One of my favorite subjects to research is functional foods. Obviously all plant foods are functional, but I love learning how certain foods can provide that extra boost to our bodies; helping us heal, improving our moods, and even enhancing our workouts.
In the last several years, the power of beets and beet juice have become a sensation among runners, cyclists, and athletes of all kinds. Could a glass of this earthy juice really help you run faster? According to research, it might. Subjects given beet juice before an intense cycling challenge were able to go faster for a longer amount of time before exhaustion. How is this possible? Nitrates in beets are converted to nitric oxide, which in turn improves several exercise related functions, like blood flow, muscle contraction, and oxygen cost of exercise. It seems that beet consumption before a workout will allow your body to do the same intense exercise but with less oxygen. Which also could make your workout feel easier. As an off again, on again runner, who sometimes (ok always) dreads getting back into workouts after a break, I find this possibility very exciting!
A juice that could make my running workouts faster, more efficient, and easier? What could be better? How about a drink that could also improve recovery time? That’s exactly the hype that watermelon and watermelon juice have been getting recently. Researchers in Spain found that drinking watermelon juice can help both reduce recovery heart rate and reduce muscle soreness, thanks to the effects of amino acid L-citrulline. Another bonus? L-citrulline also helps with nitric oxide synthesis providing similar benefits as beet juice to athletic performance and perceived rate of exertion.
I added grapes, not simply because it added another sweet fruity flavor, but also because I’ve ran some of my best races and workouts after eating a handful of fresh grapes. This one I can’t back up with research, but my own experience tells me grapes are a great fuel for an intense workout. The natural sugar and low fiber in grapes make them perfect for a quick boost of energy, which might be the reason they often make it onto lists for best pre-run foods.
Even if you’re not interested in improving your exercise performance, this juice just plain tastes good! The sweet watermelon and grapes help balance out the earthiness of the beet for a refreshing juice that I would drink for taste alone. Besides boosting your workout, this juice has many other benefits for your health:
Beets are a natural detoxifier and blood cleanser
Beets are high in antioxidants and are an anti-inflammatory food
Watermelon is high in lycopene, great for healthy skin and cardiovascular health
Watermelon is naturally hydrating
Red, purple and black grapes are one of the best sources of resveratrol, an antioxidant that is fabulous for keeping skin young and fighting aging inside your body too
So what are you waiting for? Grab your blender and try this juice for yourself!
Beet Watermelon Grape Juice
1/2 medium beet, peeled and roughly chopped*
2 cups of fresh watermelon, chopped
1/2 cup black grapes, frozen
1-2 cups of filtered water (or coconut water)
Add all ingredients to a high speed blender (I use a Vitamix) and blend on high until smooth. You can strain if you like (I didn’t) and serve over ice.
If you have a regular blender and you don’t think it will pulverize the beet, try grating it before blending.
This is technically a smoothie if you don’t strain it, but this way it keeps all that healthy fiber intact. Alternatively you can run everything through your juicer for a concentrated power juice.
Its recommended to drink beet juice about 2 hours before a workout, for the best benefits. I made this first thing when I got up the other morning, and then went for a run a couple hours later. It could’ve been the placebo effect but I felt like it helped!
What’s your favorite pre-workout food or beverage?
Happy Tuesday, friends! Today I have one of the easiest, freshest summer recipes that is sure to become on of your favorites. Whether or not you’re watching your carbs (I’m not), or just want to pack more veggies into your meal (that’s me!) then zucchini noodles, or zoodles, are the perfect substitution for pasta.
While I sometimes like stir-frying my zoodles, I decided to keep it chill with this dish. I even added spiralized cucumber just to mix it up a bit. The result is a fresh, crunchy, flavorful, ultra cooling, and hydrating meal that is great for those nights that you don’t feel like turning on any heat source. I could eat this everyday, and with the scorching summer we’ve had, it’s been my go-to no-cook meal many nights. It’s also one of my favorite ways to use my super easy Thai-inspired Peanut Sauce.
