Paleo Apple Crisp

Paleo Apple CrispHealthy and tasty Paleo Apple Crisp are calling your name!  Have you ever used one of those nifty apple peeler/corer/slicer contraptions? My mom used to own one and they certainly made apple crisp-making way too easy. She would quickly prep a half dozen apples, throw them into a baking dish, whip up a buttery, cinnamon oat streusel, and about forty-five torturous minutes of a wait later, we would have a piping hot dish of apple crisp all to ourselves!

I don’t own one of those apple contraptions, which is probably a good thing because I would be whipping up this Paleo Apple Crisp every week if I did. Even without one, it doesn’t take long to peel, core, and slice by hand enough apples to make this delicious dessert.

Fun fact: that little serving of apple crisp I dished out for these photos was gobbled up in two minutes flat. I told myself just a bite since dinner was literally in the oven about to be served, but I couldn’t stop myself! This paleo apple crisp is just as good as any classic recipe from your childhood. The sliced almonds in the crisp topping are reminiscent of the traditional rolled oats and my special addition of allspice in the apple filling makes this dessert absolutely heavenly.

Paleo Apple Crisp

  • 6 organic apples peeled, cored & sliced 1/4-inch thick
  • 1/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 2 Tbsp arrowroot starch
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1/4 cup tapioca starch
  • 2 Tbsp coconut sugar
  • 2 Tbsp maple sugar or more coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds
  • 5 Tbsp butter cold, diced
  1. In a large bowl, combine apples and remaining filling ingredients. Toss well to evenly coat the apple slices with the spices.
  2. Pour apples into a 9″x13″ or similar size baking dish and spread in an even layer. Bake 30 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, prepare the topping. Combine all ingredients except the butter in a bowl. Mix well.
  4. Add the cold, cubed butter and rub it into the dry mixture with your fingertips until evenly distributed. Store mixture in the refrigerator until the apples are ready.
  5. After 30 minutes, remove the apples from the oven and evenly sprinkle the topping over them.
  6. Return to the oven and bake another 20 minutes, until golden brown and bubbly around the edges. Serve warm. Enjoy!

Cover any leftovers and store in the fridge for up to 7 days. Best reheated in the oven, but can be reheated in the microwave.

How to Tackle Those Last Ten Pounds

Tackle Those Last Ten Pounds

What should you do about those last ten pounds? Embrace them!

I wanted badly to tackle those last ten pounds by expertizing and controlling diet. At a recent family event, my sister leaned over to me during dinner and asked, “How much do you weigh?”

“About 160 pounds,” I replied.

“Same,” she said. “And you know what? We’re both beautiful and we don’t stress about everything we eat. Isn’t it great?”

Before you think my sister was gloating, just know that it hasn’t always been this way for us. We both have a history of dieting, gaining weight, dieting again, working out obsessively, and so on in an effort to lose those same 10-20 pounds. It’s been a journey to figure out what works for each of us individually.

So what’s my secret? How did I finally stop having to worry about those last ten pounds?

I said, “Eff ’em!”

I stopped desperately trying to get rid of them. No more tracking calories or macros. No more intense workouts every. single. day. No more measuring and weighing myself. Instead, I started focusing on my health and learning to embrace my curves and squishy spots.

I do not have a flat stomach. I do not have a thigh gap. I am not a size 4. But I am healthy and I am beautiful.

This mindset shift didn’t happen overnight. As I said, I have years of dieting and weight loss efforts under my belt (odds are you do, too). Personally, all I ever wanted was to get to my “happy weight” and then just be able to maintain it. The problem was, anytime I would lose weight, I would gain it back. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s very difficult to maintain weight loss if the steps it took to get there aren’t sustainable.

It’s also hard to maintain weight loss if you and your body have different ideas of what your “happy weight” should be. In my mind, a flat, toned stomach was ideal. To my body, what it took to achieve that flat, toned stomach wasn’t worth the effort. It had other, more important things to worry about.

I got to a point where I was tired of fighting with my body. I decided enough was enough. I decided to relax a little bit, to be kind to myself. For me, that meant eating clean, nutritious food most of the time, and also not freaking out if I had a scoop of ice cream or if I really wanted a bite (or two) or gluten- and dairy-laden croissant.

