A Month at a Glance

This past month has been amazing.  I feel so grateful for everything in my life.  I am learning, observing, seeking, doing, embracing, and loving.  Everything about health, nutrition, and wellness makes me feel so alive.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a casual discussion with a friend, or a more serious talk with someone who needs some assistance.  It could be simply spending an hour at a grocery store looking at labels, seeing new products, keeping up with my industry (yes, I do this, often).  It is the learning process I’m in at IIN, The Institute of Integrative Nutrition, where I’m studying to become a certified Health Coach.  Soon enough I will create my own personal practice to assist and guide others on their own health journey.  It’s networking with like-minded people, people that ‘get it’ because we think a lot alike and share the same love and have similar aspirations. In the past month I have focused more on my Instagram, and was even fortunate enough to make a couple friends who have a huge presence already on the popular social media site.

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Cassandra Bodzak from Going Sweet and Skinny, a fellow IIN grad who resides in NYC, (and famous for her amazing, award winning, The Taste worthy vegan cupcakes) was coming to LA, so I reached out.  We found out we shared a mutual adoration for Cafe Gratitude (see my post here on my fave healthy LA eateries!), so that is where we met up.  It was so fun getting to learn about her journey, successes, and what she’s learned along the way.  The evening was inspiring and motivating!  Not to mention I didn’t feel so alone snapping the perfect pic of our food for our Insta accounts 😉 I look forward to the next time I visit New York so we can go to one of her favorite spots there!

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Nikki Sharp

Nikki Sharp from Stay Sharp & Be Strong is another amazing, successful, girl who was a former international model and has an extremely large following on Instagram and creator an ever popular Detox eBook. I was happy she took the time to meet up with me at another favorite place of mine, True Food Kitchen.  Dr. Weil, one of the contributors to IIN who offers lectures for our curriculum, created the menu there. We had a great time and she offered me some good advice too.

whitney and me

Whitney and Me

This past Tuesday I went to an event put on by the fabulous Whitney English of To Live and Diet in LA.  The event was called “Vinyasa y Vino” where the first hour was a serious Vinyasa Yoga session lead by Jake Ferree.  He was awesome.  The second hour we got to mingle and meet the other attendees, many other bloggers like myself.  The girl I chatted with the most was Julie, blogger of Julie Goes Healthy, who resides in Orange County and has an incredible story on her own path to a happy, healthy life.  And, of course, I got to meet the lovely hostess and birthday girl, Whitney.  Whitney is an inspiration; an over-achiever with a dynamic personality.  You should check out her website (above).  I love it.  We also were sent home with a gift bag stuffed with goodies. Luvo Inc. was also so kind to give me a little cooler filled with 4 frozen, low calorie, healthy meals.  Thanks, Luvo!

gift-bag

The “Swag Bag”

I will be writing more about my schooling at IIN soon.  So far, it has been a fantastic journey, and I can’t wait to see what else the future holds!

Keepin’ It Simple

Dear Leah Renee, 

There are so many diets out there and I’m sick of them.  I don’t know what else to say!  Help! Thanks. ~Barbara, NM

Diet?  No!  Who wants to do that?!  Want to know a secret?  Eating foods that are naturally good for you, and good to eat should be what your “diet” consists of.  Diet by definition is  “food and drink considered in terms of its qualities, composition, and its effects on health“.  If we exist, so does our diet, but we don’t have to look at it in terms of restrictions or define ourselves by what we do or do not eat.  It’s quite simple: if it grew from the ground, came from a tree, an animal (if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan) and was not processed with a bunch of chemicals, it’s a good food to eat.

salad

 

So why did this get complicated or somehow lost in translation?  Because we were given so many options.  It’s not so simple anymore!  Endless options make it tough to choose.  Have you ever gone to a buffet or salad bar and seen all the different foods you could choose from and feel overwhelmed?  Did you end up filling up on more than you normally would?  Yeah, me too.  That’s the problem.  Our grocery stores are HUGE.  Each section of each aisle is packed with variations of products only differing slightly from the next, but promising so much more.  I don’t care if it’s beans, hot sauce, eggs, or milk!  There are SO MANY TO CHOOSE FROM!  This seems to go for the shampoo aisle too.  And toothpaste.  Bottom line–keep it basic.  Know what you like, know what’s good for you.  You know if it’s not good for you.  Some things are trickier, sure.  Labels lie and packages are deceiving–but if you’re buying the bulk of your items NOT in packaging a.k.a. around the parameter of the grocery store–you’re doing well.  That’s where the basics are stocked–all around the outer portion of the store: produce, meats, fish, breads, dairy.

