Top 5 Must-Make Vegan Easter Treats

Top 5 Must-Make Vegan Easter Treats

Easter is just over a week away and it’s time to get serious. Easter treats, candy, goodies…whatever you want to call them… but what do you eat if you’re vegan? Luckily, there’s actually quite a few ‘accidentally vegan’ candies out there these days. So you can fill your baskets with gummies and jelly beans without missing out. (just read your labels…lots have gelatin, but there’s lots that don’t too!)

But what about the other goodies? The baked goods and chocolate-y treats? Well, don’t despair…I’ve tracked down some awesome vegan recipes for some of my favorite Easter treats! So go ahead and enjoy…and if you’re feeling extra nice, maybe even bring some to share with your family!

Read More

Five Cholesterol Myths and What to Eat Instead

You knew there was a bit of an over-emphasis (borderlining obsession) about cholesterol, right? But, before we jump into some myths let's make sure we're on the same page when it comes to what exactly cholesterol is.

Myth #1: “Cholesterol” is cholesterol

While cholesterol is an actual molecule what it is bound to while it's floating through your blood is what's more important than just how much of it there is overall.  In fact depending on what it's combined with can have opposite effects on your arteries and heart.  Yes, opposite!

So cholesterol is just one component of a compound that floats around your blood.  These compounds contain cholesterol as well as fats and special proteins called “lipoproteins”.  

They're grouped into two main categories:

  • HDL: High Density Lipoprotein (AKA “good” cholesterol) that “cleans up” some of those infamous “arterial plaques” and transports cholesterol back to the liver.
  • LDL: Low Density Lipoprotein (AKA “bad” cholesterol) that transports cholesterol from the liver (and is the kind found to accumulate in arteries and become easily oxidized hence their “badness”).

And yes, it's even more complicated than this.  Each of these categories is further broken down into subcategories which can also be measured in a blood test.

So “cholesterol” isn't simply cholesterol because it has very different effects on your body depending on which other molecules it's bound to in your blood and what it is actually doing there.

Myth #2: Cholesterol is bad

Cholesterol is absolutely necessary for your body to produce critical things like vitamin D when your skin is exposed to the sun, your sex hormones (e.g. estrogen and testosterone), as well as bile to help you absorb dietary fats.  Not to mention that it's incorporated into the membranes of your cells.  Talk about an important molecule!

The overall amount of cholesterol in your blood (AKA “total cholesterol”) isn't nearly as important as how much of each kind you have in your blood.

While way too much LDL cholesterol as compared with HDL (the LDL:HDL ratio) may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease it is absolutely not the only thing to consider for heart health.

Myth #3: Eating cholesterol increases your bad cholesterol

Most of the cholesterol in your blood is made by your liver.  It's actually not from the cholesterol you eat.  Why do you think cholesterol medications block an enzyme in your liver (HMG Co-A reductase, to be exact)?  'Cause that's where it's made!

What you eat still can affect how much cholesterol your liver produces.  After a cholesterol-rich meal your liver doesn't need to make as much.

Myth #4: Your cholesterol should be as low as possible

As with almost everything in health and wellness there's a balance that needs to be maintained.  There are very few extremes that are going to serve you well.  People with too-low levels of cholesterol have increased risk of death from other non-heart-related issues like certain types of cancers, as well as suicide.

Myth #5: Drugs are the only way to get a good cholesterol balance

Firstly, don't start or stop any medications without talking with your doctor.

And while drugs can certainly lower the “bad” LDL cholesterol they don't seem to be able to raise the “good” HDL cholesterol all that well. Guess what does?

Nutrition and exercise, baby!

One of the most impactful ways to lower your cholesterol with diet is to eat lots of fruits and veggies.  I mean lots, say up to 10 servings a day.  Every day.

cholesterol.jpg

Don't worry the recipe below should help you add at least another salad to your day.

You can (should?) also exercise, lose weight, stop smoking, and eat better quality fats.  That means fatty fish, avocados and olive oil. And ditch those over-processed hydrogenated “trans” fats!