Keep this recipe on hand for those laid-back, dog days of summer when the last thing you want to do is turn on the oven.
A handful of Fresh Thai basil, sweet basil, or cilantro for topping
Dry roasted peanuts, for topping
Squeeze of lime
Jalapeno slices for garnish
1. Prepare your noodles: Spiralize your zucchini and cucumber into a large bowl (I don’t bother to peel them first). I use a little Veggetti spiralizer that I bought at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. I like to pat my zucchini and cucumber noodles with a tea towel or paper towel to remove just a bit of moisture; this helps the peanut sauce stick and won’t water it down.
2. To make carrot ribbons, simply use a vegetable peeler to make long, thin slices into the bowl. Add optional jalapeno and toss with the other veggies. Add 1/4 – 1/2 cup of sauce and toss again. Plate and top with fresh herbs, peanuts, jalapeno, and add a squeeze of lime juice.
Mmmm… Caramel Sauce. It’s one of those simple pleasures in life. Especially on top of a creamy scoop of (dairy-free) vanilla ice cream.
Yum yum yum. I can think of all sorts of things that would taste better with a drizzle of this rich caramel sauce; banana nice cream, oatmeal, dairy-free yogurt, homemade lattes, thick creamy vegan milkshakes… a spoon. Everything is better with caramel!
It’s true, I love caramel sauce. Even better when it’s made from wholesome, plant-based ingredients. Even more better when it’s made from ingredients that I almost always have on-hand in my pantry. Actually, this could get a little dangerous.
Don’t be intimidated by making your own caramel sauce. It’s so easy. Simply whisk the ingredients together, and cook over low heat for 1- 2 minutes. That’s it! It’s absolutely amazing immediately as a hot caramel sauce (caramel sundaes, anyone?), or you can store it in the fridge and it will thicken up to apple dipping texture. So many possibilities! (If you’re looking for a truly whole-food vegan caramel dip, be sure to check out my date-based and raw Best Healthy Caramel Dip Ever).
As always, let me know if you give this one a try, I’d love to hear how you liked it!
Easy Vegan Caramel Sauce (Only 4 Ingredients!)
Prep/cook time: 4 minutes
Makes 4 servings
1/4 cup almond or cashew milk
1/4 cup coconut sugar*
2 Tbsp natural nut butter (peanut butter, cashew butter, and tahini all work great**)
2 Tbsp unrefined virgin coconut oil
Optional: pinch of sea salt, 1/4 tsp vanilla extract (not necessary but they punch up the flavor!)
Combine first 4 ingredients in a small pot and whisk very well, until smooth. Turn the heat on medium and continue whisking until the mixture starts bubbling. Turn the heat down to low (as low as your burner can go) and heat for 1-2 minutes until thickened, whisking constantly to avoid burning. Turn off the heat and add the optional salt and vanilla and whisk again. Pour into a small jar and store any unused portion in the refrigerator.
* I’m pretty sure you could substitute vegan brown sugar for the coconut sugar, but I haven’t tried it.
** We loved the peanut butter version, which is shown in the pics, but cashew butter was also amazing. Using tahini will give it some bite, which I loved. A combination of half peanut butter or cashew butter + half tahini also resulted in a great tasting caramel sauce. I’m pretty certain almond butter would work well here too; if you try it be sure to let us know in the comments!
When I was a kid, one of my favorite pastimes was to get a bunch of my friends together, load up on as many sugary foods and drinks as we could buy at the store and head back to my house to generally act insane. It was all under the guise of a “sleepover.” My poor parents. Our favorite crazy fuel? Pixie Stix, Laffy Taffy, Faygo soda pop, and if we were lucky, one of those big frosty, radioactive-hued 7-11 specials. Oh yes… The Slurpee.
I don’t think I need to research and list the ingredients in a typical Slurpee for you all to know how bad it is. They don’t really try to hide it. Those fruity drinks are basically a bucketful of sugar (probably high fructose corn syrup), artificial flavors, carbonation, and colors that you can’t find in the natural world. I decided it might be fun to give one of my childhood favorites a healthy makeover. This super simple Slurpee knock-off is:
Flavored with fruit
loaded with vitamins and antioxidants galore
and has a Probiotic boost!