Our grandparents didn’t really have this problem.  That’s because they didn’t have so much to choose from!  Nor did they have ads on television (or maybe a television at all) showing us how good that greasy burger and fries look or how the chips full of chemicals will truly satisfy your hunger.  They also cooked at home a lot more which meant less salt, sugar, and ingredients all together.  It meant more nutrients, herbs, and beneficial spices.

FOOD ISN'T COMPLICATED

One of the great parts about sticking to the basics is that when you do decide to have something at a party, go out with your friends on the weekend, indulge a little, it’s not going to make a big dent. When you’re eating and living well 90% of the time, 10% is not going to do anything than make you feel even more happy and alive. 🙂

 

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea, Update #3

Warning!  This material is personal and if you enjoy this blog for health info and recipes, please skip this post!  This is update number three on my journey to get my cycle back so I can have a happy, healthy pregnancy.  In other words, it may be entirely TMI 😉 

It has been 8 weeks now since I began acupuncture treatments to treat my diagnosis of hypothalamic amenorrhea.  Amenorrhea is simply means the absence of menstruation.  You can read more about post one and two here and here. In the 8 weeks I have been getting acupuncture twice a week, taking a custom made herb formula two to three times a day, and sticking to a more fertility-friendly diet, specifically inspired by TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine).  Lots of black and dark colored foods (black rice, blackberries, blueberries, beets, kidney beans, black beans), meat (medium rare grassfed hamburgers, organic turkey, organic chicken), grass-fed eggs, and warm, cooked vegetables (since I run cold).  I also incorporated a Vitex supplement in the mix and taking more yoga. But guess what?  After 6 weeks I felt the need to do more.  I don’t know about you, but if something isn’t happening the way I want it to (in this case getting a period), I have to keep moving.  I by no means want to stop doing any of the above, but I decided I wanted to integrate other methods, and/or at least find out more about my current condition to not only educate myself on what is going on with my body, but potentially further this process along.  I never said I was patient.  😉

I researched doctors and fertility clinics in my area, and called one I thought seemed like a good fit.  I made sure it wasn’t a hard-core fertility clinic, by that I mean get right down to baby business.  My first priority is finding out what’s going on with ME.  I don’t want to just jump into something and put my baby at risk since my body is clearly not functioning optimally (in this way) on its own.

Last week I went to the clinic and met with the doctor.  She’s awesome.  I felt very comfortable sitting in her very well decorated office not only because she was pleasant and sincere, but went through this herself.  She now has an adorable two year old of her own.  It’s nice to know that the person I’ll be working so closely with GETS IT and can relate to what I’m going through.  I had an ultrasound after we chatted to check my ovary’s, uterus, and my antral follicle count (to see my egg supply).  Everything looked good there!  After that was done I had my blood drawn to test for prolactin levels, TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone), FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone), Estrodial, and LH (Luteinizing Hormone).  My doctor called me the other day and all those tests so far look great.  I’m REALLY happy about that.

Today I went for a cranial MRI.  That was NOT fun. Lots of loud noises for an hour, and an IV so they can get a ‘contrast’ read to detect any possible disruptions involving my pituitary gland which is responsible for the regulation of many different hormones throughout the body.  The contrast part comes from a dye that enters the bloodstream through the IV.  I really didn’t want that in my body, regardless the fact I was told it’s completely safe. So I’m drinking a ton of water and green juice to flush it through my kidneys faster!  I’ll also ask my acupuncturist tomorrow to place some needles in points for digestion and detoxification.  I should find out the results for the MRI in a couple days.

I only have one more test to do called Hysterosalpingogram, or HSG.  It’s an outpatient procedure and takes less than a half hour total.  It involves placing an iodine-based dye through the cervix and taking x-rays to help evaluate the shape of the uterus to find out whether or not the fallopian tubes are blocked.

