No-Bake Granola Bars (gluten-free, low sugar)

No-Bake Granola Bars Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

Wow. Let me just start by saying, it’s been a while. This summer has been absolutely insane, but in a good way! I’m working full time at two different locations (both of which I love), beginning my career as a therapist intern, and still conducting personal research on the relationship between nutrition and mental health. Speaking of which, if you haven’t had a chance to “like” becauseitsgoodforyou’s page on Facebook, you may have missed the link to the article I wrote regarding the relationship between food sensitivities and Autism Spectrum Disorder that was published on Psychologytoday.com. I was working with a mentor for several months to  perfect the article and I must say, I am pretty satisfied with the way it turned out. I also hope I am able to provide a little extra help and insight to those who read the article and are dealing with ASD.

Anyway, on to the good stuff.

No-Bake Granola Bars Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

Although I may not have physically been on becauseitsgoodforyou.com, my heart has still been here and I definitely haven’t stopped experimenting in the kitchen. Some recipes have turned out amazing and some were, well, not so amazing. I’ll try to keep up with posting some of the better ones that I happened to snap pictures of before serving to friends (or devouring myself). The no-bake granola bars you see on this post are somewhat similar to my granola nut cookies that I posted back in April although these are actual granola, as they contain oats, and are slightly healthier in my opinion. The core of this recipe stemmed from another blogger’s granola bars  (see: Coco and Tea) and was adjusted to fit my needs. I’ve been on this low sugar kick for the past month so I opted against adding any additional sugar aside from the natural sweetness of nuts, fruit, and a little bit of honey and vanilla flavoring. The first batch turned out way too crumbly and would fall apart after taking one bite. This batch however, turned out just right! I think the almond butter is the secret to binding everything together in this recipe.

No-Bake Granola Bars Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHAT YOU NEED:

• 1 cup rolled oats
• 1 cup raw mixed nuts (Brazil, pecan, almond, peanut, macadamia, etc)
• 1 cup chopped dried fruit (I used raisins and apricots)
• 1 cup ground seeds (pumpkin, flax, sunflower, etc)
• ½ cup raw, creamy almond butter
• ¼ cup sunbutter
• ¼ cup raw honey
• ½ cup coconut oil
• ½ tsp vanilla extract
• dash of salt
• coconut oil cooking spray
• Optional: Chia seeds and/or coconut flakes and/or protein powder

No-Bake Granola Bars Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

PREPARATION

• Pour oats, mixed nuts, dried fruit, and ground seeds to a large bowl. Toss well.
• Mix sunbutter, almond butter, coconut oil, salt, honey, and vanilla in a small saucepan. Heat on low, stirring often, for about 3 minutes or until mixture is well combined.
• Pour wet ingredients into bowl with dry ingredients and mix with a spatula until the dry mixture is completely covered.
• Lightly spray your hands with coconut oil cooking spray.
• Press mixture firmly into a small baking pan (using your hands is the best and easiest way, hence the coconut oil spray)
• Option: Top with chia seeds, coconut flakes, or sprinkle protein powder for added nutrients
• Place pan in freezer for 20 minutes or until granola hardens
• Cut into rectangles and serve

No-Bake Granola Bars Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHY IT’S GOOD FOR YOU

Grinding these seeds beforehand and keeping the granola bars un-baked were two very important factors when creating this recipe, as it optimizes the amount of healthy, Omega-3 fatty acids your body can absorb from the seeds. Omega-3’s help control the amount of inflammation in our body, lessening the risk of arthritis, diabetes, asthma, and even cancer.  Incorporating a small handful of nuts every day into your diet can help with weight loss, stress-reduction, reduce the risk of lung cancer, lower cholesterol, assist in healthy heart health, and prevent cognitive decline. A study performed by UCLA even showed that a small handful of walnuts per day could assist with men’s reproductive health. In addition, nuts are a great source of dietary fiber, protein, and B-vitamins.

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Healthy Granola Nut Cookies

Healthy Granola Nut Cookies Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

Technically to call a food item granola, you need oats – And these cookies definitely don’t have oats. However, granola is typically a breakfast item and these cookies are perfect to eat for breakfast! They’re sweet but not too rich, filling but not too heavy, and the mixed nuts add a nice little crunch. They’re also great as a snack or even a light dessert. I could go on and on about these addicting little treats, but instead I’m going to jump right into the recipe so you can try them out and see for yourself how delicious they are!

Bonus- These are gluten-free, grain free, and dairy free, so they work for just about any dietary restriction!

