Leek and Mushroom Lentil Soup

It's the same thing every year. After a few days of warm, sunny weather, I convince myself that spring is here to stay, optimistically stuff my winter coats away, switch out my boots for ballet flats and pull out my sunglasses. Without fail, within the same week winter comes back and slaps some sense into me with another cold spell. Or at least it did last week.

Cooking a warm, hearty soup was the only way to cheer myself up again. This one is chock full of meaty mushroms and protein-packed lentils and I promise it tastes 1,000x better than any canned soup from the store. Plus you can control the amount of sodium yourself. If you're new to soup making, don't worry. It's actually easy as can be. There are basically two steps: You sautee stuff then add liquid and lentils and let everything simmer. The end. 

Besides being simple to prepare, this meal is great for you and lentils* are kind of the star:
  • Low in sodium compared to most canned soups. 
  • Filled with protein from the lentils that helps build strong muscles (18 grams per cup cooked lentils)
  • Lentils are also a great source of soluble fiber (16 grams per cup cooked lentils), which helps lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar (prevent spikes that cause insulin production and activation of fat storage) and makes sure you won't be hungry again in 15 minutes. High-fiber diets are also associated with lower risk of cancer and heart disease
  • Lentils also provide a great source of iron (1 cup = 37% RDV), which helps transport oxygen to the body and brain and is critical in red blood cell production. Getting enough iron is especially important for women as we are required to produce new red blood cells once a month.
  • Lentils also give you a boost of manganese, which is essential for wound healing, peak brain function and proper metabolism of sugars, insulin and cholesterol! 1 cup of cooked lentils will give you almost 50% of your RVD. 
  • Leeks and carrots are packed with carotenoids, which have a range of benefits, but are most celebrated for boosting eye health.
*click for nutrition data


Sugar-Detox Meal Plan: Week #4

We're almost starting week four! Can you believe it? I don't know about you, but everytime I go grocery shopping, I feel so good knowing that all those fresh fruits and veggies are going into my body. No junk, just real food.

I hope everyone is enjoying their newfound energy and has discovered at least one or two new delicious, nutrition-dense recipes. Don't let yourself get stuck in a rut, cooking the same thing night after night. This is the perfect time to experiment in the kitchen!

I know the novelty of a new challenge can start to wear off. To keep motivation levels up, you have to treat yourself every once in a while. Cutting out processed sugar does NOT mean you can't have dessert. The recipe below for coffee coconut cheese cake is completely free of processed sugar and absolutely delicious! Enjoy! 


Waldorf Chicken Salad in Lettuce Wraps

Sesame Carrot-Cabbage Fritters with Pan-Fried Shrimp

*If I'm feeling truely lazy, I don't even both making burritos. I just toss everything in a bowl, cut the seaweed into bite-sized pieces and call it a salad!

**Make the eggplant and carmalized onions from this recipe and throw them on an arrugala salad with some goat cheese and toasted pinenuts. For the dressing, mix together 4-5 T. balsalmic vinegar, 4-5 T. olive oil, 1-2 tsp. mustard (or 1/8 tsp. mustard powder), 1 crushed garlic clove, and salt and pepper to taste. 
Banana Nut Breakfast Bars*

Cottage Cheese with Pineapple, Tangerine and Sliced Almonds

Tropical Green Smoothie

* replace regular flour with almond flour

Recipes from other bloggers


Sesame Carrot-Cabbage Pancake

 The recipe is loosely based on a savory Japanese pancake called Okonomiyaki, but I've added a lot of the same flavors that go into phad thai. It's almost like a frittata, but less eggy.The result is a delicious and surprisingly complex combination of flavors! I serve it either with pan-fried shrimp or alone as a light lunch, side or snack. 

It's a fantastic to-go recipe for those nights when you want to put as little thought and energy into cooking as possible. It comes together in less than 20 minutes and you probably already have everything you need for it. I can't be the only one who almost always has a head of cabbage and some carrots hanging out in my fridge. I buy them once and a month later they are still there, waiting to be used. Plus it's one of those recipes that you can dress up or down. There are tons of extras you can add to make it fancy (sesame seeds, peanuts, cilantro, etc.), but its just as good when you keep things simple.

