Recipes

Protein Bean Brownies

Protein Bean Brownies

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Rating: ★★★★★
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I discovered this yummy recipe when I was looking for ideas to use up a pack of beans that was about to expire. The beans are an excellent source of fibre and together with the cocoa powder make a perfect meal for our gut microbes. Other than being beneficial for our microbiome, this recipe is also mineral and protein packed - both from the beans and eggs as well as the protein powder. Oh, and those gooey melted chocolate chunks are just heavenly delicious!



Tips: These brownies can actually freeze pretty well! Just cut them into individual servings and pop into a freezer bag. Using canned beans which are softer will make the batter more smooth & consistent.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups black beans (canned or pre-cooked)
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tbsp chocolate pea protein powder
  • 2 tbsp vanilla protein powder (I used Dr. Amy Myers beef protein)
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chunks (dairy-free)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 C). Blend black beans in food processor into a rough paste. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and add eggs and melted coconut oil. Mix well.
  2. Mixing well after each ingredient add cocoa, protein powders, baking powder and salt one by one into the mixing bowl. Then stir in chocolate chunks (you can just crush 1/3 of a dark chocolate bar).
  3. Using extra coconut oil, grease a 25x10cm loaf tin, then line with baking paper. Pour in batter and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the edges are visibly cooked and the center doesn’t jiggle much when you shake the tin (if using the a toothpick test, it may still come out a little wet and that’s ok – we want these brownies moist!).
  4. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow to cool before cutting into individual brownies.

Nutrition


Per Serving: 175 calories; 10g fat; 8.5g carbohydrates; 13g protein; 5g Fibre; 24% DV for copper; 17% DV for iron; 18% DV for manganese; 16% DV for phosphorus.

Body Signs

The Body Signs Series – #1 Cracked Tongue

Have you ever thought how impressive and intelligent our bodies are? Constantly ticking away, sensing and adapting to a whole host of internal and external inputs, and in the processes sending us a myriad of signs & clues about our state of health. Fascinating isn’t it?

In this new series of posts called ‘Body Signs’ we’ll learn how to decode our bodies’ messages from a nutrition perspective (and you’ll be surprised with some of the things we’ll uncover!) But why is learning to read our bodies important? Well, being aware of what is happening in our bodies can help steer our health in the right direction, ease our anxiety, motivate us to take better care of ourselves and build a better relationship with our bodies.

So let’s start with the tongue. It is often one of the first areas of the body to show signs of nutrient deficiencies. Although this sign may not tell us exactly what’s out of balance, it can help guide further assessments.

Both iron and B vits are necessary for energy production, hormone and neurotransmitter function, immune health and DNA repair. All of which are critical processes for our overall health.

Blood tests are usually used to determine iron deficiency, whereas B vitamin levels can be assessed either through blood (standard) or urine (functional) testing. The advantage of a urine test is that it tells us whether your body has enough nutrients to function optimally (vs. a set reference range on a blood test).

Of course, such assessments should never be viewed in isolation – there are a lot of tools we can use in combination to build a clear picture of our nutrition status (including these physical signs and biochemical assessments).

Your body is talking, are you listening?

Nutrients

Vitamin A

Did you know that there are 13 vitamins essential for life? They are essential because each one of them serves a whole host of important functions in the body.

Take for example Vitamin A. It is needed for:

  • Eyesight
  • Immune function
  • Bone growth
  • Skin integrity
  • Reproductive health
  • Optimal gene expression
  • Red blood cell production

This fat-soluble vitamin is found in animal foods as preformed vitamin A and in plant foods as its precursor – carotenoids.

Top sources include:

  • Beef liver
  • Eggs
  • Butter
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Pumpkin
  • Carrots
  • Dark coloured veggies (spinach, kale, collards, etc.)

Vitamin A status can be tested through a simple serum (blood) test and deficiency can produce notable symptoms such as vision problems, poor immune function, skin and hair conditions, thyroid dysfunction + more (we’ll explore some of those in our Body Signs series).

