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If you are reading this post, you are probably one of two groups of people. You either know deep down that it’s important to buy organic, but if you were asked to list the reasons, you might not be able to do so, or you are not yet convinced that it’s important to buy organic and are interested in what I have to say about it. Although I feel there are about a million and a half reasons to buy organic, I’ll keep this post short.

Reasons to buy organic:

  • Organic foods have no synthetic fertilizers, no synthetic pesticides or insecticides, no genetically engineered plants or animals… (Um… that means that conventional foods DO have those things. Who wants to eat fertilizer or genetically engineered animals?! Not I!)
  • Organic foods have less pesticide residue than conventionally grown foods and it is well documented that children who eat a predominantly organic diet have lower levels of pesticide residue in their bodies. (Oh the innocent children! Don’t feed them chemicals!)
  • Buying organic can be expensive, so here are the top foods to buy organic, since they have the highest amount of pesticides: celery, peaches, strawberries, apples, blueberries, nectarines, bell peppers, spinach, kale, cherries, potatoes and imported grapes. Hormone and antibiotic free butter, milk, eggs and meat are good too. Although it can be pricey, the money you spend now to eat better will be far less than what you’ll spend later in life with all the medicine and drug treatments you’ll need because of all the pesticides you consumed.
  • Organic farms are less damaging to the environment and when you buy organic you subscribe to a different kind of environment ethic. Buying organic tells store owners and farmers that there is a demand for organic food.

So there you have it. Moral of the story—take care of yourself. Don’t feed yourself (or the innocent children) chemicals.

Peace, love and pesticide-free food,

Melissa

This recipe is raw, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, vegetarian and vegan.

Nothing makes me happier than delicious dessert food that I can eat and know I’m also doing something good for my body. And I have to brag for a second, because I didn’t actually make these, my wonderful husband did! The recipe had been laying on the kitchen counter for a while, so knowing that I’ve been wanting to try them he surprised me by making them for me! So thank you Juan and thank you to The Urban Poser for this recipe—it’s delicious!

Notes

  • Recipe Yields: ~12 2″ round cake balls
  • Prep Time: ~10 minutes
  • Cook Time: None, it’s a raw dish
  • Chill Time: ~30 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 large carrots, peeled (~ ½ pound)
  • 1 large tart apple, peeled and cored
  • 1¼ cup dried shredded coconut
  • ½ cup chopped raisins
  • ¾ cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground ginger (or fresh grated to taste)
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 Tbsp raw honey
  • 3 Tbsp raw nut butter (almond, pecan, walnut, cashew)
  • Juice from half a lime
  • Raw cocoa nibs for decoration
  • ¼ cup unrefined organic coconut oil
  • 2 Tbsp raw honey (omit for Vegan option)
  • ½ tsp vanilla
  • 7 Tbsp raw cocoa (+ another ½ Tbsp to make a drizzle)

