zucchini pasta in place of regular pasta.
But I will admit, there are a few things that I do miss…and I know this might sound like a weird thing to be longing for, but I used to love me a good raisin bran muffin! And for some odd reason, this morning, I had a hankering for one!
When I realized that I had a bag of ground flax in the fridge, some organic eggs, virgin coconut oil and coconut palm sugar – I decided to see if I could whip something up that resembled my beloved bran muffin. And guess what? They turned out great*, I’d say better than regular bran muffins!! And best of all – because these are made with flax – they are inflammation-lowering and high in brain and mood boosting omega 3s!
Raisin “Bran” Muffins – made with flax (free of wheat, gluten & grains)
*Boy, do I love it when my kitchen experiments come out great the first time (because let me tell you – I have had more than my share of missteps – especially when it comes to baked goods)!!
You know the feeling that you get when you are nervous? Like there are butterflies in your stomach? Have you ever had that “sinking feeling” in your gut after you made a big mistake? Sometimes we have those “gut reactions” to situations – where we can’t really explain it, but we just feel like something seems amiss. It is totally normal to experience some nervousness, anxiety, fear, and even panic occasionally. In fact – we should learn to listen to our gut, because sometimes, our gut feelings can guide us in ways that our brain can’t.
But what about when these feelings start to become chronic, overwhelming, and negatively affect someone’s life?
Whenever someone tells me that they have a lot of anxiety or a related mood disorder – my first question is “how is your digestion?” The typical response is, “terrible – but what do my digestive issues have to do with my anxiety?” It is all about the second brain.
Our Second Brain
Our gut and our brains are connected so closely that Dr. Michael Gershon coined our gut “the second brain”. Lined with a complex and extensive set of neurons, called the enteric nervous system, “gut reaction” helps to explain what our second brain does – it guides our feelings, moods, certain behaviors, and reactions.
Our enteric nervous system/gut is responsible for manufacturing important neurotransmitters that play a role in our mood and brain function. So when there has been a gut imbalance or a leaky gut, there often can be mood imbalances and neurological manifestations, because the gut is no longer able to effectively absorb nutrients or convert them into these important brain chemicals. For example, over 90% of our serotonin, often referred to as “the happiness hormone,” is found in our guts. Low serotonin can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mood imbalances. Other neurotransmitters that can be involved in anxiety include GABA, dopamine, and epinephrine. So you can see how gut issues can affect our emotions.
Digestive Issues Very Common
The trouble is – gut imbalances are rampant – 1 in 5 Americans regularly suffers from digestive complaints. They are so common that we often just suffer through them, thinking that is just “normal” for us, and that there is nothing that we can do. But it is important to not ignore digestive issues because the gut is the foundation of our health. If allowed to continue, gut health issues can develop into other problems – affecting the brain, mood, joints, skin, thyroid, immune system, and more.
Digestive troubles over time can lead to poor absorption, which can develop into nutrient deficiencies, imbalances in neurotransmitters and amino acids – all of which can drive depression, anxiety, mood disorders; and other problems like ADHD and even addictions.
Although this may not work for everyone, there are a number of things to try if your second brain is causing you anxiety:
Heal the root cause, the gut:
Get some relief from the symptoms:
Until the gut is healed, it might not be effectively making neurotransmitters, which can cause someone to feel imbalanced, unfocused and anxious. Often, this is one reason that can drive people to abuse drugs and alcohol – they are trying to correct or self-medicate these imbalances. It is possible to test the neurotransmitters and take supplements that can help the body to produce more of the depleted neurotransmitters to feel more balanced.
The Gut & the Immune System
The gut is also the foundation of the immune system, so someone that frequently gets colds or infections, might want to look at improving their gut health to boost their immune system. One food that heals the gut and boosts the immune system is organic bone broth – so there is truth to the Old Wives Tale that chicken soup heals a cold (also helps to prevent one too).
This is a very in-depth topic. If you are interested in learning more about how the gut affects the brain, mood, and other areas of health, here are some additional articles:
Our gut is the foundation of our health. As Hippocrates so wisely said over 2,000 years ago:
“All disease begins in the gut.”