It meant not forcing myself to do workouts I hated, but to find forms of movement that I enjoyed, and that made me feel good, like walking, hiking, and yoga. It meant being okay with gaining a few pounds. And you know what? With all of that came an amazing sense of freedom and joy.

If you’re still struggling to lose those last ten pounds, here’s a few things you should know:

You can be healthy and be “overweight.”

Movies, magazines, and Instagram celebs have set the standard for beauty. We have been manipulated to believe that being healthy and fit means having a flat stomach, an ample booty (with no cellulite, mind you), and slender legs. Even with the growing movement of “strong before skinny” and “health first,” you might still be gauging your so-called “success” with dietary changes, fitness efforts, etc. based on how they affect your outward appearance.

As women, we often feel we need to do more and try harder. If you aren’t seeing the results you want, you feel it must be your fault. Somehow you did something wrong or you’re not doing enough or you need to try something–anything–else to achieve your goal. You start thinking, Maybe I should eat less, or workout more, or cut carbs, or cut fat, or start lifting, or stop lifting, or…

Maybe you don’t need to do more. Maybe your ideal weight is simply higher than you think it is.

Women are designed to have more body fat than men.

After all, we need extra resources to be able to conceive and carry children. Often, when women over-exercise, under-eat, or have too low of a body fat percentage, they experience a host of hormonal imbalances and reproductive disorders. These can be anything from heavy, irregular or missing periods, PMS, PCOS, breast tenderness, acne, fatigue, depression, infertility, and so on.

You have to ask yourself, is getting to your “goal weight” worth sacrificing your health?

To me, it’s worth being a little heavier if that means my body systems are working the way they should. I am healthier now at 160 pounds than I was five years ago at 140 pounds. Back then, I had poor digestion, low energy, intense sugar cravings, dry skin and persistent rashes, and a terrible relationship with food.

Now, I poop every day (hooray!), have steady energy, my skin is rash-free, and, like my sister said, I no longer stress out or feel guilt about my food choices.

person-holding-barbell-841130-3Focus on wellbeing, rather than weight.

To be clear, I’m not saying to just let yourself go. Don’t throw in the towel when it comes to taking care of your body. It is still incredibly important to eat high-quality food and to avoid junky, processed, food-like products. You still need to get up and move your body daily. There are still health issues associated with obesity (though obesity is really a symptom of poor health, rather than the cause).

What I am saying is that those last ten pounds, the ones that you feel like you’ve done everything to get rid of, well maybe you don’t need to get rid of them at all.

Instead of focusing on weight loss this year, focus on some other, more impactful measures of health, such as:

  • eating a nutrient-dense diet
  • drinking plenty of water
  • getting enough sleep
  • finding forms of movement that make you happy
  • enjoying the company of friends and family
  • reducing stress and improving mindset

When your health is in line and you feel your best, trust me, that extra fluff becomes a non-issue. I’m not saying it’s easy. I still find myself pinching my belly rolls from time to time. But then I think, Who says these rolls are bad? Who says I have to have a flat stomach? You can be a beautiful, sexy, and worthwhile woman, thunder thighs and all!

5 Signs to be concerned for your Health, Regardless of Weight

 

for your healthYou should be concerned for your Health, Regardless of Weight. It’s a common belief that slim people must be healthy, motivated, and active. Either that or they have been “blessed” with an amazing metabolism. On the other hand, overweight people are clearly unhealthy, weak-willed, and lazy. Or they have been “cursed” with a slow metabolism.

But it isn’t that black and white.

Coming off my last post on How to Tackle Those Last 10 Pounds, I wanted to discuss some of the signs you need to work on your health, regardless of your weight. There simply is not a direct correlation between body weight and overall health. You can be thin and extraordinarily unhealthy. Or you can be “overweight” and totally thriving. It’s time to look beyond body weight when assessing your health (or the health of someone else).

But how do you know if you need to worry about your Health? Here are my Top 5 Signs your health isn’t quite where it should be.

5 signs that are bad for your health

1. Constipation

First of all, let’s define constipation. You might be thinking that having a bowel movement every couple of days is totally normal. In truth, you are constipated if you are not having a BM every single day.

Think about how often you eat. Now think about how often you poop… It doesn’t add up, does it? How can you keep putting stuff in, without anything coming out?

When digestion slows in this way, one of your body’s main forms of detoxification–elimination–is being restricted. Instead of exiting the body, these toxins remain in your system. This can lead to leaky gut, dysbiosis (an imbalance of gut flora), and a host of other problems. Not to mention, constipation is seriously uncomfortable.