Preparation

  1. Finely grate carrots and apple by hand or with a food processor. Press out as much juice as possible using a fine sieve or strainer.
  2. Add the rest of the ingredients from the first section of ingrdients (except cocoa nibs) to the carrot/apple pulp and mix well.
  3. Roll the dough into balls (~1 Tbsp worth of dough).
  4. Chill cake balls in freezer for ~30 minutes and prepare the chocolate.
  5. Start with room temperature (liquid) coconut oil (it’s liquid point is around 76°F). In a small bowl, combine the coconut oil, vanilla, honey and cocoa. Whisk together until the chocolate is well combined, no lumps. Depending on the size of your cake balls and the amount you end up with in the end, you may need to double the dipping chocolate recipe.
  6. Using a wood skewer or dipping fork, dip the frozen cake balls into the chocolate. Let some of the chocolate drip off  than allow the chocolate to harden while you hold the stick (it will harden pretty fast), sprinkle a few cocoa nibs or nuts on the top of the cake ball before the top hardens. Note: if you don’t  take the time to let some of the chocolate drip off you may not have enough chocolate to finish all the cake balls. They still taste great with a thick coating, but you will have to make extra chocolate sauce. It takes some practice to make your chocolate go far. If practice isn’t your thing just make extra chocolate sauce. Also, to minimize cracking, leave some space at the bottom of the cake ball without chocolate. If a crack does happen, it is easy to cover it up when you drizzle the chocolate over it later.
  7. For the chocolate drizzle, make the same chocolate recipe as above, but add ½-1 Tbsp more of raw cocoa to increase thickness. Using a spoon or a ‘candy making’ squeeze bottle, drizzle the chocolate in thin lines over the cake ball.
  8. For best results, store cake balls in freezer and remove ~5 min prior to serving. They should be fine for up to ~15 min before starting to soften too much. At that point, the coconut oil will become liquid (at around 76 degrees) and the chocolate will begin to melt. I actually stored these in the refrigerator because I preferred them a bit softer. They were a bit messy, but I also really like messes. 🙂
 Thank you again to The Urban Poser for this recipe, I highly recommend it!

If you’re like me, long-term meal planning is typically something reserved for party planning only. Although I make my weekly shopping list, which may even include some specialty items from a recipe I’ve wanted to try, I tend to go for the same staple items and whatever is in season at the Farmer’s Market. By the end of the week I find myself standing in front of an open pantry, searching for inspiration to utilize the remaining produce in my fridge.

At this point I am always grateful for the following “must-have” pantry items. With these items on-hand, delicious and healthy meal options are only minutes away. No need call in take-out or dig out that frozen pizza in the back of your freezer.

Here’s a list of pantry necessities that can lead to a multitude of yummy, healthful family meals.

Dried Cranberry HeartDried fruits

Cranberries, Raisins, Dates, Blueberries, Apricots, etc.

Keep a stash of any one or more of these dried fruits in your pantry to add to salads, rice dishes, homemade trail-mix/energy bars/recovery bars, chicken salad and more.


Health Benefits: Great sources of fiber and vitamins.

AlmondsNuts & Seeds

Almonds, Walnuts, Pine Nuts, Sunflower Seeds, Pumpkin Seeds, Flaxseed, etc.

As with dried fruits, nuts and seeds add texture and flavor to salads, grain dishes, and snacks. They’re also great additions to sweet treats and desserts, like Raw Brownies!

Health Benefits: Excellent source of protein and nutrients as well as providing heart-healthy unsaturated fats.

QuinoaWhole Grains

Quinoa, Brown Rice, Steel-Cut Oats, etc

Whole grains provide a filling and delicious base to any meal. Cook grains in large batches and use throughout the week in salads, soups and side dishes such as this Quinoa and Green Bean Salad.

Health Benefits: Whole grains are made up of complex carbohydrates. These complex carbohydrates give our bodies the FUEL we need, the energy that most of our body systems need to function.

Black Beans
Beans & Legumes

Black Beans, Chickpeas, Lentils, Kidney Beans, etc.

I like to buy these items in bulk (dried) and prepare large batches at the beginning of the week. They can be an excellent side or as part of any main dish. Beans and lentils lend themselves to a variety of flavors and uses—Get creative and see how other cultures utilize these power foods! Beans and legumes are must-have items for vegans, who rely more heavily on them for adequate daily protein intake. Check out our featured recipe for Lentil Dal.

Health Benefits: Loaded with protein, fiber and minerals.

Cocoa NibsOrganic Dark Chocolate Chips or Organic Raw Cocoa Nibs

These little morsels of rich, deliciousness have saved me from over-indulging my sweet-tooth many a time. When purchasing the chocolate chips, be sure they are organic with NO added sugar. As a satisfying addition to trail-mix, or melted to make these yummy Chocolate Apricot Nut-Bars, dark chocolate chips are a crave-curing go-to. For an even healthier alternative, try using organic raw cocoa nibs. This superfood can be used just as chocolate chips are!