The trick to making a frosty, fruity drink that will conjure up memories of summer days gone by, is the carbonation. To me, that’s the difference between a slushy and a Slurpee. For a healthy, natural shot of carbonation, I used flavored kombucha. Using kombucha will also give you a nice dose of happy belly probiotics. Also key in slurpee reproduction: blending the ice and frozen fruit really well for a fine frosty texture, instead of a chunky-icy texture. Feel free to use other frozen fruits and flavored kombucha.
What are you waiting for? Celebrate these last weeks of summer with a fun frozen beverage that’s actually good for you!
Gorgeous Grape “Slurpee”(antioxidant-packed for healthy skin)
2 cups of frozen grapes (I used 1 cup of red and 1 cup of black seedless grapes)
1 cup of flavored kombucha (I used pomegranate flavor*)
1-2 cups of ice
Perky Pineapple “Slurpee” (anti-inflammatory & good for digestion)
Blend all ingredients in a good, powerful blender. Top off the glass with an extra splash of kombucha. Makes about 2 servings.
* Feel free to try other flavor combinations! I couldn’t find grape kombucha at my health food store, but I know it exists! This pineapple coconut flavor would be delicious with the frozen pineapple, for a virgin pina colada slurpee.
If you don’t want to use kombucha, try a naturally flavored sparkling water instead (such as La Croix). Or try a naturally sweetened soda pop alternative, like Steaz sparkling green tea soda, Zevia, Blue Sky (ginger ale)
What other fruit and flavor combinations can you come up with??
If you were to google “reasons to avoid dairy” you’d get several results. Actually, you’d get about 16 million results from that search. I don’t need millions of reasons to steer clear of dairy, I have 3 main reasons, and that is more than enough for me. I’ll get to those in a minute.
It’s important for me to mention that I used to love dairy products, especially as a kid, but certainly up into and through my 20’s as well. I was definitely not one of those people who just didn’t really like milk, or one of the rare people who doesn’t care for cheese (they are out there!). Oh no. One of my favorite snacks used to be sliced block sharp cheddar and dill pickles. Cheese went on every sandwich I ever made. During the summer, and even in the winter, ice cream was practically a daily occurrence. I loved drinking plain milk, and in my mind a tall glass of milk went with every meal. I would drown my breakfast cereal with it. Growing up, our fridge was always stocked with milk.
It never occurred to me that I should ever stop drinking milk. Or eating ice cream. Or snacking on thick slices of sharp cheddar. It never ever crossed my mind that the breast milk from a cow might not actually be good for a human body, or that there was anything ethically wrong with drinking cow’s milk. Milk and dairy products are right there prominently on the food pyramid after all! Pediatricians recommend it to all children starting at one year of age (my daughter’s pediatrician gave us the whole milk spiel when she turned one. In my mind I was making puking noises and rolling my eyes, but I remained very polite on the outside). Not so long ago advertisements used to tell people that 3 servings of dairy would help them slim down and lose weight. Everyone I knew drank milk, put cream in their coffee, and was as obsessed with ice cream and cheese as I was. It’s the best source of calcium, right? It’s loaded with protein! It must be nutritious. Right???
I could go into a long diatribe of all of the nasty attributes of milk, and why I won’t touch dairy now. I could share some of the many horrors of factory farming. I could discuss how Harvard declared dairy products NOT part of a healthy diet. I could go into the reasons the government continues to bend to Big Dairy and milk remains a recommended food for optimal nutrition, even though it’s been proven not to be beneficial to human health and is actually harmful (studies have strongly linked dairy consumption to cancer). I could write about three long blog posts (or 10) listing the compelling reasons that nutrition experts, animal rights advocates, and others have given for avoiding dairy. Maybe one day I’ll do that. For now, here are my three biggest reasons.