Healthy Granola Nut Cookies Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHAT YOU NEED:

• 2 cups mixed nuts and/or seeds (think: Brazilian, pecans, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds)
• 2 cups coconut flour
• ½ cup coconut oil, melted
• 4 tbsp raw, organic honey, melted
• 2 tsp allspice
• 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
• ½ tsp ground ginger
• 2 cups organic apple sauce
• 2 tsp almond extract
• 1 cup raisins

Healthy Granola Nut Cookies Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

Healthy Granola Nut Cookies Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

PREPARATION

• Preheat oven to 350°
• Add mixed nuts to food processor. Pulse for 30 seconds.
• Add allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and raisins to processor. Pulse for 10 more seconds.
• In a separate mixing bowl, combine coconut flour, applesauce, coconut oil, and honey. Mix well. Add nut and raisin mixture and mix well to combine.
• Using an ice cream scooper or a spoon, scoop “dough” into small rounds and place on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
• Place cookie sheet in oven and bake for 30-40 minutes or until cookies begin to turn golden around the edges.
• Remove from oven. Let cool. Eat and enjoy!

Healthy Granola Nut Cookies Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

Healthy Granola Nut Cookies Becauseitsgoodforyou.com

WHY IT’S GOOD FOR YOU

Nuts and seeds are a good source of healthy fats and help maintain the structure of every cell in our body. They control inflammation, lower cholesterol, and reduce the risk of heart disease. Raw honey is honey that is unpasteurized, unheated, and unprocessed in any way. It is known to be an anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-fungal food. It strengthens the immune system and can even be used on the skin to help heal cuts and wounds. Raw honey is known to be a natural remedy for a variety of conditions such as allergies, acne, skin burns, and rashes. Coconut flour is a great alternative to baking flour. Not only is it gluten free, but also high in fiber and high in protein. Also- a little bit goes a long way, so one package will last for many recipes.

An End of Summer Snack: Watermelon Salad Recipe

Watermelon Salad

Labor day has come and gone but the heat of summer is still holding on! For those of you who are searching for a delightful dish (with a kick) to bring to that end of summer BBQ- look no further. It’s here.

Watermelon Salad

I recently received a request to find a healthy snack that incorporates jalapeños. Being a fan of spicy items myself, I happily took up the task of researching and adapted this Watermelon Salad with Jalapeño and Lime recipe from vegetariantimes.com. This dish is not only light and refreshing, the recipe is also surprisingly quick and simple. The jalapeño and lime add  just enough flavor to compliment the juiciness of the watermelon without making it overly sour or spicy. I made it the night before going out to the beach and it held up wonderfully (even through an hour of traffic on the 10 freeway). But enough chatting- Here’s the recipe:

WHAT YOU NEED: 

• 2 cups watermelon (I found that one of those really cute mini watermelons from the farmer’s market worked out perfectly)

• 1 jalapeño pepper – chopped

• 1/4 cup sliced basil

• 1/8 teaspoon lime zest

• 3 tablespoons lime juice

• 2 tablespoons olive oil

• 1 teaspoon white or black sesame seeds

• 1/2 teaspoon sea salt

watermelon salad ingredients

PREPARATION:

1. Cut watermelon into 1/2 inch cubes and place in a large serving bowl

2. In another bowl, combine lime juice, jalapeno, oil, and lime zest.

3. Drizzle lime juice mix evenly over the watermelon and toss lightly. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Watermelon Salad Ingredients

TO SERVE:

1. Add salt and sesame seeds. Top with basil.

2. ENJOY!

Sounds super easy, right? Also, the recipe serves about 4 and (the best part) – each serving is under 100 calories! So, while everyone else at the party is chowing down on baby back ribs and falling into a food coma, you’ll be prancing around in your swim suit, happily enjoying the last little bit of summer!

Watermelon Salad with Jalapeno and Lime

WHY IT’S GOOD FOR YOU:

According to naturalnews.com, watermelon is a nutritional powerhouse. Watermelon contains vitamins C , A, and lycopene, all of which have been found to ward off or minimize various types of cancer. It also contains B vitamins which help improve nervous system functioning and help convert food into cellular energy.  Watermelons also offer potassium and magnesium – vital minerals that are important for cardiovascular health, kidney functioning, and brain health.1

Raw jalapenos are good sources for vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C, niacin, folate, choline, vitamin K, and contain phenolic and flavonoid antioxidants.2

Lime juice is void of cholesterol and saturated fat, and only has 5 mg of sodium. It also has very few calories and is a very good source of vitamin C and potassium.3

 