Zinc and iron deficiencies are often associated Vitamin A deficiency (zinc is needed for vit. A metabolism, whereas vit. A is needed for iron metabolism).

For optimal absorption consume vitamin A and carotenoid-rich foods with healthy fats.

References:

  1. Lord R, Bralley J. Laboratory Evaluations For Integrative And Functional Medicine. Duluth, Ga: Genova Diagnostics; 2012.
  2. Higdon J. Vitamin A. Linus Pauling Institute. https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/vitamins/vitamin-A. Published 2022. Accessed January 7, 2022.
Recipes

Salmon fishcakes

Salmon fishcakes

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Rating: ★★★★
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These salmon patties are great for entertaining family and friends. They are gluten-free and dairy-free, and work wonderfully well as a healthy main dish with a side of steamed or roasted veggies. I love that they can be batch-cooked and frozen, making meal prep deliciously easy!


Tips: You can save time by using canned or pre-cooked salmon, pre-boiled potatoes and pre-diced frozen onions, carrots, garlic and parsley. Swap white potatoes with sweet potatoes for a lower glycemic index.

Ingredients

  • 500g white potatoes
  • 2 fresh salmon fillets (450g)
  • 5-6 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1 small carrot, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup frozen peas, defrosted
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup sunflower or almond flour
  • 1/3 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. fresh dill, finely chopped
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Fill a large saucepan half-way with water, add a pinch of salt and bring to boil. Peel the potatoes and cut them into large chunks. Once the water is boiling, add the potatoes, bring to boil, and then cook on medium heat for 10 mins (until cooked through). Drain the potatoes and set aside to cool off.
  2. As the potatoes boil, preheat oven to 220°C. Place salmon on unbleached baking paper and drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil, salt and pepper and bake for 10-13 mins (until cooked through).
  3. Meanwhile, dice and chop vegetables. Once the salmon is cooked, place it in the fridge for 5-10 mins to cool off.
  4. In a large pan, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil, onion, garlic and peas; cook on medium heat for 6-8 mins. Remove from the heat and let cool.
  5. Mash the cooled potatoes with a masher, add olive oil if necessary.
  6. In a large bowl flake the salmon (without the skin) and add the cooked onion, garlic and peas, as well as the potato mash, fresh herbs, flour and eggs. Mix well with a wooden spoon or with your hand.
  7. Make small patties from the mixture and place on a plate. In the same large pan used earlier, heat the rest of the olive oil on medium heat. Add the salmon patties and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side.
  8. When removing the patties from the pan, place them on a plate with a few paper towels to absorb the excess oil.
  9. Serve them warm or cold – your choice!

Nutrition

Per Serving: 218 calories; 13g fat; 10g carbohydrates; 13g protein; 1g Omega-3s; 68% DV for vitamin D; 49% DV for vitamin B12; 36% DV for vitamin A; 37% DV for selenium.

Nutrition

Calorie Counting – Is It Really That Important?

The short answer would be ‘it depends’.

If you have had even the tiniest of experiences in weight loss or ‘toning’ your body (i.e. building muscle) you would have been told to stick to your daily calorie target. You would also have been told about the concept of ‘calories in’ vs. ‘calories out’. In order to lose weight the calories consumed should be less than the calories used up.

Although this concept is very true and correct, simply looking at calories is not automatically going to give you good health (even if you’re achieving your fitness/weight loss targets!).

Calories post

Why is that? Because each calorie has its own nutritional value. That means that, depending on its source, a calorie will have a different composition of nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals and water). And so calories from fat will function differently in the body compared to calories from sugar.

Sugar, the simplest form of carbohydrates, requires very little digestion and goes straight into the bloodstream. Now, the body can only process the sugar at a certain rate and it also has a limit as to how much sugar should be circulating in the blood. Too much sugar in the blood can cause a range of serious metabolic derangements in the body and so our bodies try really hard to remove excess sugar from the bloodstream (in fact, our bodies work best when we have less than 1 teaspoon of sugar circulating in the bloodstream). And so the body will first use as much sugar as it can for energy and then the rest will be stored as fat.