After giving up dairy completely, my skin has never been clearer. No more hormonal, cystic acne which plagued my chin right up until I stopped dairy for good.
Dairy-free milk alternatives like almond milk, sesame seed milk, etc. taste delicious.
Cow’s milk was designed for one thing, and one thing only: feeding baby cows. Period.
If you’re fed up with your skin and acne, you’ve tried everything, and it just won’t clear up, please consider eliminating dairy. Especially if you have adult acne, and/or cystic acne that seems hormonal (you’re breaking out with deep, painful bumps on your chin, especially certain times during the month). It doesn’t matter if your milk is organic, labelled hormone free, is raw, etc… there are hormones in that milk! LOTS of hormones. It is a bodily fluid from a mammal, designed by nature to make a tiny baby cow huge in a short amount of time. Surges in hormones help make lactation possible ( I knew this firsthand as a breastfeeding mom), so of course cow’s milk naturally has hormones. Check out this interesting article for more on hormones in milk and the dairy/acne connection.
Not only did I experience those surges in hormones while I was breastfeeding, I experienced the emotional and physiological, all-encompassing bond with my newborn daughter. It’s an indescribable feeling really, one I wouldn’t have completely understood if I hadn’t experienced it. Your focus is entirely on your baby; your baby is your whole world now; you want to immediately comfort any distress, feed them when they’re hungry, and keep them close at all times and at all costs. This is exactly how a mother cow feels. They have the same innate need and strong drive to take care of their babies. In order to profit from the mother cow’s breast milk, however, calves are typically separated from their moms a day after they are born. These babies, if female, are raised to endure a lifetime of yearly artificial (and forcible) impregnation and painful milking as soon as they are old enough. If they are male, they’re put in tiny crates alone, unable to move around or feel grass under their feet, destined to be sent to the slaughterhouse at about 16 weeks of age (for veal). Mother cows mournfully cry out to their babies after they are taken away, and the babies cry out for the mother, for days. In some cases prompting calls to the police from worried neighbors, as in this case.
This isn’t just the practice of some small minority of evil factory farms, this is the norm, even in organic so-called “happy cow” farms. Very small family farms may do things a bit differently, and many claim to be kinder and love their animals. This may be true, but even if it is, hardly anyone is drinking the milk from one of these farms. If you buy your milk at the store, you’re definitely not. The fact remains, even on those small dairies, that male baby cows are seen as useless and are almost always going to be sold for veal. Also, in order to get enough milk to sell, even on a small scale, there is almost certainly going to have to be a forced separation which is incredibly painful and traumatic for both mom and baby. I don’t believe in sharing any video that is graphic, and I promise to never to that, but I do want to share this video of a mama cow and baby cow being separated, as watching it was a pivotal factor in my decision to stop consuming dairy (it is non-graphic, though very sad). My chest still gets tight when I watch this video. If you drink or buy milk, consider if this pain is worth supporting the habits of your tastebuds. As a long-time milk enthusiast, I finally decided it was not.
You could go to the ends of earth, or at least scour all your neighboring cities and counties looking for a truly “humane” dairy farm to buy milk, but why go to all that trouble when dairy isn’t part of a healthy diet anyway (and is most likely harming your health), and there are so many delicious dairy-free options out there? If I didn’t have a slew of tasty alternatives to take the place of all my favorite dairy foods, giving up dairy may have been more difficult. In truth, I did a lot of flip flopping the first three years after deciding to switch to a plant-based diet. One month I was dairy-free, the next I was slowly sliding into my old ways, usually in social situations. The more I learned, and read, however, the more I wanted to change. Seeing how much better my skin looked was a huge motivator, but the big catalyst for going dairy-free was experiencing motherhood, breastfeeding, and the bond with my daughter firsthand. Immediately I saw the bigger picture. After becoming a mom, I no longer had to “try” to give up dairy, there was just no way I could consume it and support the dairy industry anymore.
