Sheet Pan Butternut Squash Frittata – Fast and Easy

A simple one pan dish is a dream for any busy parent! If you haven’t tried making a sheet pan dinner, just be warned that there’s no going back once you do. Imagine cooking a delicious meal, seemingly gourmet, all on a half-sheet baking pan in the oven with little fuss. However, there are a few simple rules – right type of pan, lining the pan, sequencing cook time, and seasonings – that will ensure a home run! I am sharing a seasonal recipe from my Healthydigs Meal Plan Program that is nutritious and gluten-free. Enjoy it for breakfast, lunch or dinner!


Boost Your Collagen with Bone Broth and More!

Bone broth is all the rage for a good reason! It is a great source of collagen and contains many other nutrients your body needs to make collagen. 

But what exactly is collagen? Collagen is the primary structural protein in the body, essentially acting like the “glue” that holds us together. You can say it has form and function in our body such as providing elasticity and strength to our skin, repairing and replacing skin cells, and maintaining the health of joints, bones, ligaments, tendons, hair, skin, and nails.

With all these essential functions in the body, no wonder bone broth is popular with health enthusiasts as the new health food. But the fact is that bone broth has been around for thousands of years in Asia. For those who grew up with grandparents or just older parents from the old world, bone broth was likely a part of your diet, like it was for me. As a child, my mother made bone broth frequently and touted its goodness to entice me. I didn’t really understand all the benefits then but her bone broth did taste pretty good!

There is nothing complicated about making bone broth. Just simmer your bones of choice (chicken, beef, turkey, or fish) covered, over low heat for 48 hours. This will extract the most collagen and nutrients from the bones. A slow cooker works well if you don’t want to leave the stove on overnight. Once the broth has finished cooking, transfer to glass jars, let cool, and refrigerate or freeze. As the broth cools, you will notice a layer of gelatin forming. This is a good sign as the gelatin layer is the main source of collagen in bone broth, so be sure to keep it!

Here are some helpful tips to make your bone broth extra healthy and delicious: 

● Although not necessary, roasting your bones before simmering can improve the flavor of the broth.

● Since toxins are stored in fat and bone broth contains a lot of it, quality is key when purchasing bones. Look for bones from “organic”, “sustainable”, “grass-fed”, “pasture-raised”, and/or “free-range” sources.

● Add various organic vegetables, herbs, and spices to your broth for more flavor and nutrients. This is a great way to use up vegetable scraps like onion peels and carrot tops that you might normally throw away. Be creative and experiment with different seasonings to make your own signature bone broth!

● Add 1-2 tbsp of apple cider vinegar to your pot to give it a slightly acidic taste and assist with breaking down the bones.

If you are not a fan of bone broth or prefer not to eat meat, there are other ways to increase your collagen in the body by eating foods with collagen-boosting nutrients. Below are the top nutrients for supporting collagen formation:

NutrientFood Sources
ProlineEgg whites, meat, cheese, and soy
GlycineFish, meat, dairy, spinach, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, pumpkin, banana, and kiwi
HydroxyprolineMeat, fish, eggs, carob seeds, alfalfa sprouts
Vitamin CCitrus fruits, kiwi, strawberries, bell peppers, broccoli, and kale
Anthocyanins and antioxidantsBerries, herbs and spices such as oregano, rosemary, cinnamon, and turmeric
CopperBeef liver, sunflower seeds, cashews, chickpeas, lentils, dark chocolate, hazelnuts
SulfurGarlic, onions, egg yolk, cruciferous vegetables
Vitamin B6Chickpeas, meat, fish, potatoes, bananas, bulgur


Five Easy Ways to Heal your Microbiome

What is Microbiome and why is it important to our health? I put these questions to my esteemed colleague, Lori Shore-Mouratoff, MD, at Cornerstone Integrative Medicine Clinic in Oakland, CA. This is what she shared with me:

Our body is host to trillions of bacteria, yeast and viruses that make up our microbiome. These organisms are responsible for helping us utilize and make vitamins, detoxify our bodies and maintain the integrity of our intestinal lining to prevent food sensitivities. Poor food choices, medications, stress, and lack of sleep can create an imbalance in the composition of these organisms causing gastrointestinal symptoms, joint pain, eczema, hormonal imbalance, obesity and brain fog.