Blood sugar

On the other hand, calories from fats are released more slowly because fats take longer to digest and absorb (some say up to 8 hours!). This allows the body to use up the energy released from the fats in small batches, avoiding the flood of energy which then has to be stored as fat.

To make things more complicated, it is not just about the macronutrients (those required in large quantities) – proteins, fats and carbohydrates. We can think of these macronutrients as the fuel and building blocks of the body. However, it is the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) which act as the gears that enable the body to use the fuel and function properly. Thus, a calorie which contains mostly macronutrients but little or no micronutrients is also of little use to the body.

And so we go back to the beginning – not all calories are made equal. If you’re just interested in weight loss, eating anything within your calorie target could still help you lose weight. However, in addition to losing weight you may also deplete the body of the vital minerals and vitamins, the gears of the body, which affect how your body functions and ultimately your health!

Oh, by the way, did you also know that calories from different food sources are burnt differently? We’ll talk about this and the various factors which affect how we burn calories in part 2 of this post. Stay tuned!

Nutrition

What is Functional Nutrition and Why Should You Care?

Nutrition – the word itself conjures images of strict diets and weight scales, doesn’t it? And yet nutrition is about a lot more than just that.

Over the years nutrition has started taking a more prominent spot in the worlds of health and medicine. Not just in the treatment of digestive diseases, but for a wide variety of ailments and health situations.

Functional Nutrition post

At the forefront of change is a new discipline called ‘Functional medicine’ – I spoke about it in an earlier post. In a nutshell, functional medicine relies heavily on nutrition and lifestyle interventions before turning to pharmaceuticals.

Why are these changes happening now? Because people from both sides of the field (i.e. patients and healthcare providers) are starting to realize that the current system doesn’t work.

To put it in the words of the great biochemist and author Dr. T. Colin Campbell, most countries today have a “disease-care system” rather than a healthcare one.

Current Western medical models are too focused on the individual parts of the human body (reductionism). Although this approach can tell us a lot about how specific organs work on their own, it doesn’t reveal much about how they all function together in the complex human body. For example, knowing how the neurons in the brain work doesn’t really help us understand why we react emotionally to our favorite song.

Reductionism
From T. Colin Campbell’s book “Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition”

We need to see the full picture to truly understand what is going on. And we can do this through functional medicine and functional nutrition.

How? Functional nutrition goes much deeper than food labels and diet plans – its main focus is finding the root cause of your symptoms and resolving them. A nutritionist trained in functional medicine will use advanced laboratory testing and other assessment techniques to create powerful and highly personalized therapeutic interventions.

The first step in the functional approach is to take a detailed look at the patient’s history – not just the physical symptoms but also other predisposing factors, such as past stressful life events. Stress is a huge factor in many (if not all!) diseases.

The next step would be lab testing to confirm (or exclude) possible underlying causes of the symptoms. As the saying goes – “test, don’t guess”.

Based on all of the information collected, a functional nutritionist will then start investigating what is the root cause. Where are all of your symptoms and ailments intersecting? Is there a common factor, pathway or axis? Are there any imbalances in body functions and systems?

You may be surprised how intricately all systems of our body are connected. For example, food intolerances (e.g. lactose and gluten) can cause headaches and migraines with mild or minimal symptoms in the digestive tract (which may be missed easily). A traditional doctor may just prescribe you a medicine for the migraines, without really looking into the root cause.

In other cases, a person may be experiencing a range of symptoms, however standard medical tests would come back “in the clear” and the person would be told that there is nothing wrong with them. This is usually because most lab reference ranges are for end-stage disease and not for optimal health – just because something isn’t marked red on the test result doesn’t mean that all is ok!

Another example is the link between inflammation and many “incurable” chronic diseases:

what-is-chronic-inflammation-jan-overbay

As you can see, a functional nutritionist is committed to finding the root cause of your symptoms and resolving them, no matter how long it takes. They are also committed to working together with you, listening to your story and how your body feels. And that is why functional nutrition and functional medicine is the answer to some of the problems in health and healthcare today.