Summary:

The science of cholesterol and heart health is complicated and we're learning more every day.  You may not need to be as afraid of it as you are.  And there is a lot you can do from a nutrition and lifestyle perspective to improve your cholesterol level.


Recipe (Dressing to go with your salad): Orange Hemp Seed Dressing

Makes about ¾ cup

  • ½ cup hemp seeds
  • ½ cup orange juice
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • dash salt and/or pepper

Blend all ingredients together until creamy.  Serve on top of your favourite salad and Enjoy!

Tip: Store extra in airtight container in the fridge.  Will keep for about a week.

References:

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-cholesterol

http://summertomato.com/how-to-raise-your-hdl-cholesterol

https://authoritynutrition.com/top-9-biggest-lies-about-dietary-fat-and-cholesterol/

Coffee - Who can drink it and who shouldn't?

Ahhhh.....Coffee!

Coffee is one of those things - you either love it or hate it. You know if you like the taste or not (or if it’s just a reason to drink sugar and cream). You know how it makes you feel (i.e. your gut, your mind, etc.).

coffee.jpg

 

Not to mention the crazy headlines that say coffee is great, and the next day you should avoid it! But, there is actual science behind why different people react differently to it. It's a matter of your genetics and how much coffee you're used to drinking.

NOTE: Coffee does not equal caffeine. Coffee contains between 50-400 mg of caffeine/cup, averaging around 100 mg/cup. Coffee is one of the most popular ways to consume this stimulant. But… a cup of coffee contains a lot of things over and above the caffeine. Not just water, but antioxidants, and hundreds of other compounds. These are the reasons drinking a cup of coffee is not the same as taking a caffeine pill. And decaffeinated coffee has a lot less caffeine; but, it still contains some.

So let's look at caffeine metabolism, its effects on the mind and body, and whether coffee drinkers have higher or lower risks of disease. Then I’ll give you some things to consider when deciding if coffee is for you or not.

Caffeine Metabolism

Not all people metabolize caffeine at the same speed. How fast you metabolize caffeine will impact how you’re affected by the caffeine. In fact, caffeine metabolism can be up to 40x faster in some people than others.

About half of us are “slow” metabolizers of caffeine. We can get jitters, heart palpitations, and feel "wired" for up to 9 hours after having a coffee. The other half is "fast" metabolizers of caffeine. They get energy and increased alertness and are back to normal a few hours later. This is part of the reason those headlines contradict each other so much - because we’re all different!

The Effects of Coffee (and caffeine) on the Mind and Body

NOTE: Most studies look at caffeinated coffee, not decaf.

The effects of coffee (and caffeine) on the mind and body also differ between people; this is partly from the metabolism I mentioned. But it also has to do with your body’s amazing ability to adapt (read: become more tolerant) to long-term caffeine use. Many people who start drinking coffee feel the effects a lot more than people who have coffee every day. Here’s a list of these effects (that usually decrease with long-term use):

  • Stimulates the brain

  • Boosts metabolism

  • Boosts energy and exercise performance

  • Increases your stress hormone cortisol

  • Dehydrates

So, while some of these effects are good and some aren’t, you need to see how they affect you and decide if it’s worth it or not.

Coffee and Health Risks

There are a ton of studies on the health effects of coffee, and whether coffee drinkers are more or less likely to get certain conditions. Here’s a quick summary of what coffee can lead to:

  • Caffeine addiction and withdrawal symptoms (e.g. a headache, fatigue, irritability)

  • Increased sleep disruption

  • Lower risk of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's

  • Lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes

  • Lower risk of certain liver diseases

  • Lower risk of death (“all cause mortality")

  • Mixed reviews on whether it lowers risks of cancer and heart disease

Many of the health benefits exist even for decaf coffee (except the caffeine addiction and sleep issues).