Health Benefits: Rich in antioxidants, organic dark chocolate helps protect and repair your cells from damage by free radicals. Organic raw cocoa nibs are full of antioxidants as well as flavonoids, amino acids and magnesium helping improve mood, reduce anxiety, increase energy levels and reduce symptoms of PMS.

 

These are the absolute essentials that I keep my pantry stocked with regularly.  When you’re either feeling creative, or just desperate, having a well stocked pantry can make all the difference in the world.

For more advice on Building a Natural Foods Pantry, 101Cookbooks.com has some great tips.

I eat organic—no big deal. What is a big deal—spending a pretty penny to do so. I’m serious about my health and I won’t sacrifice eating conventional produce covered in pesticides to save a few bucks. Well, that and I won’t eat conventional because it tastes like crap… but that’s another blog post. The point is—I’ve recently come to the realization that I spend far too much money on groceries.

You may or may not have heard of the whole “co-op produce” phenomenon. I was actually introduced to it just a few short weeks ago. A few friends mentioned going to pick up their “co-op vegetables”. Meanwhile, I stood  there—vegetable-less—wondering what in the world they were talking about. I needed to find out.

Enter Urban Acres.

At Urban Acres, our goal is to provide our community with the very best local and organic foods while supporting Texas farm families and artisans.

After inquiring about these co-op vegetables, it didn’t take me long to sign up for my membership online! Heck, I’ll try anything once! But this actually seemed like a pretty good deal. I signed up for a half share, which means every two weeks I get 15 lbs. of fresh, local, organic and sustainable produce for $30. Did I mention it is local AND organic?! Music to my ears. There’s nothing  I love more than supporting local farmers and businesses. Besides eating organic… but I already covered that. There’s also a yearly membership fee of $50 and a one-time service fee of $14. Cool, I can handle that.

Co-Op Produce
Co-op produce from Urban Acres

Saturday morning I picked up my very first share of co-op produce. It was exciting and I felt proud to be supporting local farmers. I was also thrilled to be saving some hard-earned cash! There are several pick-up locations in the DFW metroplex. My pick-up location is actually about a mile from my house—so close! I signed in, got my bin full of produce as well as an enormous watermelon! The contents of the bin change each pick-up, but in today’s produce included: watermelon, okra, potatoes, tomatoes, figs, onions, zucchini, romaine lettuce, swiss and rainbow chard and arugula. Wow, that’s a ton of produce! Although I don’t have experience with all of these wonderful items, the Urban Acres website provides some great recipe ideas! I can’t wait to try them out!

So far, my experience with co-op produce has been an exciting one! I will keep you posted as my life as a co-op-er continues. Is that a word… “co-op-er”…? Well, it is now! On another note, I encourage you to check your area for co-op produce! Eating healthy is a necessity, but you shouldn’t break the bank in order to do so! Are you paying too much for produce?

Peace, love and organic produce,

Melissa

What do you eat for the most important meal of the day? Is it loaded with the fiber, protein and whole grain carbohydrates your body needs to start the day off on the right foot? You want to eat something first thing in the morning that will boost your metabolism, get your engines firing on all cylinders and yes, even help kick start weight loss! Below you’ll find the seven easiest healthy breakfast items you can eat that will properly fuel your body for a productive, happy day!

Oatmeal

Get real oatmeal… with 100% real oats. The ingredients should say “whole rolled oats” and possibly also contain barley, rye and flaxseeds. Oats and barley in particular contain beta-glucan, a type of fiber with antimicrobial and antioxidant capabilities more potent than echinacea. They boost immunity, speed wound healing and may help antibiotics work better. Oatmeal is high in whole grain carbohydrates, which your body needs carbohydrates to function properly. If you have time to cook them, cook steel-cut oats, they are less processed than the rolled or quick-cooking oats.