If you’re not having a quality poop every day, digestion definitely needs to be addressed, working from the top-down (i.e. what you’re eating, how well you’re chewing, stomach acid production, etc).

2. Poor Sleep

Sleep is so crucial. It’s your body’s time to rest, heal, and recharge. And yet, despite its importance, we tend to put quality sleep low on our list of priorities. There’s always so much to do. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is a phrase I truly despise.

When someone tells me they are going to get up an hour earlier to exercise before work, I say, “Great! Are you going to go to bed an hour (or two) earlier as well?” If not, then sleep trumps exercise! You should never sacrifice necessary sleep for the sake of adding more stress to your body. Getting your 7-9 hours of shuteye is a top priority when it comes to improving overall health.

Scheduling in your sleep time is one thing, but actually sleeping through the night is another issue. So many of us are plagued with sleep disorders like insomnia or waking in the middle of the night. Obviously stress can be a major cause, but other culprits are likely hormonal or blood sugar imbalances.

3. Low Energy

This can go hand in hand with the previous one–obviously poor sleep quality can lead to low energy. However, if you’re getting adequate sleep and you’re still dragging your feet, something else could be off.

Before you jump to disorders like hypothyroidism or adrenal fatigue, take a look at what you’re eating. Odds are your poor energy levels are due to your diet.

When most of your calories come from carbohydrates (yes, even whole forms), your body runs on glucose and becomes dependent on constant hits of sugar to keep it going. Ideally, your body should be able to run on both sugar and fat. Fat is actually the preferred energy source for the heart!

To keep your energy levels consistent, eat balanced meals that contain plenty of protein, healthy fats, and a moderate amount of quality carbohydrate–you know, like vegetables!

4. Irregular Cycles

Ladies, this one is for you. As I touched on in my previous post, your period is an excellent way to gauge your overall health. If anything is significantly “off” in your body, survival will take precedence over reproduction. In other words, your body will delegate its slim resources to keep you alive.

If your period arrives irregularly, if it lasts too long, if it comes with severe PMS or cramping, or if it doesn’t come at all, these are all red flags that some critical systems aren’t working as they should be.

Whether you plan to have children in the near future or not at all, you should still be concerned with having a healthy period. After all, being a woman is hard enough without having to deal with all of that!

5. Skin Problems

As a long-time sufferer of eczema, I can totally commiserate with those of you who suffer from chronic skin disorders. I tried every cream and ointment out there to remedy my rashes, and nothing really worked. That’s because they were only treating the symptom–the itchy, red skin–and not the cause.

It wasn’t until I got a handle on my food intolerances (in my case, dairy) that I saw my condition improve. In fact, since eliminating all dairy (aside from butter) a couple of years ago, I haven’t had one single eczema flare. Totally worth it.

Rashes, acne, and other skin problems are often a sign of inflammation. And often this inflammation is caused by food intolerances or allergies, or, again, over-consumption of sugar/carbohydrates. Rather than keep searching for the miracle cream, you may want to get tested for food allergies or try an elimination diet.

The Bottom Line

You might notice that all of these signs come back to what you are putting in your mouth. Your diet is the #1 foundation for your health. That’s where it all begins. Quite frankly, I don’t care if your diet helped you lose 50 pounds if at the same time it left you tired, hungry, moody, etc. If you don’t feel good, what you’re doing is not working.

If you are still suffering from any of the above signs, it’s time to take a fresh look at your daily diet and habits, whether you have 5% body fat or 35% body fat.

Questions? Post them in the comments or reach out to me at Carly at strivetothrivenutrition.com.

Artichoke Basil Chicken Spaghetti Squash

Chicken SpaghettiAre you craving for Chicken Spaghetti? Necessity is the mother of creation, isn’t that what they say? Chefs often say their favorite meals are the ones they whip up after a long shift from whatever ingredients are left in the kitchen. I’d like to pretend I’m always prepared– I try to keep a well-stocked pantry, I’m always flagging recipes in magazines or on Pinterest, and I go to the grocery store way too often. But sometimes I’m caught without a plan. More often than not I get into the kitchen and I improvise.

A few weeks later my fiancé will say something like “Can you make those lamb chops again?” and I’ll have to admit that I really can’t because I only kinda-sorta remember what I put on that lamb that one time.

