Vegan Sweet Potato Soup

P1170412 Thanksgiving has passed, the glory days of sweet potatoes are over until next November. That is, unless you try this amazing sweet potato soup. This soup is creamy, naturally sweet, and it has a little fiery kick from cayenne pepper. I had a non vegan version of this soup at a “Friendsgiving” party and thought that it was really amazing. With only two non vegan ingredients I figured it could easily be vegan-ized for all to enjoy! You may ask yourself, why do I care if its vegan? Aside from the usual reasons, like not wanting to eat animals, there have been a few recent articles about how the meat and dairy industry is a much bigger contributor to climate change than we realize. So if you don’t mind eating animals, try some vegan recipes to be more kind to our planet.P1170375

As a foodie first, and dietitian second, I definitely believe in eating food because it tastes good, not solely because of it’s health benefits. This is why you will not find me chugging green smoothies or downing tasteless protein bars. This soup gets me really excited because it is winning in both categories. Not only is it vegan, but its packed with calcium, healthy fats and vitamin A. Not to mention pepita seeds are the perfect vegetarian food! They are a great source or iron, magnesium, and protein! No need to go light on those soup toppings!vegan sweet potato soup

clearly, I'm a sucker for the pour shot

clearly, I’m a sucker for the pour shot

Vegan Sweet Potato Soup

Sprinkle on those pepitas! Do you like my nails?

Vegan Sweet Potato Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 stocks celery, diced
  • carrots, chopped (about 1/2 C)
  • 2 TBSP vegetable or coconut oil
  • 5 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 32 oz. vegetable broth plus 1 C water
  • 1 C unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 C lite or regular coconut milk
  • Pepita seeds for topping (pumpkin seeds, optional)

Directions

Make mirepoix by dicing first three vegetables.

Add oil to large soup pot. Add veggies when the oil is hot. Simmer on low while peeling and chopping sweet potato.

Add chopped sweet potato and spices (salt, pepper, cayenne pepper). Add vegetable broth and water, turn heat to high and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Check potatoes with a fork, if soft blend soup with an immersion blender or pour into regular blender. Add almond and coconut milk. Stir to combine. Serve hot topped with pepita seeds and coconut milk.

Let me know if you try this recipe at home! I promise, you will not be disappointed!

 

Real Talk: Holiday Weight Gain

In college I had a running teacher that told the class the average holiday weight gain was between 7- 10 pounds. After she said this, I looked around and saw horror on all of the freshmen girls’ faces. I was shocked Holiday weight gainwhen I heard that number, 7 pounds?!! That is like 2 pants sizes. Could it be true? No. The answer is no. I don’t know where that teacher got her statistics from but she is totally wrong. I hope she is reading this post right now and not spreading unwarranted fear to her current running class.
The truth is, people do tend to gain a bit of weight during the holiday season, but the real average is only between 1-2 pounds. Not a big deal. However, if you are gaining 2 pounds every holiday season it does add up. Keep in mind the holidays are about more than just food. Good food is an important part of celebrations, but it is not the only part! Here are my top five tips for avoiding holiday weight gain.

  • Just as you shouldn’t go grocery shopping while hungry, don’t go to the holiday party ravenous! Have a meal full of fiber and protein before you go. Such as roasted chicken and kale salad.

To read the rest of my tips for keeping your weight in check this holiday season head on over to Shopwell.holiday-weight-gain-snowmen

How to Buy Eggs from Happy Hens

eggsHave you heard the news? The latest research shows that eating eggs does not raise your cholesterol in most cases. Forget the egg whites, go for the whole egg! The yolk has been demonized for having high levels of cholesterol (which it does), but it is also chock full of protein, lutein, and choline, which are important nutrients for brain and eye health. The majority of fat in eggs is unsaturated fat which is considered “heart healthy.” The American Heart Association recommends up to seven eggs per week for healthy individuals, and limiting to four per week if you have high cholesterol or heart disease.

But what kind to buy? There are so many choices at the grocery store. Brown eggs? Organic? All-Natural? What do these labels even mean? The majority of them don’t mean much. Here is a review of some of the terms you will find on an egg carton and what they actually mean.