Please note: If you are experiencing extreme stress, anxiety or overwhelm – please seek out help from a mental health practitioner right away. The national Suicide Hotline can help you to find the necessary resources if you are in a mental health crisis: 1-800-273-8255.
The other day I drove into a Rancho Santa Fe gas station, and just as I was about to jump out to go pump my gas, the nice attendant came up and asked me “I’d be happy to pump your gas for you. Premium fuel today?” Yes, please, I respond and get back in the drivers seat. “Wow, they have good service at this gas station,” I say to my son. I glance back at the pump and notice that they also have 100 octane fuel, I had never seen that before, and boy is it expensive – over $6 a gallon! I think to myself, that must be the super premium fuel for all those Ferrari’s and other high performance cars that you see zipping around Rancho Santa Fe all the time. It stands to reason that the higher performance car you have, the higher quality of fuel it needs.
That stop at the Rancho Santa Fe gas station got me thinking about sports nutrition. Athletes are kind of like high performance cars. Just as we expect sports cars to perform better than an average car, athletes put higher demands on their body and seek superior performance. Putting the wrong gas into a Ferrari can mean lower performance, and overtime could land it in the shop for repairs or even create damage to the motor/inner workings. The same is true for young athletes – if they are choosing lots of junk food, they might not end up with optimal performance, or over time could end up with chronic inflammation and be plagued with injuries.
Endurance and elite athletes burn a significant amount of calories, so they can and need to regularly eat a lot of calories to replenish their energy reserves. But just because they can polish off a box of donuts or a large soda and a couple 20 piece nuggets and still not gain weight, does not mean that they should. Just like a Ferrari, athletes should consider putting in the best possible fuel if they want peak performance.
Because of the extra demands they put on their bodies, it is important for athletes to consume a diet rich in plant-based foods, high quality (ideally grass-fed) protein sources, plenty of healthy fats, and limit nutrient-deficient and inflammation-causing foods (foods that contain a lot of sugar, trans fats, or too many omega 6 fats – found in vegetable oils, soy oils, etc).
One of the best foods an athlete can add to their training regime are superfoods. Superfoods are highly nutrient dense foods that provide an abundance of nutrition and can potentially improve performance and overall health…kind of like “super premium” fuel.
At the top of my list of functional foods for athletes are these 15 superfoods.
15 Superfoods for Peak Performance:
Usually if something sounds too good to be true – it is. Except in this case!!
This superfood version of chocolate mousse is dairy free and 100% guilt free!! It is also rich in fiber, omega 3s, magnesium, has no sugar and whips up in minutes! I know, hard to believe – but all true! It is a rich and creamy delicious chocolatty delight!! And unlike other chocolate mousses, this one will not spike your bloodsugar. It will fill you up, and keep your hunger hormones in control and keep you satisfied for hours!
* The ice cubes are primarily to chill the mousse, you can omit if you are making it and not eating it right away. Put into the refrigerator to chill.
Note – this recipe requires a Vitamix blender that has a “tamper” – the tool that helps to process thicker recipes, stirring ingredients and removing air pockets in the blender.
Put into a container in the refrigerator, or pour into a dish and enjoy. This can make 1 large serving, or two small ones.
This is a Perfect Metabolism program recipe!
Read Cuckoo for Coconut oil to learn more about the health benefits of coconut oil.
To me, it is just not Fall until I get my first taste of pumpkin. But sometimes I just crave that pumpkin taste, and I don’t have the time to bake muffins or bread. And just say no to those pumpkin spice lattes – they have almost 50 grams of sugar!
Enter the Pumpkin Cacao Chip Superfood Smoothie!!
This delicious smoothie literally tastes like a pumpkin pie in a glass…but unlike pumpkin pie – you will not need to lay on the couch and unbutton the pants and take a nap after eating it, this smoothie has chia seeds to provide lasting energy, and improve focus, attention, and mood – it is one of the favorites from my Perfect Metabolism program.
Download Sara’s free Cooking with Superfoods eBook for some more delicious and nutritious recipes!
There are some very common misconceptions about what foods and substances really are healthy for our hearts. Here are five heart health myths…busted!