Clearly, improving the health of your microbiome is vital to your well-being! Below are 5 lifestyle hacks Dr. Lori Shore-Mouratoff recommended :

1. Eat prebiotics that support favorable organisms

Inulin-type fructans modulate appetite, improve inflammatory bowel diseases, decrease colon cancer risk, increase absorption of minerals and vitamins and affect lipid metabolism by supporting the population and function of bifidobacteria and butyrate .

Foods containing inulin-type fructans for gut health:
LeeksRyeBarley
Chicory rootsOnionAsparagus
BananaGarlic Artichokes

Butyrate is an essential metabolite in the human colon, responsible for maintenance of the gut barrier, with immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory properties.

Foods that support butyrate forming bacteria in your colon:
Whole Grains: Brown rice, whole gluten free oats, barley, rye, quinoa, buckwheat
Legumes: Lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans, pinto beans, mung beans, adzuki beans
Fruits and Vegetables: Leafy greens, apples, kiwi, berries, bananas, citrus

2. Increase polyphenols in your food plan

Polyphenols increase the amount of healthy bacteria in the gut, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria and also inhibit growth of potentially pathogenic bacteria.

Polyphenol Rich Foods:
Black elderberryGround flax seeds (Fresh)Pecans
Black currantDark ChocolatePrunes
BlueberryChestnutRed Currants
Globe artichoke headsBlack TeaPeach
CoffeeGreen TeaGreen Olives
CherryAppleRed Onion
StrawberryHazelnutGreen Grapes
BlackberryRed wineShallots
PlumBlack OlivesRed Chicory
RaspberrySpinachBroccoli

3. Eat fermented food everyday

Fermented foods are rich in probiotics and good bacteria . Try to include them in your meals daily!

Unsweetened yogurtKimchi
KefirTempeh
PicklesMiso
SauerkrautKombucha

4. Avoid the items that are harmful to beneficial bacteria

  • Trans fat, a.k.a partially hydrogenated oil
  • Sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Food additives
  • Processed food
  • Pesticides and chemicals

5. Reduce Stress

  • Try Restorative Exercises like Yoga, QiGong and TaiChi.
  • Start a meditation practice
  • Deep breathing: rub a drop of cedarwood, lavender or chamomile essential oils on your hands then inhale
  • Get enough sleep
  • Take a walk outside in nature
  • Increase your social connections
  • Engage in your community

.


Egg-free Apple Muffins – Make them Nutritious and Impactful!

Have you been baking more during the pandemic? Me too! No doubt we are all deriving comfort from our food during this turbulent time. The strong emotional connection to food is well established by researchers so why fight it. Instead of worrying about the excessive consumption of sweet treats, why not take this opportunity to improve your baking skills and the nutritional quality of your baked goods for a lasting impact on your diet.

Using healthy ingredients that naturally enhance the flavor and texture of the baked product is key to a good recipe. I have been baking with low-fat buttermilk for years because it only has 2 grams of fat in a cup. The “butter” in the name buttermilk may lead you to think otherwise. It consists mostly of water, the milk sugar lactose, and the milk protein casein. The creamy consistency of buttermilk gives baked goods the richness without the fat so less butter or oil is required in the recipe. Applesauce is another secret weapon for adding moistness to your bake products to off set the hardiness of the fiber-rich wholewheat flour. I also like to use olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, in my recipe when it doesn’t alter the flavor of the product. These apple muffins are moist and packed with the natural sweetness of apples and cinnamon so enjoy them guilt-free!

High Impact Egg-free Apple Muffins

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup wholewheat flour

1/2 c. packed light brown sugar

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/4 tsp. salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 c. olive oil

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/4 cup applesauce

2 medium Granny Smith apples, finely chopped

1 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. ground cinnamon

Direction

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease 12 large muffin-pan cups.