Nutrition, psychology

Is Your Food Making You Depressed?

No, I don’t mean that “boring, bland, diet food” (although healthy food is not boring, but more on that later). What I’m talking about is your standard food intake. You know, the “wholegrain” sandwich and pasta, the takeaway pizza, the “healthy” rice bowl or potato mash – those kind of things.

How can they make you depressed – they taste like happiness right?! Well, despite the short-term boost in mood, a high-carbohydrate, high-sugar diet can lead to something called insulin resistance.

Insulin Resistance Depression

Insulin resistance (IR)

What is it? IR happens when the cells in your body are not responding to the hormone insulin. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, takes excess glucose from our blood stream into many cells throughout the body.

When your cells refuse to open their ‘doors’ to insulin, the excess glucose remains in the blood wreaking all sort of trouble. Here’s just a few of the issues caused by IR:

  • The cells run out of fuel. Yes, our cells need glucose to produce energy and function properly.
  • The cells become malnourished. When our cells open their ‘doors’ to glucose, they also let in vital nutrients such as amino acids and vitamins. These nutrients are also needed for proper cellular function.
  • Burnout of pancreatic cells. The beta-cells of the pancreas are responsible for producing insulin. These cells are stimulated by excess glucose in the blood. Constantly high blood glucose levels will force these cells to work overtime, pumping out as much insulin as they can until they start to burn out and die. The result: reduced capacity of the body to produce insulin. This is the beginning of diabetes.

IR and brain chemistry

OK, we now know that both insulin and glucose are needed to take nutrients into our cells. But how does that relate to our mood, brain chemistry and depression specifically?

You may have heard that our moods are regulated by our brain chemistry. What that means is that certain chemical molecules can affect how our brain cells function. Such molecules are called neurotransmitters – they transmit ‘information’ from a nerve cell to another nerve cell or a muscle cell or any other cell in our body.

Neurotransmitters are made inside the brain from amino acids (the building blocks of protein) and other compounds. To get inside the brain, the amino acids have to pass a protective barrier called the blood-brain barrier (BBB). This process requires sufficient amounts of insulin and the cells to be sensitive to insulin’s actions.

The important neurotransmitters for regulating our moods are serotonin, dopamine, adrenalin, acetylcholine and GABA. Here’s how two of them are made:

Serotonin Synthesis
Serotonin synthesis

Audio from Dr. Oscar Coetzee, Masters in Human Nutrition lecturer and clinical nutritionist.

Dopamine Synthesis
Dopamine synthesis

So when the cells in our body, including the brain, are not responding properly to insulin fewer amino acids can cross the BBB leading to a drop in the amount of neurotransmitters in the brain. This alters our brain chemistry and can lead to many emotional and psychological symptoms including the below:

Neurotransmitter Symptoms 1Neurotransmitter Symptoms 2

So here you are – what you eat can make you depressed by altering your brain chemistry! Of course there are more factors including stress, addictive and toxic foods as well as vitamin and mineral deficiencies. These will be covered in future posts, so keep an eye out if you’re interested!

Nutrition

What is Alternative Medicine and Where does Nutrition Fit?

Alternative medicine has been on the rise for several decades now and it seems that it will keep growing in the foreseeable future. The most recent addition to the alternative medicine family is Functional medicine. Why is it different? Because it offers something traditional medicine doesn’t – that is working on the body as a whole to eliminate the root cause, rather an as isolated systems of organs and suppressing symptoms.

So what’s the big fuss? Let’s take a look at the current healthcare landscape.

Functional Medicine 2

Functional Medicine Final

 

Conventional Medicine

Western medicine or allopathic medicine is the dominant approach to health are not only in the West but in any developed country (thanks to globalization). These paradigm treat the symptoms of disease rather than the root cause. The National Cancer Institute’s describes allopathic and Western medicine as using “drugs, radiation or surgery to treat symptoms and disease. These can also be called conventional medicine or mainstream medicine.