Now that I have poured my heart and soul into this post, let’s get to the recipe, shall we?? Haha. I realize I rarely ever divulge personal information, and I don’t like to get too much into the nitty gritty of ethics, or the vegan lifestyle, but sometimes I feel like there are things that I need to discuss. If I can help just one person who is thinking of giving up dairy, or convince just one person to question their habits, then I am happy to share my thoughts and experiences. I also want you to know that I’m coming from a place of understanding, after all, I was consuming dairy only 3 years ago, so I do not judge anyone. There was a time when I couldn’t imagine not eating dairy foods, and the practice of cutting it out completely seemed extreme. Please believe me when I say I do not feel deprived, of anything! Dairy-free products at the grocery store keep getting better and better, and if you can’t buy it, make it! (see my All Recipes page for more dairy-free alternative milks, cheese sauces, and desserts, including cheesecake!)
I love this sesame seed milk because it’s rich, creamy, and unexpected. It has a unique flavor that I find irresistible. I use this milk in everything from iced coffee to oatmeal. I especially love it in a thick, banana-based smoothie. I wrote a lot about sesame seed benefits in my maple tahini dip post, but here is a quick recap of the nutrients you’ll find in sesame seeds (and sesame seed milk):
Think strong bones, healthy hair and clear skin. Sesame seeds are also said to be beneficial in preventing heart disease, cancer, and even anxiety. So what are you waiting for? Ditch the cruel, acne- and cancer-causing dairy, and start blending up your own plant-powered milk. Starting with this super easy, delicious and nutritious sesame seed milk.
Sesame Seed Milk
1 cup of raw sesame seeds (soaked in filtered water overnight)
3 cups of water
2 dates (optional)
1/2 tsp vanilla (optional)
tiny pinch of salt, pinch of cinnamon (optional)
Drain your sesame seed in a fine mesh strainer and rinse with water. Add to a blender along with remaining ingredients and blend on high for about a minute.
Strain the milk using a nut milk bag (it’s worth every penny!) or a fine mesh strainer. If you’re using it in smoothies you have the option of skipping the straining step and you can just use it immediately.
Store in the fridge in a jar with a lid, and use within 3 days.
I really think the world could be a happier place if we would all just eat more vegan cheesecake. I mean, talk about a unifying force. Almost everyone loves cheesecake. Post a cheesecake photo on Instagram, and it’s like everyone starts smiling… and salivating. You can’t not be in a good mood while eating a generous slice of creamy, melt-in-your mouth, (vegan) cheesecake. Try it. Not possible.
The funny thing is, although I used to drool over dairy cheesecake back in the olden days, I would almost always feel sick after eating it. At the time I probably would say “oh but it was soo worth it,” as I clutched my bloated belly and tried to ignore the major case of ickies it just gave me. This Vanilla Matcha Cheesecake is every bit as decadent but won’t make you feel like an overstuffed and nauseous pile of misery. Sure it’s not a salad, but it’s a lot healthier than conventional dairy and sugar filled cheesecake. Made with wholesome, plant-based ingredients, and sweetened with dates, this cheesecake will make you say “Mmmm, heaven” not “Ugghhhh, help me.”
I made this cheesecake for my husband’s birthday last week. He’s not a big dessert guy, but he loves green tea ice cream. When I first started working out this recipe, I was going for an ice cream cake. Instead, I wound up with a creamy, rich but fluffy, melt-in-your mouth cheesecake. I count that as a win! Plus the husband gave it the two thumbs up. Always a good sign!
I used a combination of raw cashews and full fat coconut milk to achieve the creamiest texture possible. The cake and crust are entirely sweetened with dates. Dates are like magic! They help the crust stick together without any added oils, they add the perfect amount of sweetness, and they also help keep the cheesecake filling from forming ice crystals while setting up in the freezer. I used a high quality matcha powder for the brightest and purest green tea flavor. For the crust, I skipped the typical graham cracker crust, and opted for a chocolate-y cookie bottom. How did I know chocolate would be a good match for matcha? My raw matcha oreos gave me the hint (they’re delicious!). I tweaked my raw oreo cookie recipe to create the perfect, raw, chocolatey crust that pairs beautifully with the creamy matcha filling. Mouth = happy.