All you have to do is sautee the veggies with some soy sauce, chili flakes and garlic. When I want to go all out, I toss in a little fish sauce, dried shrimp and picked ginger for an added kick. Then pour whisked eggs into the pan, quickly stir to combine and cook it like a frittata! It's fast as could be!

 Added bonus: You can feel good about eating this! Cabbage is a low-fat, low-calorie, fiber-rich food, which contains calcium (bone health), magnesium and potassium (prevent muscle cramping/maintain excitability of nerves and muscles), vitamin C (boost immune system/growth and repair of cells) as well as the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin (eye health). But what cabbage is really known for in the nutrition world is its cancer-fighting properties. The phytochemicals called indoles in cabbage influence estrogen metabolism in a way that helps reduce the risk of cancer. They also contains lots of dithiolethiones, isothiocynates and sulforaphane that help disarm free-radicals and fight cancer.
The carrots are pulling their weight too. Like cabbage, they are excellent for your eyes thanks to the carotenoids lutein, zeaxanthin and a few others you might have heard of like beta-carotene and alphacarotene. High intake of the carotenoids are associated with a decrease of up to 50 percent in a number of different cancers. Read more here.


Sugar-Detox Meal Plan: Week #3

Ten whole days without processed sugar! This is an amazing milestone and something to be extremely proud of in itself. And the good news is the worst is over. The initial physical sugar cravings, headaches, lack of energy and other withdrawal symptoms should start to disappear over the next week if they have not already.

Moreover, this week you should really start to notice some of the benefits this diet offers. You should find yourself awake in the mornings without the help of caffeine and notice your energy levels stabilize throughout the day. You may even start to see improvements in your skin, hair and general appearance. I know I've seen my skin start to calm down over the last few days. 

If you are still having trouble getting a hang of this new diet, I put together a list of tips to help you stay on track and succeed here. One of the MOST common problems I hear about is people struggling to eating enough and then making poor decisions. Please, please make sure you are getting enough calories each day. Make sure you are eating a good breakfast and snacking in between meals. I hope the recipes below give you some ideas as to what to put in your tummy, but keep in mind not every meal need be a fancy dish. Keep things simple if you need to! Oh and absolutely try out the recipe for banana pancakes with some greek yogurt and fresh fruit. I'll be whipping up some tomorrow morning! They are just so fast and the perfect weekend breakfast. :) 


Banana Pancakes

Cherry Walnut Granola with Yogurt

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal Bake

Extra: Leftover Veggie Chili Con Carne with Fried Egg
Ants on a Log (Celery with Almond Butter and Raisins)

Greek Yogurt Deviled Eggs*

Mixed Nuts

Roasted Sweet Potato Rounds

*Make sure you use a mustard without added sugar or just use mustard powder.
Recipes from other bloggers


Salmon with Ginger Veggie Stir-Fry and Millet

So salmon was on sale last week and I just couldn't help myself. When I buy salmon, I always try to make sure it is wild and not farm-raised fish. Why? Well, becaue you are what you eat and this applies just as much to us humans as it does to fish. Salmon that live in the wild get omega-3s that promote heart and brain health from their natural diet of other fish. These omega-3s help reduce inflammation as well as improve circulation, memory and possibly even mood. Farmed-raised salmon, on the other hand, are typically fed grain and this results in signficantly lower levels of omega-3s and higher levels of inflammatory fats that we already consume too much of. So kiss those heart benefits good bye!

As if that isn't reason enough to buy wild that lovely pink color in wild salmon is thanks to a natural pigment called astaxanthin, which they get from eating krill and shrimp. Astaxanthin is part of the carotenoid family and has 10 times the antioxidant activity of beta-carotene. Since the farm-raised salmon don't get to eat this, they lack this beautiful color. Because consumers like us would clearly realize something is up if our salmon isn't a healthy pink color...guess what!? Yup, the food industry adds dye. So with farm-raised salmon you are not only are you getting imflammatory fats and antibiotics, you get dye as well. And this with none of the antioxidant benefits from astaxanthin and less healthy omega-3s. Bottomline: Buy wild!