All-Natural. Just close your eyes when you see this label on eggs, in fact, close your eyes when you see this label on any food product. It means nothing and is not regulated by any third party agency. A company can say well, we did not inject artificial dyes into our food, therefore, it is natural! Another company might use the term natural to mean they used sugar instead of aspartame. Yet another company will call something natural because they used Stevia instead of sugar. It’s meaningless, but it does get consumers to buy their product. Do not be deceived my friend!!

cage free eggs

Cage-Free. What comes to your mind when you hear the words “cage free?” I think about happy chickens roaming free in their outdoor chicken coup. Wrong. Cage free simply means the chickens are not in a tiny cramped cage. They are however, in a large dark warehouse with 20,000 other chickens with no room to move or flap there wings. Chickens are often debeaked to stop them from pecking each other to death and will likely never see the light of day.

Free Range. Free range is slightly better than cage-free. These chickens must have access to the outdoors. Meaning they live in a cramped warehouse and there is a small door that is open for an unspecified amount of time for them to go outside. It could be a porganicasture or it could be a 10 by 10 square foot of manure.

Organic. Ding ding ding, we have a winner! I don’t think it is critical to eat all organic food, but if you care about animal welfare,organic eggs are a good choice. For eggs to be certified organic they have to meet requirements that are regulated by the USDA. They can’t be caged, must have access to the outdoors, are fed an organic vegetarian diet and not given growth hormones or antibiotics. Unfortunately, practices such as beak cutting and forced molting through starvation are permitted.

Certified Humane. This is actually the best choice for eggs, but it is not readily available in “normal” grocery stores. Certified Humane eggs meet all the standards of organic plus strict regulations such as the amount of space each animal gets, proper ventilation and food, and forced molting is not permitted.humane

Brown Eggs vs White Eggs. Same nutrients, different hens. Brown eggs are not healthier than white.

Omega-3 Eggs. This is the one type of egg that is nutritionally different. The chicken feed is supplemented with a source of omega-3’s, usually flax seed or oil. Therefore you get some omega-3’s in your chicken egg. Unless organic or otherwise specified they are raised the same way as conventional chickens.

I like to buy Organic eggs. Now that I have written this article I’m going to start looking for the Certified Humane symbol as well. It is also important to keep in mind that small farms may use organic practices but not actually be certified organic due to the high costs. For example, Underwood Farms in Moorpark is not certified organic, but they do use sustainable farming techniques and try to avoid synthetic pesticides when possible. I would also recommend buying eggs from a farmers market. Ask the farmer how the chickens are raised, they will usually be honest. Last not not least, quality food comes with a higher price tag. If you are buying super cheap eggs or meat, there is probably a reason it is cheap, and it’s not just because the store is having a sale! If you want some extra motivation to buy organic and humanely raised eggs take a look at these pictures of conventionally raised chickens.

Do you have any other egg related questions? I hope I cleared up some of the confusing and deceiving information that is out there.

Milk, it does a body good. Or does it?

milkDo you drink milk? I do sometimes, but I’m beginning to have second thoughts about it. Growing up my mom was always concerned we weren’t getting enough calcium. Although she never made us drink milk she did encourage us to finish the milk in our cereal bowls. I always did, my sister didn’t, I thought surely she was doomed for a life of weak bones. Being a vegetarian for most of my life I’ve always felt that milk was a good source of protein for me because I wasn’t eating other animal products.  I usually try to get 1-2 servings of either milk, yogurt, or cheese per day.

For years the government nutrition recommendations have included three servings of milk or dairy foods per day. These recommendations are based on the fact that the recommended intake of calcium is approximately 1000 mg and a 1 cup serving of milk has 333 mg of calcium, or approximately one third. That logic is a little bit silly because there are many other foods that have calcium besides dairy. Some of those foods include dark green vegetables, almonds, beans, oranges, tofu, and salmon.