Did I mention it’s extremely easy to make? Mix up the crust in the food processor, then blend the cheesecake filling in your blender… pour, and freeze until set. No baking!
Ok, so I might not know how to solve all the world’s problems, but this matcha cheesecake is a good start.
Vegan Matcha Vanilla Cheesecake with Raw Chocolate Cookie Crust
1 1/3 cup cashews (soaked 2-4 hours, drained and rinsed)
1 can full fat coconut milk
1 cup of dates, packed (soaked in hot water a few minutes before blending, if needed)
optional: 1 tbsp of vodka (helps with creaminess and texture when freezing, can be omitted)
1 cup raw almonds
1/3 cup raw pecans
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup raw buckwheat groats (or more oats)
1/3 cup cacao or cocoa powder
10 medjool dates
pinch of salt
1-2 tbsp of water, as needed
In a food processor, process the first 4 crust ingredients until a fine meal forms. Add the remaining ingredients and process until well blended and the mixture sticks together. Press the crust mixture evenly into an 8″ spring form pan. Set aside.
In a high speed blender, blend all of the filling ingredients until completely smooth and silky, it may take a minute or two. Pour filling into crust. Tap on the counter lightly to even out the filling. Freeze for about 4 hours or until firm. Decorate however you’d like, I used easy raw 3 ingredient chocolate sauce (below) and coconut shreds.
Chocolate sauce: mix 3 tbsp melted coconut oil, 3 tbsp cocoa or cacao powder, and 1 tbsp coconut nectar (or maple syrup). Drizzle over cake before serving.
You can sub cashews for almonds in the crust, and you could probably just use more almonds or cashews in place of the pecans. I like to use pecans because they add a bit of richness and are slightly more oily than almonds and cashews. I haven’t tried any nut free options yet, but feel free to experiment (i.e. sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, or all oats/buckwheat – they’re all good possibilities). Let me know how it goes!
Today I’m sharing an easy peasy peanut sauce that I make at least once a week. This is my go-to sauce for drizzling over stir-fries, tossing with noodle dishes, and dipping summer rolls, spring rolls, tofu, and tempeh. If you thought you had to wait until Thai food take-out night to enjoy some delicious peanut sauciness, think again. Peanut sauce magic can be yours anytime!
This sauce is good with everything. I love serving it with gluten free or whole grain noodles or pasta and steamed broccoli, for a really simple but healthy weeknight meal. You can spice this sauce up or tone it down, depending on your preferred level of heat. I like a little spice, but when I’m making this for my husband, who uses hot sauce like ketchup, I kick it up about three extra notches.
I like to mix up the sauce without the optional hot ingredients and pour part of it into a jar for my 3 year old (who isn’t keen on any level of spiciness in her food) and then add in the spices for myself and my husband. You can leave it extra thick for dipping, or thin it out for a drizzle-able sauce. The choice is yours.
Just a few minutes of your time, less than 10 ingredients, and whisk is all you need to whip up this no-cook sauce.
Consider your dinner seriously jazzed up.
Easy Peanut Sauce
makes about 1 + 1/4 cups
1/2 cup + 1 tbsp peanut butter
juice of 1 lime (about 1/4 cup)
2 tbsp tamari or coconut aminos
1/2 tsp fresh grated ginger root
2 tsp maple syrup or coconut nectar
1 tsp rice vinegar
1 tsp sriracha (optional)
1 tsp chili garlic sauce (optional)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
water as needed to thin (2 tbsp to 1/4 cup)
Combine all ingredients in a 4 cup glass measuring cup or medium bowl. Combine well with a whisk. Add water as desired, I usually add about 3-4 tbsp. Taste and adjust ingredients as needed. Store in the fridge and use within 5 days.
Use on noodles, pasta, steamed or roasted veggies, stir fries, or as a dipping sauce for baked tofu, marinated tempeh, spring rolls or summer rolls.