But this meal give you more than omega-3s. Check out some of the other benefits:
  • Ginger: The active ingredients in ginger, gingerols, shogaols and gingerdions and zingerone, are all powerful antixoidants that help reduce free radicals in your body. Ginger also has anti-inflammatory proporties and inflammation is the root of practically all major diseases. The root also helps improve circulation, soothe digestion and reduce nausea.
  • Carrots: For once people weren't lying to you as a child! They really are good for your eyes. They contain lutein and zeaxanthin, two carotenoids that help protect the eyes and prevent macular dengeration.
  • Onions: Onions belong to the allium family (think leeks, shallots, garlic, etc.) are anti-inflammatory, antibiotic and antiviral. The also contain powerful antixoidants and quercetin, which can help relieve asthma and allergies by blocking some of the body's natural inflammatory responses. Studies also show that onions may help build strong bones.
  • Cabbage: It part of the brassica family (think broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, etc.). They are known for their cancer-fighting ability. The phytochemical called indoles found in cabbage influences estrogen metabolism in a manner that reduces the risk of cancer. Those cancer-fighting compounds include: dithiolethiones, isothiocynates and sulforaphane. Besides all of this, cabbage is a great source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, fiber, vitamin C &K as well as beta-carotene.


Top Tips for Staying on Track

So you've almost made it a full week! The first few days on the sugar-detox are the hardest, because you are dealing with the physical withdrawal from sugar and caffeine as well as trying to fight old habits while forming new ones. There is a lot of new territory to navigate.

Last spring, when I decided to give up processed sugar along with caffeine and alcohol for about 40 days, I basically had no idea what I was getting myself into. There was a steep learning curve to say the least. So that you don't have to make the same mistakes I did, I thought I'd put together a list of tips to help you stay on track (starting with the MOST important).