In large bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.

In small bowl, whisk buttermilk, oil, vanilla extract, and applesauce together until blended.

Stir wet ingredients into flour mixture just until flour r is moistened.

Fold in chopped apples.

Mix sugar and cinnamon in a small dish.

Spoon batter into muffin cups; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

Bake muffins 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center of a muffin comes out clean.

Immediately remove from pan; serve warm.


Quarantine Menu and Food Shopping Tips

If you find yourself in the unfortunate situation of quarantining alone, having some healthy and delicious food on hand can bump up the reading on your happiness meter. With the recent explosion of grocery delivery services, you shouldn’t have to rely on canned and dried goods. Choosing a good delivery service and having a comprehensive shopping list are key to well-balanced and creative meals. 

Today is the last day of my 14-day quarantine imposed on travelers entering Canada. The experience of managing my food during this time brings a great appreciation for the value of a reliable food delivery service that provides high quality food. Up until the start of my quarantine, I have not ordered groceries online because I wasn’t confident that they can deliver freshness, quality, and suitable substitutions if my items were out of stock.

A Canadian friend had referred me to SPUD, a local delivery company in Vancouver. Their service has impressed me in more ways than one. They offer a wild selection of food including plant-based and gluten-free, high quality products such as local, organic and sustainable, and a reliable delivery schedule. This post is not about promoting food delivery services but SPUD may have converted me into a believer of online grocery shopping. I can shop anytime of the day and night – something to do when stuck at home, read food labels for ingredients and nutrition information – can enlarge font size on the screen for readability, see my total cost before the checkout, and discover new products. I may never go back to in-person shopping in the grocery store!

If you are an online shopper for apparel, you know it is really easy to spend too much money and still result in mismatched outfits. Online grocery shopping is the same. You can click away with adding food to your shopping cart and still end up missing ingredients to assemble some well-balanced meals. You can avoid wasting money and food with a planned menu and a well curated shopping list. 

I am sharing my 7-day menu and grocery list for the first week of my quarantine. This can serves as a template for weekly menu planning. Plan well, eat well, and stay well!

Grains:

Oatmeal

Organic Love Crunch Granola

Organic Ready-to-Bake whole wheat croissants, 6 heat-and-serve

Organic Corn Tortilla – 6” – 1 doz.

Roasted garlic & asiago sacchettini

Brown rice

Organic black soybean spaghetti (200 g)

Fruit:

Organic Gala apples – 3 lb. bag

Organic Mango – 2

Organic Black berries – 2 x 6 oz. box

Vegetables:

mushrooms – 1 lb.

Organic Avocado – 2

Organic Broccoli crown – 1 lb.

Organic Red Local peppers – 1

organic tomatoes – 1 lb.

Plant-based milk:

Unsweetened Almond milk – 1.89L

Organic coconut milk – 1 cam

Protein:

Pacific cod portion – 2 (4 oz. pieces)

Ocean Wise wild sockeye salmon portion – 1 (4 oz. piece) 

Organic medium firm tofu – 350 g

Organic eggs – 1 doz.

Roasted garlic & asiago sacchettini -350 g

Smoked Salmon & Dill quiche – 2 

Extras:

Baba Ganoush eggplant dip

Thai Kitchen Green curry paste

Organic Pasta Pomodoro

Breakfast

Granola with mango slices and almond milk

Oatmeal with chopped apple 

Scrambled egg tortilla wraps drizzled with pomodoro sauce

Whole wheat croissant stuffed with scrambled eggs and avocado slices. 

Granola with black berries and almond milk

Tofu scrumbled with apple wedges

Oatmeal with black berries  

Whole wheat croissant stuffed with scrambled eggs and avocado slices

Lunch

Smoke salmon & dill quiche with apple slices

Homemade tortilla chips with Baba Ganoush. Fruit salad

Whole wheat croissant sandwich filled with sliced hard-boiled eggs, tomato and avocado slices.