Alternative Medicine

There are many paradigms which fall under “alternative medicine”. According to the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM), this approach goes beyond just treating symptoms and aims to achieve optimal health. Osteopathic healthcare consists of conventional drugs, surgery and special osteopathic manipulative techniques. These techniques are hands-on – an osteopathic doctor would use their hands to stretch or apply gentle pressure on muscles and joints.

Holistic medicine encompasses body, mind and soul into its practice. It treats the person as one whole, rather than the sum of its parts/organs/systems, and thus the name holistic. Like osteopathic medicine, holistic medicine looks for the root cause of problems, rather than just treating symptoms. It includes physical, social, psychological and spiritual elements of health and disease.

Naturopathic medicine has self-healing at the core of its paradigm. It uses therapeutic methods (including nutritional, manipulative, homeopathic and botanical therapies) and substances to assist the body in healing itself. It also focuses on identifying and eliminating the root causes of disease and ill health.

And finally, integrative medicine is the marriage of mainstream and alternative medicine. I believe integrative medicine incorporates all of the above. Some of the top interventions used in integrative medicine are nutrition, yoga, supplementation, massage, meditation and acupuncture.

Functional Medicine

Functional medicine is a systems-based method, linking physiology and function. It takes into account the patient’s lifestyle, genes and environment when looking for the root cause and developing a treatment plan. It is often confused with integrative medicine, because of their many similarities, including a patient-centered approach.

I really like the definition below from  this article on Deepak Chopra’s website:

“The Textbook of Functional Medicine defines FM as the ‘prevention, early assessment, and improved management of complex, chronic disease by intervening at multiple levels to correct core clinical imbalances and thereby restore each patient’s functionality and health to the greatest extent possible’.”

Functional Medicine’s 6 Core Principles:

  1. Recognizing the individuality and genetic uniqueness of each human being
  2. Supporting a holistic, patient-cantered — rather than disease-cantered — approach to treatment
  3. Searching for a dynamic balance between body, mind, and spirit
  4. Acknowledging the interconnectedness of all internal body functions
  5. Seeing health as a positive vitality — not just the absence of disease
  6. Striving to enhance the health span, not just the life span, of each patient

There’s a good analogy of functional medicine as a tree: the leaves are the symptoms, the trunk is the clinical imbalances, and the roots are the environmental and genetic dispositions.

Functional medicine was found on the premise that dysfunctions on multiple levels (psychological, physiological, etc.) precede disease. Part of its approach is to define disease in terms of how the individual’s genome interacts with the environment and lifestyle and how that is expressed in physiological function.

A typical course of action would be to correct physiological imbalances and change the environmental factors (including nutrition) which undermine optimal function.

Back to Alternative Medicine

All of the outlined medicine paradigms have one goal in common – to restore and maintain optimal health. Alternative and especially functional medicine aims to go beyond the absence of disease and towards 100% function of the body.

Illness-wellness continuum

Where does nutrition fit into this? Nutrition fits in each and every model. It is a core component of osteopathic, naturopathic, holistic and functional medicine. It can also help many hospital in-patients and out-patients in their recovery from invasive treatments or to counter-balance the effects of medications. Nutrients affect us not just on a system level but also on a cellular level. We need good nutrition in order function optimally and support our bodies to maintain homeostasis (balance).

I believe all of these approaches can work together under a funnel approach. At the top of the funnel we have the less invasive/aggressive approaches: osteopathic medicine, holistic medicine, naturopathic medicine and functional medicine. In this way most of the chronic diseases can be prevented and reversed, the burden on public health systems and hospitals can be lowered and patients can actively participate (and choose) their treatment plans.

At the bottom of the funnel would be the remaining approaches: western medicine, allopathic medicine and regenerative medicine. Let’s not forget that A&E doctors save lives every day! That is why we cannot completely eliminate traditional medicine – we still need it for emergency and severe cases. However, I would rather see them as a last resort.

The “funnel” approach as I would like to call it will limit the number of people requiring medications and surgeries, free up more time for the allopathic doctor so that he/she can focus more on their patient’s care and thus improve their service. And this is why non-mainstream medicine will continue to grow.