NOTE: What’s super-important to note here is that coffee intake is just one of many, many factors that can affect your risks for these diseases. Please never think regular coffee intake is the one thing that can help you overcome these risks. You are health-conscious and know that eating a nutrient-rich whole foods diet, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep and exercise are all critical things to consider for your disease risk. It’s not just about the coffee.

Should you drink coffee or not?

There are a few things to consider when deciding whether you should drink coffee. No one food or drink will make or break your long-term health. Caffeinated coffee is not recommended for:

  • People with arrhythmias (e.g. irregular heartbeat)

  • People who often feel anxious

  • People who have trouble sleeping

  • People who are pregnant

  • Children and Teens

If none of these apply, then monitor how your body reacts when you have coffee. Does it:

  • Give you the jitters?

  • Increase anxious feelings?

  • Affect your sleep?

  • Give you heart palpitations?

  • Affect your digestion (e.g. heartburn, etc.)?

  • Give you a reason to drink a lot of sugar and cream?

Depending on how your body reacts, decide whether these reactions are worth it to you. If you’re not sure, I recommend eliminating it for a while and see the difference!  

Looking to switch up your coffee game? Thy this healthier latte recipe below!

Pumpkin Spice Latte

Serves 1

  • 3 tbsp coconut milk
  • 1 ½ tsp pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon)
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp pumpkin puree
  • ½ tsp maple syrup (optional)
  • 1 cup coffee (decaf if preferred)

Instructions:

Add all ingredients to blender and blend until creamy.  Serve & enjoy!

Tip: You can use tea instead of coffee if you prefer.

References:

https://authoritynutrition.com/coffee-good-or-bad/

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/all-about-coffee

http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/a-wake-up-call-on-coffee

http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-your-coffee-habit-help-you-live-longer-201601068938

http://suppversity.blogspot.ca/2014/05/caffeine-resistance-genetic.html

https://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-coffee-should-you-drink/

Easy Vegan Banana Bread - No Added Sugar

Who doesn't love fresh made Banana Bread?  I could eat it everyday, but most recipes always seem to have loads of sugar.  And that kinda takes away from the healthy part of the loaf.  So I came up with this simple & delicious recipe that ditches the sugar and uses stevia powder instead!  So no added sugar,  but still loads of delicious flavour. Hope you enjoy it, my family sure did!

Easy Vegan Banana Bread.jpg

Recipe Note: I used BetterStevia Powder.  This is more concentrated than regular Stevia, so make sure you read the label carefully.  The recipe I used for inspiration called for 3/4 cup of sugar which converts to 1/2 - 3/4 tsp of BetterStevia Powder.  Depending on what type you have you may need to use a different conversion.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/3 cup mashed ripe banana (about 3 large bananas)
  • 1/2 cup Coconut Oil - melted
  • 1/3 cup non-dairy milk (soy, almond, cashew etc.)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp ground flax + 1/3 cup water
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 - 3/4 tsp BetterStevia Powder 
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2  - 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup oats  (optional)
  • 1/4 cup shredded coconut (optional)

Instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper.  Or if you don't have any, grease and flour your pan.

  • Mix the ground flax seed and water together in a small bowl and let sit while you mix up the other ingredients.

  • In a large bowl, combine all of the dry ingredients. Mix the flour, stevia, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, coconut and oats until combined.

  • In a separate bowl, mix together the wet ingredients. Whisk the oil, bananas, vanilla, milk and the flaxseed/water mixture until blended.

  • Then add your wet ingredients to the dry and mix until combined.

  • Pour into your loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean about 30 to 40 minutes. Mine took about 36-ish minutes. Let your loaf cool in pan for about 15 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan and let cool completely on a wire rack. Then slice and enjoy!

Makes 1 loaf.  To mix things up, try adding chocolate chips or nuts instead of the oats and coconut.  I usually throw in whatever I happen to have on hand so each loaf is always different!

 

Disclaimer: As an ambassador for Vista Magazine, I received a free sample of  BetterStevia Powder . I was not compensated for this post and as always the opinions expressed are my own.