Non-dairy calcium rich foods

Non-dairy calcium rich foods

A couple weeks ago there was a study published in the British Medical Journal that showed Swedish women with high milk consumption (3-4 glasses per day) actually had a higher risk of bone fractures than women with lower milk consumption. How can it be? Milk builds strong bones! That is the message that has been drilled into our heads by the Got Milk Campaign. Interestingly, high milk intake was also correlated with overall increased mortality risk in both men and women. Strange. The study is just an observational study so it can not prove causation, but it does make you think twice. As any good scientist would, I scrutinized the study searching for “lurking variables” (I think my statistics teacher is proud right now). One possibility is that the women who have a family history of osteoporosis or bone fractures drank extra milk in an effort to prevent fractures. Obviously, it didn’t work. One last interesting thing about this study is that the increased risk of death and fractures was only seen with milk consumption, NOT yogurt and cheese. The researchers think it may have something to do with galactose, but it is just a theory at this point. If you to know more about galactose, let me know!

Aside from this new study, there are a few other hesitations I have with milk. For one, approximately 65% of  adults are lactose-intolerant. It does not make sense for us to drink something that makes us bloated and crampy, when we can drink water and have no side effects at all. I think this alone is pretty good evidence that milk is for babies and small children.  Lactose intolerance in babies is actually quite rare. Babies produce larger amounts of the enzyme that helps break down lactose, as we age we lose that ability. Second, Mama’s milk is the perfect food for babies and cow’s milk is the perfect food for cow babies  humans? Hmm, I don’t think so… It just doesn’t add up people! Those freaking milk marketers are really good! Finally, Harvard School of Public Health recommends drinking water instead of milk. I really like the Myplate that Harvard makes as opposed to our government’s “Healthy Eating Plate.” Perhaps the government should loosen its ties with the dairy farmers just a bit…

Heather’s Milk Recommendations

  • Only drink milk if you really love it and keep it to 1-2 servings per day
  • If your kids are drinking milk at school offer them water at home
  • Yogurt and cheese are ok, but I recommend no more than 1 serving of each per day
  • Go organic if you can afford it
  • Don’t be afraid of other calcium sources: soy and almond milk, leafy greens, tofu and beans!

Fall Favorites

After a friend asked me what the best type of nutrition bar was, I immediately thought of Mrs. May’s.  My intention was to write a post about the healthiest bars, but then I realized I don’t like a lot of store bought bars. So I figured I would share with you some of the products that I do LOVE.

Mrs. May’s Cashew Crunch This is my favorite snack food EVER. The cashew crunch has a light sweetness that goes perfectly with the salty, protein-packed cashews. Mrs. May’s also makes bars which are equally delicious and have built in portion control, as long as you eat just one.  Most of their products have a very short ingredient list, so you can feel good that you are not eating something totally processed. The one downfall of Mrs. Mays is that it is kind of hard to find in a regular grocery store, which is why I don’t have any to take a picture of right now (sad face). Basically, they are impossible to find unless you order them online. They are definitely worth it!cashew crunch

Walnuts I am the nutty nutritionist after all, so I definitely need to include nuts! I love all nuts, but I have an emotional connection with walnuts. When I was kid I loved walnuts. On my third (or maybe second?) birthday I got a giant box full of walnuts and it was pretty much the best present ever! We have video of me opening this box and I just start screaming at the top of my lungs because I’m so happy. Later that day I insisted on carrying the box around with me. This one lady at the party said to me “Heather, put your nuts down.” I gave her the dirtiest look that a three year old is capable of. It’s my birthday and I will carry my nuts if I want to. Long story short, I still love walnuts and eat them pretty much everyday. They are great on oatmeal, in baked goods, in homemade granola, and in salads!

Baby Nutty!