How to set yourself up for success:
 1. Make sure you are not undereating. I cannot say this enough. It will set you up for failure and make you cranky. Cutting our processed sugars means you are also cutting out a lot of calorie-dense food. While vegetables are nutrient dense, they are low in calories. Even if you are trying to lose weight, you will likely need to increase your portion sizes to maintain a desired calorie intake. To help with this, you may want to use a calorie counting site like cron-o-meter at the start so you can get a hang of how much you should really be eating! 
2.  Have someone do the challenge with you. Having support (and sometimes just someone who you can to complain to who understands) really makes a difference. When you are feeling weak, they can keep you on track and accountable! Plus shared suffering is a great way to bond. I tease, but having this shared experience (and hopefully success) really is a great way to bring people closer together. I also found that making changes in my diet made me want to reflect on other areas of my life and make changes there as well. It is nice to have someone you can talk things through with.
3. Always have snacks on hand. This goes hand in hand with tip No.1. Being hungry and without healthy food options sets you up for failure. When you are full you are that much less likely to reach for something bad.
4. Keep your home stocked with healthy foods. For the same reason as No.1 and No.3.
5. Prepare as much as possible on the weekend or ahead of time. Weekdays are often hectic and finding time to cook a wholesome meal can be hard.  Plan out a few meals on the weekend. Then use the extra time to clean and cut your vegetables and put them in Tupperware so cooking is faster. Making a big meal (I love casseroles) ahead of time also makes starting off the week easier. Or simply double a recipe you like so you have meals for multiple days. Breakfast is especially important! You may want to make an oatmeal bake or granola on the weekend so you can head out of the door quickly in the mornings.
6. Be aware of hidden sugars. I didn't even realize half the stuff that had added sugar until I started reading labels. Lots of sauces, yogurts and even regular sliced sandwich meat has some. While it is only a tiny bit, I found that even eating these trace amounts really messed me up and made my cravings worse. So keep a close eye on what you buy!   
7. Don’t beat yourself up if you slip up. It happens to the best of us. It does not mean you have ruined everything and should give up. In fact, eating poorly can be a great reminder of why you are trying to change your diet in the first place. You are making significant changes and trying to change old habits. This kinda of stuff is not easy for anyone!
That said, there will always be excuses and reasons to "cheat." Notice when and why urges to cheat hit you and try to find ways to counter them. Always feel like you NEED something to munch on while watching TV? Make some lightly salted popcorn on the stove so you can still snack. Craving something sweet right after lunch? Bring fresh fruit. Don't let yourself slip back into old habits just because it's easy. Create new ones. Have the determination and focus to make a positive change. Remind yourself why you are doing this.
8. BYOB: No, not beer. Bites and beverages. Food is often at the center of social gathers if not the pretense for one in the first place. Cutting out foods from your diet can have a profound impact on your social life  if you let it that is. To make sure you're not starving at parties, bring your own snacks and drinks or eat ahead of time. Who knows maybe they will be so good you'll have a few converts by the end of the night.
9. Socialize smarter: If people are going out to eat, do a little research and try to suggest places that have options you can have. Most places have a few salads that are just as good with an oil and vinegar dressing. Also don't be afraid to ask the waitress if you can simply order meat with a side of veggies. Worst case scenario, they say no. Another approach is to simply eat ahead of time and get a side order of something and drink while you catch up with friends. One of my favorite meals to go out for is breakfast, because it still leaves you will lots of options (omelets, fresh fruit, teas, etc.). Another way to make sure your social life doesn't suffer is to organizing activities that don't revolve around food (movies, bowling, mini golf, hiking, climbing, etc.).
9. Party smarter:  If you're out in the evenings at a bar or club, ask the bartender to give you sparkling water with lime and a straw. For all anyone knows, you're having a vodka tonic or G&T. (Some brilliant advice from my friend Barbara)
10. Drink enough water. When you start cleaning up your diet your body goes through a little shock. Kind of a withdrawal combined with detox systems. Being dehydrated only makes matter worse. You may notice you have less energy and/or headaches. Depending on where your diet and sugar intake was before, these can be mild or severe. Drinking water and getting light exercise will help flush all the bad stuff out of your system and ease these symptoms.
11. Start your day off with a glass of lemon water. Like I said above, your body is going through a withdrawal/detox. Drinking a glass of lemon water first thing in the morning on an empty stomach stimulates your digestive system and liver after a period of fasting to flush everything out. I get more into it in this post.


Sugar-Detox Meal Plan: Week #2

Congrats on making it this far into the sugar detox! I know you are probably cursing my name for convincing you to give this a try, but I promise it gets better. Week one is just kind of the worst. Not only are you exhausted because your body isn't getting these artificial energy boosts from sugar and caffeine, you're probably struggling to figure out how to get enough calories in. Not eating enough can make anyone hangry. This week focus on eating enough each day and plan out a few snacks to take with you during the day so you're not starving. Also make sure your portion sizes are big enough. 

Even if your first week wasn't 100% clean, take a look at the all positive changes and choices you have made over the past few days. You have likely already made some significant improvements in your diet. This is an amazing accomplishment and something to be proud of! To help keep you on track, here are some dinner/lunch, breakfast and snack options as well as a few recipes from some of my favorite bloggers. Keep it up! 

*Hopefully I'll have my own recipe up for it soon. If you don't have almond flour, ground almonds from the baking section work just as well.
Apple Slices with Cinnamon and Almond Butter

Plain Yogurt with Fruit, Oats and Nuts 

Recipes from other bloggers

(Oh She Glows)


(Naturally Ella)

Strawberry-Banana Coconut Chia Pudding

Ch-ch-ch-chia! Until about a year ago if you said the word chia, my mind would have gone straight to the infomercial for those little head-shaped planting pots with sprouts growing out the top. Now, all I think of is the superfood that goes into this delicous pudding!