REFERENCES
1 http://www.naturalnews.com/029157_watermelon_nutrition.html
2 http://www.livestrong.com/article/464669-jalapeno-nutritional-data/
3 http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/fruits-and-fruit-juices/1943/2

How to Take A Detox Bath

I never appreciated taking baths until I moved out on my own several years ago and realized that finding a place with a good (and clean) bathtub in the city is quite difficult to find.  Fortunately, my current apartment has a decent sized tub which I use to relax after a long or stressful day (literally, the Craigslist rental ad only had a picture of the tub and that was enough to win me over).  Recently, I stumbled across a recipe for what’s called a detox bath, which helps you not only relax, but can also rid toxins from your body.  I compared my findings with a few other sites, just to make sure it was legitimate, and all of them pretty much offered the same instructions.  Then I decided to try it out myself, and I was definitely pleased with the results!

Here’s what I used:

• 2 cups of Epsom salts (unscented or scented)

• 1.5 cups baking soda

• 1-2 tablespoons ground ginger or 2 bags of ginger tea

• 20 drops of an aromatherapy/essential oil, or a handful of fresh herbs if the Epsom salts are unscented (I used unscented salts and tea trea oil to aid in the detoxification process)

• Purified drinking water to stay hydrated

Make sure the water in the bath is warm and not hot.  Add all of the ingredients and sit in the water for 40 minutes.  This site reported that the first 20 minutes are meant for detoxification and the second 20 minutes are for the body to absorb the minerals.  You’ll begin to feel your body become heated and a lot of sweating is common.  After only about 8 minutes I began to feel like I had been thrown in a boiling pot of water and was being cooked for dinner, even though my water was only lukewarm.  Ginger apparently causes many people to heat up and may even cause the skin to flush, so if that happens, don’t be alarmed.*  To help the time go by faster you may want to grab a book to read or put on some calming music and light candles to increase relaxation.  When the 40 minutes is over and you’re ready to stand up, do so slowly; A feeling of lightheadedness may occur.  Also, if you wrap up tightly in a blanket after the bath you may continue to perspire.  I did this the second time around because I was trying to get rid of a cold and it actually helped a lot.  Afterward you should feel refreshed, relaxed, and clean – inside and out.  Just remember to stay hydrated by drinking lots of water during and after the bath.

WHY IT’S GOOD FOR YOU:

Aromatherapy has been used for centuries to treat anything from minor skin rashes to serious illness.1  Some common essential oils are chamomile (stress reliever), lavender (muscle pain, skin ailments), patchouli (anti-inflammatory for skin), tea tree (antifungal, antiviral), and ylan ylan (relaxant, stabilize mood swings).*

Baking soda is useful by removing toxins from water and helping keep the body alkalized.  It also softens the skin and may clear up blemishes.2

Ginger is an anti-oxident and anti-inflammatory.  Although there is no scientific evidence to support it, it is believed to help with signs of aging and is used in some cellulite-reducing treatments.3

Epsom salts are made of magnesium and sulfate and help regulate the activity of 300+ enzymes in the body.  Many athletes take epsom salt baths to decrease joint and muscle pain.4

The next time you feel a cold coming on or just feel in need of a nice, relaxing, body detox, try this out – Then let me know how it went! Feel free to comment with your questions, thoughts, or experiences!

* A little pink flush is normal but red and burning is not. If you get too hot or your skin becomes too red, exit the bath immediately or rinse off with cool water.
*Essential oils are highly concentrated and should not be used directly on the skin.  Some essential oils are not recommended for women who are pregnant or individuals with asthma or epilepsy.  If you are unsure whether or not you can safely use essential oils, check with a holistic practitioner, naturopath, or a reputable aromatherapy expert before using. 
REFERENCES
1 Mindell, E. & Mundis, H (2004). The Vitamin Bible. Grand Central Publishing: NY, NY.
2 http://www.naturalnews.com/021618_baking_soda_home_remedies.html
3 http://www.ehow.com/facts_5107899_benefits-ginger-skin.html
4 http://www.epsomsaltcouncil.org/health/

Feeling S.A.D.?

Do you ever wonder why the rain makes you want to lay in bed all day?  Or why you crave comfort foods and sweets during the chilly winter months?  Do you ever randomly begin to feel tired or blue following the hustle and bustle of the holidays, but can’t quite figure out why?  Well, you’re not alone.

These somewhat odd tendencies fall under the umbrella known as seasonal depression or SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and are actually more common than some may realize.   SAD, according to Mental Health America (2002)1, is a “mood disorder associated with depression that occurs with different variations of light,” and “affects about half a million people every winter between September and April, peaking in December, January, and February.”  MHA goes on to describe some other symptoms of SAD which include lethargy, irritability, overeating, tension or anxiety, difficulties sleeping, and a lack of desire to make social contact.