1. Myth: fat free diets are heart healthy:
In the past couple of decades, if you were diagnosed with heart disease, your doctor probably put you on a “heart healthy” low fat diet. But new evidence is revealing this could possibly be the worst possible diet for our hearts! Research from respected institutions like Harvard show that low fat diets may actually raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes (read more here).
Low fat foods make us hungry! Getting enough of the right kind of dietary fat is critical for controlling our hunger hormones – so if you are not getting enough healthy fats in your diet – you are likely going to be hungry all of the time, which can lead to overeating and weight gain, which as we all know, is bad for our hearts. Healthy fats also help to keep our bloodsugar in balance, which is important because blood sugar spikes over a period of time can lead to a condition called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes it more difficult to lose weight, and can lead to pre-diabetes, diabetes, and an increased risk of heart disease. Also, post-meal glucose spikes are very dangerous for our hearts (read more). In addition to the 26 million Americans with diabetes, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that more than a third of the general population is now pre-diabetic. Knowing your blood sugar levels is very important, as high blood sugar is quickly becoming one of the leading preventable causes of sudden death in the United States.
A multi-billion dollar industry was born from the erroneous concept that fats are bad for us, and for over a decade, consumers dutifully have bought low and reduced fat foods at the grocery store thinking that they were doing a good thing for their health. But many low fat foods are significantly worse for us than the regular ones. Take Reduced Fat Peanut butter for example. The company website claims that it only contains 60% peanuts – like that is a good thing. But if I am buying peanut butter – I want there to be peanuts in there, we have to ask ourselves, what comprises the other 40% in the jar? if you read the label, you will find out what makes up the other 40% is not good for our hearts or any part of our bodies – corn syrup solids, sugar, soy protein, and hydrogenated vegetable oils. So instead of the healthier fats from the actual real peanuts, we are getting “fake fats,” added sugars, genetically modified soy, and GMO corn syrup solids. So I can say without a doubt – that all “reduced fat” foods are not healthier for you. I recommend buying a natural peanut butter, or even better – upgrade to a product like NuttZo – which is a blend of 7 different nuts and seeds, and is a good source of heart protective omega 3 fatty acids. NuttZo contains no added sugar or anything else we don’t need in nut butters.
What do we want to avoid like the plague? Sugar. A study found that drinking just 1 sweetened beverage a day was associated with a 20% increase in heart disease in men (read more).
2. Myth: Saturated fat is bad for your heart.
So what kind of fat is good for us, and which kind is bad? For years we have been taught that saturated fats are bad, and polyunsaturated fats are good for us. Again, this is completely wrong!! I tell all of my clients to get rid of the margarine, corn oils, soy oil, and vegetable oils. So many of us have been dutifully buying margarine in the stores – because we thought it was healthier for us than butter. This is completely false. The benefits that saturated fats offer, are they are more stable, so they are less likely to become damaged, or oxidized – and it is the oxidized or damaged fats/cholesterol that is dangerous, causing the free radicals that leads to disease.
Some saturated fats are actually recommended and have been shown to greatly benefit the heart – like coconut oil. Coconut oil is comprised of medium chain fatty acids, which are more quickly and easily converted into energy – so they are less likely to be stored as fat. Coconut oils are also rich in lauric acid, which has been shown to lower cholesterol, lower our risk of cancer, and benefit the heart. In fact, research shows that these are better for your heart than margarine and polyunsaturated oils. Read: Saturated Fats Are Good for You to learn more about how saturated fats can be better for our heart health. Another saturated fat that is also a good choice is organic or grass fed butter. I always recommend choosing organic or free range for ALL animal proteins – as they are higher in omega 3s (reduces inflammation – important for our hearts and overall health), will not contain antibiotics (80% of the U.S. antibiotics are fed to livestock), and reduce inflammation.
The other issue with margarine, is that it contains a hefty serving of trans fats – largely a man-made fat – the worst kind of fat. Trans fats are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oils, making the oil more solid and less likely to spoil. This process is called hydrogenation or partial hydrogenation and allows stick margarine to be firm at room temperature. Trans fats have been shown to increase LDL cholesterol, and they tend to lower the HDL cholesterol. Trans fats also may make our blood platelets stickier, which is a definite bad situation for our heart health. Just one tablespoon of stick margarine can pack a whopping 3 grams of trans fat. So pitch out the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, and buy some good ‘ole real butter again (but make sure to choose organic or grass fed).