Baby Nutty!

walnuts

Honest Tea Water is my number one drink choice. But for those times when I just want a little variety I go for Honest Tea. They have unsweetened and lightly sweetened tea. My favorites are Peach White Tea and Moroccan Mint Green Tea. I also like the zero calorie Unsweetened Lemon and “Just” Green Tea. Aside from being delicious this company is fair trade and most of there products are organic. Look for the green organic symbol if you are not sure.Honest Tea

Mamma Chia Vitality Beverage I have a love-hate relationship with chia seeds. Have you ever tried chia pudding before? Well I have, and I am NOT impressed. Its a bummer though because chia seeds are packed with heart healthy omega-3’s and they are a great source of fiber. Fatty fish is one of the best sources of omega-3’s, but if you are vegetarian I would definitely go for the chia! The flavor of these drinks are really good, you can tell they are made with fresh fruit, and they are also certified organic! My favorite flavors are cranberry lemonade and blackberry hibiscus. I also love this company because it was started by a woman in San Diego and they are very eco-friendly. One percent of all the profits go to supporting sustainable and local farms.Mamma Chia Drinks

Shallots. In my opinion, shallots are amazing and very under appreciated. A shallot is like an onion and garlic that got married and made a super baby! The first time my boyfriend ever cooked for me the recipe called for shallots. He didn’t know what shallots were so he called his Dad (who happens to be a chef) to ask if he could just use onions instead. His Dad said “If you really love her, you will buy shallots.” He ended up buying me shallots, it must be true love. But then we broke up, oh well. I still love shallots!  Shallots go great with most fall vegetables. You can use them in pretty much any recipe that calls for onion or garlic. I made this recipe with shallots a couple weeks ago and it was fantastic.

shallots

Shallots are my friend

P1160588

Even Lucy the dog likes shallots

Those are some of my faves. What are you loving this fall?

Vegan Chocolate Cake with Avocado Frosting

vegan chocolate cake

In honor of world vegan day, I decided to make a vegan chocolate cake! Let me tell you, this cake does NOT disappoint. It is super fudgey, moist, and amazing! This cake is not just good for a vegan dessert, it is good period. My taste testers had no idea it was lacking eggs and butter. Bonus, this cake is made with fruits (banana and avocado) and vegetables (beets)! A dietitian’s dream come true! Therefore, I feel perfectly content eating this cake for breakfast and dessert.

The whole cake is fabulous, but if there is one thing that is really impressive, it is the frosting! I plan to make it my go-to chocolate frosting from now on. Have you ever tried making frosting with avocados? Well I haven’t either until I made this cake! This frosting is great tasting, full of healthy fats (hello avocado) and it is a perfect texture for spreading and making beautiful cake designs. Win-win.

The original cake recipe called for whole wheat flower and coconut sugar.  I have cake baking anxiety so I did not want to use whole wheat flour in fear that it might produce a dry cake. Cake anxiety is real. If you’ve ever made a wedding cake I bet you know what I’m talking about! I didn’t use coconut sugar mainly just because I didn’t have it on hand and didn’t want to buy an obscure ingredient I will only use once. I know coconut is all the rage right now, but I would like to remind you it is still calorie laden sugar. Similar to honey, any nutritional benefit is extremely minimal.  I really like this quick article on coconut sugar from fooducate.

My lovely friend Ann-Marie helped me with some of the photos of this cake. Sheesh, this girl is talented. I don’t know how she does it, but my photos did not look this good when I took them! Heck, I was proud of myself the other day when I cropped a shadow out of a photo!

This recipe is adapted from Food and Nutrition Magazine and developed by Michaela Ballman MS, RD. Make this cake. Serve it to your vegan friends. Serve it to your non-vegan friends. Heck, serve it to the queen if she happens to be coming over.

cake batter

The batter is bright red from the beets!

vegan chocolate cake

No cake stand, I am a sad sad food blogger.

chocolate cake

chocolate cake

It’s too delicious not to dive in!

 

Vegan Chocolate Banana Beet Cake

Wet Ingredients

  • 3 roasted beets, pureed (~1 cup)
  • 1 cup soy or almond milk
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup coconut oil, melted
  • 3/4 cup coconut or white sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 very ripe banana

Dry  Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups AP flour (or whole wheat)
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder (unsweetened)
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt

Frosting

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar (optional)
  • hazelnuts

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 F and roast beets for 30-40 minutes. Allow to cool. Puree in a food processor. Reduce oven to 350 F. Grease two 8 inch cake pans. Add vinegar to milk and stir. Set aside to curdle. In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients and set aside. In a separate bowl use a mixer to cream coconut oil and sugar. Add pureed beats, banana, milk, and extract. Mix until smooth. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir just until combined. The cake might seem a bit thicker than regular cakes, but that is ok. Resist the urge to thin out the batter.