So I’m very proud of myself this time. I created a recipe…and I wrote it down! Granted, this recipe had a little more brainstorming behind it. You see, on Monday I took advantage of the Whole Foods $6 rotisserie chicken special and bought two chickens. I figured Matt could pretty much eat an entire one on his own (he really almost did!), but that still left plenty of chicken behind. What to do with all that chicken?

I crafted this recipe in my head throughout the day as I ran around town doing errands. Most of the ingredients were things I already had on hand in my pantry. There were just a couple things I wanted and I swung by the store on my way home to pick up the last few essentials to what I hoped would be a delicious dinner.

Sometimes I get a little nervous serving meal like this Matt. He always devours and praises the food I cook for him, but his favorite food is pasta…which I obviously never cook for him! So when I presented him with a plate of spaghetti squash with a dairy-free “cream” sauce, I worried a bit.

There was no need this time. This creamy Artichoke Basil Chicken Spaghetti Squash was a bowl of warm, comforting, hearty, and delicious food that we both gobbled up. Good thing I wrote down that recipe because I’ll be wanting to make this again soon!

Preparation of Artichoke Basil Chicken Spaghetti Squash 

Artichoke Basil Chicken Spaghetti Squash Paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, low carb.

  • 1 spaghetti squash
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 red onion thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 (15-oz) can artichoke hearts drained & quartered if whole
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes chopped
  • 2 cups cooked chicken shredded
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes optional
  • 1 (15-oz) can coconut milk full fat
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil chopped
  • salt to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Place the squash cut-side-down on the baking sheet and roast in the oven until the outside of the squash gives a little when prodded, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from the oven and flip over cut-side-up to cool.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, chicken, pepper, nutmeg, and chili flakes. Sauté 2 minutes.
  4. Add the coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Taste the sauce and add salt as needed. Stir in the basil and remove from the heat.
  5. Use a fork to scrape the insides of the spaghetti squash into strands. Divide the squash among the plates, then top with the sauce. If you can tolerate dairy, top with a little grated parmesan. Enjoy your Artichoke Basil Chicken Spaghetti Squash!

Asian Tuna Salad

Asian Tuna Salad

Asian Tuna Salad

 

This Asian Tuna Salad is my kind of salad– no lettuce at all!

I’m joking. Sort of.

I feel like salads are the thing everyone turns to when they are trying to eat healthier. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, so long as you are using good quality dressings and balancing all those veggies with some fat and protein for a satisfying meal. But for me, I’ve come to terms with the fact that salads just don’t really do it for me. I’m usually left wanting more out of my meal.

If you’re starting to feel the same way about your salad lunches, this Asian Tuna Salad will spice things up for you! Packed with protein, healthy fats, and tons of flavor, it’s a satisfying meal that will keep you going until dinner. Eat it by the forkful, scoop it up with veggie sticks or Jackson’s Honest Chips, and by all means, serve this tuna salad on top of an actual salad!

Let’s take a moment to talk mayo. Please for the love of all that is good, do not buy Best Foods or Miracle Whip! Almost all jarred mayonnaise is made from highly processed, inflammatory oils (such as canola oil and soybean oil). They also contain added sugars and preservatives. Stay far away!

It’s super easy to make your own homemade mayo (this is my go-to recipe as well as a video of me making it), but thankfully there are a couple of awesome companies now producing mayo that’s made from healthful avocado oil: Chosen Foods and Primal Kitchen. Hooray!

Preparation of Asian Tuna Salad

Asian Tuna Salad Paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, low carb

  1. Drain the tuna and flake it apart with a fork.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Stir well until combined.
  3. Serve as is, use veggie sticks or chips for scooping, or roll in nori to make a handroll. Enjoy!

 

3 Ingredient Peanut Butter Swirl Fudge (Dairy Free!)

Peanut Butter Swirl Fudge

Peanut Butter Swirl Fudge has such a sense of nostalgia. As a kid, I would often get a square of fudge at the county fair or on trips to the beach. Whether it was served in a little box or wax bag, the fudge would always come with a plastic knife to cut off one small slice, then another, then another. It was always gone way too quickly! It’s hard to restrain yourself as a kid.