I definitely feel like I’m getting somewhere with all these tests!  Even if all of them check out well (which I’m hoping for), then it will be a matter of setting a timeline for myself with the help and encouragement from both my doctor of acupuncture and my reproductive endocrinologist doctor.  While I’d rather nothing be wrong with me at all, I feel that between the two of them, my husband, my family, and all of your support, I couldn’t be in a better place.  I look forward to seeing what the (near?!) future holds!

Staying Healthy on Road Trips

Dear Leah Renee, 

My family and I take road trips every summer, but I don’t like the unhealthy food options along the way.  What do you suggest?  Thanks! ~Elsy, IN

Road trips are fun.  You’re going on vacation, checking out new places, and enjoying either some alone time on the open road or your family and friends who are in the car with you.  One thing road trips are known for are the ‘pit stops’ along the way, including bathroom breaks, stretching your legs, and attempting to find some nourishing food in the middle of nowhere.  Sometimes that’s part of the fun, but for those who either have food allergies and/or want to stick to their usual healthy diet, it can be frustrating.

Planning ahead is key.  Pick up a cooler (like the one below) and pack it with the healthy snacks you enjoy.  The trick is choosing ones that are easy to eat in the car or on a picnic bench, and pack as many as possible that do not need to remain cold, cooler or not.  That ensures you have them for a longer period of time and can take them along with you as snacks once you arrive.

coolerWhile it may be slim pick-ins on the road, there is certainly not a shortage of items that can be purchased and prepared ahead of time to last you.  Health food stores are jam-packed with packaged foods that contain safe ingredients and can sustain you when real, whole foods are harder to come by.

road trip prep

 

Above is an example of a few things I like to bring along with me.  Below is a list of great options for you:

For the cooler:

  • Sliced veggies (cucumbers, carrots, celery, bell peppers)
  • Fruit (apples, plums, pears, berries)
  • Organic deli meat (Applegate)
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • String cheese
  • Guacamole (to roll in the middle of the meat)
  • Green/veggie juice

Snacks, no cooler needed: 

That should be enough to keep you going!

What are your favorite travel snacks?

 

Chana Masala Recipe

I LOVE Indian food.  LOVE.  The aroma, the taste, the texture–it’s allllll goooood.  Not only is it super tasty, but with all the exotic, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory packed spices, it can make for a super healthy meal as well.  You may or may not have heard all the buzz around the spice turmeric, which contains disease fighting curcumin, but it’s one of the staple ingredients in Indian dishes.  It takes eating healthy to a whole new level when adding these powerful herbs and spices.

Indian food seemed to be one of those impossible-to-make-myself delicacies.  When I want it, I get take out.  But that gets expensive, and I decided I was up for the challenge.  All I have to say is…it’s that simple?!  I wouldn’t have waited so long if I knew it wasn’t going to be this long drawn out process!  If you’ve never made chana masala before, or had the same thoughts as I did, you can totally do this.

Here’s what you need: 

 

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Ingredients: 

  • 2 teaspoons coconut oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh (or ground) cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (less if you’re sensitive to spicy foods)
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 15-ounce (BPA free!) cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed & drained
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala (at a specialty or health food store)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

  1. Place a medium saucepan over medium heat and add in the oil and onion. Cook onion until it’s translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  2. Stir in cilantro, cumin, cayenne, turmeric, and salt.
  3. Stir in water and tomatoes and cook until tomatoes are soft, stirring occasionally, about 5-6 minutes.
  4. Using a Vitamix or other blender, empty the contents of the saucepan and blend the mixture on high until smooth. If it’s too thick, add a little more water.
  5. Pour back into the saucepan.
  6. Add chickpeas to the mixture and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Stir in garam masala.
  7. Simmer another 10 minutes.
  8. Serve with rice (brown, basmati, or my favorite cauliflower rice!). If you like naan and are not gluten free, that’s a nice accompaniment too.

The finished product, chana masala, over my own version of saag and cauliflower rice:

 

chana masala over cauliflower rice

Enjoy! 🙂

*If you LOVE chickpeas as much as I do, check out my earlier post, a recipe on roasted chickpea snacks!  Want something sweet without the guilt? Try my chickpea cookie dough!