Here's a rundown of some of the many benefits:
  • Packed full of omega-3s for healthy heart and brain function
  • Great source of fiber: Contains 11 grams of fiber per one-ounce serving (3 T.). This slows digestion, preventing blood sugar spikes and the release of insulin (fat storage).
  • High in protein for energy and building muscle. Contains 4 grams per ounce.
  • Good source of calcium. One serving contains almost 20% of your daily recommended value of calcium, which helps maintain bone and oral health, and prevent osteoporosis.
  • Improve heart health: Shown to help reduce blood pressure and may also reduce bad cholesterol while increasing good cholesterol.
Check out nutrition data of chia seeds here.

If you haven't tried chia seeds yet, I definitely recommend going out and buying some for all those reasons and more. You can buzz them up in your smoothies to give the drink a little more staying power or try the endless variations of chia pudding. This recipe is just one of the ways that I've been enjoying them. You can use coconut milk for a richer dessert version, add lots of different fruits and berries, sprinkle on toasted nuts or cinnamon, and even try out cocoa powder for a rich chocolate taste!

The great thing about chia seed pudding is that it takes almost no time and effort to prepare. You don't have to attentively whisk anything over the stove. These little seeds expand to absorb more than 10 times their weight in water all on their own. You just combine them with milk and let them chill out in the fridge for a bit. How easy is that?

Carrot, Apple & Beet Salad with Ginger-Lime Dressing

This glowing salad is the latest way I've been enjoying beets. I keep seeing people juice carrots, apples and beets together and figured they'd just as soon make a delicious salad. I only wish I had discovered this combo sooner, because the vibrant colors would have been a hit at holiday parties.

The  natural sweetness of beets is enhanced by the carrot and apple and perfectly balanced out by the fresh and tangy lime-ginger dressing. Besides coming together in no time, this raw-food dish also offers a number of health benefits:
  • Low in calories, cholesterol and fat. High in fiber.
  • Great for heart and blood health: Contains the phytochemical compound glycine betaine from the beets. This helps lower homocysteine levels (toxic metabolite) in blood that can result in the development of coronary heart disease, stroke and peripheral vascular diseases.
  • Boosts energy: Beets are rich in B vitamins, such as niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), pyridoxine (B-6), which play an important role in cell metabolism and helps the body unlock energy.
  • Eye health: The carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin from carrots work to protect eyes and prevent mancular degeneration.
  • Inhibits tumor growth: A diet high in carotenoids, such as alpha-carotene, have been associated with a decrease of up to 50 percent in a number of difference cancers (colon, bladder, prostate, etc.). Recent studies show these benefits are seen with as little as one carrot a day. Read more here.
  • Beets and carrots are also a good source of potassium, whichs helps couteract the detrimental effects of excessive sodium consumption, lower your heart rate and regulate your metabolism.
  • Beets are high in folate (DNA synthesis) and iron (transport oxygen to body).


Hearty Omelet Muffins

These little muffins pack a punch. For something so tiny, they really keep you going for a long time. I loaded them up with cooked chicken, spinach, red pepper and onions and jalapeno. They are the perfect go-to breakfast for people who have to rush out the door in the morning. Just make a batch on Sunday and enjoy fast, healthy breakfasts for a whole week. The best part is you can adapt them to your taste. Not a fan of red onion? Leave it out and add some sun dried tomatoes, broccoli or feta. This recipe is just a starting point!

Between the eggs and chicken, each muffin has around 8 grams of protein. This will help keep you full, give you energy and is a building block for body tissue. Red pepper, spinach, and onion are all loaded with vitamins and minerals. They provide lots of vitamin C and A (immune system, cell repair, eye health) along with iron (transporting oxygen to nervous system) and calcium (strong bones). Because of the vitamin C, your body can do an even better job of absorbing this iron. Since I didn't add cheese, this recipe is also relatively low in fat and cholesterol.

Don't skip the egg yolks! They contain all nine essential amino acids, making them a perfect protein, and are loaded with nutrients for your eyes (lutein), brain (choline) and heart(choline). The choline in egg yolks is an essential part on a phospholipid that is needed to ensure fat and cholesterol don't accumulate in your liver. For a more in depth look at why egg yolks are in fact healthy, check out what Clinical Nutritionist Dr. Jonny Bowden has to say about them here.


What to Expect!