But guess what? As an adult, it’s still hard to practice self-control around fudge! This 3 Ingredient Peanut Butter Swirl Fudge is that irresistible combo of sweet and salty and that perfect toothsome texture that keeps you coming back for more.

Since having to ditch dairy products, I thought my days of enjoying traditional fudge were over. Most recipes call for sweetened condensed milk, which is difficult to replicate with non-dairy ingredients…until now! I spotted this sweetened condensed coconut milk at the grocery store and nearly jumped with joy! I didn’t even know what I would do with it at first, I just knew I needed it.

I had my first excuse to use it during Christmas time when I whipped up a batch of dairy-free fudge with peppermint extract. Matt and I devoured the whole batch (over a period of several weeks, mind you). It was a sad moment indeed when we ate the last two pieces. But then Matt’s birthday came around and when I asked if he wanted cake, he requested fudge again.

This dairy-free fudge is swirled with creamy peanut butter, but could just as easily be made with different nut butter if you prefer. I recommend getting a good quality dark chocolate to make this since the sweetened condensed coconut milk adds a fair amount of sweetness.

Preparation of Peanut Butter Swirl Fudge

3 Ingredient Peanut Butter Swirl Fudge Dairy-free, paleo(ish), vegan

  • 12 oz dark chocolate chips or bar, chopped
  • 1 (11.25 oz) can sweeten condensed coconut milk
  • 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter or other nut butter
  1. Combine the chocolate and sweetened condensed coconut milk in a saucepan.
  2. Set over medium heat and stir until melted.
  3. Remove from the heat and let cool, stirring occasionally, until barely warm, about 10 minutes.
  4. Line an 8×8-inch square dish with wax paper or parchment paper (recommended for easy removal) or simply grease the dish.
  5. Once the mixture has cooled, either stir vigorously with a wooden spoon for 10 minutes OR transfer mixture to a stand mixture and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 5 minutes.
  6. Pour the fudge into the prepared dish and spread it to the edges. A small offset spatula is best for this!
  7. Put the peanut butter in a glass measuring cup or bowl and heat in the microwave for 15 seconds to make it more pourable. Pour the peanut butter in stripes across the top of the fudge. Use a knife to drag through the peanut butter swipes to create pretty swirls.
  8. Refrigerate uncovered until cooled and solid. Cut into squares and enjoy!

Get your sweetened condensed coconut milk HERE.

Store in a sealed container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Spiced Dried Fruit Paleo Pumpkin Bread

Pumpkin Bread

Healthy and Tasty Pumpkin Bread

If you’re anything like me, you still have a couple of cans of pumpkin puree hiding in your cupboard. Ever since the Great Pumpkin Shortage of 2009, I make sure to stock up on canned pumpkin every fall because running out is simply not an option!

Just because the holidays are behind us, doesn’t mean the flavors of pumpkin and warm spices can’t still be appreciated. Winter is far from over. Spring is still a distant dream. We’re expecting snow again here in Portland tomorrow, and I’m still craving comfort food. A few of you might get mad at me for posting a “treat” recipe when you’re in the midst of New Years’ diets. Well, sorry, but I’m not committing to any restrictive diet plans this year. For why see here.

The mixture of dried fruits makes this Spiced Dried Fruit Paleo Pumpkin Bread much more interesting than your typical pumpkin bread. A little chewy, each bite slightly different than the last. I went heavy with the spices as well to create an intoxicating flavor experience. A slice of this bread tastes deceptively decadent!

Like my Pear Gingerbread, I used a combination of chestnut flour and almond flour for this recipe. Ground chestnuts create a very fine flour with rich brown color and a nutty, sweet aroma that I thought would pair beautifully with the fragrant blend of spices in this loaf. The texture and flavor of this pumpkin loaf are truly divine.

You can find chestnut flour in some specialty markets (it’s commonly used in Italian cooking), but I suggest you order it online from Nuts.com. It is a little pricey (as many paleo flours tend to be), but it keeps for quite a while due to its very low-fat content (unlike almond flour). If you didn’t already buy some for the gingerbread, here’s your chance to use it in another recipe!