2 Ingredient Granola Recipe

Dear Leah Renee, 

I love making homemade granola to both save money and know the ingredients that are going into it (without any preservatives), but all the recipes out there seem to involve so many ingredients!  I just want a basic, simple recipe.  Do you have one?  Thanks! ~Jenny, DE

I agree!  Something so simple seems to get so complicated.  It’s nice to have a simple base, because if you do decide to add other ingredients (such as nuts or seeds), those can still be added after the fact.  I find that as long as you have a nice crunch, which is what is so nice about granola, then you’re good.

I have a TWO ingredient granola for you.  Just oats and honey.  That’s it!  Easy enough, right?!  I love the subtle sweetness and simplicity.  Start this easy recipe off by preheating the oven to 350 degrees (F).

2 cups old fashioned oats (not instant!):

oats

 

1/2 cup of honey:

honey

Stir it up and spread it onto a baking dish evenly.  Place it in the oven for 10 minutes, then check and stir.  Once you’ve stirred the oats spread it out evenly again so that all the oats have a chance to get toasty.  You’ll notice the edges are the first to crisp which is why it’s important to move them around.  Put it back in for 5 minutes, then stir once more.  After another 5 minutes, you will find the oats have a nice, even brown tint and are ready to cool!

Once they have cooled (about 10-15 minutes), place them in a mason jar or container of choice!  I use containers for my pantry that all stack nicely on top of each other (and labeled, of course).

granola

Additional, optional add-in’s include: cacao nibs, raisins, slivered almonds, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, goji berries, pepitas, walnuts, and anything else you like!

 

What You Need to Know About Buying Organic  


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Dear Leah Renee, 

I buy organic whenever I can.  I know it’s better for me and I stick most to the dirty dozen list.  How much better is it, really, to buy organic foods? ~Nancy, OR

There’s a lot of buzz over organic foods, and for a good reason.  I’m not sure if you’ve done a taste test, but I find organic to be much more flavorful and vibrant in color than conventional versions.  Sometimes we choose to make certain health decisions because we’ve heard across the board that it’s better for you (has anyone seen that video asking people why they’re gluten free?!  Here).  In case you’re not sure why you should be buying organic, here some info:

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), organically produced foods use methods that preserve the environment, avoiding most pesticides and antibiotics.  USDA organic standards describe how farmers grow crops and raise livestock and which materials they may use.

Berries

This is all good; organic means less harmful chemicals, synthetic hormones, antibiotics, and genetic engineering. And as you see, it goes far beyond the farming of just fruits and veggies.  Dairy, poultry, beef, rice, nuts, and seeds are some examples of considering buying the organic versions.

For instance, livestock (beef and poultry) is vastly different when comparing conventional to organic.  On the Organic Trade Association’s (OTA) website, there was virtually no restrictions or specifications what-so-ever for conventional versions in livestock production.  There are over 150 antibiotics approved for use in animals.  Organic prohibits them.

organic beef

Let’s talk for a second about items I haven’t mentioned that can be purchased organic.  I’m referring to sauces, frozen meals, cookies, cereals, breads, ice cream, crackers, and candy.  These items have a few things in common.  The certified organic label on them will in fact mean they maintain a high level of quality when it comes to processing and I LOVE the fact that it means no GMO’s.  I always buy organic corn chips since 90% of corn is GMO.  Does it make them healthyNo. When we choose to eat out of a package or box, organic or not, chances are it’s either too high in sugar, fat, sodium (salt), or empty calories.  So while the organic version is still better than the conventional version, you’re still not getting the same kind of nutrients as  real, whole foods.

Personally, I buy meats, nuts, and seeds, and rice organic.  When it comes to fruits and vegetables, I stick to the dirty dozen list, but add a few more to it.  I do feel it makes a difference and I truly support organic practices.  If you want to see what skin care I buy organic, see this past post here.

What items do you make sure to buy organic?