Mediterranean Fish taco – panfried sliced cod, topped with chopped tomatoes and Baba Ganoush

Sacchettini and red pepper salad (tossed with your favorite dressing)

Smoke salmon & dill quiche with tomato salad

Black soybean pasta salad with chopped mushrooms, tomatoes and red pepper, tossed in soy and sesame dressing.

Dinner

Green curry pan-fried cod with mushroom and black soybean spaghetti

Stir-fry tofu and broccoli with steamed brown rice

Roasted garlic & asiago sacchettini with mushroom pomodoro sauce

Thai vegetable curry (curry paste and coconut milk) with brown rice

Mushroom and red bell pepper pomodoro with pasta

Grilled salmon with sauté  broccoli and brown rice

Tofu and vegetable fried rice


Earth Day Plant-based Meal

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day today, I am cooking a plant-based meal for dinner. With shelter-in-place, we have more meals together as a family so our food is central to our conversation at mealtime. This presents a great opportunity to talk to our kids about how our food choices impact the environment.

Working with the ingredients I have in my pantry during this COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities to be creative! I know most people are stocked up with dried goods such as pasta, rice and canned beans because these items are as depleted in the grocery stores as toilet paper. Just because we are using these staples day after day, it doesn’t mean our diet has to be boring. Whether you are new to eating meatless or just looking for a fresh vegan recipe, I hope you will enjoy this tasty and nutritious bean dish made with one of my favorite spices from a well-loved spice shop in Oakland, California.

Braised White Beans and Greens with Harissa

Serves 3-4

Ingredients:

1 white or yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon flake salt
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons Harissa Paste or 1 tablespoon Harissa Powder
½ cup dry white wine
3 cups cooked white beans (such as cannellini), or 2 cans of white beans
2 cups vegetable stock
4 cups chopped greens, such as mustard greens, baby kale or spinach
Juice of half a lemon

Directions:

Heat oil over medium heat. When hot, add onion. Sauté until golden brown, about 7 or 8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary to avoid burning. Add Harissa, salt and garlic; cook for an additional 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly, until fragrant. 

Add wine and simmer until reduced by half, about 2 minutes. Add beans, stock and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer and cook on low, covered, until the beans are becoming soft and creamy, about 20-30 minutes. If you like more of a stew consistency, smash some of the beans with the back of your spoon. Add greens and simmer until tender, about 5-10 minutes depending on the heartiness of the greens you use. 

Season with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Serve with crusty bread.


Vegan Blueberry Lemon Muffins

I get excited about delicious vegan baked goods for many of the same reasons you do – healthy, environmentally friendly, and ethical. But the biggest personal reason is that my kids are seriously allergic to eggs. Yes, both my kids have the same allergies. The biggest challenge with an egg-free diet is avoiding hidden egg sources. Whether it’s buying a muffin or a bagel at a bakery, I always have to ask if it contains egg. Sometimes the bakery person will answer back “no, there’s no dairy”. Okay, there’s no milk products, but is there egg? It is very disappointing after much questioning about the ingredients and then have to walk away empty-handed. But with the tsunami of vegan bakeries appearing in recent years, it has changed this shopping scenario and boosted my grownup children’s happy meter.

Thinking back about 20 years ago with my first born, finding anything vegan was almost impossible except in a “natural food” store, if you were lucky enough to have one in your neighborhood. Over the years, I had to be quite creative in baking without eggs and finding various egg replacements. The recipe I am sharing with you is vegan, high in fiber and rich in monounsaturated fat. As you know, when you buy vegan baked goods, it doesn’t always mean they are healthy so I still like to do much of my own baking. Hope you enjoy these super moist and nutritious muffins!

Vegan Blueberry Lemon Muffins

1 Tbsp Lemon Juice

1 cup plant-based milk

1 Tbsp vinegar + 1 tsp baking soda (egg replacement)

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup molasses

1 cup natural bran

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

3/4 cup all-purpose unbleached flour

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp grated lemon rind

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

In bowl, stir lemon juice into plant-based milk; let stand for 1 minute to sour. Stir together 1 tablespoon of vinegar and 1 teaspoon of baking soda to make the egg replacement and add to bowl. Stir in oil and molasses.