Forty-six days free of sugar starts tomorrow!* I don't know about you, but I'm in the process of clearing out all the "bad" stuff from my fridge and pantry (by that I mean eating the last ice cream bar and hiding the chocolate).
Just like last year, I find myself both excited and nervous! Making a big change in your diet can be kind of (really) scary. When I gave up processed sugar/carbs, caffeine and alcohol over Lent last year, I can’t say it was easy, but I CAN stay it was worthwhile. Here is what to expect physically and emotionally along your journey or at least how it went for me:
*Click for link to Sugar-Detox Challenge
Week 1-2:
·    (First half) Motivation levels are high! Making a positive change is exciting. The fridge is stocked with all the good stuff. You’ll find yourself trying to convince others to join you on your crazy journey and believe me having a buddy will really help you down the road.
·    (Second half) Processed sugar is arguably addictive and this is your body at the height of withdrawal. You will likely be a cranky, whiny grouch, who is wondering why on earth you decided to give up processed sugar in the first place. Drink lots of water and have some headache medicine on hand. Expect to have less energy and try to embrace the mood swings, power through and make sure to have healthy snacks on hand. Be sure to eat enough. Tossing out calorie-dense food means your portions sizes need to be bigger. Undereating will just pave the road to failure.

Weeks 2-3:
·    You’ll rightfully congratulate yourself on making it an entire week without processed sugar and feel ridiculously proud and empowered. Your mood and energy levels will lift and be more consistent throughout the day. You will sleep better and start noticing improvements in your appearance (weight, skin, nails, etc.). The new eating habits start to get easier as well.

Weeks 3-4:
·    This is where it gets hard again. By this point your body should stop craving sugar and your energy levels should be great, however, changing your eating habits also changes your social life in certain ways. Finding clean food to eat at social gatherings or while at restaurants can be challenging. Peer pressure also really starts to wear on you. “O come on, it’s my birthday just have a slice of cake already.” This is when you need to be strong and remember why you are doing this. Try to surround yourself with people who respect your choices. Bring food to parties and try to suggest restaurants that offer delicious, wholesome options.

Weeks 4-6:
·    Smooth sailing. By now, you’ll likely have this new way of eating figured out. You will be looking and feeling great! Other people will likely notice as well and start asking your questions about what kind of change you made. You will forget there is even another way to do things.

Lemon-Basil Egg Salad Dip

This super-simple creamy lemon-basil dip is fresh and light, but surprisingly filling! The secret is throwing in some fiber-filled green beans and protein-packed hard boiled eggs. They give the dip a beautiful green color and thick, creamy texture. Plus, it's a great way to sneak some extra veggies into your diet or to trick a picky eater. The green beans add extra vitamins and minerals (click here for nutrition data) that you won't find in your typical onion dip.

It makes for a great snack and starter alongside some veggies, crackers or toasted bread, but you can also spread it on sandwiches and wraps for a little extra flavor!


Tuscan White Bean Bulgur Salad with Parmesan

My love affair with roasted brussel sprouts continues. I just had to come up with a few more ways to enjoy them before the seasons change and our supermarkets stop stocking them. One of my favorite ways to eat them is roasted with a squeeze of lemon and parmesan so I just added some bulgur and white beans to round this side into a main dish. The result is fresh, simple, delicious and oh-so healthy meal.

And here is a brief overview of what makes this meal so good for you:
  • Antioxidant rich: The cauliflower and brussel sprouts contain vitamin A and C that help repair cells and boost immunity.
  • Remove toxins: Lemon juice helps stimulate your liver, which is responsible for breaking down toxins. Brussel sprouts also contain isothiocyanates and sulforaphane, which neutralize carcinogens and help detoxify environmental toxins.
  • Cancer-fighting properties: Sinigrin in the brussel sprouts suppresses the developement of precancerous cells while the isothiocyanates and sulforaphane found help inhibit proliferation of cancer cells.
  • Build muscles: Protein from the beans and bulgur.
  • Weight control as well as improved digestion, nutrition absorption and regularity: All these benefits are from the fiber in this meal, which comes from the beans, veggies and bulgur.