Spiced Dried Fruit Paleo Pumpkin Bread Paleo, Grain Free & Gluten Free

  • 1 1/2 cups almond flour
  • 1/2 cup chestnut flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp clove
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup avocado oil or light olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup of mixed dried fruit Cranberries, raisins, currants, cherries, figs, dates, prunes, etc. Chop any larger fruits.
sliced-bread-on-white-surface-1775043
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a loaf pan and line with parchment paper (optional, but makes it much easier to remove the loaf later).
  2. In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer with the paddle attachment, sift together all the dry ingredients (chestnut flour tends to get clumpy so be sure to do this to prevent lumps in your batter).
  3. Add in the pumpkin, honey, oil, eggs, and vanilla and stir until well combined.
  4. Pour the batter into your prepared loaf pan.
  5. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in the pan at least 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, then use the parchment paper to lift the loaf out of the pan. Let cool on a wire rack. Slice and enjoy it!

Why Cholesterol is Good for You

Cholesterol

What comes to mind when you hear the word cholesterol? High blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, Cheerios commercials… Overall it’s a pretty negative connotation, right?

I’m here to change your mind about this misunderstood molecule because cholesterol isn’t the villain we’ve made it out to be. It’s really quite the hero, actually. A hero who, in trying to save someone, accidentally causes a big mess.  You know, rescues the damsel, but knocks over a building in the process. Whoops.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Before we talk about how cholesterol can be a problem, let’s talk about how awesome and essential it is to our health. 

Reason #1 Why Cholesterol is Good for You: Cell Membranes

Let’s get something straight: cholesterol can’t be “bad” because it literally makes us who we are. As one of the building blocks of the lipid bilayer that composes our cell membranes, it provides structural integrity and allows are cells to communicate with one another, which keeps our bodies functioning properly. Healthy cell membranes allow necessary substances in, while keeping harmful substances out, and also exports cellular wastes. Mess with this, and our body’s finally-tuned homeostasis goes haywire.

Reason #2 Why Cholesterol is Good for You: Healthy Hormones

Hormones are responsible for everything from metabolism, stress response, reproduction, and blood sugar regulation, to name a few. They move throughout the body and send messages to our cells that regulate our complex body systems. To say that hormones are important is an understatement.

Steroid hormones– such as testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol– are synthesized from It. When it is limited, sometimes our body has to prioritize which hormones to produce with its limited resources. Since staying alive is more important than reproducing, it’s often the sex hormones that are compromised. Think PMS, irregular menstrual cycles, low libido, and so on. It is especially crucial during times of stress when our body has to boost cortisol production.

Reason #3 Why Cholesterol is Good for You: Digestion

Since fat and water don’t mix, our bodies have to emulsify the fats we eat in order to digest and utilize them. That’s where bile comes in. And where does bile come from? You guessed it– cholesterol!

Produced by the gallbladder, bile breaks down large globules of fat into a suspension of smaller globules that can be absorbed during digestion. When the bile function is inadequate, it can lead to an upset stomach, intestinal irritation, greasy stools, diarrhea, and gas. Gross!

Proper fat digestion is also crucial for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. Vitamin D deficiencies can cause a range of symptoms from depression, fatigue, muscle weakness, and poor immunity.

Reason #4 Why Cholesterol is Good for You: Brain Health

As babies grow in the womb, they require large amounts of it for proper brain and eye development. Breast milk contains high levels of it to continue this development after the baby is born. As adults, about 25% of the body is used by the brain. Needless to say, our brains are cholesterol-dependent. Myelin, a substance that forms a protective layer around our nerve cells and nerve fibers, is composed of it. It is also key in synapse formation, allowing brain cells to communicate with each other and form memories. Reduce cholesterol levels too much, and you risk memory loss and learning problems.

Reason #5 Why Cholesterol is Good for You: Healing

When the body needs some healing help, the liver sends cholesterol to the site to get to work. It is transported by low-density lipoproteins, commonly known as LDL. This so-called “bad” cholesterol is really just the response to something that irritates and inflames the body. Healing damaged cells and the formation of new cells requires plenty of it because, as we learned in Reason #1, cell membranes are made from it! LDL doesn’t just heal cells, it helps fight infection since immune cells need it to function properly. After injuries, surgery, or during illness, blood cholesterol levels will rise as the body tries to get well again.

After it has healed a damaged area, it gets shuttled back to the liver by high-density lipoproteins– HDL – the so-called “good” cholesterol because it brings cholesterol back to the liver. But really, both types play a necessary role in our overall health.

I hope now you can see how vital cholesterol is.