3. Myth: Eggs raise your cholesterol and so we should avoid them. Many people believe that eggs, and foods with cholesterol raises blood cholesterol and heart disease risk. But half of all heart attacks occur in people with normal cholesterol (read article). Don’t worry about dietary cholesterol – eat your eggs! According to research out of Harvard, eggs – even though they contain cholesterol do not raise blood cholesterol for 60% of the population. For the other 30% for whom eggs did raise blood cholesterol, it raised both the LDL and HDL (it did not change the ratio – most important) and at the same time it reduced the oxidation of the LDL cholesterol – oxidation is the reason why LDL is bad for us. But buy organic eggs – they are higher in omega 3 fatty acids and so they are better for our health & our hearts.
In fact, there is a considerable amount of research to show that high cholesterol is NOT an accurate predictor of heart health. Read the book The Great Cholesterol Myth, Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease, written by Dr. Steven Sinatra (a heart surgeon with over 25 years of experience), and Dr. Johnny Bowden, the “Rogue Nutritionist.” The Great Cholesterol Myth says the real culprits of heart disease are:
Lastly, we need to understand that cholesterol is a very important hormone. It is the mother of all hormones – and without sufficient cholesterol, our body can’t effectively manufacture all the other hormones, which can lead to low testosterone levels in men, among other things. It also has been linked to increased rates of Alzhemiers and dementia – because our brain needs cholesterol for proper brain cell function.
4. Myth: Foods Labeled “Trans-Fat Free” are heart healthy:
There is one thing that pretty much everyone agrees on – that trans fats are the worst kind of fats we can eat for our hearts and our overall health. So we want to avoid eating any foods that contain even trace amounts of trans fats. But – just because the label says “trans fat free,” does not mean that it contains ZERO trans fats!! As long as a food has less than .5 trans fats per serving, it can say trans fats free, but it still can contain trans fats. And because trans fats prolong the shelf life of packaged foods, they are found in lots of packaged and processed good – like cookies and cakes. These are the kind of foods that we tend to eat multiple servings of – so even if they only contain trace amounts of trans fats, those can add up very quickly. Plus, any food that has a label on it – is probably processed. So the less foods you eat with labels and marketing claims, the better for your heart health. But we are all busy, so we will occasionally want to eat something from a package, so it is important to learn how to find Trans Fats on labels (hint – most margarines, certain vegetable oils and many packaged/ processed foods contain them). Just know, the less packaged and processed our diets are – the better for our overall health.
5. Myth: Heart Disease only affects the middle aged.
Diseases that we once considered to only hit in middle age, are starting to show up in kids. Once called “adult-onset” diabetes, it is now referred to as Type 2 diabetes – because it is appearing long before adulthood now. New research shows that heart damage is beginning very early in life. And because of poor lifestyle and diet choices – the disease can accelerate quickly. Teenagers are increasingly showing evidence of heart disease and even having heart attacks. Developing good lifestyle choices should begin as early as possible – waiting until middle age to think about our heart health might end up to be too late. One of the key foods to encourage kids to limit is sugar – especially sugary drinks like sodas. Drinking just 1 sugar sweetened soda per day was shown to raise a man’s risk of heart attack by over 30%. Eating too many sweets or even carbs/grains causes spikes in bloodsugar – leading to a condition called insulin resistance – read this study. Another food group to not overconsume is simple carbs – foods like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, Wonder Bread and other simple carbs are very quickly converted to the body into sugars, and they offer no nutritional value, and create inflammation in the body – a key marker for heart disease and many other diseases.
The best predictor for future heart disease in children is their waist circumference, read this article for more info. Having belly fat is an indication that there could be fat forming around the organs, and this fat is far more dangerous for the heart than any other type of fat. This New York Times article tells us how we can prevent heart disease in our children.
© copyright 2017 Sara Vance