IntegratedMedicine

 

Motivation

New Year What? A Different Reality on Being a Healthier You

Instagram makes it seem like everyone is smashing through their workouts and joyfully gulping down their protein and detox shakes, as if they have magically erased all memory of the delicious smell of pizza and the rich taste of burgers…
But the reality is often different (for me, and I hope for many others). One week in to the new year and I have come to realize that going back to a healthier lifestyle is easier said than done. All the talk about sticking to new year’s resolutions, makes me wonder what I’m doing wrong (and why I’m still eating burgers at 10pm)…

Well for starters, I didn’t really make any resolutions… Yes, of course, like everyone else I planned to go back to being healthier. But there wasn’t any specific resolution or timeframe. The truth is after months of free eating (following my exit from competing) and weeks of not working out, I knew I had to make some changes sooner or later.

However, I didn’t want to make any new year’s resolutions because they rarely seem to work. In fact, research shows that people generally fail at all of their resolutions by the 15th of February. Not really effective for long-term lifestyle changes, right? So may be I’m not doing anything wrong after all…

Here’s what I’m thinking: if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing now. Date, time and place become irrelevant to your goal, or at least as to when you start working towards your goal. I say this from experience. For months, if not years, I struggled with digestive issues until one fine autumn day I woke up and started eating a clean, plant-based diet. Boom. No more waiting and wondering when is the right time (that time will never come, fyi). I felt so much better and wondered why I didn’t start sooner.

But before we can start making any external changes, we need to reconsider our own beliefs and motivations. Sometimes it is necessary to reframe our internal view in order to find meaning and worth in those new goals we have set for ourselves. Because if you don’t truly see the value in changing your lifestyle you are already setting yourself up for failure.

And it is here that I, and many others, struggle the most. The mental battle is a tough one, no matter what level of fitness you’re at. But instead of dragging our feet and curling up with fear, it is time to pull ourselves together and take baby steps. 

There’s nothing wrong with falling off track multiple times or slowing down the pace of change. As long as you’re moving forward towards your goals & dreams, you can give yourself a pat on the back and keep moving  🙂

Nutrition

Why Sticking to a Diet is Hard These Days

First of all, I hate the word diet. It is terribly close to the word “die” and exudes connotations of great struggle and suffering. Oh, and I love food.

The poor word has been so badly abused by the media and health & food industry that it has now become our second nature to associate it with hunger, unpleasant meals and unhappiness.

Yet, it still feels like we are obliged to follow a “healthy” (definition: TBC) diet of some sorts. Apparently doing that can solve many personal and global problems. Problems such as:

  • Eliminating waste (buy only what you can eat, often misinterpreted as eat all you can and throw away nothing)
  • Ending hunger (similar to above, but with an extra dose of guilt)
  • Saving the planet (reduce environmental impact by eating local & seasonal foods)
  • Saving the animals (no explanation needed here)
  • Increasing lifespan
  • Getting your body the nutrients it needs
  • Preventing disease and curing existing health problems
  • Getting in shape, losing weight
  • Maintaining a state of happiness and mental health

There’s probably more claims out there, but I believe these are the main ones.

Now do you see the problem? There are specific diets for each of these problems and there are diets which cover more than one problem. In fact, there are over 100 recognized diets!

insta-image-sunday

However, I am yet to find a diet that can fix it all and keep you happy. You know what I mean?

If you eat meat, you are a merciless killer who’s likely to suffer some digestive issue due to the high acidic profile of animal products. Of course, the alternative is not eating meat and fighting a slow battle with pernicious anemia (B-12 deficiency) or trying to keep your kidney alive due to long-term supplement usage (ok may be I am a bit harsh, but you get the picture).

And there are many more examples…

So I think it’s time to move away from the word diet and take a closer look at our lifestyles. Fitting food around the way we live and the preferences we have will make things much easier. At least in theory.

We are all unique individuals with different needs and likes, so it’s only natural to adopt a lifestyle that feels healthy to you, makes you happy and energetic.

Have you found what works for you? Share your story in the comments below 🙂