For added nutrients and flavor, add cinnamon and fruit to your oatmeal (bananas, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, etc.). If you MUST add sugar (which I recommend avoiding), try stevia, honey or agave nectar. Also try preparing your oatmeal with unsweetened almond milk instead of water for a creamier dish.

Warnings: Watch for high sugar content and artificial ingredients. Avoid flavored oatmeal, as these tend to have added sugar, sodium and other ingredients you don’t need.

Fruit

Fruit is good, quick and easy. If you’re not eating breakfast at all right now, having a banana is a great place to start. Even better than just a banana? Adding some protein… like peanut butter! Or my personal favorite, honeycrisp apples and almond butter. Other good fruits for breakfast include strawberries, blueberries and grapefruit (do not pile on the sugar or artificial sweeteners, just eat the darn thing in it’s natural beauty. If you’re dying for some sugar, try stevia).

Warnings: Buy organic to avoid dangerous pesticides that contaminate the entire fruit, not just the outside, and to avoid genetically modified products.

Smoothie

Smoothies are a great option for breakfast. They are easy on your digestive system since your body doesn’t have to work as hard to break down the foods incorporated in the smoothie, and you can get lots of vitamins and minerals in one shot. I usually do a few frozen peach slices, a banana, 1/4 c. apple juice, 1/4 c. unsweetened almond milk, and a scoop of superfood powder in order to ensure I’ve incorporated my greens! Instead of superfood powder, try kale, spinach, celery (delicious in smoothies) or parsley!

Yogurt

There are a myriad of options out there when it comes to yogurt. At the grocery store, if you stand back for a moment, and look at all the available options for yogurt, it can be a bit overwhelming. Here’s how to find a healthy yogurt: First, if you do not eat dairy, look for an almond, soy or coconut-based yogurt. I prefer almond, myself. (Healthiest, tastiest, least amount of sugar. Soy hurts my tummy.)

If you do eat dairy, you have quite a few choices ahead of you. Look at the sugar content before anything else. It doesn’t do your body any good to eat a fat free yogurt with 30g of sugar in it. Your body has to work incredibly hard to break down all that sugar. Healthy yogurt contains only two ingredients, live cultures and milk. The more ingredients listed, the less healthy the yogurt is. In general, the higher the protein and the lower the sugar content, the more nutritious and healthy the yogurt is. The major health benefits of yogurt are derived from the live cultures they contain.

Warnings: Be wary of fruit-flavored yogurts and yogurts with the fillings you mix in, as those tend to be the worst culprits. My suggestion is to buy plain yogurt, and add your own fresh fruit and granola to it. Plain yogurt is the most nutritious variety of yogurt, containing about half the calories, twice the amount of protein, fewer fillers, more calcium, and no added sugar compared to yogurt with fruit and other flavorings.

Eggs

There are lots of options when it comes to cooking and eating eggs. Hardboiled, scrambled, or over easy, eggs contain the protein you need to help get your day started properly. If you’re looking for a lower-calorie option, egg whites are a great option, especially with some added vegetables. Try sliced mushrooms and spinach, broccoli and tomatoes, green bell pepper and red onion or diced celery and parsley. The veggies provide fiber, vitamins A, K, C as well as antioxidants and phytonutrients to help fight disease-causing free radicals. If egg sandwiches are more your style, try your eggs on a slice of whole grain toast, with avocado slices instead of cheese for healthy fats.

Warnings: Be sure not to pile on the cheese and keep any addition of salt to a minimum. Try to avoid sides like bacon, but if you must, opt for low-sodium turkey bacon. Also, buy organic, cage-free eggs, they’re worth the extra cost.

Cereal

This is a tricky one, since most cereals claim to be “healthy”, “whole grain”, etc., but are really just processed crap. Keep in mind that marketing teams spend countless hours trying to make their product look as nutritious and healthy as possible. It doesn’t meant that it actually is. If you’re wondering what’s in your cereal, look at the nutrition facts and ingredients label.