My Favorite LA Eateries

 

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Dear Leah Renee, 

I know you’re based in Los Angeles, so I wanted to get some restaurant recommendations for when I visit.  The healthier the better, it’s easy to find the grease!  Cheers!  ~Tanya, ND 

Where do I begin?! There are sooo many fabulous eateries in LA!  We are really lucky to have a plethora of healthy options in our backyard (if our backyard had a lot of traffic, that is).  I look for restaurants that focus on easy, clean foods, not too many ingredients, and farm fresh.  It’s so obvious when a restaurant focuses on offering a seasonal menu and organic options because it’s something you can taste.  The dishes are aromatic and you leave their feeling vibrant, not stuffed and heavy.  Here, in no particular order, are the places I frequent and would most highly recommend to others:

Sage

Type: Vegan, GF options

Why it’s special: not only is the food inventive and amazing (and organic), but the menu is HUGE!  You have so many options that it’s almost a problem.  A good problem to have!  Jackfruit nachos.  I drool.  The ambience is awesome too.  The outdoor area is lovely!  Oh, and get your vegan ice cream on because they offer an entire case to pick out your “Kind Kreme”!  They have a beer garden too!  Locations in both Echo Park and Culver City. 

My Jackfruit nachos: 

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Real Food Daily

Type: Vegan, GF options

Why it’s special: Legendary.  Creator Ann Gentry knows what’s up.  I have the cookbook.  It’s an experience. There are three locations in the LA area: Pasadena, La Cienega (WeHo), and Santa Monica (where I go).  I love their “Basic” meals.  You can choose a Basic 2, 3, 4, or I suppose more!  It gives all sorts of options from different categories such as greens, veggies, sea veggies, beans/legumes, grains, and what kind of sauce.  

True Food Kitchen

Type: “Honest Food That Tastes Really Good”

Why it’s special: There’s something for everyone here!  Whether you’re gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, or omnivore, you will find yourself an amazing dish whatever you decide to order.  The focus is on foods that are anti-inflammatory, organic, and seasonal.  Farm fresh!  The menu was developed by Andrew Weil, both a medical doctor and naturopath.  Faves: the vegetable crudite, farmer’s market salad, grass-fed bison burger.  Drink: Kale-Aid. 

Samosa House

Type: Indian, Vegan

Why it’s special: Because it’s some of the best Indian food I ever had (OK, not as good as in South Africa, but that’s not nearby).  I just went there tonight!  It’s great because you can choose from a selection in the glass case rather than ordering the usual a-la-carte menu or buffet that most Indian restaurants offer (which gets really pricy!).  My usual combo order: Brown rice, jackfruit, chana masala, and saag.  I could eat it every day. Warning: there’s a sit down area but it’s not big on ambience.  I usually get it to go.  There’s Samosa House East and West, yet both on the same street.  I go to the West one.  Has a cool Indian market attached too.

 Cafe Gratitude 

Type: Vegan, GF options, raw options, 100% Organic

Why it’s special: Because you’re a grateful person!  At least you will be by the time you leave.  Each menu option is a descriptive word that’s inspiring, peaceful, grounding, or appreciative. It’s a delightful experience and the food to match.  Get the guacamole app with both kinds of crackers, and I can’t help but get the “I Am Whole” Every.Single.Time.  Their drinks are really good too.  I got the “I Am Brave” once (ironically soon after this post) and once you have that you realize you were for even trying it!  

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Sauce on Hampton

Type: Fresh, Organic food with lots of variety

Why it’s special: I almost didn’t list this because I don’t want too many people to know about it.  It’s so fresh, healthy and tasty.  I truly can’t get enough of this place.  Neither can Mr. Ask Leah Renee.  It’s like healthy home cooked goodness. And as far as I’m concerned any place where you can order breakfast all day long is a winner in my book!  If you’re feeling adventurous and extra healthy, the garlic kale soup is soooo gooood (picture above!).  No matter what, make sure to order the sweet potatoes as one of your side dishes.  You will thank me.  You’re welcome.  

A Votre Sante

Type: A total crowd pleaser offering meat, poultry, fish, gluten free (GF) options, vegan, and organic.

Why it’s special: Because you can order almost anything and it’ll be really good.  I like this place so much that we had our wedding rehearsal dinner there.  I love the Dragontail, which is a bowl of goodness.  I recently had their kale salad and ate the entire thing plus the blackened salmon I added to it.  Hungry girl.  My husband and Dad like their burger a lot.  Warning: parking can be a challenge. 