So vital, our cells have mechanisms to manufacture the cholesterol needed by our bodies when we don’t get enough from our diets. Therefore, we don’t generally have to worry about its levels getting too low, except during times of stress or sickness when our body is especially taxed. This can be a good time to supplement with extra dietary– so eat those eggs! Medications like statin drugs can actually make us more prone to infections, for all the reasons we just discussed.

Now, this doesn’t mean that having elevated cholesterol levels is a good thing. Not because it is damaging to the body, but because high levels are indicative of a bigger problem: systemic inflammation. As we expose ourselves to a slew of chemicals and consume inflammatory foods (sugar, gluten, trans fats, artificial ingredients, etc), its levels rise in response. We end up blaming it for causing the problems just because it’s been found at the scene of the crime. But it itself isn’t to blame.

healthy-breakfast-with-bananas-and-eggs-4114114What do we do to lower cholesterol levels?

Lowering intake of dietary won’t actually do much to lower blood cholesterol levels– if the body needs more, it will simply make more– nor will eating rich foods do much to raise its levels.

Besides, it’s not about lowering cholesterol directly, it’s about reducing the intake of those foods that cause inflammation, and thus the need for elevated cholesterol levels. The main culprit is the over-consumption of sugar and carbohydrates. Sugars and starches elevate blood sugar levels, which over time can lead to metabolic syndrome, hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, and type II diabetes. When your body can’t properly shuttle glucose to the cells or the liver for storage, it roams free in the bloodstream, irritating blood vessel walls. It tries to heal the damage over and over and over again, therefore its levels remain high.

The bottom line: cholesterol is good!

High cholesterol levels mean it’s time to make some dietary changes, and not by avoiding foods that contain healthy fats  (let’s be clear– hydrogenated/trans fats should be completely avoided). Instead, it’s important to reduce intake of sugars, refined carbohydrates, and processed foods, while also making sure to stay active and engaging in some stress-reducing techniques.

 

Merguez Lamb Burgers

Lamb BurgersLaden with aromatic Moroccan spices, these Merguez Lamb Burgers add an exotic flavor to a weeknight supper or a fancy dinner party.

 

I can’t honestly remember the first time I had merguez sausage, but I do know that ever since then, I have to order it any time I see it on a menu. The combination of aromatic spices mixed with lamb, one of my favorite meats, makes merguez pretty irresistible.

Originally of Moroccan origin, merguez sausage migrated its way north and became a popular addition to French cuisine. Traditionally made with lamb, or a combination of lamb and beef, blended with peppers, garlic, and other spices, merguez lends incredible flavors to a meal.

These Merguez Lamb Burgers have all the flavor of the traditional sausage, with minimal fuss– no need to grind your own meat and stuff it into casings. Because the flavors are so robust, these burgers are fantastic served with some simply-prepared vegetables and rice (or cauliflower rice) to soak up the delicious juices.

I don’t normally cook with whole spices, simply for ease of preparation, but taking the brief extra step of toasting the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds, then grinding them fresh, really makes these burgers shine.

Harissa can be found in the international aisle of plenty of grocery stores, usually near the curry pastes and hot sauces. I picked up this Mina harissa (which also comes in a spicy variety) because the ingredients were very clean. Trader Joe’s also sells a great harissa.

The spice blend noted below is on the mild side. If you like more spice, use a spicier harissa or add more cayenne to your merguez lamb burgers.

I’m not one to eat my burgers on a bun these days, but if that’s your preference, go right ahead. I’d suggest mixing some harissa with some mayo for a tasty spread, and topping it with fresh lettuce and some pickled veggies for a bright bite.

Preparation of Lamb Burgers

Merguez Lamb Burgers paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, low carb

  • 1 lb ground lamb grass-fed
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds or 3/4 tsp ground
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds or 3/4 tsp ground
  • 1/2 tsp fennel seeds or 3/4 tsp ground
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne or more if you like spice
  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 Tbsp harissa mild or spicy

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  1. Combine the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds in a small saute pan. Toast over medium-high until aromatic and starting to pop about 5 minutes.
  2. Remove the spices to a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Grind to a coarse powder.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine the lamb, ground spices, and remaining ingredients.
  4. Divide the mixture into four equal-sized portions, then shape into patties, about 1/2-3/4-inch thick.
  5. Heat a large skillet or grill over medium-high heat. Add the patties and cook until well browned on both sides, about 5-6 minutes per side, depending on desired doneness.
  6. Serve with a dollop of extra harissa and enjoy it!