But why am I talking about depression in winter when we’re in the dead of summer and it’s 100+ degrees outside?  Well, it might always be sunny in California, but it’s not always sunny in other states.  And although the symptoms may not be persistent enough to qualify for SAD, we can still begin to feel blue if the sun decides to take a vacation behind the clouds for a few days.  Why does this happen, you ask? Let me tell you.

During sundown, our bodies begin to emit the hormone melatonin, causing increased drowsiness in the evening hours and a strong desire to sleep.  As the night progresses, we emit less and less melatonin, allowing our bodies to wake again after the sun comes up.  When it’s dark for longer periods of time than normal, such as during a storm or in winter, our biological clocks begin to become off balance and extra melatonin is produced, which increases our desire to sleep and may result in other depressive-like symptoms.  This internal process may also explain the cause of jet lag or the feeling of disorientation if you’ve been working in a dark room all day.  Another example of this was shown in a study conducted by Gonzales and Aston-Jones (2008)2 who kept rats in complete darkness for 6 weeks and noticed they began to show anatomical and behavioral patterns similar to people with depression, such as increased immobility during a swim test and neural damage in the brain.

The good news is that there are quite a few natural remedies to keep you from feeling blue.  The first (and best) way is exercise! Exercise is the best antidepressant out there and can even help re-regulate your circadian rhythm and help you sleep better at night.  Light boxes or light therapy may also available for individuals who have been experiencing symptoms of SAD for many years.  You can find out more information here  or here.  Another easy remedy is getting rid of all that leftover pie from Christmas or the cupcakes you left the party with after your friend’s birthday. Refined sugars deplete the body of B vitamins and can contribute toward feelings of depression.  And although those simple carbohydrates can boost serotonin levels, it’s better to focus on eating complex carbohydrates such as rice, green beans, and whole grains because they offer a more enduring mood lift without all the calories and sugar.3  Maintaining a regular sleep schedule is also important.  Try to go to bed and wake up around the same time every day, and don’t take naps longer than 30 minutes.  Adding these modifications to your daily living should help you feel better in general, but of course if you’re still feeling down, it’s always best to talk to a licensed professional!

REFERENCES
1 http://www.nmha.org/go/sad,
2 Gonzalez, M. C., & Aston-Jones, G. G. (2008). Light deprivation damages monoamine neurons and produces a depressive behavioral phenotype in rats. PNAS Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America, 105(12), 4898-4903. doi:10.1073/pnas.0703615105
3 Mindell, E. & Mundis, H (2004). The Vitamin Bible. Grand Central Publishing: NY, NY.
photos courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

Baked Salmon with Tomato and Basil

The idea of eating healthy has become somewhat of a fad in recent years. Even fast food chains have caught on and are offering lower-calorie or healthy alternatives to their menu. The upsetting part of this fad is that most of these “healthier” options aren’t really all that healthy for us. Calories are hidden in salad dressings and many nutrients are stripped in food through processing, preserving, and even during cooking. In an effort to learn how to make some real, homemade, healthy meals, I’ll be occasionally posting recipes on the site that I’ve tested out myself and deemed eat-worthy. This one I found on www.eatingwell.com and adjusted a bit by cutting down the serving size and baking the salmon rather than grilling it.

Here’s what you need:

2 tomatoes, sliced (I picked some fresh off the vine in front of my apartment)

1 clove of garlic, minced

1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

2 fillets salmon (I used Alaskan Wild Salmon fillets from Trader Joe’s)

1/2 cup fresh, sliced basil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

pepper to taste

2 sheets of regular foil or 1 sheet of heavy duty foil large enough to fit your salmon fillets

PREPARATION:

• Preheat oven to 350°

• Mash the minced garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt together with a spoon until it becomes similar to a paste in   consistency.

• Pour oil into a small bowl and add the garlic + salt mixture. Stir together.

• Place the salmon fillets in the center of the pieces of foil (skin side down) and use a small cooking brush to cover the fillets with the oil/garlic/salt mixture evenly.

• Sprinkle the basil over both pieces of salmon, but leave a little extra for the end as a garnish.

• Top with tomato slices and sprinkle with a pinch or two of salt and pepper.

• Connect ends of foil and fold over, then fold up sides of foil to make a type of cooking-bag for the salmon. Place salmon on a flat baking sheet and place in oven for approximately 45 minutes.