In a larger bowl, combine bran, whole wheat and unbleached flours, sugar, lemon rind, baking powder and baking soda. Add milk mixture and blueberries; mix just until combined.

Spoon into nonstick or paper-lined muffin tins. Bake in 375F oven for 20-25 minutes or until firm to touch.

Makes 12 muffins.


Vietnamese Specialty Dish – Earth to Table

Hoi An, a charming ancient city on the central coast of Vietnam, is a foodie’s haven. The menu goes way beyond the ever popular banh mi and pho. It’s time to try something new! Three local dishes I had for the first time in my life were cao lau, white rose dumplings and fried wontons (not the Chinese version). They were all delicious but the highlight was the cao lau that I ate multiple times during my 5-day stay here. Wonder why?! It is because cao lau is truly unique to Hoi An and you can’t make this dish elsewhere without a native ingredient, unless you literally bottle it yourself.

Cao lau is a noodle dish with meat topped with fresh greens, bites of fried wonton, and the desired amount of spicy sauce. The noodles have a unique taste and a chewy texture. These flat noodles are yellowish and much denser than the average rice noodles because they are made with the water from Ba Le Well, the town’s ancient Cham water source. Cao lau is as core to the diet of the Hoi An people as croissants are to the French. You can find a bowl of Cao lau at every street corner, but the best was found at Miss Ly’s restaurant.

I was so impressed by this true example of the “earth-to-table” practice continuing for centuries in Hoi An! Following google maps, I set out to find this well. A posted sign pointed me down a little alley leading to the Ba Le Well.

The Ba Le well is a cold water well that is authentically preserved. It was built around the 10th century. It was constructed specifically as a vertical prism with a square bottom and built with big bricks. The well bottom was paved with a frame of four thick iron-wood boards that have two functions of protecting its bottom and filtering its water. Apparently the local inhabitants still use its water for their daily activities, as well as for cooking Hoi An specialties. 


Vegan Food – Trick or Treat?

Plant-based diet is all the rage but is it healthier for you? There is no argument that eating less animal products is better for your body and for the planet. For years I have been advising the general public, eating a typical North American diet, to reduce meat intake and use meat as a condiment rather than the main focus of their meal. For some, my husband included, it is easier to go cold turkey and avoid meat altogether rather than tease the taste buds and be left feeling unsatisfied. The craving for the flavor of “meat” combined with the desire to go meatless has fueled the surging popularity of meat alternatives in grocery stores and restaurants, including fast food chains.

Tricks

The plant-based food space grew 11% between 2018 and 2019 to $4.5 billion in the US which provided more options and also more confusion than ever for consumers. Have you noticed the growing number of plant-based milk, such as soy, almond, cashew, rice, and oat milks, on your grocery shelves? It can certainly be tricky to find vegan foods with the same nutritional profile as the animal products you are replacing. I recently replaced cow’s milk with almond milk and realized that I now only get 12.5% of my usual amount of protein (1 gram of protein in 1 cup of almond milk rather than 8 grams of protein in cow’s milk). That means I need to adjust my diet to eat other high protein foods to make up the deficit. Not easy to do without some nutrition knowledge and meal planning skills!

Plant-based foods designed to replace milk, cheese, and meat often have a lengthy list of ingredients and full of fillers. Have a look at the 18 ingredients in a Beyond Burger: water, pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein, natural flavors, cocoa butter, mung bean protein, methylcellulose, potato starch, apple extract, salt, potassium chloride, vinegar, lemon juice concentrate, sunflower lecithin, pomegranate fruit powder, and beet juice extract (the beet juice give the burger its meat-like “blood”). Pretty scary! If you are interested in a complete nutritional comparison between a Beyond Burger and a regular burger, check out this article  in Good Housekeeping. It’s clear that plant-based foods can be highly processed and may not be the healthy alternative we think we are eating.

Treat

Eating a vegan or plant-based diet is not just about avoiding animal products or eating meat look-a-likes. It is about eating an abundance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Now, that’s a treat for your health!!!