Pour evenly into baking pans. Bake for 20-25 minutes. I cooked mine for 22 minutes and it was perfect. Allow to cool before frosting.

Frosting: Add all ingredients to a food processor or mixer. Process for several minutes. If using the powder sugar star slow or else it will fly all over the place. Mix very well until there are no more little flaky green avocado specks, unless you like that type of thing… Garnish with hazel nuts and coconut (or regular) whipped cream.

Bon Appetit!

 

 

Soy and Breast Cancer: Is There a Link?

soy foods

October is breast cancer awareness month. It’s a great time to donate to a cancer charity and it is also a great time to think about lifestyle choices which may affect your risk of developing cancer. A healthy diet and regular exercise are two lifestyle factors which play a role in reducing the risk of breast cancer. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been shown to be beneficial in the prevention of breast cancer, prostate cancer, and colon cancer in epidemiological studies (studies looking at large populations). On the other hand, we often hear that there are some foods which may increase our risk for cancer. One of those foods being soy. Many people have heard talk of soy being unhealthy, while some people think it’s healthy, what’s the deal? To find out, head on over to shopwell, to read the complete article.

Top 5 Restaurant Foods Wearing a Healthy Disguise

We all know eating out is  probably not the best choice when we are trying to follow a healthy diet, but sometimes you just don’t have the time/don’t want to cook. These days many restaurants do offer healthy choices. The trick is finding what is actually healthy and what is just disguised as healthy. The following are some choices which I do not recommend and a healthy alternative.

tuna sub

A poor choice from Subway

  1. Tuna Sub from Subway. Usually I give Subway 2 thumbs up for nutritional value. Just hold the mayo, add lots of veggies and you are good to go. But not with the tuna sub, the tuna has so much mayo in it this sub clocks in at 480 calories for a 6 inch. Compare that to a 6 inch turkey breast which has 280 calories. If you are trying to slim down do not order the tuna from Subway. While 480 calories is certainly not a calorie bomb keep in mind that does not include cheese or any condiments. Veggie, turkey, or ham are much better choices at Subway.
  2. Creamy Tomato Soup from Panera Bread. Tomato soup, normally a really good choice. Nope, not this one. I think they make it with heavy cream. This soup has more calories than the broccoli cheddar or the potato soup. Loco. The best soup choice would be garden veggie or chicken noodle, with less than 160 calories compared to 450 in the tomato for a cup and a half of soup (1 bowl).
  3. Roasted Mushroom Alfredo from Olive Garden. Alfredo is probably not fooling anyone, but the mushrooms seem nutritious, right? Wrong. Instead of eating a bowl of saturated fat and refined carbs try the Lasagna Primavera with grilled chicken. This is actually really good! My Dad ordered it the other night and he loved it. I tried it and I will say it did not scream “diet food” at all. It was flavorful and a decent portion size. Bravo Olive Garden!
  4. Hot Pastrami from Urbane Café. I’m going to start by saying Urbane is my favorite “fast” food restaurant ever. I literally had to scour the menu to find something unhealthy because all of their sandwiches and salads are pretty sound nutritionally. But of course, pastrami is a very high fat meat and I just can’t give it my approval. I do recommend the Grilled Portobello Mushroom Sandwich with the delicious side salad for 590 calories. They also have a wonderful assortment of soups and salads; just steer clear of the ranch dressing!
  5. Pumpkin Spiced….Scone! from Starbucks. If you want to know what I think about the pumpkin spice latte from
    vanilla scone

    I love these little vanilla bean scones

    Starbucks click here. We can call it a PSS (Get it?). While this scone is delicious, it is definitely a calorie bomb at 480 calories. That should basically be your whole lunch, not just a little pastry on the side. I would recommend a petite vanilla scone instead. Perfectly delicious and a much better portion. No need to order 3, just ask for one scone.

I hope this little guide helps you make some healthy choices this weekend. What are your restaurant recommendations for healthy eats?