• Remove salmon and open foil bag (be careful because it will be hot and steamy!). Top with remaining basil and drizzle any juices from the foil back on to the salmon fillets.

• Transfer to a plate and enjoy!

WHY IT’S GOOD FOR YOU:

Salmon is high in potassium and contains sodium which work together to regulate the body’s water balance and normalizes heart rhythms. Low levels of potassium can cause caffeine cravings and make you feel like you have a “sweet tooth.”

Tomatoes also contain potassium and have cholesterol lowering properties. Cooking tomatoes boosts their level of lycopene, a beneficial component in the vegetable, and may help lower the risk of heart disease and certain types of cancer.

Basil contains other nutrients also related to cardiovascular health such as vitamin A and magnesium.

More good news – it’s only 248 calories and provides 35 grams of protein per serving! So eat up- because its good for you!

REFERENCES
Mindell, E. & Mundis, H (2004). The Vitamin Bible. Grand Central Publishing: NY, NY.
www.eatingwell.com 
http://www.livestrong.com/article/534279-the-nutrition-in-basil/

You are what you eat

Dr. Victor Hugo Landlahr, a nutritionist, radio show host, and pioneer in nutritional awareness, popularized the phrase “You Are What You Eat” in his book with the same title, published in 1942.1  Years later, we are finally beginning to understand what this phrase really means.

Everything we put into our body has the potential to effect us.  Whether it’s food, water, soda, medication, breathing in the city smog or even fumes from household cleaning products– all have the capability of altering our overall health and well-being.  Of course some of these things, like healthy foods, clean air, and vitamins are good for you, but most of the other things we unknowingly consume on a daily basis, are not so good.

But what we don’t know can’t hurt us, right?  Wrong.  Does it make enough of a difference in our bodies to really matter?  Yes, definitely.

Here is some proof.

In an article titled, “The Role of Nutrition in Mental Health,” Tieraona Low Dog, MD, discusses various diets and micronutrients that have been associated with decreased levels of mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.2  One study found that a diet rich in whole foods (fruits, vegetables, fish) gave middle-aged, British individuals protection against the onset of depressive symptoms.   On the other hand, another group of individuals who consumed a diet consisting mainly of processed meats, sweet desserts, fried foods, and high-fat dairy products had increased vulnerability for depressive symptoms.3

Need more?

Another double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that adding an omega-3 fatty acid supplement (such as fish oil) to the diets of 30 individuals with bipolar disorder actually alleviated many of their symptoms.3  Also, eating foods high in protein has been known to increase alertness.4  Switching to a gluten-free diet helped one patient with celiac disease and schizophrenia by offering a complete resolution of both diseases (as shown on a brain scan).5

Still a skeptic?  Even walking through the self-help section of your local bookstore will show more than a handful of inspiring success stories similar to the ones presented.  The truth is, individuals all over the world have experienced dramatic, positive changes in their health just by altering what they eat.  Many have also seen major changes in their health by adjusting the ways that they think.  The human body and spirit are incredibly resilient, but if you treat it well, it will flourish. I’m not saying that you can’t enjoy that scoop of double fudge brownie ice cream after you break up with your significant other.  Or that you can’t test out the pork belly sliders at that trendy new restaurant everyone is raving about.  But if you treat your body right, it will treat you the same in return.  And the next time you feel like something is a little off, pay attention and listen to what your body is trying to tell you. It may be saying more than you think!

1 Dog, L.T. (2010). The role of nutrition in mental health. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. doi: 16(2):42-46.
2 Akbaraly T.N., Brunner E.J., Ferrie J.E., Marmot M.G., Kivimaki M., Singh-Manoux A. (2009). Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. British Journal of Psychiatry. doi: 195(5):408-413
3 Stoll, A.L., Severus, W.E., Freeman, M.P., Rueter, S., Zboyan, H.A., Diamond, E., Cress, K.K., Marangell, L.B. (1999). Omega 3 fatty acids in bipolar disorder: a preliminary double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Archive of General Psychiatry. doi: 56:407-412
4 Rogers, P.J. (2001). A healthy body, a healthy mind: long-term impact of diet on mood and cognitive function. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. doi: 60:135-143.
5 DeSantis, A., Addolorato, G., Romito, A., Caputo, S., Giordano, A., Gambassi, G., Taranto, C., Manna, R., Gasbarrini, G. (1997). Schizophrenic symptoms and SPECT abnormalities in a coeliac patient: regression after a gluten-free diet. Journal of Internal Medicine. doi: 242: 421-423.