Honorable mentions: Kreation Kafe, Cervateca, Green Peas, Shojin, Blue Plate, Urth Caffe, Veggie Grill, Native Foods Cafe, Whole Foods (for their salad bar section, not all locations are created equal!), Sugarfish, The Farm of Beverly Hills.

You will notice that most of these places are either only on the west side or have second locations further inland.  I rarely venture east of the 405 freeway, which is another topic entirely.  🙂 There are many, many places that direction that I miss out on (like BLD and Primo). 

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This pic was take 4 years ago but that’s OK!

What are your favorite eateries, LA or anywhere?!  What did I miss?!  Comment below!

 

 

 

Why Sprouted Almonds Are Best

Dear Leah Renee, 

Why are sprouted almonds any better than raw or roasted?  ~Liisa, CA 

almonds

Almonds are tasty, versatile, and provide many nutritional benefits.  They can be enjoyed many ways, not all of which are nutritious depending on if they’re salted or unsalted, roasted, sprouted, candied, or spiced.  A friend of mine makes a bowl of “spiced” nuts for parties soaked in bacon fat and roasted.  I’m not going to lie—they’re UNREAL (and I don’t even eat bacon, nor did I know at the time that’s how they were made), but this is certainly not the nutritional way to consume them!

In general, here are some reasons why almonds are superstars:

  • Promotes heart health (lots of Vitamin E)
  • Promotes a healthy weight
  • Rich in bone-building minerals like magnesium, manganese & copper
  • Healthy amino acid content
  • High in B2 (Riboflavin) for energy
  • Good source of fiber

Roasting almonds will add flavor, some disadvantages are added oils, high in sodium (if salted), high in additional fats, sugars, and are more difficult to digest.  When almonds are processed, we lose much of their nutritional value.  A more beneficial method is dry roasting, which excludes the use of any oil which in turn would leave out the salt too, and contain less fat.

Raw almonds are not (usually) actually raw.  They’re not coming straight from the tree and into your local supermarket.  Most almonds from California (which consist of about 80% of our supply) are pasteurized to kill off any potentially harmful bacteria that may have come in contact with them (such as salmonella).  But, because they’re not roasted, they can still be labeled as ‘raw’ even after pasteurization.  Frustrating!!!

Soaking almonds even for just a few short hours will allow the phytic acid (which inhibits your body’s ability to fully assimilate all the wonderful nutrients it contains—see more below) to start breaking down. Your body will get to use a greater amount of the nutrients from soaked nuts than regular raw nuts. You can keep them in a container of water in the fridge.

Almonds sprouting in dehydrator

Sprouted almonds are the best, most nutritional way to enjoy them.   Almonds naturally contain something called phytic acid.  Phytic acid (or phytate) plays a role in mineral absorption—the role of the bad guy.  It has the ability to bind to the minerals which means less benefit to us.  It acts as an enzyme inhibitor and the best ways to get rid of that are soaking or sprouting.  Sprouting almonds is even better, nutritionally, than soaking. Sprouting makes the lipase, the enzyme which helps break down body fat, available for digestion.  We want to keep the enzymes intact so we can reap all the health advantages.

To make sprouted almonds, soak them (raw) for a few hours in filtered water, drain, and then transfer them to either a food dehydrator or in the oven at no more than 118 degrees (F) until they’re completely dry (at least 8 hours).  If they’re not completely dry they can go rancid after only a couple days.   Sprouted almonds are soooo much tastier than the traditional raw almonds. I promise you’ll notice the difference!

If you would like to purchase almonds already sprouted (and organic whenever possible!), you can find them in the bulk section at Whole Foods and other select health markets.  They’re also available online here and here.  If you do a search online you may find more depending on your area/country!

One of my favorite recipes are Almond Date Balls!  Here’s the recipe (adapted from The World’s Healthiest Foods):

Ingredients: 

  • 1 cup raw almonds (sprouted or soaked first)
  • 1/2 cup pitted dates
  • 1 TB water
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/8 tsp sea salt
  • optional: coconut flakes

Directions: 

1.  Using a food processor, Vitamix, or other high speed blender, process almonds until they’re in small pieces.  Remove half of them and set aside.

2.  Add dates to remaining almonds and process until the mixture turns into a fine meal.

3.  Add remaining ingredients and process until the mixture starts sticking together.  You’ll probably need to use a rubber spatula and scrape the bowl.