Warnings: The ingredients should be things you can pronounce and the sugar content should be low (less than 5 g per serving). With your cereal, be cautious when adding milk, as it actually contains quite a bit of sugar. Try unsweetened almond milk for a nice change of pace. Choose regular cheerios instead of honey nut, corn flakes instead of frosted flakes and avoid anything with marshmallows or other “candy” in it. Avoid anything with high-fructose corn syrup.

People who ate high-fiber whole grain cereal for breakfast every day had nearly a 30% lower risk of heart failure than those who chose other foods, found the ongoing Physicians’ Health Study.

Breakfast/Granola Bars

Although convenient, you really  have to know what you’re eating when consuming a breakfast/granola bar as your first source of fuel for the day. These bars concern me since they are typically just loaded with sugar. Most of them should be labeled as candy bars instead. However, if you are like two-thirds of the American population and eat these for breakfast here’s a few things to keep in mind:

Be sure to find a bar with less than 6g sugar, with at least 5g of protein and 5g of fiber. The fiber content of breakfast bars made with whole grains will be higher than multi-grain bars. Read the ingredients too. Rolled oats, wheat or barley should be listed as one of the first ingredients. Kashi typically has some good options.

Warnings: Avoid products that contain any trans fat, partially hydrogenated oils, shortening or high-fructose corn syrup, and again, watch that sugar content!

This recipe is: Raw, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, vegetarian and vegan.

This recipe is DELICIOUS! Feel free to make them in rammekins instead of tart tins. Also, these are very similar to the Raw Fruit Tart, but the cashew cream filling has a lighter consistency, since the cashews are soaked longer. Enjoy!

Notes

  • Recipe Yields: 4 servings
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Soak Time: Overnight
  • Freeze Time: A couple hours

Ingredients

Cashew Cream Ingredients:

  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • ¼ cup agave nectar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ¼ cup filtered water

Walnut Crust Ingredients:

  • 1 cup walnut pieces
  • 2 medjool dates
  • ¼ tsp pink Himalayan salt (or sea salt, or no salt)
  • 1 heaped tsp coconut oil

Toppings:

  • handful of fresh blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, or any fruit of your choosing

Preparation

  1. Place the cashews in a bowl and cover with filtered water. Cover the bowl and allow to soak overnight.
  2. Place the walnuts and salt in a hand blender or food processor and blend. Add the dates (remember to remove the pits) and coconut oil and blend until a fine rubble is formed, scraping down the sides with spatula as you go.
  3. Evenly place the mixture into tart tins or rammekins (about 4), and create a cup-like shape. (The cream filling will sit within this cup. Place in the freezer for several hours.
  4. Drain and rinse the cashews, place in a food processor with a quarter cup of filtered water, the agave and vanilla extract and blend until completely smooth. Again, scrape down the sides using a spatula ensuring there are no bits in the mixture. Keep blending until it is super smooth, adding a little more water if necessary – not too much, remember you can always add more but you can never take away!
  5. Transfer the cream to a Tupperware dish and refrigerate for several hours.
  6. Remove the walnut cups from the freezer and allow to slightly thaw for a few minutes before running a knife around the edge (I found a butter knife works best) and carefully easing out each cup – the coconut oil will ensure they won’t stick to the muffin molds.
  7. Spoon several tablespoons of cashew cream into each cup and top with sliced kiwi and a few fresh blueberries – or any fruit of your choosing.

In theory, if you are eating fresh, healthy foods, you should be getting all the vitamins and minerals you need for optimal health, right? Maybe in theory, but not in reality. In the past, I was against taking any kind of supplement. I figured that if you were eating all of the right foods, there was no need to add anything to your diet. In a perfect world, or maybe say, 60 years ago, I was right. Today, however, the same healthy fruits and vegetables that we eat no longer contain the same nutrients that they did back then. Today, in order to get all of the 90 essential nutrients that our body needs every day to function optimally, we need to supplement our diet with vitamins and minerals.