Coffee Flour Cacao Fat Bombs

Coffee Flour Cacao Fat BombsCoffee Flour Cacao Fat Bombs– the perfect low carb, high fat treat!

Coffee flour, made from dried coffee fruit, is full of antioxidants and lends an earthy, tart flavor to these Coffee Flour Cacao Fat Bombs– the perfect low carb, high fat treat!

Are you surprised to hear that coffee comes from a fruit? I suppose I knew that on some level, but since our focus is on that caffeine-laden bean in the middle, it’s easy to forget about the fruit that surrounds it. Unfortunately, the coffee berry is often discarded, which is a real waste considering its nutritional benefits.

At Paleo f(x) last month, Dr. David Perlmutter gave a presentation on brain health and regeneration. Listed among the foods that are beneficial for brain cells was the lowly coffee berry (check out this article from Dr. Perlmutter’s website for more info). Coffee fruit is rich in antioxidants, polyphenols, and vitamins, which have anti-aging and anti-inflammatory properties.

I noticed Trader Joe’s started carrying coffee flour several months ago but had no idea what to do with it! After listening to Dr. Perlmutter’s talk, I decided it was time to grab a bag and see what I could make with this nutritional powerhouse. With only 1g of net carbs per tablespoon, I thought it would lend itself well to a low carb, keto-friendly treat.

And so these Coffee Flour Cacao Fat Bombs were born! The coffee flour itself has a roasted, slightly bitter, slightly tart flavor to it. To me, the smell is reminiscent of black tea leaves. Mixed with cacao, coconut, nuts, and seeds, these fat bombs are a perfect little pick me up.

Keep in mind, these Coffee Flour Cacao Fat Bombs are not meant to be sweet like candy, but a little bit of natural sweetener will help offset the bitterness of the cocoa and coffee flour. I am very sensitive to the taste of stevia and this pure stevia leaf powder is the only brand I can stand. A little bit goes a very long way, so a bottle will last you a long time. If you have another type of stevia you like, you are welcome to use that and sweeten to your preference. Monk fruit, xylitol, honey, or maple syrup would also work, but the amount will vary. I recommend to start small and add more if needed.

If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, many shops sell coffee flour as well and is a great place to grab the other nuts and seeds you’ll need for this recipe. Thrive Market is another great resource for these ingredients and tons of other healthy foods at really great prices. Start your 30-day free trial here.

Coffee Flour Cacao Fat Bombs Recipe

Nutrition Info (per 1 Coffee Flour Cacao Fat Bombs, when a recipe is made into 21 servings): Calories 137, Fat 12.5g, Protein 3.2g, Carbs 3.7g, Fiber 2.3g, Net Carbs 1.4g.

Coffee Flour Cacao Fat Bombs are Low carb, high fat, keto, paleo, gluten-free, grain-free, sugar-free.

  • 1 cup almonds
  • 1/2 cup macadamia nuts
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 Tbsp hemp seeds
  • 1/4 cup cacao powder
  • 2 Tbsp coffee flour
  • 1 scoop Vital Proteins collagen peptides optional
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 3 Tbsp coconut oil melted
  • 3 Tbsp cacao butter melted
  • 3 Tbsp coconut butter/manna softened/melted
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • stevia to taste
  1. Combine the almonds, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, and hemp seeds in a food processor (or high-powered blender such as a Vitamix). Pulse the mixture until it is finely chopped (not as fine as a flour, but not in large chunks).
  2. Add the cacao powder, coffee flour, collagen peptides, and salt. Pulse a couple of times to combine.
  3. Add the coconut oil, cacao butter, coconut butter, and vanilla, as well as a small amount of stevia. I used two scoops of this pure stevia powder (the small scoop is included in the bottle). If using drops, start with just a couple. Blend until the mixture starts to clump together.
  4. Taste the mixture and add more stevia to your liking.
  5. Line a small baking sheet or plate with wax paper or parchment paper. Use a small portion scoop or tablespoon to scoop the mixture into balls, roughly the size of ping pong balls.
  6. Place in the refrigerator and let chill at least 1 hour, until firm. Enjoy tasty and healthy Coffee Flour Cacao Fat Bombs!

Store your Coffee Flour Cacao Fat Bombs in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.