4.  By hand, mix date mixture with the reserved almond pieces.

5.  Form into 1-inch balls from the dough.  Store in the fridge for up to a week!  Enjoy!

protein ball pic

 

Choosing Your Eggs Wisely

Dear Leah Renee, 

I get SO confused buying eggs these days!  I get frustrated standing there trying to decide and just end up taking whatever one home as long as it’s labeled organic.  That’s enough, right?  What’s the deal with all the different labels and promises?  Thanks!  ~Josie, FL

There are so many labels that sound so promising when it comes to eggs!  Certified organic, free-range, cage-free, antibiotic free, certified humane, pasture-raised, and even brown versus white.  We not only want what’s best for our health, but the chicken’s too!  Let’s compare what the two best choices would be: Organic vs. Pasture-Raised.

eggs

 

It’s great to buy organic!  Organic means it’s free of genetically modified ingredients and more nutrient dense because soils are richer and pesticide usage is less.  Unfortunately, when eggs are concerned, just organic isn’t really enough.  Eggs labeled organic simply means government agencies (USDA certified organic) have cleared that no unnatural pesticides or fertilizers have been used.  Unlike plants and soil and water to feed them, in this case it’s the chickens that need feeding, and they can’t just live on water!  So organic means they’re getting fed organic…soy, corn, grains.  Not so great anymore, right?!  What organic also does not ensure is their living quarters.  Organic eggs can still be in just as poor conditions as the cartons without the organic label.  Additionally, in some conditions, they are de-beacked which does not allow the chicken to do what it knows (as seen above on little critters and bugs in the dirt).

When buying eggs, the golden ones are labeled “pasture-raised” (they’re not really golden by the way).  Pasture-raised chickens are the healthiest kinds, not to mention the most ethically raised.  Pastured chickens roam free (around the pasture!), feeding on what they would naturally; bugs (I promise in this case, it’s healthier than the former!) and seeds.  Plus, the bugs are totally organic.  You will see the difference in the yolk; it’s almost an orange color rather than a pale orange-yellow. What that deep color tells you, just like vibrant fruits and veggies, is that their nutrients are in-tact.

Still interested in what those other labels mean?  Here you go: 

Cage Free: This one’s misleading because, well, it sounds nice.  Hooray!  They’re not trapped in a cage!  It’s not as nice as we thought.  Cage free isn’t lying, but it’s also not telling the whole story either.  It does not guarantee the chickens will have access to sunlight, and can still be de-beaked.  There’s no regulation on the use of antibiotics which means that’s what you could be ingesting too.  It is said that the nutrient content of eggs from free-range hens is the same as those from hens housed in production facilities with cages.  Next.

Free-Range: There are not a lot of standards involved here.  Free-range can mean they’re uncaged, but typically inside barns with a limited amount of time in the actual outdoors.  These barns are packed and not supervised as far as the conduct of the chickens (know what I mean?).  There are also no restrictions on feed or beak cutting.  This makes me sad. 

Certified Humane:  No guarantee of the outdoors but free to roam around the barn, but unlike free-range there are maximum capacity rules.  Unfortunately, beak cutting is still allowed.  The certified humane label does allow the birds to behave as they would naturally such as nesting.   The Certified Humane program (part of Humane Farm Animal Care) enforces such rules.

Antibiotic Free: OK, so maybe they’re not cage free, but they’re antibiotic free.  All good?  No.  It’s nice to know they’re not pumped with antibiotics, but the rest is a mystery.  There aren’t any regulations on their treatment, conditions, or other feed.

Vegetarian Fed or Omega-3 Enriched: This has nothing to do with treatment or quality of the respective chickens and eggs.  It’s most simply a marketing tool to make them seem better, but they’re not.  Eat your veggies and take a high-quality fish oil.  Done.

Brown vs. White Eggs: Just a different chicken!  Nothing about either color is going to contain more nutrients or is more beneficial to you.  Unlike a red vs. green apple, the eggs will taste the same.

egg dish

 

Next time you’re at your local health grocer, pick up some pasture-raised eggs!  Conventional grocery stores will likely not carry this kind.  You can also order them online through companies such as Local Harvest.  Eggcellent.