According to the USDA, the decrease in the amount of vitamins in minerals in our food is so significant that since 1965, the nutritional content in apples is down 41%, watercress is down 88%, broccoli is down 50%, collar greens are down 85%, potatoes are down 57% and tomatoes are down 43%. So basically, you can eat as healthy as possible, and still be nutrient-deficient. Depressing, I know. Here’s an example… let’s say you ate a spinach salad in 1953. According to research done in 1997 (which of course was 14 years ago now), in order to get the same amount of iron that was in that salad back in the 50’s, you would have to eat 43 bowls of spinach. Forty-what?! Exactly. And you can taste the difference, too. Have you ever had a beautifully red, plump strawberry, but you bite into it, and it has no taste? We can add tons of chemicals to the strawberries to make sure they look gorgeous, but if the strawberries don’t have any minerals, they can’t take in any vitamins, therefore rendering them tasteless.

If these people have to remain completely covered while they spray insecticides on our food, how is possibly safe that we ingest it?
What happened between then and now that our foods have lost all their nutrients? The first place we need to look is at the soil that our foods are grown in. Nutrient-depleted soil produces nutrient-depleted foods. Very few nutrients exist in plants that have been grown in over-farmed soil. We grow crop after crop, each one of lower nutritional value than the one before, never replenishing the soil.

 

If the soil isn’t bad enough, the insane amounts of “processing” that we do to the food after it’s harvested is even worse! Say you live in the Northern U.S., it’s the middle of winter, and you are buying beautiful strawberries… where did those strawberries come from? They were likely transported thousands of miles over several days. In order to transport them, they were picked long before they were ripe (depleting them of the essential nutrients your cells need to do their chemistry). Poor strawberries, they weren’t ready yet! The food is then X-rayed to eliminate bacteria, which also kills nutrients, it’s pasteurized to kill pathogens, which also kills helpful enzymes, hydrogenated to make them shelf-stable, which alters your cells when you eat it, and often food is waxed to make it appear nicer in the store. Even the lovely pre-packaged, triple-washed spinach that you buy at the store is at risk. In fact, traces of fecal matter have been found in a large percentage of those packages. Other foods (like animal products) were likely given hormones to fatten them up (which in turn fattens YOU up) and to force them to produce milk more quickly. Not to mention the antibiotics they were given to prevent their weak immune systems from infection. (4) Now all of that is in your body. Nice.

 

One of the most powerful ways you can reduce your exposure to toxins and increase the nutrient content of your food is to buy fresh, organic foods from local sources whenever possible. It will be more expensive, yes. But do you know what’s more expensive than organic food? Cancer. You may want to look into taking a supplement or two as well. I would advise speaking with your doctor on which supplements are right for you. Often times supplements and medications cannot be combined. So how do you know if the supplement you are taking (or about to take) is a good one? There are several ways*:

 

• It contains a USP label that accurately states that the product has been tested for dosage, contaminants and that it dissolves.
• Put it in water, if it dissolves in 30 minutes or less, you know it will dissolve in your body and make it to your bloodstream.
• Must have an expiration date.
Lists scientific information, not anecdotal studies on humans or testimonials.

 

Keep in mind that anyone can make a label online, bottle and sell their product, and it could be total junk. Also keep in mind that dosages on supplements are often listed higher than the actual requirement. So if it says take “3-6 tablespoons”, take 3. They want you to take 6 because you’ll run out of the product faster, causing you to buy more. Tricky, tricky! Also remember that supplements are a dietary substance used to supplement your diet, not replace it. If you ever have any questions at all, always refer to your primary healthcare provider. If they are trying to put you on medications, or are not giving you the help you need in the way you need it (many doctors are not yet on the “whole foods for good health” bandwagon), you can always do an online search for doctors using “functional medicine” in your area.

Here’s to healthy, happy bodies!

 

* Sports Nutrition, Promises and Pitfalls of Dietary Supplements, Scott Josephson, M.S., R.D.