Plan the main event of your meal around “meaty” vegetables such as mushrooms, eggplant, and squash.  This will easily increase your daily vegetable servings. Consuming enough fruits and vegetables as part of an overall healthy diet reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and obesity. The 20152020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults consume 1.5–2.0 cup equivalents of fruits and 2.0–3.0 cups of vegetables per day. These goals are much more attainable on a plant-based diet.

The best vegan food comes in its natural form. Nuts, seeds, and legumes are never processed and provide a signifiant source of protein and fiber. Many research studies have shown that the high fiber content in some nuts and legumes is good for your gut bacteria and provides protection to the gut lining and creates a healthier microbiome. The gut microbiome plays a vital role in helping with digestion and benefiting your immune system and many other aspects of health.

Another great source of plant-based protein is whole grains.  Whole grains have much more fiber, B vitamins, and iron than refined grains. Experiment cooking with some of the high protein grains such as quinoa, spelt, kamut, amaranth and millet, just to name a few. Their names may sound intimidating but they boil a lot like rice – just follow the cooking direction on the package and you can’t go wrong. To maximum your nutrition at each meal, learn to combine grains with legumes for complementary protein.

Meat is not necessary a villain. But in a culture where meat consumption is excessive and climate change is a concern, it is definitely a treat to have the food pendulum swing in favor of vegan food.

 


How to avoid GMOs

 

IMG_4606Food companies are labelling their food packaging with more health claims than ever before but do we really know what they mean? The “NON GMO Project VERIFIED” seal is one that has been attracting my attention lately. I am seeing it on a range of products from bread to won ton wrappers. According to data from The Non-GMO Project Verified organization, their seal is the fastest growing label in the natural product industry and represents over $26 billion in annual sales. There are more than 50,000 Verified products from over 3,000 brands available to consumers in the marketplace. With this growing trend, it is definitely worth learning more about what this claim means. I went to their website and this is what I extracted:

What is a GMO?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods.

Most GMOs have been engineered to withstand the direct application of herbicide and/or to produce an insecticide. However, new technologies are now being used to artificially develop other traits in plants, such as a resistance to browning in apples, and to create new organisms using synthetic biology. Despite biotech industry promises, there is no evidence that any of the GMOs currently on the market offer increased yield, drought tolerance, enhanced nutrition, or any other consumer benefit.

Are GMOs safe?
In the absence of credible independent long-term feeding studies, the safety of GMOs is unknown. Increasingly, citizens are taking matters into their own hands and choosing to opt out of the GMO experiment.

Which foods might contain GMOs?
Most packaged foods contain ingredients derived from corn, soy, canola, and sugar beet — and the vast majority of those crops grown in North America are genetically modified. 

Visit the What is GMO page for more information and a list of high-risk crops.

Animal products: The Non-GMO Project also considers livestock, apiculture, and aquaculture products at high risk because genetically engineered ingredients are common in animal feed. This impacts animal products such as: eggs, milk, meat, honey, and seafood.

Processed inputs, including those from synthetic biology: GMOs also sneak into food in the form of processed crop derivatives and inputs derived from other forms of genetic engineering, such as synthetic biology. Some examples include: hydrolyzed vegetable protein, corn syrup, molasses, sucrose, textured vegetable protein, flavorings, vitamins,  yeast products, microbes & enzymes, flavors, oils & fats, proteins, and sweeteners.

My Bottomline Recommendations:

1. Avoid processed foods. The less processed the food, the less chance of GMO ingredients sneaking into the manufacturing process.

2. Eat fresh food with a short ingredient list. Less is more when it comes to healthy food!

3. Buy organic products when possible because the use of genetically modified organisms are not permitted in products that are USDA organic certified.

4. Look for the Non GMO Project Verified seal on food products, especially with products containing the high risk corps such as Corn, soy, canola, and sugar beet. The Non-GMO Project Verified seal assures consumers that a product has completed a comprehensive third-party verification for compliance with the Non-GMO Project Standard.